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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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The Daily Strategist

March 7, 2021

When Will This Hyper-Partisan Era End?

Millions are wondering “How Much Longer Can This Era Of Political Gridlock Last?,” and FiveThirtyEight’s Lee Drutman takes a stab at providing a believable answer. Drutman provides some data-driven analysis and some cool charts and concludes in effect, that it looks like it could be a long time. Or as Drutman puts it more compellingly in one paragraph, after noting the thin margins Dems now have in both the Senate and House,

That means more divided government is probably imminent, and the electoral pattern we’ve become all too familiar with — a pendulum swinging back and forth between unified control of government and divided government — is doomed to repeat, with increasingly dangerous consequences for our democracy.

No doubt, many already came to that conclusion. But Drutman adds,

“This current period of partisan stalemate stands out in a few respects when we consider America’s long history with partisan conflict. For starters, the period we find ourselves in now is unique in that the national partisan balance of power is extremelyclose (with control of national government up for grabs in almost every cycle), even as most states and most voters are either solidly Democratic or Republican. What’s more, the national outcome often hinges on just a few swing states and districts. This period is also unique in the extent to which America is divided.”

There are other reasons to be skeptical about history-rooted analysis of the current political moment. Trump’s unique lunacy, McConnell’s shameless propensity for putting his personal power before what is good for America, the number of politicians of one party denying the results of certified elections and the homicidal attack on congress are all without historical parellel in U.S. history.

However, if you had to bet the ranch on political gridlock ending fairly soon or not, Drutman’s analysis lends credibility to the latter scenario.

So don’t hold your breath waiting for a warrior to emerge from the smoke, put on the blue face-paint, mount the noble steed and lead the masses to a landslide, filibuster-proof Democratic victory. Not gonna happen any time soon — although four years can be a hell of a long time in U.S. politics, especially in the wake of an exhausting plague.

But, is it really so unrealistic to hope that some kind of militant centrist comes along, articulates an inspiring vision of bipartisanship with a credible mix of progressive policies to win broad support from the war-weary rank and file of both parties and breaks the stalemate? It would be long-overdue.


Despite the Criticism, Biden’s Doing Well

After reading a few days worth of carping about Joe Biden’s performance, I decided enough’s enough and responded at New York:

Joe Biden has been president of the United States for 43 days. He inherited power from a predecessor who was trying to overturn the 2020 election results via insurrection just two weeks before Inaugural Day, and whose appointees refused the kind of routine transition cooperation other administrations took for granted. His party has a four-vote margin of control in the House, and only controls the Senate via the vice presidential tie-breaking vote (along with a power-sharing arrangement with Republicans). Democratic control of the Senate was not assured until the wee hours of January 6 when the results of the Georgia runoff were clear. Biden took office in the midst of a COVID-19 winter surge, a national crisis over vaccine distribution, and flagging economic indicators.

Biden named all his major appointees well before taking office, and as recommended by every expert, pushed for early confirmation of his national security team, which he quickly secured. After some preliminary discussions with Republicans that demonstrated no real possibility of GOP support for anything like the emergency $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief and stimulus package he had promised, and noting the votes weren’t there in the Senate for significant filibuster reform, Biden took the only avenue open to him. He instructed his congressional allies to pursue the budget reconciliation vehicle to enact his COVID package, with the goal of enacting it by mid-March, when federal supplemental unemployment insurance would run out. Going the reconciliation route meant exposing the package to scrutiny by the Senate parliamentarian, It also virtually guaranteed total opposition from congressional Republicans, which in turn meant Senate Democratic unanimity would be essential.

The House passed the massive and complex reconciliation bill on February 27, right on schedule, with just two Democratic defections, around the same time as the Senate parliamentarian, to no one’s great surprise, deemed a $15 minimum wage provision (already opposed by two Senate Democrats) out of bounds for reconciliation. The Senate is moving ahead with a modified reconciliation bill, and the confirmation of Biden’s Cabinet is chugging ahead slowly but steadily. Like every recent president, he’s had to withdraw at least one nominee – in his case Neera Tanden for the Office of Management and Budget, though the administration’s pick for deputy OMB director is winning bipartisan praise and may be substituted smoothly for Tanden.

Add in his efforts to goose vaccine distribution — which has more than doubled since he took office — and any fair assessment of Biden’s first 43 days should be very positive. But the man is currently being beset by criticism from multiple directions. Republicans, of course, have united in denouncing Biden’s refusal to surrender his agenda in order to secure bipartisan “unity” as a sign that he’s indeed the radical socialist – or perhaps the stooge of radical socialists – that Donald Trump always said he was. Progressives are incensed by what happened on the minimum wage, though it was very predictable. And media critics are treating his confirmation record as a rolling disaster rather than a mild annoyance, given the context of a federal executive branch that was all but running itself for much of the last four years.

To be clear, I found fault with Biden’s presidential candidacy early and often. I didn’t vote for him in California’s 2020 primary. I worried a lot about Biden’s fetish for bipartisanship. I support a $15 minimum wage, and as a former Senate employee, have minimal respect for the upper chamber’s self-important traditions. But c’mon: what, specifically, is the alternative path he could have pursued the last 43 days? Republican criticism is not worthy of any serious attention: the GOP is playing the same old tapes it recorded in 2009 when Barack Obama (and his sidekick Biden) spent far too much time chasing Republican senators around Washington in search of compromises they never intended to make. While they are entitled to oppose Biden’s agenda, they are not entitled to kill it.

Progressive criticism of Biden feels formulaic. Years and years of investment in the rhetoric of the eternal “fight” and the belief that outrage shapes outcomes in politics and government have led to the habit of seeing anything other than total subscription to the left’s views as a sell-out. Yes, Kamala Harris could theoretically overrule the Senate parliamentarian on the minimum wage issue, but to what end? So long as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema oppose the $15 minimum wage, any Harris power play could easily be countered by a successful Republican amendment to strike the language in question, and perhaps other items as well. And if the idea is to play chicken with dissident Democrats over the fate of the entire reconciliation bill, is a $15 minimum wage really worth risking a $1.9 trillion package absolutely stuffed with subsidies for struggling low-income Americans? Are Fight for 15 hardliners perhaps conflating ends and means here?

Media carping about Biden’s legislative record so far is frankly just ridiculous. Presumably writing about the obscure and complicated details of reconciliation bills is hard and unexciting work that readers may find uninteresting, while treating Tanden’s travails as an existential crisis for the Biden administration provides drama, but isn’t at all true. The reality is that Biden’s Cabinet nominees are rolling through the Senate with strong confirmation votes (all but one received at least 64 votes), despite a steadily more partisan atmosphere for confirmations in recent presidencies. The COVID-19 bill is actually getting through Congress at a breakneck pace despite its unprecedented size and complexity. Trump’s first reconciliation bill (which was principally aimed at repealing Obamacare) didn’t pass the House until May 4, 2017, and never got through the Senate. Yes, Obama got a stimulus bill through Congress in February 2009, but it was less than half the size, much simpler, and more to the point, there were 59 Senate Democrats in office when it passed, which meant he didn’t even have to use reconciliation.

There’s really no exact precedent for Biden’s situation, particularly given the atmosphere of partisanship in Washington and the whole country right now, and the narrow window he and his party possess – in terms of political capital and time – to get important things done. He should not be judged on any one legislative provision or any one Cabinet nomination. So far the wins far outweigh the losses and omissions. Give the 46th president a break.


Political Strategy Notes

“House Democrats have passed HR 1, their signature anti-corruption and voting rights reform bill, for the second time in two years, ” Ella Nilsen reports at Vox. But even though their party now holds the majority in the Senate, the bill has a tough road ahead of it….If Mitch McConnell is not willing to provide 10 Republicans to support this landmark reform, I think Democrats are going to step back and reevaluate the situation,” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), the author of HR 1, told Vox in a recent interview. “There’s all manner of ways you could redesign the filibuster so [the bill] would have a path forward.”….One path that’s being discussed is partially amending Senate filibuster rules to allow democracy reform legislation like HR 1 to advance on a simple majority vote and therefore potentially be able to pass on a party-line vote. That would be different from fully blowing up the filibuster, but it still could get pushback from Senate institutionalists even in the Democratic Party like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a staunch advocate of keeping the filibuster in place….Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the chair of the Senate Rules Committee, which will mark up the bill and move it forward, said she wants to bring the bill to the floor and see what the support for it is before she moves on to potential filibuster reform. “We’ll go to the floor; that’s when we see where we are,” Klobuchar told Vox in an interview, saying her committee will look to see, “is there filibuster reform that could be done generally or specifically?”

Nilsen continues, “Democrats are hoping the 2020 election gives them an argument for this bill. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Americans in many states were given more options and flexibility to vote through the mail or with in-person early voting. The results were a record 158.4 million ballots cast; 2020 presidential election turnout was about 7 percentage points higher than in 2016, according to Pew Research Center…..HR 1, among other initiatives, would cement many of those temporary expansions. Nilsen provides a point by point summary of the provisions of H.R. 1, and notes that ” recent polling from the progressive firm Data for Progress showed the bill more broadly is popular across parties and supported by a majority of Democratic, independent, and Republican voters. The poll found that 67 percent of national likely voters supported HR 1, including 56 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of independents, and 77 percent of Democrats.”

In his article, “Joe Manchin Backed Filibuster Reform a Decade Ago. What Changed?,” in The American Prospect, David Moore ruminates on the West Virginia senator’s position on filibuster reform: “I will not vote to bust the filibuster under any condition, on anything that you can think of,” Manchin told the Washington Post. “If you can’t sit down and work with your colleagues on the other side and find a pathway forward, then you shouldn’t be in the Senate.” It seems fair to ask, what is the incentive for Republicans to negotiate in a bipartisan spirit if the filibuster is kept in its current form? Don’t they need a carrot and stick also? Moore notes that “Manchin voted in January 2011 in favor of several Senate rules changes that had the effect of reducing the filibuster’s power. While the reforms that Manchin supported then did not completely eliminate the ability for senators to filibuster, they are similar to several possible rule changes that could allow Democrats to hold majority votes on bills this year, even without “abolishing” the filibuster.”

Ronald Brownstein’s article, “Democrats’ Only Chance to Stop the GOP Assault on Voting Rights: If the party doesn’t pass new protections, it could lose the House, Senate, and White House within the next four years” in The Atlantic paints a scary picture of American politics if these popular election reforms don’t pass. Brownstein notes that “Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, the principal sponsor of H.R. 1’s Senate analogue, has been urging his colleagues to consider ending the filibuster for these bills alone, even if they are unwilling to end it for all legislation. But so far, at least two Democrats remain resistant to curtailing the filibuster in any way: Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.” It appears that their choice is between a blank check for Republicans with no two-party check and balance on the one hand, or fair play for the party that got the most votes in 2020 by a healthy margin on the other. The extraordinary popularity of HR 1 and it’s senate version ought to tip the balance in favor of doing what is good for America, not just what strengthens Trump’s party.


Trump’s GOP Has No Agenda Other Than Purges and Voter Suppression

After watching Donald Trump’s wildly applauded address to this year’s CPAC conference, I wrote an assessment at New York:

In his rapturously received 88-minute address to the 2021 CPAC conference on Sunday, former president Donald Trump didn’t give his listeners what so many of them wanted: a pledge to run for president again in 2024 (though he teased the crowd with his obvious availability). But he vented his outsized spleen fully, and left no doubt that the future of Trumpism will be its past, revived and vindicated.

Much of the speech was rehashed from the brag sessions of the 2020 campaign, treating his administration as one long parade of unprecedented triumphs on every single front. Accordingly, Joe Biden’s extremely brief presidency was condemned as the worst in history already thanks to the 46th president’s reversal of the policies of the 45th (especially on immigration policy), which were one long parade of unprecedented triumphs on every single front. Viewers were left with the distinct impression that a near-utopian future for the country would be as simple as the replacement of Biden with — well, if not Trump — then someone with exactly the same policies and sterling leadership qualities.

The one exception was his bloody-shirt demands for “election integrity” legislation in every state, which included a universal revocation of no-excuse absentee balloting (and all in-person early voting, since he called for a “single election day”) and universal voter ID requirements. It’s an audacious proposal, considering that 13 states (including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin) carried by Biden already have voter ID requirements, and fully 34 (including 12 states carried by Trump) had no-excuse voting by mail before the COVID-19 pandemic and the marginal liberalization of deadlines and procedures that Trump blames for his defeat.

Apparently Trump’s “landslide” victory required tighter voting rules than the country has had for many years. It’s unlikely a return to the spirit of the days of poll taxes and literacy tests is going to pass muster with federal and state courts (Trump, of course, blasted the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court that included three of his nominees, for lacking the “courage” to overturn Biden’s victory). But Republican subscription to this terrible assault on voting rights is another way that GOP elected officials can bend the knee to Trump.

Other than voter suppression, the future of Trumpism as outlined by its founder seemed to revolve around vengeance against RINOs, the ancient conservative epithet that now seems to be defined strictly by a lack of loyalty to Donald Trump. To feral roars from the crowd, he named every single congressional Republican who voted for his impeachment or conviction, suggesting that all must go before the GOP would be able to match the communist-bent Democrats in viciousness and self-discipline.

It appears, then, that Trump has determined to ensure that Republicans go into 2022 and 2024 as a political force dedicated to the restoration of his legacy with or without his personal leadership. For the most part, the dominant ideological movement in the party and the hallowed conservative movement is his. Indeed, one of the more unmistakeable phenomena of CPAC 2021 is the extent to which Republican activists now treat the conservative and MAGA movements as identical. And if he chooses to keep control of both movements, who can challenge him? The obvious successor to Trumpism is ever more Trumpism, and the obvious successor to Trump is still Trump.


Biden’s Statement on Union Election for Amazon’s AL Workers

Many presidential candidates and Democratic presidents have often made statements supporting labor unions. But no president has spoken out so compellingly in support of a fair union election, as has President Biden. Some excerpts from his unprecedented video statement supporting a fair union election for Amazon workers in Alabama:

Biden’s statement should be understood as a promise that any attempt to violate worker rights in the Amazon employee’s union election, and perhaps other union elections, will be held accountable by law – a profound departure from the practice of the previous administration.

According to CBS News:

Thousands of workers at an Amazon warehouse outside of Birmingham are voting on whether to form the company’s first labor union in the U.S. Amazon is pushing employees to vote no.

In an unprecedented video message, the president urged management to back off and let workers decide.

“The choice to join a union is up to the workers, full stop,” Mr. Biden said in the two-minute video.

Many Democrats are pro-union, but as CBS News’ Nancy Cordes reports, what made Mr. Biden’s video so surprising was that he did it to draw attention to the union fight.

Singling out the state by name, Mr. Biden told Americans, “Workers in Alabama and all across America are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace.”

The Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama employs about 6,000 employees who are voting on whether to unionize — a bitter battle playing out at a time when the company is hiring thousands of workers every month.

“Amazon doesn’t treat their employees like people. We’re treated like we’re robots,” said warehouse employee Jennifer Bates.

Workers like Bates are constantly getting texts from Amazon, warning that union dues could leave them with less money than they already have….Anti-union flyers are even posted inside warehouse bathroom stalls.

“There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda,” the president said in his address….As he said in November 2020, days after winning the election, “I made it clear to the corporate leaders — I said, ‘I want you to know I’m a union guy.'”

Amazon’s resistance to unions is hard to accept in light of it’s prosperity during the pandemic. In 2020, the company enjoyed  “38 per cent more sales and a profit increase of no less than 84 per cent.”

Union leaders cheered Biden’s statement. “For the workers at the warehouse in Alabama, there is no question that President Biden was speaking to them,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. “The importance of the video is that it’s telling workers that no matter how much your employer is trying to intimidate you, no matter how powerful your employer may be, the President of the United States has your back.”


Teixeira: Can Biden’s Economic Strategy End Reaganomics?

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Could Biden Be the New Reagan?

Obama said he wanted to do this too, in the sense of supplanting the Reagan economic paradigm by a new paradigm that would do to Reaganomics what Reaganomics did to the New Deal. He didn’t get there. Could Biden? Richard North Patterson thinks so and explains how/why in an excellent article on The Bulwark. I agree it’s a live possibility and one that progressives should exert all their efforts to supporting. If we get there, so many, many other things become possible.

“On Tuesday, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell warned lawmakers that “the economic recovery remains uneven and far from complete, and the path ahead is highly uncertain”—while minimizing the risks of inflation. Moreover, our unemployment statistics ignore people who have stopped looking for work, as many Americans rendered jobless by the pandemic have; if they are included in the total, the unemployment rate rises to a dispiriting 10 percent or higher.

Given all this, Biden refuses to cut his plan. To circumvent GOP opposition, he is using the budget reconciliation process which requires a mere majority in the Senate—meaning every Democrat plus Vice President Kamala Harris…..

Most likely, Biden will sign his proposal into law by mid-March—a major legislative victory which sets the template for his presidency.
But this is a mere down payment on his ultimate ambition: supplanting Reagan’s paradigm with his own.

His team envisions spending up to $3 trillion on a program which, as spokeswoman Jen Psaki described it, “will make historic investments in infrastructure—in the auto industry, in transit, in the power sector—creating millions of good union jobs [while] addressing the climate crisis head on.” His goal evokes the New Deal: creating a more resilient and inclusive economy through federal intervention financed by higher taxes on the wealthy.

Such a sweeping agenda will alienate Republicans and unnerve moderate Democrats. But, among other things, it is aimed at a problem which upended bipartisan support for free trade, and provoked Trump’s ill-considered tariff wars: the loss of American jobs through globalization—including to China.

In a penetrating article for the New York Times, Noam Scheiber describes its genesis: Biden’s desire to create stable jobs which would not require blue-collar workers to relocate their families or undertake extensive retraining. One focus is government investment in electric vehicles whose components could be manufactured in America—providing employment, addressing the climate crisis, and strengthening green energy innovation.

Such “industrial policy”—government intervention to fortify selected industries—has long been debated by economists and derided by conservatives. One effort during the Obama years, the failed solar panel company Solyndra, became a notorious example of federal fecklessness.

But, Scheiber notes, recent studies of governmental support for Chinese industries suggests enduring successes. If our archrival can strengthen its domestic manufacturers at our expense, the argument goes, why can’t we?

Between 2001 and 2007, Scheiber writes, America lost 3 million manufacturing jobs—most likely the result of our free trade policies toward China. Some prominent Republicans—Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio, and Mitt Romney—have become particularly vocal about China’s predatory practices and economic sway. Even Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, for years a dedicated free trader, acknowledges the need to protect American workers from the downside of globalism.

This may create some space for bipartisan agreement. The potential for job creation underwritten by government is considerable: making electric parts; building or upgrading manufacturing facilities; creating and installing chargers. Economic nationalism is no longer brain-dead protectionism, but a potential strategy for spreading prosperity.

Certainly, it’s past time to rebuild our infrastructure, strengthen our broadband capacity, and protect our energy grid from calamity. To do otherwise means abandoning a first world economy.

No doubt Biden won’t get all he wants; likely he will have to advance his goals through piecemeal legislation, or through the budget reconciliation process, which carries other risks. But in challenging times, average Americans are far more concerned with their families and their futures than the nostrums of limited government.”


Political Strategy Notes

Some key points from “Assessing the Impact of Absentee Voting on Turnout and Democratic Vote Margin in 2020” by Alan I. Abramowitz at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “While the 2020 presidential election saw a record volume of absentee votes cast, not all states made it equally accessible….Eased absentee voting rules contributed to higher voter participation rates….With higher turnout, President Joe Biden’s performance still tracked closely with Hillary Clinton’s state-by-state results in 2016 — he just performed slightly better across the board….All told, the sharp increase in absentee voting in 2020 wasn’t disproportionately beneficial to either presidential candidate.” Further, “The evidence presented in this study leads to two clear conclusions. First, the dramatic increase in absentee voting in 2020 contributed to increased voter turnout. Even after controlling for 2016 turnout and swing state status, the prevalence of absentee voting in a state was a significant predictor of turnout in 2020. Eased absentee voting rules were not the only reason for increased turnout in 2020, but they did make a difference. Second, increased absentee voting did not favor Joe Biden’s candidacy. After controlling for 2016 Democratic vote margin, the prevalence of absentee voting in a state had no effect at all on 2020 Democratic vote margin. These findings suggest that efforts by Republican legislators in a number of states to roll back eased absentee voting rules and make it more difficult for voters to take advantage of absentee voting in the future are unlikely to benefit GOP candidates. Not only is there no evidence that absentee voting leads to widespread fraud, there is also no evidence that it favors Democratic candidates.”

At The Washington Monthly, Bill Scher writes, “if Democrats continue to suggest they can take care of any minimum wage increase themselves—even at this point when they almost surely can not—then the inevitable failure rests solely on their own shoulders. Even worse, if Democrats bicker over controversial proposals during the pandemic relief bill legislative process, they risk taking the focus off the bill’s wildly popular elements—most prominently, the $1400 checks, which garnered 79 percent support in a recent YouGov poll. Turning a consensus bill into a controversial one would be political malpractice….A $15 minimum wage may not be quite as popular as government checks—it registered at 56 percent in the YouGov poll. But state ballot initiatives for minimum wage increases of varying degrees have proven very popular, even in deep red states including Alaska, Arkansas, Missouri and South Dakota. Just last November, Florida voters enacted a plan for a $15 minimum by 2026. So, by putting pandemic relief and minimum wage on separate legislative tracks, Democrats could force votes on each and really turn the screws on Republicans….Biden appeared to grasp the potential of separation by calmly preparing fellow Democrats for an unfavorable parliamentarian ruling, and assuring they could still win a wage increase after the relief bill passes. Biden is playing chess. Other Democrats are checkmating themselves.”

The Blue Tuesday Community reports that “There’s a new plan to turn Florida blue again inspired by Stacey Abrams, and it’s launching now” at Daily Kos, and notes that “State Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando), “an energetic and forward-looking progressive who is one of the few rising stars that Democrats have in Florida” has a new plan to revive  the Democratic Party in Florida. “Last week, Eskamani announced that her political action committee, People Power for Florida, was now registered as a voter registration organization, a step required by the state’s democracy-averse laws.” In addition to voter suppression legislation on the books, the Florida Democratic Party may be the weakest of any of the swing states. “The FDP has a lot of trust to rebuild, even with its donors, Eskamani ADDS. “And meanwhile, you look on the ground and nothing is happening in the realm of voter registration….So our hope is that instead of just being one umbrella group that’s leading voter registration, we actually want to create 1000 new groups. We want to empower everyday people to do their own voter registration drives. They can use our banner, but our focus is creating new leaders, so we don’t want it to be about us. We want it to be about building collective power at a neighborhood level.”

Could legalizing weed be a good cause for Democrats at the state level? In “Virginia Becomes First Southern State to Pass Legislation to Legalize Marijuana” at slate.com, Daniel Politi writes, “Virginia lawmakers approved a bill on Saturday that will legalize recreational marijuana in 2024. The compromise bill that delays retail sales of the drug for three years turns Virginia into the first Southern state to vote to legalize marijuana for adults, joining 15 other states and the District of Columbia. The bill still has to be signed by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who has been vocal about his support for marijuana legalization….The House passed the legalization measure 48-43 while the Senate approved it 20-19. The bill was approved without a single Republican vote in either chamber. The bill, which would legalize possession of an ounce of marijuana or less by those 21 or older, calls for the creation of an independent agency to regulate the marijuana market.” However, “The bill was so contentious that seven Democrats in the House and one in the Senate didn’t support it.” Democratic Senator Jon Ossoff certainly wasn’t shy about expressing his views in his upset victory in Georgia’s U.S.  Senate run-off: “Cannabis should be legalized, regulated and taxed. “I’m not just for decriminalization,” he said. “I’m for full legalization of marijuana nationwide and the expungement of all records for nonviolent cannabis-related offenses.”


Tanden Confirmation Fight Not an Existential Threat for Biden Administration

This year’s big media narrative has been the confirmation saga of Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget. At New York I wrote about how over-heated the talk surrounding Tanden has become.

Okay, folks, this is getting ridiculous. When a vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the nomination of Neera Tanden was postponed earlier this week, you would have thought it presented an existential threat to the Biden presidency. “Scrutiny over Tanden’s selection has continued to build as the story over her uneven reception on Capitol Hill stretched through the week,” said one Washington Post story. Politico Playbook suggested that if Tanden didn’t recover, the brouhaha “has the potential to be what Biden might call a BFD.” There’s been all sorts of unintentionally funny speculation about whether the White House is playing some sort of “three-dimensional chess” in its handling of the confirmation, disguising a nefarious plan B or C.

Perhaps it reflects the law of supply and demand, which requires the inflation of any bit of trouble for Biden into a crisis. After all, his Cabinet nominees have been approved by the Senate with a minimum of 56 votes; the second-lowest level of support was 64 votes. One nominee who was the subject of all sorts of initial shrieking, Tom Vilsack, was confirmed with 92 Senate votes. Meanwhile, Congress is on track to approve the largest package of legislation moved by any president since at least the Reagan budget of 1981, with a lot of the work on it being conducted quietly in both chambers. Maybe if the bill hits some sort of roadblock, or if Republican fury at HHS nominee Xavier Becerra (whose confirmation has predictably become the big fundraising and mobilization vehicle for the GOP’s very loud anti-abortion constituency) reaches a certain decibel level, Tanden can get out of the spotlight for a bit.

But what’s really unfair — and beyond that, surreal — is the extent to which this confirmation is being treated as more important than all the others combined, or indeed, as a make-or-break moment for a presidency that has barely begun. It’s not. If Tanden cannot get confirmed, the Biden administration won’t miss a beat, and I am reasonably sure she will still have a distinguished future in public affairs (though perhaps one without much of a social-media presence). And if she is confirmed, we’ll all forget about the brouhaha and begin focusing on how she does the job, which she is, by all accounts, qualified to perform.


Tomasky: Another Way to Win a Minimum Wage Hike

Although Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough just ruled the minimum wage increase out of the COVID relief bill, Michael Tomasky argues in favor of the “Dems’ Tricky New Two-Step: First COVID Relief, Then a Wage Hike” at The Daily Beast:

Well, I think there’s a chance, and maybe a good one, that a minimum wage increase isn’t dead yet. But passing one is going to require courage, patience, and compromise. I know compromise is a dirty word. But that’s the legislative process when you didn’t win enough elections to have things the way you want them in our ridiculous system.

Tomasky makes the case that the Covid relief bill has great merit, even without the minimum wage hike., and says Democrats “should immediately start agitating for a stand-alone bill. This would require eliminating or changing the filibuster, which I’ve been saying for years they need to do.”

That will be tough. Manchin and Sinema have to go for it. Biden has to lean on them hard. Might they accede if Biden drops the number a bit from $15 and promises billions for their states? I don’t think it’s impossible. The key phrase above may prove to be “or changing”; Ian Millhiser of Vox recently wrote a comprehensive piece on how the filibuster can be changed, not eliminated, in ways Manchin and Sinema might be able to live with.

There is a significant upside for Dems pushing stand alone minimum wage legislation, according to Tomasky:

A stand-alone bill would pressure some Republicans who purport to be on the side of the working class to take a stand one way or the other. Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley, a couple others; they talk populism sometimes, but their no votes on a stand-alone minimum wage bill would chisel their hypocrisy in stone. And Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a top Democratic target for 2022, would make himself more vulnerable with a no vote.

Meanwhile, Senator Bernie Sanders proposes “an amendment to take tax deductions away from large, profitable corporations that don’t pay workers at least $15 an hour and to provide small businesses with the incentives they need to raise wages.””

Tomasky notes another alternative:

The other way to go is to attach the minimum wage to a “must-pass” bill like a defense appropriations bill. That’s what happened the last time a minimum-wage bill passed in 2007. It was part of an emergency appropriations act that funded the Iraq War.

There will be plenty of those bills in the next couple years. What’s important now is that the White House keep everybody together, and that Democrats not let this setback start a corrosive dynamic. The Senate is a completely screwed-up place. Its rules constantly thwart a majority. These are the kinds of things that happen there. People can respond by getting more enraged—or by getting more strategic.

Tomsky concludes, “Bank the big win of the relief bill, which is coming, and find another venue to fight for the minimum wage. That fight is far from over.”


Republicans Again Fighting In-Person Early Voting

Amidst all the Republican attacks on voting by mail, something else was going on, which I wrote about at New York:

Republican state legislatures across the country recently launched efforts to restricting voting by mail in myriad ways. It’s generally understood that they are reacting to Donald Trump’s bizarre but incessant claims that massive fraud associated with expanded mail ballots in 2020 robbed him of a “landslide” victory. That’s not, however, the only voter-suppression measures the GOP is pursuing in states where they control both the executive and legislative branches of government. They are also returning to their pre-2020 agenda of restricting in-person voting in ways that disproportionately affect Democratic-leaning constituencies.

That’s most evident in Georgia, where GOP legislators are considering crackdowns on early in-person voting, restricting weekend voting opportunities, banning mobile polling places, and invalidating provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct. But it’s popped up also in Iowa, where Republicans have sent their GOP governor a bill cutting back on early voting and even closing the polls earlier on Election Day (Democrats traditionally vote later in the day than Republicans).

In both states, of course, these attacks on in-person voting are being combined with restrictions on voting by mail; one of the bills in Georgia would eliminate no-excuse absentee ballots — in effect since Republicans introduced it in 2005 — altogether. But there’s clearly a bait and switch going on, in which general-purpose attacks on the franchise, and particularly voting practices thought to benefit Democrats, are being hustled through even though they have nothing to do with the widespread Trumpian claims that liberalized voting by mail is a threat to election integrity.

This reality creates a bit of a strategic problem for Democrats. Should they expend their energy defending expanded (or even universal) voting-by-mail opportunities to the last ditch just because Trump chose to demonize the practice in one election cycle? In the past, after all, voting by mail was actually thought to favor Republicans in many states. Emory political scientist Alan Abramowitz has just published an analysis concluding that expanded voting by mail didn’t have much to do with Joe Biden’s victory, even in the pandemic-distorted atmosphere of 2020.

Certainly in many parts of the country — including Georgia — early in-person voting has been the favorite balloting method for Democratic-leaning minority voters. It was no accident that an early version of one of the Georgia bills banned in-person voting on Sundays altogether, which was a direct attack on “Souls to the Polls” — post-worship-service voter-mobilization drives undertaken by many Black churches (the provision was struck, as it sounds both racist and anti-religious, though it was replaced with restrictions on how many weekend days were available for early in-person voting).

We’ll never know why Trump spent so much time attacking voting by mail in 2020, absent any clear evidence it would benefit his opponent. My own guess is that all along he contemplated the “red mirage” strategy of claiming victory based on early returns and either stopping or delegitimizing mail ballots counted later — a strategy that depended on convincing his own supporters to vote in person, which they obediently did, relatively speaking. That he failed to competently pull it off is no evidence that this was not the plan. But in any event, absent an extended or future pandemic, unrestricted or positively encouraged voting by mail may not be as fundamentally essential to voting rights as it appeared to be when Trump and his allies were assailing it every day. At a minimum, voting-rights advocates should be vigilant about a return to systemic voter suppression aimed at other — or all — methods of balloting.