The word a couple of weeks ago was that DC GOPers were less than thrilled at CA Gov. Arnold Schwarzennegar’s redistricting reform ballot initiative, on grounds that the current system nationally is helping keep Republicans in charge, and they’d just as soon leave things as they are.Well, the odds of letting sleeping dogs lie on this subject just went way down, as Republican legislators in my poor home state of Georgia started a re-redistricting of Congressional Districts aimed at zapping a couple of Democratic incumbents. Their model, of course, is the Great Texas Power Grab of 2003, the re-redistricting engineered by Tom DeLay which ultimately produced a net gain of five House seats for the GOP, reversing what would have otherwise been a loss of seats in 2004 (Republicans in Colorado tried the same stunt, but were overruled by the courts citing a state constitutional provision limiting redistricting to once a decade). But in a way, the Georgia gambit is worse. In Texas, the fig-leaf justifications for the Power Grab were that (a) the Dem majority in the House delegation did not reflect recent partisan results in statewide elections, and (b) the map they were throwing out was drawn by judges, not legislators. In Georgia, (a) the current 7-6 GOP advantage in House districts is a pretty fair reflection of recent election results, and (b) the map they are throwing out was duly drawn by the legislature, signed by the Governor, pre-cleared by the Bush Justice Department, and upheld by the courts. In other words, the Georgia Republicans are undertaking this outrage, well, because they can. The new GOPer map is apparently aimed at snuffing two white Democratic House members, Jim Marshall, who represents a central-west central GA district, and John Barrow, who just beat a Republican incumbent to represent the Athens-Augusta-Savannah district. They aren’t going after the state’s four African-American House Members (John Lewis, Cynthia McKinney, David Scott, and Sanford Bishop) because that would raise an unmistakable Voting Right Act issue. But in any event, the GA Power Grab may wind up biting the national GOP in the butt. News of the latest Power Grab led (according to the subscription-only Roll Call newspaper) House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer to put in a few phone calls to Democrats in the three states where their party has taken over total control of the executive and legislative branches since the regular redistricting cycle prior to 2002: Illinois, New Mexico, and Louisiana. Illinois is a potentially ripe target for a retaliatory re-redistricting, since GOPers hold nine seats, and because the new chairman of the DCCC, Rahm Emanuel, is from that state. Moreover, one of the Illinois Republicans who could find himself in sudden trouble is a guy named Dennis Hastert. Personally, I hate all this re-redistricting crap, and the whole system of partisan and incumbent-protection gerrymandering that has reduced the People’s House of Congress to a vast rotten borough where politicians choose voters rather than the other way around. But if Republicans continue to game the system, they can’t complain if Democrats retaliate where they can, and maybe the whole spectacle can build support for a truly national drive for comprehensive redistricting reform. Maybe those Georgia Republican jokers will smell the coffee and call off the dogs before their own party’s House speaker finds himself hunted as well.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
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.