washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Political Strategy Notes

In her article, “How Democrats can use Biden’s $1.9tn Covid relief to win the midterms,” in The Guardian, Joan E. Grever writes that “the passage of the relief bill may also be the Democratic party’s best chance of keeping control of both chambers of Congress after next year’s midterm elections. Democrats are hoping that the aid it brings can help them avoid the historical trend of the president’s party losing congressional seats in the midterms following his election….There is little room for error too, given Democrats’ narrow majorities in both chambers of Congress. Republicans need to flip just five seats to take control of the House, and a loss of a single Senate seat would cost Democrats their majority in the upper chamber. Such losses would seriously hobble Biden’s ability to enact his agenda….Democratic groups are helping with Biden’s victory tour, flooding the airwaves to remind voters in battleground states where those $1,400 direct payments came from. American Bridge 21st Century, a progressive political action committee, has announced a six-figure ad buy focusing on the impact of the relief package. The first ad, which featured a special education teacher talking about how the legislation would help schools reopen, started airing in Pennsylvania as Biden visited the state on Tuesday. “This is a law that is going to help people’s lives across the board, and something that is this holistically comprehensive on the policy side is also going to be holistically popular for the midterms,” said Jessica Floyd, the president of American Bridge….competing messaging campaigns from the two parties represent the start of a months-long competition to define the beginning of Biden’s presidency in the court of public opinion. The winner of that competition will probably walk away with control of Congress. “Part of our job is not to let people forget that Democrats put together a bill that is hugely popular now,” Floyd said. “Our job is to keep it popular and also point out for the coming months that every single Republican in Congress voted against it. I think keeping both of those facts top of mind starts today.”

Can Biden’s COVID-19 Relief Bill Help Democrats Avoid A Midterm Defeat?” Alex Samuels responds at FiveThirtyEight: “Successfully running on a strong economy in 2022 with voters penalizing the Republicans who voted against sending relief to millions of Americans. But they also raise questions of how much stock we should be putting into Republican support of the bill, given the inroads the party has made with lower income voters and those without a college degree in recent presidential elections. In particular, how can Democrats win back whitevoters who fall into this camp?….The answer is, of course, complicated. But Biden and Democrats’ calculus, so far, seems to be pushing New Deal-esque policies and an economic message that aims to resonate with more working- and middle-class voters. And according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the relief package is expected to benefit low- and middle-income households the most. They found households making $91,000 or less would receive 70 percent of the tax benefits from the plan. This stands in stark contrast to the impact of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act under former President Donald Trump, where nearly half of the cuts went to households in the top 5 percent….the potential effects of the bill can’t be overstated: If the relief package is able to kickstart the economy and help lower-income voters financially, Biden and other Democrats might be able to reap the electoral benefits of this bill — perhaps even avoiding the “shellacking” that the president’s party typically sees in midterm elections.”

In “The real causes of the border crisis — and the real remedies,” The Chicago Tribune’s Steve Chapman shares a couple of ideas for how the Biden Administration could address the crisis on the soutbhern border: “There are alternative remedies, such as letting more foreigners in through authorized channels….Today, the worldwide backlog of applications for green cards is at 5 million. Many recipients have to wait 10 years or more to be admitted. Cato Institute analysts David Bier and Alex Nowrasteh reach this startling conclusion: “At no time in American history has immigration been as legally restricted as it is currently.”….For the moment, the Biden administration has the task of coping with the border crisis while dismantling the inhumane practices of its predecessor. In the longer term, it could relieve pressure on the border by increasing refugee admissions and allotting more slots to the Central American countries that have produced so many migrants….It could create a program for guest workers from Mexico and Central America, as proposed by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Biden has already moved to restore the Central American Minors Program to provide “a safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the risks incurred in the attempt to migrate to the United States irregularly.”….Giving people an avenue to come here legally in order to keep them from coming illegally? A crazy idea, but it just might work.”

At The Cook Political Report, Charlie Cook observes, “One of the most intriguing questions going into next year’s Senate races is which party will be playing offense and which will be content to defend. History argues that Democrats will be on defense and Republicans on offense; exposure argues the opposite way, that Republicans will play defense while Democrats look to pick off seats….But it is also important to separate first-term midterm elections from those in a second term. While the difference in the House is negligible, (23 losses for the former and 20 seats for the latter), in the Senate it is massive. The first-term average loss by a president’s party is only one seat; in second-term midterms, that average swells to seven seats—a distinction with a real difference….Let’s put history aside for a moment and look at exposure, or how many seats a party must defend. The GOP has 20 seats up to just 14 for Democrats—numbers which make the case that Republicans may end up on defense. Worse yet for Republicans, five of those 20 seats are open, whereas thus far Democrats have zero open seats to worry about. Over the last 20 years, 86 percent of Senate incumbents seeking reelection have won. Incumbents’ worst year since 2000 was a 78 percent win rate; the best, 91 percent. So you’d much rather defend a seat that’s occupied than one that’s not.”

Political Strategy Notes

In Other Polling Bites, Laura Bronner notes at FiveThirtyEight: “Several polls this week have found widespread support for Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package: 70 percent of Americans overall, according to Pew, with particularly strong support among low-income Americans (82 percent). In fact, while Democrats of all income groups were very supportive of the package, a majority of low-income Republicans (63 percent) were in favor, too. The Economist/YouGovfound 64 percent supported the bill overall, Data for Progress found 69 percent in support, and Morning Consult/Politico, which listed the bill’s major provisions in the question, found 75 percent in support. (Both The Economist/YouGov and Data for Progress also found broad support across the bill’s individual provisions.)”

Adam Serwer writes at The Atlantic: “Biden’s rescue bill uses the state as an instrument of broad prosperity rather than as one of vengeance—according to an analysis from the Urban Institute, the legislation could cut the poverty rate by more than a third. In the process, it stands to address the economic distresses that Trump exploited and the grievances he inflamed. And by making the bill’s benefits so broad, Democrats may also make them enduring, insulating them from future efforts to repeal them….Economists also believe that the bill—more than twice the size of the Obama-era stimulus designed to pull America out of the Great Recession—is large enough to deliver a robust recovery, rather than the halting one that followed the 2008 crisis….“Nobody thinks that there’s anything to be gained from bipartisanship politically anymore. There are a few people who still think that it’s really important in itself,” Adam Jentleson, once the deputy chief of staff to the former Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid and the author of Kill Switch, told me. “But even those people have a hard time arguing that it’s more important than actually delivering results.”….The American Rescue Plan Act is an important economic measure; it is also a down payment on a future in which the stakes for American democracy are less existential. But it is only a down payment—one that will be forfeit if Democrats allow the rest of their agenda to be held hostage in the Senate. More than just legislation, it is  a leap of faith that Americans of all political backgrounds will reward a party that seeks to make their lives better, rather than one that simply manufactures new targets for scorn. In that, the measure expresses a greater confidence in the decency of the Republican base than Trump or his acolytes ever displayed.”

Also at The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein warns, “Advocates want more attention on the state laws to discourage Republican legislators and governors from passing them. But they also recognize that, as in the Selma era, greater awareness of state restrictions could build support for national action—and particularly for H.R. 1, the sweeping democracy-reform bill the House passed earlier this month. More public awareness, the theory goes, will raise Senate Democrats’ comfort level about establishing a nationwide standard for voting rights through their own version of H.R. 1, even if that requires curtailing the filibuster to overcome lockstep Republican opposition. In an appearance on MSNBC this week, Marc Elias, the Democratic Party’s lead election lawyer, literally pleaded for more attention: “I am begging America and the media to pay attention to this. Right now, we are facing an avalanche of voter suppression” that the country hasn’t seen in decades.” Brownstein warns, “The administration and civil-rights groups don’t have much time to generate more national attention. Republican Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa has already signed legislation limiting early voting and reducing the hours that polls can stay open on Election Day. Bills in other states are swiftly moving forward. Elias says Democratic lawyers’ success in beating Trump’s legal efforts to overturn the election may be making Democrats complacent about their ability to block these new restrictions if they are approved. “We will do the best we can in court,” he told me, “but I almost worry that people look at the success that some of us had last cycle” and expect the same success now. “I am here to tell you that we can’t assume the courts are going to solve every political ill.”

When it comes to messaging, it really does help the Biden Administrtion to have an alert press secretary who is on game, as Jen Pasaki demonstrates in  this exchange, flagged by Aldous J. Pennyfarthing in “Jen Psaki takes on GOP’s pearl-clutching over deficits, reminds them their concern is years late” at Daily Kos:

“REPORTER: “No Republican voted for the COVID relief package, and they argue that this is the sixth package and it adds to a deficit that’s already a trillion dollars this year alone. What do you say to that criticism, that ultimately this type of a sweeping piece of legislation will be a drag on the economy down the line?”

PSAKI: “Well, I would say to them we’re in the midst of twin crises, from the pandemic to an economic downturn that is impacting tens of millions of people in this country. People are struggling to make ends meet. They are worried about whether their grandparents, their cousins, their friends are able to get a vaccine, and they are suffering because they’re worried about the mental health of their kids, who aren’t back in school yet. And the president’s focus is on addressing those crises. And I would point, send a question back to many of these Republicans as to why the deficit spending wasn’t as concerning when they were giving tax cuts to the highest incomes, but now it’s concerning when we’re giving direct checks and relief to the American people.”

Walsh: Biden’s American Rescue Plan Victory Helps Unify Democrats

In “Democrats Make a Down Payment on a Radically More Just Economy” in The Nation, Joan Walsh writes of Biden’s Pandemic relief/stimulus legislative victory that “the many forces behind this stunning achievement are beyond my capacity to list here—and they represent a leftward migration of the Democratic Party that was a long time in the making but that accelerated in the past 10 years. Biden has been in the middle of it.” Walsh explains further,

It’s not a social democratic party, at least not yet. But it has steadily gotten more committed to using government to lessen suffering and promote equitable growth, and less afraid of GOP taunting about deficits and “dependency.” It had mostly moved past the neoliberal fetishization of markets, long before the pandemic: Hillary Clinton’s 2016 platform was more progressive than Obama’s, with a more robust role for government; four years later, Biden’s was more progressive than Clinton’s. (That partly reflected the influence of Senator Bernie Sanders, who ran a strong second in the Democratic presidential primaries to both of them.)

The pandemic accelerated the leftward surge of many, even most Democrats. The mismanaged plague that has in a year killed 530,000 Americans also destroyed Reagan’s tired maxim, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem”—hopefully for good. Last year’s first Covid relief bill, the $2.2 trillion America Cares Act—passed under the uncaring, incompetent Donald Trump—kept 13 million people out of poverty; when its benefits began to evaporate, especially its extended unemployment relief, people felt the difference, and the pain. That’s why Biden’s plan is supported by roughly three-quarters of Americans in the latest Morning Consult/Politico poll: Americans know government is the solution, at the very least to this deadly pandemic.

Walsh adds, “What’s most important about the Biden plan is not its size but the thinking behind it. For one thing, it rejected old notions about government support as a morally hazardous “handout” to the undeserving that would discourage work. Welfare reform essentially punished poor children for the (supposed) wrongdoing of their parents (mostly single mothers) and, especially, their joblessness.” In addition,

By contrast, the expanded child tax credits are more like Social Security, a recognition that government has a role to play in caring for those who can’t care for themselves, not just the elderly but children as well. It isn’t conditioned on whether parents, especially mothers, work or stay home, which was formerly a culture-wars obsession. Likewise, expanded unemployment insurance passed (though it was trimmed slightly), despite arguments that it could make not working more alluring than working. Most wealthy developed nations offer support like this…..The bill supports small businesses and restaurants, child care providers and union members on the verge of losing their pensions. It invests billions in Black farmers and Native Americans, funding that’s long overdue but especially needed in this pandemic. It also pumps billions into state and local government: That’s another learning from early Obama efforts to stem the bleeding in 2009: As the federal government sent money into the economy, budget-crunched local and state officials were laying off workers and thus taking money out of it….It significantly shores up the Affordable Care Act, weakened by Trump, including more subsidies for more people, and not just the poor. But back to the poor: It reduces child poverty by more than half; poverty for all Americans, according to the Urban Institute, by almost 40 percent.

Walsh credits progressive Democrats for fighting for their policy reforms, but not walking away from supporting the Covid relief package when they didn’t get their way on everything: “I want to hail the members of the Progressive Caucus,” and she adds,

They had major problems with the Senate bill—it stripped the House version of the $15-an-hour minimum wage, reduced unemployment benefits slightly, and (even as single mom and progressive powerhouse Katie Porter railed against it) left inequity between single parents and married parents intact—but they kept their eyes on the prize. Most people, myself included, assumed Biden and the Democrats went into this negotiation with a $1.9 trillion plan in order to cut it by at least a quarter. They did not. Progressives knew what this bill achieved.

Progressive Caucus whip Representative Ro Khanna hit the cable shows almost immediately after the Senate bill passed, promoting it. Bernie Sanders praised it too, tweeting after its passage on Wednesday: “What a difference it makes when government is on the side of working people.” An elated Representative Pramila Jayapal, Progressive Caucus chair, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Republicans made “a very big tactical mistake” in providing zero support for the relief package. “They’re going to have to try to explain why they voted ‘no’ on a package that puts money in people’s pockets.” On Wednesday afternoon, at a signing ceremony for the bill convened with Pelosi, Schumer effusively thanked Sanders. As well he should have.

The left, right and centrist flanks in the Democratic Party will continue to have major policy differences, heated debates and the occasional circular firing squad — It’s how we roll in the big tent. But we can hope that Democratic Party unity – and clarity – has been enhanced under Biden’s impressive leadership, with pivotal support from progressive leaders like Khanna, Porter, Jayapal and Sanders, as well as Pelosi and Schumer. It’s a good look. Here’s hoping it sticks.

Political Strategy Notes

The Biden Administration is savoring one of the most significant legislative victories any president has achieved since the Johnson Administration. In his article, “Good job, Biden. Now comes the hard part” at The week, David Faris writes, “President Biden and his Democratic allies are riding high after Congress passed the expansive COVID-19 relief and stimulus package on Wednesday. And they deserve to take a victory lap, because the American Rescue Plan promises to ignite a broad economic recovery and realizes long-sought progressive goals like direct cash payments to parents….Despite the bill’s messy and divisive denouement in the Senate, and the failure to include a minimum wage hike, the stimulus package should be seen as the cherry on top of a hugely successful first seven weeks in office for Biden. It is also, however, likely the end of the easy wins for Democrats and the start of a much more challenging period of steering legislation through a closely divided Congress.” Regarding filibuster reform, Faris adds, “President Biden himself has remained maddeningly coy on the subject. Given the speed with which he plowed ahead with the stimulus package without any Republican support, it’s safe to assume that despite his campaign theme of unity and bipartisanship, he is under no illusions about the prospect of Republican buy-in for other priorities like voting rights.”

Faris notes Biden’s other accomplishments: “In addition to the relief bill, the president used the Defense Production Act to turbocharge COVID-19 vaccine production and signed a flurry of Executive Orders, effectively vaporizing former President Trump’s policy legacy by, among other things, reversing the controversial travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries, halting construction of the border wall, rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, canceling the Keystone XL pipeline project, and lifting the immigration restrictions imposed under the cover of COVID….With a few effortless strokes of a pen, President Biden was able to wipe away pretty much everything Trump did except the 2019 tax cuts and the far right’s successful takeover of the federal judiciary…But these victories also mark the end of the new president’s honeymoon period. The low hanging fruit has been plucked, eaten, and juiced. The harder work begins today, and the president must soon make some more difficult choices. He will never be more popular, and Democrats have more leverage today than they will for the rest of this congressional term. House Democrats and nearly all of the party’s Senate caucus are on board with an aggressive agenda, including shoring up voting rights and democracy with the newly-passed For the People Act (H.R. 1), granting statehood to Washington, D.C., and possibly Puerto Rico, raising the minimum wage, reinvesting in America’s decaying infrastructure, reforming immigration rules, and following through on the president’s campaign promise of adding a “public option” to the Affordable Care Act’s health-care framework.” All in all, a pretty remarkable tally of accomplishments for the first six weeks of  Biden’s Administration and the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

Democrats did a great job of passing the Covid relief and stimulus package. But Dems need to do a better job of the “aftersale” than was done after the enactment of the Affordable Care Act. They must explain to the public the legislation’s impressive benefits for working people, the poor and children, as well as everyone concerned about the pandemic. It appears that impeachment 2.0 and even the Republican riot in the capitol did not distract Democrats from getting the pandemic relief and stimulus legislation passed. Biden deserves lots of credit for keeping his eyes o the prize, and not getting suckered into the weeds. But now Dems should get focused on making sure the public knows all the ways this egislation is good for America. As Greg Sargent explains at The Plum Line, “Though public support for the package is overwhelming, events will intervene and voters will forget a good deal about what just happened, even as they benefit from its provisions. So Democrats must be relentless in telling them what’s in it and in highlighting how it’s improved their lives.” Sargent repoprts that the White House is gearing up to meet this challenge. But follow-through by all Dems is everything. Let it be a rare exercize in Democratic message discipline for the next few weeks and again in the closing weeks of the 2022 election. Democrats can not count on the media to do justice to the relief package. It will be quickly forgotten, otherwise. The public has a short memory and no Dems should expect automatic gratitude.

At The American Prospect, co-editor Robert Kuttner does a good job of putting this historic legislative achievement in perspective in his editorial “A Stunning Day.”

“Something extraordinary happened today which is worth celebrating—the most far-reaching expansion of government help to children and families since FDR.

A year ago, a universal basic income was a radical fringe idea. Well, we’ve just enacted it for families with children. And once in place, this will prove almost impossible to dislodge.

Imagine the politics next fall when Democrats propose making the child tax credit permanent, and Republicans propose a massive tax increase on American families. My sources say Biden is committed to making this policy permanent.

Consider the arithmetic. A family with two parents and three kids will be getting about $14,000 a year. It just happens that this is almost identical to what a minimum-wage job pays if you work full-time ($7.25 an hour times 2,000 hours).

This is revolutionary, and will compel employers to pay a great deal more to get workers.

Think of what it took to make this transformative social policy mainstream. It took a pandemic. It took the improbable Democratic victories in Georgia to get 50 Senate votes. It took rare Democratic unity. And it took the radicalization of one Joe Biden.

Even more remarkably, while the two previous transformative Democratic presidents, LBJ and FDR, had huge Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, Biden has done it with fumes.

Sometimes, things break right. It’s a day to celebrate.”

Political Strategy Notes

At nbcnews.com, Ben Kamisar reports, “Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a crucial swing-vote in the Senate Democrats’ slim majority, said Sunday that he won’t bend in his support for the filibuster, a Senate rule that forces most legislation to require bipartisan support to pass….But he added that he would be open to Democrats passing more important legislation like voting reforms by a party-line vote — if senators are given ample space for bipartisan negotiation first.” Mancin added that “he was “willing to look at” ideas to make the filibuster “a little bit more painful,” like requiring lawmakers to take to the floor for marathon speeches if they wanted to use the procedure.” That would surely reduce the frequency of filibusters overall. Equally intriguing, Mancin suggested the possibility of expanding the reconciliation process to include voting rights: “There’s no need for us to go to reconciliation until the other process has failed. That means the normal process of a committee, a hearing, amendments,” he said when asked about whether reconciliation could be used to pass voting reforms in the future.”

In “Joe Manchin opens the door to filibuster reform” at Vox, Cameron Peters adds, “Obviously, Manchin’s comments Sunday aren’t a definite commitment to do something about the filibuster — but they’re still extremely good news for Democrats, who appear as if they will soon face a string of futile fights to win over 10 Republican votes for priorities like voting rights and a minimum wage increase….Specifically, Manchin’s change in tone, though slight, comes as Senate Democrats prepare for a fight over a voting rights package recently passed by the House of Representatives, and as high-profile party leaders begin to get behind ditching the filibuster….On Meet the Press Sunday, Manchin indicated some willingness to consider that first option, in addition to a talking filibuster, telling Todd he might be open “to a reconciliation” style approach for passing bills if Democrats are met with repeated refusals from Manchin’s “Republican friends” to work together.”

‘Blue Tuesday’ notes further at Daily Kos: “Shifting a 60-vote threshold to a talking filibuster is essentially ending the filibuster in all but name only. It means debate will have to end. And as we know, Republicans have no real interest in putting in any effort — Ron Johnson forced Senate clerks to read the American Rescue Plan on Thursday night and didn’t even stay for most of it, while Ted Cruz, as you’ll recall, literally ran away to Mexico to avoid helping his constituents in Texas when the state’s energy grid was disabled amid a massive and unexpected winter storm….It wasn’t a slip-up, either: Manchin said something similar on Fox News Sunday….“Maybe it needs to be more painful,”  @Sen_JoeManchin says of the filibuster. “It should be painful to use it,” he adds to Chris Wallace, while also re-upping his strong support for keeping it in place.”….If Manchin is willing to budge on this, Kyrsten Sinema — who got just pilloried for the way she voted “no” on the minimum wage on Friday — must not be far behind….Simply put, if Democrats don’t kill the filibuster, it’ll kill their chances to be a national political party. Gerrymandering and voter suppression will kill them in swing states and come 2030, Republicans will control those states with such an iron fist, they’ll go ahead and eliminate any nascent Democratic movement with more redistricting and voter suppression.”

Meanwhile, Donald Judd and Devan Cole report that “Biden signs executive order expanding voting access” at CNN Politics: “President Joe Biden signed an executive order Sunday expanding voting access in what the White House calls “an initial step” in its efforts to “protect the right to vote and ensure all eligible citizens can freely participate in the electoral process.”….The move comes as Republicans in statehouses around the country work to advance voter suppression legislation, including a bill in Georgia that voting rights groups say targets Black voters. Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, have pushed measures in recent days to increase voting rights, including HR1 — a sweeping ethics and election package that contains provisions expanding early and mail-in voting, restoring voting rights to former felons, and easing voter registration for eligible Americans….Sunday’s order directs the heads of all federal agencies to submit proposals for their respective agencies to promote voter registration and participation within 200 days, while assisting states in voter registration under the National Voter Registration Act. In addition, the order instructs the General Services Administration to modernize the federal government’s Vote.gov portal….The executive order also expands voter access and registration efforts for communities often overlooked in outreach, including the disabled, military serving overseas and the incarcerated.”

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.

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.

Political Strategy Notes

Dail Kos Elections has a fun map in their post, “Morning Digest: We’ve finished calculating the 2020 presidential results for every House district” (flagged by Ruy Teixeira).  From the opening paragraphs: “Pres-by-CD: Our project to calculate the 2020 presidential results for all 435 House seats nationwide concludes, appropriately enough, with Pennsylvania, the state whose electoral votes sealed Joe Biden’s victory four days after Election Day. You can find our detailed calculations here, a large-size map of the results here, and our permanent, bookmarkable link for all districts here. You can also find a traditional geographic map version here of the cartogram at the top of this post that shows the presidential election result margin in every district nationally….With figures from the Keystone State in hand, we now know that Biden carried 224 congressional districts while Donald Trump prevailed in 211. That’s very close to the 222-213 split between House Democrats and Republicans that emerged from the November elections, which is due to the fact that both parties occupy a similar number of so-called “crossover” districts: Seven Democrats hold seats that Trump won while nine Republicans represents districts that went for Biden….The number of crossover districts—16 in total—is extremely low by historical standards but continues a downward trend reflecting our nation’s increased political polarization. Following the 2016 elections, there were 35 crossover seats, which was an increase from 2012 but a steep drop from the 83 produced by the 2008 Democratic wave. For much of the post-war era, there were 100 or more such districts, according to the Brookings Institution—to find a lower proportion in a presidential year, you have to go back to the GOP landslide of 1920, when there were just 11 crossovers.” The map:

“Heck, I don’t know which side is more likely to gain or lose seats in the Senate or House next year,” Charlie Cook writes at the Cook Political Report. “History suggests that Republicans should pick up seats, and even minimal gains would likely put them on top in either or both chambers, given the Democrats’ slim majorities. But then again, a party in turmoil—and in some cases eating its own—is not well positioned to win any elections….So, having outlined what we don’t know yet about next year’s midterms, what do we know? Incumbency is of less value than ever before, and candidates’ personal brands matter less than they used to. As longtime National Journal writer Ron Brownstein says, it’s not the name on the back of the jersey that matters so much anymore, it’s the color of the jersey. Ours is a parliamentary voting system now…n the House, only seven Democrats represent districts Trump carried, while nine Republicans hold seats that Biden carried. With the House pretty sorted out along partisan lines, it won’t take a tsunami or even a more conventional tidal wave to move a dozen or two seats. Even a ripple might do it.”

Peter Wade reports that a “Whopping 46 Percent of Republicans Would Disown GOP for the Trump Party, Poll Says” at Rolling Stone, and notes, “The Grand Old Party ain’t grand enough to keep devoted Trump fans from abandoning the party if the former president creates his own….In a new Suffolk University–USA Today poll of Trump voters released on Sunday, nearly half — 46 percent to 27 percent — say they’d ditch the GOP for another if the twice impeached Trump were at the helm….Also, over 50 percent of respondents said the GOP should be “more loyal to Trump.” And 58 percent believe the lie that the January 6th attack on the Capitol was “mostly an antifa-inspired attack that only involved a few Trump supporters….An astounding 73 percent say President Biden’s election win is not legitimate. This perhaps shouldn’t be surprising considering major news networks keep inviting prominent Republicans onto their airwaves to spread Trump’s election lies.” There’s a clue.

Ronald Brownstein shares some thoughts about “The blind spot in the immigration debate” at CNN Politics: “While the working-age population is stagnating, the senior population is exploding. Even under current levels of immigration, the Census Bureau projects that the senior population will grow by nearly 40% from now through 2035, almost exactly 10 times as fast as the working-age population….In a recent paper, Noorani and co-author Danilo Zak calculated that these trends will produce a precipitous decline in what’s called the “dependency ratio,” the number of working-age adults — defined as those aged 18-64 — available to support each senior. Today there are about 3.5 working-age adults for each senior; by 2060, that number will plummet to 2.7, the lowest in modern times. Such a decline will increase pressure either for cuts in federal retirement programs, difficult tax increases on the working-age population to fund those programs or some combination of both….The nation’s growing diversity is centered among the young: Frey says the 2020 census will find that for the first time, a majority of the nation’s under-18 population is non-White. But because the US largely cut off immigration from 1924 to 1965, most older Americans are White….I’ve described this demographic contrast as a collision between “the brown and the gray,” and one of its many implications is that through the 21st century, a growing and preponderantly White senior population will depend on an increasingly non-White working-age population to pay the taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare….”Without legal immigration, the United States is not going to see sustained population growth and we’ll see declining economic growth as a consequence,” says Cato’s Bier. “It’s just that simple.”

Political Strategy Notes

Will Texas become the next mega-state to tilt towards Democrats? “The brutal winter storm that turned Texas roads to ice, burst pipes across the state and left millions of residents shivering and without power has also damaged the reputations of three of the state’s leading Republicans,” Marc Caputo writes at Politico. “Sen. Ted Cruz was discovered to have slipped off to Mexico on Wednesday night, only to announce his return when he was caught in the act. Gov. Greg Abbott came under fire over his leadership and misleading claims about the causes of the power outages. And former Gov. Rick Perry suggested Texans preferred power failures to federal regulation, a callous note in a moment of widespread suffering. It’s more than just a public relations crisis for the three politicians. The storm has also battered the swaggering, Texas brand of free-market governance that’s central to the state’s political identity on the national stage.” Texas Republicans may prefer that Perry, in particular, STFU. As Caputo notes, “Unmentioned by Perry: He was governor in 2011, when experts recommended winterizing the power grid. Perry went on to run for president in 2012, then was reelected governor two years later, ran unsuccessfully for president again in 2016 and served as then-President Donald Trump’s secretary of Energy from 2017 to 2019….“Whether it’s Abbott’s failed response or Cruz’s abandoning of our state, we shouldn’t put people in charge of government who don’t believe in government. They fail us every time,” said former federal Housing Secretary Julián Castro, a Democrat who’s considering a bid against Abbott or Cruz.”

And yesterday, Tim Stelloh reported at nbcnews.com that “An estimated 10 million Texans were waking up without safe drinking water Monday as state officials sought to ramp up bottled water distribution and calm residents whose electricity bills have spiked after a severe winter storm battered the state….Sprawling lines could be seen at distribution sites in some parts of Texas. Vanessa Fuentes, an Austin City Council member, posted avideo showing dozens of cars outside a soccer complex south of downtown Austin….Nearly 700 cases were given out before the event even began at 11 a.m., she said, and at another site, vehicles began lining up five hours before distribution started….”The impact from this devastating crisis will be felt for days,” she tweeted….President Joe Biden has signed a major disaster declaration making federal funding available to counties hit hard by last week’s storm. More than 4 million customers lost power, and at least 22 people have died in connection with the winter weather.” Such are the fruits of the deregulation party.

Nathaniel Rakich has a comprehensive update indicating that “Polls On Reopening Schools Are All Over The Map” at FiveThirtyEight. Rakich reviews all available pol;ling data and observes, “With many schools physically closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, parents are now balancing their omnipresent concerns over their children’s education, development and emotional well-being with their own lives and careers. And the stress of that has bubbled over to the point where reopening schools is now a major political issue….But despite the increased volume of the debate, public opinion on reopening schools is complicated. The issue is not as black-and-white as many are depicting it, and the variations in wording that pollsters use to ask about it can produce different results….Another problem with the school-reopening debate is that polls about individual elements of the issue are all over the map — giving both those for and against remote learning a number of stats to use to their own advantage….although Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for wobbling on reopening schools (something Biden has promised to do for K-8 schools within his first 100 days), it does not appear to be a political vulnerability for him yet. Morning Consult/Politico found that 52 percent of registered voters trusted Biden to decide whether to reopen schools in the fall versus 40 percent who did not. Quinnipiac also gave Biden a positive net approval rating on his handling of school reopenings (42 percent to 38 percent), including among parents of school-age children (43 percent to 37 percent), although a significant share of respondents (20 percent) had no opinion, suggesting they might be adopting a wait-and-see approach. Lastly, at least one poll (albeit from a liberal sponsor) thinks Biden still has the upper hand on this issue over Republicans. Global Strategy Group and GBAO, polling on behalf of Navigator Research, found in a Jan. 27-Feb. 1 survey that registered voters trusted Biden and Democrats to handle school reopening more than the GOP, 45 percent to 35 percent.”

In his article, “Organizing Going Forward” Steve Rosenthal writes at The American Prospect: “Progressives constantly jury-rig systems to compensate for the lack of deeply rooted, well-funded groups on the ground. For the past several years, many individual and organizational donors have talked about only “investing in building permanent infrastructure.” Yet there is a severe lack of permanent infrastructure to point to in most states. Too many donors tend to be fickle and want immediate results. They move from supporting one organization to another, funding the shiniest new object. And most organizations in recent years have been heavy on staff and light on volunteers….And while the progressive community has now repeated the mantra that we cannot just talk to voters at election time and expect them to participate, talk is cheap. There are too few examples of these types of investments. One notable exception was the organizing work that led to victory in Georgia in 2020. In early January, The New York Times reported that an extraordinary group of mostly women, led by Stacey Abrams, had a ten-year plan to flip Georgia. They executed their program, and donors stood with them instead of bailing after Republicans stole the governor’s race from Abrams in 2018. But what happened in Georgia shouldn’t be the exception….Of course, progressives won’t get everything they want all of the time, and there will always be inequities we need to fight against in this country. Still, we have one of the most pro-worker, racially diverse, and science-believing administrations in our nation’s history. And we have an all-too-rare unified Democratic control of Congress. If we can’t articulate change to voters and keep them informed about how their vote made a difference, what reason will they have to vote for us in the future? Winning in organizing matters—let’s not just tell voters what we will do; let’s be sure to inform them of what we have done and how this is just the beginning.”

Political Strategy Notes

In her Politico article, “Reparations bill tests Biden and Harris on racial justice: The House proposal has been introduced in every Congress for more than three decades and would establish a commission of experts to study direct payments to African Americans.,” Maya King writes, “Despite the enormity of the task behind the legislation known as H.R. 40 — named for the “40 acres and a mule” that has come to symbolize the post-Civil War government’s failure to help formerly enslaved people — the bill has new political momentum since its last introduction in 2019, when the GOP controlled the White House and Senate. The nationwide protests last summer following George Floyd’s killing have raised public awareness of racial injustice and kick-started a national conversation that advocates for a reparations dialogue see as valuable….What no one knows yet is how committed the White House is to the specific House legislative vehicle, which has been introduced in every Congress for more than three decades and would establish a commission of experts to study direct payments to African Americans….If the legislation passes, it would create a commission of more than a dozen experts to review the United States government’s role in supporting enslavement of African Americans from 1619 to 1865 from financial and legal perspectives. It would then recommend to Congress ways to both educate Americans on the legacy of slavery and alleviate its harms.”

However, “Americans are growing increasingly aware of racial inequality in the United States, but a large majority still oppose the use of one-time payments, known as reparations, to tackle the persistent wealth gap between Black and white citizens,” Katanga Johnson reported at Reuters last June. “According to Reuters/Ipsos polls this month, only one in five respondents agreed the United States should use “taxpayer money to pay damages to descendants of enslaved people in the United States…A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday showed clear divisions along partisan and racial lines, with only one in 10 white respondents supporting the idea and half of Black respondents endorsing it…Republicans were heavily opposed, at nearly 80%, while about one in three Democrats supported it. The poll did not ask respondents why they answered the way they did. Other critics have said too much time has passed since slavery was outlawed, and expressed confusion about how it would work.” Yet, “The failure of efforts to offset inequality, beginning with broken promises of farmland for freed slaves after the Civil War, “laid the foundation for the enormous contemporary gap in wealth between Black and White people in the U.S.,” Duke University economist William Darity and writer A. Kirsten Mullen argued in their April book “From Here to Equality.” It appears that any form of cash grants to individuals are a non-starter, politically. But “too bad about your enslaved ancestors, but that was then and this is now” is also a non-starter. While compensatory programs for horrific historical injustices are justified, the term “reparations” remains a tough sell. However, large grants to HBCUs and tuition grants for Black students may be a more promising approach.

In his post, “The Democrats Have An Ambitious Agenda. Here’s What They Should Learn From Obamacare” at FiveThirtyEight, Dan Hopkins writes, “Democrats are back in the driver’s seat, with unified control of the federal government thanks to their Senate wins in Georgia. So, what lessons from their 2010 signature accomplishment should they apply to their efforts to pass legislation in 2021, whether it’s on COVID-19 or climate change?….As a political science professor studying public perceptions of the ACA, I see two core lessons for Democrats to keep in mind. First, to stop high-profile laws from becoming unpopular, it helps to keep them simple. And the ACA was anything but: It sought to increase access to health insurance through a complex patchwork of regulations and other policies, which included creating new health insurance exchanges, expanding Medicaid, adding new rules to guarantee insurance access regardless of preexisting conditions, and mandating that all Americans obtain health insurance….Second, when the public evaluates a complex, multifaceted policy, like the ACA, there is a tendency to focus on its least popular parts. Most of the ACA’s major provisions were actually pretty popular. In a January 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation poll, for instance, 67 percent of respondents said that they were more likely to support health care legislation that created insurance exchanges, while 62 percent said the same about expanding Medicaid. Yet, Obamacare as a whole was viewed unfavorably from 2011 until 2017. That was, in large part, due to one unpopular provision in the law: the individual mandate. In that same 2010 KFF poll, 62 percent said that the health insurance mandate made them less likely to support the bill. And for millions of Americans, the ACA became synonymous with the individual mandate.” Perhaps another lesson is that big package reform is possible only when 60 Senators are in favor of it or with budget reconciliation.

Dylan Scott makes the case that “The Covid-19 relief bill is also an Obamacare expansion bill: Millions of Americans could gain health coverage under the Democrats’ stimulus bill” at Vox. As Scott observes, “The Covid-19 relief package proposed by President Joe Biden and being considered by Democrats in Congress could expand health care coverage to millions of people, the most significant step in the last 10 years toward patching up some of the holes in the Affordable Care Act….The ACA led to a historically low uninsured rate in the US — 8.6 percent in 2016 — but the number of uninsured Americans started ticking up again during the Trump administration, rising to 9.2 percent by 2019. Then millions of people lost their insurance (along with their jobs) during the coronavirus pandemic….The Covid-19 relief plan is trying to move the rate back in the other direction. The most effective provision would be a two-year expansion of the ACA’s premium subsidies, which Americans can use to purchase private health insurance on the marketplaces the law established….Completing the work of universal coverage, which is what Biden’s campaign platform amounted to, will almost assuredly not be accomplished in the president’s first big legislative package. Democrats will likely face a lot of pressure from progressives to go bigger in the next reconciliation bill they pull together….But this is, nevertheless, a start.”