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The Daily Strategist

April 20, 2021

Will the GA GOP Boot the State’s Thriving Film Industry to Keep Voter Suppression Legislation?

Boycotts are always tricky, and if they are well-organized and widely-supported, they are usually powerful. Thus, smarter Georgia Republicans must be very nervous about growing talk of boycotts of Georgia-based corporations and a statewide boycott that guts Georgia’s thriving film industry.

In “Will Hollywood Boycott Georgia Over New Voting Law?,” Bryn Sandberg writes at The Hollywood Reporter:

Georgia is facing calls for a potential boycott from Hollywood, this time over a new controversial voting bill that Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed March 25.

The new election law — which ushers in more rigid voters restrictions like ID requirements for absentee voting, limiting the number of ballot drop boxes, and making it illegal to give food and water to voters in line — has drawn widespread criticism from voting rights groups and Democrats. President Biden dubbed it “Jim Crow in the 21st Century,” while Stacey Abrams called it “a reminder of Georgia’s dark past.”

It’s also been denounced by many in Hollywood. Some of those outspoken industry figures have even gone as far as to call for a boycott of the state, a movement that’s waxed and waned over the years as other controversial legislation, largely concerning abortion and LGBTQ rights, has come and gone. The impact of a boycott could be significant, though, as Hollywood regularly shoots TV shows and movies in the state and has helped to grow Georgia’s robust film business into the nearly $10 billion industry it is.

Among those in Hollywood most vocal about a boycott is Ford v Ferrari director James Mangold, who tweeted that he would not direct a future film in Georgia due to the new law. (Ford v Ferrarishot some in Georgia.) “Georgia has been using cash to steal movie jobs from other states that allow people to vote. I don’t want to play there,” wrote the director, who is making the upcoming Indiana Jones movie. “The state will be irredeemably red with these new ‘laws.'”

Star Wars actor Mark Hamill seconded Mangold’s call to action, posting a tweet with the hashtag #NoMoreFilminginGeorgia. Production designer François Audouy, who has worked with Mangold on multiple films, also said that he would not design a film in Georgia in the wake of the new voter restrictions.

But while calls for a boycott grow, so do pleas to halt the movement before it gains more steam. “Please stop the #BoycottGeorgia talk,” Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter Bernice King wrote on Twitter. “That would hurt middle class workers and people grappling with poverty. And it would increase the harm of both racism and classism.”

Georgia-based actor Steve Coulter, who has appeared in shows like P Valley and Yellowstone, asked Mangold to think twice before boycotting: “James … we here in GA fought like hell the last 4 years to turn it blue. We gave you two Dem Senators. Your boycott only hurts us, the thousands of rank & film actors & crew. Think before you cancel. Please. We’ve worked too hard.”

One on-the-ground Georgia production insider says they feel like the calls for a boycott are much weaker this time around. “It seems like a few years ago, it was a lot louder and the ball got rolling a bit quicker,” says the source, who acknowledges that cast and crew being out of work for so long amid the pandemic might be part of the reason other stars and studios aren’t immediately jumping on the boycott train.

This individual also notes that the local film community is more prepared to fight back against those who urge pulling business, given this isn’t their first rodeo. “There are better and more effective ways of protesting,” the source adds. Others are quick to point out that with Tyler Perry Studios, Georgia is home to the only Black-owned studio in the country.

Abrams, for her part, has condemned the legislation as a “voter suppression bill targeted at Black and brown voters,” but has yet to weigh in on the calls for a boycott. In the past, however, she has advised against them. Amid anti-abortion legislation in 2019, she pennedLos Angeles Times op-ed that said that while she respected the calls for a boycott of the state, “I do not believe it is the most effective, strategic choice for change,” she wrote at the time.

Newly elected Sen. Raphael Warnock harshly criticized the new voter restrictions — but when asked by CNN’s Dana Bash if boycotts should be on the table, he didn’t offer a clear yes or no. “I think we all have to use our voices,” he said, vaguely. “We will see how all of that plays out, but I am focused on what we can do in the United States Senate.”

Calls for a boycott are extending beyond Hollywood, too. Civil rights groups have urged for the Masters Tournament and Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game to find new locations amid the bill’s passage. According to The Boston Globe, the head of Major League Baseball’s players’ union said he’d “look forward” to discussing potentially moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta. Georgia-based corporations Coca-Cola and Delta have also come under fire for their stances on the bill.

A similar movement grew in Hollywood two years ago in response to Georgia’s “heartbeat” abortion bill, which a federal judge ruled was unconstitutional last year, and a year before that over anti-LGBTQ adoption legislation, which former Governor Nathan Deal vetoed.

Balance the concerns of Georgia’s moderate leaders about a boycott against impressive boycott successes, and it’s a tough call. It would be a shame if thousands of jobs were lost in the state because of a boycott as the price to re-elect Sen. Warnock in 2022, and an even worse shame if he lost anyway. But it would also be a shame if Dems lost Warnock’s seat becase they were too timid to leverage the power of a boycott.

With respect to boycotts in general, there is always an argument to allow legal strategies to be exhausted before going all in on boycotts. The danger is that legal strategy can eat up the clock and have activists scrambling in the final months leading up to the 2022 elections. The reluctance of some Georgia public figures may be a kind of ‘good cop’ response to the ‘bad cop’ activists call for boycotts. But the net effect of increasing both pro and con boycott talk will likely escalate unfavorable publicity for the Georgia’s Republican Party’s political brinksmanship, which is now flirting with economic disaster for the state.

There is also the possibility that the enactment of federal voting rights legislation, including H.R.1, The “For the People Act’ and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act will undo the damage done by the rash of voter suppression laws in the states, including Georgia. But these reforms will depend on Democrats successfuly implementing carefully-constructed filibuster reform, which is also a tricky project.

All available strategic options for progressives in fighting Georgia’s voter suppression laws carry risk. But there is no question that Georgia’s leadership in the film industry gives the state a uniquely powerful card to play if there is a boycott. The hope is that just the threat of a boycott will encourage the state’s Republican leaders to repeal the recently-passed voter suppression legislation, or at least pass a more moderate bill that overrides the new legislation’s worst features.

Teixeira: Joe Biden, Keep on Doing the Voodoo That You Do!

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

I’ve got to hand it to Biden. So far, he has kept his eye on the ball and is concentrating on doing the big, popular things that will benefit a wide swathe of the electorate, particularly working class voters of all races. That’s smart and exactly what the Democratic party should stand for. A good article on HuffPost reports on the positive reaction Biden’s moves are getting from Democratic politicians in competitive states and districts.

“Across the country, Democrats are uniformly lining up behind the most essential parts of Biden’s policy program, aggressively trying to sell the already-passed American Rescue Plan ― which sent $1,400 checks to most Americans and which Democrats say will help crush the coronavirus pandemic and reopen schools ― with Biden himself embracing a prediction of 6% economic growth at his press conference last week.

They are eagerly anticipating his next legislative proposal, which Biden is expected to lay out in a speech in Pittsburgh this week. Early reports indicate the more than $3 trillion package will contain hundreds of billions in infrastructure spending, a permanent expansion of the child tax credit, free community college, aid for caregivers, and a package of tax increases on wealthy Americans and corporations.

Driving this party-wide political bet is a conviction that robust economic liberalism can renew Americans’ faith in their government, give them a political advantage on economic issues and stem continued defections among working-class voters of all races to a GOP almost exclusively focused on culture war issues.

“We’re going to keep building until every American has that peace of mind and to show that our government can fulfill its most essential purpose: to care for and protect the American people,” Biden said Tuesday during an event at Ohio State University in Columbus, with Ryan in attendance. “When we work together, we can do big things, important things, necessary things.”….

“I think people are starting to get confidence in the government again,” [Tim] Ryan [Democratic House representative from the Youngstown area of Ohio] said. “You can already feel a lot of voters saying, ‘I didn’t vote for Biden, but I appreciate what he’s doing.’ And if we keep going down this road, a lot of these people are going to approve of it.”

It’s the hope of Ryan and other Democrats that many of those voters are members of the working class. While Democrats made gains with college-educated voters during the Trump era sufficient to gain total control of the federal government, Republicans’ continued gains among voters without higher education ― including substantial gains among Latino and Hispanic voters in 2020 ― threaten the party’s viability in crucial states and districts. (American politics’ bias toward rural states and regions gives voters without college diplomas disproportionate political power.)….

Chuck Rocha, a Democratic consultant who has often been critical of the party’s outreach to Latinos, said the coronavirus relief package was more important to winning over Latino voters than any of Biden’s early moves to reverse Trump’s hard-line immigration policies.

“The biggest thing Joe Biden did is to secure a better chance at winning more of the Latino vote was to get that bill passed and send everybody checks last week,” Rocha, who worked for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and now runs Nuestro PAC, told reporters in a briefing this week. “That was a huge deal.”

So far, so good. The legislative politics around the second spending package, which Biden will apparently outline on Wednesday, are quite complicated. But I am encouraged by the level of focus the administration has shown so far and hopeful they will effectively manage this challenge and get something big and important through Congress.

Over the longer term, some course correction is needed on issues where the Democrats are vulnerable (like, ahem, immigration) but for the time being the administration is commendably focused on the moves that will pay the richest dividends for the country and potentially swell the ranks for their working class sympathizers. First things first.

Political Strategy Notes

As a result of Georgia’s new voter suppression laws, “Some have called for Major League Baseball to respond by pulling its all-star game out of Atlanta in July, just as the NBA took the 2017 all-star game out of North Carolina  after that state enacted laws limiting anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community,” Damien Cox writes at The Toronto Star.” According to one estimate the NC boycott costed the state $2.75 billion in lost tourism, special events and conventions. Cox notes also, “With respect to the Masters, the National Black Justice Coalition has already called for a boycott….“Professional golf should not reward Georgia’s attacks on democracy and voting rights with the millions of dollars in revenue that the tournament generates and the prestige it brings to the state,” coalition executive director David Johns said.” Back in 1990 the NFL informed Arizona that, if they wanted to host the 1993 Super Bowl, they had to enact a holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., as did nearly all other states. Two years later, the Arizona MLK holiday was enacted, after the state lost substantial tourist revenues as a result of the boycott and Stevie Wonder, the Doobie Brothers and Public Enemy cancelled performances in the state. In 2016 more feature films were produced in Georgia than in any other state. Georgia risks losing billions of dollars if the film industry begins relocating movie and TV shows as a result of protests against its voter suppresion laws. More discussion about the boycott at #BoycottGeorgia twitter feed.

From Terry Canefield’s “Georgia’s ‘Jim Crow’ voter suppression bill is now law. Here’s how Democrats can fight back” at nbcnews.com: “The provisions that make it harder for people to vote and the nonsensical provisions can be overridden by federal legislation. The Constitution specifically gives Congress the power to regulate federal elections: Article I, Section 4 gives it the power to make or alter rules for conducting federal elections. The 14th Amendment and 15th Amendment prevent states from discriminating based on race….Because so many of these restrictive provisions disproportionally affect minority voters, lawsuits are already being filed challenging the law….Georgia already has a well-organized voter support team, Fair Fight, headed by Stacey Abrams. State law allows for the casting of ballots and the tabulation of ballots to be observed by members of both parties. American courts demonstrated in 2020 that, even those with extremely conservative judges, they are not willing to overturn the will of the people in an election. Massive turnout and a clear victory are the best antidotes to attempts to suppress the vote….The Republicans are also on notice: Citizens are not likely to vote for the party that passes mean-spirited and anti-democratic laws. In the words of Cook Political Report editor Dave Wasserman, the Georgia Republicans may have “just handed Democrats their best turnout tool for 2022 & beyond.” After all, when a party outlaws giving water to voters stuck in long lines, what does it say about their values?”

Regarding statehood for Washington, D.C., Geoffrey Skelley writes at FiveThirtyEight: “Older polling has found that at least half of Americans oppose statehood, and that hasn’t really changed much. What is notable, though, is how much question wording can move the numbers — perhaps a sign of how we can expect the two sides to frame this debate….Two recent polls asked straightforward questions about D.C. statehood (some form of “Do you support or oppose granting statehood?”) and found the public pretty evenly divided. Forty-nine percent of Americans told Fortune/SurveyMonkey in mid-January that they favored statehood while 45 percent were opposed. For the pro-statehood movement, this is an improvement from some other nonpartisan polling on the topic in 2020, but only slightly. Further complicating the picture, just last week RMG Researchfound that 35 percent supported statehood compared with 41 percent who opposed it. Hardly what one would call a clear picture of public support. It’s important to note, however, that both pollsters asked a simple yes or no question, meaning there’s little reason to think respondents were primed to answer a certain way.”

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall explores data concerning the polarization of American voters and congress, and notes that “Morris Fiorina, a political scientist at Stanford, argues in a series of essays and a book, “Unstable Majorities,” that it is the structure of the two-party system that prevents the center — the moderate majority of American voters — from asserting their dominion over national politics: Given multiple dimensions of political conflict — economic, cultural, international — it is simply impossible for two internally homogeneous parties to represent the variety of viewpoints present in a large heterogeneous democracy ….Inevitably, Fiorina writes, Each party bundles issue positions in a way that conflicts with the views of many citizens — most commonly citizens who are economic conservatives and culturally liberal, or economically liberal and culturally conservative, but also internationalist or isolationist-leaning positions layered on top of other divisions….In Fiorina’s view, polarization has been concentrated among “the political class: officeseekers, party officials, donors, activists, partisan media commentators. These are the people who blabber on TV /vent on Facebook/vilify on Twitter/etc.”….This process effectively leaves out “the general public (a.k.a. normal people)” who are “inattentive, uncertain, ambivalent, uninvolved politically, concerned with bread-and-butter issues.” Edsall reviews data showing agreement on issues among many Republiucan and Democratic voters, but concludes, “The country’s conservative party is wedded to an extreme position — with an astonishing 59 percent of Trump voters convinced as recently as March 5-9 that Joe Biden is not a legitimately elected president, according to a YouGov poll….When one party sinks that far into delusion, cross-party cooperation is ruled out, and the kinds of centrist policies that many voters say they want become an impossibility.”

Investors Wade Into Georgia Voting Rights Fray

Business leaders who would like to help defend democracy against racially-motivated voter suppression should read the following article by Tammy Joyner, which is cross-posted from atlantaciviccircle.org:

A group of heavyweight investors has weighed in on Georgia’s battle over controversial voting legislation.

On Tuesday, nineteen investors affiliated with funds that manage $1 trillion in assets, sent letters to six Georgia companies under pressure to take a stand specifically against SB 241, HB 531, and SB 202 — bills that critics claim will suppress votes in Georgia. The letters call on AFLAC, Coca-Cola Co., Delta Air Lines, Home Depot, Southern Co., and UPS to stop making political contributions to legislators who attempt to restrict voting rights. The investor campaign was organized by Majority Action and SEIU Workers United.

“Corporations have too often reinforced structural racism and white supremacy with political spending practices that harm and disenfranchise Black, Indigenous and other communities of color,” Eli Kasargod-Staud, executive director of Majority Action, a nonprofit group that works with shareholders to hold corporations accountable, said in a statement. “More and more investors now recognize and are calling on corporate leaders to change these practices that both undermine democracy and threaten long-term shareholder value.”

The companies have been under tremendous pressure for weeks to speak out against the legislation. The companies have issued statements saying they support access to voting but have done little else to demonstrate in direct opposition to the legislation, critics say.

“As a trustee, I know the power of capital and know these decisions are not good for these companies’ bottom lines and create reputational risks for them,” said Champaign County Clerk Aaron Ammons, a trustee of Illinois State University Retirement System, one of the investors. “As a county election official, I know the importance of the right to vote and making sure that voting rights are protected. I am hoping these companies, these iconic brands, will speak out forcefully against these racially motivated attacks on voting rights in Georgia.”

The head of SEIU, a wide-ranging national union, called the corporations’ silence on voting rights “unconscionable and hypocritical.”

“These companies claim they support racial justice when it is the easy thing to do, but then sit on the sidelines while the freedom to vote for millions of Blacks, Latino and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Georgians are being threatened by racist voter suppression bills,” Chris Baumann, Southern Regional Director of SEIU Workers United said in a statement. “If Coca-Cola, Southern Co., AFLAC, Delta, UPS, and Home Depot refuse to listen to the Black Latinx and AAPI workers who are the backbone of these companies, perhaps they will listen to investors who are affiliated with funds managing $1 trillion in assets under management who are demanding action. We once again call on them to publicly denounce these racist voter suppression bills and publicly commit to never giving them another dime in political contributions.”

The investor letters are the latest in a series of pressures being waged in protests and in the media. SEIU Workers and Progress Georgia have been running a state-wide digital advertising campaign demanding the companies to condemn the voting bills. Several ads urge Georgians to sign petitions and send emails to Georgia legislators. The ads also note that black buying power contributes more than $106 billion to Georgia businesses every year.

Black Georgians are the third-largest black consumer market in America, Jeffrey Humphreys, director of the Selig Center at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, told Atlanta Civic Circle. Their spending represents 24 cents of every dollar spent by Georgia residents overall, Humphreys added.

Black Buying Power in America: The Top 5 States At A Glance

Texas. $133.8 billion
New York $131.0 billion
Georgia $106.2 billion
California $105.9 billion
Florida $105.6 billion

Source: Selig Center, Terry College of Business, University of Georgia

View the investor letters here.

Bad and Could Get Worse: Georgia Republicans Restrict Voting Rights

I’ve been following this development in my home state, and wrote about it at New York as it reached an inflection point:

Republican Governor Brian Kemp on Thursday signed into law a measure passed by Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature to restrict voting rights in reaction to Democratic gains there last year. While it’s not the “Jim Crow 2.0” critics feared — and that earlier versions threatened — the new law shows a determined effort by Republicans to restrict voting in order to claw back power

The bill imposed a new ID requirement on those wishing to vote by mail and tightened deadlines on mail ballots. It also restricted mail ballot drop boxes, banned provisional ballots for votes cast in the wrong precinct, and perhaps most ominously, allowed for state takeover of election administration from county election boards if it deems such interventions necessary.

The legislation also overhauled rules governing Georgia’s unique general election runoffs, which produced two Democratic wins in January that gave Democrats control of the U.S. Senate. Going forward runoffs will occur four weeks after the general election, with very limited time provided for the early voting on which Democrats generally, and minority voters specifically, tend to rely.

Though Democrats in Atlanta and in Washington are attacking the legislation with varying degrees of heat, it could have been much worse from a voting rights perspective. At varying points in the process, some Republican legislators were promoting the abolition of no-excuse voting by mail (which Republicans themselves introduced in 2005) and elimination of Sunday in-person early voting (in a transparent effort to stop the tradition of “souls to the polls” events traditionally held by Black churches after Sunday worship). The final version of the bill left no-excuse voting by mail in place, and actually mandated two weekend early voting days that by local option could be switched to Sundays. This provision is feeding Republican spin that the entire bill is somehow pro-voter.

The bill is probably best understood as a compromise worked out between the two wings of the Georgia GOP: Trump loyalists who claim to believe loose voting rules “stole” Georgia for Biden and two Senate seats for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock; and those including Kemp and secretary of state Brad Raffensperger who don’t buy the stolen election rap but still favor voter suppression as a way to improve their party’s odds in a closely contested state.

Aside from the ripe-for-abuse state takeover provision, the most troublesome part of the bill from a voting rights point of view is the switch from verification of mail ballots by signature authentication against voter registration files, to the new requirement for ID that must be submitted with applications to vote by mail and with the ballots themselves. This requirement adds two additional steps to the process for all voters, and a potential bar to participation for others, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported: “About 3% of registered voters don’t have a license or state ID number on file, and they would need to submit additional documentation.” It’s a provision almost sure to attract a lawsuit and judicial review.

While this legislative activity ends the GOP effort to roll back voting opportunities for now, the state will continue to be ground zero for fights over the franchise at least through the 2022 elections, which are expected to be very competitive, and where Kemp and Raffensperger may be fighting primary challenges from Trump-backed pols who will argue they are soft on “voter fraud” and too sympathetic to minorities. It’s worth noting that above and beyond the current bill’s provisions, there’s a tradition of Republican secretaries of state (most notably Kemp) using aggressive purges of voting rolls to target young and minority voters. That could be very much in play as Republicans deal with a likely gubernatorial race by 2018 Democratic nominee and national voting rights champion Stacey Abrams.

Let’s not forget, by the way, that the new Georgia election law is precisely the sort of legislation that would have been put on hold pending Justice Department review of its impact on minority voting rights had the U.S. Supreme Court not gutted the preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That’s another reason congressional Democrats should find a way to enact the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, restoring the VRA’s effectiveness and ensuring Lewis’s home state does not mock his memory and wreck his legacy.


Political Strategy Notes

David Siders explains “Why this moment for gun politics is different” at Politico: “If fallout from the nation’s two most recent mass shootings runs to form, calls for stricter gun laws on the left will meet resistance from the right. Washington will gridlock, and the media will move on….But the current debate is taking place under an uncommon alignment of the political stars, creating a unique moment in the arc of gun politics. Democrats control the White House and both houses of Congress for the first time since 2011. Public polling reflects widespread support for background checks and other gun measures, while the National Rifle Association — a traditional power in Republican Party politics — has been crippled by financial problems and infighting…..For the gun reform movement — a centerpiece of the Democratic Party’s agenda for at least a quarter century — the question this week has become, if not now, when?….The history of midterm elections suggests Democrats are at risk of losing the House next year, shrinking their window for legislative victories…..“The time is definitely now,” said Peter Ambler, executive director of the gun-control group Giffords. Howcver, Siders adds, “Democrats, of course, lack a filibuster-proof majority. And at least one Senate Democrat, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, hails from one of the most pro-gun states in the nation. But even if legislation ultimately fails in Washington, holding a vote on a major gun reform bill could be politically significant ahead of the midterm elections next year. For Democrats, said Floyd Ciruli, a Denver-based pollster, such legislation “would be, at least to some extent, to get a vote on it and be able to use it in suburban districts” in Colorado and across the country.”

In “The Strongest House Candidates In 2020 Were (Mostly) Moderate,” Nathaniel Rakich writes at FiveThirtyEight: “It’s not an ironclad rule, but there is a lot of evidence that moderate candidates tend to perform better at the ballot box. And though the relationship may be growing weaker with time, an examination of split-ticket voting in the 2020 election suggests it’s still there….Using data on the results of the presidential election by congressional district from Daily Kos Elections, I calculated how much better — or worse — each candidate for U.S. House did than their party’s presidential nominee. Assuming that President Biden and former President Donald Trump’s vote share represent how a “typical” 2020 Democrat or Republican would have done in each district, this gap gives you a rough measure of candidate quality….the vast majority of House candidates performed about as you’d expect based on presidential partisanship. But when you look at the exceptions — the districts where Democratic House candidates most outperformed Biden, and the districts where Republican candidates most outperformed Trump — the strongest candidates tended to be incumbents with moderate voting records and personal brands that differentiate them from the national reputation of their party….It wasn’t just Democratic moderates who punched above their weight. Middle-of-the-road incumbents also represent many of the districts where Republican House candidates most improved upon Trump’s margins (excluding House seats that Democrats did not contest).”

Former Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill shares the sobering truth regarding “Why We Can’t Start A Civil War In The Democratic Party” on Lawrence O’Donnell’s ‘The Last Word’ on MSNBC (via Susie Madrak at Crooks and Liars}: “”Well, here is what they should start by doing, and that is forcing votes on public policy that is wildly popular in this country, whether it is on gun safety or whether it is minimum wage or the reimportation of prescription drugs,” McCaskill said….”There is a long list of public policy issues that get wide, popular bipartisan support. Tee those up for votes, get those votes first, but let me tell you where it cannot end….Joe Manchin is never going to be beat by a progressive candidate. He’s in a state that Donald Trump won by 40 points. He is an aberration in West Virginia today….”So we only have 50 votes. If Joe Manchin decides to walk to the other side of the aisle, Mitch McConnell is back in charge. We have to win more seats in 2022. So what we can’t do in this process is start a civil war in the Democratic party….”Because if we do, then we see Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and North Carolina all slip from our grasp and we’re in a situation that if something happens with Joe Manchin or if he doesn’t run again, or Jon Testor or any of the other Democrats that are in Republican states, then we’re back with Mitch McConnell calling the shots and we can’t force votes. And so there needs to be a plan here, and it’s not as simple as ‘We can flip Joe Manchin,’ ” she said….”Cause that is a lot harder than you think.”

From “Biden allies eye two-step strategy on infrastructure” by Morgan Chalafant and Alexander Bolton at The Hill: “Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a key ally of President Biden, and several White House advisers want Congress to first move a smaller infrastructure bill in hopes of securing a bipartisan win before trying to address more ambitious goals on climate change and health care in a subsequent measure….Democrats say Biden is eager to get a bipartisan triumph during his first few months in office….“Anything we can do bipartisan is good,” said centrist Sen. Joe Manchin(D-W.Va.), adding that if Biden is talking about breaking up the infrastructure to package to get Republican support, it shows how serious he is about changing the tone in Washington….“If he’s talking like that — I think he’s sincere in that,” Manchin said….There’s long been bipartisan support in Washington for overhauling the nation’s traditional infrastructure system: roads, bridges, rail lines and waterworks….The Senate and House passed by overwhelming margins a $305 billion five-year highway bill in 2015. The sticking point in recent years has been finding a way to pay for infrastructure spending. The White House is mulling raising tax rates on corporations and wealthy individuals to pay for at least part of its infrastructure bill….But Biden also wants to use his infrastructure agenda to combat global warming, expand access to community colleges and prekindergarten programs, establish a national paid-leave program, modernize schools and weatherize private and public housing.”

Six Excuses For Inaction on Gun Violence

After two horrendous gun massacres in less than a week — one in and around Atlanta, the other in Boulder, Colorado — I wrote at New York about the tedious and unproductive debate that is likely to ensue.

The reason nothing ever happens on gun violence ultimately boils down to two interrelated things: The Republican Party has become wedded to Second Amendment absolutism, and that produces a veto of any federal gun-safety measures thanks to the Senate filibuster and the de facto 60-vote supermajority required to pass any and all legislation.

But aside from the mechanics of raw power that doom the reactions to gun massacres to tears of impotent sorrow and rage, some well-rehearsed rationalizations for doing nothing are reflexively, continually trotted out to defuse the spontaneous public impulse to just stop the madness. Their narcotic effect on debate is a testament to their real, if wafer-thin, plausibility.

1. “New laws wouldn’t have prevented this.”

This rationalization comes in two forms — first in the impossible-to-rebut argument that when there’s a will to mass murder, there will be a way to commit it, which means that any particular gun regulation will produce a Whac-A-Mole displacement whereby the putative killer can always find an alternative weapon or a means of acquiring one.

A bit more compelling are the precise arguments that this gun regulation would not have prevented that atrocity. Right after the Boulder killings, Ted Cruz offered it up. “Every time there’s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders,” he said.

What makes such arguments disingenuous is that Congress remains stuck on narrow legislative ideas, like closing the gun-show “loophole” to background checks, because the gun lobby opposes doing anything more comprehensive. By definition, these kinds of incremental steps to reduce the incidence of and the toll from gun violence will have a similarly incremental effect. But those who oppose broader measures have no standing to complain about the inadequacy of minimal improvements to the law.

2. “Guns don’t kill, people kill.”

The oldest and hoariest of arguments is that what causes gun massacres isn’t the weapon but the criminal who wields it — as though all blame must be assigned to one or the other. The whole purpose of gun regulation, of course, is the effort, which will never be perfectly executed, of separating evil humans from death-dealing machines.

No, gun-safety measures will not abolish original sin or prevent bad people from having very bad intentions toward their fellow citizens. But keeping lethal weapons out of the hands of lethal individuals as much as possible will reduce the number of times the wages of sin are someone else’s death. Presumably, all the other countries with vastly fewer incidents of gun violence still have evildoers; they just don’t kill as often.

3. “The real problem isn’t guns. The real problem is ______.”

A variation on the “Guns don’t kill” howler was illustrated by then-President Donald Trump after a 2019 multiple-gun-massacre week in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger,” Trump said, “not the gun.” Put aside for a moment the fact that the mentally ill are far, far more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of any and all acts of violence. Mental illness — and, for that matter, “hatred” — is a deep, vast problem that cannot be “solved” overnight or ever. Postponing gun regulation until the human frailties that make weapon use illegitimately deadly essentially means postponing it forever, which is clearly the idea.

Anyone who cites other genuine problems (whether mental illness, ethnic/racial hostility, poverty, or family turmoil) as reasons to ignore the problem posed by poorly regulated weapons is, strictly speaking, trying to change the subject.

4. “It takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun.”

For many years, the National Rifle Association has argued that gun control gives criminals and other bad actors an effective monopoly on weapons (“If you criminalize guns, only criminals will have guns”). Now, the truth is nobody with any power in this country is arguing for general bans on private gun ownership, so the underlying argument is really that private citizens should wage and win an arms race with evildoers. The logical end of this way of thinking is mandatory gun ownership by law-abiding citizens to make the United States an armed camp where the kinds of people who commit gun massacres are literally outgunned. It’s particularly sad when police officers like Eric Talley in Boulder die in the crossfire.

The possibility that the cure may be worse than the disease accompanies all such schemes. The U.S. is the global leader in gun ownership and towards the top of countries in gun homicides. It is improbable that there is no connection between the two.

5. “This is a slippery slope to gun confiscation.”

Like all “slippery slope” arguments, the claim that limited gun regulation will inevitably lead to the extinction of private gun ownership is both illogical and ahistorical. The fact is we have less gun regulation than we had in 2004 when the military assault weapons so prevalent now were at least partially banned. That ban hardly led to other weapons bans; the pendulum in fact swung in the opposite direction.

There is nothing irreversible about gun-safety measures, which should be judged on their own terms and not on the belief that their proponents secretly want to do something else. Even if the United States were on the brink of enacting that great gun-lobby bugaboo of national gun registration (or gun-owner licensing), it would not lead to gun confiscation without a vast expansion of government power and an extremely unlikely passivity among federal judges.

6. “Guns protect our freedom.”

This last rationalization, which essentially holds that the Second Amendment should be absolute and interpreted as unlimited, requires some thinking through. The idea (as I put it some time ago) is that “no restrictions on firearms possession are ever constitutional. And that particularly applies to military weaponry because the whole idea of the Second Amendment is the right to undertake a violent revolution against the United States government when ‘patriots’ deem it necessary or convenient.”

Gun absolutists are usually coy about what that means and allude vaguely to an armed citizenry as a deterrent to tyranny or just cite the American revolutionary precedent. Some have gone so far as to suggest that when politics fails to achieve some right-wing goal, “Second Amendment solutions” may prove essential. But make no mistake: The argument is to deliberately break the monopoly on deadly force that the military and law-enforcement agencies typically have in civilized societies, in case “patriots” need to start shooting soldiers and cops to defend their supposed liberties. It is precisely the mindset of the insurrectionary mobs of January 6, who believed they were exercising — to quote congressman and would-be senator Mo Brooks — their “1776 moment.”

The scariest thing about Second Amendment absolutists is that they often believe the sign for stockpiling the shooting irons in preparation for a possible armed rebellion is any threat to gun rights as they understand them. And so you have the circular reasoning that absolute gun rights are necessary to protect absolute gun rights. As with other rationalizations for refusing to deal with gun violence, there’s really no effort to reason with the other side of the argument at all.

Biden Calls for Ban on Assault Weapons, Better Background Checks

In response to the massacres in Atlanta, GA and Boulder, CO, President Biden has called for a ban on Assault weapons and tougher background check requirements for purchasing guns. “I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take commonsense steps that will save the lives in the future and to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act.” The President called further for:

We can ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in this country once again.  I got that done when I was a senator.  It passed.  It was law for the longest time, and it brought down these mass killings.  We should do it again.

We can close the loopholes in our background check system, including the “Charleston loophole.”  That’s one of the best tools we have right now to prevent gun violence.  The Senate should immediately pass — let me say it again: The United States Senate — I hope some are listening — should immediately pass the two House-passed bills that close loopholes in the background check system.  These are bills that received votes of both Republicans and Democrats in the House.  This is not and should not be a partisan issue; this is an American issue.  It will save lives — American lives — and we have to act.  We should also ban assault weapons in the process.

President Biden also called for limiting “the size of magazines.” At The New York Times, Annie Karni and Catie Edmondson explain further,

Mr. Biden, who had helped pass the landmark Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act as well as the 10-year assault weapons ban while in the Senate, came back five weeks later with proposals for legislation and executive action, but the Obama administration’s push to pass a background check bill failed.

“The failure to get legislation passed was one of Obama’s greatest regrets,” said Kris Brown, the president of Brady: United Against Gun Violence, a nonprofit group.

Mr. Biden faces political gridlock on the issue despite longstanding public support for tighter gun laws, growing calls for action from many Democrats and the waning influence of the National Rifle Association.

According to a Pew Research Center poll in 2019, growing proportions of Americans in both parties supported tighter gun laws. There was broad bipartisan support as well on some specific steps, including barring people with mental illnesses from buying guns. About 71 percent of Americans — including a slight majority of Republicans — favored banning high-capacity ammunition magazines, while 69 percent, including half of Republicans, backed an assault weapons ban.

Some Democrats are hopeful something can be passed. The NRA is weaker today than it was just a few years ago. However, today’s Republicans are far less conscientious than they were a decade ago.  Most observers believe it would require significant filibuster reform for the Senate to pass even modest gun safety reforms.

Teixeira: Why Voter Suppression Doesn’t Always Work

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

It’s Hard to Make Making Voting Harder Have the Electoral Effects You Want

That’s Harry Enten’s message in his new CNN column and he is correct.

“Republicans’ response to losing control of the White House and Senate has been to try and make voting harder in a number of states. Most notably, perhaps, is Georgia, where they’re going after ways of voting that were popular for Black voters and Democrats in 2020 (e.g. mail voting).

Democrats and Black advocacy groups are, of course, up in arms and trying to stop the GOP.
We can’t know how these changes, if they come to pass, would affect future elections. But by looking at two of the most prominent moves Republicans are trying to make, we can see it’s not at all clear that Republicans will succeed in helping their electoral prospects….

This doesn’t mean that what Republicans are doing in Georgia is right, and it doesn’t mean that this time they won’t help their chances.

The bottom line is, though, that voters aren’t static. What’s often been found by political scientists is that moves that try to make voting more difficult don’t succeed in changing election outcomes. The reason is that voters and parties make moves to try and counteract what’s happening.”

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.”