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Manchin and Biden Actually Like Each Other

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is in the news a lot, something he definitely encourages. Most of the time it is in the context of his balking at doing something progressive Democrats want. But surprisingly, Manchin and Joe Biden actually get along very well, even though they never served together in the Senate. Biden was already vice president when Manchin was elected to the Senate in 2010 after the death of Robert Byrd. Though they were not technically colleagues, Manchin and Biden talked a lot during the Obama administration since former senator Biden was the main liaison to the Senate.

The two men differ in age by only 5 years, which means they grew up in the same era and tend to look at the world the same way. Both are from working-class backgrounds, and were born in blue-collar towns that are only about 350 miles apart (which is pretty close, by U.S. standards). Both have been in politics for decades and view bipartisanship as a worthy goal. Both are willing to cross party lines to get a deal, where possible. People who know them say they are similar creatures cut from the same cloth.

When asked about Biden for the story linked to above, Manchin said: "I think he's a good human being, just a good heart and a good soul and he's the right person at the right time for America, truly is." Manchin also said that he has a great relationship with Biden. They have spoken about half a dozen times since Biden was inaugurated. One source said that Manchin's affinity for Biden is "real and genuine." Another said that Manchin has more regard for Biden than he does for anyone else in D.C.

Biden understands Manchin's position being a Democrat in one of the most Republican states in the country very well. That is why he is giving him plenty of space on the filibuster and other issues. But in the end, their personal relationship may determine how things work out between them and how much Manchin may shape some of the upcoming bills. (V)

Can Democrats and CEOs Be Friends?

The CEOs of big companies do not dislike Joe Biden's plan to raise the corporate tax rate. They detest it. Nevertheless, there are also indications that they don't detest Biden or the Democrats. Biden is far more predictable than was his predecessor, something that is greatly valued. And they love his plans to pump $2 trillion into the economy for COVID-19 relief and another $2 trillion for infrastructure. So maybe big business and the Democrats could at least get along? Some Democrats are actively working to encourage this.

This would represent a sea change from the past, when pretty much all Democrats were strongly opposed to big business and bashed it constantly. Also, from the other side, CEOs see that the Democratic Party is not about to vanish, so maybe engaging with it and trying to work with it isn't such a nutty idea.

The voter-suppression law in Georgia—and before it, the "bathroom bill" in North Carolina—have been catalysts in making the two sides less wary of each other. While all CEOs want lower taxes on corporations, most of them are not bigots and are not in step with the modern Republican Party and its focus on grievances, culture wars, and suppressing the Black vote. Some of them want Biden to be more open about his desire to work with business leaders. Lynn Forester de Rothschild, one of the organizers of the video meeting with 100 CEOs a week ago, has asked Biden to be more explicit about his desire to work with top CEOs. So far, Biden has been cautious because he knows that welcoming J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who has said he is "barely a Democrat," with open arms would infuriate progressive Democrats. Still, Dimon's efforts to change the rules to make an additional $500 billion available for mortgages, especially to low-income people, is not something Democrats, even progressive ones, oppose.

Biden realizes that there are areas where he can work with business and not be shouted down by the left wing of his own party. Voting laws and police reform are two obvious areas. Biden noted that in some areas corporations have come a long way. Ads featuring gay or biracial couples are common now. CEOs of giant multinational corporations are not stupid. They know that many consumers consider the corporate image when making a purchasing decision. Coke and Pepsi taste pretty much the same but if the CEO of Coca Cola comes out strongly against Georgia's new voting law and the CEO of Pepsi Cola does not, that is going to affect sales. If polls and focus groups show the CEOs that getting an image of being socially responsible wins over more young, progressive customers than it loses old, conservative customers, then opposing the law becomes a sensible business decision, not a political or moral decision. CEOs are usually pretty good at making business decisions. In any industry where the competing products are very similar and winning new young customers is important, this could help the Democrats. Of course the reverse is true also, so don't expect the makers of RVs and hearing aids to jump on the bandwagon.

One area that affects many industries is climate change, which is important to many young people. Corporations that take concrete steps to reduce their carbon footprint or replace old, polluting facilities with newer ones that don't pollute are going to win fans among young people. Doing things like this are going to bring them closer to the Democrats in the long run, especially if the Republicans' focus continues to be opposing abortion and gay rights. On the other hand, if Democratic leaders are seen getting too cozy with major CEOs and giving them policy concessions as a result of their (financial) support, the progressive wing of the Party is not going to be thrilled.

Biden is leaving the outreach to members of his team who are better positioned than he. Cedric Richmond, the director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, has ties to Big Oil. Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council, used to work for BlackRock, the world's largest investment manager. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo is a former venture capitalist who has many connections in the financial world. These people and others will take the lead here on many issues. For example, strengthening American manufacturing to keep jobs from being outsourced is surely an effort that even Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) would approve of. Providing broadband Internet to the entire country is another. The Democrats are taking baby steps now, but given that CEOs like the Democrats' spending plans, even if they don't like their tax plans, there is definitely some potential for working together, especially since the CEOs have no use for some of the crazier Republicans, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). (V)

Gensler Is Confirmed as SEC Chairman

Yesterday the Senate confirmed Gary Gensler to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission by a vote of 53 to 45. He will be Wall Street's top cop. An odd mixture of Republican senators voted to confirm him: Susan Collins (ME), Chuck Grassley (IA), and Cynthia Lummis (WY). None of their states are known to be financial powerhouses. But neither are Kansas, Idaho, or Mississippi, and all of their senators voted to reject Gensler. On the other hand, Wyoming is friendly to the cryptocurrency business and Gensler, who is a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, has done research on the subject, so that may explain Lummis' vote.

With this confirmation, Democratic appointees will have a majority on the SEC, so Gensler will be pretty much able to do whatever he wants. He knows how Wall Street works, having been an executive at Goldman Sachs for years and also the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

There are plenty of hot potatoes on Gensler's plate. Dealing with Bitcoin and the other cryptocurrencies is only one of them. Another is whether to force corporations to disclose all their political spending. Still another is exposing what corporations are doing in the area of climate change. Diversity on corporate boards is yet another. And then there is the recent GameStop mania and how it was handled.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), the ranking member on the Senate Banking Committee, explained why he voted against Gensler, saying: "I'm concerned he will cause the SEC to use its regulatory powers to advance a liberal social agenda focused on issues such as global warming, political spending disclosures, and racial inequality and diversity." He's probably right. That's why the chairman of the Committee, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), put it this way: "Mr. Gensler will bring the SEC's focus back to the people who make this country work and push to ensure that markets are a way for families to save and invest ... not a game for hedge fund managers where workers always lose." (V)

Democrats Are Fretting about Stephen Breyer

Supreme Court Justices do not live forever. Not even if they would like to. And not even if they have many fans who would like them to. Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave a demo of that last fall. Democrats are scared witless that Justice Stephen Breyer (82) could give another demo if he does not announce his retirement right now.

Joe Biden (or possibly Kamala Harris) will be president until Jan. 20, 2025. That is very likely. However, the Democrats' de facto 51-50 majority in the Senate is about as fragile as can be. Specifically, 15 Democratic or independent senators represent a state with a Republican governor. If one of those senators should die tomorrow (e.g., of COVID-19), he or she would be replaced by a Republican at least temporarily. Massachusetts and Vermont would hold a special election within a few months, but in all the other states, the Republican appointee would serve at least until Jan. 3, 2023, at which time the Republicans might have a majority in the Senate. If one of these 14 senators were to die followed by Breyer, it is very likely that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would become the Senate Majority Leader (at least temporarily) and block any attempt to replace Breyer. Here are the 14 vulnerable senators:

State Senior senator Junior senator Governor Special election?
Arizona Kyrsten Sinema (D) Mark Kelly (D) Doug Ducey (R) No
Georgia Raphael Warnock (D) Jon Ossoff (D) Brian Kemp (R) No
Maryland Ben Cardin (D) Chris Van Hollen (D) Larry Hogan (R) No
Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren (D) Ed Markey (D) Charlie Baker (R) Yes
Montana Jon Tester (D) Steve Daines (R) Greg Gianforte (R) No
New Hampshire Jeanne Shaheen (D) Maggie Hassan (D) Chris Sununu (R) No
Ohio Sherrod Brown (D) Rob Portman (R) Mike DeWine (R) No
Vermont Patrick Leahy (D) Bernie Sanders (I) Phil Scott (R) Yes
West Virginia Joe Manchin (D) Shelley Moore Capito (R) Jim Justice (R) No

Democrats are increasingly giving hints to Breyer that the time to announce a retirement (possibly contingent on a successor being confirmed) is right now, not in 2022 or 2024. Breyer may be thinking that he can stay on until 2025 since a Democrat will be president until then. He may not realize that the Democrats could lose control of the Senate tomorrow. Perhaps they could send him a copy of one of the Dr. Seuss books still in print, Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now! This was a thinly veiled attempt by the author, Theodor Geisel, a liberal Democrat, to get Richard M. Nixon to resign. Unfortunately, Geisel is no longer around to write a sequel.

Still, the hints are getting louder. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said he would: "never presume to tell a Supreme Court justice to retire" (English translation: "Breyer, announce your resignation today, dammit!"). Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said: "It's not clear that we will avoid a repeat of the past." (English translation: "Breyer, do you want a repeat of the Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg situations?"). Sen. Dick Durbin said: "We always worry about that [a justice dying]. And it's unpredictable." (English translation: "Breyer, RBG thought she could hang on a bit longer, too.").

For some activists, that is a bit too subtle. Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and Rachel O'Leary Carmona, the executive director of Women's March, said: "Breyer needs to step down before the 2022 midterms." But as we noted above, that may already be too late.

Only Breyer knows his plans and why he hasn't thrown in the towel already. He is presumably aware of what happened to Ginsburg. Maybe he thinks he is healthy so he can go on for another half dozen years. That, of course, is tempting fate, but he may not see it that way, just as Ginsburg did not. This is why Democrats and progressive activists are starting to get louder with their hints.

As an aside, the Republicans have no such qualms about such matters. During Donald Trump's time in office, McConnell openly called for older federal judges and justices to retire so Trump could appoint their successors. But Democrats think being so explicit is a bit gauche, so what is happening is just making the gentle hints a bit louder. (V)

House Committee Approves D.C. as a State

The House Oversight and Reform Committee passed H.R. 51 yesterday. If enacted into law, it will make D.C. the 51st state. The bill passed the Committee 25-19 along party lines. When it comes up in the full House, it is expected to pass, again along party lines.

The bill declares the District of Columbia to be the White House, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the Mall, and some federal buildings. The rest would be the new state.

When the bill hits the Senate, the fun will begin. The corresponding Senate bill, S. 51, has 44 cosponsors. Two notable exceptions are Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). Unless all the Democrats support it, it will die in the Senate. However, even if Joe Biden turns up the charm with his old friend Manchin, a bigger hurdle is the filibuster, which Manchin does not want to abolish. Although, a few weeks ago he said he would be willing to make it more painful.

Like H.R. 1/S. 1, H.R. 51/S. 51 is regarded as an existential threat by the Republicans, who will do absolutely everything they can to thwart the two bills. The Democrats have long promised to make D.C. a state. It will be an epic battle in the Senate. (V)

Greitens Is Already Causing Trouble for Republicans

Disgraced former Missouri governor Eric Greitens (R) is running for his party's senatorial nomination in the race to replace retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). Many Republicans are scared to death that he will win the primary and then lose the general election. Their fears have been magnified by the possibility that Donald Trump will endorse Greitens, making him the primary favorite. Rudy Giuliani has already endorsed him, so can Trump be far behind?

Greitens is probably the Trumpiest of the potential Republicans in the race, but that isn't the problem. Trumpiness wins elections in Missouri (see Hawley, Josh). His problem is the 2015 affair he had with his hairstylist. He coerced her into having oral sex with him, took pictures of her nude, and blackmailed her by saying he would release the pictures if she told anyone about the affair. After this came out, Greitens' wife divorced him. For many Republicans, this whole sordid affair smells too much like Todd Akin talking about how "legitimate rape" rarely results in pregnancy. For years now, Republicans have been able to win statewide races in Missouri just by not reminding anyone of Todd Akin. Greitens reminds everyone of Akin and with the endorsement of Giuliani and potentially Trump, he is probably the favorite for the GOP nomination now.

One person who could potentially help the Republicans is NRSC Chairman Rick Scott (R-FL). If he were to openly support and finance another candidate in the primary, that might keep Greitens from winning. Scott has said he will not intervene in open-seat primaries, but a recent poll from Tony Fabrizio, Trump's pollster, showed Greitens with a wide lead, so Scott will come under a lot of pressure to back one of the other Republicans in the race. That said, if Trump does endorse Greitens and Scott is actively trying to defeat him, Trump is going to be very angry with Scott. Since Scott is a potential 2024 presidential candidate, the last thing he wants is a big public fight with Trump. As a consequence of this complicated situation, Scott might be willing to effectively concede a Senate seat—and potentially control of the Senate—in order to keep his 2024 hopes alive. If Mitch McConnell personally asks Scott to take Greitens out and he refuses in order to make Trump happy, this could cause a serious rift between the Republicans' leader in the Senate and the guy charged with taking back the Senate majority. It could get nasty.

The Democrats don't have a candidate yet. They want either former senator Claire McCaskill or former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander to enter, but neither seems interested. Former state senator Scott Sifton is already in and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas may soon jump in. But if Trump does formally endorse Greitens, then McCaskill or Kander might decide that the odds now favor the Democrat and one (or both) might jump in.

With Pat McCrory running for the Senate in North Carolina, it is possible that the Republicans might be saddled with two Senate candidates they don't want in Greitens and McCrory. If both are nominated, the Republicans' chances of taking back the Senate will drop appreciably. However, if Trump's daughter-in-law Lara Trump enters the North Carolina race, at least the GOP won't have to worry about Greitens and McCrory losing two winnable seats. Instead they will have to worry about Greitens and Trump losing two winnable seats. (V)

Kevin Brady Is Retiring

Speaking of retirements, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) has announced his retirement at the end of this term. Is he too old? No, he is only 66, a mere sapling by congressional standards. Was he worried about losing in 2022? Hardly. His district, TX-08 North of Houston, is R+28. Do Republicans dislike him? Not at all. After all, he was the chief architect of the 2017 tax-cut bill. So why is he leaving?

It turns out he ran into a term limit of sorts. Internal Republican rules limit how long members can stay in top positions. He is currently the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which along with the Senate Finance Committee writes the nation's tax laws. If the Republicans take the majority of the House in 2022, the Ways and Means chair will be enormously powerful. But it won't be Brady, even if he stays and is reelected, because he has hit the 6-year term limit for the job. Becoming a regular backbencher after you have had so much power is a real letdown, so he will be heading back to Texas in Jan. 2023. Brady has been in Congress since 1996. (V)

McAuliffe Has Huge Lead in Virginia Democratic Gubernatorial Primary

A new PPP poll shows that former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe has a huge lead over all his rivals for the Democratic nomination for governor. He is at 42%, followed not so closely by the two Jennifers (Carroll Foy and McClellan) at 8% each, Lt. Gov, Justin Fairfax (D-VA) at 7%, and Del. Lee Carter (D) at 4%. McAuliffe and Carter are white. The others are Black.

Virginia law does not limit how many terms a governor can serve, but no one can serve two consecutive terms. McAuliffe, who used to be the Clintons' bag man, is very well known in the state due to his previous term as governor. None of the other candidates are well known at all. And with three Black candidates running against one another, the Black vote is badly divided, so that no one is seriously challenging McAuliffe.

What amazes us is that McAuliffe has a 68% name recognition. That means that 32% of Virginia Democrats don't recognize someone who was governor of the state as recently as Jan. 2018. That doesn't indicate a well-informed electorate.

The Republican side is more complicated, with the nominee to be chosen at a state convention on May 8. Seven candidates are running, but only two are expected to have a realistic chance. One is state senator Amanda Chase, who describes herself as "Trump in heels." She is a very outspoken Trump supporter. The state is trending Democratic, so if she wins the nomination, McAuliffe will crush her like a bug. Democrats are rooting for her big time. The other Republican who could get the nomination is former Speaker of the House of Delegates, Kirk Cox. He is a conventional conservative and might have a shot at beating McAuliffe. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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