Senate page     Oct. 04

Senate map
Previous | Next

New polls:  
Dem pickups: (None)
GOP pickups: (None)

Tough Choices Ahead

A lot of Democrats see Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) as a DINO or an enigma or something we can't print in a family blog. Actually, he has been fairly clear and somewhat consistent about what he is and isn't. Last week he was very clear when he said: "I've never been a liberal in any way, shape, or form. I don't fault any of them who believe that they're much more progressive and much more liberal, God bless them. And all they need to do is [say]: we have to elect more liberals."

Does that make him a Republican? No. Actually, Hell no. He recently noted that he wants a reconciliation bill that starts out by gutting the Republicans' 2017 tax cut law. He also said he wants higher taxes on the rich. No Republican would say anything like that.

He also said that he wants the reconciliation bill to be $1.5 trillion (over 10 years). If he had announced this on Jan. 20, 2021, before there was endless talk about $6-trillion and $3.5-trillion bills, all the headlines would have read: "Manchin wants to spend over a trillion dollars on the social safety net!!!" He would have been a hero. Now he is a goat. If the Democrats now come up with a $1.5-trillion bill that leaves out his pet issues, like rural broadband, helping abandoned coal miners find new jobs, dental care for tooth-challenged people, etc., he will holler. Then they will say: "Well, if we make it $2 trillion, we will have money for the things you want. He'll probably make a pro forma objection, but go along with that in the end. He's a politician through and through and knows how the sausage is made. But even a jump to $2 trillion probably won't satisfy Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She wants something closer to $3.5 trillion. We are definitely not out of the woods yet.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the Democrats are not going to have a $3.5-trillion reconciliation bill and there are some very hard choices ahead in the next week or two. The first big decision in going from $3.5 trillion to $1.5 trillion (or even $2 trillion) is this: Should we keep all our priorities and fund each of them at half strength or should we pick our top priorities and give them enough funding that they could succeed? Going the first route has the enormous danger of none of them really working and none of them impressing the voters. Going the second route will pit Democrat against Democrat in the battle for picking winners.

For example, should the Democrats go all out to fight climate change and junk free pre-K and free college? Should poor people get priority over seniors, or vice versa? For parents, is child care more important than school lunches? Is home health care for old people or sick people really the federal government's responsibility? What article in the Constitution says that? What might the criteria even be for deciding what to include in a slimmed-down bill? For example:

In the long run, probably the best thing for the country is fighting climate change, but politicians hate to support long-term plans when that means short-term plans get killed. For poor people, extending the refundable child tax credit is a huge plus. It amounts to the government giving free money to families with children. The Republicans' ad against this in 2022 will show a Black mother (and no father) with six kids with a voiceover saying "Democrats want to spend hundreds of billions of dollars of your money on welfare." Doesn't matter if it is true. The ads will be there. This particular line of attack was pioneered by St. Ronald of Reagan.

Health care was an important platform plank for Democrats in 2018 and 2020. Failing to do something about it will come back to bite them in the rear. But is the top health-care priority expanding the ACA subsidies, or adding vision, hearing, and dental coverage to Medicare, or something else? All these things are very expensive and they could hit $2 trillion very fast. A weak program giving, for example, seniors limited vision, hearing, and dental care, but only after they first pay an out-of-pocket deductible of $500, will make many people say the whole thing is a fraud. A great many seniors don't have $500 lying around, especially if they are living off of only Social Security.

If the Democrats want to have it all, there is sort of a way, but it also has downsides. Spending $3.5 trillion over 10 years is $350 billion a year. Suppose all the programs sunset after 6 years. Then spending $2 trillion but spreading it over 6 years allows $333 billion per year, almost the original plan. But the catch is: What if Republicans control the show in 2028 and just let everything peacefully expire? The Democrats' idea is that if a popular program has been in place for 10 years, the Republicans won't dare dismantle it. A program that has been in place only 6 years is easier to let die off, especially when no congressional action is required to kill it. In fact, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) made precisely this suggestion yesterday. Her idea was for 5 years, rather than 6, but the length of time could be adjusted when the final amount is known. Then the burn rate could be set to $350 billion/year and the number of years be determined by that.

Another way the Democrats could try to go is to do what Manchin wants and repeal the 2017 tax-cut law. That would free up almost $2 trillion. Manchin also wants to tax the rich. Suppose they had $3 trillion to play with as a result? Then they go to Manchin and ask him: "What do you want to do with it?" It could be a productive conversation. But even if Manchin has some good ideas, there is still Kyrsten Sinema. If Manchin finally gets on board, does she really want to singlehandedly kill Joe Biden's agenda? There are plenty of carrots and sticks available to try to get her to shape up, but she kind of marches to the beat of her own drummer.

No matter what Congress and Biden agree on, many Democrats and many voters will be profoundly unhappy. They wanted FDR II and they may feel they are getting Jimmy Carter II. What they miss is that FDR had a massive majority in Congress (as did LBJ in 1964). FDR and LBJ had huge mandates for big change and the votes to back it up. Biden doesn't. Engineering massive social change with a 50-50 Senate and a three-vote majority in the House was never going to be easy, and as crunch time comes, that will become glaringly apparent.

As part of the process of negotiating a deal and trying to get the House centrists on board, Biden is now emphasizing that his program will be fully paid for by tax increases and won't add a penny to the national debt. He is contrasting it with the Republican tax cuts of 2017, which were completely unfunded and added $1.9 trillion to the debt. When the Republicans yell "Democrats tax and spend," he is going to yell "that's better than the 'borrow and spend' that you do."

In light of recent developments in D.C., Politico's Matt Wuerker has produced an updated political map of the United States:

Matt Wuerker's map of U.S.; it is
titled 'politica geography of the U.S.' and has 48 small states and a giant Arizona and West Virginia

It kind of sums up things, although if we had drawn it, we probably would have put Arizona west of Colorado and Kansas. (V)

Manchin Is Striking Out in His Other Quest

Joe Manchin has singlehandedly bent the whole discussion on infrastructure to fit his views on it, as discussed above. However, in another area of great interest to him, he is getting nowhere. The Democrats want to protect democracy by passing H.R. 1 and H.R. 4, or perhaps Manchin's own watered-down version of H.R. 1. But that would require reforming the filibuster, something Manchin is against. Manchin is not against protecting voting rights, but says it should be done in a bipartisan way.

So, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) challenged him to come up with a voting rights bill and get 10 Republican senators to support it. Manchin took up the challenge, but is getting nowhere with it. Manchin talked to retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), who has nothing to lose if states run honest elections and stop trying to make voting difficult. Blunt suggested a few things that he could support, including some ballot security ideas, creating standards that states would have to follow to get federal funding for elections, and of course that old standby, forming a committee to study the problem. These are not exactly the things Democrats are interested in. And remember, as a soon-to-be-former senator, Blunt has no skin in the game. For Republican senators who want to be reelected, even these things may be too much.

Manchin has spoken to Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), who said there is "a pretty wide gap" between the parties. Manchin also talked to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and others. None of them wanted to discuss their talks with him, presumably because they don't want any voting rights bill to pass, except one that restricted voting in the name of stopping (nonexistent) election fraud. Most Republicans intuitively understand that if every eligible voter voted, Republicans could never again win a national election and would lose statewide elections in most of the purple states. So they are opposed to voting rights bills, but would rather not talk about that in public.

The $64,000 question is what happens when Schumer asks Manchin: "How's it going on voting rights?" and Manchin has to admit that no Republicans are interested. What will Manchin do then, knowing that a bipartisan agreement is impossible? Will he pretend it is possible and just keep working on it and getting nowhere? Is there some point when he will concede a bipartisan agreement is impossible? If so, what will he do with that information? In the past, he has said that while he doesn't want to abolish the filibuster, he is OK with making it more burdensome (i.e., making the senators stand up and read the Bible or the phone book for hours on end). Will that be his fallback position if and when he comes to realize that a bipartisan agreement is impossible (except maybe to form a committee to study the problem and recommend essentially nothing)? The future of democracy kind of hinges on what he does when he gets to that point. (V)

Opponents of the Texas Abortion Law Demonstrated All over the Country on Saturday

On Saturday, there were over 600 demonstrations against the Texas abortion law as women marched on the Supreme Court, the Texas Capitol, and many other places. Tens of thousands of women took part. Here is a photo from the Chicago march:

Pro-choice march in Chicago; the crowd is very large, 
at least 300 people are visible and they are spillling out of al four sides of the frame

In the nation's capital, Planned Parenthood President Alexis Johnson said: "No matter where you live, no matter where you are, this moment is dark." Some protesters had "Abort Abbott" signs and shirts, a reference to the Texas governor who signed the bill. Other signs read: "Think outside my box," "My body, my choice," "Mind your own uterus," "Grab 'em by the patriarchy," and "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries." There were only a small number of counterprotesters.

In some states, politicians spoke to the marchers. Newly installed Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) wanted people to know where she stands on this matter, so she spoke in Seneca Falls and Albany, saying: "I'm sick and tired of having to fight over abortion rights. It's settled law in the nation and you are not taking that right away from us—not now, not ever." Even some Republicans are against the Texas law. In Maine, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said she is working on a bill to enshrine Roe v. Wade in federal law, so it doesn't matter that the Supreme Court has an upcoming case in which it could overturn the 1973 decision. That case originated in Mississippi. The oral hearing will be on Dec. 1.

Some of the protesters said that the law would backfire since more people support the right to a safe, legal abortion than oppose it. Recent polling from Fox News, Marquette University, Monmouth University, and Quinnipiac University show that fewer than one-third of Americans want to overturn Roe. To the extent abortion is a key issue in 2022, it could motivate women, who skew Democratic, to vote, even more than issues like Afghanistan, infrastructure, or free pre-K education. It is definitely not in the Republicans' interest to have this issue be burning brightly in 2022. (V)

COVID-19 Deaths Pass 700,000

The official tally of U.S. deaths from COVID-19 has now passed 700,000 and is still climbing. A map from the New York Times showing COVID-19 deaths since the country hit the 600,000-mark on June 16 makes it abundantly clear where the recent deaths are happening:

COVID-19 deaths mao since June; the Deep South is made up of nothing
but hotspots, and there are plenty of hotspots in the mountain states, the upper South, the lower Midwest, and the eastern portions of Oregon/Washington. There are virtually no
hotspots anywhere else

Even a quick glance at the map shows that COVID-19 is still running wild in red states, especially in the South, while in the blue states of the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and West it is largely under control. Or to put it more crudely, where Republicans rule, COVID-19 reigns; where Democrats rule, COVID-19 is not killing off people. And the map shows deaths since June, when free vaccinations were available nationwide for all adults. Nearly all the 100,000 extra deaths were preventable.

The demographics of death are changing. About 40% of the most recent 100,000 deaths were people under 65, because 83% of seniors are fully vaccinated. A funeral director in Tampa, Wayne Bright, said: "Now you're dealing with people in their 30s and 40s and 50s. These are people who, without the pandemic, they would almost certainly be alive and live full lives." He is now working 7 days a week amid a shortage of caskets and cemeteries that require reservations weeks in advance to get a burial slot. He said that most of his "clients" were unvaccinated. He's not the only funeral director with these problems.

James Pollard, the Henry County, KY, coroner outside Louisville, said: "The families are going through a lot of initial pain and shock and when we're getting 20-, 30-, 40-year-old people who are passing away from it, that makes it so much more difficult. It has more of a lasting effect than any other natural death." He said that relatives of the deceased are finally saying that they are going to be vaccinated. In Kentucky horse circles, this is known as locking the barn door after the prize race horse has escaped.

Rev. Joy Baumgartner, a minister in Wisconsin, presided over a recent funeral that she described as the most grief-stricken she has ever experienced. It was of a 64-year-old woman and congregation member whose adult children had advised her not to get vaccinated.

On the positive side, 2 million people got booster shots of the vaccine last week, including Joe Biden. In the coming weeks, 8,000 clinics will open to give booster shots to the already vaccinated. So far, 185 million Americans are vaccinated, but 70 million eligible people have not gotten even one shot. (V)

New Details Emerge in Case against Weisselberg

A new detail has emerged in the indictment of Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg that could have important ramifications for Donald Trump. Among the many allegations that have already been made public is one that accuses Weisselberg of erasing part of a ledger called "Donald J. Trump's Detail General Ledger." The erased parts are the tuition payments for Weisselberg's grandchildren at a fancy private school.

It is the name of the ledger that is the new detail. If there was a special ledger for Trump, separate from the main Trump Organization record keeping, that means that Trump knew full well about the off-the-books payments. An argument from him in court to the effect "I didn't know about this" is much less likely to sway jurors now.

The leak, which was probably on purpose from the D.A.'s office, was a coded message to Trump saying: "We have your secret ledger and will use it as evidence against you if you are indicted." Trump hasn't been indicted yet, but NY AG Letitia James has indicated that more charges in the case against the Trump Organization are likely although she didn't give any details. (V)

Climate Change Deniers Are about to Get an Unpleasant Surprise

Climate change is a reality and it doesn't matter if you believe it or not, because your insurance company does. FEMA and private insurance companies are starting to set premiums for flood insurance and for other climate-related kinds of insurance at values that reflect the real financial risks global warming is bringing with it. Take a look at this photo. Where do you think it was taken?

A house and several other structures
are almost completely underwater, such that you can only see their roofs.

No doubt somewhere on the Florida coast after a hurricane? Nope. Then on a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina? Also nope. It's in Sioux City, Iowa, and although Sioux City is 1,100 miles from the nearest ocean, when abnormal rainfall causes the Missouri River to flood, it gets quite wet there.

FEMA, which provides cut-rate flood insurance for homeowners all over the country, is planning to raise premiums by up to 18% per year for the next 20 years to reflect the real risk. For some people, the increase will be a modest $120 for the first year, but for people with expensive homes in dangerous flood areas, it might go up by $14,000. For people who don't believe in climate change, this is going to be a big eye opener. They are certainly going to complain and let their senators and representatives hear of it. It could be the next big political battle, as over 5 million people have FEMA flood insurance, and no doubt like it with premiums far below the real market rate.

But if FEMA gets its way, many people will drop their flood insurance and go naked. When the next flood arrives, they will demand that the government bail them out. For one 8-acre farm in Iowa, the regular property insurance is $1,800 per year but the flood insurance is $2,600 per month. Maybe if enough people complain to Congress and demand insurance rates far below market, Congress will cave and tell FEMA it can't raise the rates. But private insurance companies and mortgage providers won't be swayed so easily.

Environmentalists, for the most part, are going to cheer FEMA and the insurance companies on. When people start to feel real pain personally (or in their wallets), they are going to start asking: "Is this climate change thing real? And if so, what can we do about it?" The battle over insurance may provoke a political reaction in a way that ads from the Sierra Club never have. Democrats are going to say: "We've been telling you about this for years but you weren't listening." Republicans can call it a hoax if they want to, but they are going to have trouble convincing insurance companies and lenders that it is a hoax, especially as floods become more common all over the country (not to mention wildfires in the West). So it is likely that climate change is going to play out soon with the green eyeshade types playing a bigger role than they had planned on. (V)

Can Sinema Be Recalled?

Article 8 of the Arizona Constitution reads, in part:

Every public officer in the state of Arizona, holding an elective office, either by election or appointment, is subject to recall from such office by the qualified electors of the electoral district from which candidates are elected to such office. Such electoral district may include the whole state.

To recall an officer, a recall petition must state, in no more than 200 words, why the officer is being recalled. It could be as simple as: "The country is facing a crisis of democracy and an environmental crisis and Sen. Sinema refuses to do anything about them." The petition must gather a number of signatures equal to 25% of the vote in the last general election for the office in question. For Sinema, that would be a quarter of the 3,355,317 votes cast in the 2020 contest between Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and Martha McSally; that works out to 838,830 signatures. That's a lot, but if Joe Manchin eventually falls in line and Sinema is the only one holding up Joe Biden's agenda, it is possible that 838,830 of the 1,716,467 people who voted for Kelly might sign up. Also, many Republicans might sign up, hoping to flip the seat.

The procedure is different than the one in California. Anyone who qualifies for the office can file to run. All the candidates and the incumbent run in one giant jungle election. Whoever gets the most votes, wins. There is no runoff. Since the recall election is a special election, a member of the House could enter with no downside. If he or she wins, he or she gets an upgrade. In the event of a loss, it's just back to the House.

If the Democrats wanted to go this route, it would at least put a tad bit of pressure on Sinema—not in 2024, but right now. Of course, the Arizona and National Democratic Parties would have to pick one candidate to fund and tell everyone else to forget it, lest the field be split 10 ways, with Sinema eking out a small victory. That might or might not work, though, since every representative and state senator might go for it given there is no risk.

There is also one important footnote here. While the Arizona Constitution makes it clear that Arizona officials can be recalled, the U.S. Constitution has no recall provision (other than impeachment and conviction by Congress). If the procedure was started to recall Sinema, she would likely go to court to argue that recalling a senator is unconstitutional since the U.S. Constitution doesn't mention the subject. The Supreme Court has never ruled on this issue, but if Sinema goes to court to stop the recall, it would probably be forced to do so.

Recall aside, grassroots pressure in Arizona to do something about Sinema is growing. State Sen. Martin Quezada (D) said: "She's practically laying out a red carpet for a primary challenge. I think that's the next step that people here in Arizona, activists and members of the party are going to take, is to start building that war chest to fund a possible primary challenge against her." Various groups are already looking for candidates to take her on. One group is especially looking at Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) as a potential candidate. (V)

Alito Says Supreme Court is Not a "Dangerous Cabal"

When Supreme Court Justices criss-cross the country announcing that they are on the up and up, that is a sign they know that the Court's image is in big trouble. The latest justice to speak out on this is Samuel Alito, who spoke at the University of Notre Dame and pushed back on the idea that the Court was acting in a "sneaky or dangerous" way. This pushback is needed because the Court is acting in a sneaky and dangerous way. Specifically, it is issuing more and more rulings on the shadow docket in the middle of the night, without a hearing in which both sides can argue their cases before the Court in broad daylight.

Alito said there was nothing new about the emergency docket and that sometimes justices have to act quickly, though he acknowledged that the Court is using it more and more in recent years. He defended its use, but the mere fact that he felt compelled to speak at a major university for over an hour to defend the practice shows that he knows its use is problematical. He would never have spoken at length, for example, on the practice of allowing female lawyers to argue before the Court, because he knows that is not controversial (anymore), whereas midnight decisions on the shadow docket definitely are. In fact, his colleague, Justice Elena Kagan, has openly criticized the use of the shadow docket as a way to make decisions without giving both sides the chance to argue their cases. Alito is no doubt aware of a recent Gallup poll showing that 40% of Americans approve of the Supreme Court and 53% disapprove. This is its worst showing ever.

Alito is not the only justice to hit the road to try to defend the Court. Justice Amy Coney Barrett recently argued that the Court does not consist of "a bunch of partisan hacks." Justice Clarence Thomas recently denounced the media for daring to suggest that the justices sometimes let their personal politics affect their decisions.

However, not all cases are decided secretly in the dead of night. Today, the Court's 2021-2022 term begins. Many of the cases are high profile, addressing issues like abortion, guns, religious rights, and race. Decisions are likely to come in the late spring, right in the middle of primary season, meaning all of them will instantly become political. The justices are aware of this, of course. They know controversial decisions will generate attacks on the Court, but in most cases they can't avoid this. The Mississippi abortion case mentioned above is only one of them. Another one is a New York law that puts restrictions on concealed carry. Gun-rights advocates want the law declared unconstitutional. A case from Maine addresses whether student aid programs are allowed at schools that teach sectarian content, and could change the boundary between church and state. There are also cases about disabilities, state secrets, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and campaign finance. (V)

Congressional Fight over Biden's Agenda Is Spilling over into Virginia

Federal issues always affect Virginia elections, because so many federal employees live there, but this year the effect is bigger than usual. In 4 weeks, Virginia will elect a new governor (or maybe recycle an old governor). Former governor Terry McAuliffe (D) is closely tied to Joe Biden's fate, and as Biden's approval rating sinks, it could take down McAuliffe, who once had a 6-7 point lead in the race. If Glenn Youngkin (R) wins, that will freak out Democrats everywhere, as it could be an omen of what is in store for next year.

McAuliffe's problem is the image that Democrats are fractured and can't govern and Biden can't do anything about it. McAuliffe supports Biden's Build Back Better agenda, and if it appears to be going nowhere, it could hurt him. Voting has been going on for weeks already in Virginia and the damage that is being done by fractious Democrats may be difficult to repair. Biden knows this and has campaigned for McAuliffe. Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will campaign for McAuliffe on Saturday in Northern Virginia and Richmond.

While McAuliffe is tied to Biden, Youngkin is tied to Donald Trump, which may be even worse in what is now a blue state. During a recent debate, McAuliffe brought up Trump almost a dozen times, each time tying him to Youngkin. McAuliffe would love nothing better than making the race Biden vs. Trump, knowing how that one turned out in 2020. When Youngkin conceded that he would support Trump in 2024 if he ran again, Democrats immediately turned that into "Youngkin wants Trump to run in 2024," which is not a winner in a state Trump lost twice. (V)

Previous | Next

Back to the main page