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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

We don't think there's a lot of value in talking about all the rumors, and blow-ups, and back-and-forth involved with the reconciliation bill sausage-making any more. What seems rock-solid today may be vapor by tomorrow. However, significant developments are certainly worth noting. There were two of those on Thursday.

First up is America's most famous senator, Joe Manchin (D-WV). When it comes to the price tag for the bill, he has said many times that his bottom line is $1.5 trillion. Or maybe that's his top line. Whichever one you prefer, it turns out that "$1.5 trillion" is a relative term, because he indicated on Thursday that he's now on board with $1.75 trillion in spending. That's a lot more cash, even if it doesn't seem like it when bandying about figures like $3.5 trillion and $7 trillion.

Undoubtedly, someone (probably Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY) persuaded Manchin that if he didn't support the higher price tag, something he prioritizes (dental care? carbon recapture?) would end up on the cutting-room floor. Exactly how much more flexibility Manchin has is known only to him. Maybe this is a one-time concession, or maybe he can eventually be dragged to $1.9 trillion or $2 trillion. After all, what's a couple hundred billion among friends?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the building, things are not going quite as smoothly. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) very much wanted to hold a key vote on the $550-billion-in-new-spending bipartisan infrastructure bill on Thursday. The purpose was to build some momentum heading into the final stretch on the reconciliation bill, especially since Jose Biden, the arm-twister-in-chief, is going to be in Italy all next week. Biden thought this was a good idea as well, and he stopped by the Capitol on the way out of town. However, as much as he and Pelosi tried to whip the necessary number of votes, they just couldn't do it.

The problem, as you can probably guess, is the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). The moderates and Blue Dog Democrats are happy as a clam with the $550 billion bill, and House Republicans basically won't vote "yea" on any bill Pelosi introduces. That leaves the CPC as the only plausible holdout. They are not happy that the price tag of the reconciliation bill has been cut so much, and they are not happy about some of the programs that were jettisoned in order to get down to $1.5-$1.7 trillion. So, they refused to play ball with the Speaker and the President on Thursday.

This is not to say the CPC won't get to "yes" eventually; Thursday's demonstration was merely meant to show that they are not pushovers and they will not accept just any bill in the name of party loyalty. That said, they obviously aren't at "yes" as yet, and until they are, anything is possible. It is not often that Pelosi applies all of her vote-whipping mojo and comes up short.

In short, if you're hoping that the infrastructure bills will be as big as is possible, you got a little bit of good news yesterday. And if you're hoping that the infrastructure bills will go belly up, you also got a little bit of good news yesterday. So, no matter where you stand, the headline of this item applies to you. (Z)

What Is Kyrsten Sinema Doing?

That is the $64,000 question these days. Or, if you believe the whispers about Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D?-AZ), it's considerably more than $64,000. Hank Stephenson is about as dialed in to Arizona politics as any pundit, as he works as a journalist in Phoenix and he also pens a newsletter about Arizona politics called Arizona Agenda. And in a piece written for Politico, Stephenson declares that there is no mystery here at all, and that Sinema is doing what she's always done.

So what is that, exactly? Well, here's the key passage:

[S]ome of her oldest allies—as well as critics—have an insight for the Democrats who are trying to corral her, and it's not necessarily a comfortable one: Get used to it. Politically, Sinema's career looks like she experienced a personal revolution; she began as a left-wing agitator and ended up as a Republican-friendly moderate. But in Arizona, many people see those positions as almost beside the point: For them, Sinema is better understood in terms of pure ambition, and the constant triangulation needed to hold office in a purple state that fancies itself charting an independent course, whatever that requires in the moment.

In other words, it's all about the pursuit of power. Sinema is just Mitch McConnell in a dress. Or, if you prefer, Mitch McConnell is just Kyrsten Sinema in a $5,000 suit.

That's not exactly a profound insight; when we've written about the Senator, we've presumed that she's just laying the groundwork for her reelection campaign. However, while we are bearish about her chances, given the near-guarantee of a serious primary challenge, Stephenson thinks it could work out for her. "Even among her critics," he writes, "Sinema is widely regarded as among the savviest political operators in Arizona history. She has the book smarts of a lawyer, the emotional intelligence of a social worker and the determination of a triathlete, because she is all of those things." He quotes a former Sinema ally, who was granted anonymity so as to be able to speak freely, as opining that she knows how to play the game as well as anyone. That said, the same former ally says that what the Senator really loves is attention, and that "If she lost the Senate race and got a TV show on Fox or whatever, I think she'd be just as happy."

Slate also had a piece on Sinema yesterday, and it communicates much the same thing, albeit in a rather different way. The Slate article is an interview with Sylvia González Andersh, one of the five veterans who resigned from Sinema's veterans advisory council last week. And the tale that Andersh tells is pretty cringeworthy.

Everyone knows that things like "veterans advisory councils" are mostly for show, so that politicians can get a photo-op, and can claim to be getting valuable input on the issues from their constituents. However, it is hard to see how anyone could make that any more obvious than Sinema did. Andersh was at precisely one meeting where the Senator appeared, absolutely no feedback was solicited, and after a few minutes they jumped right to the photo-op, with Sinema physically moving people around to compose the best shot. An interesting choice from someone who just made a federal case out of it when a constituent dared make momentary physical contact at an airport. In any event, once the photo-op with the veterans was completed, the Senator hightailed it out of the "advisory" meeting.

Undoubtedly, there are other senators—probably a lot of them—that are this mercenary and this thoughtless when it comes to using people and then casting them aside. But those senators do not generally have a decorated veteran calling them out on their behavior in public. And those senators also do not have a budding PR crisis wherein half the country is talking about how they turned out to be a phony. And so, while we concede that she's brilliant, and that the Arizona pundit Stephenson knows her playbook better than we do, we still think she's done enormous, and very possibly irreparable, damage to her political career.

Remember this. While carrying on to show how independent she is may play well with Republicans, to get to the general election, she may first have to win a Democratic primary. The most likely opponent is Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), a veteran and a Latino in a state with lots of both. If Gallego's pitch is: "I support Joe Biden's programs and my opponent does not," that could get him the Democratic nomination. In that case, all of Sinema's maneuvering will have been for naught. She can't run as an independent after losing the Democratic primary because Arizona has a sore loser law. (Z & V)

Joe to Meet with Jorge

Ok, he doesn't go by "Jorge" these days, but "Francis" isn't alliterative with "Joe" or with "Biden." In any event, the Pope and the President will meet today. Many sitting presidents, starting with Woodrow Wilson, have met with sitting popes. And Biden and Francis have crossed paths before. But today's tête-à-tête marks just the second time a Catholic president has met with the pope. The first, of course, was John F. Kennedy, who met Paul VI on July 2, 1963. (Hey, that's Jorge, John, and Paul in the same paragraph. Too bad there was no Pope Ringo, so we could complete the set.)

Biden is, of course, going through some doldrums right now, and could use a lift politically, and probably personally. Popes do not comment directly on national politics, but Francis is pretty good at making his feelings known nonetheless. For example, can you guess which of Biden's two immediate predecessors he approved of, and which one he did not approve of?

In the left picture, Donald
Trump is smiling and Francis looks like he longs for death; in the right picture, Barack Obama and Francis are laughing 

We'll give you a hint: Francis is normally a fairly chipper, upbeat guy, and he does not generally look like he is longing for a visit from the Angel of Death.

In any event, a home run of a photo-op could be exceedingly helpful for Biden. There are a lot of Catholic voters—Latinos and white ethnics—who aren't so sure about the President, and who might be influenced by an approving smile from Francis. If Francis makes very clear that he and Biden are paisan—and they have always been very friendly in the past—then it may also cause some of the American bishops who don't approve of the President to be a bit more circumspect in their criticism. At very least, Francis will speak publicly on issues of international interest, and will have words of encouragement for Biden as he heads to the climate summit taking place just a couple of miles from the apostolic palace.

There is one slight modicum of controversy or mystery, however. Normally, Francis' papal audiences, even those with prominent folks, are broadcast live. However, yesterday the Vatican announced that it was canceling the broadcast of the Biden meet-up, and that photographs and edited footage would be provided later in the day. We can't find anyone who has an explanation or a theory for why the change was made; the only guess we can come up with is that Biden asked Francis to hear his confession and Francis is bound to keep that information private. That's not a great guess, though. Presumably, if that was going to happen, they could do it before the press event. Further, Francis met with South Korean president Moon Jae-in, who is also Catholic, earlier this week, and that meeting was broadcast live. Maybe the reason for the secrecy will eventually be revealed, though we wouldn't bet on it.

This Week's 2022 Candidate News

We may have to start doing this twice a week, as the election cycle is heating up. Today we'll look at a bunch of House races where there have been developments.

We've got some senatorial, gubernatorial, and even mayoral news we'll get to next week. (Z)

Fox Weather Channel Sloganeering, Part I

On Wednesday, in the spirit of the late, great Mort Sahl, we asked readers to submit possible slogans for the new Fox Weather Channel. We got close to 1,000 suggestions, many of them quite good. So, we'll run some today, and another batch on Tuesday of next week. And without further ado:

Wherever Mort is, we hope he approves. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude

If Donald Trump's new social media platform actually gets off the ground—unlikely as that is—it will surely supplant Mos Eisley spaceport as the galaxy's most wretched hive of scum and villainy. So, it's easy to root against the people involved in building it and supporting it. And for those who feel that way, there were two bits of good news this week.

First, anyone who enters Trump's orbit promptly joins him in believing that the rules do not apply to them. Because Team Trump is either unwilling to spend the time, or unwilling to spend the money, or unable to attract the necessary expertise, or some combination of the above, they chose an open-source solution for TRUTH, their Twitter knockoff. That solution is called Mastodon, and part of the deal when you use that (free) software is that you have to pay it forward. That is to say, any additions or changes you make also have to be open source.

Trump & Co. have decided that is not how they want to play the game. They are happy to utilize the free software, but they want their modifications and additions to be private property, and not open source. That's a violation of the Mastodon license. The nonprofit Software Freedom Conservancy, which employs lawyers who care a lot about open-source software and who know this area of the law very well, has advised the would-be social media startup that it has 30 days to comply with the license or to stop using the Mastodon software.

Exactly what the former president and his underlings will do is anyone's guess. He seems unlikely to adhere to the Mastodon license, since he is a man who likes his secrets. On the other hand, if he defies the license, he'll get sued and lose, and losing access to Mastodon once the platform has actually launched would be disastrous. The tech people that are working on the project could try to find another open-source solution, but they're going to run into the same problem. And again, they don't seem to have the means or the skills to build their own solution, particularly before the promised Q1 2022 launch. This whole thing could collapse before it even gets off the ground. And that's the TRUTH.

Meanwhile, grifters gotta grift. Trump loves the use of shell companies, and so the new social media platform was set up under the auspices of a shell company called Digital World Acquisition Corp., which is publicly traded. The initial public offering attracted huge interest, and sent the price of the shares to the moon, from about $10 to $175. Our guess is that the former president and some of his other shareholders cashed out some of their equity at that point. You know, it's kind of like getting yours before the casino goes bankrupt.

On the other hand, Trump acolyte Marjorie Taylor Greene may be known for her fanatical loyalty, but she's not exactly known for her financial acumen. And so, while others (whether Trumpers, or day traders, or speculators) were getting out, she was jumping in. She bought between $15,001 and $50,000 worth of shares when the price was near its peak. It has since dropped to about $60. So, she took a bath. It's not known exactly how much of a bath, but it could well be into five figures.

What we have, then, is the possibility of TRUTH failing in epic fashion, for want of infrastructure, and it taking a chunk of Marjorie Taylor Greene's net worth with it. For many Americans, that's a lotta schadenfreude in one nice, tidy bundle. (Z)

Back to the Back to the Future, Part XII: Other

And finally, just 302 days into 2021, we reach the end of the reader predictions for 2021. Here are the installments we've already run:

And now, a grab bag of predictions that did not fit well in any other category:

We will check back in with these when the calendar turns to 2022. (Z)

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