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Schumer Calls Manchin's Bluff

Last week Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he wanted the Democrats to "pause" progress on the $3.5-trillion reconciliation bill. Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called Manchin's bluff and said that the bill would proceed as planned. Right now, Schumer (and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA) hold the cards. There is no way for Manchin to prevent the various committees from doing their work to prepare the bill. Of course, once it is prepared, then Manchin holds the cards because he can vote to kill the bill. Without his vote, it can't pass the Senate. Needless to say, Manchin will take more flak than was expended in World War II if he tries that and Schumer is counting on that to prevent him from actually killing the bill. Maybe this is all a prearranged show, but we fail to see how either of the senators gain from it.

If Manchin just wants more pork, this is not the way to get it. The way to get more pork is for him to go to Schumer quietly and say: "I want more pork." Schumer will then say: "How much and do you prefer pork chops, pork loin, bacon, or just scrapple?" If Manchin wants a smaller bill, he can tell Schumer what he wants to cut out of the $3.5-trillion bill and they can haggle over it. Again, a public rift doesn't help either of them.

If what Manchin really wants is a much smaller bill, it will be a huge fight. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, responded to Manchin by saying: "To my mind ... that $3.5 trillion is already the result of a major, major compromise." Clearly he is not going to give in to reducing the bill to $1-$2 trillion easily.

The Democrats do have a bit of leverage over Manchin, though. He believes in bipartisanship (or claims to, anyway) and really wants the $1-trillion bipartisan bill to pass to demonstrate that bipartisanship works. Some House Democrats know this and are using this as a weapon against him. Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY), among others, has said that unless Manchin accepts the $3.5-trillion reconciliation bill, he will vote against the bipartisan bill. It will take only four Democratic votes in the House to kill it, something Manchin really does not want because that would show Manchin and the entire country that bipartisanship simply does not work. How this plays out will be known in a few weeks, but today's installment is that Schumer is not bending to Manchin's will right now and is barreling full-speed ahead with the reconciliation bill, against Manchin's alleged wishes. (V)

Raising the Debt Ceiling Will Not Be in the Reconciliation Bill

It is far from clear now exactly what will be in the reconciliation bill currently under construction, but one thing that will not be in it is a provision to raise the debt ceiling. Nancy Pelosi announced this yesterday. The whole debt ceiling business is due to Congress' repeated attempts to repeal mathematics. Fundamentally, Congress determines how much money the government spends every year by passing appropriations bills. It also determines how much money the government takes in every year by enacting tax legislation. If spending exceeds revenues, the Treasury Dept. has to borrow money to make up the shortfall. After all, government contractors expect to get paid in actual money. The shortfall is added to the current federal debt, which makes it bigger. But there is another law that says how big the debt can be and unless Congress does something, the debt limit will be reached in October, forcing the federal government to shut down.

The Democrats could put one sentence in the reconciliation bill saying: "The federal debt limit is hereby set to [X]" and pass it with only Democratic votes. But Pelosi said she won't allow this, even though she could. What she is doing is challenging the Republicans to a high-stakes game of chicken. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen yesterday sent Pelosi a letter saying that unless Congress raises the debt limit this month, the U.S. will default on its obligations in October. Pelosi didn't need the letter to remind her. She is very well aware of the debt limit.

What Yellen is doing (probably with some coaching from Pelosi) is drawing a lot of attention to the problem and the catastrophic consequences of the limit not being raised. What Pelosi will do later this month is introduce a separate bill to raise the debt limit and force the Republicans to take a roll call vote on it. If every Democrat votes to raise the limit and every Republican votes against it (in particular, in the Senate, where the Republicans can filibuster the debt bill), the Republicans will own the resulting disaster and stock market crash. On the other hand, if the Republicans swerve at the last second and vote to raise the limit, when they try to campaign against the Democrats in 2022 by accusing them of reckless spending, the Democrats can helpfully point out that the Republicans supported raising the debt limit, so they should please shut up about reckless spending. In other words, it is all politics. It is not quite kabuki theater, since three times in the past decade the Republicans stuck to their guns and shut the government down and they might do it again. (V)

Florida Judge Rules against DeSantis

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has told local school boards in Florida that they cannot require students to wear masks. Yesterday, Florida Judge John Cooper told DeSantis that he has no authority to order the school boards to do anything. A previous judge had also found DeSantis' order to be unlawful. The state will appeal the new ruling, but until the appeal is completed, which could take 60-90 days, the school boards may require children and teachers to wear masks.

About a dozen school districts have ignored DeSantis' executive order and put mask mandates in place. Now they have legal backing for their position, at least until the appeals court makes a ruling.

In his ruling, the judge wrote: "We're in a non-disputed pandemic situation with threats to young children who, at least based on the evidence, have no way to avoid this unless to stay home and isolate themselves. I think everybody agrees that's not good for them."

Actually, DeSantis doesn't care what's good for the children one way or another. He cares about currying favor with the Republican base, and the base opposes masks, vaccinations, science, doctors, and experts of all kinds. So he is giving them what they want with an eye on his 2022 reelection and maybe even a glance toward a 2024 presidential run. (V)

Trump Picks a Horse in Wyoming

Donald Trump has an important choice to make: Who does he support in the Wyoming Republican House primary next year? He definitely wants to punish Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) for voting to impeach him, but if he picks someone who might lose the primary, that makes him look weak. He's got enough problems in the Georgia Senate race, where he has already picked a weak candidate with a lot of baggage, Herschel Walker, who could easily lose the primary. He really needs to avoid doing that again.

After carefully weighing all the alternatives, making lists of who's naughty and who's nice, cranking up a spreadsheet to add up all the pluses and minuses of every candidate, Trump has found his winner: Wyoming trial lawyer Harriet Hageman. Until last week, Hageman was a member of the Republican National Committee, representing Wyoming. Trump hasn't formally given his endorsement in public yet, but he has told Hageman that she's his pick.

Hageman has never been elected to public office before, but she ran for governor in 2018 and came in third in the primary. That at least gives her some experience running a statewide campaign, something the other potential challengers do not have.

But she has a couple of downsides as well, besides losing her only previous race. She used to be a big supporter of Cheney and was even on Cheney's leadership team in the past. There is no doubt plenty of footage of her saying something to the effect: "Liz Cheney has served Wyoming very well and I encourage you to vote for her." We imagine some of that footage might find its way into Cheney ads fairly soon.

Hageman's big hope is that all the other declared and potential candidates quake in their boots at the thought of running against a Trump endorsee and drop out, leaving the field to Hageman and Cheney alone. In a woman-to-woman battle, Hageman probably could win, but if there are half a dozen candidates, Cheney, who is well known in the state, might get the most votes, even if it is only 20%, and get the nomination. In Wyoming, of course, winning the Republican nomination is equivalent to being elected.

One of the themes of the campaign is already clear: Cheney is a carpetbagger. Although Dad Dick represented Wyoming in the House before he became vice president, Liz hadn't lived in Wyoming for decades before she decided to challenge then-Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) in 2014. She was called a carpetbagger, got no traction, and dropped out of that primary in Jan. 2014. In 2016, the state's at-large House seat opened up, she tried again and this time she won. Although she has some roots in Wyoming, she attended and graduated from McLean High School in Virginia and Colorado College in Colorado Springs (her mother's alma mater). Hageman is trying to exploit this theme by pointing out that she herself is a fourth generation Wyomingite who grew up on a ranch near Laramie, WY. Of course running a campaign whose theme is that the Cheneys aren't really from Wyoming is a weak ploy (Dick grew up partly in Nebraska and partly in Wyoming and got his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Wyoming).

Also unclear is how much help Dick can be to Liz. He knows a lot of key Republicans and donors and is still respected in the state. If he were to actively campaign for her, that would not go over well with Democrats, but they can't vote in the Republican primary, so he would probably be a net plus for his daughter. But the biggest question now is who else will enter the primary and how split the vote might be. (V)

Harris Campaigns for Newsom

Kamala Harris and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) are both politicians from San Francisco. They have never been good friends, but right now their interests align. Joe Biden definitely cares a lot about the California recall election, in no small part because a Republican governor might get the chance to appoint a Republican to replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who is 88, and might retire or die before her term is up. For that reason alone, Harris was out in California campaigning for Newsom yesterday.

Harris and Newsom go back to 2003, when Harris was elected the city's top prosecutor and Newsom was elected mayor. They were both under 40 and ambitious. They shared supporters and donors in the 49-square-mile fishbowl that is San Francisco politics. She became a senator and then vice president. He became governor of the most-populous state. Both are potential presidential prospects. Some people say the two are frenemies, but that doesn't really capture it. They are more like friendly rivals.

In 2015, then-Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) announced her retirement. Both of them were actually eyeing a 2018 run for the governorship, but Harris blinked first and decided to run for the consolation prize, the Senate seat. In the end, they endorsed each other. As long as their personal interests align, they will continue to work together. If Joe Biden decides not to run for reelection in 2024, all bets are off; they could find themselves competing in the Democratic primary. But for the moment, Harris definitely wants Newsom to win and will do her best to help him in the Sept. 14 recall election.

Harris is just the warm-up act. Next week Biden himself will fly out to California to campaign for Newsom. In contrast to Harris and Newsom, Biden and Newsom are not rivals in any sense and Biden is 100% behind Newsom, with no secret reservations of any kind.

Another person who is speaking out on the recall is the only person in California history to have become governor via a recall election: Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, Schwarzenegger is neutral. He says that he knows many of the candidates and is friends with Newsom. He says that Newsom did not handle the coronavirus well, but is not calling for him to be replaced. Schwarzenegger and others have noted the differences between this recall and the one in 2003 that resulted in Schwarzenegger becoming governor. One is that Schwarzenegger was seen as a moderate who was acceptable to some Democrats, something that the current leading Republican, Larry Elder, is not. Another is that a serious Democrat, then-Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, ran in 2003, so some Democrats who were tired of Gray Davis voted to recall him and voted for Bustamante. No high-profile Democrat is running now, so the results might be quite different this time.

A new Suffolk University poll conducted Monday and Tuesday and released yesterday shows that 58% of likely voters want Newsom to stay on and 41% want him recalled. (V)

Pennsylvania Wants to Copy Arizona's Election "Audit"

The president of the Pennsylvania state Senate, Jake Corman (R), is interested in an Arizona-style election "audit," even though the Arizona one is a fiasco. Last week he appointed state Sen. Cris Dush (R) to take the lead in organizing it. This was actually a controversial move, but not for the obvious reason. Another state senator, Doug Mastriano (R), was leading the drive for an audit, and by picking Dush to lead it, Corman has sidelined Mastriano and opened a split in the Republican Party.

Mastriano has already requested voting materials and voting machines from three counties. All three refused to cooperate, citing Mastriano's lack of authority to make the requests. Privately, other state Republicans were griping about Mastriano bulldozing his way ahead, without getting any buy-in from other Republican officials. Mastriano responded to the appointment of Dush by saying Corman was hindering his little project and accusing Corman of conduct "unbecoming a Senate leader." This little food fight can't help the Republicans much in trying to "audit" an election that is likely to be a year behind us before it even gets started.

Joe Biden won Pennsylvania by over 80,000 votes. It is inconceivable that any audit could find that many incorrect votes. Even Corman admits that the investigation doesn't have a chance of showing that Donald Trump won the state. Still, he said: "I don't necessarily have faith in the results. I think that there were many problems in our election that we need to get to the bottom of." This sounds more like red meat to the base than anything else. Corman also said that he has been in contact with Trump and Trump approves of where he wants to go, so he will continue heading in that direction.

One potential complication is that an audit will cost money. Where will it come from? The Republican-controlled legislature can pass a bill appropriating money for it, but Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) is guaranteed to veto the bill. Can the state senators get private donations from big GOP donors to conduct the audit so long after the election? It is possible, although big donors are more likely to want to save their money for future races, rather than past races. Trump has a PAC; maybe he can put up the money. We will now pause while you regain your breath after a round of uncontrollable laughter. (V)

When The News Breaks--Today's News Media, Part II: Politico Has Itself Become Political News

Last week we had a story about how sometimes a political reporter can become the story, specifically how Donald Trump's running feud with New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman was itself a big news story. But sometimes, a political publication can also become the story. That is the case now, with the sale of Politico to the German media company Axel Springer being very much in the news, especially since the sale price ($1.2 billion) was more than three times what Jeff Bezos paid to buy the Washington Post, and nearly double what Axel Springer could have had for (all right, we admit they probably could have talked us down to $600 million, or maybe even $575 million).

When Robert Allbritton launched Politico in 2007, he noticed two shortcomings in traditional media coverage of politics: It was too slow and too boring. By hiring Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, Allbritton got two guys who were insiders and who could write good copy. By 2016 the company had 500 employees worldwide. While the basic Politico website is free, the company makes its money from Politico Pro, which charges thousands of dollars per month if you really want to know what happened when some farm bill got marked up yesterday or exactly what is included in the transportation bill. For lobbyists in D.C., subscriptions to specific topic areas are a must, despite the steep fees. It also has editions covering state politics.

One thing that Politico did from the start was to focus on the details of policy, rather than the real story. It covered many Republicans' stated opposition to Barack Obama's policies. But that wasn't the real story. The real story was their (unsaid) hatred and opposition to Black politicians and the multicultural America they represented. That lack of coverage became damaging when other major publications saw how successful Politico was and began to model their coverage after it. In a nutshell, what Politico is really good at is describing what every bark beetle on every tree in D.C. is doing right now, but it misses the fact that the forest is dying.

In 2016, Politico was obsessed with covering Hillary Clinton's e-mail server, as if that was the most important issue facing the country. It also tended to treat the supporters of Donald Trump who cheered on his proposed Muslim ban and wall on the Mexican border as suffering from "economic anxiety," rather than suffering from "terminal racism." When Trump won, Politico continued serving up all the inside baseball details of which White House official was stabbing which other White House official in the back today, but missed the bigger story of how the administration's real agenda was supporting white supremacy.

Sometimes the incessant focus on insider details led Politico astray. After the 2020 election, insiders told its reporters that Trump had no real plans to challenge the election results, but anyone who had no inside access to the nitty gritty details but simply heard what Trump said in public knew better.

Even now, the both-sides-ism, which Politico practically pioneered, is still present. All the stories about Afghanistan that say that Biden botched it are more rooted in showing how Politico is willing to criticize Democrats along with Republicans, even though Biden was dealt an impossible hand and no politician of any stripe could have gotten everyone out in a short time given that the Taliban was hell bent on preventing that. In short, Politico (and others) are afraid to say what its reporters know very well, namely that the country's problems can't be solved not because government itself is the problem, but because the Republican Party wants the government to fail. Whether Politico will change its ways under the new German leadership remains to be seen. (V)

School Boards Are the New Battlegrounds

School board meetings and elections used to be sleepy affairs that hardly anyone paid attention to. Now they are battlegrounds, as Republicans are using critical race theory to scare parents about how history is being taught to their kids. In the process, school board elections are providing a new stream of Republican politicians who will later climb the ladder to city councils, state legislatures, and beyond. There are even "schools" to teach Republican board candidates how to take advantage of CRT, mask requirements, and culture war issues, like one in Arizona run by Pam Kirby. So far 200 people have "graduated" from her school and 80 more are on the waiting list to get in. Over a quarter of the graduates actually run and many others join Republican precinct committees. Republicans in other states have asked her to set up branches in their states as well.

But even without Kirby's help, conservative activists are organizing to help school board candidates in Ohio running in Nov. 2021. In Texas, last year, conservative candidates ran on platforms of purging the curriculum of talk about racism and oppression, both historical and recent. Some of them won. This was noticed in many other states, where candidates want to repeat their platforms and success. While few, if any, schools teach CRT, opposition to it has become a key organizing principle for Republican school board candidates. It is the gift that keeps on giving to them, even if it has no basis in fact.

The pandemic has made it easier for the CRT opponents. With decisions about opening and closing schools hugely controversial (because in many cases closing the schools means one parent can't work, resulting in a loss of income), many school board members are not running for reelection, leaving behind open seats. Open-seat races are much easier to win than races involving a long-time incumbent. Also, unrelated issues are merging. How American history is taught has nothing to do with whether children should wear masks in school, but there is an evolving conservative position that now is against teaching anything about racism and also against wearing masks. Sometimes opposition to sex education also gets thrown into the mix. This has made parents who are against masks also against teaching about racism and vice versa. School board elections are now part of the ongoing culture wars. This is especially significant because the battles are often in suburban communities, where parents are much more involved in schools and education than in cities or rural areas. In a Houston-area election in May, every candidate who opposed CRT won.

If you thought that having school board elections being politicized like national politics was bad, guess what? It's worse than that. California isn't the only place where there are recall elections. In 2006, there were two recall elections for school board members. In 2021 there have been 62 so far. In Loudoun County, VA, an organization called Fight for Schools used CRT and COVID-19 to raise $130,000. It is using the money to try to recall six of the nine school board members. Similar groups are active all over the country.

As usual, Democrats are late to the game. Before 2010, they didn't notice that state legislative races were important. Republicans did and elected enough state legislators to do a thorough job of gerrymandering the congressional maps that year. Now Democrats are aware of the importance of the state legislatures, but the battleground is moving down to the school boards. Pretty soon races for dogcatcher are going to be part of the political arena ("If elected, I will rid our town of black dogs!"). (V)

(Back to the) Back to the Future: Reader Predictions, Part III--Right-wing Politicians and Media

Another round of reader predictions. Here are the past lists:

And now, predictions about non-Trump right-wingers:

The Trump and Trump-adjacent stuff is now behind us! The next list will be predictions about the Biden Administration. (Z)

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