Joan McCarter

Reelecting Raphael Warnock in 2022 is key to defeating Donald Trump and the GOP in 2024

A last-ditch Republican appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court to block voting this Saturday failed Wednesday, so voters in more than a dozen counties can cast their vote in the runoff between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and MAGA Herschel Walker this weekend and beat the rush. They’ve already started in DeKalb County.

The urgency of returning Warnock to the Senate becomes more clear by the day as House Republicans are promising to surpass already low expectations for acting like responsible adults in charge of one of the most important governing bodies in the world. That makes having an effective Senate—one that has a clear Democratic majority—even more essential.

David Nir has already talked about some of the reasons why Warnock needs to be in the Senate, including the fact that he’s a phenomenal senator and that Black representation in that body is essential—that is Black representation chosen by Black voters. According to exit polls, 90% of Black Georgians cast their vote for Warnock in the general election. But beyond that, there’s the 51 vote majority for Democrats. With a 51-vote majority comes something really important: the ability to issue subpoenas without Republican obstruction.

The power-sharing agreement Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican leader Mitch McConnell struck didn’t specifically address subpoena power, but most committees have to have a majority vote or approval of the top Republican on the committee to issue them. But committee rules can be changed with a majority.

With the work of the Jan. 6 select committee winding down and Trump announcing that he’s running again, it’s going to be important that the Senate has full investigative powers. Since the House is going to be running bogus investigations of Joe Biden, his family, and his administration nonstop, the Senate is going to need to counterbalance that with substantive investigations.

That’s what Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii recently told The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. “If we’re investigating legitimate issues while they’re fixated on Hunter Biden’s laptop, we’ll be doing our job,” Schatz said. “And we’ll be winning the battle of public opinion.”

That would likely include examinations of Trump’s ongoing efforts to use the presidency for personal profit, including with foreign companies and governments. “Now that we know that it already happened, it’s ongoing and he fully intends to monetize another presidency, that has to be a central theme,” Schatz said. It would serve the public, he said, for the Senate to establish a record of “all the foreign money” Trump took as president.

The Senate might have to take on follow-up tasks from the House Jan. 6 committee as that information stream is still active. It could take on the work of the House Ways and Means Committee, which just got access to Trump’s tax returns via the Supreme Court’s refusal to block it. It should also launch a full-on investigation of the Supreme Court leaks in which Justice Samuel Alito is strongly implicated.

All of that will be controversial with some Democratic senators, who’d rather pretend that Republicans haven’t declared war against them. “A balance has to be struck,” Schatz told Sargent. “We have to be tough. We have to be loud. We have to be pugilistic. But we don’t have to be ridiculous and unfounded and corrupt. That’s what they are.” Nonetheless, he said, “we have an obligation to fully use our subpoena power and our investigative authority.”

But that fight is moot without the 51st vote and the clear majority they would get with a Warnock win.

GOP civil war in House, Senate escalates as factions splinter

The would-be leaders of the Republican House and Senate conferences are in for some wild times as recriminations and power struggles take precedence in both chambers. In the House, the tiny majority Republicans has every faction plotting how they’ll control Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California. In the Senate, leader Mitch McConnell is under pretty much daily attack from Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the guy who blew all of the National Republican Senate Committee’s money and is still blaming McConnell for not winning the majority.

There are still five uncalled House races, but it’s looking like McCarthy will have a 222-213 majority. He needs 218 to become speaker and to pass anything, and right now, that’s in jeopardy. Two Republicans—Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Andy Biggs of Arizona—have said flat out they won’t vote for him as speaker. Two more, Reps. Matt Rosendale of Montana and Bob Good of Virginia, have signaled that they are opposed to McCarthy, but haven’t definitively said they’ll vote against him. Biggs challenged McCarthy in last week’s vote and got 31 votes.

McCarthy is clearly chasing those votes. He’s already all but promised Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia MAGA maniac, that she’ll get a coveted Oversight Committee post. He’s also vowed that he’ll kick Democrats off of committees in retaliation for the Democrats stripping Greene and Paul Gosar of committee assignments. He’ll oust Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from the Select Committee on Intelligence (which he can do because it’s not a standing committee) and Ilhan Omar from Foreign Affairs, which is subject to a vote of the full House. All of this is to court the maniacs.

Which leaves a fairly large group of moderate Republicans (and calling a bunch of people who didn’t agree to birth control as a right “moderate” means we need better political descriptors) feeling like they can exert some pressure of their own.

“Kevin’s not stupid,” said Rep. Dave Joyce of Ohio, leader of the Republican Governance Group. “He’s trying to add to his numbers, not destroy his base. And so I count on his political acumen to know what’s acceptable to the rank and file inside the conference.” Joyce is clearly in flattery mode with McCarthy, because he’s rarely characterized by his smarts, political or otherwise.

Two other groups, the Main Street Caucus and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, are strategizing about how to influence him as well. The latter group has about 50 members, and while they’ve never solved any problems, they could definitely trip McCarthy up, if those 50 members can remain unified. “We just want to make the group more accountable … I mean, the whole point of our group is to stick together on the floor when we endorse bills,” Republican Brian Fitzpatrick said. He also told Politico that even Freedom Caucus members have approached him about potential alliances. Which kind of shoots the whole “problem solving” moniker to hell since the maniacs are the problem.

The Main Street Caucus of Republicans, Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska says, has nearly 90 members and is sick of the maniacs. “It’s time we flex our muscles,” he said. Last week Bacon floated the possibility that his group would work with Democrats to find a candidate for speaker, later saying the the report “mischaracterized his remarks” and that he was pro-McCarthy. So how effective his group will be in blocking the maniacs is questionable.

While McCarthy is trying to wrangle all that, McConnell has his own group of nihilists to fend off. He retained his leadership position in a secret ballot last week, with 10 members voting against him and one voting present, with Scott challenging. It’s been open warfare between McConnell and Scott and their allies for months now, each blaming the other for the fact that Republicans had such a poor showing in Senate races.

To be fair to McConnell (which tells you just how odious Scott is), there’s the fact that Scott has used his position at the NRSC for grift and is still doing it. His NRSC team just sent out another email ostensibly raising money for Herschel Walker in the Georgia runoff, but with 98% of the money going to the NRSC, 2% to “Team Rick Scott” and 2% to Walker. If the past is any guidance, a good portion of that NRSC money is going to go to Scott as well.

That fight is still on thanks to Tucker Carlson and Blake Masters, the failed Arizona GOP Senate candidate (who was viewed less favorably by voters than Roy Moore was in his failed race for the Senate in Alabama—after all the news reports that he creeped on teenaged girls when he was in his 30s). Masters blasted McConnell for his loss.

“You know what else is incompetent, Tucker? The establishment. The people who control the purse strings,” Masters said. “Had he chosen to spend money in Arizona, this race would be over. We’d be celebrating a Senate majority right now.”

As that charge results in even more national stories about the Republican civil war, more right-wing pundits take sides, raising the temperature even more.

With the Senate majority secured, Democrats are working hard to increase it by one and return Sen. Raphael Warnock in the Georgia runoff. They’re also enjoying the show. “My advice is to keep on doing what they are doing,” said Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, who led Senate Democrats’ campaign committee to victory this cycle.

It took House GOP just one day to show why Democrats need to bomb-proof everything while they can

It’s going exactly how Republicans promised it would if they took the House: vengeance. Nothing but vengeance. Policy agenda? As if.

The first press conference of their majority Thursday, was from the Oversight and Judiciary Committee chairs laying out the number one target for their vendetta. It was all Hunter Biden’s laptop, all the time. A thing that is entirely not real.

On the second day of their majority, Rep. Jim Jordan’s Judiciary committee sent a letter to White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain demanding the testimony of White House staff about the administration’s “misuse of federal criminal and counterterrorism resources to target concerned parents at school board meetings.” Another thing that never happened. All four of the people they are demanding testimony from are women, and some are women of color.

That was just the start. Jordan also sent letters to Justice, the FBI, Departments of Education, and Homeland Security telling them to “anticipate requiring testimony, either in hearings or transcribed interviews” from dozens more officials, many again of whom are people of color and women.

What about inflation? What about gas prices? What about fentanyl? What about violent crime? What about immigration? What about making sure everyone can afford to go to Disneyland?

As if.

They are not interested in making government work. They won’t try to make government work. Which is why it is imperative that Democrats do all the stuff while they have the majority. That includes figuring out how to put the debt ceiling out of their reach, just for a start. That one’s a necessity.

So is doing the least they can on protecting the next presidential election by pushing the electoral count reforms through. We have some breathing room on that with the great results in some swing state elections, but fixing this is important, particularly now that larger election reforms can’t get done.

It would also be super smart to revive the child tax credit monthly payments from the 2021 COVID-19 relief bill Democrats passed, and generally do do everything they possibly can to help regular people and to make a very big deal out of it—the Democrats’ Christmas Gift to America—to start making the case for 2024.

Which will have to happen the week after next, because they’re already gone until after Thanksgiving. Oh, well. In the meantime, enjoy the Washington Post showing us what a fool Kevin McCarthy is, and relish how his red wave became a pink dribble.

How McCarthy wrongly predicted a House 'red wave' youtu.be

Republicans delay everything in order to destroy Democratic agenda ⁠— with an assist from Manchin

Senate Republicans have been playing a transparent game for months now, using their willing tool of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to drag out negotiations on any number of issues to keep him away from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and President Joe Biden. To prevent Democrats from moving any significant policies that can help the American people and give Democrats a win.

They’ve done it on voting rights and election reforms. They’ve done it on climate and energy. It’s just one tactic—and a very successful one—Republicans are using to keep the Democratic majority tied up and unable to accomplish anything.

Case in point: additional funding for the federal COVID-19 effort. Manchin’s good friend and frequent negotiating partner Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) all but killed it this week when he alleged that the Biden administration lied about the government’s ability to secure additional vaccines, treatments, and supplies. That’s because the White House recently announced it was taking money from other priorities to pay for the most pressing needs.

“Washington operates on a relationship of trust between the respective parties,” Romney said Thursday,. “I hope that there’s an appreciation that for the administration to say they could not purchase these things, and then after several months, divert some funds and then purchase them is unacceptable, and makes our ability to work together … very much shaken to the core.” The pearls are tightly clutched.

The White House, not surprisingly, has a different interpretation on how discussions have been going. “We’ve tried to meet Republicans on their requests, and they keep moving the goal posts,” one official told the Washington Post. Another, spokesperson Kevin Munoz, went on the record. “Going back to January, we’ve been working with members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, on the funding needs for the covid response,” he said in a statement. “We’ve also been crystal clear about the consequences of a lack of funding … including the very real possibility that we would have to reevaluate the planned uses of existing funds.”

There’s one more potential win for the White House—not to mention all the people at risk of catching COVID-19 in the coming weeks and months—Republicans are cynically blocking. It’s nearly as egregious as what they’ve been doing on guns.

All of that puts this in a “we’ll believe when we sit it” mood. “Senate Democrats are preparing for possible summer action on their still-elusive climate, tax reform and prescription drugs bill, grinding behind the scenes on a new version during high-profile gun safety talks.” Because it’s Manchin, once again, that all this is hinging on and Republicans are on the verge of declaring that partisan Democrats have destroyed any hope of gun safety regulation with their unreasonable demands that guns be kept out of the hands of people who have been convicted of violence.

That sets up Manchin to declare that the Democrats have been horrible partisans and he just can’t continue to work with them. He’s used far flimsier excuses before, like the fact that the White House included his name in a statement about Build Back Better. That’s what blew up the whole package last December, supposedly. It likely wouldn’t take anything more for Manchin to do it again.

Republicans are counting on that.

Should the Supreme Court be expanded?

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court is now assured with the support of Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who is always there with her vote when it’s not needed. Since Sen. Joe Manchin announced he would vote for Jackson, Collins’ support is not necessary, but it does give Jackson at least 51 votes.

Collins’ endorsement was every self-serving thing you would expect from her. “In recent years, senators on both sides of the aisle have gotten away from what I perceive to be the appropriate process for evaluating judicial nominees,” she said. “In my view, the role under the Constitution assigned to the Senate is to look at the credentials, experience and qualifications of the nominee. It is not to assess whether a nominee reflects the individual ideology of a senator or would vote exactly as an individual senator would want.” Uh-huh.

This from the woman who voted for Brett Kavanaugh after serious and multiple allegations of his history of sexual assault, which went unexamined by the FBI and then-Republican Senate majority. That makes two Republican men on the Supreme Court credibly accused of sexual harassment and/or assault.

One of those two, Clarence Thomas, might also be complicit in a conspiracy to overthrow the government. We know that his “best friend” and spouse Ginni Thomas agitated for a coup with the Trump White House after the election, before the Jan. 6 insurrection, and for weeks after the attack on the Capitol. We also know that Clarence Thomas was the sole Supreme Court justice to try to prevent records of that contact between his wife and the White House from being released to the House Jan. 6 committee.

Collins has apparently not been asked where she stands on these clear conflicts of interest for Thomas. Her Republican colleagues, however, have been clear. The absolute minimum that could be asked of him—that he recuse from any Jan. 6 cases—is a bridge too far. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell even says the call for Thomas to recuse is “inappropriate” and “has no basis in Justice Thomas’ decades of impeccable service on the court. The Justice and the entire court should feel free to completely ignore all this.”

That’s his answer to treasonous Republicans: Ignore them. Allow the corruption to keep festering under the surface while trolling Democrats. It’s a game in which Collins is entirely happy to participate.

So while McConnell and his Republicans have packed the court with unqualified Trump picks and are looking the other way at Thomas’ clear ethics abuses, they’ve decided to create a whole new and extremely dangerous line of attack on potential new nominees from President Joe Biden.

When it was clear there was no way they could impugn Jackson—easily the most qualified nominee to come before the Senate in decades—Republicans went off-script. They demanded documents that should not under any circumstances ever be put in politicians’ hands, and now they’re threatening to keep doing it.

They tried to derail Jackson’s hearing on the last day by insisting the White House provide presentencing documents from Jackson’s time on the federal bench. These are documents the White House doesn’t and shouldn’t possess. These are sealed documents prepared by court probation officers that only the parties in the cases involved are allowed to see. What Republicans were asking for from Jackson was doubly sensitive because they involve child sexual abuse materials and extensive personal information about the victims, their families, and the defendants. Stuff that should never, ever be in the hands of someone as dangerously dim as the likes of Marsha Blackburn.

It so alarmed the legal community that former district court judges immediately wrote a letter to Judiciary Chair Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) condemning the demands and warning that this was dangerous territory. The only entities beyond the people involved in the cases that have access to these reports (PSRs), the judges insist, are the FBI and the Bureau of Prisons “for the sole purpose of aiding in ongoing investigations specifically related to terrorist activity, for the safe placement of the defendant while incarcerated, and for possible deportation proceedings,” the former judges wrote. “These are the only authorized uses of the PSR.”

“It would be completely inappropriate to release a PSR for any other purpose,” they write. “Certain information, such as medical information, cannot be released … Other information could endanger a defendant and his family.” That’s not going to stop Republicans. “[Y]ou better believe” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) will bring them up in the future, he told Politico. “We have the right to see those reports,” said Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-LA). Senators don’t indeed have that right. The judicial branch has already decided that.

But to keep pushing their “soft on crime” narrative against the Biden administration, which McConnell made clear in a floor statement Wednesday, Republicans are willing to revictimize the survivors of child sexual abuse and their families.

They’re doubling down on support for Clarence Thomas, who in all likelihood knew about his wife’s participation in a conspiracy to overthrow the government and attempted to use his position on the high court to cover it up.

There really is only one thing Democrats can do to save the Supreme Court, the federal judiciary, and pretty much this whole 233-year-old constitutional experiment from Republicans: Expand the court. Dilute the malign power of the majority on this court that wants to overthrow a century of progress.

Breyer denies McConnell’s plan to refuse a Biden Supreme Court appointment

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will be stepping down at the end of the current Supreme Court term in June or July. Which has to be a blow to Mitch McConnell, who has been harboring nefarious plots for making sure President Joe Biden never had the opportunity to seat a Supreme Court justice.

Those plans weren’t even secret. McConnell baldly stated last summer that he was “highly unlikely” to allow Biden to fill a vacancy in 2024, should the Senate revert to Republican control in these midterms. He added that he might just refuse to hold hearings in 2023 as well, should a vacancy come up.

“I think in the middle of a presidential election, if you have a Senate of the opposite party of the president, you have to go back to the 1880s to find the last time a vacancy was filled. So I think it’s highly unlikely,” McConnell told Hugh Hewitt in a radio interview back in Jun. 2021. That’s McConnell’s further twisting of the supposed Senate precedent that the Senate shouldn’t confirm a justice case to a presidential election.

He had to add that qualifier of “Senate of the opposite party” to his supposed “rule” because he spearheaded seating Trump’s pick of Amy Coney Barrett on the court while actual early voting in the 2020 presidential election was happening. But to prove that there was no principle involved in his intentions at all, he added “Well, we’d have to wait and see what happens” if a vacancy occurred in 2023—fully a year before the presidential election.

As recently as last month, five Republican senators—all on the Senate Judiciary Committee—told CNN they would oppose any nominee from Biden. Period. “You know what the rule is on that,” said Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the senior Republican on the committee. “You go back to 1886 and ever since then, when the Senate’s been of one party and the president’s been of another party, you didn’t confirm.” Which absolutely never has been a rule. Like that would stop Republicans.

Because Republicans nuked the filibuster for Supreme Court justices, they don’t get to have a say this year. That is unless they can get Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on their side again. It’s entirely possible that those two will figure that they’ve already burned the bridge with Democrats and Biden part way, so they might as well finish the job, but that’s probably not likely. Particularly considering they’ve already voted to confirm one of the leading contenders for Breyer’s replacement, Ketanji Brown Jackson, to the nation’s second-highest court, the D.C. Circuit. That probably gives her a leg up in the process, that and that she’s a kick-ass choice and a former clerk for Breyer.

The White House more or less confirmed Wednesday that the nominee will fulfill President Biden’s promise in the 2020 campaign to nominate a Black woman to the court.

Jackson isn’t the only contender, though she might have the edge as having so recently been confirmed with bipartisan support just seven months ago. Not just Manchin and Sinema voted for her, but also Republicans Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, and Lisa Murkowski.

Politico reports that Breyer informed President Biden of his intention last week. The official announcement from Breyer could come as soon as Thursday- according to CNN.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted a statement promising “a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee” for the eventual nominee, and that they would “be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed.” Reuters reports that a source says Senate Democrats “intend to confirm a Biden Supreme Court nominee on the same timeframe as the one-month timetable used by Republicans to appoint Justice Barrett.”

And Mitch McConnell and his band of saboteurs can’t do a damned thing about it.

Schumer is raising the pressure on Manchin and Sinema — and has a plan to force debate on voting rights

Congressional Democrats have determined how to get the Freedom to Vote and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement acts to the Senate floor for actual debate, something the Republicans have been blocking for months. It will allow the Democrats to skip the first, most undemocratic block Republicans have been using on this and all the other legislation: refusing to provide enough votes to even allow the Senate to proceed to debate on a bill. The process will allow Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, probably, to achieve his aim of having a vote on challenging the filibuster for these bills on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

It will force debate on the issue so that Republicans won’t be able to just silently block the bills without having to decide whether they’ll stand on the Senate floor and argue against the concept of free and fair elections, against the principle of “one person, one vote” or if they’ll be cowards and refuse to show up. It will also increase pressure on Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema as Senate Democrats unite on the floor to make the case for saving democracy.

Here’s how it works: the House passes a bill that combines the two pieces of legislation, using a separate bill that has already been passed by the Senate and House and is being reconciled between the two bodies, but is not passed in a final form. They’ll use this bill, in this case a NASA bill, as a shell to carry the voting rights and elections reforms bills. Does it matter that it’s not the same legislation? No. Whatever the House adds in and passes as H.R.5746 - NASA Enhanced Use Leasing Extension Act of 2021 is the bill they pass and is technically and legislatively considered the NASA bill the Senate passed.

Because the Senate has already passed it, and the House and Senate have sent it back and forth as “messages” the requisite number of times, the motion to proceed to the bill cannot be filibustered—just 51 votes will bring the bill to the floor to debate. Republicans can’t kill it even before it gets a debate.

“The Senate will finally debate voting rights legislation, and then every senator will be faced with a choice of whether or not to pass the legislation to protect our democracy,” Schumer wrote in a memo sent to Senate Democrats and obtained by several news organizations Wednesday. “With this procedure, we will finally have an opportunity to debate voting rights legislation—something that Republicans have thus far denied,” Schumer said. “Of course, to ultimately end debate and pass the voting rights legislation, we will need 10 Republicans to join us—which we know from past experience will not happen—or we will need to change the Senate rules as has been done many times before.”

That’s the rub—while Republicans can’t avoid the debate, but they can filibuster at the other end. There has to be a vote to move from debate to final passage, and that requires 60 votes. This is the point at which Schumer will likely move to change the rules, and where Manchin and Sinema will be put on the spot. This process is likely going to take a few days to play out, keeping the Senate in session over the weekend and setting up a potential Monday showdown on the filibuster.

That’s Monday, which is also Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Schumer doesn’t lay out in the memo just how he would try to change the filibuster—restore the talking filibuster, carve out an exemption for elections and voting related issues, etc.—or exactly when the votes will occur. The Senate is likely to be in all weekend hashing that out and trying to find a process Manchin and Sinema might agree to. If they don’t agree to that process, the failure of this critical legislation will be on their heads. That’s the leverage Schumer is trying to bring to bear here.

There’s also going to be pressure on Sinema back home, so she won’t be able to escape there this weekend. Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of Martin Luther King Jr., will lead a march in Phoenix on Saturday calling for voting rights. The march is organized by Deliver for Voting Rights, which is also holding a march in D.C. on Monday.

The marches will “call on President Biden and the Senate to urgently pass federal voting rights legislation,” breaking the filibuster if needed. “From the Civil War to the Jim Crow era, the filibuster has blocked popular bills to stop lynching, end poll taxes, and fight workplace discrimination,” the organization said. “Now it’s being used to block voting rights. The weaponization of the filibuster is racism cloaked in procedure and it must go.”

There's an important lesson in one of Biden and Schumer's biggest achievements of 2021

While President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have been stymied in the Senate and by the courts and by a vengeful universe (the second year of COVID-19, which is ramping up with variants for the next year and beyond), there’s one first-year achievement worth crowing about: judicial appointments.

So you can forgive Schumer for taking a victory lap, but at the same time, no one should forget that his achievement was made possible by the decision of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—and a majority of Democratic senators—to end the filibuster for lower-court nominees.

All that Schumer is citing is true. The judges the Senate has churned through in a record place are historically diverse:

In a comprehensive report, Alliance for Justice has highlighted the many firsts among this crop of judges: the first openly lesbian judge on the Court of Appeals (Beth Robinson); the first Korean American to sit on the Court of Appeals (Lucy Koh); the first Muslim federal judge (Zahid Quraishi); the first Black judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Tiffany Cunningham); the first woman of color to serve on the U.S. District Court in Maryland (Lydia Griggsby); the first Native American federal judge in Washington state (Lauren J. King)—the list goes on. According to Alliance for Justice, nearly 75 percent of Biden’s judicial nominees are women, and nearly 65 percent are people of color. For comparison, only 24 percent of Trump’s judicial nominees were women, and just 16 percent were people of color.

What’s more, they have professional diversity: “21 public defenders, 14 civil rights attorneys, 10 plaintiff-side lawyers, three former legal aid lawyers, three consumer protection lawyers, and one labor lawyer.”

It’s not all great news, though. For one thing, there are voting rights and civil rights and LGBTQ rights champions among Biden’s nominees, but “not a single nominee who specializes in protecting abortion access—no one like, say, Brigitte Amiri, the fearless ACLU attorney who thwarted the Trump administration’s efforts to stop undocumented minors from terminating unwanted pregnancies.” That’s a glaring omission—and a pretty scary one, looking at the future of abortion rights with the current Supreme Court.

That’s the other problem. All of these judges can make a difference, but only to the point that their cases stand and don’t advance to the Supreme Court. Because as it is currently constituted, thanks to being packed by Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, any significant progressive movement by the lower courts will be reversed.

In addition to recognizing that Biden achieved this because of filibuster reform, it’s also important to note that the minute he had the opportunity, McConnell also changed the rule for Supreme Court justices so that he could do just what he has done: pack it.

One would think old Senate hands like Biden and Schumer, who’ve had the questionable benefit of serving with McConnell and seeing what he’s capable of doing, wouldn’t be at all squeamish about doing what’s necessary to thwart him. Like expanding the Supreme Court to dilute the pernicious, regressive, and out-of-the-mainstream conservative majority, the last three of whom were literally packed on. Neil Gorsuch is in the seat McConnell stole from President Barack Obama. Brett Kavanaugh is serving under about five different ethical clouds, from alleged sexual assault to perjury before Congress. Amy Coney Barrett was shoved onto the court while people were casting their presidential ballots in the fall of 2020.

So, yes, Biden and Schumer should take this moment to celebrate, but they can’t rest on this achievement. There’s far more that needs to be done to secure the nation’s future.

Justice Breyer's rejection of reality proves why the Supreme Court needs to be expanded

If there is anyone in Washington, D.C. as stubborn, arrogant, and thick-headed as Sen. Joe Manchin this week, it’s Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer. The 83-year-old remains doggedly committed to the fantasy that if he says the judicial confirmation process should not be politicized, it won’t be. As if the last decade of Sen. Mitch McConnell flexing his power hadn’t happened.

Speaking of which, at least five Republican senators have confirmed to CNN that they absolutely will not allow President Joe Biden to have any Supreme Court confirmations if they retake the Senate in 2022. Funny how they’re not heeding Breyer’s admonitions about politicizing the court. That puts Democrats in a delicate position: If they push Breyer too hard now about retiring so Biden and a Democratic majority can get a solid, progressive replacement, he’ll be even more stubborn about staying on the bench. Because old, entitled white men get to do that. They get to dictate the terms of everything to satisfy their own egos at the expense of, well, everyone else.

On the other hand, nothing makes the case for court expansion like Breyer’s intransigence—the court and the country and the entirety of our civil and reproductive rights being held hostage by a literal handful of people is just not sustainable. That destabilizes this whole centuries-old experiment we’ve been on.

While the White House can point to some historic and laudable achievements in the judiciary, there’s still the thorny Supreme Court problem. Biden and the Democratic Senate have pushed the biggest number of federal judges in a president’s first term since President Ronald Reagan. He’s made history with those nominees with their racial, gender, and professional diversity. There’s still some capacity in the lower courts to continue that, and every indication that Biden and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer intend to do as much as possible.

However, there are still Republicans, and those Republicans still have power at the district court level to block him. As of now, Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin is still honoring the blue slip process on those nominations, meaning he is giving deference to home state senators in nominations. And in states with two Republican senators, there have been no confirmations.

Some Republicans say they have been talking to the White House on nominees from their states, and some—notably Tennessee Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty—say there haven’t been substantive conversations. “That’s despite a senior White House official saying the administration had been speaking with the Tennessee senators about the vacancy since the summer,” The Washington Post points out. Gee, who are you going to trust to be telling the truth there?

The district courts feed the appeals courts, where Biden has seated nearly a dozen judges, with another half dozen either reported out of committee or pending there. Three more appeals court judges—Thomas Ambro of the 3rd Circuit, Diana Motz of the 4th Circuit, and R. Guy Cole and Helene White of the 6th Circuit—announced early this month that they’ll be taking senior status, which allows them to still hear some cases as they chose, but allows Biden to appoint permanent replacements for them.

There’s the possibility that some of these appeals courts will flip with Biden’s opportunities, but unfortunately the worst of them—the 5th Circuit—hasn’t had a vacancy. That’s the court that Republican states, with Texas in the lead, have used to push through every regressive lawsuit from the original Affordable Care Act challenges through the current abortion challenges from Texas and Mississippi.

As long as that appeals court continues to have a Federalist Society and wingnut majority of Bush- and Trump-appointed judges who can feed the Trump-packed Supreme Court challenges, democracy is endangered. Even Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has realized that and has warned his colleagues. The integrity of the court he leads, he wrote in a recent dissent, is in danger.

The 5th will be there to oppose every item of Biden’s agenda, to challenge voting rights, civil rights including marriage equality, and what’s left of reproductive health rights including access to birth control. The 5th Circuit, and the Trump-packed Supreme Court, might even decide the outcome of the next federal elections.

So, yeah, Breyer should wake up to reality and resign already, and Biden and the Senate should do the same when it comes to expanding the court. It’s time to start talking about it as what it is: a constitutional viable and rational solution to a problem created by Republicans manipulating a broken and dysfunctional system. Once they fix the court, they can start to work on the rest.

Manchin, Sinema chase after Republican mega-donors and betray their impoverished states

While President Joe Biden is attempting to undo four years of Trumpish and decades of inequality, Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are being rewarded by Republican mega-donors for the precise purpose of blocking that, blatantly and unapologetically. Along the way, the $6 trillion jobs, economic equality, tax the rich, and climate change plans got whittled down to $3.5 trillion and then down again to $1.75 trillion while Democrats played whack-a-mole with these two and, to a lesser extent, their conservative Democratic House counterparts. When one made a demand that was satisfied, the other would pop up with their own demands, dragging the process out and singlehandedly fanning the flames of "Dems in disarray" reporting.

The whole point of this exercise for the two of them, it appears, is to open up the Republican donor spigot. That's were the really big political money is, and courting it is so much easier than doing the necessary work it takes to amass small donor donations. Like showing up in your state, holding town meetings, and being accountable to the people who put you in office. Besides, going to London and Paris in search of checks is so much more fun.

Both have been feted by Texas donor G. Brint Ryan at his $18 million mansion in Dallas. He advised the former guy on taxes during the 2016 campaign and says of Manchin and Sinema that they are "out of step with their party, but I tend to believe that they're in the right." He has a tax consulting firm and one of is partners, Jeff Miller, is a "close political adviser" to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Ryan and his firm are all-in on the two turncoats according to the Times: "In the days around the fund-raisers at his home, Mr. Ryan, his employees, his company's political action committee and a relative's law firm combined to donate nearly $80,000 to Ms. Sinema's campaign and more than $115,000 to Mr. Manchin's."

The two have set personal bests for fundraising this year, Sinema raking in $2.6 million in the first three quarters—"two and a half times as much as she raised in the same period last year"—and Manchin $3.3 million, which is a whopping 14 times as much as his haul from last year. Both are up for reelection in 2024, so this push isn't to save their seats in a difficult midterm election for Democrats. More likely, at least in Sinema's case, it's to try to scare off a primary challenger. She's been on an image-rehab tour for the past week or so. She spent most of the year sabotaging Biden behind the scenes, not making her demands public and earning the wrath of fellow Democrats and particularly the activists in Arizona who get her elected.

Sinema, who has broken her months-long silence in a "rare interview" fluff piece in Politico and another in the Washington Post, is now casting doubt on whether she'll support Biden's Build Back Better bill passed last week by the House. She's raising the same bullshit argument about inflation as Manchin, telling the Post she is "worried about inflation" and saying "new tax hikes could harm businesses."

At least she's talking, even if it is bullshit. Like when her spokesman tells the Times that all that Republican money she's raking in has nothing to do at all with her policy choices. That spokesman, John LaBombard, told the Times that "Senator Sinema makes decisions based on one consideration: what's best for Arizona."

Accountable.US crunched the numbers for BBB and just how much it will benefit Arizona. They look specifically at the fact that Arizona has the largest Native American population in the country—communities that could gain crucial funding through BBB. In total, the bill has at least $5.2 billion to help Native communities, including more than $2.34 billion for Native American health initiatives, including the Indian Health Service; more than $1.67 billion for Tribal housing, infrastructure, and community development; more than $485 million for climate resilience, conservation, and drought relief specifically for Native American communities; $200 million in grants to Native American language educators; and $523 million in other funding benefitting Native American communities, including funding for a Native American Consultation Resource Center. Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation, the Diné people, is pushing for the bill.

That's just one part of what the bill will do for the state. The White House breaks down more numbers for Arizona: child care to 430,000 young children, providing help to 90% of Arizona's young families; free preschool to more than 134,000 additional children; additional Pell grant assistance to 112,180 Arizona students; grants for job training to 19 community colleges; an additional 262,000 students getting free school meals; 158,000 uninsured people getting access to health insurance; and tax cuts of as much as $1,500 to 385,200 low-wage workers in Arizona. But Sinema is inexplicably more worried about the extremely wealthy who will have to pay more in taxes.

The White House also has the facts for West Virginia, one of the poorest and oldest states in the union. Right now, West Virginia families with two children pay as much as 22% of their income on just child care every year, about $5,871 on average (West Virginia salaries are not high). That's childcare for 94,170 families—child care that could allow parents to further their educations, or take on new jobs, or start businesses. Only a quarter of the state's children now has access to publicly-funded preschool, and private preschools average about $8,600 every year. An additional 27,753 children would be able to go to free preschool. A whopping 21% of West Virginia's children don't consistently have enough to eat. The bill would give free school meals to an additional 38,000 students in the school year and provide food to almost 205,000 students during summers.

There's a tremendous need in both states, with both ranking in the bottom 10 in the nation for the people living in poverty, Arizona at 43rd and West Virginia 44th. You sure couldn't tell it by the priorities of these two senators.

Democratic lawmakers blast Supreme Court commission for 'both-sidesing' court politicization

Four congressional Democrats wrote a scathing letter to President Joe Biden's Supreme Court reform commission this week, calling out the commission's failure to address or even examine the degree to which dark money groups with well-funded lobbying campaigns have influenced the court, both in terms of the justices appointed and their decisions.

In the letter, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono, and Georgia Representative Hank Johnson remind the commission that they've already called this issue out: "We wrote to you earlier this year to emphasize that the issues your Commission is tasked to consider cannot be addressed without grappling with pressing judicial ethics concerns, including the role of secretive special-interest influence in and around the Court." The commission released its first discussion drafts last month, showing that it was failing to address some of the Court's fundamental problems—like the politicization of the court through groups like the Federalist Society—and downplaying others.

"As currently drafted, this report is a disappointment to anyone who had hoped for a clear-eyed effort to address the Supreme Court's deep troubles," the lawmakers write. "The Commission's draft report acknowledges in passing that 'confirmation battles of recent years have given rise to a multi-million dollar lobbying campaigns' to support and oppose particular nominations," the lawmakers note.

"But the Commission has failed to probe why such sums are being spent to control the Court's composition, or to ask who might be spending this money and—most important—what interests they may have before the Court. The Commission has also failed to consider whether these investments have actually shaped the substance and outcomes of the Court's decision-making, as they were no doubt intended to do."

The lawmakers also strike at the core of the commissions' failings, it's insistence on "both-sidesing" the politicization of the court. "This view that 'both sides' are equally to blame for the politicization of the Court, and the implicit assumption that members of the Court are themselves insulated and apart from this politicization, is an unproven proposition," they wrote.

"In the face of overwhelming evidence that the Court has been captured by partisan donor interests, it is wrong to perpetuate the fiction that it has not been," the lawmakers write. "By grounding its draft report foremost in the concern that the public must perceive the Court to be legitimate and independent, the Commission fails to consider the very real and much more dangerous possibility that it might not be."

The updated draft of the commission, released ahead of a Friday public meeting, shows that the commission is still not dealing with that fundamental challenge of this court. That's not too surprising—the commission includes a few staunchly anti-abortion lawyers and Federalist Society members.

Although the Federalist Society has succeeded in packing the court, the commission argues that expanding the court would endanger the court's legitimacy. "This uncertainty leads even some who fundamentally disagree with aspects of the current Supreme Court's jurisprudence to believe it is better to preserve the court's long-term legitimacy and independence than to open up the court to be packed by potentially dangerous and even authoritarian political movements going forward," the commission materials said. Again, as if this court, with three Trump appointees whose legitimacy is at best questionable, is above question.

The lawmakers detail the evidence of a broken court, influenced by political groups, and demand that the commission address these facts:

(a) that the last three Supreme Court vacancies were filled through the efforts of a private organization (the Federalist Society) receiving enormous contemporaneous, anonymous donations;

(b) that anonymous individual checks as large as $17 million funded Supreme Court confirmation battle advertising, with no way to know what business those donors had before the Court;

(c) that orchestrated flotillas of anonymously funded right-wing amici appear regularly before the Court, and achieve virtually perfect success with the Republican appointees;

(d) that a peculiar fast lane has emerged that rushes politically loaded cases to the Supreme Court through deliberate trial and appellate court losses;

(e) that intensely political partisan decisions have hinged on findings of fact that were not an appellate court's ordinary province, that were not supported by a factual record, and that ultimately were demonstrably false;

(f) that capture by special interests is not limited to administrative agencies but can infect courts as well;

(g) that as much as $400 million in anonymized money has been spent through an array of coordinated groups seemingly designed to capture the Supreme Court, a sum not usually spent without motive; and

(h) that, in civil cases decided by a 5-4 partisan Supreme Court majority during the Roberts era in which there was an evident Republican donor interest, the donor interest win record was an astonishing 80-0.

"These unpleasant facts do not disappear just because we may wish them to," the lawmakers write. "The American people are counting on this Commission. Please do your duty."

The commission is expected to release its final report on Dec. 15.

Manchin's excuse for fighting Build Back Better is full of holes

The announcement last week from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that consumer prices rose 6.2 percent over the past year in the U.S. The pain American consumers feel is very real (though their reported milk consumption might be exaggerated), and does pose a real political challenge to President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats if it lasts well into next year.

That's all very true. But how it's being reported and how it's being used by the traditional media are problematic. While the larger stories of the complexities of grocery store monopolies and how dairy farming and cattle ranching and meat production are manipulated are reported, the policy side of it is reduced to simple politics. And to this, fueling Sen. Joe Manchin's ill-informed and stubborn opposition to President Biden's Build Back Better plan on the basis of inflation.

Like this:

Pretty much every reputable economist (plus Larry Summers) is in agreement that this period of inflation is transitory, albeit more persistent than originally assumed, and that the way to deal with it is to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control and then support the still-recovering economy with the boost from BBB. That's what 17 Nobel laureates in economics, including Joseph Stiglitz, have argued. The investments in BBB, they assert, will increase "the ability of more Americans to participate productively in the economy, helping to improve our low employment-working age population ratio."

Because the bill is financed by tax increases, they argued that "the inflationary impacts will be at most negligible—over the medium term outweighed by the supply-side benefits; and their progressivity will help address one of the country's critical problems, the growing economic divide."

Harvard Economist Jason Fruman points out that even for those (like Summers) how have argued that the current inflation has stemmed from the $2 trillion in COVID relief overheating the economy—the theory Manchin seems to have bought into—there's really no basis for comparison. The COVID relief was pumped into the economy all at once; the money from Build Back Better with few exceptions won't start reaching people until this inflationary period is likely over—it's spent over one and five and 10 years. University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee predicts that inflation is "a short-run phenomenon," and that "The fiscal impulse from the reconciliation bill in the next six to 18 months wouldn't be that big."

Furman argues that universal pre-K and paid family leave will be drivers in reducing inflation, by increasing the workforce and productive capacity. This year's annual survey from Care.com found that "85% of parents, compared to only 72% in 2020, report they are spending 10% or more of their household income on child care," and that "94% of parents have used at least one major cost-saving strategy to save money on child care in the past year, including reducing hours at work (42%), changing jobs (26%), or leaving the workforce completely (26%)." That's a quarter of respondents saying they quit working because they couldn't afford child care. It's a crisis heightened by the pandemic, but by no means over.

There's also the part about how this bill will actually be paid for by raising taxes. "Something that you raise taxes to pay for," Goolsbee said, "doesn't really have that strong a stimulative effect." As currently written, though that might not last, the bill actually hikes taxes for rich people and cuts taxes for everyone else. That's according to a new analysis from the Tax Policy Center.

People who make about $885,000 or more—the top 1%—would pay about $55,000 more than they currently do, and the top 0.1% would pay nearly 6% more than under current law. Those are the people making $4 million and more, who would pay and additional $585,000 annually, on average. It also increases corporate taxes to the tune of $830 billion. That could be one of Manchin's true motivators in derailing the bill, which would be really ironic.

Because, as the Wall Street Journal reports, a whole lot of inflation is happening on purpose because some of the biggest U.S. companies are "seizing a once in a generation opportunity to raise prices to match and in some cases outpace their own higher expenses, after decades of grinding down costs and prices."

"Nearly two out of three of the biggest U.S. publicly traded companies have reported fatter profit margins so far this year than they did over the same stretch of 2019, before the Covid-19 outbreak, data from FactSet show," the WSJ reports. How fortunate for them. Glenn Richter, the chief financial officer of International Flavors & Fragrances, a supplier to big food companies, admitted that his company is exploiting the situation, because as the WSJ explains, "Widespread inflation makes it easier to broach the topic of raising prices with customers."

If anything is going to drive inflation, it's corporate greed. "The risk to the economy is that price hikes not only stick, but convince customers more increases are inevitable, spurring inflationary demand and sparking a vicious cycle," says the WSJ. The best way to combat that, other than taxing the hell out of them, is with the kinds of investments in people that BBB represents.

And to get there, it's key to understand why we're experiencing inflation—pent-up demand, supply-chain problems, labor shortages, and corporate greed—and address them. Passing this bill could also help solve those political problems.

How Democrats can deal with Manchin and McConnell in one go

The House and Senate are both in recess this week, neither planning floor sessions. However, that doesn't mean that they're not working on the critical half of President Joe Biden's big economic, climate change, and family agenda he's calling Build Back Better (BBB). It's the companion bill to the hard infrastructure bill that both the House and Senate have passed. Now that House Democrats have decided to trust Biden's ability to bring recalcitrant Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema along and do it in the next three weeks, with the Thanksgiving holiday thrown in, the pressure is very much on. Because it's not just BBB that has to be dealt with by Dec. 3.

The conservative House Democrats who have been fighting that larger budget reconciliation bill agreed that they would allow for a vote on the package "no later than the week of Nov. 15." So that's the immediate job. There won't be any time to rest if that achievement is met because Congress agreed to give themselves that Dec. 3 deadline for two rather important things: lifting or suspending the debt ceiling, and providing government funding for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2022 (we're already almost a month and a half into it).

Republicans are going to help with neither task. Which means it would make a lot of sense for Democrats to get one of those big must-pass things done as quickly as possible—they need to put the debt ceiling suspension in the budget reconciliation BBB bill, which will pass with only Democratic votes.

There's a lot of good reasons to do that. Joe Manchin is one big one. He backed the idea as recently as a few weeks ago, saying, "Democrats have the responsibility, being the majority party right now, to do it through reconciliation" if Republicans refuse to help. Republicans will refuse to help.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already promised that, and he can't back down. He's already been blasted by other Senate Republicans who said he caved on extending the deadline in early October. For his reward, the former guy is renewing his attacks on McConnell. Republicans aren't going to help.

It would be a sweetener for Manchin—as much of an obstructionist asshole as he is, he's not willing to play with that particular fire, the full faith and credit of the United States. But he is going to be more than willing to delay and delay and delay the BBB budget reconciliation bill. It's been a constant game of whack-a-mole for Democrats with him, as he takes turns with Sinema to pose objections that Democrats have to address—because this thing doesn't pass without them.

If it's the only game in town for lifting the debt ceiling, or better yet forever eliminating it as a weapon for McConnell, then Democrats had better do that.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has blessed the strategy. On the way to the Glasgow climate summit last week, Yellen told reporters that Democrats should be willing to do it. "Should it be done on a bipartisan basis? Absolutely. Now, if they're not going to cooperate, I don't want to play chicken and end up not raising the debt ceiling. I think that's the worst possible outcome," Yellen told The Washington Post. "If Democrats have to do it by themselves, that's better than defaulting on the debt to teach the Republicans a lesson."

The Senate Budget Committee has ruled out that approach previously, but they could and should change their minds, and they should do it using the process Greg Sargent at the Post discussed with Georgetown law professor David Super. The reluctance of Democrats to deal with the debt limit in reconciliation has been because this form of bill requires specific amounts of either spending or revenue increases, and they don't want to saddle themselves with having passed a $3 or $4 or whatever trillion increase. But, Super has argued, they don't actually have to specify a number: "You can probably change the number to something you don't spell out in ink, but that you describe," Super explained. "You tie it to the national debt. That is a number. It's just not a number you wrote out." The number is the national debt, and the debt ceiling is set is tied to that number. Period. No more need for Congress to ever get involved.

Resolve those two things by Thanksgiving (a tall order, but not impossible). Then Congress can focus all of its attention on government funding, which is also mired down right now by Republicans refusing to help appropriators in the Senate set spending levels. They want to skip the budgeting and appropriations process completely and just have another full-year continuing resolution—the kind of stop-gap funding measure that continues funding for everything at current levels until a date specified in the resolution. The current one runs until Dec. 3.

"An endless cycle of continuing resolutions is not a responsible way to govern," Appropriations Chairman Patric Leahy said in response to the proposal. "It means cuts to veterans, cuts to national security and defense, handcuffing our response to the pandemic, and not meeting the challenges of climate change. We have made clear what we are for. What are they for? We are ready to get to work as soon as they come to the table."

They will not come to the table, and they don't have to. There are 50 of them, just like there are 50 Democrats, and they have Manchin and Sinema willing to continue giving Republicans veto power over the Democrats' agenda. As long as the two of them insist the filibuster remains, McConnell has minority rule, with the exception of budget reconciliation. So Democrats need to use it, and they need to make Manchin help. That would make the next two months just slightly less hellish.

How Democrats can deal with problems from Joe Manchin and Mitch McConnell in just one go

The House and Senate are both in recess this week, neither planning floor sessions. However, that doesn't mean that they're not working on the critical half of President Joe Biden's big economic, climate change, and family agenda he's calling Build Back Better (BBB). It's the companion bill to the hard infrastructure bill that both the House and Senate have passed. Now that House Democrats have decided to trust Biden's ability to bring recalcitrant Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema along and do it in the next three weeks, with the Thanksgiving holiday thrown in, the pressure is very much on. Because it's not just BBB that has to be dealt with by Dec. 3.

The conservative House Democrats who have been fighting that larger budget reconciliation bill agreed that they would allow for a vote on the package "no later than the week of Nov. 15." So that's the immediate job. There won't be any time to rest if that achievement is met because Congress agreed to give themselves that Dec. 3 deadline for two rather important things: lifting or suspending the debt ceiling, and providing government funding for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2022 (we're already almost a month and a half into it).

Republicans are going to help with neither task. Which means it would make a lot of sense for Democrats to get one of those big must-pass things done as quickly as possible—they need to put the debt ceiling suspension in the budget reconciliation BBB bill, which will pass with only Democratic votes.

There's a lot of good reasons to do that. Joe Manchin is one big one. He backed the idea as recently as a few weeks ago, saying, "Democrats have the responsibility, being the majority party right now, to do it through reconciliation" if Republicans refuse to help. Republicans will refuse to help.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already promised that, and he can't back down. He's already been blasted by other Senate Republicans who said he caved on extending the deadline in early October. For his reward, the former guy is renewing his attacks on McConnell. Republicans aren't going to help.

It would be a sweetener for Manchin—as much of an obstructionist asshole as he is, he's not willing to play with that particular fire, the full faith and credit of the United States. But he is going to be more than willing to delay and delay and delay the BBB budget reconciliation bill. It's been a constant game of whack-a-mole for Democrats with him, as he takes turns with Sinema to pose objections that Democrats have to address—because this thing doesn't pass without them.

If it's the only game in town for lifting the debt ceiling, or better yet forever eliminating it as a weapon for McConnell, then Democrats had better do that.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has blessed the strategy. On the way to the Glasgow climate summit last week, Yellen told reporters that Democrats should be willing to do it. "Should it be done on a bipartisan basis? Absolutely. Now, if they're not going to cooperate, I don't want to play chicken and end up not raising the debt ceiling. I think that's the worst possible outcome," Yellen told The Washington Post. "If Democrats have to do it by themselves, that's better than defaulting on the debt to teach the Republicans a lesson."

The Senate Budget Committee has ruled out that approach previously, but they could and should change their minds, and they should do it using the process Greg Sargent at the Post discussed with Georgetown law professor David Super. The reluctance of Democrats to deal with the debt limit in reconciliation has been because this form of bill requires specific amounts of either spending or revenue increases, and they don't want to saddle themselves with having passed a $3 or $4 or whatever trillion increase. But, Super has argued, they don't actually have to specify a number: "You can probably change the number to something you don't spell out in ink, but that you describe," Super explained. "You tie it to the national debt. That is a number. It's just not a number you wrote out." The number is the national debt, and the debt ceiling is set is tied to that number. Period. No more need for Congress to ever get involved.

Resolve those two things by Thanksgiving (a tall order, but not impossible). Then Congress can focus all of its attention on government funding, which is also mired down right now by Republicans refusing to help appropriators in the Senate set spending levels. They want to skip the budgeting and appropriations process completely and just have another full-year continuing resolution—the kind of stop-gap funding measure that continues funding for everything at current levels until a date specified in the resolution. The current one runs until Dec. 3.

"An endless cycle of continuing resolutions is not a responsible way to govern," Appropriations Chairman Patric Leahy said in response to the proposal. "It means cuts to veterans, cuts to national security and defense, handcuffing our response to the pandemic, and not meeting the challenges of climate change. We have made clear what we are for. What are they for? We are ready to get to work as soon as they come to the table."

They will not come to the table, and they don't have to. There are 50 of them, just like there are 50 Democrats, and they have Manchin and Sinema willing to continue giving Republicans veto power over the Democrats' agenda. As long as the two of them insist the filibuster remains, McConnell has minority rule, with the exception of budget reconciliation. So Democrats need to use it, and they need to make Manchin help. That would make the next two months just slightly less hellish.

This powerful union is joining call for Supreme Court expansion

This week's U.S. Supreme Court rocket docket hearing on Texas's abortion ban demonstrated that the court might not be ready to turn citizens into vigilantes when it comes to enforcing their political wishes. That was an argument worthy of scaring Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who seemed to take to heart the amicus brief from the Firearms Policy Coalition, which argued that "it takes little in the way of creative copying for States hostile to the Second Amendment—New York, California, New Jersey, Hawaii, etc.—to declare that the ownership or sale of a handgun is illegal … and set up a bounty system with the same unbalanced procedures and penalties adopted by Texas in this case."

Speaking of guns, the court also heard a challenge to New York state's 108-year-old concealed handgun permit law, which requires that applicants show "proper cause" before getting an unrestricted license to carry. It's looking like that law will go down, or at least be narrowed. Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to sum up much of the conservative majority's view when he asked during oral arguments: "You don't have to say, when you're looking for a permit to speak on a street corner or whatever, that your speech is particularly important. So why do you have to show in this case, convince somebody, that you're entitled to exercise your Second Amendment right?"

National polling continues to reflect support for sensible gun regulations, and abortion access and - overwhelmingly rejects Texas-style bans. Large majorities, too. Yet we've got a Supreme Court majority on the far-right fringe of mainstream America. There's increasing momentum to change that, though.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU)—one of North America's largest labor unions—announced its support for expanding the court in comments to the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States, urging that panel to restore the court's legitimacy. Writing for the group, International President Mary Kay Henry represents the "union of approximately two million working women and men." That's two million workers who "stand in the unique position of being the targets of a long-running, coordinated, and well-funded effort to strip them of their organizing and other rights via federal-court litigation." What's more, Henry writes, "many SEIU members, as BIPOC citizens, are also targets of an additional campaign to strip them of their voting rights. That anti-voter campaign, like the anti-worker effort, has found success with this Supreme Court."

"We firmly believe that this democracy rests on a razor's edge and came, within the last 12 months, very close to falling apart," Henry tells the commission, in large part because the "interests of poor and working people have been largely shut out from government and the law, feeding the rise of anti-democratic forces to which people throughout history have turned in desperation." Henry pleads with the commission to "not forget where we have been in the last twelve months" and to "not get lost in all the academic talk and mundaneness of Zoom meeting rooms."

Henry makes a powerful argument for substantive reform, for the commission to not do the thing most presidential commissions do: "Please be wary of meaningless gestures at reform and of resistance to change that is camouflaged as seemingly reasonable restraint, and please interrogate what may be even your own inherent biases against change." Such gestures include a reform the commission seems to be considering, instituting term limits, which is nibbling around the edges of a 6-3 majority that is intent on rolling back decades of progress. Spending valuable time and political capital on such a limited effort, that could ultimately be rejected by that extremist majority anyway, puts that idea "in the category of apparent reforms that may achieve nothing."

"We believe it is long past time to expand the size of the Court," Henry writes on behalf of the SEIU. "You have an opportunity to lend your credibility to serious suggestions that can lead to real change. Please do not waste it."

As of now, wasting this opportunity appears that's what the commission is inclined to do, scheduled to finish its work with a final report on December 15. The commission should recognize within itself what Henry warns it against, that its members are "blessed by power, prestige, and expensive educations, […] very good at cloaking their arguments in what sound like high-minded principles."

Meanwhile, the effort to build a coalition in Congress to do the job the commission doesn't seem to want to take on continues and strengthens. There are now 40 House members cosponsoring the Judiciary Act of 2021 to expand the court.

Biden is making history under the radar with his judicial appointments — but there's a catch

President Joe Biden has done some outstanding work identifying and seating federal judges. As of Oct. 1, 14 federal circuit and district judges had been confirmed. Remarkably, this month the Senate has confirmed 11 more, with the Senate adding six more just this week. That's the most confirmations in a president's first term since the Nixon administration.

Biden is also making history in who he is nominating and getting confirmed. Public defenders, civil rights defenders, and non-corporate attorneys—many of whom are people of color—are being elevated to the courts in an unprecedented effort to make the judiciary look like America. He's rightfully receiving praise, as is Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for prioritizing these votes. "Leader Schumer is doing everything you could want in terms of using floor time to quickly confirm President Biden's nominees, as well as in recommending professionally diverse nominees for New York-based judgeships," Brian Fallon, executive director of the progressive advocacy group Demand Justice, told Reuters. But that doesn't mean all is well in the Senate when it comes to nominations.

Because this: "Out of [the] 38 district court nominations, 35 have come in states with two Democratic senators. The only exceptions are the three Ohio nominations announced last month." That's because Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin is maintaining the "blue slip" tradition for district-level judges, and Republicans aren't playing along.

The Senate tradition, from days of yore when the Senate was a place where members felt like they had to fulfill their constitutional duty, was for the president to collaborate with senators on nominations from their home states. When the White House and the senators had agreed on a nominee, the senators would indicate they were ready to advance that nominee with a form printed on blue paper, aka a blue slip. The tradition has come and gone in the past few decades, pretty much depending on who is president and who controls the Senate.

Basically, Democrats have respected the tradition and Republicans have thrown it out the window. Under President Barack Obama, Republicans boycotted the process while Democrats were in control, and simply didn't return their blue slips. While Democratic Sen. Pat Leahy was in charge, that worked. He honored the courtesy of blue slips and so didn't bring nominees to committee from those states. That left a lot of vacancies for Trump to fill, and with Trump in the White House and Republicans in control, of course they abandoned the blue slip process for the really important courts—appeals courts—and packed them.

So far, that's what Durbin is doing, honoring blue slips for district judges and ignoring them for appeals court positions and so far that's working okay—they can get a lot of good people in those district court positions. And they have been! But there are a lot of district court vacancies in Republican states, too, that are going to have to be filled eventually and the sooner, the better.

"The White House strategy up to this point has been low-hanging fruit," Jill Dash, vice president of strategic engagement at liberal legal organization the American Constitution Society, told Sam Mellins at Balls and Strikes, a newsletter produced by Demand Justice. "There's a lot of work to do on judicial nominations before we get to any pitched battles."

The White House and Senate can point to what they've accomplished thus far and be rightfully proud of it. It's a fantastic achievement, particularly because of the backgrounds of the judges that are being seated. The problem for the country, though, is that they're only covering half the states. The rest of the states, even the red ones, deserve to have the same diversity on their courts as the blue states.

Faudlin Pierre, a Miami-based civil rights attorney who practices in federal court, told Mellins how important it is to have a judge who has experience in public defense or civil rights. "It matters when you're in practice, because they see the world a different way," he said. "When it's a close call, judges, like any other human being, go with their biases. They go with their life experiences. That's why we need to have a more diverse judiciary."

That's better for the residents of those states, but it's also better overall to help dilute the power of conservative-packed higher courts. The cases that reach the appeals courts come from those district courts, after all. "You need good intellectually competent judges to set the stage for the Eleventh Circuit," Pierre said, referring to the conservative appeals court covering Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, where he works. "You need people at the bottom to say, 'Here's the roadmap and here's the reasoning why you should affirm [the district court's decision].'" Seven of the 13 appeals courts have majority Republican appointees now, after the Trump/McConnell court-packing scheme.

The Biden administration has also been trying to find nominees that Republicans will agree to, according to Dash. That means the administration is "not putting the same kinds of nominees in red or purple states as in blue states." Again, back to Florida and Pierre.

Recent developments in Florida, which is represented in the Senate by two Republicans, demonstrate how Republican obstruction can warp the nomination process. A commission led by Florida's congressional Democrats drew up a list of potential nominees for two open district court judgeships in the state; a separate commission led by Republican Senator Marco Rubio drew up its own list in opposition. There were two common names between the lists: Detra Shaw-Wilder, a corporate lawyer, and David Liebowitz, a former federal prosecutor whose billionaire uncle is a major Rubio donor—hardly the stuff of progressive dreams.

Right now those nominees from Florida are at an impasse, and Pierre is frustrated. "There's been nothing. And I'm just like, 'Hey, we're important too,'" he said. "I don't think that the administration appreciates the sense of urgency that we on the ground feel. […] This has to be a multi-front attack," Pierre said. "We need people at the front lines who can intellectually combat the nonsense that comes from the other end."

That means ditching blue slips and getting as many good, diverse judges in all the vacancies as possible, as soon as possible. There are no guarantees about Biden having a Senate majority to confirm his nominees come November 2022.

House select committee considers holding Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in contempt

It's been over one month since the House Select Committee on Jan. 6 subpoenaed former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, former Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel, and Stephen Bannon. They were given two weeks to submit documents and were required to be deposed one week later. Meadows and Patel got short postponements and Bannon got a contempt of Congress charge.

Meadows is asking for the same by continuing to delay and obstruct. According to multiple sources to CNN, the committee is considering giving him a new deadline to comply with the subpoena and holding him in criminal contempt if he does not. "Our patience isn't unlimited, and engagement needs to become cooperation very soon," one of the sources told CNN. "As we've already made clear, anyone who tries to stonewall our effort will face the consequences."

Chair of the committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, told CNN that they are not at the point yet where they can take Meadows to court, but "If and when the staff says to us it's not going anywhere, there won't be any hesitation on the part of the committee to make the referrals." As opposed to Bannon, the complication with Meadows is that as the former chief of staff, Meadows can claim at least a degree of protection under executive privilege.

In addition to wanting to know what Meadows was doing and what was happening in the White House in the lead-up to Jan. 6 and that day itself, the committee wants to know his role in attempting to overturn the election—with his subpoena noting that he had communicated with "the highest officials at the Department of Justice requesting investigations into election fraud matters in several states."

It's been well-reported for months that Meadows was neck-deep in multiple schemes to "nullify" the election and allow Trump to remain in charge. That included efforts to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" votes, communications with Republican members of Congress, and a fantastical scheme in which Meadows pushed the Department of Justice to investigate whether Italy had interfered with the election using satellites.

But that's likely not all the committee wants to talk to Meadows about. Now that two of the insurrection organizers are talking, Meadows should probably think about negotiating his best possible deal. Several House Republicans have been named by those organizers as active in planning the protest, and both have been in contact with the committee. The two canaries are subjects of an unrelated investigation, and said that Rep. Paul Gosar used to get them to plan the Ellipse protest. If they went along with organizing this protest, they said, Gosar promised Trump would give them "blanket pardons."

"Our impression was that it was a done deal," the organizer said, "that he'd spoken to the president about it in the Oval … in a meeting about pardons and that our names came up. They were working on submitting the paperwork and getting members of the House Freedom Caucus to sign on as a show of support." Guess who else hangs out in the Oval Office for these kinds of meetings? Yep, the chief of staff.

The Biden White House rejected claims from Trump for executive privilege over records held by the National Archives this week. White House counsel Dana Remus told the National Archives that Biden has determined that shielding the documents from Congress "is not in the best interests of the United States." She added, "Accordingly, President Biden does not uphold the former President's assertion of privilege." Trump has asked Meadows to claim executive privilege to evade the subpoena.

Meadow's compliance might be influenced by what, if anything, Attorney General Merrick Garland decides to do about Bannon and the contempt charge against him. Garland told lawmakers last week, ahead of the contempt vote, that the Justice Department will follow "the facts and the law" moving forward on Bannon's case.

"I will say what a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Columbia said I think yesterday or a day before," Garland told a House committee. "If the House of Representatives votes for a referral of a contempt charge—then the Department of Justice will do what it always does in such circumstances, we will apply the facts and the law and make a decision consistent with the principles of prosecution."

Biden potentially complicated things a bit last weekend by telling reporters, "I hope that the committee goes after them and holds them accountable," referring to people resisting subpoenas. Presidents aren't supposed to do anything that looks like pressuring Justice, never mind four years of Trump doing just that. Asked in follow-up whether these people should be prosecuted by the Justice Department, he answered, "I do, yes." That led to Department of Justice spokesman Anthony Coley following up with a statement: "The Department of Justice will make its own independent decisions in all prosecutions based solely on the facts and the law. Period. Full stop."

That was Oct. 15. Since then Bannon has accused Garland and the FBI in removing Trump from office in a coup. For real.

House Democrats on and off the committee are urging Garland to act. "The U.S. attorney [general] obviously has a decision to make; they have charging criteria. There are rules for prosecutors, they'll run it through their analysis. And, you know, we think that the public interest is obviously overwhelming in seeing that this subpoena is respected and that this crime is prosecuted," committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin told The Hill.

"I think there's a real desire on the part of the attorney general, for the most part, not to look backward," Rep. Adam Schiff said on the Yahoo News "Skullduggery" podcast last week. "Do I disagree with that? I do disagree with that, and I disagree with it most vehemently when it comes to what I consider even more serious offenses. For example, a taped conversation of Donald J. Trump on the phone with Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state from Georgia, trying to coerce him into fraudulently finding 11,780 votes. […] Because I think if you or I did that, we'd be under indictment by now."

Joe Manchin pushes back on party-switching story — but he's still a major threat to Biden's agenda

Sen. Joe Manchin could be signaling that he's willing to President Joe Biden's entire agenda hostage, according to journalist David Corn, by having associates spread the word that he's got a plan to leave the Democratic Party if his ransom demands for the big reconciliation bill on Biden's plan are not met. It can entirely be a bluff on his part, and since the outlet reporting it is Mother Jones, that's definitely a possibility.

For the record, Manchin told reporters after the story came out "It's bullshit," and "I have no control of rumors." On the other hand, he might very well have control of rumors and whether he has someone drop word a detailed plan for his exit into a journalist's ear. He's made threats like this before, like in 2018 when he was telling colleagues he was going to retire. On the other hand, Joe Manchin is an asshole.

Corn reports that sources say Manchin is threatening to leave the Democratic Party if Biden and 269 other Democrats in Congress "do not agree to his demand to cut the size of the social infrastructure bill from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion. […] Manchin has said that if this were to happen, he would declare himself an 'American Independent.'" He has also plotted a two-step "exit strategy": first, a letter to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer removing himself from leadership and if that doesn't get the concessions he's demanding, he'd change his voter registration to independent. Then, presumably, he'd hold out on a decision to either caucus with Democrats or with Republicans, the latter decision would make Mitch McConnell majority leader.

Whether or not this is a possibility, he has been making obnoxious demands on Biden. Manchin has supposedly come up from what he's insisted was his ceiling of $1.5 trillion for the already negotiated-down package—progressives said $6 trillion was necessary to fulfill Biden's agenda, but dropped that down to $3.5 trillion. Now he's supposedly willing to go $1.75 trillion. That's on the condition that every program be means tested, "everything from paid family medical leave to elder and disabled care." Manchin's insistence that the continued child tax credit payments be both means-tested and subject to work requirements had already made news.

That's not flying with Manchin's Democratic colleagues in the Senate, like Sherrod Brown, another red state Democrat who has never felt the need to punish working people in order to keep his seat. Brown told The Washington Post's Greg Sargent that he had a long talk with Manchin, reminding him that the child tax credit payments are helping both of their constituents. "It's dropped the child poverty rate by 40 percent in West Virginia and Ohio—I made that case to Joe," Brown told Sargent. "Why change something that's working so well?"

"He was listening," Brown said of Manchin, and maybe he was. Brown said he would work with Manchin on potential phase outs of the child tax credit for high earners, but that Manchin's proposal to end payments for households making $60,000 annually and add work requirements would set the nation's families back, and punish people. "He has seen a number of families, as I have, in Appalachia and everywhere I guess, where parents couldn't take care of their kids and grandparents stepped in," Brown told me. "A work requirement makes no sense for grandparents." Manchin "emphasized that the money should follow the child, which of course it should," Brown continued. "I think he was listening."

We'll see. As for the larger package, here's where things stand as of Wednesday: two years of free community college is likely entirely out of the package. The tax credits included in the COVID-19 relief plan to make health insurance more affordable will be shortened, as would the duration of the expansion of CTC monthly payments, possibly to a year. Biden is now looking at around $2 trillion for the package.

Manchin's means testing for the child tax credit, one source told CNN, would stay in, though it might look more like Brown's phase out for higher incomes than Manchin's harsh and unrealistic $60,000 limit. Biden told lawmakers that providing an expansion of home healthcare for the elderly and disabled would be cut from an already skinny $400 billion to less than $250 billion. He talked about the expansion of Medicare to include vision, dental, and hearing care as a "pilot project," suggesting that it will be scaled significantly back from what lawmakers have envisioned. A paid leave benefit would be shrunk drastically, from 12 week of leave down to four.

Biden has been meeting with House progressives, along with House conservative Democrats, Manchin, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, and seems to be leaning with the progressives' argument that all of these programs are worthy, and doing most of them for a shorter duration is preferable to doing too little. "I think he is with us that we need to invest in as many of those transformational areas as possible, even if it means for some of them a shorter amount of time," Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal told Roll Call after meeting with Biden Tuesday. On the CTC: "I don't think it will be as many years as we want," Jayapal said. "There was some pushback on having it be too short, so we'll see where that ends up."

What's entirely up in the air is the climate provisions in the bill, and how to meet the goal of cutting carbon emissions in half this decade when Manchin has nixed Biden's $150 billion "clean electricity performance program." That's the program Manchin has been supposedly working with Sen. Tina Smith from Minnesota on for months. He pulled the rug out from all that work, and from his colleague Sen. Smith, last week. He's not offered any alternatives.

"We have to continue to have these conversations and I can't point to anything specific that he's offered," Smith said of Manchin. Since he's not offering anything, one potential solution Democrats have returned to is the idea of a carbon tax, charging polluters for the greenhouse gas they emit. Manchin seems to also be ruling that out, telling reporters Tuesday that it is not on the table.

There's lots of encouraging talk from negotiators that they can have a "framework" for putting the reconciliation bill together by the end of the week. But who knows what else might be in store from Manchin. Or for that matter, Sinema. She's been suspiciously absent from the news lately.

Mitch McConnell sends Joe Biden another debt ceiling hostage note

The day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blinked and scraped together 11 Republican senators to prevent a global economic meltdown, he was back to making threats to blow it all up in December. Next time, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a typically obnoxious letter to President Joe Biden, next time Republicans are really going to blow up the global economy. Oh, and he took credit for not blowing up the global economy. Because of course he did.

Never mind that it was essentially a face-saving exercise on his part because being dragged into doing the right thing did not go over well with his fellow Republicans. "Republicans are folding here," Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina railed. "This is a complete capitulation."

"The reason the Republican leadership took the deal is because Democrats threatened […] to nuke the filibuster," Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas' answer to the Zodiac Killer said. "Unfortunately, Republican leadership blinked in the face of the Democratic threat to nuke the filibuster." That's Cruz, by the way, trying to deflect attention from his own self, because the Republicans were ready to agree to letting a simple majority pass the debt ceiling hike in a voice vote. It was Cruz who refused to go along with that, and insisted on a recorded vote. Meaning every Republican had to go on record on their willingness to blow up the economy.

While we're talking filibuster, though, yes. That. And while we're at it, get rid of the filibuster and the whole concept of the debt ceiling in one go.

There's no guarantee that McConnell is going to capitulate again on or before December 2. He remains intent on forcing Democrats to include hiking or suspending the debt ceiling in their reconciliation bill that will include President Biden's Build Back Better human infrastructure and climate initiatives. Lumped together, he believes, the debt and the new package will provide a message for the Republicans who, frankly, need it. Because all they've got right now is "Trump."

Unfortunately, it's a message that certain Democrats fear and are happy to amplify. It's unfortunate, because a) the debt ceiling is about the money the government has already spent with a huge chunk of it attributed to the GOP tax scam of 2017, and b) the things they would be spending money on are massively popular. That's even though they don't really know these plans are in the big package.

In the new CBS polling, which shows that public knowledge about Biden's plans is not good, 88% of support federal funding for lowering prescription drug prices; 84% support federal funding for Medicare coverage for dental/eye/hearing care; 73% support federal funding for paid family/medical leave; 67% support federal funding for universal pre-school. Those majorities are going to be swayed a lot more by those things making their lives better than by the cost. Because that's how it works. Which McConnell knows and which is why, in a recent example, the Republicans fought so hard to keep the Affordable Care Act from passing and then getting established.

McConnell is keeping the two fronts of this fight—debt ceiling and the reconciliation bill—tied together to kill the latter. But there is a very straightforward path for Democrats: nuke the filibuster. They could do just a carve-out for the debt ceiling (to go with the 161 exceptions that already exist), but that would be pretty crappy considering they haven't yet decided to do it to restore the Voting Rights Act, you know, saving democracy.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is all for making the debt ceiling as an issue go away. "[T]here is an enormous amount at stake," Yellen told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week" Sunday. "A failure to raise the debt ceiling would probably cause a recession and could even result in a financial crisis," she continued.

"I have said I support, personally, getting rid of the debt ceiling. I believe that, once Congress and the administration have decided on spending plans and tax plans, it's simply their responsibility to pay the bills that result from that," she said. "And that means we have had deficits for most of the post-war period. And that means raising the debt ceiling. It is a housekeeping chore. [W]e should be debating the government's fiscal policy when we decide on those expenditures and taxes […] not when the credit card bill […] comes due."

That's all very true, as is the threat we exist under that, next time, Republicans are going to force a breach. Better that Democrats to take that threat away entirely, and soon.

Manchin and Sinema are playing Russian roulette with the planet's future

The House and Senate are out for most of this week, observing Indigenous People's Day/Columbus Day. The House, however, will have a short session Tuesday to finish the job of temporarily lifting the debt ceiling, taking up the bill the Senate passed last week to extend the nation's borrowing limit to pay its bills until December 3.

The hellish Fall we could see coming back in August is fully upon us, with Senate Republicans stretching out their sabotage for maximum effect. They didn't shut down the government on October 1 but agreed to a continuing resolution to keep funds flowing for government operations until December 3. Yes, the same day the debt ceiling will have to be dealt with. Republican leader Mitch McConnell is going to drag the pain out as long as possible. His primary aim remains to be forcing Democrats to deal with the debt ceiling in their budget reconciliation bill, the package they are using to pass President Joe Biden's big human infrastructure bill. He's trying to derail that bill, with an assist from Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, by making the perceived cost too high for the deficit peacocks.

Never mind that the original price tag of the bill isn't that big, relatively. Yes, $3.5 trillion sounds like a lot of money, but it's just 1.2% of the nation's economy over ten years. What is getting lost in the reporting, almost everywhere, is that the bill as written covers 10 years of spending and taxes—and that the taxes part of it could pay the whole thing. And while the traditional media, with a big boost from Republicans and the aforementioned turncoat Democrats, is entirely focused on that number, it is missing the larger story: the costs of not acting in a big way, particularly on the environment, but also for greater racial and economic equality.

While Manchin is making public noise about the human infrastructure side of the package, trying to force Democrats to decide among priorities for helping working families, it's on the climate side, where Manchin is doing his worst.

Manchin makes $500,000 every year from coal investments (more than $5.2 million over the past decade from coal investments). He is also the top recipient among Democrats for fossil fuel industry dollars and the number-one recipient for the coal, mining, natural gas, and oil and gas industries.

One of Manchin's confirmed demands in return for his vote is that the Energy and Natural Resources committee, which he chairs, has "sole" jurisdiction on writing a clean energy standard—presumably locking out other committees and lawmakers, as well as the Department of Energy and government experts. He's resisting the administration's efforts to accelerate the transition to clean energy generation and is continuing to push energy legislation that includes "all energy sources."

In a hearing on September 28, he reiterated that. "I believe that natural gas has an important role in the energy transition," he said, arguing that helping utilities switch to renewables would somehow create electrical grid instability. "If we give them and pay them incentives to basically change their portfolio by 2030, reliability will be the loser." According to the Energy Information Administration, 76% of new electricity generation in the country came from renewable, clean sources. The one glaring example of a highly unreliable grid system came last winter in Texas, which gets most of its grid power from gas-fired plants.

Manchin demands that any tax credits granted for solar and wind power can only be included if "fossil tax credits are not repealed." That puts him in direct opposition to his Democratic colleagues. "I'm not interested in rewarding oil and gas companies who have had 100 years of tax benefits when we weren't providing other benefits to other types of energy," Sen. Debbie Stabenow from Michigan said. That's despite her work with Manchin on a separate initiative to provide tax credits for manufacturing industries to use clean energy.

Manchin's even demanding that "[v]ehicle and fuel tax credits shall not be limited to electric vehicles—they must include hydrogen." That's because hydrogen fuel cells require electricity to be produced, and, at least right now, that would be done through natural gas or coal-fired electric plants. "The overwhelming majority of hydrogen in use today is produced via an emissions-intensive, fossil fuel-based approach, and there are a multitude of cost hurdles, resource constraints, and pollution-heavy alternatives standing in the way of such a pivot to green," Julie McNamara, a senior energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, has pointed out.

All that's spelled out in an "agreement" Manchin came to with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in July, in which Manchin demanded Democrats slash the whole package to $1.5 trillion, and accommodate a whole series of other demands. Schumer noted in signing the document that he "will try to dissuade Joe on many of these." He'll be backed up by other Democrats in both the Senate and House.

For example, another powerful Senate chair is Oregon's Ron Wyden, and his Finance Committee—in charge of tax-writing—has a say in writing energy tax credits. Wyden told Roll Call that he'll be talking to Manchin about his desires, but also "that the days of fossil fuel companies getting whatever handouts they seek are over."

Manchin still has a big stake in the bipartisan bill that he and Sinema helped negotiate. Here's where the commitment of leadership—and the White House—to link the two bills remains so vital. Without bending, Manchin is jeopardizing his bill, and he's not doing a great job of courting fellow Democrats. "It is possible to find middle ground in many areas of politics," Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts said at an event Thursday. "I know because I have done it, but we cannot compromise on science. There isn't a middle ground between a livable and unlivable world. We cannot pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill without the reconciliation package. We cannot slash climate funding in this package."

There's also the majority in the House, which is not in the mood to take nonsense from Manchin or Sinema. They proved that in an October 1 meeting of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, in which they decided they are not prepared to "give an inch publicly" despite pressure from Biden to start carving away their priorities. "We're at the table," the CPC chairwoman Rep. Pramila Jayapal reportedly told the group. "Do not negotiate against ourselves." That's what the group is doing, at least for now—standing together under pressure. "I've made it really clear to the caucus, and people agree. The reason we got to where we got to is because we took a collective position," Jayapal told the Washington Post. "And we have to stay collective in our asks."

That feeds into a growing narrative from the progressives that they're not the ones preventing Biden's package from passing and succeeding—it's the centrists. The progressives are those who will push Biden's agenda through. "This isn't a moderate versus progressive conversation, it's a 96% versus 4% conversation," Jayapal said. "So there's no point to negotiate against ourselves."

That echoed Sen. Bernie Sanders, who's been on a tear against Manchin and Sinema for a few weeks.

It only helps McConnell to have Manchin and Sinema in there negotiating (or not, in Sinema's case—she still won't say what she does or doesn't want to see in the package, beyond having "sources" tell The New York Times that she wants $100 billion in climate protection slashed).

It helps McConnell, and dooms the planet.

McConnell 'prays' for Manchin and Sinema to help him defeat Biden

Maybe this is entirely coincidental: The day that news dropped of a "massive lobbying blitz" by corporate America "to kill key parts of Democrats' $3.5 trillion economic plan," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke about the bill, telling Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin that he's counting on them to help sabotage it.


In other words, he's reminding Sinema and Manchin which side their bread is buttered on, in the event that the "torrent of political groups representing some of the country's most influential corporations—including ExxonMobil, Pfizer, and the Walt Disney Company" and their planned lobbying onslaught reported by The Washington Post don't get the job done.

The Post lists pretty much ever single major industry behind the effort to kill Biden's economic agenda: "drug manufacturers, big banks, tech titans, major retailers and oil-and-gas giants." In other words, Manchin and Sinema's buddies, and the House Sabotage Squad's best friends. Well, them and Republicans.

The barrage that is about to come from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and all those industries has to happen fast if they're going to influence the bill writers—it's being completed right now, with an intent to try to pass it within weeks. So they've got to hurry to get their attacks in, or they could be putting all their eggs into the Manchin/Sinema basket and betting that they'll intervene at the last minute.

The corporations have washed-up, has-been Democrats helping on this effort, aimed mostly at trying to preserve the Trump tax cuts, so you definitely know who the main targets are. "Any increase in the rate would position our country even further behind global competitors like China—and carry devastating consequences for American workers, who ultimately bear as much as 70 percent of the corporate income tax," said former Sen. Blanche Lincoln. She's now the "chief adviser" to the RATE Coalition, which includes Capital One, Disney, FedEx, Lowe's, and Lockheed Martin among its funders. They've got a "seven-figure digital advertising campaign to oppose Democrats' plans" in the works.

You might remember Blanche Lincoln as the ConservaDem who just kept tacking right—and right out of her Senate seat in 2010. She's not the only defeated Democrat getting in on the corporate cash-cow that is defeating popular policy for the sake of corporations' zero-tax bills. Former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is in on it, too, starting up a new dark money group called Save America's Family Enterprises (SAFE) to perpetuate the myth that estate taxes actually hurt middle-class family businesses and farms, and to stop capital gains from being taxed at death.

It might do well for Manchin and Sinema to look at the part where these two Democrats are ex senators. Or not, since they're probably making some pretty good bank. It's hard to imagine what else the two would be after, since it's certainly not the friendship of their current Democratic cohorts. Making nice with Republicans didn't do a whole lot for Lincoln or Heitkamp when it came to the voters.

And voters—even Republican ones—are pretty darned excited about what's in Biden's big human infrastructure bill. Data for Progress conducted a poll at the beginning of August finding strong majority support—66%—for a $3.5 trillion (it even included that figure ) plan including funding to improve long-term care for seniors, expand Medicare benefits, expand pre-K, modernize the electric grid, and extend the child tax credit expansion. A plurality of Republicans even support it, according to that poll, with 47% in support and 44% opposed.

A USA Today/Suffolk University poll released Aug. 25 finds 52% support. "It's a long time coming," said one of the participants, Republican John Plaskowsky, 55, a business manager from Suwannee, Georgia. He supports both the hard and human infrastructure bills, saying the latter is necessary because it can help many people more than "a better road or a better bridge," he said.

The provisions of Biden's Build Back Better plan—investments in children and families, workers, health care, education, and the environment—would sure help a lot more people than keeping those Trump tax cuts for the super rich. Now it's entirely possible that the Sabotage Squad, Manchin, and Sinema are looking beyond their current gigs and trying to figure out how to get in where the really big money is. It's hard to see what else they'd be aiming for.

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What do Manchin and Sinema want to cut from Biden's plan? Dental care for grandma

At the behest of business interests, a Sabotage Squad of 10 House members tried to derail President Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan last week, but most failed. Nonetheless, the fact that the 10—spurred on by Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema—managed to delay consideration of the budget resolution that will contain Biden's plans and also got the promise of a vote on the hard infrastructure bill from the Senate on a certain day. Not much of a win considering they went in saying they would accept nothing less than a vote on that Senate bill there and then.

But it was enough of a win for the business lobbyists to feel smug about having 10 House members and two senators in the bag for them, and they're certain that with those 12, they can defeat the tax hikes and the spending measures in the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. "The business community has made progress with certain Democrats on legitimate policy concerns with some of these proposals and their implications on the economy and international competitiveness," an anonymous lobbyist with ties to Senate Democrats told The Hill. "A lot of those arguments are landing."

Yes, "certain Democrats"—identified in the next paragraph as Manchin, Sinema, and Sabotage Squad ringleader Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey. Manchin and Sinema—as well as Gottheimer and the others—won't say what about the bill they don't like. They'll wax on and on about the deficit and the future and too much money, but they're not saying what they want to see cut from the bill. For example, the bill will extend Medicare coverage to vision, dental, and hearing care for seniors. Are the 12 opposed to that? Are they okay with millions of seniors who can't afford a dentist visit and have such bad teeth they're malnourished?

Because that's a very real thing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that nearly 20% of adults over age 65 have lost all their teeth, that includes more than a quarter of people over age 75. Illnesses among older people, including arthritis, diabetes, heart diseases, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) make this population more likely to get gum disease, but also more likely to get dental care than other adults who don't have these illnesses. Many of the medications older Americans take cause dry mouth, which increases the risk of cavities and tooth decay—something 96% of adults over 65 have experienced with cavities. And 1 in 5 of them have untreated tooth decay.

This has profound consequences for overall health. Nearly half of people over age 65 don't have dental insurance because it is not included in traditional Medicare. Some purchase it through Medicare Advantage plans, "but the scope of dental benefits, when covered, varies widely and is often quite limited, which can result in high out-of-pocket costs among those with serious dental needs or unmet need," the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) has found.

Bar chart showing dental insurance coverage for people aged 65 and older.

"Almost half of all Medicare beneficiaries did not have a dental visit within the past year (47%), with higher rates among those who are Black (68%) or Hispanic (61%), have low incomes (73%), or who are in fair or poor health (63%), as of 2018," KFF found. The average out-of-pocket spending for those who did get care in 2018 was $874, and one in five spent more than $1,000 on dental care.

The health effects are very real, particularly when seniors can't eat a balanced diet because of missing teeth or mouth pain. That can lead to malnutrition, weight loss, and declining physical and cognitive abilities. It curtails their social lives. As does not being able to hear and not being able to afford hearing aids.

Sen. Bernie Sanders is including this expansion in the reconciliation bill, because, as he says: "Dental care is health care, and dental care must be part of any serious health care program in the United States." This would give older people and disabled patients on Medicare access to pay for their care. The idea is hugely popular, with 84% of voters supporting it, including 79% of Republicans.

So is this something Manchin, Sinema, and the saboteurs want to see stripped out of the bill? Would making seniors' lives healthier be less important than the deficit? They need to tell us. Is this what they want cut from Biden's agenda?

How Republican threats could break Manchin and Sinema on the filibuster

House committees are presumably hard at work now, trying to meet a Sept. 15 deadline for completing their parts of the budget reconciliation bill that will fund President Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan, the $3.5 trillion companion bill to the $550 billion hard infrastructure deal agreed to in the Senate. The reconciliation bill will originate in the House, but passage in the Senate requires that they work closely with committees there to avoid pitfalls. The 50/50 partisan split in the Senate and the persistent deficit peacockery of Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin complicate the venture. The reconciliation bill can pass with just Democratic votes—it's the whole point of using this process, but all Democrats have to be on board—plus the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.

Complicating everything is the calendar and self-inflicted pain. The new fiscal year starts Oct. 1, which requires a funding mechanism for government by that day. The self-inflicted pain is the result of a decision two years ago to take the weapon of the debt ceiling away from Donald Trump and suspend it until July 30, 2021. The Treasury Department has been using the various tools it has to move money around to avoid hitting the limit, but can only do that into October or early November at the latest. Which means Congress has to raise the debt ceiling, and Senate Republicans remain adamant that they will not vote to do so: 46 of them signed a letter saying so.

Putting a debt ceiling hike or suspension in the budget reconciliation bill—which, again, needs just 51 votes—seems like the obvious solution, but Senate Democrats are just as intent on forcing at least six of the 46 Republicans to break that pact. What they'll likely do is tack a short-term debt ceiling hike onto a short-term government funding bill and force the Republicans to decide if they want to shut down the government as well as risk the nation defaulting on its obligations, which include things like paying the troops, or veterans benefits, or Social Security payments, or food assistance as well as interest payments on debt.

Add to this general mess a summer of the worst wildfires in history as well as Hurricane Ida and whatever the rest of the hurricane season has in store. The Federal Emergency Management Agency had about $32 billion available at the end of July. More need for disaster spending is a big possibility.

There is also an urgent need for Congress to pass a federal eviction moratorium, with the Supreme Court's emergency order last week blocking it and upwards of 11 million at risk of being kicked out in the streets. More than 60 House Democrats have writing to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to demand quick action.

"Millions of people who are currently at risk of eviction, housing insecurity, or face becoming unhoused desperately look to their elected representatives to implement legislation that will put their health and safety first and save lives," the lawmakers wrote. "As your fellow colleagues, we implore you to act with the highest levels of urgency to advance a permanent legislative solution in a must pass legislative vehicle in order to extend the life-saving federal eviction moratorium for the duration of the deadly global health crisis." With the House now back in recess until Sept. 20, that quick action isn't likely and would also likely be blocked by Senate Republicans should the House pass it. That's another potential reconciliation bill provision.

House Democrats are looking at the debt ceiling from the reverse angle, contemplating a resolution that gives the president the power to waive the debt ceiling unilaterally, but gives Congress the right to veto him if they can come up with the votes to do so. Since Democrats control the floor in both chambers, that's a vote that would be unlikely to happen. And even if it did, it would be subject in turn to a presidential veto. But again, this would require Republican votes, which aren't likely to be there in the Senate.

Tying the debt ceiling to government funding still seems to be the plan Democrats want to follow, assuming that when they get to the edge of the cliff Republicans will decide not to jump after all. House Budget Chair John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat, told Politico: "As difficult as they can be, I can't imagine there aren't 10 Republicans who would vote not to default."

"We can't negotiate over it. We shouldn't negotiate over it. And Republicans are going to have to answer if they choose not to pay America's bills," said Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy. The scenario of Republicans pulling everyone off of the cliff and then being made accountable for it afterward is less than comforting, but Democrats do have to show that they're willing to be as irrational and dangerous as their Republican colleagues in these kinds of negotiations. As horrifying as that is.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could also be using this whole process to demonstrate to Manchin, Sinema, and whatever other filibuster reform cowards might be hiding behind them just how dangerous it is to continue giving Republicans veto power over everything. Blowing up the global economy—in the middle of pandemic resurgence—is just about as dangerous as it gets. Proving that there aren't 10 Republicans willing to buck their party to save the nation might just be what it takes to turn Manchin and Sinema. They're not going to care about poor people being evicted, no more than they care about poor people and people of color being denied the right to vote. But when the business lobby and the banks and the Chamber of Commerce get panicked about the debt ceiling, it might just be enough to bring them around.

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Manchin, Sinema, and the sabotage squad have to answer one simple question

The dust has now settled on the Sabotage Squad's revolt against President Joe Biden's first term infrastructure agenda, with what they're calling a win. They got a date written into a procedural bill that tells the House to vote on infrastructure before … the bill they're voting on is to become effective. So the Senate's hard infrastructure bill will get a vote, but so will the larger critical budget reconciliation bill that's going to include Biden's Build Back Better plan, and the two bills remain linked.

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, "It's a clarification." She explained: "We would have had to pass the infrastructure bill by September 30 anyway because the authorizations expire for highway and some of the things in the bill. And so we're talking about a couple of days earlier." What the would-be wreckers—and Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, their accomplices in the Senate—really achieved was proving to the rest of Democrats that they really can't be trusted. That can help sabotage-proof the work on Biden's $3.5 trillion human infrastructure Build Back Better Plan.

What it should do is compel Biden and every other Democrat, as well as the Capitol Hill press, to ask the Sabotage Squad precisely what it is in Biden's plan that they oppose. In an op-ed the House members wrote last Sunday, they said they were "firmly opposed to holding the president's infrastructure legislation hostage to reconciliation, risking its passage and the bipartisan support behind it." Which was bullshit. The only bipartisan support it required was in the Senate, and it already passed there. The Senate isn't going to undo that vote.

The group wrote—very sincerely I'm sure—that they want to "quickly consider reconciliation and the policies from climate to health care to universal pre-K that we believe are critical." So they really, really do support all that good stuff, but "we have concerns about the level of spending and potential revenue raisers." Or as MSNBC opinion columnist Hayes Brown sarcastically translates: "Please let us vote on the bipartisan bill first and free us from having to support whatever's in the reconciliation bill that makes it cost so much."

They, and Manchin and Sinema, have steadfastly refused to provide any specific objections to the reconciliation bill beyond "it costs too much." They refuse to put any substance at all behind their objections, which are purely political. They refuse to say which they want cut: the monthly child tax credit payments to young families? The expansion of Medicare to include vision, dental, and hearing care? The safe housing? The environmental cleanup? The path to citizenship for immigrant families?

Here they are mouthing support for Biden's agenda while arguing that it's too expensive and they can't possibly put their vote behind a number that big. They want it both ways—to pretend to be team players but at the same time distance themselves from Pelosi and the rest of the Democrats by being deficit peacocks. Because everyone knows the Very Serious People are concerned about the deficit. As is the the dark money group No Labels, which is essentially bankrolling this sabotage.

They need to publicly provide some answers to those questions because they're putting every Democrats' job on the line by threatening this bill. They're potentially hurting everyone's constituents. They need to tell their colleagues, President Biden, and the public precisely what it is they object to. That's going to be essential to prevent them from pulling the rug out from under Schumer at the last minute. Because, again, they have proven that they cannot be trusted in the process. Anything that can be done to minimize their ability to sabotage this further needs to be done.

Thus far their goal has been to keep the larger bill from passing and to factionalize the Democratic caucus. They want to maintain the ability to destroy Biden's agenda for no apparent reason. None other than the fact that it's what ExxonMobil and all the dark money groups behind them and No Labels want.

Meet the 9 Democratic House reps who continue to threaten President Biden's infrastructure agenda

The House of Representatives is taking a few days off from August recess to do some legislative work, convening Monday at 5:00 PM when they will take a procedural vote to advance three measures—the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the hard infrastructure bill passed by the Senate, and the budget resolution (also already passed by the Senate) that will kick off the legislative process for President Biden's $3.5 trillion Build Back Better human infrastructure bill.

Whether the House can do this depends on nine Kyrsten Sinema/Joe Manchin wannabes: Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey; Filemon Vela, Henry Cuellar, and Vicente Gonzales of Texas; Ed Case of Hawaii; Kurt Schrader of Oregon; Jim Costa of California' Jared Golden of Maine; and Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia. These nine, egged on by those two senators and the corporatist front group "No Labels,"have been threatening to sabotage President Biden's plan. They are trying to take infrastructure hostage by insisting that the bipartisan Senate bill gets a final vote in the House immediately, before the larger and much more consequential budget reconciliation.

They are attempting to sabotage President Joe Biden's signature policy effort of his first terms. They attempt to justify their efforts in an op-ed in The Washington Post with a strawman argument. "You don't hold up a major priority of the country, and millions of jobs, as some form of leverage. The infrastructure bill is not a political football," they wrote in the Post. "Let's take the win for American workers, and the nation, and pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill."

The big majority of the Democratic caucus in the House is not trying to "hold up" the Senate bill. Even if they passed it this week, it would not be operable until October 1. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, pointed that out in a letter to the entire caucus over the weekend. "The House is hard at work to enact both the Build Back Better Plan and the bipartisan infrastructure bill before October 1st, when the BIF would go into effect," she wrote. "Further, the uncertainty of the delta variant insists that we move expeditiously."

"Any delay to passing the budget resolution threatens the timetable for delivering the historic progress and the transformative vision that Democrats share," she added. She also promised that "we will work closely with the Senate to assemble a bill that will pass both chambers, consistent with the 51-vote privilege of reconciliation and respectful of the Byrd Rule," but to do that, "we must first pass the budget resolution."

To further make the point to these nine that they are being assholes, Democratic Congressional Campaign Chair Sean Patrick Maloney, of New York, has been working the phones to remind members that their majority is in jeopardy if they derail Biden's larger priorities. With those calls is the implied threat that DCCC support in their campaigns for reelection might just not be there if they don't start playing nice.

The nine jerks are apparently having this tantrum because the strategy that Biden, Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer landed on to work this two-track process was suggested by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, and they don't like her. There's no other rationale for why they've taken this absurd stand. At this point, no one in the Congressional Progressive Caucus is threatening to derail the Senate bill. The votes will be there for it, provided the votes are also there for the budget resolution. That's what everyone agreed to.

All of the excuses the nine have come up with are likewise empty. They say that they have to keep momentum going for the Senate bill to pass. But it already pass that hurdle—they don't have to woo any Republicans to do it now because they already have! Making it even more ridiculous is that the further this very small group of conservative Democrats dig in, the likelier it is they lose entirely. They could blow up both the Senate bill and the budget resolution.

It seems that the whole goal here, by the nine in the House and the two Senate problem children urging them on, is not to see their bill get passed—it's to keep the larger bill from passing and to factionalize the Democratic caucus. If they did nothing, if they happily gave Pelosi their votes on the budget resolution that will lead to the reconciliation bill, the Senate bill would also get a vote, would pass with the CPC people holding their noses after the full budget reconciliation bill passed. Everyone would win. Including Manchin and Sinema who've staked their place in the Senate and with the White House on this infrastructure bill.

Everyone but the Republicans, that is. So why don't Manchin, Sinema, and the nine want that to happen? The same reason Manchin and Sinema are ultimately fighting their own bill—that's what ExxonMobil and all the dark money groups behind them and No Labels want.

Unemployment benefits for 7 million about to expire — and Congress and Biden will let it happen

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, additional unemployment benefits have helped keep some 6.7 million people out of poverty. As of September 7, those expanded benefits will expire along with the $300 weekly federal boost to traditional unemployment insurance (UI). As of now, it doesn't look likely that the White House or Congress will be able or willing to extend them once again.

About 7 million people will be losing the benefits, and as usual, it's going to be people of color who are disproportionately harmed. In July, the unemployment rate for white people was 4.8%, but for Blacks, it's 8.2% and 6.6% for Hispanic people. "Our long-term unemployed, our Black and Latinx workers continue to need these benefits because, due to systemic racism, they face longer periods of unemployment," Jenna Gerry, senior staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project, told The Hill. "By cutting this off, we're going to exacerbate the inequity that already exists within our economy."

Three programs boosted unemployment benefits provided by states and extended them to gig workers and the self-employed for the first time. The programs are Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which covers freelancers and gig workers and others not traditionally eligible; Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which extended aid to long-term unemployed who exhausted their state's benefits period; and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), the $300 weekly boost to help people recover more of their lost wages (for 2020, that weekly boost was $600). The programs were enacted in March 2020 in the CARES Act, and in the American Relief Plan passed in March of this year, they were extended again.

The White House and Democratic leaders had agreed to an October deadline for the programs to expire, but last-minute obstruction from West Virginia's Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin blew that up, and the expiration date moved up a month to a date when Congress was scheduled to be in recess.

Manchin remains opposed to extending benefits. "I'm done with extensions," he said earlier this month in an interview with Insider. "The economy is coming back," he said, ignoring the fact that thanks to the delta variant, so is COVID. "Look, guys, read your own print. Read your own print. The economy is stronger now; the job market is stronger. Nine million jobs we can't fill. We're coming back."

That's Manchin buying into the myth that expanded unemployment benefits have created "labor shortages." Data from June and the real-world experience in 26 states that ended benefits early shows that ending early didn't significantly increase hiring. In fact, job gains in the states that maintained the expanded benefits were about the same as in those states where they ended early.

"We find only a marginal effect" of the benefit cut and the supply of labor, Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, said. "As such, benefits discontinuation may end up doing more bad on the personal income ledger than good on the employment ledger of the economy." That's the consensus among other economics, including Ronnie Walker at Goldman Sachs, who said: "on net … benefit expiration did not provide a boost to June employment."

There's a confusing patchwork of states and the number of weeks for which they'll allow benefits. As of now, Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming have stopped providing PUA and PEUC. Arkansas, Indiana, Maryland, and Oklahoma attempted to cut off federal benefits, but judges have blocked them from doing so. Cases are pending in Florida, Texas, Missouri, and Tennessee challenging that earlier cut-off.

The programs for the remaining states end just after Labor Day, and it doesn't seem likely that that can be prevented right now. The White House doesn't appear to be ruling out future extensions. On August 6, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said "At this point, they're expiring at the beginning of September. Nothing has changed on that front, but a final decision has not been made."

If there's any good news in this, it's that the Biden administration has boosted food assistance benefits significantly this week. That can help cushion the blow for the 7 million losing unemployment somewhat.

The conservative Supreme Court is issuing some of its most extreme rulings in the shadows

As bad as the U.S. Supreme Court's regular decisions were this year, what it has done in its "shadow docket" has been particularly dangerous. That includes 10 emergency requests by religious groups challenging COVID-19 restrictions, all of which the court's conservative majority granted.

The "shadow docket" is a term coined by University of Chicago law professor Will Baude six years ago to describe "a range of orders and summary decisions that defy its normal procedural regularity." The shadow docket has always been there, where the court issues rulings (without scheduling hearings) that are often unsigned and often consist of just one or two sentences. But the current iteration of the conservative court led by Chief Justice John Roberts has been picking up the pace of those shadow docket cases.

Steve Vladeck, the Charles Alan Wright Chair in Federal Courts at the University of Texas School of Law, notes "the past few years have seen a dramatic uptick in summary orders in which the justices have changed the status quo, including by allowing controversial Trump administration policies blocked by lower courts to go into effect while the government appealed, lifting lower-court rulings that had halted scheduled executions, or directly enjoining state policies for the duration of an appeal when lower courts had refused to do so." The fact that the shadow docket exists isn't new; the problem is the "extent to which the justices are using it more and more often to issue significant rulings that change the rights and responsibilities of millions of Americans, all without the daylight […] that comes with plenary review."

That's backed up by the analysis Reuters completed, which looked at emergency applications to the court from mid-2020 through mid-2021. That analysis "found that the court repeatedly favored not just religious groups—another example of the expansive view it has taken in recent years toward religious rights—but also former President Donald Trump's administration, while denying almost 100 applications by other private individuals or groups." This would be what conservatives would normally call an "activist court." But since the court is acting in their favor, they'll certainly not apply that label in this case.

There were 150 emergency applications to the court in the time period, and 29 were granted. That led (among other things) to the execution of 13 death row inmates at the behest of the Trump Justice Department, and the lifting of pandemic restrictions on behalf of religious entities. But private petitioners that weren't churches had no requests granted—not one. That included immigrants and asylum-seekers and 33 individuals who represented themselves, without a lawyer's help.

This activist use of the shadow docket has created a "serious legitimacy problem" for the court, David Gans, civil rights director at the Constitutional Accountability Center argues. "The biggest losers are the American people. By engaging in rushed decision-making and issuing rulings with little to no reasoning available to the public, the Supreme Court is acting without the sustained consideration, reflection, transparency and accountability Americans expect from the Supreme Court," Gans added.

The latest shadow docket offense came in New York on Aug. 12, when the court issued an injunction against a state law stopping evictions during the pandemic, and sided with landlords. This one came with a dissent from the court's three liberals, written by Justice Stephen Breyer. "We must balance against the landlords' hardship the hardship to New York tenants who have relied on [the law's] protections and will now be forced to face eviction proceedings earlier than expected," Breyer wrote. He said ending the moratorium early "may lead to unnecessary evictions."

The "drastic relief" the majority granted landlords, he wrote, should be reserved for cases where legal rights are "indisputably clear." He wrote that "this strict standard is not met here, for three reasons." The first, he wrote, is that the law is "best viewed not as a deprivation of the right to challenge a tenant's hardship claim but as simply delaying the exercise of that right—as of now for less than three weeks until the law expires."

The second reason is that the harm to landlords is at best temporary because "New York is currently distributing more than $2 billion in aid that can be used in part to pay back rent, thereby helping to alleviate the need for evictions." Finally, he said, the court should defer to elected officials in their pandemic response because the legislature is "responsible for responding to a grave and unpredictable public health crisis." Breyer added: "The legislature does not enjoy unlimited discretion in formulating that response, but in this case I would not second-guess politically accountable officials' determination of how best to guard and protect the people of New York."

In the unsigned order, the majority wrote: "This scheme violates the Court's longstanding teaching that ordinarily 'no man can be a judge in his own case' consistent with the Due Process Clause," referring to the law that allows tenants to self-certify hardship and their inability to make rent. It added that other parts of the law will remain in effect, including a provision that "instructs New York courts to entertain a covid-related hardship defense in eviction proceedings, assessing a tenant's income prior to covid, income during covid, liquid assets, and ability to obtain government assistance." Meaning people who can't afford to pay rent are going to have to go to court to prove that they can't pay rent, but the court has to determine that. You can see who is bearing the brunt of this hardship.

The court's legitimacy is most definitely at issue here. The regular process decisions they issued this term were radical and dangerous. The cases they agreed to hear next session are perhaps even more so. Now we also have to worry about the cases that don't wend their way through the trial process through the district and appeals courts. The court can take an emergency order on the shadow docket and with no transparency, no visible process, reshape our lives.

That can't stand. The court has to be reformed to keep this radical majority on the court from doing further damage. Expansion is the most expedient way to do so.

Death toll following Haiti quake rises as tropical storm Grace descends on the island nation

The death toll from the magnitude 7.2 earthquake in Haiti Saturday has killed around 1,300 people and left at least 2,800 injured. The quake struck about 78 miles west of the capital city, Port-au-Prince, destroying some towns and triggering landslides that have complicated rescue efforts. Aftershocks continued throughout Sunday.

President Joe Biden immediately authorized a U.S. response, naming USAID Administrator Samantha Power to coordinate efforts. A search-and-rescue team was immediately deployed, and the U..S. Court Guard has deployed helicopters. The Pan American Health Organization has sent in experts to help coordinate medical support. UNICEF has delivered medical supplies to hospitals that were most affected and provided supplies for 30,000 people.

The Haitian government—led by new Prime Minister Ariel Henry, sworn into the position after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse last month—responded with several dozen rescue teams of military and civil protection staff. Still, they weren't able to reach every area. "It's the people from the neighborhood using their own hands who have been digging and rescuing anyone they can save," said Jean-David Cassis, a farmer in the city of Torbeck on the southwestern coast. "Houses collapsed everywhere," Cassis said. "It's a very grave situation. [...] People are still lying where they died."

To complicate matters further, the National Hurricane Center forecasts that tropical depression Grace will cause heavy rains over Haiti through Monday and into early Tuesday, creating flooding and landslides. Early Monday, the storm was about 160 miles east-southeast of Port Au Prince, moving west at about 15 miles an hour with 35 mph maximum sustained winds. It's not expected to gain strength but will dump at least several inches of rain, possibly as much as 10 or 15 inches in some areas.

There's relief coming internationally and from


Haiti's healthcare infrastructure and staff are struggling to respond, with hospitals among the destroyed buildings. Triage centers have been set up wherever possible, including at the airport in Les Cayes, where orthopedic surgeon Dr. Edward Destine was working, the only surgeon there. "I would like to operate on 10 people today, but I just don't have the supplies," saying there is an urgent need for antibiotics and equipment and supplies like intravenous drips.

Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, said that the country and relief agencies had improved their ability to respond since the last major quake in Haiti in 2010. His relief agency oversees a handful of hospitals there. "The things we had at our disposal in 2010 versus now are night and day," Farmer said. But he added the "old problems" of civil strife, political volatility, and criminal violence, as well as just bad roads and transportation, still plague efforts to respond.

There's also a medical staffing shortage. Officials in Les Cayes, the center of the country's western region, estimate that there are only 30 doctors in the entire region. Medical relief group Doctors without Borders has deployed personnel and supplies throughout the country.

Elections expert explains what scares him about GOP efforts to subvert election: They 'will mess with the count'

The ongoing farce of Arizona's "fraudit" of 2020 ballots in Maricopa County, Arizona, is largely treated as a joke because the people behind it are prone to spouting such out-of-this-world conspiracy theories. But many smart people, people like Rick Hasen—legal scholar and expert in legislation, election law, and campaign finance; current chancellor's professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine School of Law; and the guy behind Election Law Blog—aren't laughing.

"I'm scared shitless," he told investigative journalist Jane Mayer for The New Yorker. The audit combined with a spate of new election laws stemming from the kind of theories underpinning this action go beyond anything we've seen out the extreme right before. "It's not just about voter suppression," he told Mayer. "What I'm really worried about is election subversion. Election officials are being put in place who will mess with the count." This is happening, as Mayer exposes, through the efforts of longstanding conservative groups, groups that have posed as mainstream Republican organizations.

It's funded by those groups and "fed by sophisticated, well-funded national organizations whose boards of directors include some of the country's wealthiest and highest-profile conservatives," Mayer writes. Groups like the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the Federalist Society—all groups that the left has known for decades are extremist, but which mainstream Republicans are happy with which to associate. It's all the dark money groups that started whispering "voter fraud" in the George W. Bush administration, building up to the point of the Big Lie, which if they can get it well enough established in state legislatures—like Arizona's and Georgia's—they can take control of elections.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, has been following all of this, and told Mayer that from his perspective there is a "flotilla of front groups" that has moved from the kind of normal anti-regulatory, anti-abortion movement and has now "more or less shifted to work on the voter-suppression thing." They are, as Mayer puts it, "tampering with the guardrails of democracy." They've all teamed up to start pushing new voting restrictions in the states, but this new movement we're seeing in Arizona and Georgia to move beyond restrictions into controlling who is doing the election administration and counting the votes—that's what has Hasen scared "shitless."

He's not alone. Former Republican Ralph Neas, once executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, explained how this is working:

The Maricopa County audit exposes exactly what the Big Lie is all about. If they come up with an analysis that discredits the 2020 election results in Arizona, it will be replicated in other states, furthering more chaos. That will enable new legislation. Millions of Americans could be disenfranchised, helping Donald Trump to be elected again in 2024. That's the bottom line. Maricopa County is the prism through which to view everything. It's not so much about 2020—it's about 2022 and 2024. This is a coördinated national effort to distort not just what happened in 2020 but to regain the House of Representatives and the Presidency.

There's a Supreme Court—shaped by the Federalist Society—that is more likely than not to let it happen once state laws are in place. There's a glimmer of precedence for right-wing justices to do just that in the Bush v. Gore decision that selected the president in 2000. In their concurrence on the decision, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, along with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, "argued that state legislatures have the plenary power to run elections and can even pass laws giving themselves the right to appoint electors." That's the underpinning, the "Independent Legislature Doctrine," to attempts by the right and the former guy's lawyers to overturn elections. It's what Republican legislatures are going to point to in order to justify new laws to take over elections. Nathaniel Persily, an election law expert at Stanford, told Mayer, "It's giving intellectual respectability to an otherwise insane, anti-democratic argument."

The dark money-funded Public Interest Legal Foundation is taking that job on. It's brought nine election law cases in eight states in just the last year, and features some of the leading lawyers trying to end democratic elections. One of those is John Eastman, a Federalist Society bigwig.

ALEC is also on the job, and in fact was laying the groundwork for legislatures to contest the popular vote well before November 2020. "That February," Mayer reports ALEC CEO Lisa Nelson "told a private gathering of the Council for National Policy about a high-level review that her group had undertaken of ways to challenge 'the validity' of the Presidential returns." She told a gathering of the Council for National Policy, caught on tape and obtained by the investigative group Documented, that "Obviously, we all want President Trump to win, and win the national vote." Nelson continued: "But it's very clear that, really, what it comes down to is the states, and the state legislators." She said conservative legislators should be encouraged to sow doubt about election results should Trump lose and to ask, "What did happen that night?"

Mayer's story is well worth the read, exposing a who's who of the mainstream of Republican politians who are determined to end democratic elections in this country. She features Arizona and the bizarre fraudit, but Georgia is providing another case study where Republican legislators are laying the groundwork to seize control of elections away from Fulton County election officials. Fulton County is the most Black, most populous, most Democratic county in the state.

Which brings us around to the filibuster, the only thing standing between fixing all that with new voting rights and election laws from Congress. The Jim Crow filibuster—endorsed by Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema—is allowing all of these dark money groups and Republican states to start planning for 2022 and 2024. Manchin and Sinema center their defense of the filibuster in lofty ideals of what the "founding fathers" intended (which was not to have a filibuster) and "traditions of bipartisanship," giving Republicans undue credit for being patriotic Americans.

Every Republican they consider "good people" is connected to those groups that have been plotting this takeover of elections. Every single one of them has benefitted form their largesse. They have no qualms about doing anything to win. That includes eliminating the filibuster—they did it for Supreme Court justices!

Democrats being just as ruthless about saving our democracy as Republicans are in stealing it isn't "stooping to their level." It's saving it from them. And it has to happen soon. While Manchin and Sinema are basking in the glow of being used by Republicans to water down President Biden's goals with the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Republicans are plotting how to return them to the minority and keep them there forever.

Another infrastructure week begins with excuses from Republicans to create even more delays

Another infrastructure week begins just like all the other ones have, with Republicans saying they're "optimistic" but Democrats laying out issues yet to be resolved in this bipartisan "hard" infrastructure proposal: "highways/bridges, water funding, broadband, Davis-Bacon [prevailing wages for projects using federal funds], using unspent Covid [money] as [a] payfor, infrastructure bank and transit."

Which is, well, most of it really. That leaves negotiators in essentially the same place they were Friday and, shockingly, not where Republican Sen. Susan Collins insisted they would be Monday: ready to vote.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tried to push Republicans with a vote last Wednesday to kick off a legislative process on this bipartisan infrastructure bill, and Republicans unanimously filibustered it because they just weren't ready after something like six weeks of "working" on it. On Friday, Republicans were trying to change the standard 80/20 funding breakdown between highway/transit programs. And were calling Democrats unreasonable for assuming that this standard funding formula was a given. One could say Republicans are not necessarily acting in good faith on that. Nonetheless, the White House and Democrats offered what they're calling a global deal—on every outstanding issue—Sunday.

The time crunch hasn't changed. If this isn't done this week, at least part of the August recess—now set to begin Aug. 9—will be rescinded, but this process has to play out to get the Democrats who insist on this bipartisan fiasco to be reassured that they've done everything possible with Republicans so they'll support the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill that contains the rest of President Joe Biden's economic priorities, in which the human infrastructure parts include education, paid leave, child tax credits, and expansion of health care—all potentially transformational programs.

The bipartisan bill, for lack of a better description of what still seems to be cocktail napkin scribblings, is a number—$579 billion in "new" spending—that was agreed to weeks ago, and nearly a trillion in total spending. Where it's coming from and where it will be spent beyond the broad categories of infrastructure—water systems, highways, maybe transit, broadband—seems to continue to be in discussion. Details are scarce other than Republicans saying it's too much public transportation.

Their argument, according to Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, is that transit got plenty of COVID-19 relief money. "Nobody's talking about cutting transit," Toomey said Sunday. "The question is, how many tens of billions of dollars on top of the huge increase that they have already gotten is sufficient? And that's where there is a little disagreement."

That funding was to keep transit programs afloat during the pandemic, allowing them to essentially survive. New funding is necessary for public transit to meet future requirements. That's where House Transportation Committee Chair Peter DeFazio—an Oregon Democrat—and 30 of his committee members come in. They've warned the Senate in a letter that they won't accept less than the $715 billion in the infrastructure bill, which they have already passed.

Public transportation groups agree. "The historical share for public transit from the Highway Trust Fund is 20%," Paul Skoutelas, president of the American Public Transportation Association, said Sunday. "It is the absolute minimum acceptable level to help sustain our nation's public transportation systems. It is imperative that we make robust, forward looking investments to modernize and expand public transit that will assist in our economic recovery from the COVID pandemic and get Americans back to work."

As of Monday morning, Republicans are rejecting that global offer from Democrats, saying it "goes against" what had already been agreed to, but since anything they've already agreed to hasn't been released to the public (if it has even been written down anywhere), no one outside the negotiations has any way of verifying that. A Republican source told Punchbowl News: "The 'global offer' we received from the White House and Chuck Schumer was discouraging since it attempts to reopen numerous issues the bipartisan group had already agreed to."

In other words, when Collins said last Wednesday that they "are making tremendous progress, and I hope that the majority leader will reconsider and just delay the vote until Monday," she was lying. Republicans insisted they had to have a bill before they could vote, even though last week's vote was purely procedural, an agreement that eventually there would be a bill to consider on the floor. Collins insisted that they could have that much by Monday—today. They don't. Surprise, surprise.

This is climate change: Burnt parts of Pacific forests are landing on the Atlantic

The nation's largest wildfire, the Bootleg fire in southern Oregon has merged with the smaller Log fire and as of Friday, has burned more than 400,000 acres. It's one of 83 fires burning around the country, that have burned more than 1.3 million acres. All those acres burned are floating in a huge cloud blanketing much of the nation, stretching coast to coast.

"It's mid-July and already nearly 450,000 acres have burned across the state," Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Tuesday in a press conference. Since then, the area on fire in Oregon leapt to 522,680 acres. "It's shaping up to be another difficult wildfire season and unfortunately we're responding to new fires as we're still recovering from last year's devastating wildfire season," Brown said. "The amount of resources we've deployed, how many times we've deployed, in a three-week period we've deployed to six conflagrations," she said. "This is the earliest and most significant mobilization to date."


Climate change "is playing out before our very eyes" she continued. It's not just playing out in fire. It's playing out in drought. The small town of Oakley, Utah, made national news this week when it imposed a construction moratorium, halting a boom in growth because it does not have enough water to sustain any more people. "Why are we building houses if we don't have enough water?" said Wade Woolstenhulme, the mayor. "The right thing to do to protect people who are already here is to restrict people coming in."

In Idaho, a dry spring and prolonged heat wave through most of June and July dried up what would have otherwise been an adequate, if not abundant, snow pack that would have seen the state's farmers and residents through the year. "What we're seeing is not at all common," said David Hoekema, a hydrologist with the Idaho Department of Water Resources. "This is a drought that nobody's ever witnessed before." The state has received on average just under 4.4 inches of precipitation this year, the second worst water year to date in the state's recorded history and less than half of what used to be normal. There are 23 fires currently burning in Idaho, on 183,868 acres.

No part of the West is experiencing what used to be known as a "normal" water year, with the drought extending into the upper Plains states.

While all this is playing out, while New York and D.C. experiencing the same sore throats and stinging eyes that have become the standard affliction for Western states denizens every summer, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin is still playing coy about supporting the Democrats $3.5 trillion infrastructure reconciliation package.


He thinks the plan is too aggressive in fighting carbon emissions, he said. "The timing of what they're proposing would make it almost impossible … unless you just eliminate a lot of things." Manchin has said previously that climate provisions are a big problem for him.

"I know they have the climate portion in here, and I'm concerned about that," Manchin said last week after meeting with President Biden and other Democrats. "Because if they're eliminating fossils, and I'm finding out there's a lot of language in places they're eliminating fossils, which is very, very disturbing, because if you're sticking your head in the sand, and saying that fossil (fuel) has to be eliminated in America, and they want to get rid of it, and thinking that's going to clean up the global climate, it won't clean it up all. If anything, it would be worse."

Perhaps Manchin could spend a weekend in southern Oregon, on the fire lines to get a little whiff of reality.

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