Joan McCarter

Trump gives Biden a gigantic gift by admitting what he wants to do to Obamacare

Trying to figure out what is going on in Donald Trump's head is truly an exercise in futility, and today it's just downright bonkers. Apparently Trump believes that sharing snippets of Leslie Stahl's attempt to interview him for 60 Minutes is going to show that ... she's mean and he's brilliant? Is there really no one in the White House who is willing to tell him when he has a really, really bad idea?

It's a tremendous gift to Joe Biden, though, that Trump decided to release these videos in plenty of time for them to be a factor in Thursday's debate. Especially when it comes to the Supreme Court and Obamacare. "I hope that they end it," he said. "It will be so good if they end it." Serving it up on a silver platter there. But there's more. "It'll be so good if they end it," he said, "because we will come up with a plan." Stahl: "Will?"

That's after Trump insisted that his plan "is fully developed; it's going to be announced very, very soon." It's not. Because the only thing that has ever mattered is that President Barack Obama's signature achievement be erased. There is no plan. There never will be a plan. He never meant for there to be a plan.

Republicans are in disarray as Pelosi and Mnuchin inch closer to a deal

It's been 159 days since the House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act, and 21 days since the House passed their compromise $2.2 trillion bill, both of which Mitch McConnell has refused to take up. It is 12 days until the election and Senate Republicans "fume" about the fact that negotiations are still happening between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The problem apparently is that Mnuchin's efforts makes them look even worse than they already do on the crisis, since they are perfectly content to follow Mitch McConnell and block real relief in favor of symbolic, futile gestures. Here's at least one person in the administration actually taking the crisis seriously and acting when his boss says "go big." They are reportedly "growing increasingly frustrated" with Mnuchin because "he makes what they see as unacceptable compromises in his quest for a stimulus deal." For example, "reducing payments that Republicans wanted to go to farmers so that some of the money would go for food boxes instead, according to two people involved in the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the developments." How dare he try to keep people from going hungry in this pandemic!?!?! What kind of a Republican is he?!?!?!

A Republican aide willing to be quoted but not by name said "Fair to say the feeling is he's giving away the store. No one is surprised, but yes frustrated. The idea that our conference is going to go along with whatever bad deal he cuts with Pelosi is completely unrealistic." Meanwhile, four in ten families with children are having a hard time meeting household expenses. That makes for somewhere between 7 and 11 million children not getting enough food to eat. And they're worried about giving Pelosi a "win."

So here's Donald Trump, as Pelosi says, wanting this to happen. "The president wants a bill. The president wants a bill. And so that's part of the opportunity that we have," she said Thursday. Republicans are trying to stop a deal that Trump wants. They don't want to have to vote on it before the election and if a deal is reached, they won't have much choice because they'll look even worse if they don't.

They've already decided Trump is toast, and they want to make sure they're positioned to make life as hellish as possible for Joe Biden starting January 20, with an absolutely wrecked economy and their own deficit peacock credentials burnished. Senate Republicans are taking it all out on Mnuchin, but they are actively thwarting Trump's will, which is a pretty remarkable thing to be happening 12 days before an election when the White House and their majority is under serious threat. That's not her problem, says Pelosi. "I can't answer for the disarray on the other side," she said. "It's up to him [Trump] to deliver what can happen on the Senate side."

Ted Cruz still thinks he can be president

With an eye toward his 2024 presidential ambitions, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is staking out his extreme right territory and once again trying to make waves. He's got half a dozen senators signed onto a proposed constitutional amendment to prevent a change in the size of the Supreme Court. Yes, he only has five other senators, and yes a constitutional amendment requires support of two-thirds of each chamber of Congress and three-quarters of the individual states. He has a second proposal that would be less stringent, requiring a supermajority in the Senate to consider making changes in the size of the courts.

"Make no mistake, if Democrats win the election, they will end the filibuster and pack the Supreme Court, expanding the number of justices to advance their radical political agenda, entrenching their power for generations, and destroying the foundations of our democratic system," he said as his party is about to ram a radically conservative, unqualified ideologue onto the Supreme Court where she'd potentially be positioned to help Donald Trump cling to office by subverting the will of the people. Cruz added that "We must take action before Election Day to safeguard the Supreme Court and the constitutional liberties that hang in the balance." That's not likely to happen, since McConnell wants to do one thing above all—get Barrett on the court—and then leave town for the remainder of the campaign.

Cruz doesn't really care about this happening, before or after the election. This isn't about the sanctity of the courts. It's about Ted Cruz wanting to be president and taking whatever hard line he thinks will get the Republican base behind him. How do we know? Here's Ted Cruz in 2016, when he wasn't just justifying the Republican blockade against President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, but about blocking a potential President Hillary Clinton's nominees: "There is certainly long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices. I would note, just recently, that Justice [Stephen] Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That's a debate that we are going to have."

It wasn't a problem to change the size of the court four years ago, not if it meant fulfilling the number one goal of the extremist Republicans, a goal that's now within their reach—a wack-job Supreme Court majority. We've seen the lengths they'll go to to gain that, and presuming a miracle doesn't happen and Barrett advances, to preserve that. This effort from Cruz is part and parcel of that.

But it's mostly Cruz claiming his spot as Trump's inheritor for 2024, knowing that the courts will remain the key objective of those setting the Republican agenda: corporate interests and far-right evangelicals. That's where the money and the base voters, respectively, all come from. Which is one more reason for Democrats to blow it all up in 2021—get rid of the filibuster and expand the courts and cut Cruz off at the knees, figuratively.

Mitch McConnell just took ownership of any failure to get more COVID relief

It's been 157 days since the House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act, and 19 days since the House passed their compromise $2.2 trillion bill, both of which Sen. Mitch McConnell has refused to take up. It is 14 days until the election, and McConnell just told the White House to stop negotiating for a deal.

There's been a concerted effort by the Washington, D.C. press, with an assist from some Democratic bros, to pin the lack of a deal on Pelosi. If she'd just taken the poisoned $1.8 trillion the White House had on offer, they say, this would have been done. That's totally ignoring the malevolent force that is McConnell, who has been refusing any substantive aid since March. For eight months. Now he's owning that fact.

The Washington Post reports McConnell told his Republican conference in Tuesday's weekly luncheon that he had "warned the White House not to make a big stimulus deal before the election," and that Pelosi was not negotiating in good faith with Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin, but was instead trying to find a way to derail the quick confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Which is ridiculous. There are plenty of simpler ways she could do that. Like bringing up and passing more resolutions of disagreement with White House regulations under the Congressional Review Act and sending them to the Senate, where they would be privileged. Or impeaching any number of Trump's cabinet or appointees (like Postmaster General Louis DeJoy) who have given ample reason for it. Those would also be privileged.

Instead, Pelosi has been wrangling her own members, spending hours on the phone with Mnuchin, and talking to the press on a daily basis about the status of negotiations. McConnell has sat on the sidelines throwing spitballs when he's not chortling over his success in stonewalling critical assistance to a nation in a pandemic. He's still putting it on the back burner, telling reporters after the lunch that if Pelosi and the White House come to an agreement, he'd bring it to the Senate floor "at some point," refusing to say he'd act on it before the election. Because he doesn't give a damn about anything other than Barrett on the court and the slim possibility that what's shaping up to be a sound Trump defeat could be challenged there.

Pelosi and Mnuchin are still talking—they had about an hour-long conversation on Tuesday and agreed to talk again on Wednesday, after Pelosi backed away somewhat from the deadline she set for a deal by Tuesday. Before their latest call, Pelosi told reporters that specific language has to decided by the end of this week for a preelection vote, and that she was "optimistic" despite key differences still remaining. Those differences are the liability protections for businesses that McConnell has insisted on and which House Democrats flatly refuse, and aid to state and local governments.

That means that the White House and Pelosi are agreed on actual assistance to actual people in the form of stimulus checks and expanded unemployment insurance. The things McConnell has been refusing for months. They have made enough progress that Pelosi has delegated some of the specifics of spending to her appropriations leadership, asking them to work out language with their ranking members, though those Republicans are less amenable to negotiation than Mnuchin and, presumably, Trump, who keeps clamoring in the background for a big, big stimulus that he can claim before Nov. 3. Pelosi's spokesman reported that after Tuesday's conversation, Pelosi and Mnuchin found "more clarity and common ground as they move closer to an agreement," and that they both "see that decisions could be reached and language could be exchanged, demonstrating that both sides are serious about finding a compromise." They're going to talk again on Wednesday.

With Trump supposedly "very bullish" on getting a deal, according to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows—the least likely guy to want to help the negotiations—there's every reason for the two to keep pushing and to keep the pressure on Senate Republicans. McConnell has now taken total ownership of an eventual failure by rejecting a deal even before it's done, so Pelosi has nothing to lose.

Watch: Pete Buttigieg nails another Fox News interview — right when it matters most

Former Democratic presidential hopeful and former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg has made a pretty regular and exciting appearance on Fox News Sunday lately. As a surrogate for the Biden-Harris ticket, Buttigieg is doing some important work in reaching Fox News viewers. Though as a presidential candidate he had substantially different views from both Harris and Biden (as is normal and expected among candidates), this Sunday he talked to Fox News host Chris Wallace about unity—and how the wide spectrum of progressives and moderates backing Biden just confirms how important this election is.

"Look how unified we are now," Buttigieg told Wallace. "You've got Democrats from across the spectrum from the left to the center joining with independents and Republicans because we can all see what's at stake here. I can't think of an election in modern history where the choice has been this stark and I know what side I'm on." Buttigieg also talked about one of the most personal reasons he fears Judge Amy Coney Barrett joining the U.S. Supreme Court. Let's look at the clips below.

First, here is that clip about unity.

"Of course there's an enormous amount of frustration that this Senate can't even bring itself, with Mitch McConnell, to vote through a COVID relief package," Buttigieg stressed. "People are suffering, people are hurting, there's no clear end in sight. There's been a bill we brought to them months ago coming out of the House, they won't touch it, they won't do anything but suddenly they have time to rush through a nomination that the American people don't want."

Here's that clip.

"My marriage might depend on what is about to happen in the Senate with regard to this justice. So many issues are on the line," Buttigieg added, in reference to the Obergefell v. Hodges decision which legalized gay marriage. Of course, this is far from the first time Buttigieg, the first openly gay candidate for a major party, has talked about his marriage to his husband, Chasten Buttigieg. For example, he once called out Vice President Mike Pence and said his marriage "moved [him] close to God." On the campaign trail, Buttigieg faced homophobic hecklers as well as sweet children who turned to him for advice on coming out.

Some people like to argue that the personal isn't political, but that clearly won't be the case until human rights, equality, and people's dignity aren't on the line. What can we do about that today? Vote.

Senate Democrats try to save federal workforce from Trump's harebrained payroll tax scheme

Senate Democrats are trying to save federal workers from having big docks in their pay next spring by allowing them to opt out of the mandatory Trump scheme to give them a payroll tax holiday. Trump spent the whole of the year obsessing about "terminating" payroll taxes as stimulus in the coronavirus pandemic, somehow not grasping the basic issue that people who lost their jobs because of the virus aren't paying payroll taxes anyway. He was so intent on making this thing that no one thought would be helpful that his administration finally just gave in and imposed it on the only people they could—federal workers. The difficulty is that they'll have to pay the money back in the first quarter of next year, while we're still going to be in this pandemic.

Democrats want them to be able to opt out and continue to have the withholdings. "During this time of heightened uncertainty, our public servants deserve the ability to choose what makes most sense for them and for their pocketbooks. That's why the President's payroll tax deferral must be made optional," lead sponsor of the bill, Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, said in a statement. These are the payroll taxes that fund Social Security. Trump has vowed to "terminate" payroll taxes entirely, a plan that could "terminate" Social Security by 2023, the chief actuary for the program says. That's if there wasn't a substitute funding plan in place. Given that they haven't managed a substitute plan for the Affordable Care Act in a decade, it's hard to imagine Republicans coming up with a Social Security plan.

Members of Congress have been urging the administration to allow federal employees to opt out—they've done so in both the House and Senate, and private sector employees and employers have been given that choice. Other than the House and Senate, only the semi-governmental, semi-private Postal Service has been given the option. Even Louis DeJoy, Trump's corrupt toady postmaster general, opted out of suspending withholding. Federal employee unions have also been asking the administration to allow them to give the withholding a pass. Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin said in a hearing last month that that was a "reasonable" request, but he hasn't acted on it, and he and the Office of Management and Budget have kept the policy in place.

So all federal employees who earn less than $4,000 per biweekly paycheck with get the 6.2% bump in pay, but will have to repay that starting in January, with larger withholdings from their paychecks—the regular withholding plus the clawback. So they won't be able to spend this "extra" pay now because they'll need it starting in January when their paychecks will be smaller. Which is stupid. But it's Trump's big idea so of course it's stupid. "The President's payroll tax deferral scheme is nothing more than a scam on hardworking federal employees—making their paychecks look bigger until the end the of the year when they'll be hit with a surprise increase in their payroll taxes right after the holidays," American Federation of Government Employees President Everett Kelley said in a statement.

The Democrats' legislation might be enough of a nudge for Mnuchin to reverse the policy for the remainder of the year, but again, Trump wanted this. He seems to believe that all the federal employees will be so grateful to him for giving them a temporary bonus they'll vote for him or something. Which shows just how untethered from reality the man is.

Trump's plan to send out $200 election bribes to seniors is already falling apart

Remember Donald Trump's big "healthcare plan" from three weeks ago? The one that did nothing except promise a bribe to seniors in the form of $200 cash cards to be used to by their prescriptions? We subsequently found out that he had sprung that brilliant plan on his administration officials, who were tasked with figuring out and implementing what is now estimated to be an $8 billion plan by November 3.

That won't happen, not for the majority of the 33 million cards that will need to be sent, the Wall Street Journal reports. In addition to the $8 billion that they're taking out of Medicare to pay the $200 per beneficiary, this is going to cost taxpayers $20 million just in administrative costs to print and send 33 million letters telling seniors to look for the cards eventually. They can't get the cards out in time to bribe seniors for the votes, so they'll try it with these letters.

It seems they haven't entirely determined exactly who is going to be getting these cards. The WSJ source says that it would be lower-income Medicare beneficiaries who don't already get financial assistance for prescriptions. The money will probably come out of "two Medicare trust funds, according to the administration official. It would run out of a CMS office that tests new models for providing or paying for health care." That program was created to run demonstration projects to find more efficient and cost-effective ways of delivering care without effecting quality. Sending $200 to a huge bunch of people without a real plan beyond "give them Trump money" isn't really what the program was designed for. At all. But the administration official is doing his or her best to sell it, telling the WSJ that it "could be designed to test if people are more adherent to medications if they are given a discount."

Of course they're not going into this to try to figure out what's the best way to help people adhere to a medication schedule. They're not going to identify a control group to test against, or conduct interviews with recipients. They're going to spend $8.2 billion of Medicare funding that could have gone to a real program to find ways to improve Medicare and senior health. Instead it's on this folly of Trump's, an attempt to shore up the base of older voters who are abandoning him because he's so fucked up the coronavirus response.

McConnell has written off Trump, it's now all about preemptively crippling then Biden administration

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been taking a lot of fire for not just capitulating to Republicans and taking the poison-pilled scraps that they are purportedly offering in pandemic relief. Those poison pills are the big tell here. Mitch McConnell doesn't want a deal and his refusal to pass anything without them are all the proof you need.

We've speculated about this for a few weeks, the possibility that McConnell and his fellow Republicans have already given up on a Trump victory, and is purposefully wrecking the economy to complicate Joe Biden's first year in office. Both in giving him a wrecked economy, and setting the stage for making it harder to demand the trillions that are going to be necessary to save the country. That speculation has proven true, with Republican operatives admitting that's the strategy.

As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent points out, McConnell has offered up the bare minimum of assistance to give vulnerable Republicans something to point to, to tell voters that they've done a thing and maybe, maybe save his majority. But he's got his poison pill that he knows Democrats will not accept: absolving businesses from any liability for exposing their workers to infection with COVID-19. It's seemed for months that McConnell didn't want a deal and now, well, a Republican operative confirms it, and says point blank it's about fighting Biden next year.

A GOP strategist who has been consulting on Senate campaigns told Bloomberg that "Republicans have been carefully laying the groundwork to restrain a Biden administration on federal spending and the budget deficit by talking up concerns about the price tag for another round of virus relief." A number of hard-core Republicans have been using the deficit peacock's argument against saving the nation for months, to be clear. This isn't new—it's what Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and Ron Johnson have been arguing since early summer. But now it's hardened into how they'll deal with a Biden administration starting in January. "The thinking, the strategist said, is that it would be very hard politically to agree on spending trillions more now and then in January suddenly embrace fiscal restraint."

It makes it all the more critical that Democrats retake the Senate. It also makes it all the more critical that when they do, they eliminate the filibuster so they can pass the trillions of dollars in stimulus that is going to be necessary without allowing Republicans to stop it.

Amy Coney Barrett reveals her dark traits: Opaque, disingenuous, and frightening

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett spent much of her hearing day refusing to answer any difficult question with any specificity, even when her past writings and speeches spoke loud and clear. The kinds of things we heard from her: "If I give off-the-cuff answers, then I would basically be a legal pundit. […] I don't think we want judges to be legal pundits. I think we want judges to approach cases thoughtfully with an open mind"; and, "If I express a view on a precedent one way or another […] it signals to litigants that I may tilt one way or another on a pending case."

As Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said, she's "so far perfected the art of non-answers." This rampant, blank-slate disingenuousness from Barrett proved to be as irritating throughout the day as Brett Kavanaugh's fake outrage and crocodile tears in his hearing, and just as unbelievable. When she held up a blank notepad, she wasn't demonstrating what Sen. John Cornyn, who asked her about it, was saying she was. He called it "impressive" that she was there without notes. What it was was insulting. She came to that hearing prepared to do nothing but obfuscate and refuse to answer questions, without even bothering to prepare because she knows the fix is in and Republicans are going to jam her onto the bench no matter what. Her blank sheet of paper was the perfect, albeit unwitting, metaphor for this entire sham of a process, some of the lowlights of which were rounded up here at Daily Kos and are recapped below the fold.

Mark Sumner detailed how she refused to answer the most basic, important of questions, proving that she's willing to ignore the Constitution to elect Trump:

So, when Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy asked Barrett if she would recuse herself from any dispute over the outcome of the presidential election, her pat repetition of earlier statements was a hurricane warning for democracy. Leahy even pointed out that Donald Trump has directly told his followers that he is attempting to seat Barrett quickly expressly because he wants her in place before the election.

She had another swing at that ball, and flatly refused to do the right thing, again, after being pressed by Sen. Cory Booker.

Kerry Eleveld called out the loudest dogwhistle of the day—Barrett's use of the words "sexual preference":
From a social standpoint, only someone stuck in the mindset of last-century anti-LGBTQ dogma would embrace use of the term "preference." Gay individuals don't wake up one day and decide they prefer dating people of the same sex like they prefer chocolate chip cookies to oatmeal raisin. Did Barrett wake up one morning and decide dating men was a choice for her?

I wrote about how she was as unbelievably—and literally—as opaque on the Affordable Care Act as on Trump's reelection.

We're supposed to believe now that Barrett is a total blank slate. That nothing she has said and nothing she's previously written has anything to do with what she'll be on the Supreme Court. That's simply a lie. Trump's litmus test for a Supreme Court nominee was overturning Obamacare. That's why she's sitting in that seat.

Laura Clawson covered the most important, most illuminating part of the day, which not surprisingly didn't include Barrett at all. It was Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse's tutorial on how she happened to be sitting in that seat.

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett isn't going to answer any of the big questions truthfully, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse knew that. So instead of inviting Barrett to be dishonest, Whitehouse explained the forces that put her in that Senate hearing room with the specific agenda—killing the Affordable Care Act, ending marriage equality, overturning Roe v. Wade—she is on the record as having (but is currently pretending not to have).

Gabe Ortiz pointed out Barrett's association with a radical, anti-LGBTQ hate group:

Donald Trump's illegitimate Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett not once, not twice, but on five separate occasions made paid speeches for an anti-LGBTQ organization that has been classified as a hate group for supporting recriminalizing being LGBTQ and defending the horrific state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people abroad, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) said.

And I detailed how Barrett's teaching colleagues at Notre Dame publicly tell her to stop what she's doing:

They congratulate her on the nomination and pretty much inevitable confirmation. That part of it—the inevitability—is why they write this open letter. "That is why it is vital that you issue a public statement calling for a halt to your nomination process until after the November presidential election." Because "while we are not pundits, from what we read your confirmation is all but assured." That's a problem for several reasons, which they clearly delineate and which all come down to the fact that this seat is sullied by circumstance and will forever have an asterisk attached.

Finally, Jen Sorenson kicked the day off with a darkly funny look at the whole process.

Dozens of Amy Coney Barrett's Notre Dame colleagues ask her to stop her nomination

Amy Coney Barrett has failed to disclose an awful lot of documents to the Senate in her nomination to the Supreme Court. This is probably one of them: a letter from 88 of her Notre Dame colleagues, dated October 10, asking her to withdraw at least temporarily from consideration for the position.

They congratulate her on the nomination and pretty much inevitable confirmation. That part of it—the inevitability—is why they write this open letter. "That is why it is vital that you issue a public statement calling for a halt to your nomination process until after the November presidential election." Because "while we are not pundits, from what we read your confirmation is all but assured." That's a problem for several reasons, which they clearly delineate and which all come down to the fact that this seat is sullied by circumstance and will forever have an asterisk attached.

Number, one, people are voting right now. "The rushed nature of your nomination process, which you certainly recognize as an exercise in raw power politics, may effectively deprive the American people of a voice in selecting the next Supreme Court justice," they write. Not that they're holding her responsible for any of this, they say, even "the Republican hypocrisy of fast-tracking your nomination weeks before a presidential election when many of the same senators refused to grant Merrick Garland so much as a hearing a full year before the last election." But, "you can refuse to be party to such maneuvers," they suggested and then following the election, "your nomination would proceed, or not, in accordance with the wishes of the winning candidate."

Next, they say, Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dying wish was that her seat not be filled until after this election. They remind Barrett that she referred to RBG in her nominating ceremony and that she praised RBG as "a woman of enormous talent and consequence, whose life of public service serves as an example to us all." So live up to that, they imply. "Your nomination just days after Ginsburg's death was unseemly and a repudiation of her legacy. Given your admiration for Justice Ginsburg, we ask that you repair the injury to her memory by calling for a pause in the nomination until the next president is seated."

Finally, they remind her that this is "a treacherous moment" for the country. "Our politics are consumed by polarization, mistrust, and fevered conspiracy theories," the faculty write. "Our country is shaken by pandemic and economic suffering. There is violence in the streets of American cities. The politics of your nomination, as you surely understand, will further inflame our civic wounds, undermine confidence in the court, and deepen the divide among ordinary citizens, especially if you are seated by a Republican Senate weeks before the election of a Democratic president and congress." She can be an "alternative to all that" by doing the right thing and halting this nomination.

What's in it for her, though likely not a seat on the Supreme Court the faculty acknowledge, is "the respect of fair-minded people everywhere." By risking this seat, she could "provide a model of civic selflessness. And you might well inspire Americans of different beliefs toward a renewed commitment to the common good." That, after all, should be the highest goal of all for someone aspiring to so lofty a seat as this. There is an undercurrent to the whole letter, though, of these 88 faculty member realizing she doesn't have the character to do any of this but hoping that they can appeal to something in her, if not her sense of her own legacy.

Notably, none of the faculty who signed are from the law school, but also notably, two are from the Theology department. Which says something about this devoutly religious nominee and the Catholic university they all represent.

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