Joan McCarter

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.

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