Joan McCarter

Mitch McConnell flat-out tells Republicans to use Manchin and Sinema to obstruct Biden

Both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican leader Mitch McConnell strategized this week with their conferences on the filibuster, and both had as their focus the two problem children of the Democrats: Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Schumer has a plan for demonstrating to the two that Republicans really don't want to play nice and McConnell has a plan to optimize the two as his tools to trash everything President Joe Biden intends to do.

In this week's Democratic conference luncheon, the first in-person since the pandemic, Schumer asked Democrats to find Republican partners willing to work with them on bipartisan priorities. "Schumer is just now laying out how we want to go forward," one of the Democratic senators told The Hill on background. "Some members of the caucus, a considerable number, they want to understand the extent of Republican obstruction to justify any action taken on the filibuster."

In other words, make the effort to both show the public ahead of the midterms that Democrats are willing to give bipartisanship a go, and to demonstrate to Manchin and Sinema that that's not going to work. "All of this is about bringing the caucus back together so eventually 50 people in the room can reach a decision," the senator said.

While that was happening, McConnell was telling Republicans to make nice to Manchin and Sinema to co-opt them to his agenda by boosting their already healthy egos. In an interview with Politico, McConnell demonstrated the tactic. "What they've been very forthright about is protecting the institution against pressures from their own party. I know what that's like," McConnell said, recalling Trump's constant pressure to make him nuke the filibuster. "Every time I said no. And it's nice that there are Democrats left who respect the institution and don't want to destroy the very essence of the Senate."

Of course, McConnell didn't get rid of the filibuster on legislation because he cared about the Senate, which he had already laid to waste. He kept it because it kept the truly bonkers stuff the Republican House and Trump were coming up with in the first two years of Trump's term from being viable in the Senate. McConnell didn't want to have to preserve the Republican majority on that record. The second reason was that all he really wanted coming out of the Trump years was a stranglehold on the judiciary, which he achieved by—nuking the filibuster on Supreme Court appointees. Oh, and tax cuts. Which he achieved by the same non-filibusterable budget reconciliation he's condemning now. So much for his vaunted love for the institution.

Nonetheless, his team is going forward on his command to co-opt the two tools of the Democrats. "For me right now, they're almost guardians of democracy because they're trying to protect us from the loss of the legislative filibuster and everything that would come with that. They're good people," John Thune, McConnell's number two, told Politico—which is always willing to help spread GOP gospel. "They want to do the right thing." If by "democracy" you mean minority rule, which Thune clearly does. Because that's what Sinema and Manchin are protecting here.

Manchin told Politico "I just hope [Republicans] help me a little bit in bipartisanship. […] That's all." Good luck with that, Joe. "He said he believes Republicans aren't all talk and no give, that 'they really want to work.'" Sure. Because here's what's really happening, and Republicans are happy to admit it: "When they can't drive compromise directly through legislation that's passed through budget reconciliation, GOP senators can influence the process by keeping close ties to Sinema and Manchin."

For example, Manchin's last-minute intervention that nearly blew up the American Rescue Plan—the critical COVID-19 relief bill passed last month—was so much string-pulling by his Republican "friend" Rob Portman of Ohio, to cut back unemployment benefits by $100 a week and to cut the federal boost in payments off in early September, instead of at the end of October.

Politico baldly lays out the machinations here: "No Republicans supported that legislation, but they were able to make their mark through Manchin." In other words, he's being used.

Manchin and Sinema's influence has "been very helpful," said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). "Now, I don't want to overstate that. I don't think either one of them have fundamentally changed the direction of important Democratic legislation just yet. But they've certainly slowed down a lot of the more radical ideas."

Like the radical notion of voting rights. Or the radical idea that $7.25 an hour is not enough to live on in almost every part of the country.

One of the "moderates" in the Democratic conference, the Maine Independent Angus King, basically endorsed Schumer's approach. He said that he wants to see just how many Republicans are willing to cross over to help out before reforming the filibuster, but he is definitely putting the onus on them. "It's up to them," he told The Hill, citing a Washington Post op-ed he wrote last month: "What happens to the filibuster depends on how Republicans play their hand."

Whether Manchin got that message isn't entirely clear. "Chuck Schumer spoke more about bipartisan today than I've ever heard him speak about," Manchin told reporters. "He wants—'Everything we're doing, we'll try to do bipartisan. Let's work on bipartisan, reach out to your friends,'" is how Manchin interpreted it. It was probably more grammatically correct in the original.

Schumer's deploying the only strategy that makes sense at this point, with Manchin and Sinema digging in their heels—put the onus on them to find Republicans to help. It would be satisfying if he took that a bit further and made Manchin, in particular, prove his assertion that there are 10 Republicans willing to work with him by getting public statements from them. But this will do for now.

Biden sets out to prove Republican lawmakers are on the wrong side of history. Here's how they're helping him

President Joe Biden met Monday with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to talk infrastructure. Coming out of the meeting, his message was clear: "I'm prepared to negotiate as to the extent of my infrastructure project, as well as how we pay for it," Biden said. "It's going to get down to what we call 'infrastructure.'" He also said "Everyone acknowledges we need a significant increase in infrastructure."

The message worked for one of the Republicans in the room. "Those are all the exact words that I wanted to hear going into the meeting," Republican Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told the AP. "And so that was really encouraging." One of the Democrats in the room, Sen. Alex Padilla of California, attested to the collegiality in the room. "Nobody stormed out yelling 'no.'" That's probably because Rand Paul and Ted Cruz weren't invited.

Instead, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi gets to play the role of obstructor, though he might be a bit more civil in doing so. He came out of the meeting saying "clearly there are parts of this program that are non-starters for Republicans." He was mostly speaking about partially undoing the 2017 GOP Tax Scam that still hasn't produced any jobs. Wicker told Biden that partially restoring the taxes to 28% (pre-2017 they were 35%, now they're at 21%) "would be an impossible sell."

So yes, you can see how going right to the middle and landing on 28% would be an absolutely outrageous compromise for the Republicans that West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin insists will be happy to find middle ground to help pass this bill. Manchin suggests a rate of maybe 25%—which isn't the middle.

That could be part of Biden's strategy here. On the one hand, demonstrating that he is willing to consider Republican ideas and inviting them to sit down and talk seems a fool's errand. Because they will never agree to help him. So there's the other hand—leading Manchin to the self-realization that he's an idiot. It could work. Because Republicans, however nice Biden is to them, will never help pass this bill.

Meanwhile, Biden is maintaining the position that opposing this bill on the basis of that tax increase is politically very dumb for Republicans (and Manchin) because ordinary people are 'sick and tired of being fleeced. Kerry Eleveld has all the recent (and some historical) polling there, demonstrating that for at least the past six years, more than two-thirds of the American voting public has said corporations "don't pay their fair share" in taxes. On Biden's specific plan, 65% say "yes, raise corporate taxes to do that."

Biden is taking that polling, as well as all the other polls, into his Oval Office meetings with Republicans. He's telling them flat-out that "Republican voters agree with what I'm doing." His team sends that message every chance they get.

"If you looked up 'bipartisan' in the dictionary, I think it would say support from Republicans and Democrats," senior Biden adviser Anita Dunn told reporters this weekend. "It doesn't say the Republicans have to be in Congress." That's reinforcing what Biden himself said in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago when he unveiled the new infrastructure package. "Everybody said I had no bipartisan support," on the COVID-19 relief package. "The overwhelming bipartisan support were Republican—registered Republican voters."

Biden's message last week is very close to Biden's message to Republicans Monday. "Debate is welcome, compromise is inevitable, changes are certain," Biden said last week. "I would like Republican—elected Republican—support. But what I have now is, I have electoral support from Republican voters. Republican voters agree with what I'm doing."

So is Biden putting on a show for Manchin (and Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona Democrat who decided that her flaky maverick pretense this year would be supporting the filibuster)?

He says no: "I"m not big on window dressing, as you've observed." Meanwhile, he's certainly going to make sure that Manchin knows that West Virginia got a D grade for its infrastructure. Using a combination of private and public data, the White House has graded every state, reporting on the condition of roads, bridges, power grid, health, broadband availability, and housing affordability as well as other metrics.

Biden's message to GOP and Manchin: 'Republican voters agree with what I'm doing'

Congress returns this week after a two-week recess with just as many crises to deal with as there was before the break, and a Senate just as clogged up as ever thanks in no small part to Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Their intransigence on the filibuster and doing more critical Senate work by budget reconciliation, which can be done with just Democratic votes, is contributing to a Senate backlog.

Manchin continues to insist that there has to be 10 Republican votes to pass anything, while this is actually a thing: "Perhaps Democrats' best chance of making a law is over a bill aimed at combating the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans, but even that is facing resistance from some Senate Republicans who are trying to block the measure ahead of a key procedural vote expected Wednesday." That's Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who is married to a Chinese-American person: Elaine Chao.

Nonetheless, President Joe Biden is continuing his quest to get Republicans on board with his infrastructure plan. He's meeting Monday with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including "Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Alex Padilla of California; Republican Sens. Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Roger Wicker of Mississippi; Democratic Reps. Donald M. Payne, Jr. of New Jersey and David Price of North Carolina and Republican Reps. Garret Graves of Louisiana and Don Young of Alaska."

That invitation to Republicans to cooperate was echoed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on "Face the Nation" Sunday. "The door is open," she said. "Our hand is extended. Let's find out where we can find our common ground. We always have a responsibility to strive for bipartisanship."

They're certainly getting a wishlist of Republican projects. "My phone is blowing up," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told The New York Times, pointing out that just about every lawmaker "can point to a road or a bridge or an airport" back home that is crumbling. "There's a ton of interest from Congress," he said. That includes a major bridge in Kentucky that McConnell wants to see replaced, though McConnell is still promising to "fight" Biden's proposals "every step of the way." Since that bridge connects Kentucky and Ohio, maybe he's counting on Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown to take care of it while he keeps up this fight.

Buttigieg's department sent an email to House and Senate members last week detailing how the transportation chunk of the proposal—$621 billion—was structured for their projects, including $174 billion for electric vehicles; $115 billion for road and bridge repair and construction; $85 billion for public transit; $25 billion for airports; and $17 billion for ports and waterways.

Biden and team continue to push the winning idea from the rescue package that "bipartisan" doesn't necessarily mean winning over Senate Republicans. "If you looked up 'bipartisan' in the dictionary, I think it would say support from Republicans and Democrats," said senior Biden adviser Anita Dunn. "It doesn't say the Republicans have to be in Congress." That's reinforcing what Biden himself said in Pittsburg a few weeks ago when he unveiled the new infrastructure package. "Everybody said I had no bipartisan support," on the COVID-19 relief package. "The overwhelming bipartisan support were Republican—registered Republican voters."

The administration can point to plenty of public polling to prove that's true of his infrastructure proposals, too—including the $400 billion he wants to spend on what Republicans insist isn't "real" infrastructure. The investment in caregiving for seniors and the disabled gets high marks from Republican voters as well as Democrats and independents.

"The Biden definition of bipartisanship is an agenda that unifies the country and appeals across the political spectrum," Mike Donilon, a senior Biden adviser, told The Washington Post. "I think it's a pretty good definition to say you're pursuing an agenda that will unite the country, that will bring Democrats and Republicans together across the country. Presumably, if you have an agenda that is broadly popular with Democrats and Republicans across the country, then you should have elected representatives reflecting that."

Tell it to Sen. Susan Collins, McConnell's most useful person to trot out to whine about how mean Democrats are. "The question before us is this: is this outreach the beginning of a true negotiation, or is the administration so wedded to the details of its plan, including its exorbitant top line, that these are just courtesy briefings?" she said in a statement to the Post. "I have no reason to believe that his entire philosophy has changed, but I do think that there is a lot of pressure on him from his staff and from outside far-left groups." Collins' previous effort at "bipartisanship" was offering up a Trojan horse of a skinny COVID-19 relief plan that was one-third of what Biden was asking for, with no money for state or local governments.

It didn't work on Biden for COVID-19 relief, and it's not going to work this time either. "Debate is welcome, compromise is inevitable, changes are certain," Biden said last week. "I would like Republican—elected Republican—support. But what I have now is, I have electoral support from Republican voters. Republican voters agree with what I'm doing."

Infrastructure isn't the only issue on which Biden has broad bipartisan support, nor is it the only issue log-jammed by a 50-50 Democrat-Republican Senate operating with a filibuster. Gun safety, voting rights, hate crimes, immigration—all of these are pressing legislative matters facing Congress right now. Leadership wants to have infrastructure done before the July 4 recess, so something is going to have to break between now and then on the filibuster. Hopefully it will be Manchin and Sinema's bull-headedness.

Joe Manchin's latest op-ed shows he has no idea what he's talking about

In the ongoing competition between Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema to get attention by being Democratic contrarians, Sinema seemed to have a leg up, getting a long exclusive with the Wall Street Journal in order to show her "mavericky" self in her stalwart opposition to ending the filibuster to let anything good happen. So Manchin has decided to up the ante with an op-ed in The Washington Post. He's even more committed to obstructing President Joe Biden's agenda than Sinema is, he seems to be asserting here.

"There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster," he blusters. "The time has come to end these political games, and to usher a new era of bipartisanship where we find common ground on the major policy debates facing our nation." Because he's got the power to make Mitch McConnell go away? It's hard to know what's going on here. Is Manchin so absolutely oblivious to what's been going on around him for the entirety of his time in the Senate, or does he have such a huge ego that he thinks he can declare a new era of bipartisanship and not get laughed off the Senate floor?

One thing that Manchin doesn't make clear is what he means by "weakening" the filibuster. Is he, for instance, now opposed to reinstating a talking filibuster—the thing he said he'd maybe support a month ago? A talking filibuster could actually do the thing Manchin says he wants—bipartisanship. Maybe people would listen as well as talk.

Incidentally, there doesn't have to be a vote to bring back the talking filibuster. That's a scheduling thing Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could change all on his own. That's what happened in the 1970s, scholar Sarah Binder explains, when we got the "stealth" filibuster. Then-Majority Leader Mike Mansfield decided to introduce separate legislative "tracks" to keep legislation that was being filibustered from clogging up the rest of the works of the Senate—it allows for more than one bill to be pending on the floor as unfinished business. In the decades that followed, filibusters increased by the dozens, because they were painless. Other business went on, and senators could silently and effortlessly kill bills.

Schumer can end tracking and can force actual debate on bills. He can force a talking filibuster. What he can't do is change the 60-vote majority for ending a filibuster—that would take Manchin (and Sinema's) agreement. But he can keep the opposition on the floor debating all the time, waiting for them to slip up and not have someone on the floor around the clock to block unanimous consent requests to move on to the legislation. That would be restating the kind of grand Senate tradition Manchin so reveres. Would he go along with that? We don't know because Manchin doesn't talk about the substance of Senate procedure. He just issues a lot of platitudes about how it should be.

He also betrays some ignorance about how the Senate works. Like where he writes "Voting rights reforms, instituting health-care protections and changes to the federal tax code and business regulations take time to implement on the state and local levels." As Max Kennerly points out with the exception of voting rights reforms, these aren't routinely subject to the filibuster anyway. Health care and particularly the tax code have traditionally been handled by reconciliation which can't be filibustered. If Congress wants to deal with regulations—which are established by the executive branch—it uses the Congressional Review Act. Which is not subject to the filibuster, either.

What is shining through in all of this op-ed is that Manchin has not done his homework and that he has not seriously considered his position. The other thing that is striking is the degree to which he is setting himself up to take on sole responsibility for gridlock.

No less than six times, Manchin talks about the degree to which there's bipartisan agreement in the Senate. Most galling, and revealing, is when he insists that Republicans will go along with what he calls "voting reform." Notice he's not talking about voting rights, but reforms. He also gives a nod to the Big Lie, again, when he says "Our ultimate goal should be to restore bipartisan faith in our voting process by assuring all Americans that their votes will be counted, secured and protected." That's all but agreeing with Republicans that they have a reason not to believe the 2020 election was fair and free.

But every time Manchin puts himself forward as the keeper of bipartisanship and insisting that there must be a 60-vote majority for everything, he's taking on the responsibility of finding 10 Republican votes on everything. When that doesn't work, what? Does he relent and finally allow filibuster reform?

There aren't 10 Republican votes for anything that matters and Manchin is revealing just how unserious he is in pretending otherwise.

It's leaders of every faith vs. Sinema and Manchin over the filibuster

A coalition of faith leaders came together in Washington, D.C., both in person and virtually Monday to rally the Democratic Senate into doing everything in its power to pass ambitious legislation to restore voting rights, combat gun violence, and help America's communities. By "everything in its power" they mean get rid of the filibuster. "Don't filibuster democracy," the group chanted from the steps of the National City Christian Church.

"Today we come because we as clergy—pastors, imams, rabbis, people from the Hindu community and the Muslim community—are challenging the immorality of the filibuster," said the Rev. William Barber, who led the group. "We can no longer have an impoverished democracy because a minority group of senators want to shut down open debate and shut down bringing issues to the floor, address the critical issues that face us as a people in this nation." Jim Winkler, president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches, spoke about how the filibuster has been "long used by avowed racists" who repeatedly use it as a "weapon to kill any progress to secure voting rights and civil rights." The filibuster, he said, "must never again be used as a threat in order to kill legislation. […] It is a cowardly tactic designed to forestall progress for the good of the nation."

"I see my voice on these matter(s) as part of my Christian commitment to love as Jesus loves and to love my neighbor as myself," the Rev. Teresa Hord Owens, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, said in a email to the Associated Press. The filibuster "is a tool of obstruction, usually against passage of laws that protect and care for the marginalized," Owens wrote. "Given its unjust usage, we must find another way to ensure that voices are heard, and that one cannot stand in the way of a bill simply because you disagree."

Barber was a little more pointed: "We can't have a small minority of people using the filibuster so that we don't deal with voting rights, we don't deal with living wage, we don"t deal with health care." He didn't need to say that that message was meant for Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin. Not after Sinema's obnoxious display on the Senate floor during the American Rescue Plan debate, when she showboated for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell with her vote against the minimum wage.

While Manchin has stepped back a bit from his hard-line stance, flirting with at least the idea of restoring a talking filibuster, Sinema is going all in on ... backing the white supremacist Republicans? That's what is seems like. She doubled down on that with the Wall Street Journal (because of course it had to be the WSJ) in an interview this week.

"When you have a place that's broken and not working, and many would say that's the Senate today, I don't think the solution is to erode the rules," she told the WSJ. "I think the solution is for senators to change their behavior and begin to work together, which is what the country wants us to do." Never mind that what's breaking the Senate is the filibuster and the bad behavior of the Republicans she's flirting with, who would happily laugh in her face over her wannabe Emily Post routine.

And good luck selling that in Arizona, senator. Civiqs' polling tells the story. "She went from 41% favorable, 35% unfavorable at the start of February, to 29% favorable, 40% unfavorable—a dramatic overnight 17-point net drop," with all Arizonans, Markos wrote about that polling. "As you might imagine, her numbers among Democrats have dropped precipitously" to a "+23 net favorability rating, down from +53." She's also underwater with independents "going from a +6 net favorable rating, to -20 today." Is her act working with Republicans? Of course not. "They never liked her and still don't, she's gone from 16% favorable, 57% unfavorable, to 15-53 today."

It's not just Civiqs. New polling of likely voters by Data for Progress, reported in an op-ed in the Arizona Capitol Times, finds that 62% support that minimum wage increase to $15/hour that she opposed. Additionally, "61% think that passing major legislation is more important than the filibuster." Abigail Jackson, the communications coordinator for Progress Arizona, points out that while "Democrats make up only 32% of registered voters, these numbers are significant, demonstrating that progressive policies are actually popular in Arizona, and the filibuster less so."

There's also this one from a few weeks ago:

"The survey found that Sinema is viewed favorably by just 50 percent of Democratic voters, but 30 percent of her party views her unfavorably. Sinema is upside down with Republicans by 22%."

Sinema's choices are perplexing, unless she's is trying to tell us she's going to switch parties. It kind of looked like that when she went on Twitter and "liked" a tweet from CNN for this story: "Why very early signs are good for the GOP in 2022." Then she had this snotty response when asked about it.

Sinema is going out of her way to make enemies among Democrats, and isn't at all clear what her thinking is, other than maybe she likes getting all this attention. Because she sure as hell is setting herself up for a primary challenge—and she's also not going to find a receptive audience among Republicans. Sure, McConnell might be encouraging her defections now, but he's not going to be there for her in 2024, because he knows she could never win as a Republican.

Mitch McConnell declares war on 21st century America

Mitch McConnell is leading the Republican effort to take voting rights—the very fundamentals of our democracy—and turn the issue into "woke" "cancel culture" fodder, spinning desperate gossamer threads of disinformation to try to scare corporate America back into the Republican fold. The problem for McConnell—for the whole GOP—is that while corporate America loves the tax breaks they get from Republicans, they live in the 21st century along with 21st century Americans who have money to spend on their products. And more and more of those Americans spending money are LGBTQ, Black, Indigenous, and people of color. All you have to do is turn on broadcast television and see how advertisers are selling their wares. Even pharmaceutical ads have rainbow casts of characters.

So here comes McConnell, issuing a broadside against corporate America and defending White Supremacy—all the while trying to keep on their good side by arguing from the other side of his mouth that corporate taxes can't be raised to pay for infrastructure. "We are witnessing a coordinated campaign by powerful and wealthy people to mislead and bully the American people," says McConnell, who stood by completely mute for months while Donald Trump and congressional Republicans pushed the Big Lie of election fraud.

McConnell promises "serious consequences" if corporate America continues acting like "a woke parallel government." In total outrage, he declares "Our private sector must stop taking cues from the Outrage-Industrial Complex." That would be the "complex" that adheres to the whole idea of letting everyone who is eligible vote without throwing huge roadblocks in their way. "The President has claimed repeatedly that state-level debates over voting procedures are worse than Jim Crow or 'Jim Crow on steroids.' Nobody actually believes this," McConnell says, ignoring the multitudes of voting rights advocates, historians, good government types who are saying, "yeah, this is Jim Crow all over again."

"Nobody really thinks this current dispute comes anywhere near the horrific racist brutality of segregation. But there's an old cynical saying that 'history is just the set of lies agreed upon.' And a host of powerful people and institutions apparently think they stand to benefit from parroting this big lie." Get that? The "big lie"? Like the Big Lie that Republicans are using to justify all this voter suppression, the one that says that the election was stolen from Donald Trump. This is astoundingly dishonest even for McConnell.

McConnell is really blasting Major League Baseball here, and its decision to take the All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest of Georgia's sweeping new voter suppression laws. The new "big lie" McConnell is trying out is the one that says this new law isn't voter suppression. Which it very much is, as this analysis from The New York Times details: it imposes a number of new limits on vote by mail, it substantially reduces drop boxes and mobile voting units, and bans groups from providing food and water to people in voting lines. The Times says it will make "absentee voting harder," as well as create "restrictions and complications" that will "hamper the right to vote."

And if you want to talk about cancel culture, it gives the state's Republican lawmakers the ability to cancel county elections administrators and rig the vote. As horrifying as the rest of the new Georgia law is, this is the part that is profoundly undemocratic. The Republican state legislator appoints a five-person State Election Board and the law gives that Board the power to remove elections administrators in Democratic counties and replace them with administrators who will be more likely to, say for example, "find 11,780 votes" for Trump.

Though we are pretty used to radical historical and hysterical revisionism from him. After all, he's the guy who said out loud, on camera that the filibuster has "no racial history at all. None. There's no dispute among historians." Historians, of course, immediately disputed that statement en masse.

"From election law to environmentalism to radical social agendas to the Second Amendment, parts of the private sector keep dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government," McConnell wrote. "Businesses must not use economic blackmail to spread disinformation and push bad ideas that citizens reject at the ballot box." The last time I looked, what got rejected at the ballot box most recently was McConnell's leadership of the Senate. Oh, and Donald Trump.

Business in America is looking at the people who buy its products. There wouldn't be such a concerted effort for companies to go green (or to see the upside of greenwashing their enterprise) if the bulk of American consumers were not asking for it. We see more people of color on our televisions—often sharing households—because that's where the market is. We see LGBTQ couples and families on our televisions because, again, American society has moved into the 21st century enough to understand all that as normal. And American society as a whole remains absolutely horrified at gun violence and wants government do do something about it.

That's what corporate America is responding to; an American marketplace that is firmly established in the 21st century.

But because of the exploitation of one political party—the Republicans—of the levers of power established in the previous two centuries, we keep getting dragged back. For example, the institution of the Senate, where "the Democratic half of the Senate will represent 41,549,808 more people than the Republican half" but the Republican half can still veto most policy efforts by the Democrats using the Jim Crow filibuster.

Likewise in the House, Democrats received more than 4.7 million more votes than Republicans. Because of Republican gerrymandering—carving up congressional districts to benefit their own party—in 2018, Democrats won 200,000 more votes than Republicans in Wisconsin, but just three out of the state's eight U.S. House seats. Likewise, in Texas Democrats won 47% of the vote, but just 13 of the state's 36 seats. In North Carolina in 2018, Democrats got 50% of the vote for House seats, but gained just 23% of them.

Society has left Republicans in the dust, culturally, and it's only those structural inequities that has allowed Republicans to have the power they wield. McConnell knows that, which is why he's fighting so hard to preserve the filibuster—without it Democrats can enact the election reforms that doom Republicans at the federal level.

How Chuck Schumer's 'magical parliamentary trick' put Mitch McConnell in a jam

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced a mini-bombshell Monday night, one which dramatically impose the outlook for President Joe Biden's infrastructure plans. "The Parliamentarian has advised that a revised budget resolution may contain budget reconciliation instructions," a spokesman for Schumer announced. In plain English, that means that Schumer has that "magical parliamentary trick". He can use part of the 1974 Budget Act, Section 304, that allows the Senate to bring up previously passed and signed budget resolutions—like the American Rescue Plan COVID relief bill—and amend them and include new stuff.

Like infrastructure! This "allows Democrats additional tools to improve the lives of Americans if Republican obstruction continues," the Schumer statement says. "While no decisions have been made on a legislative path forward […] the Parliamentarian's opinion is an important step forward that this key pathway is available to Democrats if needed." That was seconded by Sen. Ron Wyden, chair of the Senate Finance Committee and thus a key player in this process as the tax provisions in the bill will come through his committee. "The American people want bold action to address our country's many challenges, and Democrats now have more options to overcome Republican obstruction and get things done," Wyden said.

"It's important because it gives us a little more flexibility—we don't have to push everything into one package," Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Budget Committee which will control a budget reconciliation package, said Monday. "The ruling of the parliamentarian gives us a little bit more opportunity in that direction."

This theoretically gives the Senate majority at least two more opportunities to use budget reconciliation, the bills that have special rules which allow them to pass with a simple majority vote, bypassing the 60-vote majority filibuster. Previously, the Senate has operated under the general rule that it could be used a maximum of twice a year. It has been infrequently used because it takes up a ton of floor time, with unlimited amendments being available to both parties in the Senate. There are reasons Schumer might decided not to use it because of that—the vote-a-rama and nearly unlimited ability for the Republicans to attempt to do their worst on the Senate floor.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already ruled out doing anything to help pass a plan that will create potentially millions of jobs and prevent kids from being poisoned by lead in their drinking water. "I'm going to fight them every step of the way, because I think this is the wrong prescription for America," McConnell said last week. "That package that they're putting together now, as much as we would like to address infrastructure, is not going to get support from our side." Schumer now has choices, and that has the power to splinter Republicans.

Here's the biggest opportunity Republicans have to bring money and jobs to their states and districts now that both the Senate and House have decided that they will bring back earmarks—the member-directed spending for specific projects at home. The package Biden has introduced has plenty of potential for those goodies, even though Republicans are busily trying to restrict the definition of "infrastructure" to just roads and bridges.

Biden has an answer for that, and it not surprisingly includes Republican hypocrisy. "It's kind of interesting that when the Republicans put forward an infrastructure plan, they thought everything from broadband to dealing with other things" Biden said Monday. "Their definition of infrastructure has changed." He went on to talk about what infrastructure really is. "When I'm talking about making sure that you take that asbestos out of schools, that's infrastructure," Biden said. "When I'm talking about building high-speed rail, that's infrastructure. When I'm talking about making sure you're in a situation where we can redo some of the federal buildings that are just absolutely leaking energy every single day, that's infrastructure."

One gets the sense that Republicans are just recycling the arguments they made to the American Rescue Plan. Remember how they kept talking about how it wasn't really about dealing with coronavirus? That there was all that extra stuff in it? How they made a counter offer of $600 billion for a plan? On "Fox News Sunday," Sen. Roy Blunt said that maybe Republicans would be okay with $615 billion for an infrastructure plan. He also argued that only about a third of Biden's plan focuses on what Republicans are calling "real" infrastructure projects. It's déjà vu all over again.

A Republican Senate aide reacted predictably to the ruling, saying that it is "an abuse of the process and clearly not what reconciliation was designed to do, but they're going to go forward anyway." Except for the part where 20 years ago Republicans fired the Parliamentarian in part because of his ruling "that only one tax bill could be considered this year under special budget rules that prevent filibusters."

Expect more of that hypocrisy from Republicans as the process moves forward, because that's all they have. This puts them in a bit of a jam. Knowing that Schumer and the Democrats can move forward on this plan without them could bring at least some of them to the table. Because this is a bill they can get tangible, popular stuff from if they play along. If they don't, there's no guarantee Democrats will do anything more than the bare minimum for Republican states.

It's infrastructure week again: White House unveils historic jobs and hard infrastructure plan

The White House released a roughly $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan Wednesday, ahead of a formal unveiling of the proposal by President Biden in Pittsburgh Wednesday afternoon. This is the mostly physical infrastructure part of a larger plan, with ambitious goals to provide jobs, tackle climate change, and replace the nation's crumbling infrastructure. It would do everything from creating a grid of electric car charging stations across the country, to replacing every lead water pipe. By 2030, every American could have access to high-speed internet in their home and as many as 2 million homes and housing units would be constructed, renovated, or retrofitted to be safe, connected, and energy efficient.

It all sounds utopian, even though as Meteor Blades points out it is really just a downpayment on the vast sums that will be necessary to put the country on solid economic footing to start really combatting the dual threats of climate change and social and economic inequity. The biggest chunk of the proposal is traditional infrastructure: $621 billion for transportation including roads, bridges, ports, airports, public transit, and electric vehicle charging stations. Yes, there's about $80 billion for Amtrak.

It targets $111 billion for replacing lead water pipes and replacing old sewer lines; $100 billion for national broadband internet; $100 billion for upgrades to the electric grid to deliver clean energy; and $300 billion toward building and retrofitting homes. The administration is including $400 billion to provide care for the elderly and people with disabilities in this package instead of putting it off for the next round of social infrastructure spending it will introduce later. That's probably a reflection of the vast deficiencies in longterm care the pandemic has revealed.

This comes with a corporate tax hike, from the 21% set by the Trump tax scam to $28%. It would prevent companies from just shifting profits overseas to avoid that tax hike by imposing a 21% global minimum tax, and would prevent companies from merging with overseas companies to move their headquarters and avoid taxes. It would also increase corporate IRS audits, which could raise even more money (but the IRS needs to be fully funded for that to be able to happen). This is all the hard infrastructure; the "soft" infrastructure—child care funding, family tax credits and other domestic programs—will come in a few weeks. That will be another roughly $2 trillion and will include tax hikes on the super-rich.

All of which means Republicans hate it, even if their communities need the investment as much as any. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is exploring ways of getting it passed that don't necessary involve having to get rid of the filibuster. He's convinced a part of the 1974 Congressional Budget Act gives the Senate the ability to use budget reconciliation multiple times in a year.

Budget reconciliation is the process the Congress used to pass the COVID-19 relief bill, the American Rescue Plan. It is a way to bypass the 60-vote majority filibuster, but is infrequently used because it takes up a ton of floor time, with unlimited amendments being available to both parties in the Senate. It has traditionally been seen as available for use a maximum of two times a year. The part of the Budget Act, Section 304, has not been used before, Schumer's staff say, so this is new for them and for the Senate parliamentarian, the staff member in charge of interpreting Senate rules and advising on what's allowable under them.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has preemptively rejected the plan. "Unfortunately, this looks like it's not going to head in the direction that I had hoped," McConnell said at an event in Kentucky on Monday. "My advice to the administration is, if you want to do an infrastructure bill, let's do an infrastructure bill. Let's not turn it into a massive effort to raise taxes on businesses and individuals."

Congress has decided to bring back earmarks, which could potentially help get a handful of Republican votes in the House, maybe even in the Senate. They're renaming it "member-directed funding," a revised and more transparent way for lawmakers to designated chunks of funding for specific projects in their own districts and states. That's a sweetener for Republicans, but no sure guarantee of votes even if they get their pet projects into the spending bills. But it should definitely unify the Democrats.

"It's about jobs. It's about investing in the industries of the future. And it's about rebuilding parts of our communities that have long been forgotten," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.

Another White House official who briefed reporters Tuesday called it a once-in-a-generation kind of effort. It's comparable to the "historic and galvanizing public investment programs we've had in the past," like the interstate highway system and space program. "This is an important moment to demonstrate that the United States and democracies can deliver for people," the official said. "The stakes of this moment are high, the world is watching."

McConnell's increasingly desperate efforts to keep the filibuster are backfiring

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is freaking the hell out about the potential of losing all his clout as the end of the filibuster looms. He's gone well beyond his trademark troll-like hypocrisy, and has just become hysterical—in both senses of the word. On the one hand he's threatening "nuclear winter," on the other he's creating such ridiculous ahistorical fictions that his staff has to clean up after him.

He really said that "nuclear winter" part. In a podcast interview Tuesday, McConnell let the threats fly. "If they turn the Senate into a simple majority body, the Senate is lost," he said in a conservative podcast interview. "These folks are not interested in compromise, they're interested in passing all of their bills to remake America." He got that part right, anyway. "It may not be the panacea that they anticipate it would be, it could turn the Senate into sort of a nuclear winter, where the aftermath of the so-called nuclear option is not a sustainable place," McConnell threatened. We've gone from "scorched earth" to nuclear winter in a week's time with this guy. Democrats continue to refuse to blink as he spins himself into a frenzy over the idea that he's about to lose his filibuster, that relic of Jim Crow he's been using to keep Democrats from remaking America for well over a decade.

He inadvertently made that very clear Tuesday when he let slip this ridiculous bit of historical revisionism: the filibuster, he said, has "no racial history at all. None. There's no dispute among historians." Historians immediately took to Twitter to dispute that.

Dr. Kevin Kruse had 100 years of headlines at his fingertips in a tweet thread of filibusters against anti-lynching bills and civil rights bills, adding the caveat at the end: "I should stress this isn't remotely an exhaustive list—I did it quickly and I didn't repeat years in which there were multiple filibusters on different civil rights issues." Dr. Joanne Freeman pointed out that the Senate's own website on the history of the Civil Right's Act of 1964 which begins "The longest continuous debate in Senate history took place in 1964 over the Civil Rights Act." The whole piece is centered on the efforts of southern senators to kill the bill. "On March 9, when Mansfield moved to take up the measure, southern senators launched a filibuster against the bill. The Senate debated the bill for sixty days, including seven Saturdays."

That gaffe required an immediate clean-up on aisle Mitch from his staff. What he meant, his press secretary said the "origins" of the filibuster weren't racist, citing this sentence from a PolitiFact article: "Historians told PolitiFact that the filibuster did not emerge from debates over slavery or segregation." Fine, but then here's the very next sentence in that article: "However, they agreed that the parliamentary tactic was closely affiliated with opposition to civil rights for more than a century." Then they quote one. "'The histories of the filibuster, civil and voting rights, and race in America are intertwined,' said Steven S. Smith, a political scientist and Senate specialist at Washington University in St. Louis.'"

Not that that has stopped McConnell from saying outrageous, ridiculous lies. Right after that, McConnell testified at the Senate Rules Committee hearing for S. 1, the For the People Act and actually said this:

"States are not engaging in trying to suppress voters whatsoever." He said that.

He said that when the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice which finds "As of Feb. 19, 2021, legislators in 43 states have carried over, prefiled, or introduced more than 250 bills that would make it harder to vote—over seven times the number of restrictive bills as compared to roughly this time last year."

This all has McConnell so addled, he's creating messes all over the place for his staff. On Fox News Wednesday morning, he said "I don't believe I've spoken with [Biden] since he was sworn in." It took reporters about 10 minutes to find statements from him like this one on February 2: "The president called me on two things: Burma was one of them. The other… [was] the budget process and covid relief." Which brought out McConnell's staff again to say, yes he did speak with Biden on Burma.

McConnell's increasingly frenetic rhetoric isn't just failing to sway Democrats. It's backfiring. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer brushed off McConnell's "scorched earth" rhetoric as a "blustery threat."

"We're not going to be deterred," Schumer said. "We're going to go forward because we know the American people demand, need, want bold change. And we're going to do it. Mitch McConnell can do all the threatening and bluster he wants. It's not going to stop us." President Biden apparently concurs, with his advisers telling Axios "he's feeling bullish on what he can accomplish, and is fully prepared to support the dashing of the Senate's filibuster rule to allow Democrats to pass voting rights and other trophy legislation for his party."

McConnell's doing himself no favors by trying to stop the inevitable end of the filibuster with threats and lies. He's making it harder every day for Democrats who are queasy about getting rid of the filibuster to end up on his side. Like independent Sen. Angus King, who writes in the Washington Post, "All-out opposition to reasonable voting rights protections cannot be enabled by the filibuster; if forced to choose between a Senate rule and democracy itself, I know where I will come down."

Biden's big, transformative infrastructure plan could set up a filibuster fight

Because we have a real president now, "infrastructure week" actually means something! Though it's more likely to be "infrastructure spring." By all accounts, that's the next big push from Congress and the White House—repairing dangerously broken transportation, water, electrical and broadband systems, as well as the communities most harmed by past failures and a long history of fossil fuel and individual car worship, as Hunter wrote about last week.

The administration moved early in President Biden's term to frame infrasructure from a civil rights perspective, asking a review of housing policy from his predecessor that considered the effects on neighborhoods and housing of the Interstate Highway System, which produced highways "deliberately built to pass through Black neighborhoods, often requiring the destruction of housing and other local institutions." Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg reiterated that focus in an interview in Politico last week, saying that the policy behind that system was "not just a matter of halfway accidental neglect" but "intentional decisions that happened." Fixing that must be just as intentional. How that happens is less clear.

Because, once again, Biden and congressional Democrats are stymied by that Jim Crow-era legislative hangover, the Senate filibuster. They are also hampered by the grandstanding of one Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who took an unprincipled stand against doing the bill by reconciliation after his efforts to erode vital assistance to the unemployed in the American Rescue Plan. Manchin declared he would refuse to allow the bill to be passed by reconciliation, the process Congress used on the COVID-19 relief bill in order to speed it up and prevent Republicans from being able to sabotage it. Reconciliation bills can be passed by simple majority and are not subject to filibuster rules.

"I'm not going to do it through reconciliation. I am not going to get on a bill that cuts [Republicans] out completely before we start trying," Manchin told Axios about the infrastructure bill. At the same time, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Peter DeFazio said that might be how it has to happen, at least partially. "The money could be raised through Reconciliation—and the money will be a big hangup," he told CNBC.

"It is going to be green and it is going to be big," DeFazio said in another interview. That could mean a compromise: handling all the revenue raising for the bill by reconciliation, a more clear-cut means of getting billions—or trillions—of funding authorized, and setting the policy and specific projects for all that funding through the regular legislative process. That effort could be enough to get Manchin onboard filibuster reform, when he sees just how unwilling Republicans are to work with him and with Biden.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Friday that she had directed senior Democrats and committee chairs to start working with Republicans to craft a "big, bold and transformational infrastructure package." Republicans are all for the spending in their districts, but not so much for the "transformational" part, not wanting to see climate change or equity built into the bill. That's where the idea of splitting up the money and the policy parts of it could also splinter. Nonetheless, DeFazio says he has a "tentative timeline" of his committee completing its part of the bill by the end of May.

That means investments in a number of the Green New Deal proposals and more: in the usual big road and bridge building and repair; in zero-emission buses; electric vehicle charging stations; zero-carbon electricity generation by 2035; a concentration of funding, including in federal contracts, for people and communities of color; renovation and rebuilding of affordable housing; and expanded high-speed broadband internet everywhere. Those are the kinds of goodies—especially broadband—that could get Republicans onboard for at least some of it. This is where another tweak in congressional rules could come in: restoring earmarks. The member-directed spending that allows lawmakers to target specific needs in their states and districts is coming back after tea party Republicans tried to kill it a decade ago. It will be reformed and more transparent than in the old "bridge to nowhere" days, but back.

"Building roads and bridges and water supply systems and the rest has always been bipartisan, always been bipartisan, except when they oppose it with a Democratic president, as they did under President Obama, and we had to shrink the package," Pelosi said on This Week on ABC on Sunday. "But, nonetheless, hopefully, we will have bipartisanship," she said. "This is about broadband. It's about water systems. It's about mass transit, it's about good paying jobs all over the country," she said. "It's also about schools and housing and the rest. […] So the goal is to promote good growth, creating good-paying jobs as we protect our planet and are fiscally sound."

Biden's plan during the campaign had a price tag of about $2 trillion, an investment that would be a smart companion to the COVID-19 relief bill for economic recovery because it would be a jobs machine. Which of course means Republicans won't want it to pass because they don't want Biden to have another success. Which also means that this could be the fight that ends the filibuster.


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