Terry H. Schwardon

Who made Joe Manchin 'The Decider'? Here's why West Virginia's centrist senator has too much clout

We spent hundreds of millions, talked endlessly, suffered generally insulting campaigns to elect a president, withstood months afterward of one side denying results and endured an attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Where in all this was the decision to elect the winner to be Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.?

Forget competing personalities, ideologies, even skills. What we effectively have wrought is that the decisions about whether we extend unemployment or try to save restaurants or pay to widen federal research into coronavirus mutations don't sit in the White House or in the leading majority leaders of Congress. It is with Manchin. He is the self-described centrist, so moderate a Democrat that he is always a threat to vote for Republican policies. He hails from a state that he sees as unready to embrace climate change or big investment in recovery. And, as we found out this week, a Biden Cabinet-level nominee.

Manchin says he is opposing Neera Tanden for the Office of Management and Budget because she tweeted too harshly about political opponents.

Maybe now he opposes the nomination of Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., as secretary of Interior, who thinks drilling for oil on public lands is a bad idea. Manchin headed the committee holding this hearing.

As an aside, when compared with colleagues in the Congress who have tweeted and worked hard to ignore years of public insult tweets of Donald Trump, the argument against Tandem seems pretty limp.

Still, among Tanden's tweet targets was Manchin's daughter, Heather Bresch, former CEO of Mylan, a company that made EpiPens and raised its price substantially over 10 years. Bresch defended the higher prices as less than that of others and said she also raised financial assistance for patients.

The key vote?

It's not so much that we may find ourselves agreeing or disagreeing with Manchin. But rather, we have given the car keys to a single individual who may be voting only to support the local interests of a 93% white state. It is a state still waiting for coal mining to come back, that votes Republican, that has the nation's worst record on opiate usage and whose small business owners mostly reject raising the minimum wage.

With the U.S. Senate split down the middle, Manchin's vote has become The Vote for a Democratic agenda, followed closely by the support of sorta Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and one or two others. Indeed, one hears Manchin's vote more linked to that of Maine Republican Susan Collins than to the Democratic majority.

Would an LBJ or even a Harry Reid have allowed the Senate majority to have allowed a critical vote like Manchin to run free from issue to issue, from more liberal to more conservative, but outside the party attitudes? No, they would have found a way to pressure his votes with something that West Virginia needs, like energy jobs, or found a threat that worked. A weaker Chuck Schumer just seems to believe that repetition of arguments alone will win the day.

One friend proposes that Democrats offer a trade of Manchin to the Republicans, baseball style, for Collins or Lisa Murkowski of Alaska), though I doubt that Joe Biden or Schumer would count on that outcome as any more dependable.
Manchin is insisting that calling yourself a Democrat does not necessarily mean anything.

Most valuable target

Manchin has become the most sought-after target for lobbyists, reports The Hill, because he is seen as the swing vote in the 50-50 Senate on many bills and nominees. And he has to watch his own political back in a Republican-leaning state.

Actually, only a small group of former staffers and ex-senators-turned-lobbyists have a chance to influence Manchin, who prefers to listen to groups that have established direct interests in West Virginia. That has included more liberal groups like the Poor People's Campaign and unions, or those with ties to local businesses.

It's also true that Manchin voted with the Trump administration half the time.

Manchin, fully aware of his sudden celebrity status, talks a lot about the need for bipartisanship and listening to the other side, no matter what it is, before coming out with what he sees as his more common-sense solutions. It all must come as a bit of upbraiding for Biden, who considers himself a centrist, and floats the question of what it is that makes Manchin want to identify as Democrat in the first place.

"He's kind of the Democratic version of John McCain," Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., told Politico. "I say that partially in jest. But partially it's true: Joe's a hard guy to figure out how to lead. He dances to his own music."

Actually, Manchin favors raising the minimum wage, but more slowly and as not part of a coronavirus aid bill. He generally favors gun rights, though he backs "sensible" registration efforts, and he opposes killing the Senate's filibuster rules to make decision-making into simple majority votes. He sleeps on a houseboat, occasionally swigs moonshine from a jar, was a college football quarterback and ran a coal brokerage before running for governor.

As The Washington Post noted, Manchin is a coal-country native come to power as Biden is proposing vast climate changes. As governor, he sued the Environmental Protection Agency. He has scuttled efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, criticized the Paris climate agreement and famously shot a copy of a cap-and-trade carbon proposal full of lead. "There's nobody I know in my state that wants to drink dirty water, to breathe dirty air, I can assure you," Manchin told the Post. "I'm as environmental as anyone else. I'm pretty rational, practical about it, too."

The decider?

Based on reports from his Senate colleagues, Manchin often does succeed at changing minds, including getting Republicans Steve Daines of Montana and James Lankford of Oklahoma to stand down from their election challenges in the hours following the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Manchin is the ultimate gradualist, making Biden look as if he is speeding toward some progressive goals in immigration, race relations, environment and economic policies aiming to reset built-in inequalities. Manchin's support — and those middle positions on every sizable issue he brings with him — is the reason behind the agonizingly slow response from Congress on coronavirus and economy alike.

At least with the main body of Republicans in the Senate, we know there is straight opposition to virtually any Biden policy, and we expect the tight majority to work around whatever those limitations set. So, expect to see Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the new head of the Budget Committee, for example, maneuvering to use the more arcane rules of reconciliation to move Democratic bills through the process.

But it is annoying to me to see a single individual, Democrat or Republican, insisting that he or she is the center of the political universe. It's more annoying when I thought I had voted for the program of a party that I favored. I didn't like it when Trump insisted that he was the sole voice to hear, even from the White House, I didn't like it with chief obstructor Mitch McConnell deciding to forgo Senate votes on more than 300 House-passed bills.

Schumer plays his weak Senate hand — badly

Days into the new government, it's clear that Joe Biden is running an energetic, activist White House. But the new Democratic majority leader, Chuck Schumer, is still stuck in the same stalled Senate where he served in the ever-victimized minority.

Whatever else you want to say about Schumer, he's no Lyndon Baines Johnson, who dominated as a Senate majority leader from 1957 to 1961. He's not even Harry Reid, who had the job from 2007 to 2015.

From the outside, it looks like majority-leading-by-pleading, not arm-twisting.

You don't hear that other senators fear Schumer as much as they hope that he can stand up to the ever-manipulative tactics of a crafty Mitch McConnell. The Republican has lost the majority leader title, but not his magic to set the agenda.

It could be because Schumer got the majority leader office by the barest of margins – the potential tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.

Or perhaps it is because the real majority leader emerging is centrist Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Manchin repeatedly seems to forget that he is a Democrat and doesn't mind thwarting Schumer and Democratic goals. It might even be because Biden, himself, a long-time senator, has personal relationships to pursue in the chamber.

Whatever.

Somehow, everyone in the House knows that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with her narrowed Democratic majority, is still the swaying voice for everything from impeachment votes to requiring that members leave their guns at the door. It is the deference of others to her power that we are examining.

We recognize in Schumer a certain caution in trying to get the most from a split, now-stuck Senate. He got to this day in a plodding manner, using congressional rules and his ever-present microphone rather than any sense of authoritative aggressiveness.

Maybe the issue is his speaking voice, which borders on annoying rather than inspiring; or his pleading tone. Maybe he was just better at offering obstructions as a minority leader than serving at the front of the Senate.

Of course, maybe he'll settle in and be more effective. Right now, the focus for political wins in the Senate still seems to be on McConnell.

Deftness?

On ABC News recently, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, commented on the continuing Schumer-McConnell wrangles over the timing of the impeachment trial, the makeup of Senate committees and the rules governing a 50-50 Senate split. Christie said, "The one thing Chuck isn't is deft. Definitely not deft."

Politico's take: "Chuck Schumer has finally realized his dream of becoming majority leader. And given the circumstances, it's a bit of a nightmare." Without an agreement on new rules, for example, Republicans maintain most of the committee leadership, reviewing confirmations and legislation.

There is a lot to get done at once in a Biden presidency both to reverse what are seen as bad mistakes from the Donald Trump years and to be aggressive about preparing for another election that will put the Senate majority on the ballot again.

The healthy argument between Schumer and McConnell about whether to eliminate filibuster rules – rules that effectively require 60 votes for any substantial legislation rather than a simple majority — are going McConnell's way. That is partly because Schumer does not have the votes of Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

The impeachment trial for Trump has been delayed – just as McConnell had asked. The committees needed for confirmation hearings and to review the immediate demands for Biden-proposed legislation on COVID-19 aid, on extending jobless benefits and on immigration changes are being held hostage to the inside game.

Again, filibuster rule debates are inside baseball. They don't get jobs or food or vaccines done.

It looks as if what drives Republicans' votes in the Senate is fear: from McConnell over life his as a senator and from Trump whose continuing influence is in aiming his insults and primary threats for re-election.

By contrast, what seems to drive Democratic votes is a general plea to reason rather than the use of power.

As the opposition party, Republicans, of course, already are lining up to give Trump a pass on impeachment conviction and a permanent bar to run for office again. While open to approving Biden's cabinet, generally Republicans are vocal about a too-large investment in anti-COVID efforts based on caring about the national debt, which they forgot about in the Trump era.

Title without authority

The new heavyweight in the Senate is the center, with Manchin Democrats meeting up with Susan Collins (R-Maine) and a smallish group from Republicans. Somehow, they want to buck both parties with insistence on moderation and politeness – even as the Capitol is assaulted, the coronavirus deaths soar again and hunger is growing.

Schumer himself is up for re-election in 2022 and could face a long-shot primary challenge from the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

CNN said: "The talks of bipartisanship are quickly getting ensnared by must-move Senate business, not the least of which is getting an agreement on how the Senate will be run over the next two years. It seems simple, but it's a big deal and it's proving far harder to secure than anyone had anticipated."

Schumer is seeing pressure from his left to dump the filibuster to make it easier to pass improvements in health, infrastructure, environment and national security issues. Biden, again, thinks that bipartisanship can be made to work, but needs a strong Schumer.

So, Schumer's time is short to prove effectiveness. He did not win his title until Georgia improbably elected two Democrats on Jan. 5, and it has been a race to get the new rules in place at a time of simultaneous public tidal waves. Succeeding as majority leader has meant going toe-to-toe with McConnell over arcane rules.

McConnell simply is acting as if he gets a veto over all that passes to the Senate. He is still acting as majority leader without the title.

Schumer needs to step up to his new job.

Democrats are the new Senate majority — so why is Mitch McConnell still running the show?

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Terry H. Schwadron, DCReport @ RawStory

Days into the new government, it's clear that Joe Biden is running an energetic, activist White House while new Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is still stuck in the same stalled Senate that he served in the ever-victimized minority.

Whatever else you want to say about Schumer, he's no Lyndon Baines Johnson, who dominated as a Senate majority leader, or even Harry Reid.

From the outside, it looks like majority leading by pleading, not arm-twisting. You don't hear that other senators fear Schumer as much as hope that he can stand up to the ever-manipulative tactics of a crafty Mitch McConnell, who has lost the majority leader title, but not its magic to set the agenda.

Schumer got to this day in a plodding manner, using congressional rules and his ever-present microphone rather than any sense of authoritative aggressiveness.

It could be because Schumer's gotten the majority leader office by the barest of margins – the potential tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris when it will be needed. Or perhaps it is because the real majority leader emerging is centrist Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who seems repeatedly to forget that he is a Democrat, and who doesn't mind hanging Schumer and Democratic goals in thin air. It might even be because Biden himself, a longtime senator, has personal relationships in the chamber to pursue himself.

Whatever.

Somehow, everyone in the House knows that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with her narrowed Democratic majority, is still the swaying voice for everything from impeachment votes to requiring that members leave their guns at the door to the chamber. It is the deference of others to her power that we are examining.

We recognize in Schumer a certain caution in trying to get the most from a split, now-stuck Senate, someone who got to this day in a plodding manner, using congressional rules and his ever-present microphone rather than any sense of authoritative aggressiveness. Maybe it is his speaking voice, which borders on annoying rather than one inspiring attention, or his pleading tone. Maybe he was just better at offering obstructions as a minority leader than serving at the front of the Senate.

Of course, maybe he'll settle in and be more effective, but right now, the focus for political wins in the Senate still seems to be on McConnell.

Deftness?

On ABC News recently, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, commenting on the continuing Schumer-McConnell wrangles over the timing of the impeachment trial, the makeup of Senate committees and the rules governing a 50-50 Senate split said, "The one thing Chuck isn't is deft. Definitely not deft."

"Chuck Schumer has finally realized his dream of becoming majority leader. And given the circumstances, it's a bit of a nightmare," noted Politico. Without an agreement on new rules, for example, Republicans maintain most of the committee chairmanships, reviewing confirmations and legislation.

What does seem apparent are that there is a lot to get done at once in a Biden presidency both to reverse what are seen as bad mistakes from the Donald Trump years and to be aggressive about taking advantage of the next two years until another election will put the Senate majority on the ballot again.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer demands hearings over whistleblower complaint — says the Republican-led Senate has 'remained silent and submissive'

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer demands hearings over whistleblower complaint — says the Republican-led Senate has 'remained silent and submissive' Royalty-free stock photo ID: 596958572 Washington, DC - February 27, 2017: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to a press conference at the National Press Club

The healthy argument between Schumer and McConnell about whether to eliminate filibuster rules – rules that effectively require 60 votes for any substantial legislation rather than a simple majority are going McConnell's way – in part because Schumer does not have the votes of Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). The impeachment trial for Trump has been delayed – just as McConnell had asked, though a week earlier. The committees needed for confirmation hearings and to review the immediate demands for Biden-proposed legislation on COVID-19 aid, on extending jobless benefits and immigration changes are being held hostage to the inside game in the Senate.

Again, filibuster rule debates are inside baseball, they don't get jobs or food or vaccines done.

From the outside, it looks as if what drives Republicans' votes in the Senate is fear – from McConnell over life as a senator and from Trump, whose continuing influence is in aiming his insults and primary threats for reelection. By contrast, what seems to drive Democratic votes is a general plea to reason rather than the use of power.

As the opposition party, Republicans, of course, already are lining up to give Trump a pass on impeachment conviction and a permanent bar to run for office again, and, while open to approving Biden's cabinet, generally are vocal about a too-large investment in anti-COVID efforts based on the new-found need to care for the national debt.

Title Without Authority

The new heavyweight in the Senate is the center, with Manchin from Democrats meeting up with Susan Collins (R-Maine), and a smallish group from Republicans. Somehow, they want to buck both parties with their insistence on moderation and politeness – even as the Capitol is assaulted, even as the coronavirus deaths soar again, even as hunger is growing.

Schumer himself is up for reelection in 2022 and could face a long-shot primary challenge from the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

"The talks of bipartisanship are quickly getting ensnared by must-move Senate business, not the least of which is getting an agreement on how the Senate will be run over the next two years. It seems simple, but it's a big deal and it's proving far harder to secure than anyone had anticipated," noted CNN.

Schumer is seeing pressure from his left to dump the filibuster to make it easier to pass improvements in health, infrastructure, environment and national security issues. Biden, again, thinks that bipartisanship can be made to work, but needs a strong Schumer.

So, Schumer's time is short to prove effectiveness. He did not win his title until Georgia improbably elected two Democrats on Jan. 5, and it has been a race to get the new rules in place at a time of simultaneous public tidal waves. Succeeding as majority leader has meant going toe-to-toe with McConnell over arcane rules.

McConnell simply is acting as if he gets a veto over all that passes to the Senate. He is still acting as majority leader without the title.

Schumer needs to step up to his new job.

Just another wacky weekend in Trump land

Even for Donald Trump and the Republican Tabernacle Choir of the Senate, this weekend was an all-star level of crazy-making. The White House again ignored a pandemic killing 3,000 Americans a day, widespread misery and an attack on the nation while discussing the possibility of martial law over Trump's election loss.

What saved it was the last-minute, roller-coaster deal in the Congress for a coronavirus aid bill, as ugly a compromise as possible, but an agreement nevertheless. Stand by for the conflicting credits and new discoveries about what actually passes today in the multi-hundred-page bill.

The whole weekend made me, at least, feel as if I live on a different planet – with theirs being one in which it is impossible to separate the important from the inane. We all can agree the White House continues to make seeing the news an emotionally exhausting experience.

Just a sampling:

Transition interruptus: Trump ordered halted any transition meetings between the Defense Department and the incoming Joe Biden team for the next few weeks. In what universe other than the Trump ego-fantasy does it make any sense for incoming Pentagon leadership not to know about the readiness of military forces, the global danger signs that the Pentagon is tracking, even the Defense spending patterns. Apparently, such meetings were halted because Trump was angered by seeing a Washington Post article that suggested the Biden team was looking at how many billions of dollars could be saved from re-routing money taken from the Pentagon for the border wall construction back to the military. I would hope that is something they should be considering.

Screwing up coronavirus economic aid: Even to their own members, the movement among Republican senators to find new religion for relief from debts and deficits by blocking coronavirus aid to Americans reportedly was being seen as nuts. The situation was fluid, but barely, as Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), led a late charge to stop lending by the supposedly independent Federal Reserve for businesses that need credit to stay afloat. A compromise finally got through around narrowing the proposal, setting Congress toward bill approval. Once again it put hunger and evictions over non-payment of rent for millions on real display and requiring a third, brief reset of the deadline clock for the final votes. Republicans had seen it as a fiscal necessity; Democrats saw a bid to throttle the incoming Biden administration even before it takes office. Though the participants will see it as a victory, it was politics at its worst.

Ignoring cybersecurity hacking: Even after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it was the Russians who broke through software walls guarding the Pentagon, the Treasury and Commerce Departments and the nuclear areas of the Energy Department, Trump still insisted Saturday it could have been the Chinese. He added they could have skewed voting in the election to account for his loss. Trump thinks we are idiots.

Trump's never-ending election challenges: More than six weeks after the election, Trump met in the White House on Friday night with the Sidney Powell, the lawyer who's outlandish arguments about election fraud were considered too far out of line for him to even keep her on as a personal lawyer. They discussed making her a special counsel investigating voter fraud, according to two people briefed on the discussion. Even Rudy Giuliani, present by phone, said no, as did White House counsel Pat Cipollone. Apart from all else, declaring a special counsel is the jurisdiction of the Justice Department, not the Oval Office. Powell is the one arguing conspiracy theories about a Venezuelan plot to rig voting machines in the United States. It was unclear if Trump will move ahead on it. Meanwhile, Trump associate and the disgraced but pardoned former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, is going around the country telling Trump to declare martial law over the election results.

The pending pardons: Politico reported that Trump is considering preemptively pardoning as many as 20 aides and associates before leaving office, even to the frustration of Senate Republicans who are arguing that strategy could backfire politically. Again, pardons are supposed to move through the Justice Department and a review process, and again Trump is insisting on his own rules for family and friends. Those under consideration include Giuliani, campaign staff and several members of his family. Of course, accepting a pardon includes the assumption that there was a crime committed. Perhaps the smartest move Trump might make is to offer Hunter Biden the same pre-criminal pardon he apparently is considering for his own kids.

Fast and loose money: It turns out Trump will be leaving with 10s of millions of dollars with few legal limits on how he can spend it. And, records now show that his family members managed to interfere with campaign funds to direct hundreds of millions into slush funds controlled by Trump. This brazen attempt to siphon reportable campaign money into accounts for which there is no accounting is questionable on lots of grounds. The reports extend the pattern of loose financial ethics marking the Trump presidency. It was common for Trump to use his official office and functions for personal money-making activities. Everything occurred from spending his time golfing at Trump resorts to re-routing foreign trips to the benefit of his own properties.

Expanding Mining: Despite the timing, Trump is moving to open up vast amounts of federal land to widespread mining and drilling, The New York Times reported. It is a move bound to create yet more consternation and problems for the Biden administration. The new administration, for procedural reasons as well as political ones, is bound to challenge a number of the individual sites involved. Again, whose interests are being served here?

And in possibly the dumbest attack of the week: Trump supporters took up the challenge to knock the doctorate earned by Dr. Jill Biden, defending and outdoing a particularly sexist, silly and anti-intellectual column from a Wall Street Journal op-ed that asked her to drop the honorific unless she was going to treat coronavirus patients. Go stuff it, kiddo.

Meanwhile, at far ends of the news worlds, both The New York Times and Lou Dobbs ran apologies for getting things wrong. The Times said sorry for trusting a source on ISIS without proper investigation. Under legal threat, Dobbs (or his employer Fox News) gave a mea culpa for allowing unsubstantiated lying about conspiracy theories about election fraud.

On the other hand, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence reached the enormously important and contentious decision to label members of Space Force as "guardians," rather than airmen, sailors, soldiers or Marines. Wasn't that the name of the universe-traveling robot Gort in "The Day the Earth Stood Still"?

Klaatu barada nikto.

You think we will miss these weekends after Jan. 20?

Maybe the best thing a new Attorney General can do is nothing

This week, we're expecting to hear about a new attorney general nominee with more than average attention on the candidate's ethnicity and desire for justice.

We know the outlines of the bigger issues. There will be more emphasis from the Joe Biden administration on civil rights and policing changes than on restoring firing squad executions and attacking so-called sanctuary cities.

What faces any candidate for the Justice job is a long list of challenges toward re-balancing what the department is there to do. He or she must restore any sense of public trust in an agency that has been openly dismissive and even deceitful in public and in court on cases that have had perceived bearing on Donald Trump's political fortunes, about the work of its professional legal staff and the work of the FBI.

What faces any new candidate for the Justice job is re-balancing what the department is there to do and restoring any sense of public trust.

The serving attorney general lied publicly to mislead about the findings of the Mueller Report, tried to defend Trump's against mpeachment and argued against existing law to denounce Obamacare in federal suits. Attorney General William P. Barr ultimately may be tossed from his job for failing to find legal grounds to make criminal filings about Trump's fantasies about election fraud.

Hearings on the new appointment will force public attention on all that.

What attracts my attention today are actions that new Justice leadership can take toward righting the listing ship by simply standing down.

Just Stand Down

Here are several examples, that don't involve some giant legislative or prosecutorial shift:

  • Against all legal or political logic, Barr decided to commit the Justice Department to intervene in the New York state civil suit over charges of defamation from columnist E. Jean Carroll. She alleged Trump raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman department store long before he was president. This is a civil complaint that in calling her out, Trump had defamed her. She claims the truth of the original details and is seeking both a Trump deposition and DNA. Barr decided that it was the business of the Justice Department to protect the president – despite the fact that this is not in federal court and happened before Trump was in office. The judge in the case has refused to throw out the complaint, as Trump and Justice asked. But a new attorney general should simply stop – and butt out of the case.
  • The same is true for New York State demands for tax returns from Trump and his companies – all from years preceding the presidency. The new attorney general should simply get out of the way and let the state courts operate. Those tax returns would seem evidence for schemes to avoid paying taxes both to the federal government and to the state. There are other lawsuits pending as well – all of which should proceed without the involvement of the Justice Department. Just doing nothing to insist that the White House disregard for law here would be an action worth note. It applies to policies as well.
  • The decision in a federal court in Brooklyn ordering the Trump administration to restore fully restore the DACA Dreamers (Deferred Action against Childhood Arrivals) case would be appealed immediately under Barr. An incoming attorney general can simply let it exist and follow the law.
  • Likewise, the incoming attorney general should halt the efforts of the Justice Department in a case accepted for argument before the U.S. Supreme Court over-interpreting the Medicare and Medicaid statutes. Trump sees the programs as tools to require efforts to get work – during a pandemic and widespread joblessness – in return for health benefits. The timing is such that the case likely will proceed, of course, but the point is that the federal solicitor general who argues these cases can stand down in the name of making Trumpism into law.

Attitudes on Political Prosecution

The Washington Post editorial board pointed at another such case. Under Trump, the administration "has thwarted justice at every turn for Bijan Ghaisar, the unarmed 25-year-old accountant shot to death in 2017 by two U.S. Park Police officers following a fender bender near D.C. despite the fact that he posed no threat." The editorial advised the Biden administration could send an early signal that it is committed to accountability when police wrongly kill civilians — even or especially if the police happen to be federal officers – by dropping the case for a negotiated settlement.

Biden himself has said he has little personal interest in pursuing prosecution of Trump administration officials. He has said forcefully that Trump is abusing pardon powers by protecting his own campaign associates and friends, as illustrated by the pardon for former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn.

Yet, in a note of special obsession, Barr has extended the term of U.S. Attorney John Durham by making him a special counsel in continuing to investigate the origins of the Russia investigations growing out of Trump's 2016 campaign. That effort is aimed, of course, right at adversary and predecessor Barack Obama and Biden, James Comey and the FBI.

What one side sees as political prosecution apparently doesn't apply to the other side.

Today's homily: Maybe doing nothing in these politically tinged cases is sufficient at this point.

Trump's saboteur strategy: The president continues to actively sabotage US policies

Any thoughts that Donald Trump is just trying to polish his perceived presidential legacy with his late-game administration moves is giving way to a darker idea. He is planting boulders in the path of Joe Biden and the incoming group, "salting the earth," as one headline declared this week.

It's a ridiculous process that sneers at the MAGA America Trump professes to love. Apart from ignoring the overwhelming coronavirus issues, Trump's strategy is to continue hobbling the federal government from addressing what it needs to face.

Separate from petulance over losing the election and not starting a transition, Team Trump continues to be actively sabotaging U.S. policies that – at least according to campaign promises – are bound to change with an incoming opposition political party.

To show what he sees as toughness, Trump considered attacks on Iran; ordered a sudden but telegraphed withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia without condition; launched further curbs on immigration; and ordered, again, prescription drug price cuts he ordered, then suspended, a month ago, without a plan.

Now, his folks are doubling down elsewhere, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo going to the West Bank in effect to endorse Israeli takeover of Palestinian property; Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin cutting off Federal Reserve from helping markets, businesses and municipalities weather the pandemic; and there is a plan afoot for a late order to halt birthright immigration – the extension of citizenship upon American birth.

These are all moves in the category of anger-making contention. Even if Joe Biden did not want them overturned or challenged in court, his group is not in a position to carry them out through a federal government that has been hollowed of employees and will find itself at the apex of the pandemic as a full-time problem.

Delay, Delay

Trump's insistence in refusing the reality of the election is more than annoying, and seems to put the country in actual danger. But I have to believe that eventually even fantasy resistance has to give way to grudging acknowledgment of certified results.

At this point, the focus should be on the actions – or inactions – of his government.

Refusing to acknowledge the explosion of COVID-19 across all states is, of course, a statement that this is perfectly OK. Deaths can pass 250,000, 300,000, even 400,000 without moving Trump to act in a more presidential manner, coordinating state response, pushing for aid or using his position to promote the public health standard measures. We're left thinking he does not care; we are on our own.

Firing top personnel in national security, defense and through other agencies over personal pique are actions that add up to undercutting the power of government to carry out everything from vaccine deliveries to making real renewed call for prescription drug price cuts.

Trying to appoint an unqualified Judy Shelton, an advocate for returning the country to the gold standard, to the Fed was too much even for the Senate Republican majority. It fell short of confirming her.

The foreign policy moves don't change overall administration policies toward the Middle East or Afghanistan, but they will hamper the Biden counterparts considerably. That seems to be the exact point.

These moves, too, reflect more tantrum than they do American influence in the world. They appear meant for something Trump to put in a dictated book that tells the story of his presidency in glorious America First terms speaking only of wild success.

For Pompeo to endorse grabbing Arab lands is writing a guarantee for more generations of discord beyond the relative short life of the current Israeli government. For this administration to declare that questioning Israeli right-wing politics as "anti-Semitic" is simply false and misguided.

Lame-Duck President

OK, we all understand Trump does not want to be sidelined. But acting in ways to ensure that he is undermining national institutions hardly seems the way to want to be remembered.

A rational outgoing president would be working twice as hard as normal to get an aid package through the Congress, that the states understand how emergent vaccines will be distributed and ensuring that the incoming bureaucrats understand how Team Trump sees the issues we face.

Those close to Trump are saying that former President Barack Obama treated his group poorly in a transition – claims that run counter to what happened – because in the end, the FBI and national security folks were investigating the undue contacts between his campaign and Russian operatives.

This recalcitrance is payback, they say. The mind boggles.

If Trump's people had not been using underhanded methods with Russians, they would not have attracted FBI attention in the first place. But whatever that effort entailed, it had nothing to do with an outgoing person at the Pentagon talking with an incoming person about the details of U.S. defense issues.

It's too late to stop the tantrum. But it's not too late for those who believe in having a government to stop or delay consideration of policies that are bound to be overturned in two months.

Here's why so many white women voted for Trump: analysis

One unresolved mystery of the relative closeness of the presidential election has been the vote among women, particularly white women.

Listening to the elation in the streets about having our first woman vice president in Kamala Harris and the supportive calls of healing from Joe Biden, you might have thought this was evident in the voting patterns.

But despite Donald Trump's long record of misogynistic statements, policies and personal acts:

  • While women voters backed Biden, it was by the same proportion as in 2016, a 13% majority.
  • More than half of white women voted for Trump, according to exit poll data. So did white men.
  • Black women voted much more for Biden, even more strongly than Black men.

From all the polling information and actual campaigning before the election, it seemed certain that women were expected to reject Trump in large numbers.

It is so unsettling to consider that many of our fellow countrymen and women are either racists or accommodate racists or acquiesce to racists.

What analysis there has been says Joe Biden won votes from all women by about the same proportion as had Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. In other words, in the Centennial year for white women's suffrage, there was no tidal wave among women voters here for the slate that had a woman vice-presidential candidate.

Now, exit polls are rough – this year even shakier with changes in voting shifts and pandemic. They combine in-person interviews with Election Day voters and telephone polls of mail voters and early voters. Still, they give us some information toward understanding the who and why.

It appears that other factors, including partisan orientation, rural vs. urban location, race and age showed more variation than did gender. There appears to be a slightly lower gender gap in the presidential vote, though the variation better reflects changes in voting by men.

So, we're left with a conundrum: Over a lifetime, Trump regularly demeaned and insulted women, he faces multiple charges of assault, he has paid off porn stars for sex, he campaigned by telling suburban women he would find jobs for their husbands, he promoted policies attacking women of color, Muslim women, immigrant women.

Women mobilized with pink pussy hats and huge protests.

But on Election Day, a majority of white women ignored that and voted Trump.

Institutional Bias

So, is it engrained white entitlement—the public shaming of "Karens" too quick to call the police for minor or no issues involving Black passersby—or are we confusing the efforts to categorize voters? How do we explain voting behavior from what people say they care about?

Charles Blow, The New York Times columnist, was direct here:

"Let me be specific and explicit here: white people — both men and women — were the only group in which a majority voted for Trump, according to exit polls. To be exact, nearly three out of every five white voters in America are Trump voters. It is so unsettling to consider that many of our fellow countrymen and women are either racists or accommodate racists or acquiesce to racists… In any case, white women vote for Trump at higher rates than all other women, despite the fact that Trump has spent his first term, indeed his whole life, denigrating women."

Political analysts offer some other thoughts here: Year after year, political party shows itself a stronger force in presidential politics than gender, for example—partisan identity, as it were. And voting patterns among women, or white women, move less over years than male voters for reasons that are not obvious.

These questions about understanding votes by women presage wider questions for Democrats, who already are showing the pressures of just how progressive this new administration will prove to be, how assertive about structural ills.

The Trends; the Campaign

This year's campaign focused a lot on suburban voters, who had been said to be moving toward Biden. That cut both ways: Trump appealed directly to white suburban women with messages of fear and property loss, arguing Democrats want to destroy suburbs with more affordable housing.

College-educated white women and white men were split fairly evenly between Biden and Trump, with more women leaning toward Biden.

However one defines it, a majority of white women voted for Trump to protect what they have – status, income, tax advantage, whatever – despite Trump's anti-woman attitudes and record. That is the exact thought at the center of the many books, training classes and symposiums going on across the nation about the nature of institutional racism.

Meanwhile, Black women got the vote out in urban centers, in particular, making for the close results in Georgia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and other states. Black women went for Biden in a slightly greater proportion than Black men; there were similar numbers among Latino voters. Black women organized communities to vote.

For historical note, women narrowly have backed the Democratic candidate in every election since 1996. On average, women have been 8% more likely than men to support Democrats since 1980, according to the Pew Research Center.

Studies have suggested that causes for the gender gap in the last several decades are almost never issues like abortion rights and sexual harassment, as much as feelings about government involvement in care and education. The economy and likely coronavirus would be more at the center of votes for women, a Pew analyst wrote.

But apparently not if one candidate could label those ideas socialism, toss in a lot of fear and salt it all with debasing invective.

In voting, white women apparently ignored insults to their personal dignity.

Biden says he wants to focus on healing rifts that Trump widened. One way to start is to stop insulting half of Americans who are women. But another is to persuade all of us to recognize how deep the racial divide runs through all of our social institutions.

Why flip-flopping Trump needs Democrats more than boot-licking Senate Republicans

Donald Trump was against a new coronavirus aid package before he was for it. And now, with time running out before the elections, we're actually unsure of what the White House wants – other than a second term.

It would seem that the easiest explanation for all the back-and-forthing is that it suddenly has occurred to Trump that giving out relief checks to Americans who have lost jobs to coronavirus might be a good idea after all.

We're left watching solely for the imperial word from Donald Trump as to whether people forced from their jobs can pay rent, eat and pay for health care in the midst of a pandemic.

The timing, days before the election, clearly is not coincidental.

It's not as if Democrats suddenly told the airlines to start layoffs of thousands, or for landlords to start demanding the rent from people put out of work with extra unemployment benefits running out by Labor Day.

Maybe the Republicans should keep a calendar for aid expiration.

Nevertheless, Trump has been far better at negotiating medical all-clear notes from his doctor than he has in forming anything that will get through Congress.

Last week, Trump shifted from withdrawing from any negotiation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the shape and size of an aid package to a total turnaround promoting a package for which he claims ownership. He's offering far more agreement with Pelosi than with Senate Republicans, who oppose any substantial aid, though Pelosi thinks she already has compromised.

So, somehow this week, we can hope that there is an actual tangible deal for Congress to accept or reject.

The quick background here: As coronavirus continues to trample jobs around the country and forces a too-slow rebound, Pelosi and Democrats have been pushing for the big package they passed three months ago for individual checks, small business aid, education funds and help to depleted state and local government coffers. The White House, represented by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, has insisted on no aid for local governments, which Trump says will benefit what he sees as irresponsible spending by blue states.

In other words, what has held all this up is just plain partisan politics. Over the weekend, the maneuvering on all sides confirmed the primacy of finding a clause here or there that was objectionable, further dooming agreement.

Now, in the last days, Trump told his negotiators to "go big" in securing a package that will allow him to take credit for sending aid checks out just before the election – something that puts him at odds with Senate Republicans.

Spotlight on Trump

As usual, we're left watching solely for the imperial word from Trump as to whether people forced from their jobs can pay rent, eat and pay for health care in the midst of a pandemic.

"I would like to see a bigger stimulus package, frankly, than either the Democrats or the Republicans are offering," he said in a two-hour interview with conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh. His $1.8 trillion proposal isn't actually larger than the $3 trillion voted by the House but represents far higher figures than those promoted by his own Republican majority in the Senate.

Trump has managed once again to have the spotlight, but he also has left pretty much all sides confused.

Perhaps Trump is more interested in his political image as a deciding voice than in the outcome. Still, media coverage of the issues here shows stacks and stacks of people who are pretty desperate for aid and financial markets that need certainty.

With any number of Republican senators insisting that they oppose the idea of adding trillions of dollars to the national debt, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has taken the odd role of simply looking at anything that can pass the Senate.

Plus, McConnell has indicated he is far more interested in using Senate time to confirm the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court than on argument, brief or prolonged, over an aid package.

With Trump trailing in the elections, it is not immediately clear that Trump's position even will result in a uniform Senate Republican response that helps him.

It's a mess, and whatever we call leadership is missing.

The Current Offer

In its $1.8 trillion offer, the White House made concessions to Pelosi and the Democrats, though apparently more will be needed.

For those wanting detail, the proposal includes $300 billion in emergency aid for cities and states, up from $250 billion, and money for airlines, restaurants, small businesses, unemployment insurance, food stamps and additional food aid for low-income women and children. Republicans also are offering direct payments of $1,000 per child — up from $500 — in addition to the $1,200 stimulus checks for individuals, rather than rely on future tax credits. But who knew a clause about health care money would raise objections from anti-abortion forces, for example?

What's noteworthy is that Trump needs the Democrats more than his Republican allies.

All parties are being pushed toward compromise.

The clearest reading here is who wants to avoid blame from voters for failing to deliver needed aid ahead of the election.

News outlets are reporting that there are plenty of private lobbying efforts under way on Trump, Pelosi and McConnell to provide some form of aid.

Stay tuned.

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