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Fri May 28, 2021, 09:06 PM

Friday Talking Points -- The Party With No Shame

The Republican Party continued its downward slide into shamelessness today, as they successfully used the Senate's filibuster to block a bill which would have created an independent commission to investigate the unprecedented attack on the United States Capitol (by insurrectionists who wanted to stop Congress from officially declaring the winner of the presidential election, because they didn't like the election's result). Six Republicans voted for the measure, and one more has said he would have if he had been present. Forty-eight Democrats voted for it, and assumably the two who were absent (Patty Murray and Kyrsten Sinema) would also have voted to approve the measure. But that only adds up to a possible total of 57, which still would have left the bill three votes short of the necessary 60. An odd footnote: the final vote (54-35) actually represented 60.7 percent of the senators who were actually present for it -- but that's not the way the filibuster rules work.

Republicans aren't even pretending to hide their real reasoning any more, that's the peak (nadir?) of shamelessness they have now achieved. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski made news as she begged her fellow Republicans to support the measure:

To be making a decision for the short-term political gain at the expense of understanding and acknowledging what was in front of us on January 6th, I think we need to look at that critically.... I think it's important for the country that there be an independent evaluation. Is that really what this is about, is everything is just one election cycle after another?

But Mitch McConnell had already answered that with a resounding: "Of course it is!" by arguing against the commission this week in a closed-door meeting of his caucus (which Murkowski presumably attended), telling his fellow Republicans that voting for a commission could hurt them in the midterm election cycle. That is the sole reason McConnell is not interested in investigating the worst attack on the seat of American government since 1814. He was just fine with Benghazi investigation after Benghazi investigation, because they were designed to do political damage to Hillary Clinton, but he knows that if the truth about Donald Trump's actions that day are ever fully exposed, it will hurt his party's brand. One of Republicans' biggest fears with the commission is that it would not meet the set deadline of preparing their final report by the end of this calendar year. If it went into 2022, it could impact the midterm election. And we certainly can't have that, as far as Mitch is concerned.

So instead, what is almost certainly going to happen now is that Nancy Pelosi will put together a select committee in the House, which will be as partisan as the Democrats feel like making it. This committee will not have an artificial timetable imposed on it, and it will not have the features of the proposed independent commission (which was modelled on the 9/11 commission, to ensure fairness). It will be completely and utterly run by Democrats, since they hold the majority in the chamber. The investigation is going to take place, in other words, it's just going to be a lot more partisan now that Republicans have walked away from the idea of a bipartisan and independent commission. To put it another way, Republicans may have just successfully shot themselves in the foot.

This isn't too surprising when you realize how far the party has gone down the rabbit hole these days. This is a conscious choice for most Republican politicians, because they are terrified at the sheer (and growing) lunacy of their own base voters -- a majority of whom firmly believe Trump's Big Lie that the election was somehow stolen from him. Fealty to Trump is now the sole tenet of the Republican faith.

Consider the following: Arizona's state government is about to pass a law that strips the ability of one elected official to defend election practices in court and hands it to a different elected official. This law is temporary and only applies to the term of office both will serve out. The reason? One is a Democrat and one is a Republican. You can guess which is which.

In Nevada, the state Republican Party just voted to censure one of its own for her refusal to feed the Big Lie. This is a fairly common occurrence, these days, among state-level Republicans, but this one was notable because they packed the committee vote with members of the Proud Boys, in order to pass the censure. The Proud Boys advocate political violence and White supremacy, so the Republicans are now officially welcoming terrorists not only into its ranks but into its party power structure.

Republican voters are embracing increasingly-bizarre conspiracy theories, aided and abetted by the right-wing media. And some conspiracy theorists have already been elected to Congress and continue to make bizarre pronouncements, as Marjorie "Three-Names" Taylor Greene did this week, on the subject of masks and vaccinations against a global pandemic:

You know, we can look back at a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star, and they were definitely treated like second class citizens, so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany. And this is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi is talking about.

Later, she doubled down on this outrageous idiocy, tweeting: "Vaccinated employees get a vaccination logo just like the Nazi's [sic] forced Jewish people to wear a gold star." And, when challenged, she responded: "I stand by all of my statements, I said nothing wrong." This is the same woman who, earlier, explored creating a caucus based on "Anglo-Saxon political traditions," please remember.

This is today's Republican Party. The House leadership is so terrified of the rabid nature of their own base that they refuse to punish members who compare having to wear a mask or prove vaccination status with the Holocaust. The party itself has been radicalized from within, and the only ones with the power to stop it are cowering in fear instead of standing up for what is right. Extremists run the show, and everybody else is trapped in a bunker mentality where they have abdicated any moral or political power to the crazies.

Greene raised $3.2 million for her re-election fund in just the first quarter of this year alone -- an outrageously-high amount for a House freshman (or for any House member, period). This is where the power now lies, within the Republican Party, and the "leaders" know it full well.

Meanwhile, suspected underage-sex-trafficker Matt Gaetz, who is travelling with Marjorie Three-Names (in their "Craziest of the Crazy" tour of America), just said this:

The internet's hall monitors out in Silicon Valley, they think they can suppress us, discourage us -- maybe if you're just a little less patriotic, maybe if you just conform to their way of thinking a little more, you'll be allowed to participate in the digital world. Well, you know what? Silicon Valley can't cancel this movement or this rally or this congressman. We have a Second Amendment in this country, and I think we have an obligation to use it.

Gaetz made this literal call to arms -- an encouragement to his followers to just go out to Silicon Valley and gun people down -- the day after a horrific mass shooting in San Jose, California (right in the heart of Silicon Valley). The Republican Party's shamelessness just knows no boundaries, folks. Neither Gaetz nor Greene face any punishment for their outrageous behavior as of this writing, and it's a pretty safe bet neither will face any punishment (at the hands of their fellow Republicans, at the least) in the future.

Another part of the growing GOP insanity seems to be feeding what can only be called the "Big Lie Industrial Complex." The three-ring circus of a ballot "audit" in Arizona looks like it will be adopted elsewhere (although other states may take precautions to avoid the worst idiocies of the Arizona fiasco). Georgia and Wisconsin seem like they'll be next. There is zero chance that any of these will overturn anything (Joe Biden is going to stay president no matter what, in other words), but they do successfully siphon money into the "fake vote auditing" industry (which was created specifically for this purpose, it's worth pointing out).

When Republicans like Liz Cheney tie themselves into knots to explain why they fight against Trump's Big Lie, but still support all the voter suppression laws Republicans are passing in state after state, they usually only want to talk about voter ID. But that's not the bulk of these new laws at all:

In Michigan, a voter transportation law bars "anyone from hiring transportation for bringing voters to the polls unless the voters are physically unable to walk." This has nothing to do with security at all. It allows rich people to call an Uber to go to a polling location, but it would bar churches from hosting "souls to the polls" events, a common turn-out-the-vote practice used by African American communities. This is straight voter suppression aimed at the poor, the elderly and African Americans.

Georgia and Florida have both banned the distribution of water or food to anyone waiting in line to vote (though they still allow poll workers to provide these items). Again, this does nothing to make voting more secure; it makes it more arduous, especially in African American-majority precincts where wait times are longer than in whiter precincts. Democracy Docket found that "every single county in the Atlanta metro area saw an average wait time of 45 minutes or more, meaning the region as a whole saw some of the longest wait times in the state. The most densely populated and majority Black region of the state was also where it was hardest to vote early in 2020."

Meanwhile, nearly three dozen bills seek to limit early voting, some of which are aimed squarely at African American communities. Democracy Docket reports:

Texas's HB 2293 would restrict early voting to between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. -- a deliberate attack on the 24-hour early voting sites set up by Harris County in 2020 that led to record turnout and expanded ballot access for people who worked long daytime hours and could not get time off.

Once again, this has nothing to do with voter IDs (it's in-person voting!) and does not make voting any more secure. It is about making it more difficult for certain people (mostly hourly employees and many with child-care issues) to vote.

Or, in other words, making it harder for Democrats to vote. Because the Republican Party is now shamelessly trying to stack the deck in their favor.

This all means 2020 was nothing more than a dry run, to them. If Republicans formed a 1/6 commission, it would be to investigate why the insurrection didn't succeed and make recommendations to do a better job overturning election results in the future. This is not hyperbole -- this is what is actually happening in America, right now.

Mitch McConnell threw his own political heft behind the effort to stop the independent commission from being formed. He tried to paint it all as some partisan effort, even though the bill was co-written by a Republican and had already had 35 House Republicans vote for it. In other words, Mitch just shamelessly lied about it, to justify killing it. But that has never bothered him, and it certainly doesn't now, in this dawning new era of Republican shamelessness.

The only remaining question is what Democrats are going to do about it all.

We don't really have a candidate we feel earned the respect of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week, sorry. Chuck Schumer forced the 1/6 commission vote in the Senate, where several Democrats made a forceful case for the bill, but no single one of them really stood out. Schumer's speech was forceful, but for blunt language we have to at least give an Honorable Mention to Jon Tester, for letting us know exactly how he sees things:

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said he believes there will be a future Jan. 6-style attack on the Capitol and "the outcome is going to be far worse."

"We've got to get to the bottom of this shit," Tester said. "Jesus. It's a nonpartisan investigation of what happened. And if it's because they're afraid of Trump then they need to get out of office. It's bullshit. You make tough decisions in this office or you shouldn't be here."

Can't say we disagree with any of that, personally.

We had one other Democrat of note who also deserves at least an Honorable Mention, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, for convening a long-term grand jury panel whose assumed purpose will be to intensely study Donald Trump, the Trump Organization, and other high-ranking executives (including members of Trump's family), and decide whether to indict anyone or not.

This almost rises to the level of the MIDOTW, but not quite. Grand juries are intensely secret proceedings, so it's not even guaranteed that Trump is the true target or not. And there is no guarantee of an indictment of the disgraced former president, or of anyone else. Even if indictments do get handed down, there is no guarantee of success in court, either. So there's still a long way down this path to go before we will truly be impressed (to put it another way). Maybe it's just being "once bitten, twice shy" after waiting for Mueller for so long, that could be it....

As always, if anyone's got another nominee for the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, let us know in the comments -- we could easily have overlooked someone.

In some sort of recurring nightmare, we've got a (Dis-)Honorable Mention to give out (yet again) for a Democratic governor who issued mask and social-gathering rules for her state -- and then immediately got caught violating those rules at a party.

This time it is Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer who got caught having fun in violation of her own stated guidelines. Whitmer did issue a chagrined apology afterwards ("Because we were all vaccinated, we didn't stop to think about it. In retrospect, I should have thought about it. I am human. I made a mistake, and I apologize." ), but this was a pretty easy mistake to avoid in the first place, we've always thought.

Our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week, however, is none other than President Joe Biden, who has already broken his own self-imposed deadline for progress in talks with Republicans over infrastructure. Biden had said he needed to see significant progress towards a deal by Memorial Day, but even with the absence of such progress, Biden's going to push the deadline forward "a week or possibly two," just in case bipartisanship suddenly magically breaks out in the Senate Republican caucus.

This is a fool's errand. It is just going to waste two more weeks (more, if Republicans can finagle it...) of precious time, with absolutely nothing to show for it at the end. The two sides are still unbelievably far apart, and the Republicans' offers have been pathetically small (much smaller than most media organizations even admit, which we wrote about earlier this week). It is chasing rainbows, pure and simple, to expect this situation to suddenly resolve itself.

The Washington Post had a good dissection of the impossibility of this task:

Let's start by considering three possible outcomes of this effort. First, Congress could pass a meaningful infrastructure bill with support from members of both parties. This is what both sides say they want (though that isn't quite true, which we'll get to in a moment).

Second, Democrats could pass an infrastructure bill with zero Republican votes. This is probably what will end up happening, provided that Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), self-appointed guardians of bipartisan compromise, can be persuaded that the effort to win the support of Republicans was performed with sufficient enthusiasm.

Third, the bill could fail altogether, either because Manchin or Sinema pulls their support, or because a Democratic senator falls ill and can't vote for it in the 50-50 Senate, or for some other reason.

Here's where we get to the important part. This is how President Biden would rank those three outcomes in order of his own needs and desires:

  1. Bipartisan passage of the bill

  2. Democrats-only passage of the bill

  3. Failure of the bill

And here's how Republicans would rank those outcomes in order of their needs and desires:

  1. Failure of the bill

  2. Democrats-only passage of the bill

  3. Bipartisan passage of the bill

As you can see, they're precisely reversed. Which is a big problem if you're hoping for an agreement.

If the bill passes on a bipartisan basis, Biden gets a double victory: He can claim a big legislative win, and also tell voters that he has achieved his goal of bringing cooperation back to Washington. He'll have done what other presidents failed to do, breaking the partisan logjam and showering benefits on communities across the country for years to come.

Which is precisely why that's the least desirable outcome from the GOP's perspective: Biden will get the credit, and voters will be a little less likely to believe that Washington can't get anything done. That would be terrible for Republicans, since dysfunction and gridlock increase voter dissatisfaction and produce a big win for the opposition party in midterm elections.

If the bill fails, on the other hand, it's a huge win for the GOP, a black eye for Biden, and proof that Democratic rule isn't delivering for people. They show their own partisans that they're mounting an effective opposition, and show everyone else that Biden is ineffectual and weak.

While Republicans can't guarantee that outcome (since Democrats can still pass the bill through the reconciliation process with a simple majority), by withholding their votes they reduce the margin for error Democrats have down to zero.

In sum, bipartisanship is in Biden's interest, but it is most assuredly not in Republicans' interest. They must surely be tickled pink about the fact that reporters constantly grill the White House about whether the president is being sufficiently bipartisan, but seldom ask Republicans what they're doing to compromise and seek cooperation.

Republicans are stalling, quite obviously, because the longer they can make Biden hunt for the bipartisan red herring, the less time there will be to pass such a bill with only Democratic support.

Biden should have stuck to his deadline, plain and simple. One week or even two isn't going to change the situation at all. He should know this, and up until now he seemed to. His sense of urgency seems to have flagged. He's already getting pressure from progressive Democrats to move on, and this pressure needs to increase so Biden will at least stick to his second, more-vaguely-defined deadline and eventually just walk away from the Republican stalling tactics.

For not doing so starting next Tuesday morning, though, Joe Biden is our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

[Contact President Joe Biden on his White House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]

Volume 620 (5/28/21)

As we occasionally are wont to do, this week's discrete (but hopefully never discreet) talking points will be pre-empted, because we felt a rant coming on. Over roughly the next two months (since Congress scarpers off to sunny vacations for the entire month of August every year), Joe Biden's agenda will either largely happen or largely not happen. Which, as usual, will come down to the Senate. Which, as is currently usual, will come down to two specific Democratic senators.

To avoid disaster, every other Democrat needs to send these two the strongest message possible. So we decided to toss our two cents in, to get this ball rolling.

The stakes couldn't be higher

It is now official. The Republican Party has no shame. It is beyond being shamed, because they simply don't care anymore (not that they ever really did, all that much). Mitch McConnell leads the pack in being absolutely shameless in the party's complete and total acquiescence to a strongman leader. The Dear Leader is all, everything else is secondary -- including their solemn oath to defend the United States Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. This is the same Mitch McConnell who stood on the Senate floor -- hours after an insurrection briefly interrupted the business of Congress and postponed the certification of the Electoral College vote -- and denounced the very same Dear Leader for instigating the violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol. Now, however, Mitch has joined the shameless bunch who will do anything in their power to avoid holding Donald Trump responsible for the January 6th attack. Mitch isn't denouncing the mob anymore, he has surrendered to the mob, plain and simple. Because a commission finding out the truth might impact Republicans' ability to get elected in the 2022 midterms. This is about as shameless as it gets, but it's really only the tip of the iceberg.

The Republican Party has been taken over by radicals and extremists and all the sane Republicans who still hold office now cower in terror of their own base. It is past time to call all of this out for what it is. The Republican Party can no longer be reasoned with, because they have abandoned all reason. They have abandoned reality itself. And they are increasingly supportive of using violence as an acceptable political tactic. This is frightening, but it's what happens when a political party is taken over by extremists and fully radicalized.

The party no longer has conservative roots, instead what they are left with are the shifting sands of conspiracy theory. Most Republicans still think Joe Biden isn't the freely and fairly elected president, even though this is an evil lie. Republican politicians refuse to correct this, because they are terrified of the blowback from their own voters who fervently believe Trump's Big Lie.

Republicans have zero interest in governing. People from Mitch McConnell on down see anything positive that happens in America under a Democratic president as a bad thing. They are actively rooting for the president of the United States to fail, and they are doing everything in their power to make sure that failure happens. They are absolutely shameless -- they used to hide behind dog whistles and plausible deniability, but nowadays they just come right out and admit it. And prove it, by the way they vote.

Joe Biden, the Democratic Party -- and, in specific, Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema -- are now faced with a choice. They can choose to reform the Senate's rules so they can get some important things done, in the hopes of convincing the public that when Democrats are in charge they can govern effectively -- or they can choose to allow Mitch McConnell to block Biden's entire agenda, after which Republicans will run for the midterms on the slogan: "Democrats can't get anything done!" That's it. Go big, or you might as well just go home because other than the budget, nothing at all is going to happen for the next year and a half in the United States Senate.

Up until now, Manchin has been allowed (indulged, really) to opine about the fantasy version of the Senate he carries around with him in his head, where Republicans are reasonable politicians who want to work for the betterment of America no matter which party is in charge. That Senate does not exist in reality, but Manchin is still clapping his hands hard in the hopes that Tinker Bell will revive and somehow get better. The time for this indulgence, though, is now over.

Since he was sworn in, Joe Biden's average job approval rating with the public has hovered right around a very healthy 54 percent. This popularity would only grow if he accomplishes more good things. Republicans know that, but some Democrats seem unclear on the concept. The only way Democrats are going to be successful in the midterm elections is if they have a solid message of: "Look at all the good things we have accomplished! Re-elect us so we can get more good things done!

That's really Democrats' only chance. Midterms normally skew against the party in power, and the next round will happen after redistricting, which will allow Republicans to gerrymander their districts even more. The margin of error is incredibly slim, too. But if Democrats run on an amazing economy and amazing new government programs that are tangibly helping out tens of millions of people, then they do have a solid chance at beating the historical odds.

The thing Republicans are really afraid of is how overwhelmingly popular all of what they deride as "socialism" actually is with the American people. Free community college? Sounds good! Free preschool? We'll take it! Help for home health care? What a great idea! All of Joe Biden's agenda items are like this -- when people hear about them and consider how they could make their own lives better, they overwhelmingly support the ideas. What's even more popular is the way Democrats propose on paying for it all -- getting big corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. This is also incredibly popular even with Republicans.

Some of this can be accomplished through the budget, meaning Democrats will be able to at least partially deliver by avoiding the filibuster problem. But there are other important things which need attention too, and for them the filibuster rules simply must be changed. Key among these is voting rights.

Democrats have two bills to fight back against all the voter-suppression laws Republicans are passing at the state level, but they have to move very quickly or else the possibility won't even exist, at least for the 2022 election cycle. Candidate statement deadlines are fast approaching, as are the redistricting efforts, and the new rules need to be in place beforehand. This is an incredibly short window of time -- much shorter than some of the other things on the Democratic agenda. It has to happen now.

But for it to happen, two Democratic senators need to be convinced that the choice is either to reform the filibuster rules to force simple majority votes on voting rights legislation, or to just sit back and watch as all those Republican voter-suppression laws take effect as they take control of both the House and Senate.

Why would any Democrat want to see the second half of Biden's term in office torpedoed in such a fashion? That is the question that Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema need to be asked -- repeatedly and pointedly.

What we are talking about isn't some obscure government program that could be reformed or even created, where bipartisan support is necessary to get both sides to the table. This is not something that we can all wait a few years to see how things develop across the aisle. We do not have such a luxury, folks. It really is now or never.

Democrats should be running on painting the Republican Party in the exact colors it has chosen. They are extremists and radicals who cannot even support a bipartisan investigation (created by bipartisan legislation) into the worst attack on American democracy since the Civil War. Republicans are either outright lying or silently abetting the Big Lie that the leader of our nation is not legitimate and was somehow fraudulently placed in power.

This is dangerous stuff, folks! This is serious.

The time for any fantasies about bipartisanship suddenly breaking out on Capitol Hill is now over. It ain't gonna happen, period. If it can't happen on the 1/6 commission, then it's not going to happen on anything -- infrastructure, voting rights, police reform, healthcare, climate change, or any of the other crucially-important issues facing everyday Americans. Republicans are -- once again -- absolutely dedicated to doing everything they can to see Joe Biden fail. That is their unifying motivation. They don't even care what he's attempting, how much it would help their own constituents, or how popular any of it is -- they're against it all because the Democrats are for it.

It's about time Democrats realize the bare-knuckles fight they are in. In 2020, Democrats spent a whopping amount of campaign advertising money on trying to convince the voters they would "reach across the aisle" and hammer out bipartisan solutions. This messaging did not work. The American people are much more interested in seeing things get done, and they don't particularly care how it happens -- just whether it does or not. How many voters are seriously going to say: "Well, my daughter now attends community college tuition-free, but I am so offended that this wasn't a bipartisan program that I am going to vote for the party that fought against it"? In the real world, people just don't think like that.

Bipartisanship was an illusion. It was a windmill set up by the Republican Party for the Democrats to helplessly tilt at. There just isn't going to be any bipartisan spirit at all for the next year and a half, and it's time Democrats fully wake up to that fact and start fighting back in the strongest way possible. They need to point out that bipartisanship requires two willing parties and one of them just is not interested right now. Because of this reality, Democrats need to forge strongly ahead without the Republicans and get some things done for the good of the country.

If every Democrat made this case constantly, from Joe Biden down to the lowliest House freshman, then Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin would have to take notice. The other Democrats need to present it as a choice between reforming the filibuster or becoming completely irrelevant in the minority in both houses of Congress next year. Manchin and Sinema can either go down in history as being the crucial votes that allowed a strong Democratic agenda to be enacted, or they can go down in history as the crucial votes that guaranteed minority status for their party in Congress as well as the failure of a sitting Democratic president to get much of anything done.

That is their choice. It's a pretty simple one. Success or failure. And the "bipartisan fantasy Senate" clock has now completely run down. It is now or never, senators.

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com

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