Friday Talking Points -- Democrats In Array!
That title, of course, is intended as a spoof of what some consider the most overused go-to headline in the Washington punditocracy's toolbox: "Democrats In Disarray!" For once, the absolute opposite seems to be true, and it is so glaringly obvious that even the political press's pooh-bahs have had to admit it (full credit where it is due: we got the title from a Politico article). Because Senator Joe Manchin (of all people!) just turned a very rainy day into some beautiful sunshine.
We were as astonished as everyone else, truth be told. We tend to believe Manchin a lot more when he says: "I'm not going to support this" and then walks away than when he hints that some sort of deal might actually be possible. And for good reason -- because that has been his track record for the past year or more. And it took exactly one year for him to get over all his mind games and teasing and petulance and other assorted nonsense, to emerge with a grand bargain he struck with Chuck Schumer. Manchin signed his initial letter with Schumer -- outlining what he'd accept in a reconciliation bill and what he wouldn't -- on July 28, 2021. On July 27th of this year -- two days ago -- he surprised everyone else in the Senate (and everyone else in Washington and beyond as well) by agreeing to not just a deal, but a much bigger deal than he had been talking about over the past two weeks.
Democrats had reconciled themselves (and, yes, "budget reconciliation" pun definitely intended, there...) to getting absolutely nothing on Biden's agenda done, except for a few improvements on the healthcare issue: a scaled-back effort to allow Medicare to negotiate for prescription drug prices with the big drug corporations, a 2-year extension of the COVID boost to the Obamacare policy subsidies, and a cap on seniors' out-of-pocket costs for drug prices. That was all Democrats figured they could get from Manchin, after he rained all over the idea of doing much of anything else a few weeks earlier.
Even this would have been a historic achievement, mind you. Democrats have been fighting for Medicare to be able to lower the price of prescription drugs for 20 years now. And the end of the Obamacare subsidies would have been a political disaster, as letters to policyholders containing big monthly fee hikes for next year would have gone out right before the midterm elections. Granted, all of this was just a small part of what Biden's original Build Back Better bill would have accomplished, but it was still an important step nonetheless.
But what Manchin and Schumer unveiled this week went much further. It included all the healthcare improvements and even expanded one of them -- the increased Obamacare subsidies will now be extended for three years, not just two. This will become important, because if they had only managed two years then it would have moved the problem of them disappearing to the end of 2024 -- and those same letters would have gone out right before the presidential election. Three years pushes the problem to the end of 2025, which is much more politically astute.
In addition, the bill will make the biggest investment ever made in fighting climate change. There is $369 billion in energy and climate spending within the new bill. Apparently at Manchin's insistence, the bill is now going to be called the "Inflation Reduction Act," and will be more than paid for (with the extra going to fight the national debt and deficit) by a whopping $739 billion in: new corporate taxes, tax hikes for some very wealthy people, the savings from negotiating lower prescription drug prices, and more I.R.S. enforcement (so they can audit a lot more ultra-wealthy people).
Which is all fantastic news, really. Most Democrats were stunned by the surprise development. Most amazed of all, perhaps was Senator Tina Smith from Minnesota, who tweeted: "Holy shit. Stunned, but in a good way. $370B for climate and energy and 40% emissions reduction by 2030."
Republicans, on the other hand, were in a serious snit over the idea that corporations should pay a minimum tax of 15 percent, and that Americans would be paying far less for prescription drugs. Or, to be fair, what they were really annoyed with was the fact that Mitch McConnell -- for once -- got soundly beaten at his own petty game. McConnell had been attempting to hold up an unrelated bill (to boost computer chip production here in America) as leverage, to convince Democrats to give up on the idea of passing any budget reconciliation bill at all. He thought he had achieved this goal, what with Manchin being so negative about it all so recently. So Senate Republicans joined in with Democrats in passing the Chips and Science Act (more on that in a moment). Mere hours later, the Schumer-Manchin deal was sprung on Washington. Republicans tried a rear-guard action by blocking a bill for military veterans (more on this in a moment too), but that isn't exactly a politically viable stance to take.
Democrats passed the chips bill through the House and sent it to President Joe Biden's desk, and are now amping up the pressure on Republicans to vote to support veterans. And they still look like they're going to get the Manchin bill through too. In other words, Democrats are definitely in array, while Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republicans are left to sputter with rage.
Think that's overstating it? Here is Senator John Kennedy summing up how he sees the situation: "We got our ass kicked. It's just that simple.... Looks to me like we got rinky-doo'd. That's a Louisiana word for 'screwed'."
All in all, a good week for President Joe Biden and the Democratic team. Well... maybe not the whole team... the booby prize for the GOP this week was winning the Congressional Baseball Game by a whopping 10-to-nothing. Oh well, you can't win them all!
Biden already has one bill on his desk, ready to sign, after this week. The chips bill was originally going to be a pointedly anti-China bill, then it was named the "Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America Act," or the "CHIPS for America Act." Chuck Schumer, for some inexplicable reason, decided to edit this at the last minute to just the "Chips and Science Act." One Republican House member had an excellent suggestion (although he waggishly made it tongue-in-cheek): call it the "Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Sustaining American Leadership in Scientific Affairs Act," because then it would be the "CHIPS and SALSA Act." Republicans usually aren't this amusing, but we have to admit we laughed at that one.
Whatever you call it, it's now on Biden's desk, after getting 17 Republican votes in the Senate (64-33) and 24 more in the House (243-187). So Biden can already chalk up a big legislative victory, right before the August congressional break.
The biggest good news from the week for Biden and the rest of the Democrats, however, was that the average price of gasoline has now fallen over 75 cents from its high at the start of the summer season. This is defusing the issue politically, and it could largely be off voters' radars by November if the price slide continues. Currently, the price-per-gallon is $4.25. If it falls another 75 cents to $3.50, it likely will completely disappear as the number one issue for many voters.
On a personal note, the Bidens have announced that their granddaughter Naomi Biden will be getting married on the South Lawn of the White House. That was a happy bit of icing on this week's cake, as it were.
Of course, all the news wasn't good, but then when is it ever? The gross domestic product shrank 0.9 percent last quarter, the second one in a row with a negative number. But Biden (and most economists) insist that we are not in a recession, because the employment numbers are just as robust as ever. Recessions are always accompanied by joblessness, but we're about as far from that as you can get, so Biden's got a valid point.
Also, Biden continues to drag his feet on the idea of forgiving at least $10,000 in student loans. However, he has promised that he will make a decision "by the end of August," so maybe this would be a good thing to do after Congress leaves town (and leaves the political media desperate for storylines). He's really got to do it before the school year starts, for it to benefit him politically (and, hopefully, motivate young voters to actually vote in the midterms).
Let's see... what else has been happening this week in politics? The "missing text messages" story took a darker turn this week, as it was revealed that the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security and his chief deputy both also had their phones mysteriously erased just after January 6th, which conveniently deleted all their texts from that period. It's almost like... I don't know... they and the Secret Service were actively trying to cover up something? Congressional Democrats are now calling for the D.H.S. inspector general to be replaced, since he obviously cannot be trusted to inform Congress in any sort of timely manner what everyone over there has been doing to cover their tracks.
Donald Trump, meanwhile, is actively being investigated by the Justice Department in a criminal inquiry that already has a sitting grand jury. They've interviewed two top aides to Mike Pence and are interviewing more people every day. So one has to assume Trump is sweating heavily right about now.
Trump this week proved he simply doesn't care one whit about the families of the victims of 9/11, as he brushed aside their concerns over hosting a Saudi-backed golf event at one of his golf clubs. Trump wouldn't even meet with them, and was quoted questioning whether anyone had "gotten to the bottom" of what took place on 9/11 (since he's never met a conspiracy theory he didn't like, one assumes).
Joe Biden, on the other hand, addressed a gathering of Black police officers and lit into his predecessor:
[div class="exceprt"]And for three hours, the defeated former president of the United States watched it all happen as he sat in the comfort of the private dining room next to the Oval Office. While he was doing that, brave law enforcement officers were subject to the medieval Hell for three hours -- dripping in blood, surrounded by carnage, face to face with a crazed mob that believed in the lies of the defeated president.
The police were heroes that day. Donald Trump lacked the courage to act. The brave women and men in blue all across this nation should never forget that. You can't be pro-insurrection and pro-cop. You can't be pro-insurrection and pro-democracy. You can't be pro-insurrection and pro-America.
Sounds about right, to us.
One interesting development is that Rupert Murdoch's media empire of right-wing echo chambers seems to be moving away from Trump in a big way. The New York Post and the Wall Street Journal both ran editorials on the same day, right after the last House Select Committee hearing, baldly stating (in the words of the Post): "Trump has proven himself unworthy to be this country's chief executive again."
Fox News, another big part of Murdoch's empire, refused to air Trump's latest harangue to a crowd of fawning supporters. However, it did carry Mike Pence's speech to the same group live. (Ouch. That's gotta hurt!)
Democrats got incensed at online streaming channel Hulu this week, for arbitrarily refusing political ads on abortion and guns, but after they raised a hue and cry, parent company Disney thankfully stepped in and changed Hulu's ad policy to match the policy on all their other various channels.
And finally, two amusing notes and one happy one to end on.
Republican Representative Glenn Thompson recently voted (as three-fourths of House Republicans also did) against a bill codifying both same-sex marriage and interracial marriage rights into federal law. Then he headed for home where, three days later, he attended the gay marriage of his own son. Hypocrisy, much?
John Fetterman continues his brilliant tweaking of his opponent in the Pennsylvania Senate race, Mehmet "Dr." Oz, hitting him once again on his lack of any real tie to the state whatsoever. This time it featured Bruce Springsteen "E Street Band" member Stevie Van Zandt. This hilarious video starts with Van Zandt calling out: "Yo! Dr. Oz!" and moves right along to some heavy-duty ridicule, delivered in the New Jersey-est accent possible: "Whaddaya doing in Pennsylvania? Everybody knows you live in New Jersey!" If you've got 29 seconds, there simply isn't a more amusing way to spend it than watching this ad, trust us.
And finally, we have to highlight one of the most interesting developments of all this week. We're going to hold off on handing out any awards for this, at least until the primary actually happens next week, but as of now Wisconsin Democrat Mandela Barnes has an absolutely clear path to the party's nomination to take on Senator Ron Johnson, one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for re-election. This was due to all of the other Democratic candidates in the race selflessly dropping out before primary day, even though some of them had a decent shot at winning.
This is an almost-unheard of display of party unity -- before the primary even happened. Which is why we saved it for last in this week's roundup of stories. Because there simply isn't a better example of Democrats being "in array" in such a big way this week.
We have two Honorable Mention awards to get to this week before we get to the main one.
First, we had to hesitate before awarding Jon Stewart an award this week, but only because he was truly acting in what was really a non-partisan way. After being an incredibly effective champion for the 9/11 responders, Stewart has moved on to championing American military veterans who have been adversely affected by being in close proximity to "burn pits" in Afghanistan and Iraq. Burn pits are exactly what they sound like -- big pits where the military burned stuff. All their stuff they didn't want to leave behind. Without the slightest regard to whether or not the smoke from these pyres was heavily toxic and deadly.
The Senate considered a bill to help fund the health care for these brave men and women this week. Previously, it had not been contentious, since what politician really wants to be on the side of being stingy to veterans? But even though it had advanced with plenty of Republican support up to this point, all of a sudden Republicans had their hissy fit about the Manchin-Schumer deal, and they decided to wreak their legislative revenge -- so 41 of them voted against it (including 25 GOP senators who had already previously voted for it). Since the Chips and Science bill was now out of reach (a last-minute push to kill it in the House failed), they decided they'd throw a giant monkey wrench into this bill instead.
A bill which helped military veterans. That's what they used to show their spite. A White House spokesman was downright scathing afterwards: "Congressional Republicans... are so frantically upset at the Inflation Reduction Act that they have turned their backs on veterans exposed to toxic chemicals in the service of their country... taking out pointless rage at the loss of welfare for big pharma on veterans, American business, and American workers is both pathetic and the epitome of extreme MAGA values." Adam Schiff chimed in with: "Senate Republicans blocked a bill to give toxin-exposed veterans health care. Against everything. For nothing. That's the GOP agenda."
Stewart -- not one to mince words at all -- let the Republicans have it with both barrels. We'll just quote one line from his 10-minute heartfelt rant about the Republicans who killed the bill (for now): "If this is American First, then America is fucked." Some are now even proposing keeping the Senate in session until the bill does pass, which would eat into that precious month of vacation time they're planning on. Hey, whatever it takes, right?
Moving on, we also have an Honorable Mention award for Mallory McMorrow, a Michigan state senator who went viral with a scathing floor speech earlier this year after a Republican attacked her for supposedly supporting "grooming" kids for sex. McMorrow didn't take it lying down, and lit into how offensive the slur was (we ran the full transcript of her speech right after it happened, for those who would like to see it or read it).
But the Honorable Mention isn't for her speech, it is instead for what happened afterwards. The odious Republican who used the disgusting slur did so in a fundraising appeal. She raised a total of $235 off this repulsive attempt.
Poetic justice struck, however, as McMorrow's video was seen millions of times and the donations absolutely poured in. To the tune of over a million bucks. That is an impressive bit of political irony!
But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is an activist who managed to accomplish a very similar feat this week, absolutely owning Matt Gaetz in the process. Here is the whole story:
[div class="exceprt"]Olivia Julianna, the 19-year-old reproductive rights activist who this week turned an insult from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) into a fundraiser, has raised more than $1.3 million for women seeking abortions -- after taking just 72 hours to hit the $1 million mark.
The donations inspired by Olivia Julianna, a political strategist for the nonprofit Gen Z for Change, happily surprised abortion rights advocates. The $1.3 million raised by the group by early Friday is more than 10 percent of what the National Network of Abortion Funds -- which includes about 90 abortion funds in the United States and Mexico -- distributed in an entire year. It is also enough to fund thousands of abortions, which cost on average $550 per service.
This means "that a bunch of people who would simply have not gotten their abortions now will," said Liza Fuentes, a senior research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute in New York who has studied reproductive health care for 16 years.
Olivia Julianna, who uses only her first and middle names due to privacy concerns, launched the fundraiser after an online exchange with Gaetz. When she criticized Gaetz for calling abortion rights activists "disgusting" and overweight at a political rally last week, the congressman shot back, posting her photo on Twitter next to a link to a news story that mentioned his insults.
Gaetz's tweet has been shared hundreds of times and has triggered online attacks against Olivia Julianna. When reached for comment about his tweet and the ensuing fundraiser, a spokesman for Gaetz said only that no amount of solicitation would change the United States' new status as a "pro-life nation" after Roe v. Wade was overturned last month.
Meanwhile, the donations are continuing to roll in, and the hashtag "#ThanksMattGaetz" was trending on Twitter.
"When I originally put out this fundraiser, I was hoping we would raise a few thousand dollars," Olivia Julianna said in a statement. "This movement... has truly left me in awe."
So in the subcategory of "harnessing Republican repulsiveness to make good things happen" (as well as "showing the world what a truly odious schmuck Matt Gaetz is," to boot), Olivia Julianna is clearly the champion this week. Which is why it was an easy choice to award her the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Hopefully, she'll top two million before she's through!
[Because activist Olivia Julianna is not a candidate for office, we don't have a problem with directing people to her group's ActBlue fundraising page, where we notice that they've now successfully raised a total of $1.68 million, as of this writing.]
It was such a week of spectacular "array" for Democrats that we couldn't really think of any that deserved the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.
Oh, sure, there was Andrew Yang, who apparently is going to tilt at the windmill of forming a third American political party with Christine Todd Whitman, but their idea is so milquetoast and ill-defined (they don't really stand for much of anything other than "not being extremist" ) that it seems preordained to fail. So the less said about it the better, really.
And there was also Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who was mildly miffed at not being the center of attention while Joe Manchin strode onto center stage with his Schumer deal this week. Sinema refuses to say whether she'll vote for the bill, because she wants to play her own game of being coy for as long as she can get away with. Whatever -- play your little political game, Kyrsten, for now. As long as she doesn't actually come out against the bill, the most we can manage for her is a (Dis-)Honorable Mention.
Of course, as always, if we've missed someone obvious, let us know about it down in the comments, but for now we're setting the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award back on the shelf for next week.
Volume 670 (7/29/22)
We're going to try something different today. Rather than our seven discrete talking points, we're just going to quote extensively from one amazing recent article in the Washington Post.
Because not only are Democrats in total array in Congress, they actually seem to be in array out on the campaign trail as well. For once, Democrats all seem to be singing from the same songbook. Democrats aren't usually this good at "messaging" -- individual politicians can be, but rarely is it a concerted partywide effort.
This year seems different, as the article points out. This year, building on "the Freedom Riders during the 1960s civil rights movement and the 'freedom to marry' slogan for same-sex marriage campaigns in the past decade," Democrats have latched onto this one potent and powerful political term in a big way.
It's a fairly obvious move to make, as a few political pundits pointed out in the article. First, from Dan Pfeiffer, who was White House communications director for Barack Obama. He suggested Democrats rally around an "American Freedom Agenda," because internal polls (unsurprisingly) showed it is an effective message to counter the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and all the rest of it. In an interview, Pfeiffer explained his idea:
[div class="exceprt"]I don't think you can just run around and say "freedom" as much as possible.... We need a story to tell about the radical extremism of MAGA Republicans, and freedom is a great way to tell that story. Republicans view freedom as almost entirely about your ability to buy an assault rifle. Democrats think it means you should have the ability to make decisions about your own body, who you marry and what books you read, and I think we have the high ground in that debate.
Anat Shenker-Osorio, a "liberal communications consultant" agreed, after finding that "freedom" is the number one value that cuts across race, gender, and geographic lines:
[div class="exceprt"]The overarching message is to say... Trump Republicans want to take away freedoms from all who do not work and live and look like them. They're coming for our freedoms from the most basic notion that we decide who represents us to what happens in our bodies and our relationships to our ability to send kids to school and know they will come back home to us safe.
These are professional wordsmiths -- people whose job it is to come up with Democratic talking points. Which is why we felt we couldn't do any better here today. So we're just going to present all the quotes from the article in the order they appear, from Democratic politicians who are already eagerly embracing the concept. Because, for once, we simply cannot improve upon what Democrats are already saying out on the campaign trail.
Really, when you think about it, it's the perfect end to an article with the title "Democrats In Array!" So here are the talking points Democrats have already been using:
We are the party of freedom. Freedom to make your own health-care choices. Freedom from your fear of gun violence. Freedom to have your vote counted. Our message is our values. Freedom for all.
-- Representative Eric Swalwell
(tweeting two weeks after the Supreme Court tossed out Roe)
[Editor's note: only the first line of this was quoted in the Post story, but we had to go dig the rest of it out for completeness' sake.]
Freedom. It's under attack in your state.
Republican leaders -- they're banning books, making it harder to vote, restricting speech in classrooms, even criminalizing women and doctors. I urge all of you to join the fight, or join us in California, where we still believe in freedom -- freedom of speech, freedom to choose, freedom from hate and the freedom to love.
-- California Governor Gavin Newsom
(from a television ad he used to troll Ron DeSantis with, by running it in Florida)
Democrats FIGHT FOR your freedom!
-- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
(tweeting hours before the House voted on a bill to codify same-sex marriage rights)
Finally. For too long, Democrats have ceded the ideas of freedom, family, community.... The idea of freedom is under attack right now. There's no denying that the Republican playbook is to tell you what to read, who to love, what you can or can't do with your body.... I think we absolutely should, we should define what freedom is and take it back.
-- Michigan state Senator Mallory McMorrow
(in an interview when the subject of Democrats using the term "freedom" came up)
[Promises to protect] our personal freedoms.
-- Senator Maggie Hassan
(from an ad released after the Supreme Court decision for her re-election campaign in New Hampshire)
In recent days, there's been reason to think that this country is moving backward, that freedom is being reduced, that rights we assumed were protected are no longer.
-- President Joe Biden
(from remarks at a July Fourth barbeque)
[Freedom is] on the ballot this coming November. We want our freedoms and liberties. We all want the freedom to control our own bodies. We want our veterans to have freedom, when they've given so much for our country. We're going to go across this state with a megaphone, making sure that people know exactly what the governor has done, the freedoms he's prevented and freedoms he's taking away.
-- Joe Cunningham, Democratic nominee for governor in South Carolina
(from an interview, contrasting his position with the current Republican governor's)
He's coming for our freedoms, and your vote is how we stop him.
-- Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Democratic nominee for governor
(recent tweet contrasting himself with Republican nominee Doug Mastriano)
[Ted Budd] will stop at nothing to strip North Carolinians of our freedoms.
-- Cheri Beasley, Democratic nominee for Senate in North Carolina
(speaking about her GOP opponent, Representative Ted Budd)
This stuff really ain't rocket science, folks. It's pretty easy to do. Plus, it has the benefit of being true -- the Republican Party truly is now the party that wants to roll back freedoms across the board. Which could become the animating issue for Democratic and independent voters across the country, come November.
The article is an astonishing collection of Democratic candidates for office all essentially using the same talking points, with variations on the theme. This is really nothing new (historically-speaking) for Democrats, although you have to go back pretty far to find the best example of it.
In his 1941 State Of The Union speech, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt laid out what became known as the Four Freedoms, that he though people "everywhere in the world" should enjoy:
- The freedom of speech.
- The freedom of worship.
- The freedom from want.
- The freedom from fear.
You'll quickly notice that while the first two are pretty specific, the last two are rather broad catchall political slogans that could mean a lot of very different things to different people. That's the beauty of talking about freedom, politically. People all have their own opinion about what precisely it means, but pretty much everyone agrees it is a good thing.
Democrats have the chance to hammer this theme home, and by doing so paint a stark contrast to the stated and proven goals of the current Republican Party.
And for once, they seem to actually be doing so.
Which is why we found we couldn't improve upon their words at all. For once, the Democrats are stunningly and effectively in array.
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
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Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com