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Fri Sep 16, 2022, 08:28 PM

Friday Talking Points -- Ukraine, Trains, And Lindsey Graham

We fully admit that headline isn't really close enough to the original to trip off the tongue very well. But we're in an optimistically cheerful mood, so we're not going to change it.

These were really the three big political stories of the week. Last weekend saw the culmination of an incredible performance by the Ukrainian military. Within a week, they had retaken over 2,000 square miles of their country, as the Russian invading forces mostly just fled. That is beyond impressive, and may prove to be a real turning point in the whole war.

Or maybe not. They've still got an enormous amount of territory to reclaim, and the Russians are still fighting hard to hold the city of Kharkiv, in the south. So we'll see whether this astoundingly successful counteroffensive is a real harbinger of more such victories or merely an aberration. But whatever it turns out to be, the Ukrainian fighting forces had one heck of a good week.

The American news media barely took its wall-to-wall attention off of an impending royal funeral to take note. Which brings up a point that has indeed been bugging us -- didn't we fight our own war just so we never again had to act so obsequiously to the British monarch? Respect is one thing, but two weeks of "breaking news" stories as headlines -- each and every night -- is just a wee bit much, don't you think? Again: we fought a war so we don't have to do this stuff anymore!

Hrrrmph. Where were we? Oh, right, cheerful optimism. Which brings us to our next story, which bookended the good news from Ukraine -- President Joe Biden averted an enormous economic disaster this week, by forging an agreement between management and the Unions from the nation's freight rail services.

Biden, as we wrote earlier this week, was in somewhat of a bind. He really didn't want to see a strike happen, because it would not only have been a crippling blow to the American economy but also would have completely changed the dynamics of the midterm election campaign. At the same time, there are two parts of Biden's political persona which came into play: Biden loves passenger rail, and Biden has always been a very strong Union supporter.

We'll get to the details of how the deal was reached a bit later, but even though this will only be a momentary media story (it was, after all, a strike which didn't happen, so there's really only so much one can say about it...), it still shows exactly why over 80 million Americans voted for Joe Biden: to see calm and professional competence return to the Oval Office.

In between the early good news from Ukraine and the later good news about the averted rail strike, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham wrapped up a huge political gift and presented it to the Democratic Party. Seriously... someone at the Democratic National Committee should have sent him a bouquet of flowers or at least a fruit basket just to say: "Thanks!"

On a day where Biden could have taken some political hits -- he scheduled a victory lap for his Inflation Reduction Act becoming law right when a rather mixed inflation report came out -- Lindsey Graham stepped onto center stage and scored an "own goal" for the Republican team.

Graham announced he was introducing a bill in the Senate which would ban all abortions nationwide after 15 weeks of pregnancy -- which is barely into the second trimester. He had previously sponsored bills which would have banned abortions after 20 weeks (which is not too far away from the 22-24 weeks Roe provided for), but he decided on a whim to cut it back by over a month. When confronted by a woman (at his press conference where he announced his bill) who had had serious fetal abnormalities discovered after her 15th week of pregnancy, Graham had no answer for her. He said he didn't know whether his bill had an exception for fetal abnormalities. His bill, no matter what he would like to believe it says, would indeed make ending such a pregnancy illegal (there is no exception in Graham's bill for fetal abnormalities at all).

More than anything else, this shows the real-life consequences of the Draconian laws Republicans are salivating to pass. Most women who get abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy are not doing so because they don't want a child, but because they do want a healthy child... but they don't want to be forced to give birth to a fatally-malformed baby who will die within days. This is the reality the forced-birth crowd refuses to admit even exists.

Graham's announcement was much worse, politically-speaking, though. Because a whole lot of Republicans had been trying to stake out a "not our problem" position, by insisting that the Dobbs decision put the whole issue back in the proper arena -- state governments. "Oh, no, we wouldn't even think of passing a national ban!" they say, out on the campaign trail, "That'd be up to the state governments and I'm running for the U.S. Congress, so why are you even asking me about it?"

This dodge is no longer operative. Graham let the cat out of the bag, two months before the election. Yes indeedy, Republicans will pass a nationwide ban, which would mean all those state laws in blue states that preserve women's rights would be null and void.

Republicans had been hoping to use mealy-mouthed non-positions to avoid Democrats hammering them too hard on the campaign trail about abortion. They can't do this anymore. All due to Lindsey Graham. Seriously, someone at Democratic headquarters really should have sent him a nice bouquet to thank him (one Democratic official did approve of the idea of sending "gift baskets or champagne" to Graham and the other hardline forced-birth Republicans "for their selfless act of service today" ). Thanks to Graham, the issue is going to be front and center of every campaign this year.

Which is going to help, because the Republican forced-birth position is getting less and less popular as time goes on and tens of millions of American women lose rights and freedoms. Women (and men) out there are angry about Dobbs, and they are motivated to have their voices heard at the ballot box. Some are already warning GOP politicians of the impending "Roevember."

Republicans are reacting the way they always seem to do these days, by trying to limit democracy and the power of the voters. In multiple red states, Republicans are scurrying to make it harder and harder for ballot initiatives to make it onto the ballot or pass when they do. Because they are all terrified that what happened in Kansas could happen in a lot of red states. They are right to be terrified of this, because it could indeed happen. A whole lot of Republican women didn't want Roe overturned, it seems.

Many Republicans running for office are quickly trying to flip-flop on the issue, despite all those times they were caught on video proclaiming they were the most pro-life candidate anyone had ever seen. Good luck with trying to convince suburban women you've had a change of heart on that one, guys....

Meanwhile, here's what a few Democrats are saying, after opening Lindsey's wonderful gift:

"Republicans are coming after your rights," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said Tuesday. "We have already seen the devastation, the health-care crises, that these extreme abortion bans have caused: patients who are unable to get a prescription filled, doctors who are unsure if they can do their jobs -- forced to wait until patients get sicker, until their lives are in danger, before they can take action. That's what we're seeing in Republican states right now. And it is a nightmare they now want to impose on every single corner of our country."

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), who is locked in a tough reelection bid, said she would block any efforts in the Senate to advance a nationwide abortion ban.

"We don't need any more male politicians telling women what we can and can't do with our own bodies," she tweeted.


Let's see... what else is going on out in the political world? Republican governors are using people's lives as political pawns, but that's not really all that newsworthy (it's kind of their entire M.O. when you think about it). Joe Biden's support went up in a major poll by nine points in one month, and another poll showed that the opinion of America in the rest of the world has recovered from its all-time lows, now that Biden is in charge.

Which brings us to our obligatory check on what is going on over in the "Trump Follies" this week. Donald Trump went full QAnon on his failing social media site, in a desperate bid to get people to like him. He -- once again -- threatened violence in the streets if he's ever indicted and said he'd still run for president even if that happens (because of course he would -- he'd run from a jail cell if he had to).

A new book is out showing just how weaponized the Department of Justice became under Bill Barr, never mind how he's now trying to whitewash the period where he served under Trump. No surprise there, really, but it's interesting to hear the details of how bad things got.

The current Justice Department beat their own self-imposed 60-day deadline (before an upcoming election) and served 40 subpoenas to all and sundry who were involved in the effort to come up with "fake electors" after the 2020 election. The most amusing of these was Mike Lindell, who had his phone confiscated after being surrounded in a Hardee's drive-thru.

Not amusing (even though the pun is sitting right there) was the following disturbing story:

An armed Donald Trump supporter who told cops he wanted to restore the "President King of the United States" was arrested at a Dairy Queen in Pennsylvania, where he said he wanted to kill Democrats and liberals, WTAJ-TV reported.

Jan Stawovy, 61, was arrested without a struggle on multiple felony charges, according to police in Delmont. Several people were inside the fast food restaurant at the time.


OK, we can't resist: "President King" supporter arrested at Dairy Queen.

Trump did score one minor victory this week, as his hand-picked judge named a special master, gave him oodles of time, and told the Justice Department it can't access all the secret documents they retrieved from Trump's Florida resort until the special master is done. But at least Trump has to pay for it all -- the taxpayers won't be on the hook for the special master's fees at all. This will delay things a bit, but not stop the case against Trump from eventually being built.

A few more items and then we'll get on to the awards. The MAGA candidate in the New Hampshire Republican primary for the Senate won his race against a slightly-more-moderate contender. Immediately after winning, he disavowed Trump's Big Lie, in order to position himself better for the general election. It was jaw-dropping to see -- we're surprised the interviewer didn't get whiplash from hearing his response:

Like a driver making a screeching U-turn, Don Bolduc, the Republican Senate nominee in New Hampshire, pivoted on Thursday from his primary race to the general election, saying he had "come to the conclusion" that the 2020 presidential election "was not stolen," after he had spent more than a year claiming it was.

"I've done a lot of research on this, and I've spent the past couple weeks talking to Granite Staters all over the state from every party, and I have come to the conclusion -- and I want to be definitive on this -- the election was not stolen," Mr. Bolduc said in an interview on Fox News.

He continued to falsely claim there had been fraud in the election but acknowledged that the outcome was not in question.

"Elections have consequences, and, unfortunately, President Biden is the legitimate president of this country," he said.

. . .

Switching horses on Thursday, he said in the Fox News interview, "We, you know, live and learn, right?"


Hoo boy. The campaign of Senator Maggie Hassan, the Democrat who Bolduc is running to defeat, was quick to respond: "Don Bolduc is desperately trying to run from years of spreading the Big Lie, but he can't hide from the video receipts." Nice.

And two final items to warm everyone's heart this week:

It's now official -- Sarah Palin cost the Republicans Alaska's only House seat. If the other Republican running had been in second place before the ranked-choice ballots were tallied again, he would have beaten the Democrat who now sits there. Thanks, Sarah!

And beyond endearing was the video clip of Speaker Nancy Pelosi attempting to swear in a new House member, with his family present. Due to special elections, Pelosi swore in three new House members, including Democrats Mary Peltola (who won that Alaska seat) and Pat Ryan of New York. But during Ryan's ceremonial swearing-in, both his sons completely stole the show. First Pelosi has to corral the one on his feet (who is having way too much fun), and then Ryan and his wife are presented with a conundrum with the babe-in-arms. His wife had to hold the Bible flat, Ryan had to place one hand on it and hold the other up, and that didn't leave any hands to hold the baby. So Ryan just handed him off to Pelosi to hold.

It just doesn't get any better than this, in Washington.





We almost wish we could send some sort of "Most Impressive" award to Lindsey Graham this week, but hey, rules are rules....

Kidding aside, the winner of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week was pretty easy to pick. President Joe Biden averted economic catastrophe, two months before a national election. That's impressive as all get-out.

The Unions easily had the strongest position in the negotiations, since what they were asking for was so downright reasonable. The rail freight companies have just posted banner profits, due mostly to the economy recovering from the age of COVID, but also due to slashing employees. There are fewer people working the trains (which have gotten longer and longer). The people working the trains could face penalties and even firing for not maintaining perfect attendance on the job. This included being on call for weeks on end. They got penalized for taking time off for a doctor's appointment (or even an operation). This was Draconian in this day and age, allowing no time off "including weekends, outside of holidays and preplanned vacation, even in the case of emergencies."

Which is why the Unions were prepared to strike. They're sick of being treated like peons. With the incredibly tight labor market, it would have been just about impossible to replace the workforce with scabs if a strike had happened, and they knew it. They also knew full well public opinion would be on their side -- at least at first.

So Joe Biden called for an "all hands on deck" response. Well, maybe that's the wrong metaphor, we seem to be mixing up trains and boats here, sorry....

Let's try again: So Joe Biden called for his team to do everything they could to stop this runaway freight train from wrecking. His cabinet members responded, with the secretaries of Labor, Transportation, and Agriculture taking lead roles in the negotiations. Biden's top White House economic advisors pulled their weight, too. So an Honorable Mention is appropriate for Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, as well as all the White House team directly involved in the negotiations.

The deadline for a strike was midnight on Thursday night. Wednesday, a marathon negotiating meeting was called that wound up lasting an astounding 20 hours (they even reportedly ran out of coffee). After a morning and an afternoon of getting essentially nowhere, President Biden phoned into the meeting at 9:00 at night, when everyone was having dinner (Italian food, reportedly). Biden reportedly stressed that failure was "unacceptable." Here's what happened next:

"Both the union and the company [sides] moved after 9 o'clock," [Labor Secretary Marty] Walsh said. "They started having real conversations" about the issue of time off, potentially the most significant sticking point in the talks and something that rail unions have not typically been able to negotiate as part of their contracts.

"That was the first time it's ever happened," [Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen President Dennis] Pierce said. "And that was the big one left; that was a tough one to get."

"Up until that point, nobody was willing to move," Walsh said. "They were wordsmithing more words than I probably can document. And plus, it was a long day. We'd been there for 12 hours at that point."

The conversation turned next to health care, Walsh said -- and "around 1:30 in the morning, the union moved significantly in one of their asks, and the company moved significantly on one of their asks."

By the time an agreement was finalized shortly after 4 a.m., "it was emotional," Walsh said. Negotiators "were exhausted" and "relieved." For Walsh and his team, "it was very pleasing."


By the time Washington woke up Thursday morning, the deal was done. Much to the relief of all. The disaster didn't happen, because of some hard work on the part of the administration. And this would indeed have been a disaster of epic proportions. The next morning, Walsh expressed his relief:

"It's like, Holy Christ: The magnitude of what would have happened," Walsh, running on an hour-and-a-half of sleep, said in an interview. "We'll never fully understand, thank God."


Joe Biden deserves praise for averting this calamity. Which the Union side was more than willing to give him:

"This level of support would have been impossible even under [President] Obama," said Larry Cohen, who served as president of the Communications Workers of America. "This outcome would not have been possible under all preceding presidents."


That's pretty high praise. We won't try to add to it, we'll just add our own Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award to the accolades. America dodged a bullet (train?) this week, and we have Joe Biden to thank for it.

[Congratulate President Joe Biden on his official contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]





We have mixed feelings about this one. Democrats took a gamble this week. It might work out fine. But then again it might not. And if it all falls apart, Democrats will have missed their opportunity to make Republicans pay a price for a very unpopular political position during the midterm elections. So the whole thing is in abeyance. It's up in the air. So this award might prove to be given in error, we fully admit up front.

This week, Chuck Schumer announced that the Senate will not -- as expected -- be holding a vote next week on the Respect For Marriage Act, which would cement the right to both interracial and same-sex marriage into federal law as well as overturn the odious Defense Of Marriage Act of the 1990s. Here is the gamble they made:

After a great deal of cajoling and negotiating, Senate Democrats have delayed a vote on the Respect for Marriage Act until after the midterm elections. One way to look at this is that they have preserved the possibility that the bill could overcome a Republican filibuster and become law in the lame-duck session. Another is that they just let Republicans off the hook.


Democratic Senators Tammy Baldwin and Kyrsten Sinema have been working with Republicans Susan Collins, Rob Portman, and Thom Tillis to come up with a bill that could convince the necessary 10 Republicans to vote for it. A measure already passed the House -- with an astounding 47 Republican votes -- but Republicans in the Senate demanded that it mention religious liberty and explicitly ban polygamy. So they've been working on language and were supposed to introduce their draft on Thursday so Schumer could schedule a vote for it next Monday.

So far, that makes three GOP votes. Lisa Murkowski could probably get behind it as well (she's said she supports marriage equality but has yet to expressly signal her support for this bill). That makes four. Getting the other six could prove to be impossible, even though the issue polls at higher than 70 percent (including a majority of Republican voters).

If getting ten Republicans truly is going to be impossible, then the vote should have been held now. It would put them all on record, less than two months before an election. Only a few of them would have been vulnerable as a result (Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Marco Rubio of Florida, most notably), mostly due to two-thirds of the Senate not even being up for re-election this cycle. But it would have helped Democrats everywhere because it would just be one more piece of evidence of how extreme and out-of-touch the Republican agenda truly is.

If getting the ten votes is within the realm of possibility, then not holding the vote was the smart thing to do. Republicans would resent it if a vote were held now, and they'd refuse to join the effort after the election, in the lame-duck Congress. They'd (fairly accurately) say that Democrats just wanted a political bludgeon to hit them with, rather than actually wanting to see the bill pass. By not holding the vote, Schumer is being polite to the Republicans by not making it just all about politics. So perhaps some will return the favor by getting on board.

As we said, it's a gamble. One Democrat summed it all up pretty well:

"My personal preference is to put everyone on the record before the November elections but I understand the decisions that are made about when the prospects are best for passing the measure," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said. "I want a law, not just a bill."


Our own feelings are mixed as well. So we've decided to only conditionally award Chuck Schumer this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. If, during the lame-duck session, the bill passes and is signed into law, then we will rescind his award and wipe it from his record. If, however, the bill fails then he will have earned it for not making the best possible political use of it he could. If the bill does fail, we'll doubtlessly give Schumer another MDDOTW award, and we'll send this one along too at that point.

[Contact Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]




Volume 677 (9/16/22)

We've got two central themes this week (since battlefield victory in Ukraine isn't really going to move the American political needle much). The first is going to be fleeting, because American memories just aren't that long and avoiding a disaster is always a lot more forgettable than actually going through one. And then we've got one cheap shot at Joe Manchin at the end, just because he deserves it so much. Enjoy, and as always, use responsibly.



Biden kept the trains running

Woo wooooo! All aboard....

"President Joe Biden loves trains -- everyone knows that. So it wasn't too big a surprise to see that he took a very personal interest in avoiding the economic catastrophe that would have happened if the freight rail in this country were halted due to a strike. Biden is also a strong supporter of Unions, so it's also not surprising that the train Unions got what they were demanding in the end -- changing the inhumane attendance policy that penalized workers for seeing the doctor or even having an operation. They now will have the right to do so, under the deal Joe Biden and his administration just cut. So the crisis was averted, due to some hard work. And Joe Biden can now rightfully claim that he kept his beloved trains running on time."



Competence, not chaos

Remind everyone what they voted for.

"Joe Biden has restored competence and professionalism back to the White House. You know what didn't happen during the negotiations? One side or the other was never demonized by the president. One side or the other wasn't personally attacked on social media. The president never threw a temper tantrum worthy of a 2-year-old. Instead of the chaos we all sadly had to endure for four years, what we got was exactly what we voted for: calm competence. Results. Finding common ground. Elections have consequences, folks, and the fact that we didn't enter into an economic crisis this week was a big one."



They are lying to you

Plain and simple.

"If a Republican politician tells you he or she doesn't want a national abortion ban, they are lying to you. They will get to Washington and they will vote for one because they'll be terrified of the anti-abortion extremists in their own base. Senator Lindsey Graham let the cat out of the bag this week by showing everyone exactly what the Republican Party stands for -- forced births. On a nationwide level. Overturning the will of the voters in blue and red states which guarantee women's rights. Imposing their idea of morality on everyone in this country. They won't be satisfied with stripping basic human rights away from the women in the states they do control, they want to strip all American women of their rights. They have told you who they are -- so believe them. Because any Republican now saying 'Oh, we should leave it up to the states' is lying to you. They will not leave it up to the states, given half a chance. Don't let them have that chance. Vote for Democrats who will fight for your rights and the rights of your daughters. Repeat after me: Roe, Roe, Roe the vote!"



Why clueless men should not be making these decisions

Exhibit A.

"Lindsey Graham introduced a bill to ban abortion after 15 weeks. His ban is better than some the GOP men have come up with, because at least it allows for exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother. But he still doesn't understand what it means at all -- he has no wife or daughter to explain it to him, I guess. He tried to make it sound reasonable and 'how Europe handles it,' but while Europe does set limits on completely elective abortions -- when a woman decides for whatever reason that she doesn't want a child -- it still allows for humane exceptions for fetal abnormalities. Some of which can't even be identified until the 20th week of pregnancy. Ask any woman who has been through the experience -- this is a heart-wrenching decision for women who are trying to have a healthy baby. It is traumatic enough to be informed that your baby will have birth defects that will soon kill them without having to deal with moralizing Republican politicians who have no clue what it is like to be in that situation. Clueless men should not be in charge of these decisions, it should be up to the woman and her doctor, period. Which Lindsey Graham just proved beyond a shadow of a doubt -- when asked whether his bill contained an exception for fetal abnormalities, Graham said that he didn't know if it did or not. It does not. Which he should know. Get clueless men out of the doctor's office! Vote for Democrats who will protect women's rights!"



Forced-birth

This has been incredibly successful, and should be leaned into by all Democrats.

"You know, a while back, the anti-abortion crowd somehow convinced the news media to rebrand them as 'pro-life,' because they thought it sounded more positive than 'anti-abortion.' Well you know what? Neither of these is fully correct. As we've already seen in the states that have ripped basic rights away from women, the Republican Party is now officially forced-birth. They want to force women to give birth. They want to control all women's bodies. They think The Handmaid's Tale is a blueprint and not a warning. They want to force women who are about to miscarry to wait until their lives are actually at risk before allowing a doctor to save their life -- instead of just doing a safe procedure earlier, which would avoid the threat of death even entering into the equation. They want to force women to carry to term fetuses with horrible deformities -- such as not growing a head or a brain -- and then have to watch it die. This is inhumane. this is causing pain and anguish for no reason. This is barbaric. But that's exactly what forced-birth means: you are forced to give birth, no matter what. Don't let them get away with their 'pro-life' euphemism any more, call them what they really are: forced-birth."



You tell 'em, Joe!

This one is a Joe Biden quote, but it could be repeated by any Democrat. Biden was attending yet another big infrastructure project breaking ground, up in Massachusetts, to point out to the American people that they'll soon be seeing some real results from the deal he cut last year. And he had an absolutely perfect way of framing the issue:

When you see these big projects in your hometowns -- cranes going up, shovels in the ground -- I want you to feel the way I feel: pride. Pride in what we can do. Pride in what we can do when we come together.




Give us two more senators, we'll bring this back

Draw this connection, because most parents had no idea where this money came from or why.

"When Democrats were dealing with the COVID emergency, we were willing to test a few ideas out. And one of them was spectacularly successful. Democrats -- with zero Republican votes -- expanded the Child Tax Credit in the tax code and made it proactive. Each month, parents who weren't wealthy got a check for $300 per child. Pretty simple idea. And you know what happened as a direct result? Child poverty came down in this country by over 60 percent in a single year! The child poverty rate went from 13.7 percent to a record low -- a low not seen since 1967 -- of only 5.2 percent. Millions of children in millions of families saw this benefit. All through one program. Unfortunately, we've got one Democrat in the Senate who mistakenly believes that all parents did with the money was spend it on illegal drugs. So we couldn't get an extension of the program, and this year child poverty rates will likely shoot right back up again. But we know how to fix it and we have proven it works. So give us one or two more Democratic senators, and we can make this program permanent and reduce child poverty by over half. If you're a parent and you appreciated those $300 checks, vote blue and you'll soon see them in your mailbox once again."




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

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