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Fri Feb 3, 2023, 09:45 PM

Friday Talking Points -- Biden Gets Good News Heading Into The SOTU

Next Tuesday night, President Joe Biden will deliver his State Of The Union speech to a joint session of Congress. Today, he got some good news he will without doubt be touting in this speech -- the unemployment rate is not just low, not just "lower than it ever hit under Donald Trump," but historically low. The last time the unemployment rate was a mere 3.4 percent was in 1969, before we sent any men to the moon. If it falls any further, we'll have to go back to 1953 to find a similar number. So we certainly expect this to be prominently featured next Tuesday night.

Over half a million jobs were created in January. This is also an astounding number, since the predictions were that fewer than 200,000 had been created. Also, the figures for the past few months were revised upwards as well -- more jobs appeared at the end of 2022 than had previously been known. During Biden's time in office, the country has added an astounding 12.1 million jobs -- the fastest job-creation rate of any president ever. So, yeah, we fully expect a little football-spiking and endzone-dancing from Biden next week.

While of course we will be watching the speech along with millions of other Americans next week, we have to admit that an article in the New York Times caught our eye, for its refreshing ideas to modernize the entire format of State Of The Union speeches. Sooner or later someone's going to take this idea and run with it, and while we kind of doubt that's going to be Joe Biden, it certainly would be interesting to see it happen. The author, Josh Tyrangiel, is billed as: "a journalist and television producer whose work has won 11 Emmys," which is pretty impressive, and he has taken his cue from the showmanship exhibited by the January 6th House Select Committee:

There's still some ceremonial value to a congressional studio audience, but it's way past time to integrate other media. Let's say [President Joe] Biden wants to boast about the $80 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act for revitalizing the I.R.S. Rather than serve up that lean jerky of acronyms and numbers, dim the lights on the joint session and take America to the movies. Transport viewers to the I.R.S. office in Austin, Texas, where as recently as last year, the cafeteria was a wall-to-wall maze of paper tax returns. Cut to a diligent I.R.S. clerk navigating that maze and let her talk about the ancient computer systems and years of budgetary starvation that killed all hope of keeping up with the pace of incoming paper. Sixty seconds is plenty of time to see and feel the problem, stripped of politics. When the lights come up, the president can explain his solution: updating technology, hiring new enforcement agents and auditing the wealthiest Americans to close the roughly $600 billion gap between taxes collected and taxes owed each year.

Look at how effective a similar strategy was for the Jan. 6 committee. It didn't just incorporate video, but also changed the structure of congressional hearings from a buffet of scenery-chewing grandstanders into a meticulous storytelling machine. Integrate a few short films into the standard presidential speech and you'll have achieved a similar feat -- transforming a to-do list into a story about America, an actual state of the union. Then release those clips to social media and grab tens of millions more eyeballs that will never tune in to a conventional address.

Tyrangiel goes on to suggest another radical idea for the speech: cut away to a few cabinet members touting their own areas of achievement, with Biden serving as emcee. This way the president would "still get to hog the best lines," while allowing others to report their progress.

It is rare when we come across such brilliantly original thinking, but we have to admit this idea did qualify. Watching any politician -- no matter how polished he or she is in front of the cameras and no matter how much they ooze charisma -- can get tedious and downright boring for a full hour with no breaks at all. Americans have never been known for their long attention spans, which is why breaking up the speech with a few multimedia presentations would absolutely transform the entire concept of the State Of The Union speech.

However, Joe Biden is a staunch traditionalist, so picturing him actually taking this advice is rather tough to do. But Tyrangiel is right -- sooner or later some president is going to see the wisdom of his suggestion and at least add a few video breaks to the annual spectacle.

Speaking of a spectacle, the Chinese spy balloon is certainly... well, ballooning in the media. [We do apologize for that, but we had to resist the urge to stick some "balloon" joke into the headline, so at least we managed to do that much....] There's not a whole lot that a surveillance balloon can do that a spy satellite can't -- and China already has plenty of those flying over the U.S. on a daily basis -- but it certainly did spark a whole bunch of apocalyptic responses from politicians.

Biden had an eventful week this week otherwise, including an appearance at a 150-year-old train tunnel in Baltimore to tout the money he secured to rebuild it (which was a natural for him, as not only does it have to do with trains, but Biden probably personally knows every foot of that tunnel since it is between Washington D.C. and Delaware -- Biden's ridden through it probably thousands of times). This continues his extended victory lap on infrastructure projects, which should be a regular feature for him all year long (as more and more such projects actually break ground).

Biden sat down with Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy this week, and they both aired their views on the budget and the debt ceiling. As expected, neither one budged an inch from their positions -- this was seen as a purely preliminary "get to know you" sort of meeting, although it was hyped beyond recognition in the political press.

The president also announced that the official emergency declaration for the COVID-19 pandemic will end in early May, and also called for Congress to end the outrageous fees and other markups tacked on to event tickets, after Congress held a hearing on Ticketmaster and the entire Taylor Swift fiasco last week. Bringing down such extortionate fees may seem like small potatoes politically, but it is one of those issues that touches so many Americans' lives that it could be a big winner if it actually happens. It could even easily be a bipartisan winner, since everybody hates these fees. For once, Congress could pass something which would tangibly improve the lives of millions, across the board, so we remain hopeful.

There was more "drip drip drip" news this week, as Biden's beach house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, was searched by the F.B.I. No documents marked classified were found. Mike Pence is also preparing for the F.B.I. to search his home, after he found classified documents there. Of course, with both men, this is exactly the right thing to do -- voluntarily invite the F.B.I. in to look around -- which could not be more different than the way Donald Trump tried (and is still trying) to hold onto such classified documents even in the face of subpoenas and search warrants (neither of which was necessary in the case of Biden and Pence).

The new Congress finally got underway this week, after spending all of January either on vacation or holding endless votes for House Speaker. Because of the whole McCarthy fiasco, the committees were not set in stone on January 3rd, so it took both parties all month long to release their lists of who would be on each committee. But hey, the more time the Republican House wastes the better, since it means they weren't doing anything worse.

Speaking of which, this week, in response to yet another horrific and unnecessary death at the hands of the police, the Republicans responded by disbanding a House panel on civil rights. And passing out tiny lapel pins shaped like an assault rifle. During "Gun Violence Survivors' Awareness Week," no less.

Perhaps this is the reason why the American public is not very happy with Republicans in Congress right now. A recent poll showed that 67 percent of voters don't like the way Republicans in Congress are handling their jobs. Furthermore, 73 percent say that they aren't paying enough attention to the country's real issues.

Need proof? Here's what Republicans spent the week doing, instead of (as they promised repeatedly on the campaign trail) doing anything on either crime or inflation. They launched investigations, mostly centered around Joe Biden. When polling is showing that fewer than one-third of American voters want Republicans to spend any time investigating Biden at all.

They passed a completely symbolic measure denouncing socialism and lots of tyrannical despots all the way back to Hitler and Stalin. Because, of course, the world has been anxiously awaiting word on whether America approved of leaders like Chairman Mao or not. Republicans also took the time to institute a rule requiring a committee to recite the Pledge of Allegiance before all their meetings, even though they all do so every day on the floor of the House anyway.

These are the things Republicans are doing with their new majority. Because they just don't have anything tangible to offer to the American public. They are filled with righteous vengeance which is only shared by their most fervent base, and they are going to vent their collective spleens no matter how much it turns off most voters (which we'll talk about in more detail, down in the awards section).

One Republican in particular is especially unpopular right now, as a new poll came out from the district of George Santos (R-Fantasyland). It is not good news for Santos, since fully 78 percent of his constituents now want him to resign. Only 13 percent say he shouldn't resign. Republicans want him to resign by a margin of 71-to-18 percent. An almost identical number (71-to-17 percent) say that Kevin McCarthy was wrong to seat Santos on any committees. And almost three-fourths of Republicans say Santos does not reflect the values of the Republican Party. So, of course, Santos is sticking around and having lots of fun in the spotlight.

Speaking of pathological liars, Donald Trump is still promoting political violence on his pet social media site, while his legal problems continue to get closer and closer by the week. This week it was revealed that a district attorney in New York City is presenting evidence to a grand jury in anticipation of bringing legal charges over the hush money paid to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Perhaps he's in a race with the prosecutor down in Georgia (where there was no "Trump legal woes" news this week, but there could be very soon).

Trump is also causing the same headache in the Republican Party as he did back in 2016, since he (once again) is refusing to support the Republican presidential nominee for 2024 unless (of course) it is him. Trump is about to lose his status as the only announced presidential candidate later this month, as Nikki Haley publicly pre-announced her upcoming official campaign launch announcement. We will be interested to see if this motivates any other Republicans to toss their hat in the ring as well.

And just to end on a hilarious note, if you didn't catch it, check out Jimmy Kimmel interviewing "the My Pillow guy," Mike Lindell, while forcing Lindell to do the entire interview from inside an arcade "claw" game. And yes, it is precisely as funny as you would expect from that description. We've certainly seen politicians who are shameless before, but we don't think we've ever seen anyone more humiliationless, to coin a phrase.

Coin? Anyone got a coin? Jeez, just look at what you could hook onto!

We had never really considered the matter before, but we read an article this week and had to agree with the basic concept. Pennsylvania's new Democratic Governor Josh Shapiro got something interesting done a while back:

On Jan. 18, his first full day in office, [Governor Josh] Shapiro signed an executive order that dispensed with the requirement of a four-year college degree for 92 percent of positions in state government, meaning roughly 65,000 jobs. His action rightly recognized that such a degree is no guarantee of competence, no exclusive proof of intelligence and often less relevant than work and life experiences that have nothing to do with lecture halls.

A good point, and one we had never thought about previously (but should have). A college degree is an important milestone for anyone to achieve, but it also shouldn't be a requirement for 92 percent of civil service jobs -- that is simply ridiculous. [Full disclosure: your humble author did attend college for a while, but did not actually stay long enough to graduate.] In any case, an Honorable Mention for Shapiro is certainly warranted.

But this week, the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week was Representative Ilhan Omar, who had to endure a vote of the full House kicking her off the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Kevin McCarthy was able to personally vent the collective Republican spleen on two other Democrats -- Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff -- due to House rules which allowed him to personally bar the two from the House Intelligence Committee, but also due to House rules a vote of the full House was required in Omar's case.

Plenty of Democrats rose to speak in Omar's defense. She has been accused of saying "antisemitic and un-American" things in the past, but this was a fig leaf for naked revenge, plain and simple. Nancy Pelosi -- with bipartisan support, mind you -- kicked two Republicans off of committees in the last Congress, one of whom spouted nonsense about satellites owned by Jews shooting lasers at California to cause wildfires, and both of whom have spoken to a gathering of neo-Nazis (whose leader has repeatedly praised Adolf Hitler). Also, both of the Republicans (we refuse to name them) have supported using political violence -- one actually posted a cartoon adulterated to show himself killing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with a samurai sword. Both these Republicans have been reinstated to their committee spots under McCarthy, so antisemitism is obviously not a bar to service.

Plenty of Democrats made this point, in various ways. Eric Swalwell pointed out that the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee took months to take down a tweet praising Kanye West, even after he made some truly vile antisemitic comments. Swalwell tried to shame McCarthy and the Republicans by challenging them: "Don't come here looking at us for antisemitism. Look in your own damn mirror before you ever come over here."

But it was Ocasio-Cortez who probably gave the most heartfelt speech in support of Omar on the House floor, and for it we are awarding her her own Honorable Mention. In it, she says:

One of the disgusting legacies after 9/11 has been the targeting and racism against Muslim-Americans throughout the United States of America, and this is an extension of that legacy. Consistency? There is nothing consistent with the Republican Party's continued attack [on Omar] except for the racism and incitement of violence against women of color in this body. I had a member of the Republican caucus threaten my life, and you all and the Republican caucus rewarded him with one of the most prestigious committee assignments in this Congress. Don't tell me this is about consistency. Don't tell me that this about a condemnation of antisemitic remarks when you have a member of the Republican caucus who has talked about Jewish space lasers and a tired amount of tropes, and also elevated her to some of the highest committee assignments in this body. This is about targeting women of color in the United States of America. Don't tell me, because I didn't get a single apology when my life was threatened.

Her whole speech is only one minute long, and it is well worth watching.

But our main award has to go to Representative Ilhan Omar herself, who gave her own impassioned defense and had to sit through the entire demeaning process. Which was really only held to prove that McCarthy can successfully whip his own members to vote the way he wants, which some of them even acknowledged after all the sturm und drang was over. Overheard in an elevator after the vote was Republican Ken Buck of Colorado, who called it the "stupidest vote in the world."

Well, hang on there Ken... after all, Kevin McCarthy is just getting started.

While McCarthy proved to the American people that Republicans truly do place political vengeance above doing anything at all on inflation or crime or any of those other things they actually ran on, Representative Ilhan Omar sat through it all and earned this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.

[Congratulate Representative Ilhan Omar on her House contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]

We do understand why, but we're disappointed nonetheless.

This week, 109 Democrats crossed the House aisle to vote for a completely meaningless bit of political puffery from the Republicans. The measure condemned socialism and dictators past and present, which will have precisely zero impact on anyone on Earth, living or dead.

As we said, we understand why so many of them voted the way they did, because this is a tailor-made wedge issue that Republicans can use in future elections. The ads they're planning are pretty obvious: "Representative Smythe-Jones voted for socialism and in favor of Hitler and Pol Pot and Stalin!!!"

Nevertheless, Democrats could still have avoided the whole political trap by just voting "present," as 14 House members did. But rather than take this easy offramp to such political grandstanding, 109 Democrats voted for the Republican puffery. Let's hope Republicans don't send a flood of similarly-idiotic bills to the floor in direct response.

[We're not going to list 109 names and contact points here, sorry. But you can check the official roll call of the vote for your own representative, if you'd like to let them know what you think of their actions.]

Volume 693 (2/3/23)

This week's talking points section leans heavily on the good news on jobs and the economy, for at least the first half of the list. We fully expect to hear similar points being made to a joint session of Congress next Tuesday night, in fact.

You tell 'em, Joe

This first one comes directly from President Joe Biden, who is certainly entitled to another victory lap on the economy. From remarks he made this morning, after the new jobs report dropped:

For the past two years, we've heard a chorus of critics write off my economic plan. They said it's just not possible to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out. They said we cannot bring back American manufacturing. They said we can't make things in America anymore, that somehow adding jobs was a bad thing. Today's data makes crystal clear what I've always known in my gut: These critics and cynics are wrong.


For once, we are going to use a talking point that nobody can criticize for being too long. We would credit it, but we've seen it in too many headlines to know who used it first, this morning. For all the gloom-and-doom predictors, it is the perfect rejoinder:

"Recession? What recession?"

Back to Eisenhower

Beating Trump's record is nice. Pointing it out repeatedly is even nicer.

"The last time the unemployment rate was this low -- at 3.4 percent -- America was still months away from the Apollo 11 moonshot launch. Yep, it was 1969 when we last saw employment numbers this good. And you know what? If it drops even further in the coming months, you will have to go back 70 whole years -- to 1953, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president -- to find numbers that low. So yeah, this is indeed a historic achievement by Joe Biden."


Hammer it home.

"Since Joe Biden took over, America has seen more small businesses created than ever before and a whopping 12,100,000 jobs have been created. This is the fastest job growth in American history. No other president has a record which even comes close. We saw half a million new jobs get created just last month alone. Joe Biden has steered us out of the COVID pandemic and into full recovery, and he really deserves a lot more credit for that then the media has so far given him. Twelve-point-one million new jobs. That is beyond impressive."

Another big turnaround

This is what they say they wanted, but obviously they don't.

"Republicans love to use the southern border to score political points -- they love it so much that when someone actually solves a big part of the problem they get so mad they have to sue to stop it. Under a new policy from the Biden administration, illegal border crossings in January fell from over 250,000 in December to only 150,000 in January. The changes were most dramatic in illegal border crossings from the four countries the changes were meant to address -- Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti. Migrant crossing from those four countries were down by over 95 percent last month. Yes, you heard that right. In December, border agents were seeing as many as 3,500 illegal entries per day for those countries, but last month that number sank to only 50 per day. That is an astounding reduction for one month, you've got to admit. So you'd think Republicans who claim to take the southern border seriously would be happy, wouldn't you? Instead, 20 Republican states filed suit to halt the new program. Because the dirty little secret is that Republicans don't really care about illegal entries at the southern border -- instead all they care about is using the issue as a political weapon against Democrats. So when a Democratic president solves a major part of the problem, they sue in court to make sure the problem stays as bad as possible."

Let's talk about Bill Barr, shall we?

More rank Republican hypocrisy that needs pointing out.

"Republicans are about to make as much political hay as they can over the supposed 'politicization' of the Department of Justice. But I'd be willing to bet my bottom dollar they won't even be slightly interested in the new evidence which shows how Donald Trump's pet attorney general, Bill Barr, completely weaponized the department when he ran it. There are plenty of examples of this for them to look into, including the new reporting on how Barr's hand-picked special counsel who was charged with looking into the investigation into Trump and Russia and somehow coming up with some sort of criminal 'weaponization' by the people who conducted the investigation, was actually acting as nothing more than a political tool. While Barr was acting as Trump's stooge, he appointed a special counsel to be his own stooge. The special counsel uncovered no bombshell evidence of crimes, of course, because none were ever committed. But that didn't stop them from looking! And Barr and his stooge would sit down for drinks or a meal weekly to chat about how Trump's requested wild goose chase was progressing. If Republicans were truly serious about the 'weaponization' of the Justice Department, they need look no further than Bill Barr. But I'm not exactly holding my breath waiting for them to do so, if you know what I mean."

Keep up the good work!

This last one is nothing short of a taunt, really.

"I would like to congratulate the House Republicans for showing their true colors and showing the American electorate what their true priorities are. In fact, I would encourage them to continue down exactly the same path they are taking, because it will make it so much easier for Democrats to regain control of the chamber in 2024. Why am I so confident? Because of what the voters themselves are saying. Two-thirds of all voters -- 67 percent -- don't like the way Republicans are handling their jobs. Three-quarters -- 74 percent -- of independent voters feel that way, too. The same amount -- 73 percent -- of all voters say Republicans aren't paying enough attention to the country's real issues. Another poll showed that less than one-third of the country wants Republicans to spend time investigating Joe Biden. Which, of course, the Republicans are completely ignoring. Which is really fine with me, because the more time they spend chasing conspiratorial white rabbits down holes and barking at the moon means the less time they actually do any damage to the country at large. So keep it up, guys! Keep the lunacy rolling in, because it makes Democrats' campaigns for next time around so much easier. All we have to do, really, is point at what the GOP is doing and ask: 'Do you really want two more years of that?'"

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

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