Cup of Joe – 7/16/21

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says he will file cloture on the bipartisan infrastructure bill Monday, setting up a procedural vote to the Senate floor on Wednesday, Punchbowl News reports.

There’s no deal yet on the final legislative text. But it puts pressure on senators to finalize the bill — which will require the votes of at least 10 Republican senators — by next week.

Punchbowl News: “For a number of Senate Democrats, this represents their first opportunity to get something big done. The last spate of one-party Democratic control was 2009, and half the current Senate Democratic Caucus wasn’t even in the chamber then. Passing the American Rescue Plan was a high point for many Senate Democrats, and it left them wanting more — they talked about this with President Joe Biden yesterday in the party lunch. They are jazzed about Child Tax Credit checks going out. Moments like this don’t come too often: a president, House and Senate controlled by one party, all wanting to notch big achievements.”

“No one — not one Democrat — has drawn a red line thus far, and that’s terrific for Schumer. Everyone has bought into this multi-step process; voting first on a bipartisan “hard” infrastructure bill, and then reconciliation.”

However: “Republicans say there are two ways this goes, and both are good for them politically: Democrats pass this budget, and the GOP gets to run on the party in power spending like drunken sailors; or they fail and Republicans get to say that Democrats can’t govern. It’s a win-win situation for Republicans, they say. Republicans can even claim that they tried bipartisanship, as several of McConnell’s top lieutenants have been working with Democrats to get an infrastructure deal done.”

“Republicans are bristling over Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s (D-NY) hardball strategy to try to force them to finalize a bipartisan infrastructure deal in a matter of days,” The Hill reports. “Republican negotiators and members of leadership believe Schumer is trying to jam them and warn that they won’t vote to start debate even on a shell bill that the Democratic leader is intending to use a vehicle for the bipartisan deal once it’s finalized.”

Schumer is right to have confidence in his position moving forward. It’s been obvious for a while now that Senate Republicans only want to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill if Democrats won’t pass anything else. That may or may not be a reasonable demand, but it’s certainly not one Chuck Schumer (or Nancy Pelosi) could enforce. They have their own caucuses with their own demands.

Schumer has a delicate dance on his hands, but the script for him moving forward now is compelling. If the bipartisan infrastructure bill somehow gets to 60 votes, well that’s nothing but good news. He hasn’t made any promises and gets a big legislative vehicle to move forward on. If–more likely–Senate Republicans move to block it, he’s just given Senate Democrats of all stripes the ability to say, “Hey, we tried.”

To be clear, this is a risky strategy with little margin for error. Just look back at how John McCain scuttled Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan’s Obamacare repeal bill. Things do blow up. But what Senate Democrats are proposing on their side is popular, open to negotiation, and presents plenty of chances to make every Congressional Democrat happy. Schumer has all the leverage to force this process. And he’s using it.

“Senators are starting to suggest the IRS provision for tax enforcement in the bipartisan infrastructure package — one of the biggest pay-fors — might be dropped,” Axios reports.  “If it’s nixed, it’s a huge bow to conservatives, many of whom see this as the most controversial aspect.”

Related from the Washington Post: “Federal audits of corporate tax returns have plunged in recent years, letting big companies claim elaborate tax breaks with less government scrutiny.”

Jonathan Bernstein: “The positive scenario? Both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill — the whopping $3.5 trillion spending plan with programs to address health care, climate change, income inequality, immigration and traditional infrastructure (and more) — pass into law. Biden and the Democrats get credit for working with willing Republicans, which is nice, but also those two bills plus the earlier pandemic recovery act would constitute a major reordering of domestic policy.”

“And yet, it’s also plausible that the bipartisan infrastructure bill will never win 60 votes, that the $3.5 trillion spending plan proves too large to keep all 50 Senate Democrats on board, and that none of it passes. A worst-case scenario for Democrats doesn’t just keep the filibuster intact; it also would include a government shutdown or even a debt-limit crisis that fails to get resolved, derailing the economic recovery. In that chain of events, nothing gets passed on voting rights. Nothing gets passed on any of the Democratic agenda. And, after Republicans gain majorities in both chambers in the midterms, Biden is unable to get any judges or executive-branch officials confirmed.”

At a time when so many of the asymmetries in politics favor Republicans, Congressional Democrats have likely hit upon one that runs squarely in their direction. Budget reconciliation is how majorities in Congress get around the filibuster, but the lowered bar also comes with a catch: it’s much easier for later Congresses to repeal what you’ve done.

Just look at the Trump tax cuts. They were skewed so heavily to the wealthy and most successful that repealing a portion of them provides a politically-tolerable way for Democrats to go big themselves. So how do you prevent the other side from undoing your hard work? In theory, you would want something that can pass with 50 Senate votes, but that the other side wouldn’t want to touch later on even if they could.

Enter Medicare benefits expansion, which Senate Budget Democrats announced as a part of their $3.5 trillion reconciliation plan. You can decide for yourself how much of a policy priority expanded Medicare benefits should be, but in a purely political sense, it’s near perfect. To paraphrase Eric Adams, it’s people on Social Security who elect candidates, and expanding their healthcare benefits checks a lot of boxes. It improves their quality of life, makes for a great campaign talking point, and perhaps most importantly, it’s very difficult to take away.

We’ll see if expanding Medicare benefits can make it through the wheat thresher of the legislative process. Even if it passes, it’s quite possible on-the-margin voters decide not to reward Democrats for it. But if modern politics is about leveraging these asymmetries at every opportunity, Congressional Democrats have the makings of a long-term winner.

Kremlin documents show Russian president Vladimir Putin personally authorized a secret spy agency operation to support a “mentally unstable” Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election during a closed session of Russia’s national security council, The Guardian reports.

The key meeting took place on January 22, 2016, with the Russian president, his spy chiefs and senior ministers all present. They agreed a Trump White House would help secure Moscow’s strategic objectives, among them “social turmoil” in the U.S. and a weakening of the American president’s negotiating position.

Russia’s three spy agencies were ordered to find practical ways to support Trump, in a decree appearing to bear Putin’s signature.

The papers also offer a brief psychological assessment of Trump, who is described as an “impulsive, mentally unstable and unbalanced individual who suffers from an inferiority complex.”

Justice Stephen Breyer has not decided when he will retire and is especially gratified with his new role as the senior liberal on the bench, he told CNN.  He went on to say that he has to consider two things when making his decision: “Primarily, of course, health… Second, the court.”

Former clerks to Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer told Insider they’re surprised he hasn’t resigned yet given the Democrats’ slim majority in the U.S. Senate.

What began as “vaccine hesitancy” has morphed into outright vaccine hostility, as conservatives increasingly attack the White House’s coronavirus message, mischaracterize its vaccination campaign and, more and more, vow to skip the shots altogether, the Washington Post reports.

“The notion that the vaccine drive is pointless or harmful — or perhaps even a government plot — is increasingly an article of faith among supporters of former president Donald Trump, on a par with assertions that the last election was stolen and the assault on the U.S. Capitol was overblown.”

Veteran GOP pollster Frank Luntz advised President Biden’s pandemic response team, sharing research with the White House to help develop strategies for encouraging individuals skeptical about the vaccine to get inoculated, The Hill reports.

“An Alabama military base is taking increased actions to combat the ongoing prevalence of coronavirus infections, authorizing leaders to ask for proof of vaccination of service members not wearing a mask while on duty,” the Washington Post reports.

“It is the first military base in the continental United States to allow leaders to check the vaccination status of those in uniform.”

“General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, likened Donald Trump’s effort to hold on to power after the 2020 election to Adolf Hitler, saying the president was preaching ‘the gospel of the Führer’ with his lies about the election being stolen, according to a new book by two Washington Post reporters,” New York Magazine reports.

“As chronicled in I Alone Can Fix It, by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, the Pentagon’s top general said shortly before the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol that Trump had led the country to the brink of its own ‘Reichstag moment,’ viewing him as a potential threat to American democracy.”

Washington Post: “Milley described ‘a stomach-churning’ feeling as he listened to Trump’s untrue complaints of election fraud, drawing a comparison to the 1933 attack on Germany’s parliament building that Hitler used as a pretext to establish a Nazi dictatorship.”

CNN reports Milley “was so shaken” that Trump and his allies “might attempt a coup or take other dangerous or illegal measures after the November election that Milley and other top officials informally planned for different ways to stop Trump.”

“I never threatened, or spoke about, to anyone, a coup of our Government… If I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with is General Mark Milley… I’m not into coups!”  — Former President Donald Trump, responding in a statement to reports that Milley was concerned Trump would stage a coup after losing the election.

“As the pandemic raged across the U.S. last year, drug overdoses took a savage turn for the worse, killing more than 93,000 people,” BuzzFeed News reports.  “The 29.4% increase is an alarming jump from 2019, which also set a record after 71,000 people died from drug overdoses.”

Politico: “Other than questioning its financing, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has aired little criticism of the bipartisan agreement to fund roads, bridges and other physical infrastructure, even as he panned Democrats’ separate spending plans on Wednesday as ‘wildly out of proportion’ given the nation’s inflation rate.”

“His cautious approach to a top Biden priority reflects the divide among Senate Republicans over whether to collaborate with Democrats on part of the president’s spending plans while fighting tooth and nail on the rest. Many Democrats predict McConnell will kill the agreement after stringing talks out for weeks, but the current infrastructure talks are particularly sensitive for the GOP leader because one of his close allies, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, is the senior Republican negotiator.”

Julie Oliver and Mike Siegel: “Joe Biden, in defeating Donald Trump, won more votes than any presidential candidate in U.S. history. But as we saw with several ballot initiatives from this past election cycle, a handful of issues outperformed Biden in red and blue states — and may offer Democrats both a popular message and a slate of wedge issues to take to voters.”

“We’ve dubbed these ‘workers, wages and weed.’”

“Legislation supporting workers, improving wages and legalizing marijuana are progressive, Democratic policies. But they’re also extremely popular among Republicans and moderates.”

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) told Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) that he was responsible for the Capitol riot while the scene was evolving on Jan. 6, according to a new book, The Hill reports.

In I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year, Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker write about a phone call between Cheney and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in which the Wyoming Republican describes a confrontation she had with Jordan during the riot.

Said Cheney: “That fucking guy Jim Jordan. That son of a bitch.… While these maniacs are going through the place, I’m standing in the aisle and he said, ‘We need to get the ladies away from the aisle. Let me help you.’ I smacked his hand away and told him, ‘Get away from me. You fucking did this.’”

“The biggest — and arguably most challenging — climate policy change could be the imposition of emissions-based import fees commonly referred to as a carbon-based border adjustment tax,” Roll Call reports.

“Such an approach also would respond to Republicans who have repeatedly highlighted other countries’ contributions to climate change in criticizing Democratic proposals to reduce domestic emissions.”

Said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA): “If some country doesn’t have any constraints on carbon, is producing a product in an extremely dirty manner, and in your … country you’re putting in some more carbon restrictions — well that gives that foreign business an unfair advantage.”

Former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin wouldn’t answer questions on CNBC over whether former President Donald Trump is lying when he claims the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

Bloomberg: “North Korea is facing its worst food shortages in more than a decade, it said in a report to the United Nations, giving the world notice Pyongyang is bracing for one of its biggest domestic challenges since Kim Jong Un took power.”

China will launch a national emissions-trading program on Friday, creating the world’s largest carbon market and doubling the share of global emissions covered under such programs,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro “has been admitted to hospital complaining of abdominal pain after being struck down by an unremitting bout of the hiccups which has lasted for more than 10 days,” The Guardian reports.

“Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy and a longtime friend of President Biden, reportedly is under consideration to be US ambassador to Austria,” the Boston Globe reports.

“The Biden administration is set to begin evacuations of Afghan interpreters and translators who aided the U.S. military effort in the nearly 20-year war,” the Associated Press reports.

“An Iranian American journalist living in Brooklyn was the target of an international kidnapping plot orchestrated by an Iranian intelligence network,” the New York Times reports.

The chief of security at the Haiti’s presidential palace was taken into police custody as law enforcement continues to investigate President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination, the New York Times reports.

The mysterious group of suspects linked to the assassination of Haiti’s president gathered for several meetings in the months before the killing to plot a new government, the New York Times reports.

The Intercept: “A Congressional Progressive Caucus meeting on Tuesday broke out into a furious argument over the House’s package of antitrust legislation, pitting Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), whose district encompasses a large part of Silicon Valley, against the authors of the series of six bills moving through the chamber.”

“The argument began when Lofgren, one of the most senior Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee and an opponent of the legislation, noted that she had raised an extraordinary amount of money from Silicon Valley companies over the years, but because she ran in a safe blue district, she hadn’t spent any of it on her own campaign since 1996 and instead distributed it widely to other campaigns.”

Playbook: “Multiple members were floored that Lofgren would mention Big Tech’s financial support at all during the discussion, though some took her remarks as a prebuttal of accusations that she’s in the pocket of the industry.”

Politico: “From the earliest days of his presidency, Donald Trump and his political team worked to re-engineer the infrastructure of the Republican Party, installing allies in top leadership posts in key states. The effect has been dramatic — and continues to reverberate nearly six months after he left office.”

“In red states, blue states and swing states, these leaders — nearly all of whom were elected during Trump’s presidency or right after — are redefining the traditional role of the state party chair. They are emerging not just as guardians of the former president’s political legacy, but as chief enforcers of Trumpism within the GOP. It figures to be a boon for him if he runs for another term in 2024, but also carries the risk of tying the party’s fortunes too closely to an ex-president whose political brand is toxic to many voters.”

Popular Information: “Critical Race Theory, once a little-known academic concept, is now at the center of the national political discussion. CRT is discussed incessantly on Fox News. It is featured in campaign advertisements. And legislation banning it is advancing in statehouses around the country.”

“This didn’t happen on its own. Rather, there is a constellation of non-profit groups and media outlets that are systematically injecting CRT into our politics… An investigation reveals that many of the entities behind the CRT panic share a common funding source: The Thomas W. Smith Foundation.”

Politico: “When Arizona lawmakers turned their eyes toward their own ‘critical race theory’ ban this past spring, few seemed to remember how the previous attempt to prohibit race-related studies in schools had turned out here.”

“In 2010, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a law banning Tucson’s Mexican American studies program. But today, 15 years after the curriculum first caught the attention of Republican lawmakers and a decade after they outlawed it, the courses — or at least a version of them — live on, thanks to a court-appointed monitor… Today, the program is larger than it’s ever been.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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