Today’s Edition: Republicans have left the building.

September 23, 2021

          President Biden is attempting to manage tensions in the Democratic caucus that are threatening both the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation package. Per the NYTimes, Biden pressured so-called centrist Democrats to “find a number you’re comfortable with [and tell us] how we deliver to the American people . . . so Democrats [can] coalesce behind a plan that [can] pass.” Speaker Pelosi and Senator Bernie Sanders both provided reassuring statements. Sanders said,

          When you’ve got 50 votes and none to lose, and you’ve got three to spare in the House, there’s a lot of give and take — that’s just the way it is. It’s tough. But I think at the end of the day, we’re going to be fine.

Given that Sanders is key to the bills’ success in the Senate, his assurance of a successful outcome should be given great weight. [Late Wednesday evening, Biden said that “progress” had been made during meetings with Democrats during the day. See The Hill, “Biden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on $3.5T plan.”]

          Assuming that Democrats can find a path to success on their legislative agenda, they still need to keep the nation’s lights on. Faced with a national fiscal emergency, Republicans have ‘left the building.’ Their maneuver is one of the most cynical and despicable acts of partisanship ever to disgrace the Senate. Raising the debt ceiling has occurred with bipartisan support nearly 100 times since 1944—with Republican administrations raising the ceiling more frequently than Democratic administrations. Mitch McConnell has chosen this moment to weaponize the debt ceiling because he sees an opportunity to derail Biden’s entire legislative agenda.

          “Despicable” is not strong enough to describe McConnell’s actions. Depraved. Disgusting. Un-American. Anti-democratic. Even those descriptors fail to capture the essence of betrayal that can occur only in the absence of a soul or a conscience.

          But it gets worse. Trump is cheering on McConnell, saying that Republicans would be “foolish” if they failed to use the debt ceiling as negotiating leverage. To the contrary, Republicans are foolish for accepting negotiating advice from Trump. He was so reviled as a businessman that no U.S. bank would lend to him. Trump was ultimately kept afloat by loans from Russian money on deposit at Deutsche Bank.  That is not the person Republicans should be taking advice from.

          Incredibly, every single Republican in Congress has fallen into lockstep with orders from Trump. Even Mitt Romney said, “Nope, not gonna happen,” when asked if there was “any way” that he would vote to increase the debt ceiling. Hmm. . . Romney must be forgetting that he voted to increase the debt ceiling by $2.2 trillion under President Trump in 2019 when tax revenues failed to keep up with spending (because of the Republican tax cut).

          The anxiety-producing bad-faith antics of the Republicans are irrelevant. Democrats can unilaterally raise the debt ceiling and should have done so already. At long last, they are talking about doing so as a “Plan B.” That’s precious because there was never a viable “Plan A.” See CNN Politics, “Anxious Democrats float Plan B: Raise debt ceiling on party-line vote.”

          To be clear, it doesn’t matter whether it is Plan B or Plan Z, Congress will raise the debt ceiling because it has no choice. The ensuing financial and economic chaos would be devastating to our nation. Democrats should step up as a unified caucus to do the right thing. If they can’t do so, some Republicans will join them to stave off disaster. In the meantime, this is irritating as heck. It shouldn’t be like this.

The Pandemic.

          The FDA approved Pfizer Covid booster shots for people over 65 and for immune-compromised adults. Pfizer’s clinical trials for Covid vaccines for children 5 to 11 have shown that the vaccine is safe and effective in children. FDA approval is expected this year.

          In a development likely to anger those who have been vaccinated, Tennessee announced that it would reserve life-saving monoclonal antibody treatment for unvaccinated patients with Covid-19. See Business Insider, “Tennessee says vaccinated people should be last in line for antibody treatments in order to save those drugs for the unvaccinated.” Rationing healthcare is ethically difficult and fraught with conflicting goals. In this case, however, Tennessee’s decision to put vaccinated people at the “end of the line” for life-saving treatment is stupid and dangerous.

          Simply put, by assuring anti-vaxxers and vaccine-hesitant people that they will get VIP treatment in Tennessee hospitals at the expense of vaccinated people, the state is telling its irresponsible citizens that they will be held harmless from their own stupidity. If Tennessee announced that it would give life-saving treatment only to those motorcycle drivers who do not wear helmets, Tennessee would discourage the use of helmets by motorcyclists. That is a perverse incentive.

          I acknowledge that my analogy is not perfect, but it does illustrate the perverse incentives that Tennessee’s decision creates. Those perverse incentives are also at work in the order by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee that allows anyone and everyone to opt-out of school mask mandates. The reason that Tennessee must ration healthcare is because it has failed to take appropriate steps to encourage its citizens to protect themselves from Covid. The decision to penalize those who are vaccinated by denying them care is another unwise decision by state leaders who have already failed their constituents in the most fundamental way possible

Developments regarding Trump’s crimes.

          There have been several high-profile developments relating to investigations and criminal proceedings regarding Trump and his enablers. I have not commented on these stories because none of them involve direct actions against Trump for crimes he committed while president. As always, a good place to start would be his effort to extort Ukraine and to overthrow the 2020 election. Until the DOJ steps up, most of the stories about Trump’s misdeeds fall into the “interesting but ultimately irrelevant.”

          Someone leaked a memo from Trump attorney John Eastman that laid out a step-by-step plan for overturning the 2020 election. See Talking Points Memo, “How The Newly Revealed ‘Eastman Memo’ Fits Into Trump’s Election Theft Conspiracy.” Eastman’s memo is filled with seemingly deliberate legal and factual errors to justify Trump remaining in office by having Pence refuse to count the Electoral ballots. Trump attempted to implement the coup plot but failed because Pence refused to cooperate. In the meantime, Trump is playing golf at Mar-a-Lago and Eastman is teaching law at Chapman University, apparently unconcerned that their coup-plotting has been revealed to the DOJ. BTW, Eastman is a former clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas, which may explain why the memo was riddled with errors.

          In the trial of Trump’s former CEO, Allen Weisselberg, defense counsel indicated that “other indictments are coming.” See Business Insider, “Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg's lawyer says they have 'strong reason to believe other indictments are coming'.” That statement set off a round of speculation that Trump would be included in the next round of indictments. If so, that would be a positive step forward. But it would address ancillary tax fraud that occurred before Trump became president. In order for justice to be served, the DOJ should prosecute Trump’s extortion of Ukraine and his attempted coup, including the events of January 6th.

          Finally, a GOP political operative who has worked for the campaigns of Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul was indicted for funneling money from a Russian donor to the Trump campaign. Foreign nationals cannot contribute to U.S. political campaigns. The indictment was issued shortly before the five-year statute of limitations was set to expire. The essential facts have been known publicly for four years. The DOJ gave no explanation for the unusual delay. See Talking Points Memo, “It’s Been 5 Years Since Russian Cash Was Allegedly Funneled Into The Trump Campaign. Why Wasn’t It Charged Until Now?

          It is possible that the above indictment is the first indication that Merrick Garland’s internal review of DOJ misconduct is bearing fruit. If prosecutors failed to bring the suit earlier because it involved Trump, that would suggest an effort to protect the former president. Let’s hope this indictment is the first of many to come—along with explanations from the DOJ as to whether any prosecutors or senior leaders have been disciplined for bending the rules for Trump.

Concluding Thoughts.

          The reason McConnell can get away with threatening to throw the economy into chaos is because he knows Democrats will always do the right thing. In other words, he is exploiting their innate goodness and decency. It is the strategy of every cheat and demagogue who has sullied American politics since our founding. While it doesn’t feel good knowing that we are being taken advantage of, it should make us proud that Republicans are certain that Democrats will act to protect the interests of the American people, even if it costs them politically. Let’s keep doing the right thing, no matter what. Voters will notice. Indeed, the already have.

          Talk to you tomorrow!