Today’s Edition: Take a breath.

October 4, 2021

          After a punishing week of high stakes negotiation, Democrats kicked the can down the road to October 31st for a vote on the infrastructure bill.  How that happened and who was responsible among Democrats varies depending on which faction of the party is relating the story. I will not describe the machinations or disputed facts in detail. I have heard from enough readers to know that describing the hour-by-hour drama of last week was punishing for Democrats hoping for a unified party. If you are a glutton for punishment and want to know gory details, I highly recommend an article in Politico by Rachel Bade and Ryan Lizza, ‘The strangest thing I’ve ever seen’.

          The simplest version of what happened is that Progressives in the House threatened to vote against the infrastructure bill, so Speaker Pelosi rescheduled the vote. It appears that the White House did not “whip” Progressives to vote for the infrastructure bill in order to pressure Manchin and Sinema to soften their positions on the reconciliation package. All of this resulted in hard feelings between Progressives, centrists, and Biden. The President traveled to the Capitol on Saturday and effectively sided with the Progressives, singling out “two people” as holding up his agenda. Sinema released a statement blasting Pelosi for honoring the deal that the Speaker made with the Progressives in the first instance. As noted, gory details are in the Politico article, above.

          Whether intended or not, the delay is a good development. It should allow the parties to have a real negotiation about the substance of the reconciliation package, something that has yet to happen. Centrist Democrats likely believed that Progressives would blink. They did not, thereby leveling the negotiating power of the centrists and the Progressives. The fact that Joe Biden did not seem to pressure Progressives to vote for the infrastructure bill also strengthened their negotiating position. Let’s hope that the two wings of the Democratic Party will now approach one another as equals in the negotiations and achieve success.

          In considering reader reaction to the intramural fight, I have concluded that Manchin and Sinema are operating as a Rorschach inkblot test. Readers who are nervous that doing too much will lead to losses in the 2022 elections support Manchin and Sinema. Readers who are nervous that doing too little will lead to losses in 2022 oppose Manchin and Sinema. From there, Manchin and Sinema are either level-headed adults in the Party and speak for most Democrats, or are greedy, attention seeking narcissists who are putting their political ambition ahead of their constituents.

          The question of whether Manchin and Sinema represent the majority of Democrats is knowable. Rather than cite to existing polling about the infrastructure package (which shows a decided advantage to one faction in the fight), I will await the new batch of polling that will surely emerge in the next week or so. Given that both sides have had the opportunity to lay out their case, all parties should be guided by the wishes of the American people. In the meantime, everyone in the discussion should step back from public negotiations and start talking to their fellow Democrats about the details of the packages— rather than issuing meaningless soundbites for cable news.

          The delay is also a positive development because it decouples (in time) any votes on increasing the debt limit from the reconciliation and infrastructure bills.

          Finally, ignore every article that purports to describe the “winners and losers” of the Democratic intramural fight. It’s way too early to be making those pronouncements.

          Take a breath, settle in, and wait for Democrats to begin negotiating in earnest.

The Supreme Court begins new term.

          The Supreme Court will begin in its new term on the first Monday in October. Democrats are viewing the upcoming term with a mixture of apprehension and fear. The Court has positioned itself to promote the conservative religious agenda at the expense of all other freedoms protected in the Constitution. See Vox, “Supreme Court: 9 high-stakes issues the Court will take up this coming term.” This will be the first full term in which Chief Justice John Roberts will not control the reactionary wing of the Court. In other words, it could get wild.

          Democrats have reason to hope that the excesses of the Gorsuch Court can be remedied. If the Court follows its usual calendar, opinions from the current term will be issued by late June or early July 2022—ahead of the 2022 midterms. If the Court officially overturns Roe v. Wade or invalidates New York’s restrictions on carrying handguns, Democrats can express their disapproval in Senate and House elections that could shape the future size, composition, and jurisdiction of the Court. The time is ripe for reform; the public’s view of the Supreme Court has fallen sharply. See Gallup, “Approval of U.S. Supreme Court Down to 40%, a New Low.”

          If we can overcome the obstacle of two Senators who are single-handedly keeping the filibuster alive, Court reform is within our reach—and the Justices know it. That may either chasten them to “preserve” the Court or embolden them to act before the Court as they know it disappears. On the latter point, Ian Milhiser has written a sobering piece in Vox about how recklessly dangerous Justice Gorsuch’s opinions have been. See Vox, “The nihilism of Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.” Gorsuch (and Alito) have consistently indicated a willingness to overthrow decades of precedent on which tens of millions of Americans have relied in making life-changing financial decisions. Court reform cannot come soon enough.

Two stories to watch.

          The Washington Post joined forces with the BBC and The Guardian (among others) to review a trove of leaked documents relating to offshore shelters used by billionaires to avoid taxes. The joint project is known as “The Pandora Papers Project.” It will be the subject of ongoing disclosures in the coming week. See WaPo, “Pandora Papers reveal secret offshore financial system for global elites.” The initial release includes details regarding hidden wealth (and a mistress) of Vladimir Putin. On Monday, WaPo will turn its attention to U.S. aspects of the scandal, including the fact that South Dakota—yes, South Dakota—has become an international haven for trust funds of “people and companies accused of human rights abuses and other wrongdoing.” Stay tuned.

          The whistleblower behind the Wall Street Journal exposé about Facebook’s refusal to correct abuses on its platform was interviewed on 60 Minutes on Sunday evening. She revealed her identity and the fact that she has been cooperating with prosecutors and the S.E.C. in investigations of Facebook. See WaPo, “Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen revealed as ‘whistleblower’ behind leaked documents.” This story will become bigger as the week progresses. Haugen is scheduled to testify on Tuesday before a Senate committee that is examining Facebook’s compliance with antitrust and securities laws.

Concluding Thoughts.

          Commentators looking for an easy story are writing (predictably) that the Democrats’ intramural fight over the reconciliation bill signals certain victory for Trump. Meh. Those same commentators can’t reliably predict what will happen next week, so don’t put too much stock in what they say will happen three years from now. But we do have real-time observations that help keep things in perspective. A recent rally for Trump in Kentucky that was expected to draw 10,000 people attracted only a few hundred Trump supporters. See Newsweek, “Pro-Trump Rally Expecting 10,000 Attendees Sees Only a Few Hundred Show Up.”

          We shouldn’t overinterpret this event. Trump wasn’t on the playbill. On the other hand, the marquee included the full Trump clown show of MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, retired General Michael Flynn, and attorney Lin Wood. They are three of the leading proponents of “Stop the Steal.” This failed rally doesn’t mean we should discount Trump in 2022 and 2024. But it also shows that Trump is struggling to maintain enthusiasm over his loss in 2020. A presidential campaign based on the slogan, “I really won last time even though I lost” is hard to get behind. Yes, Trump acolytes are trying to fill state-level positions that will allow them to overturn the vote, but they will be constrained by laws that are designed to validate the will of the people. We can beat Trump, even though the process of governing is messy. As always, we have every reason to hope, but no reason to be complacent.

          Talk to you tomorrow!