Thursday Reads: Two Selfish Senators vs. DemocracyPosted: October 21, 2021
Hopes for the future of U.S. democracy and opportunities to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and improve the lives of working and middle class Americas are all being held hostage by two people who call themselves Democrats, but refuse to compromise to advance those Democratic goals. Now one of those people is threatening to leave the party, according to Mother Jones editor David Corn: SCOOP: Manchin Tells Associates He’s Considering Leaving the Democratic Party and Has an Exit Plan.
In recent days, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has told associates that he is considering leaving the Democratic Party if President Joe Biden and Democrats on Capitol Hill do not agree to his demand to cut the size of the social infrastructure bill from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion, according to people who have heard Manchin discuss this. Manchin has said that if this were to happen, he would declare himself an “American Independent.” And he has devised a detailed exit strategy for his departure.
Manchin has been in the center of a wild rush of negotiations with his fellow Democrats and the White House over a possible compromise regarding Biden’s ambitious Build Back Better package, and Manchin’s opposition to key provisions—including Medicare and Medicaid expansion, an expanded child tax credit, and measures to address climate change—has been an obstacle that the Democrats have yet to overcome. As these talks have proceeded, Manchin has discussed bolting from the Democratic Party—perhaps to place pressure on Biden and Democrats in these negotiations.
He told associates that he has a two-step plan for exiting the party. First, he would send a letter to Sen. Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, removing himself from the Democratic leadership of the Senate. (He is vice chair of the Senate Democrats’ policy and communications committee.) Manchin hopes that would send a signal. He would then wait and see if that move had any impact on the negotiations. After about a week, he said, he would change his voter registration from Democrat to independent.
It is unclear whether in this scenario Manchin would end up caucusing with the Democrats, which would allow them to continue to control the Senate, or side with the Republicans and place the Senate in GOP hands. In either event, he would hold great sway over this half of Congress.
Without Manchin’s vote, the Democrats cannot pass the package in the 50–50 Senate. And a vote on this measure is key to House passage of the $1 trillion bipartisan road-bridges-and-broadband infrastructure bill the Senate approved in August. (Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, has also been a problem for the party.) Manchin has met with Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and a variety of his fellow Senate Democrats this week in an effort to strike a deal. Through it all, he has insisted that $1.75 trillion is his top and final offer, and he has constantly said no to proposed programs that almost every other congressional Democrat supports. He has told his fellow Democrats that if they don’t accept his position, they risk getting nothing.
At Politico, Playbook reporters have the “backstory” on Corn’s scoop.
A rather angry Manchin told our Burgess Everett that Corn’s story was “bullshit.”
We talked to Corn on Wednesday night and came away with the impression of a reporter who is 1,000% sure his story was correct.
“The sourcing was impeccable,” Corn said. “Even if he had told me it was bullshit the story still would have run.”
Corn contacted Manchin’s office early Wednesday telling his press secretary that he had a time-sensitive story and wanted to make sure he had a good Manchin contact who could respond. Manchin’s press secretary asked the reporter to send it to her.
At around 10:30 a.m., Corn sent her an email outlining what he would be reporting. No response.
At noon he followed up. “I said we are going to post soon, will you be getting back to me,” Corn told Playbook. “And silence — crickets.”
We’ve known Corn for a long time and we trust him. We’ve known his scrupulous editor Clara Jeffery for even longer. (Full disclosure: One of us was her intern in 1997!) Corn and Mother Jones did not invent this. Manchin clearly told someone the account that Corn relayed in his piece.
Why now? We’ve heard several theories that this was a strategic leak. Some say it was designed to reduce Manchin’s leverage in the reconciliation talks by making him seem desperate.
“I’m just wondering if Joe is blowing off some steam to someone or whether someone planted the story to put pressure on Joe,” a friend of the senator told Playbook. “He hasn’t talked about leaving the party in a very long time. And he’s just not in a desperate situation. He’s feeling like he’s holding all the cards.”
Conversely, others say the story was meant to increase Manchin’s leverage by scaring Democrats. A Manchin exit from the Democratic Party would be hugely embarrassing for Biden. (Though, as several of Manchin’s Senate colleagues told us, even if Manchin became an independent it doesn’t necessarily mean that he wouldn’t caucus with the Democrats.)
But our best (informed) guess is that it was neither — that this story, like many good scoops, fell into Corn’s lap without any Machiavellian strategy behind it.
FWIW, we couldn’t help notice that both Corn and Manchin were spotted circulating at the same party Monday night at the French ambassador’s residence, where Steve Clemons was being honored with France’s Legion of Honor.
Manchin Democratic Party exit rumors seem to spike once a season, and they’ve been circulating recently. Even the most plugged-in operatives don’t completely discount the idea that Manchin may have discussed the idea. For instance, when we asked a senior White House official about the Corn report, the person replied, “It’s all been kicking around. Who knows?
More Manchin reads:
The Washington Post: All eyes on Manchin after Republicans again block voting rights legislation.
And then there’s Kyrsten Sinema. At New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait writes: Report: Sinema Bent on Destroying Biden Presidency to Keep Taxes on the Wealthy Low.
The Wall Street Journal today reports that Sinema “has told lobbyists that she is opposed to any increase” in taxes on high-income individuals, businesses, or capital gains. Her opposition is reportedly “pushing Democrats to more seriously plan for a bill that doesn’t include those major revenue increases.”
If this report is true, it would likely be a death blow to Biden’s social agenda. Senate rules require that creating or expanding any social program — health care, child care, education, or anything else — can only be made permanent if it has some funding source. If Sinema refuses to support any tax increases on the wealthy, there’s no financing available to come anywhere close.
Biden’s plan does have some other funding. One stream of income is beefed-up enforcement of taxes owed by the Internal Revenue Service. That plan is under pressure from centrist Democrats and likely to exist in shrunken form, if at all. The other is a proposal to allow Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs, which would save half a trillion dollars over a decade that could be used to cover new spending. But Sinema reportedly opposes that, too.
Politico has a more restrained version of the same report on Sinema’s position, leaving open the possibility of theoretically finding some way of taxing rich people other than the ones Democrats have been planning on. But even if she identifies such a method, it would start the arduous process of building consensus and then overcoming the inevitable lobbying response from scratch, probably dooming the entire process. CNBC’s Kayla Tausche likewise reports that Sinema has endorsed small, but not nonexistent, increases in rates on the wealthy. Either she has changed her mind or is telling different things to different people, but the upshot is that she has a wildly divergent position on taxing the wealthy than any other member of her caucus.
What makes her opposition to taxing the wealthy so peculiar is that it is not a public opinion winner. Democratic promises to raise taxes on the wealthy are one of the most popular elements of their plan. What’s more, Sinema voted against the Trump tax cuts — and those tax cuts completely failed to produce the promised increase in business investment that was their rationale.
The Democratic party’s main political asset is its willingness to make a very tiny number of people pay more money that can finance programs that benefit a very large number of people. That only works up to a point — at some level, you can raise taxes on the rich so high it fails to yield any new revenue — but there is no evidence the current tax code is anywhere near that level. Indeed, after the Trump tax cuts, the tax code for the wealthy has become scandalously lax.
From The Daily Beast: Kyrsten Sinema’s Own Advisers Just Dumped Her.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s own advisors are the latest former allies to have had enough of the Arizona Democrat’s political maneuvering: on Thursday, the New York Times reported that five military veterans resigned from a board advising the senator on policy issues.
In a letter to Sinema, they confronted her with a litany of offenses—accusing her of using them as “window dressing” for her political brand, ignoring their recommendations, and going back on her campaign promises to protect voting access and reduce the price of prescription drugs.
“Are you choosing to answer to big donors rather than Arizonans?” they asked. “These are not the actions of a maverick.”
Their joint resignation letter was highlighted in a new ad from the progressive veterans’ group Common Dreams, which has already bankrolled ad campaigns targeting Sinema for her resistance to a multi-trillion dollar social spending package championed by President Joe Biden and nearly all Democratic lawmakers.
Sinema’s objections could well reduce the size of that legislation by at least $1 trillion and scuttle elements that are broadly popular in the party—like raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for investments in health care and energy. Unlike fellow objector Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sinema has largely been silent on her positions through negotiations, exasperating Democrats who need her support in order to pass the bill.
Onetime allies and friends of Sinema’s in Arizona have been flummoxed by her moves, too, and The Daily Beast has reported that she is increasingly isolated after having alienated much of her former political network. Amid her public silence, she has largely stiffed national and constituent groups hoping to engage with her on the legislation.
Manchin and Sinema are determined to destroy the country for their own selfish reasons. A pox on both their houses!
I’ll end with this sobering piece from Dame Magazine: Sleepwalking Toward A Post Democracy America, by Brynne Tannahill. This is what Manchin and Sinema are enabling.
There has been a dawning realization among some of thecenter-left that the GOP fully intends to end democracy in the U.S. and assume permanent control of the government. Even neoconservatives like Robert Kagan have come to this same conclusion. The GOP is telegraphing their punches clearly: They’re forcing out any Republicans who would oppose a soft coup; Trump will run in 2024; he will win the nomination, and, if he doesn’t win the Electoral College outright, he will declare the election fraudulent the morning after. Whereupon states with GOP governors and legislatures will overturn the state election results and send alternate slates of electors, forcing a constitutional crisis, the GOP is likely to win.
The fact that it has taken this long for people to recognize the real danger here is something of testament to how omnipresent and blinding the myth of American exceptionalism is, resulting in “it can’t happen here” becoming cultural dogma. In reality, John Eastman wrote amemorandum proposing this exact method to overturn the election in 2020, which Trump latched onto, and was the raison d’être for the January 6th assault on the capitol, where the insurrectionists were trying to force Vice-President Pence to carry out part of the plan.
John Eastman isn’t just some random Republican lawyer. He was a professor of law. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. He founded the anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage. And he served as chairman of the Federalist Society’s Federalism & Separation of Powers practice group, and as a board member of the Claremont Institute—a powerful conservative think tank providing support to the GOPs efforts to enact acompetitive authoritarian coup.
Claremont president Ryan Williamsdeclared in an interview with The Atlantic that “the mission of the Claremont Institute is to save Western civilization.” Their plan to save “Western civilization” requires that conservatives “effect a realignment of our politics and take control of all three branches of government for a generation or two.”
Ultimately, Claremont believes that Western civilization is at stake because the U.S. is controlled by people who aren’t really American. “Most people living in the United States today—certainly more than half—are not Americans in any meaningful sense of the term.” This is in great part because they (wrongly) think: “The Founders were pretty unanimous, with Washington leading the way, that the Constitution is really only fit for a Christian people”
The narrative is clear: Conservatives believe that they need to seize permanent control and re-center their brand of Christianity as the basis for government, culture, and law. They do not believe that more than 50% of America matters, because they are not “real Americans.” Their vision for government is one in which more than half the country is systematically disenfranchised and forced to live in a society in which they have little say.
The greatest irony of Williams’s Atlantic article is that he says he fears a civil war, but fails to acknowledge his plan for overthrowing democracy and instituting a theocratic authoritarian government as the likely cause. In the same way that some Republicans shrug off slavery as a “necessary evil,” modern conservatives see the destruction of democracy and disenfranchisement of most Americans as vaguely regrettable, but necessary to save “Western civilization.”
This is a very long article, so I hope you’ll go read the Rest at Dame Magazine.