If you couldn’t tell from our last newsletter, it has been quite a week in the wild world of politics, which is great if you’re in the Hacks business. Though it’s not so great if you’re tired of the infrastructure puns because now the real hard part begins for the bill in the House.
We start there and then talk about the politics around the security situation in Afghanistan, plus some more tidbits as we head into a much-deserved weekend.
Let’s start with the wild world of reconciliation…
If You Thought Infrastructure Week was Long, Buckle Up!
What a week! Lots of storylines and I think lots of things that popped up on the political radar worth watching over the course of the next few months. There's good news and bad news. The good news is, after five years, Infrastructure Week finally paid off. The bad news is what just was accomplished was the easy part. And much of what Murphy has been predicting in earlier editions of this newsletter, I must reluctantly agree, is about to come to pass. (I'm hoping not to make this a regular utterance in our newsletters.)
As the debate shifts to the House, Murphy, you’ve always alluded to how Nancy Pelosi has to thread the needle with House Progressives. This week showed that House moderates are also going to play an active role and potentially flex their muscles here.
It’s true! In a razor thing vote, any handful of Members can have a lot of leverage, especially if they are willing to be the proverbial skunks at the garden party; be those skunks Progressives, moderates, or even SALT tax haters. (Nope, it’s not a tax on actual salt.)
Just like a 50-50 Senate, the majority for Democrats in the House is so narrow that literally a restaurant booth worth of people can affect the outcome of these votes. Manchin has laid down a marker with Sinema that $3.5 trillion on reconciliation is too much. House Progressives want to hold the line saying they’ve already compromised to get to that number. House moderates are objecting to waiting on voting for the bipartisan infrastructure deal and don’t want to cast a vote on the larger budget reconciliation number if they know it will be smaller in the end. So, all of that means the next few months are going to be as wild a legislative period on Capitol Hill as I think many people can remember. Not only do you have reconciliation and infrastructure, but we’ve got to figure out funding for the government next year and oh, by the way, raise the debt limit. On that, Democrats, including President Biden, said this week, not to worry Republicans wouldn't let the country default on the debt, while Mitch McConnell has said Republicans won’t support an increase. The contest to see who flinches first has indeed begun. So, again, the easy part, which took months and months and months is over. The climb straight uphill has now begun.
By the way, since we’re probably going to be talking about it for a while, here’s a quick video that talks through what we mean by reconciliation (don’t worry all you Catholic readers, it’s not what you might think).
Even the easy part was difficult, but I agree the best case seems to be that the infrastructure bill is going to get slowed down. It would be far better politically for President Biden if it got into law faster. The worst case would be if the infrastructure bill becomes a casualty of a Progressive revolt in the House over Progressive rage and disappointment over the Democrats' proposed $3.5 trillion spending package being significantly shrunk in the Senate. With Manchin and Sinema voicing their concerns about the size and cost of the bill, it’s very likely that downsizing will happen. So, the path to getting both done – as Speaker Pelosi has promised – is getting more complicated. The Senate spending bill is also going to require at least some fig leaf revenue measures to be added to it, which will throw the even larger monkey wrench of a tax debate into the whole equation. Meanwhile the Republicans will be more than happy to get into the trenches and fight the Dem mega-spending bill and the taxes connected to it as a terrible budget-buster. So, in some ways, we’ve gone retro! We're back to the old arguments, without the Trump crazy factor. But this one, as you say Gibbs, is going to get really difficult, really soon. I still think for that reason it was a mistake for Speaker Pelosi to combine both bills because doing that ties the big political win from infrastructure bill to internal Dem battles over the huge domestic spending bill. But that's where we are.
There were some good movements on the House side this week. Originally Murphy's favorite Oregonian congressman Pete DeFazio had insisted legislation he wrote and the House passed earlier on infrastructure spending be compromised with the bipartisan legislation that passed this week. He originally said he wasn't going to accept what the Senate sent over. He's dropped that objection and I think that shows the power of 69 votes roaring out of the Senate.
Overall, the thing that makes me optimistic is Nancy Pelosi has done this before. In the words of many: this ain't her first rodeo. I think her experience and leadership in this plus what we've always talked about: the glue that will bind everyone together, regardless of their place in the party's political spectrum is that it is imperative to get something done. The last thing the Democrats want is have an internal fight and not be able to get something passed. It would become, quite frankly, way too easy for Republicans in the Fall of 2022 if Democrats blew this up. So, I'm optimistic, and I'm glad the conductor of our train (not stopping my infrastructure puns at this stage in the game) is Speaker Pelosi.
Who Lost Afghanistan?
With apologies to the Amazing Kreskin…
… I'm going to predict the future Gibbs and see if you agree. I think there's a big debate coming soon in Washington that will be entitled: “Who Lost Afghanistan?” With President Biden pulling American troops, the Taliban is on the fast march. It’s likely, according to the Pentagon, that Kabul may fall in a few months. If the Taliban does take functional control of the country, there will be a loud finger pointing debate about how we got here, what it means and who to blame.
By all accounts, and news reports, the speed at which the Taliban has grabbed now fifteen different provincial capitals (as of writing this) in such a short period of time has surprised almost everyone. More shocking was the announcement that 3,000 more U.S. troops were going back to help safely evacuate Americans at the embassy. I agree with you, there will be finger pointing. The challenge will be that there are lots of different places those fingers may point to. Some will point back to Trump's announcement in February of 2020 that troops were going to leave as the planning point for the Taliban and the loss of leverage needed to make a more lasting peace, if possible. Trump wanted to end these foreign commitments, bring troops home and promote his America First agenda, which frankly was politically popular. Some could point to Biden accelerating his own timeline and the decision to leave no rapid reaction force behind to help stabilize the country and possibly prevent some of what we are now seeing.
What I think the last two weeks in Afghanistan have also proven though is, and this will play a part in this finger pointing exercise, no amount of our blood and treasure could have fixed all of this. The United States has spent $90 billion training Afghan military, police, and special forces in Afghanistan. Those security forces have melted away almost overnight. In some cases there has been literally no resistance to this Taliban offensive. And so, when you hear leaders in both parties suggest that spending in perpetuity is somehow going to solve this problem, the last two weeks proved that's not close to being the case. So, I think a lot to watch on this over the coming weeks, and to see whether Kabul falls to Taliban control, or do we have a long, bloody, tragic civil war inside of Afghanistan for control of Kabul? Does some international force come back quickly to prevent more of what we are seeing on the ground?
Indeed, that $90 billion in training appears to be the most expensive remake of a Police Academy movie in world history. The question now, after the finger pointing, is going to be what to do about Pakistan? Strategically, we can endure a civil war in Afghanistan, although the humanitarian cost will be heartbreaking. But we have to shore up nuclear armed Pakistan, which is a fragile regime. It’s in Biden’s interest to come up with a new, practical and informed by experience strategy for the region that turns the page in a way that enhances American security. I think it was a major Biden mistake to pull the last trigger force out. But that's done so the debate now has to be over what the future plan is, or the entire region could fester and get much worse, which would mean a massive American military involvement. If that happens, it will deeply shake US politics.
Now to some tidbits for the weekend…
Even astute political observers can be forgiven, that in such an enormously busy week, if they missed this important tidbit: longtime Congressman Ron Kind from Wisconsin announced earlier this week, he wouldn't seek reelection. He's a moderate. He’s served 13 terms in the House of Representatives. He was first elected in 1996 (not a typo) and is one of seven Democrats that represent Congress in a district that Trump won (and one of an even fewer where Trump saw his political standing actually increase from 2016 to 2020). In 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama won his district but the landscape has been changing. But despite that, this announcement came as a bit of a surprise to Democrats and really underscores the big challenge as we head into redistricting and the 2022 campaign. Holding the House for Democrats will be an enormous challenge and news like this makes it even harder.
Indeed, Republican strategists looking at the Congressional midterms are a bit giddy these days. They think Republicans will be able to throw a strong one-two punch. The infrastructure bill (if it passes into law) will help GOP incumbents take credit for something getting done in Washington on a bipartisan basis while the big looming battle over President Biden’s massive spending plans will give GOP candidates an easy way to “play the old hits” on the dangers of out-of-control liberal tax and spend policies. That said, it’s not going to be that simple. There is no shortage of whispered internal GOP worry about what politically stupid things the Orange Caesar of Mar-a-Lago might do and thereby push Republican election year messaging off target and make far too much of next year’s election debate about Trump, as the former President runs down a rabbit hole into toward Jan 6 Crazytown. The other reasons for GOP optimism are historical norms (the President’s party usually loses a bunch of seats in first term Congressional elections) and redistricting, because the GOP controls more state legislatures (where seats are drawn) in more places than Democrats. Finally, there is reapportionment.
What’s Reapportionment?!? Here’s a primer, courtesy of our friends at the US Census:
Population growth in “red” states and decline in “blue” states should help the GOP get a seat or two for “free.” So, the net outcome is good for the GOP, not no Dem wipeout. That’s because the census data also reveals that population patterns in the swing and bluer states show growth among more Democratic areas and constituencies (such as Latinos); that’s not good news for Republicans in those states. So, these new precinct by precinct census numbers are mixed; the GOP is doing well in the macro state-by-state numbers while the Democrats can get comfort from the micro numbers within many states. (Check out the Cook Political Report for more on this.)
One final tidbit getting back to the mess in New York from our favorite Texan Hack in a Hat, Mark McKinnon, who Tweeted earlier this week: “It didn’t help that Cuomo kept his enemies far and his friends farther.”
I don't think there was much of a scenario where Governor Cuomo could have possibly survived the Attorney General's report once it became public. But what I know for certain is no Democrat, because of Cuomo’s personal relationships, was ever going to stick their neck out, or try to break his fall. I think McKinnon's Tweet is a good lesson in politics and a good lesson in life.
I agree. And just to cover any future downside, let me say Gibbs, I love you man!
We’ll have plenty more for you on Tuesday. In the meantime, leave your comments and have a great weekend.
Murphy and Gibbs