We’re a few days late, but happy September, especially to President Joe Biden; Nobody's happier that it's not August anymore than him.
Team Biden is now looking to start focusing more on an economic message that they hope will dominate more of the Fall – which will only be more in focus with the jobs report out this morning. That message should sync up well with all the Democrats hope to get done this month in Washington, including raising the debt ceiling, funding the government for the next fiscal year, budget reconciliation, and passing the infrastructure bill – all happening, essentially at the same time.
And if that all doesn’t move the conversation away from Afghanistan for the President, he has the Supreme Court and the Texas legislature to thank for the return of the culture wars.
And there, we begin.
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(cover image credit: The Washington Post)
A Gift from Texas to the White House: The Return of the Culture Wars
Well, there’s nothing in American politics quite like a full-blown political war over abortion and now we're going to have a doozy. The Supreme Court refusing to put the emergency brakes on Texas’s new “no abortions after six weeks” law has thrown a hand grenade into the domestic political scene. While the lengthy appeals process will eventually decide the issue – and I think the bill is unlikely to survive – there is no doubt the Court’s 5-4 decision not to act immediately on a law that is constitutionally shaky at best is a clear tell the majority is open for business on Roe v. Wade. That alone has ignited the biggest abortion fight since the 1970’s. Politically, it's hard to see how this is a good thing for Republicans; the Party has no need to run up the score in pro-life red states it already dominates, but the R’s must find a way to mount a comeback in the Trump-devastated suburbs and six week abortion bans sure are the way to do that. No suburbs? No GOP Senate Majority. (“Leader McConnell, your candidates in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire are on line one…”)
Now, if the Democrats are smart, and I'm betting they probably won't be since abortion rights are such an emotional issue to their base constituencies, they will do more than just scream outrage about abortion rights in reaction to this. The Texas bill is a real opportunity to attack the Republicans from the intellectual right; this piece of legislation has the pungent whiff of the Gestapo and the KGB all over it. It's basically a turn-in-your-neighbor bill. The whole thing is cynically designed to legally empower self-appointed citizen enforcers to jam the courts with fear inducing lawsuits. While that may be an odious gift to every snoop, fink and litigious busybody in America, it sure isn’t reflective of the values our country is built on. It’s creepy bullyboy stuff and it sure as Hell isn’t the American way. Any intellectually honest conservative should fiercely oppose it. The Democrats should attack it strongly on those grounds.
First and foremost, I think both what Texas did and the Supreme Court didn't do thrusts an issue more quickly onto the political radar than was always going to be there in 2022. The Supreme Court was already scheduled to hear a Mississippi case on its regular docket in the next term around abortion bans. So, this was destined to become part of the political back and forth. But, this dumped gasoline on some glowing embers and now there is a big fire burning. From a legal standpoint, the Supreme Court’s non-action is scary and threatens to roll back nearly a half century of protections for women. Politically, as Murphy said, this could be very advantageous for Democrats. Already, Governor Newsom in California is talking about this just 11 days before the recall election. So, too, is Terry McAuliffe in Virginia where the Governor’s race will dominate the 2021 election season. That both of them are doing so is not a coincidence.
The number of Americans that believe women should have the right to control their own bodies and make their own decisions is far greater than the 50-50 political world that we normally operate in. And so, by opening up a battle where the stakes could be overturning Roe v. Wade, this has the potential to greatly intensify voter concern about choice for the next election among Democrats as well as pro-choice Republicans (Yes, there are some of those. They live throughout the suburbs, a place that is already a challenge for Trump's party). On top of that, by next summer, we could easily have a Supreme Court vacancy, which pushes this even higher on the agenda. And if I was Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, I would bring Roe v. Wade to the floor of the Senate and the House in the next couple of weeks and get people on the record because the idea that the Supreme Court alone is going to be the decider of choice and abortion rights in America is simply not the case. Congress has a role to play and I would make everyone in Congress tell us where they stand right now.
That's a crafty idea Gibbsy, and a smart political move for the D’s. Half the reason a Senate majority is worth having is you decide what the floor fight – and headlines – will be all about and it’s in Schumer’s interest to make as much noise about this as possible. For one thing, Repubs ought to keep in mind there probably aren’t bank vaults in America big enough to fit all the small dollar Internet donations that are going to pour into Democratic coffers as pro-choice (read wealthy) outrage surges over this. While my base-obsessed pals in the GOP will remind me that most GOP electeds are from pro-life leaning districts, I would remind them that the battleground Congressional Districts mostly aren’t and a big abortion rights fight pulls attention away from better GOP issues. Plus, picking this dumb fight is very good politically for Joe Biden because, well, it's not Afghanistan.
There's no doubt in the potential galvanizing impact of this issue. As Trump-filled vacancies on the Supreme Court, nominees talked about Roe v. Wade as settled law to make it through the tricky confirmation process. Now, a Conservative majority, complete with its new Justices, could be poised to overturn what many had come to believe and depend on as a fundamental right. Frankly, if the Court acts on this, you won’t need grainy black and white pictures in TV ads with overhyped rhetoric because the impact will be obvious to women (and men) who care about this truly important issue. Murphy you always depend on Democrats snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Well, I look forward to watching a bunch of older white men in the Republican Party navigate all of this and lead that sober messaging around choice over the course of the next 13 months before the crucial 2022 midterm elections. I think the only advice I would give them is, “Iceberg dead ahead!”
I agree. It’s trouble.
Can Biden Move On From Afghanistan?
With the last US soldier leaving Afghanistan, it seems to be quiet before the storm there. As we discussed in the last issue, it’s in the Taliban's hands now to either go the eating with a knife and fork route of “We love jazz and women’s rights. Can we please have billions in Western aid now?” or get back to playing their old hits, with Mullah Baradar on the big scimitar. One thing that is for sure is – at least in the short term – the White House has no control of the situation. The Taliban can put it back on the front page and back in the center of the U.S. political debate any time it wants to.
One last point, I continue to be shocked and disappointed by how incapable the President is of giving a non-dissembling speech about Afghanistan. He's acting like he deserves a medal for all this. Yes, he ran on getting out of Afghanistan and most Americans agree with him. But nobody is really debating that. The issue is his refusal to accept any responsibly for the botched planning that led to such a bumpy ending – implying endings must always be botched – is a real mistake. But he is apparently just plain stubborn about it, which is a bad blind spot we may see on other issues in the future. The President should understand that the people who deserve a medal were the brave military miracle-workers on the ground in Kabul who pulled off an amazing task, not the POTUS or the political class in DC.
Murphy, in all my years, I've never known politicians to be stubborn! In all seriousness, I just wonder if politicians haven't over-learned this idea of never saying sorry or believing that leveling with the American people that things didn’t go as well as you would have wanted them to go somehow shows weakness. One thing President Biden and all of Washington seems to have picked up from President Trump is the unattractive idea that all politicians can never admit a mistake. This actually might have started well before Trump going back to a famous question from the great John Dickerson at a 2004 press conference when he asked George W. Bush what the biggest mistake he had made and he couldn’t think of any – even though there are always decisions you make in the Oval Office that don’t work out as you wanted them to.
Yup, there is this whole stupid thing now where pols – and especially their staff – think it’s fatal to admit mistakes. I’ve been in a lot of meetings over the years where some young staffer starts to holler about “not showing weakness!” I always yell back, “No! Show Weakness! People LOVE that. It’s human! Mea culpas work." Biden is missing that.
I agree and I think that eventually the politics of all this will be on Biden’s side. Like a broken record I continue to say that the decision to end the war was the right one. The chaos of the evacuation spoke for itself. Frankly, the American people, when asked by pollsters in the past two weeks have rendered a verdict that the withdrawal was chaotic even if leaving Afghanistan was the right thing to do. The lower than expected jobs report out this morning should push the White House to now be focusing on getting the President out of Washington to talk about jobs, infrastructure, the economy, the recovery, and even how to continue to make progress on COVID because those are the issues, along with what's happening in Texas with choice, that are more likely to determine the outcome of the elections in 2022. Far more than the withdrawal on Afghanistan. It would behoove the White House to accelerate turning the page by getting outside the Beltway to see all of this in a month when we'll see a lot of movement on Capitol Hill on issues that are important to voters.
Speaking of all the issues coming up on Capitol Hill, the other Senate Majority Leader, Senator Joe Manchin, is already predictably showing his cards around the $3.5 trillion number for the spending bill – as we’ve predicted in previous issues. That should get the conversation going for Democrats as they head back to work this month – not to mention move the convo away from Afghanistan. Boy oh boy, September is going to be crazy.
One of the truly bizarre rants this week came from House Speaker wanna-be Kevin McCarthy in threatening telecommunications companies with providing information requested in a congressional investigation about who was on the phone with whom and when on that horrible day of January 6th. This really is more of Kevin McCarthy saying the quiet part out loud, which is: “There's something to hide, and we're trying to do everything we can to hide it!” It's a flashing red light and those are never good! Kevin McCarthy is, as we've said, almost certainly going to be a witness and, oh, by the way, the new vice chair of the January 6th Commission, one Liz Cheney, is sharpening her pencils for the Q & A with Kevin McCarthy. It was pretty remarkable to watch McCarthy do and say this.
It is hilarious. McCarthy is desperately trying to cover up the big devastating secret that everybody already knows the answer to… that is highly likely some of the cuckoo birds in his GOP House caucus were in communication with some of the wild-eyed January 6th insurrectionists. Next McCarthy is going to try to cover up that Pretty Boy Floyd was seen hanging around banks. It's stupid and clumsy and Cheney is going to tear him to pieces, which is what he deserves. By the way, when the Republicans win the House, I'm not at all sure McCarthy will even be Speaker, but that's a topic for another issue.
Finally, as promised on the “Hacks on Tap” podcast, we've uncovered a long-lost publicity still for the short lived, ABC series “Chicago Rules” starring our pod partner David Axelrod. Apparently Axe played an “uptown cop with a downtown attitude” who used his encyclopedia-like knowledge of local deep dish pizza joints to solve impossible crimes. Alas, it’s not available on DVD or streaming…
Yeah, maybe for our friend Sergeant Axe, a flashing red light was a good thing.
Speaking of flashing red lights, we know that we promised our take on the California recall this issue, but we’re saving that for our post-Labor Day issue, which will be just one week from the ballot deadline. Stay tuned!
Murphy and Gibbs