Well, it’s déjà vu to last week’s newsletters because we’re just about where we started on the Hill. We give our takes on where we think things are heading (or not heading) from here and then some tidbits!
(Cover Photo Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images News)
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Will Speaker Pelosi Get this Train Back on the Tracks?
Well, Murphy, what a week that was!
Yeah, I have some broken train parts on my front lawn if anybody needs them. They flew here all the way from Washington in a big fireball. So now what Gibbs? Your side now apparently hates each other more than they hate the Trump Republicans, which is saying something. First, what do you think the damage is? Obviously there's a lot of DC commentariat pearl clutching about the events of last week, but fundamentally, I do think it's a big disastrous deal when the President's own party can’t get together on a bill so strong on the merits that it passed the bitterly divided Senate with over 60 votes? What do you think the impact is and, more importantly, how does President Biden get out of this mess?
Well, great questions as always Murphy. Maybe the most interesting development of the week was Friday with Biden going to Capitol Hill. Generally, you bring Presidents up to speak to the Democratic Caucus to seal the deal. This, on the other hand, was Biden going up to start the deal. He went back to relinking bipartisan infrastructure and the reconciliation deal, which I've always thought one sort of had to go with the other. When Speaker Pelosi seemed to de-link them last week, I thought there was some strategy there, but in the end the Progressives saying no to that was, in fact, too much. I do think Biden had two lessons for the Democratic Caucus, both of which I think most people already knew, but they needed somebody of the President’s political stature to tell them. And that was, that these bills are not separate, they're together. They're linked, and one isn't going to happen until the other happens. That was the hard news for moderates to hear. The hard news for Progressives was Biden telling them that it's not going to be a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill.
This is something we've known for months because of where Manchin and Sinema have been, but that message hadn't altogether gotten through. So, the President was sort of in the unenviable task of trying to herd cats in a way. I’m still optimistic overall that this will eventually get done because I think what Friday did was finally begin to have everybody understand, and maybe the most important thing is something we've said all along, which is, you're either gonna get something or you're gonna get nothing. And getting nothing is untenable. Getting nothing is abject failure. A lot has to happen in order to get this deal done and Murphy, you mentioned that the single biggest thing is going to be overcoming the increasing trust issues the Democratic caucus is facing with each side using, quite frankly, cable TV to try to create leverage. Newsflash for Members of Congress, this isn't going to happen on a four o'clock cable show. It shouldn't. It should be done respectfully with both sides making their points, but trying to also understand the other side. Yes, I know that sounds naïve, but we are all on the same team here! So I'm hoping that this respite and getting the House out of town will allow cooler heads to at least begin to prevail.
Yeah, in the old days they could just get them all drunk in the old “Board of Education” secret drinking room off the floor that Rayburn had and get this thing done. Now, apparently, as you say, it's all done on cable TV. I wonder if that's part of the new lawless era of DC Post-Trump, where it's essentially impossible to do classic the Dance of Legislation since its all carried live on ideological television. That's a bad new factor.
I think in the end there will be a Franken-bill of sorts. And, by the way, I think I finally atoned for my closer than final numbers on my Gavin Newsom prediction since I’ve predicted for about 10 newsletters that the Progs would indeed revolt, riot and sink infrastructure. The question is now that the loony left in the House has tasted blood, how do you get them back on board for a bill that may land at under $2 trillion? Like the circus tiger that ate the trainer, it’s is going to be hard to get them to continue to cooperate, but we'll see. Meanwhile the POTUS looks like a bystander to his own domestic legislative agenda. Not good. The fact that Biden, who was supposed to be the Post-Trump master of the system return to normalcy, can have a spectacle like this week has to damage his core narrative politically. We know from the polling data decline since Kabul that he’s already bleeding and this sure didn't help.
I will say Biden did pull a pretty slick move; joining the revolution before it stormed the palace, but boy oh boy, that was rough treatment of Speaker Pelosi. She tries to assert control of her conference by forcing a vote on infrastructure and when it’s looking tough and she’s in the corner, she looks over her shoulder to Biden for back up… and bang, he's putting on a Mao cap and joining the Revolution. Ouch.
In the end of this Nancy Pelosi is going to be in that chair gaveling agreement through the House. This is the famous sausage making that people talk about and they’re right, it isn’t pretty. But, I'm not convinced that it's what is capturing the imagination of people in middle America. And the one thing I would say is in 2010 we didn't sign health care until March. So, if this thing can get done by Halloween, they're well ahead of schedule.
Two big points I would make to Democrats. It's about getting it done, not about getting it done by a certain time. I know Congress tends to focus on deadlines and that's why deadlines are always part of the equation, but in reality, this thing is just going to take some time. The other admonition I would have to all Democrats builds off of my idea that this is not going to be solved on cable TV. I'm not naive enough to think that politicians aren't going to do cable TV interviews for the next three weeks, but boy, I would sure like to see a lot more conversation about what they want in the legislation and why they want it, and to just stop the conversation about the numbers. As we've said before, if the only thing people know about this process is a number, then it's an unforced messaging error, and one that, quite frankly, Democrats need to get right. If this is going to be a hallmark of the 2022 midterm election strategy, they should take their lesson from President Joe Biden who hits the road today to go to Michigan. Murphy maybe some of your family will be in attendance!
Getting out on the road and trying to sell the larger message should be a North Star for Democrats. Quit bickering. Quit questioning your colleagues’ motives and start talking about what this bill will do in bringing about tax fairness, income equality, investment in clean energy, lowering health care costs, and providing educational opportunities. Trust me, that's what people in middle America care about. Let’s make the fight about that!
That’s good advice. I'd say another downside of this hopelessly messy and all too Democratic family feud is that the big political upside of the bi-partisan infrastructure bill could very well get lost in a sea of sausage blood, because infrastructure would be a political hit if they could have passed it, which would have helped Biden. Now it's part of a larger internal Democratic Civil War, which takes the focus off what should have been a huge clean win.
One thing the winning progs here all have in common is that they come from safe Democratic districts that would elect a crate on anvils to Congress if it had a big D stenciled on it. The Dems in tough districts that the R’s could win next year got stampeded. It’s Freedom Caucus stuff and it’s politically really dumb.
I do agree that real America doesn't care a lot about reconciliation politics and congressional procedure, but a weak President and a divided Democratic Party? Now that’s something they do understand and it creates a big opportunity for the Republicans. Still, the great Force that inadvertently protects the Democratic Party cannot be overlooked. He who resides in Mar-a-Elba will do everything he can in his howling incompetence to give the Democrats an unwitting political assist in the midterms, so I guess there is at least a dim ray of Donkey hope. But how many weeks of bickering back and forth are we going to have? As I said above, now that the progs have tasted blood, I'm dubious they are going to settle for any chopped way down from a $3.5T trillion Manchin & Sinema acceptable compromise should it even occur.
I think the sledding is likely to get tougher before it gets easier. If you're taking $3.5 trillion worth of programs and stuffing it into a $2 trillion bill, there's stuff that has to be cut.
I think this is where Biden's message of compromise is part of legislating, frustration is part of being in government and with such slim majorities, everybody essentially is the most important person in the deal. And if that's the case, you're going to ultimately have to get what you can get. For Democrats, they know history is not on their side on the midterm elections. And so, this opportunity that you need to take advantage of, even if it's not 3.5 trillion, isn't likely to come around again for maybe another four or six years. So, I'm hard pressed for somebody to tell me that you can't make good progress on a lot of the important ideas and values that Democrats are going to have in this bill. You can't tell me that waiting six years is a better political strategy or a better policy strategy than taking what you can get now. I don't know whether logic can carry the day in the caucus right now that is short on trust and long on caustic sound bites.
Indeed, I think the Progressives ought to understand that the more the debate with their own moderates is about how insanely huge the spending bill is the better it is for Republicans. They seem to think a $3.5 trillion mega spending orgy would be good for Democratic political chances, but they're wrong, particularly outside their own warm bubble safe districts. By the way, there's no reason that the aggrieved moderates, who have a lot to be aggrieved about can't play the same hostage game even if Manchin moves up to a bigger bill. Finally, one last note to the cackling Republicans who all so enjoying all this. Fold on the debt limit! When your opponents are happily trying to form a circular firing squad, don’t interrupt and give them an easy way to unite and turn their rifles toward you. Yes, in the end Team Mitch might well be able to force the D’s to do the debt limit all alone, but who cares? The R’s won’t get a clean win on it politically since the analysis of it will be all about brinkmanship and GOP hypocrisy. Most of all, it is economically very risky, irresponsible and, now, totally unnecessary. Declare victory and move on to agreeing with the Dem moderates that their party’s lefty spending appetite is insane and should be opposed.
The Deadly Debt Limit
Yeah, Murphy, of course, you’re right, but as usual the Republicans will do the opposite of what you’re suggesting. The debt limit is, as we look at the calendar, the more serious, more timely issue right now. I am increasingly pessimistic about where this is going to end up and think that right now where we're headed is more likely to end in default than it is to solution. There is no good reason for Mitch McConnell insisting on requiring 60 votes to raise the debt limit other than just to play games with our economy. I hope that’s not lost on anyone. First, Mitch McConnell declared this wasn’t his problem to fix and that he and GOP Senators would wash their hands of this challenge. And this missed deadline isn’t like others in Washington. The fallout here is real and it will hit the economy and American leadership will take (another) hit. Secondly, I hope McConnell’s stance is either helping the argument for doing away with the filibuster or doing away with this charade of the debt ceiling. Mitch McConnell's goal is to have, despite history, Democrats own this debt ceiling increase with Democratic only votes. That can actually be accomplished in the Senate by allowing a clean up or down vote where 50 votes (yes, a simple majority) rules the day. In fact, they can even get the sitting Vice President on record. And yet, Mitch McConnell is saying, despite Democrats needing to own this, I'm going to require you to get 10 Republicans to do this. He's already told every Republican they’re not voting for this. So to me, he's just underscoring again, why the filibuster is nothing but a tool of obstruction and all the debt limit has become over the last decade is the latest political football. And in this case, it's likely to result in us going off the edge of the fiscal cliff.
Again, my advice is to retreat and counter attack on the insane big spending bill they're fighting over. That's the political win. Don't create the side issue. But you're right, they won't listen to me. I need a drink.
The good news Murphy is what makes me optimistic as a Democrat is Republicans’ ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, at least over the past five plus years.
Yesterday was the first Monday in October, which means the beginning of the newest Supreme Court term. Just across the street from the US Capitol is where the Supreme Court and its nine justices sit to hear the term’s cases. The docket is heavy with some big cases including the biggest challenge to Roe v Wade (in the form of a Mississippi case) in probably 30 years. And it may well be that more people in the waning weeks of 2022’s election cycle are focused on what the Supreme Court does starting this October, than what Congress is arguing about from a process perspective now. Remember that this Supreme Court term could end with a retirement, which would just make the stakes around the Supreme Court even bigger heading into an enormous election year. So, lots to watch in the Supreme Court.
I think the current obsession of the punditocracy, since it's the next marker of Democratic and President Biden's political health, is the Virginia Governor race. Coming up in early November, it is a tight race, and Democrats are certainly worried about it. This ongoing kerfuffle in the House and fratricide the President's domestic agenda cannot be helping, particularly because many of the key swing areas of Virginia are within the Washington media market and beltway political ecosystem. So, the importance of VA Gov has become even more important and we'll be watching it closely going forward. The latest polls are here.
We’ll be back on Friday with the latest from Capitol Hill and much more.
Murphy and Gibbs