So, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead. Afghanistan is still very bad, and the budget drama is getting very interesting…
The House is back in the session and the battle has begun over Senate Democrat’s $3.5 trillion budget. Here's a quick play-by-play of what’s happening in the House before we dig into the details:
Monday night: The House Democratic Leadership had planned a test vote to start debate on the $3.5 trillion budget resolution (as sent to the House by the Senate on a party-line vote). The idea was to make sure the Leadership had the whole Dem caucus lined up behind Speaker Pelosi’s plan to do both infrastructure and the big Biden budget plan together. But they didn’t have the caucus lined up; a group of now 10 Democratic moderates refused to support the plan and demanded a vote on infrastructure first. (See their Op-Ed here) So a long night of cursing, threats and dealing ensued. Now, it looks like a deal is in sight; a firm date in late September for an infrastructure vote alone. That’ll give the moderates political cover.
Today: Will the Progressives accept the deal to appease the moderates, or is a second rebellion afoot? The monster lurking in the woods here is the Senate Dems do not at present have enough votes to pass the huge $3.5T deal (see Manchin, Joe and Sinema, Krysten). So, whatever the final vote in the House will be is not going be the big $3.5T number the Progressives want. Will they now buck and sink infrastructure? We discuss below…
So, let’s get to Hacking!
(cover photo credit: Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images News)
Will Pelosi win or lose this week?
To start, let me say the moderate rebels are right! It’s better for Biden, the country, and my morning commute that the House passes the bipartisan infrastructure bill first. It’ll get GOP votes and continue the strong message the Senate sent that we can actually govern this country. But as I’ve been saying on the podcast and writing here, Speaker Pelosi made a rare, but enormous error linking both bills together. Now some – hello Mr. Gibbs – will say she had no choice. Unless she can line up her fellow Progressives by linking both bills, a bigger and more deadly revolt would break out. Anyway, the bottom line is they appear to have a deal with the moderates and now the first procedural vote on the mega/super/WTF it’s crazy big $3.5T vote should happen today and pass the House.
Yes, it's been a long summer and it's going to be an even longer fall. It looks like the great staring contest between the Speaker and the House moderates will end with an assurance that the House will vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal before October 1st. It gives enough cover for the moderates to move the budget resolution forward and, for Pelosi, it keeps the process on track despite the one-day detour. As I said earlier, this is going to be a long process, with lots more twists and turns. In my opinion, Mr. Murphy, the Speaker is pursuing the only route she can in order to get this done. Everyone in the Democratic Caucus is going to have to hold hands and do this together. Nobody will get all of what they want. The reconciliation price tag will ultimately be less that $3.5 trillion, but it will be historic. And, lastly, as I have said before, it is imperative that this succeed if you’re a Democrat, regardless of being a progressive or a moderate. No one on the Democratic side can afford to let voters go into the voting booth having lost this opportunity.
All I can say watching this – and it’s not over since the next budget number coming out of the Senate will be smaller than the spend-crazy House Progressives are demanding – is that Republicans can't believe their luck. There's an old saying in the Republican Party that whenever we screw something up somebody says, “Oh, don't worry. The Democrats will save us in the end.” And you know, here we go again. A first-class political win from the bipartisan infrastructure bill is being mangled up by the lefty zealots in the Congress.
Democrats, ignore Murphy and keep your eyes on the prize!
President Biden Should Own His Afghanistan Mistakes
I think the public polling that we saw over the weekend, both from CBS and NBC, defines where this issue is politically, and it's very similar to what we talked about last week. Voters are still very supportive of leaving Afghanistan after 20 years. There is real fatigue over these forever wars. However, how we left is not popular at all and that's something that President Biden is going to have to continue to grapple with.
The polling also shows that his approval rating has dipped to either at or slightly below 50 percent, lows for his young tenure in the White House. Both polls, though, largely showed that was a result of continued anxiety, both from a health and economic perspective around COVID. The NBC numbers were pretty startling in terms of people who thought the worst was behind us three to four months ago on COVID versus now those who think the worst is still ahead of us.
Bottom line though, Afghanistan is not a huge voting issue. The NBC poll asked respondents to give their verbatim answer in listing their most important issue and not one person mentioned Afghanistan. To me, the danger around Afghanistan is the damage that it has potential to do around the qualities that Biden put forth in the campaign on why he’d be a good president: calmness instead of chaos, empathy, and, above all, competence in making government run well and work. Those are the challenges that I think these pictures present the most danger to for this White House. And I think Murphy, you and I both agree, that it's taking responsibility for what hasn't gone well—more than just one line in one speech—is really imperative for Joe Biden’s longer-term political health.
Yeah, I think the Afghanistan debacle started as a foreign policy disaster and is becoming a political communications disaster for the White House, and it is mostly self-inflicted. Biden wants to debate the big question of leaving Afghanistan which polls show most people agree with. The problem is debate is done, it’s over, and it’s not what the focus is on right now. The focus is the bungled exit, a weakened United States, betrayed Afghans and furious NATO allies who were caught unaware. Biden owns all that and he simply will not take direct responsibility for it. He's being remarkably stubborn and making the politics worse for himself in every media appearance because he won't just say, I made a mistake with our withdrawal plan. He also should fire somebody big on his NatSec team. Instead, Biden is digging in, which only feeds the clown car narrative.
Now that said, the numbers coming out of Afghanistan now are remarkable. While the politicians wiggle and posture the military and State and CIA people on the ground are doing an amazing job. I tweeted this earlier:
For the last time, my advice to Biden is, “If you want to try to move on, own this.” The longer he waits and digs in, the worse it’ll get and the effectiveness of taking responsibility will diminish. It’s well known to political staff that few things are harder to do than get the elected you are staffing to own up and apologize. They hate to do that. But I’ve helped more than a few candidates escape certain political death with a fast, sincere and direct apology combined with a big serving of responsibility accepting. Biden needs to do that, and quick.
Murphy, I think the flashback we all have from the staff side of this is when the politician won't say there were mistakes made and take some responsibility. Instead, reluctant to admit the inconvenient, they dig in, only to change their tune several days later and admit that it didn't go as it should have. What happens is you own all of the downside that’s obvious to a lot of people and get none of the upside from showing you recognize the reality of the situation. When the NBC poll has you at 25% for your approval rating in handling Afghanistan, there's really not much debate to be had around whether or not it's time to rip the band aid off and take a greater degree of responsibility. Credit where credit is due, over the past few days an enormous number of people have been evacuated from Kabul. There are still many more to go, but the sheer number of flights and people on them is staggering.
The administration's got to figure out over the course of the next several weeks, whether it wants to talk about getting more people vaccinated or the economic benefits of infrastructure and other investments, or whether they fight this out, day to day on Afghanistan. And I think from a communications perspective that's a very, very easy decision to make, but it won't happen unless or until Biden takes more responsibility. Remember, this story is likely to get worse before it gets better.
Right, and the Biden team is definitely trying to change the channel, but they need to understand that with the modern media, after they announced the COVID vaccination approval, the first question from them will be, “Mr. President, are you going to provide COVID vaccines to the Afghans you've committed to death at the Kabul airport?” They're all intertwined, and you don't get a clean escape, until you let the energy out of the issue. And the only way to let the energy out is for Biden to take responsibility.
So, Gibbsy, we've talked a lot about the coming midterm elections in the House, where the Republicans have a lot of generic advantages and a good shot to take control, but the Senate is also 50-50 and the stakes are high. One race Hacks in both parties are watching closely is Pennsylvania, which has an open seat with the retirement of Republican Pat Toomey. The Democratic side has the makings of a whopper of a primary with the announcement that Congressman Conor Lamb, a politically attractive moderate and Marine Corps veteran is entering the Senate race. He’ll be a very strong candidate, if he can win a crowded Democratic primary.
And that will be no easy feat. This will be another moderate vs. liberal contest, much like the New York mayor's race or the Ohio 11th special election because Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a feisty progressive who looks like he ought to be in a professional wrestling cage match, is also running.
He’s an interesting candidate with a knack for attracting alienated voters. (He has one tricky issue. As a mayor of a smaller city, he once held an African American man he saw on the street at gunpoint after hearing reports of a suspect on the loose on his car’s police radio. The man he pulled the chrome on, was innocent.)
Certain to mention that moment of awful judgment are two formidable Black candidates out of Philadelphia; highly charismatic State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta and State Senator Sharif Street (the well-connected son of a former Philly mayor).
Finally, Montgomery County suburban boss Val Arkoosh, a physician who might be the only tier one female candidate in the primary. It’s gonna be quite a race.
Republicans fear Lamb and pray they’ll get another opponent, especially the very liberal Fetterman. In fact, don’t be surprised to see plenty of GOP meddling in the Democratic primary with ads and digital. They’ll need a weak Democratic candidate to have a chance since the Republican candidate bench, at least right now, is looking weak and Trumpy. I’m sure Mitch McConnell is working hard to change that with a Toomey like GOPer who could actually win; perhaps former GOP Rep and Trump critic Charlie Dent.
As we continue to discuss Afghanistan in detail, an interview with the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen aired over the weekend and, frankly, his comments should have gotten a lot more attention. Adm. Mullen served in that role during the Obama Administration. I watched him make arguments in support of a troop surge in Afghanistan in the fall of 2009 from inside the Situation Room, along with many other military leaders. But, over the weekend, he sat down and reflected on that advice and the outcomes we are seeing now in Afghanistan where the security forces we trained collapsed and surrendered, the government fled, and almost twenty years later, the Taliban are back in control. Give it a listen because you don’t normally see someone as introspective as he is here in admitting his advice was wrong, that Biden’s focus on counterterrorism was the right one and how he feels we should likely have left Afghanistan after Osama bin Laden was killed. If how we were withdrawing wasn’t the near complete focus of news coverage, this type of interview would have received a lot more attention and discussion for its honesty.
We’ll be back later this week as we keep a close eye on what does or doesn’t happen in the House. Gibbs still thinks Pelosi will get the win!
Gibbs and Murphy