Welcome to a premium Thursday edition of Progressives Everywhere!
I’ve got some strong opinions and some interesting news to share tonight, so let’s get right to it.
We’re in trouble.
Yes, the country’s political situation is much more stable than it was when this newsletter was launched in late 2017; that I can make that statement as Congress is holding hearings over an attempted coup is a testament to just how close we were to a Reichstag Fire moment during the early Trump years. We avoided the worst, but the escape route we took has led to some serious complications.
The chaos and cruelty of that time made just about any candidate palatable to Democratic voters so long as they seemed like could beat a Republican in an election. We can debate the merits of our current definition of “electable,” but the way it was deployed over the last two cycles wound up delivering a lot of power to people who still think that being modestly better than Republicans will be enough to both keep them in office and keep the deluge of lobbyist donations flowing.
There are two problems with this line of thought: First, it’s straight-up incorrect. And second, it rests on the cynical philosophy that the goal of politics is to stay in power, even if you don’t want to do anything significant with it. That may be the case for the people running for office, but it’s certainly not the goal for voters and activists. Unfortunately, the centrist politicians and party officials seem to have won whatever semblance of a debate existed on this issue.
A series of quotes from Democratic leadership, media reports, and seemingly minor news items over the past few days have together signaled that the leaders of the Democratic Party have little intention of enacting big new progressive policies not just because they fear the politics of them, but also because they don’t buy in philosophically to them.
The starkest example came yesterday, when Nancy Pelosi was asked about the possibility of President Biden canceling student debt. First, she said that the president did not have the authority to do that by executive action, and then, perhaps knowing that she was flat out wrong on the facts, slipped up and offered the real reason why both she and the administration do not want to alleviate 50 million Americans of $1.9 trillion in crushing debt: A lot of rich people and resentful conservatives wouldn’t like it.
Here, Pelosi did far more than just argue against canceling student debt — she articulated the morally and economically bankrupt argument against taxation altogether. If we could pick and choose what our tax dollars paid for, I would opt out of paying taxes that finance bank bailouts, drone strikes on children, deportations, incentives to abusive corporations, and oil drilling, among many other awful government expenditures. That’s not the way it works, but when you’ve been in office for more than three decades and are worth more than $100 million, the immediate urgency of government assistance doesn’t always register.
While Pelosi’s assertion about the White House’s authority to cancel student debt was erroneous, the Biden administration today issued a statement pleading helplessness on the even more pressing issue of extending the eviction moratorium.
Citing a recent Supreme Court decision on executive power as an excuse for its preemptive inaction, the administration “urged” Congress to pass an extension of the moratorium, which expires in two days. The ongoing existence of the filibuster, which Biden continues to support, renders any last-minute effort to whip up votes for an extension likely meaningless. The administration could have begun this push more than a month ago but elected not to do so. The same goes for the expanded unemployment benefits provided by the March stimulus package. Not only did the administration do nothing to stop half the nation’s governors from prematurely cutting off those benefits, but it has also said nothing about extending them further for out-of-work Americans who stand to lose them in six weeks.
The economy is still seven million jobs shy of where it was pre-pandemic and people are about to become at risk of losing their homes, which again is a policy choice made by this administration. As it touts the historic plummet in poverty enabled by the expansion of the social safety net, folks inside know that it’ll all come crashing down soon.
To be fair, this isn’t all on Democratic leadership. Pelosi has shepherded a lot of progressive legislation through the House with a paper-thin majority, only to see it hit the brick wall of the filibuster in the Senate. Chuck Schumer has talked a good game publicly, and I’m sure he’s working hard, but without White House backup, there’s not much he can do to move a certain few senators who have come to regard the Senate as a sealed-off high school cafeteria more than a body that will decide the fate of American democracy and the health and livelihoods of tens of millions of people.
This week, the biggest thorn in Schumer’s side dug in even deeper.
Having ignored the nation’s top civil rights leaders’ request for a meeting about voting rights and the filibuster at her office, Kyrsten Sinema decided to throw a bomb into the entire Democratic economic agenda as well. Yesterday, as she emerged with a triumphant quarter-loaf bipartisan deal on infrastructure, she told reporters that she opposed the $3.5 trillion price tag tentatively attached to the second, Democrats-only infrastructure bill.
The figure was already a significant compromise by Budget chair Bernie Sanders and the left, who wanted something closer to $6 trillion, and it took weeks of negotiations between Sanders and a coalition of centrists led by Mark Warner to reach both the number and the very basic outline of what the reconciliation bill could include. Sinema didn’t cite any particular item that she thought could be reduced or excised, she just wants to wrest control of the situation and force progressives to suffer a bit more humiliation. (And maybe some praise from Mitch McConnell.)
Some members of the House grumbled and threatened to withhold their support for the bipartisan infrastructure deal if the Senate doesn’t deliver a strong reconciliation bill, but the goalposts have now been successfully moved. Now, just as with the For the People Act and immigration reform/DACA, progressives will have to mount an all-out campaign just to force Democrats to keep their promises. These things should be a given, not bills that require lawmakers to take turns getting arrested on Capitol Hill and activists to march across Texas in the summer heat to maybe get passed.
Democrats are at least still working on voting rights, with Amy Klobuchar and Raphael Warnock huddling with Joe Manchin to craft a pared-down version of the legislation that would protect access to the ballot, prevent partisan gerrymanders, and protect Manchin’s ability to take in gobs of corporate donations. Manchin said today that he hasn’t been asked about the filibuster because his colleagues respect him and his position, while Klobuchar insisted that there have been conversations about potential workarounds for voting rights.
It was confirmed today that the census data that will be used for redistricting will be released on August 16th, giving Democrats less than three weeks to get this thing done and prevent a decade of gerrymandering. I couldn’t tell you whether a voting rights bill is going to pass (I would just name it the Joe Manchin Voting Rights Act to grease the skids), but more broadly, half-measures are all we can hope to get at this point.
Alex Sammon argued this week that many of the more insider progressive groups that began the year agitating for gigantic climate legislation and Medicare for All have been given a seat at the table but far less say over what’s on the menu. They still publicly push for certain policies like the Green New Deal, but they haven’t been all that critical of the administration. Even Sanders’ old group is changing its goals and rebranding itself, at least temporarily, as pragmatic progressives who support Biden’s agenda and want to get things done. It’s certainly an understandably pragmatic approach, but it also makes things that much easier for the center of the party.
Whether voting rights gets passed or not, it’s become evident that party leadership anticipates fighting on a conservative map, without a whole slate of other accomplishments to trot out this time next year. After boasting about the stimulus for five months, Democrats, under Pelosi’s direction, are now beginning to campaign on, uh, funding the police.
So to recap: Democrats are on the verge of allowing Black and brown people to be disenfranchised en masse while desperately trying to appeal to the conservative white voters who spend way too much time reading lies on Facebook to be lured back by ads about the Capitol police they’ve already been brainwashed to think are unpatriotic wimps.
Maybe that’s part of the plan: Democrats are never stronger than when they’re powerless to move their agenda. They don’t have to deal with a demanding, disaffected left. They enjoy massive grassroots donations and can make promises that they have no intention of keeping if they do win office again.
Georgia: As I noted Tuesday, Republican legislators are making moves to take over the Fulton County electoral board, which governs elections in the state’s most populous and most Democratic county. Here’s how that process would work — and why it may not be so easy to pull off.
Voter Suppression: It’s not just in Georgia — measures to strip local and county election officials of prerogative and power have been included in new voter suppression laws enacted across the country.
Michigan: Seeing just how well it’s working out in Arizona, Republicans in Michigan want to launch their own third-party election audit. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, however, is having none of it.
Texas: The refugee Democratic legislators participated in a House hearing on voting rights today. The event went exactly as you’d expect: Democratic members of Congress emphasized the racism of the voter suppression law and the urgency of passing the For The People Act while Republicans condescended and tried to trick legislators into saying the bill they’re blocking isn’t actually racist. There were few fireworks, but this moment stood out to me:
State Rep. Senfronia Thompson is the dean of the Democratic House caucus and the state’s longest-serving Black legislator and longest-serving female legislator. She lived through Jim Crow, has been a steadfast champion of civil rights, and is still sharp as hell.
Gerrymandering: It isn’t news, per se, but it’s a cold dose of reality to see just how southern states will be carved up during redistricting to give Republicans more seats and a majority in Congress.
Infrastructure: David Dayne of the American Prospect has a great newsletter devoted to the substance of the infrastructure negotiations and here’s his breakdown of what’s in the bipartisan deal.
Student Debt: It’s terribly expensive to live in NYC, but we do have a solid infrastructure of low-cost higher education. And today, the City University of New York, the city’s public college system, announced that it is deploying $125 million in stimulus funds to pay off the unpaid tuition and fees of 50,000 low-income students. It’s a much-needed boost to a student body that had debt double last year amid the pandemic.
Rent Relief: Not only is the eviction moratorium about to expire, most Americans haven’t even received the rent relief they were supposed to get. In Pennsylvania, only 17% of the funds allocated to the state have been paid out!
Corporate Welfare: We can’t extend the unemployment benefits any further, but it’s totally cool for corporations to pay absolutely nothing in taxes.
One more thing
I found the soundtrack to my brain!
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