Friday Talking Points -- The Waiting Game

[ Posted Friday, May 26th, 2023 – 16:31 UTC ]

We began the week waiting, and we are ending the week waiting. All week long, rumors have leaked out about the status of the budget negotiations between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden, with both sides spinning madly to impress their bases, but we end the week with no deal actually inked.

However, we may be close. At least, that's today's big leak. It seems like both sides have agreed to some topline numbers with various face-saving things thrown in so they can both claim at least a certain degree of victory. Whether this actually works or not is still an open question.

Members of both parties are doubtlessly going to howl when the details are publicly released, and then they'll accuse their own negotiators of "giving away the store." But others will accept the face-saving spin and push forward, most likely. That's usually the endgame for such sticky negotiations, at any rate.

The biggest question in all of this is whether McCarthy will survive as speaker or not. It's been known all along that McCarthy would have to strike some compromises in whatever deal emerged and that he was going to lose at least a couple dozen MAGA hardliners (who are insisting that Republicans not give up anything) in the final vote. The plan all along was going to be to get enough Democrats to vote for the bill to make up for the difference. But now the question is how many Republicans will wind up refusing to vote for the deal -- a few dozen, or upwards of 100? If it's towards the larger end of that scale, then McCarthy's standing may be in jeopardy. Getting the debt limit/budget deal through may be his first momentous act as speaker as well as his last, to put this another way.

This will most likely all play out next week, in the aftermath of the big vote. While both sides are trying to hold the gritty details of the emerging deal very close to the vest, theoretically the House is supposed to be able to see the text of the bill for 72 hours before they vote on it. Part or all of that period may coincide with the holiday weekend, or in a pinch McCarthy could just waive the rule and jam it through without the waiting period. But if there are three days when the bill is public before the House votes, it seems likely that the extremists are going to be denouncing the whole thing as a sellout over in the rightwing media echo chamber, which could cause significant numbers of other GOP House members to defect. Also a wildcard is how Donald Trump will react to any announced deal -- which could influence House Republicans as well.

From what has been reported today, it sounds like Biden has done a pretty good job of fending off the worst impulses of the MAGA extremists and gotten McCarthy to agree to drop the most ridiculous of their demands. Cuts will be made, but they will not be anywhere near as drastic as what the Republicans were seeking. The timeline for all of this has changed, which benefits Biden in two ways: the debt ceiling will be pushed out two years (not one), and the budget caps will only be in place for the same two years (not the 10 years Republicans were demanding). That is an enormous negotiating victory for Biden.

The other remaining unanswered question in all of this is whether they will be able to actually finish the job by the drop-dead date (as we've mentioned before, we refuse to use the inside-the-Beltway term "X-date" because we think it sounds silly, like an evening out with Wolverine or something...). June begins next Thursday. Congress and the president are on vacation for the whole weekend, reportedly. So the first vote almost certainly won't be held until Tuesday. If it passes the House then it's also got to get through the Senate, and at least one cranky GOP senator has indicated he might gum up the works enough to delay things past the drop-dead date. Pressure will mount, however, if the House has actually passed a bill. But it is all up in the air as to whether we'll see a bill on Biden's desk before Thursday or not.

[Breaking News: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen just revealed that the drop-dead date has been pushed back to at least June 5th, which gives everyone a lot more breathing room next week.]

So, as we said, we end the week exactly where we began it -- waiting. The waiting game may almost be over, and then again it may not. From the leaks and rumors it certainly seems like we're closer to an actual deal now than we were when the week began, but there are no guarantees. We'll all just have to wait and see what happens. The most amusing comment of the week about all of this came from an anonymous source:

A Capitol Hill tour guide just walked past reporters staking out McCarthys [sic] office and said, "Over here on your right, you'll see a nation on the brink of economic collapse."

In other political news this week, two more Republicans jumped into the presidential contest. Early in the week, Senator Tim Scott announced his bid for the GOP nomination, and then a few days later Florida Governor Ron DeSantis experienced a live meltdown on Twitter, much to the amusement of just about everybody.

Tim Scott seems to be running on sweetness and sunshine, which (to state the painfully obvious) isn't exactly what the GOP base is looking for, these days. He's trying to channel the spirit of Ronald Reagan's "morning in America," but from where we sit it still looks like the Republican Party is caught in a very deep and dark nightmare. Scott is a prolific fundraiser and will have a lot more money than most of the other announced GOP hopefuls, so he will have to be taken seriously by the political media. But unless some form of lighting strikes, it is doubtful he's got much of a prayer of winning the actual nomination. Things could always change, but we kind of doubt they'd change that much.

Ron DeSantis, on the other hand, is running as either "Trump-lite" or "Trump, but a competent Trump." This latter one was seriously undermined by his amateur-hour campaign announcement (Side note: We are really missing the late-night comedy shows these days, as they would have had an absolute field day with the DeSantis/Twitter meltdown). To sell yourself as competent requires some actual competence, to put it as politely as we can manage.

Others weren't so polite. The New York Times ran a liveblog of the event, which chronicled, snafu-by-snafu, all the false starts. DeSantis was obviously trying to tie himself to Elon Musk in an effort to win over the "online conspiracy-theory crazies" portion of the vote, but Musk's Twitter just wasn't up to the task. By the time they got the announcement limping along and actually working, over half the audience had tuned out. And the stories written afterwards all heaped ridicule on the entire endeavor.

Because of this, few actually paid attention to what was said. The whole thing was set up as a sort of podcast, with a rightwing moderator alternately asking questions of DeSantis and (without a hint of irony in his voice) heaping false praise on Musk for how wonderful Twitter is these days (after Musk fired over three-fourths of their workforce). Nobody was left to stress-test the servers and they melted down with only a little over half a million people tuning in (which sounds big but in terms of stress-testing is laughably low for such a meltdown). At one point the moderator spoke of a Time magazine cover of DeSantis, which he likened to a photo of the Terminator. And then came this absolutely bizarre statement from the moderator (reported by Time -- since their cover was the subject of the strangeness, they were about the only ones who reported on this): "I thought it [the Terminator cover] was kind of cool. I think we need a cool-headed assassin to go in, take on the woke mob, take on the government."

Um... say what? The Republican Party wants to nominate an assassin? As we said, if everyone else wasn't rolling around on the floor laughing at the Twitter screwup, this likely would have drawn a lot more attention (and denouncement) in the media. When has a major party's presidential candidate ever been (even metaphorically) described as a "cool-headed assassin"? Our jaw dropped, but apparently few others even noticed this.

Everyone else, as I said, was wallowing in the snark. Our favorite example of this comes from Alexandra Petri, resident humorist on the Washington Post, who wryly commented:

That is to say, THE IDEAL PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN LAUNCH! Peak performance! Nothing about this was bad. Objectively. I cannot think of a better way to launch any kind of campaign, short of crashing through a window wearing only a bathrobe (on fire) and immediately being swallowed by an alligator. Well, maybe you could also be suing Disney for unclear reasons.

Fox News even got in on the fun. When they interviewed DeSantis later in the day, the Fox host snarked: "Fox News will not crash during this interview."

One thing worth pointing out is how the GOP frontrunner reacted to these announcements. Donald Trump is welcoming as many minor candidates into the race as possible, because he knows full well that this is how he managed to dominate the field in 2016 while only getting around a third of the actual GOP primary vote. So Trump wished Tim Scott a friendly "good luck" after Scott's campaign announcement.

DeSantis, however, is the only candidate in the race who has been consistently in Trump's sights. Trump has been attacking DeSantis for months, often in incomprehensible ways (such as ripping DeSantis for policy positions that Trump used to embrace, for instance). When the Twitter meltdown happened, Trump unloaded with both barrels on DeSantis, which included some Grade A playground mudslinging:

Then came Donald Trump's retort. Seeking to capitalize on the botched rollout, he posted a vulgar AI video mocking the Twitter Spaces event. It featured a "Dick Cheney" coughing repeatedly over a hot mic. It featured the "FBI" (apparently, randomly, using Anderson Cooper's voice) asking, "So how are we going to take out Trump, you guys?" "Adolph Hitler" and "The Devil" were arguing about gay people. "Trump" talked about how Cheney would be dead soon and how DeSantis could kiss his "big beautiful 2024 ass."

Which is about par for Trump's course, these days.

DeSantis, on the other hand, is still remarkably timid about even mentioning Trump by name or making any sort of case that he'd be a better nominee than Trump. He offers up rather oblique sideways criticism (mostly about the Republican Party getting trapped in a "culture of losing"), but so far has refused to launch any real broadsides against Trump. DeSantis should ask all the 2016 GOP also-rans how that strategy worked out for them.

In "Trump legal woes news" this week, Trump was forced to listen to a judge detail exactly what he could and could not say about the criminal case he is facing (for the porn star hush money). Trump wasn't thrilled about this, of course, but he really blew up when the judge announced the trial will begin on March 25, 2024. This is smack-dab in the middle of the primaries, and Trump was visibly (but not audibly) upset. Trump's appearance was via video linkup and he reportedly grew agitated with his own lawyer when the date was announced, but they were on mute at the time so none of what was said between the two was made public.

Trump's reaction to the E. Jean Carroll verdict against him (when he went on CNN the next night and trashed both her and the court) may wind up costing him some more money. Carroll has now asked the judge to just pile on some more damages to the $5 million she's already been awarded from Trump, for him continuing to defame her on nationwide television.

In "friends of Trump legal woes news," Kari Lake, Arizona's election-denier extraordinaire, lost her final legal battle to overturn the results of the election she lost last year. Also, a founder of the Oath Keepers was sentenced to 18 years in prison for seditious conspiracy (with domestic terrorism enhancements) for the events of January 6th. This was the longest sentence handed down to date of any of the insurrectionists, and it sent a rather clear signal.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is on a hot seat of his own, as a committee in his statehouse just recommended 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton. This is a Republican-led committee, mind you. Stay tuned for more on this developing bombshell of a story!

Just a few more odds and ends here, and then we'll move along to a rather unique awards section of our program and then we'll finish with a bit of a rant instead of the usual talking points.

A new poll was released in California this week which showed that a full two-thirds of Californians don't think Senator Dianne Feinstein is still fit to serve. The longer she does hold her office, it looks like the worse the end part of her legacy story will be, to be blunt.

The most amusing incident of the week came as Representative Marjorie "Jewish Space Lasers" Taylor Greene was taking her turn presiding over the House. There was some noise in the chamber and so Greene banged her gavel and called for the members to "abide by the decorum of the House." This was so patently ridiculous, coming from her, that Democrats howled with laughter and jeers for a full half-minute afterwards. As the late, great Rodney Dangerfield might have said: She didn't get no respect. For good reason, of course. Nobody's ever used the words "decorum" and "Marjorie Taylor Greene" in the same sentence, before now.

And finally, more news from Marjorie Three-Names. Kevin McCarthy decided that in the midst of threatening worldwide financial destruction it would be a good time to hold an auction with his caucus. The idea was to get them to bid from their campaign funds, and transfer a bunch of it over to the party's control. So apparently McCarthy reached into his pants and pulled out whatever he grabbed first from his pockets, which turned out to be a tube of lip balm. This was widely reported as being a "used ChapStick," but the branding was impossible to determine (it was a vanity tube made for another House GOP member) and whether or not it was new was never definitively determined. But whatever the details, the astonishing thing was that Marjorie made the winning bid -- transferring a whopping $100,000 for the prize. We aren't even going to make a joke here, as it is too easy to do so -- we'll leave it up to you to write your own punchline!


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

We're going to try something new this week, as we offer up two possible awards to the same person. It's sort of a quantum mechanics thing, because sooner or later one of these will likely take place while the other becomes non-operative. Call it our first "Schrödinger's awards," we suppose.

President Joe Biden might wind up being this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, if he manages to secure a deal with Kevin McCarthy that most Democrats can vote for and support. From the rumors and leaks it certainly sounds like Biden has gained a considerable amount of concessions in the process, and gotten McCarthy to back off from a whole slew of GOP demands.

Biden's whole political personality -- the reason he got elected -- was to present himself as quietly competent. Just a guy from Scranton gettin' the job done, in other words. Throughout the whole negotiation, Biden has been almost invisible to the press and the public. He has not used his bully pulpit to make the Democratic case, and by staying this quiet he may have facilitated a lot more concessions from McCarthy than he would have if Biden were out there beating the partisan drums.

This will all depend on the outcome, of course. And how any deal is seen within the Democratic caucus. Some progressives are naturally going to be upset, and many will likely announce they can't vote for the plan. But what will be key is how loudly they protest and how many of them there are. If it is just a handful and they don't make much of a splash in the media, then that's a pretty good outcome for Biden. If it is a huge number and their complaints receive widespread coverage, that won't be so good for Biden.

Biden has shown this quiet competence in the face of Washington conventional wisdom about what he should be doing previously, of course. Biden campaigned hard during the midterms on the threat to American democracy posed by the MAGA extremists in the Republican Party, even when most of the press corps scoffed at such a tactic. But it worked a lot better than anyone (except perhaps Biden) expected, in the end. Biden does actually have an innate understanding of the nuts and bolts of how politics works that he almost never gets credit for. So if he comes out with a deal with McCarthy that is far less extreme than everyone was expecting, Biden will have shown his instincts were once again right.

If this comes to pass -- if the deal (whenever there is one) is a lot better than most Beltway denizens expect -- then Joe Biden will certainly deserve this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. But there's no guarantee, at this point.

[Note: Because of the quantum uncertainty of both of these awards we are going to forego providing Biden's contact information for the time being.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

On the other hand, if Biden agrees to a deal that is seen by Democrats as giving away the store, then he will definitely qualify as the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

If this comes to pass, the grumblings from the sidelines about Biden's tactics will burst out into the open in a big way. Earlier this week the Washington Post ran a story titled "Democrats Angry At Debt Limit Messaging," which quoted a few irate Democrats:

As debt limit talks between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) team and the White House remain far apart, House Democrats are growing increasingly frustrated with how the White House is handling the negotiations.

Some Democrats, especially those who face tough reelections next year, have privately groused that the White House has bungled the messaging, is putting Democrats in a terrible negotiating position and could be forced to eat most of McCarthy's demands.

"I've never seen such a massive, surprising and consequential potential failure," said one Democratic member of Congress who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid. "We'll see where this comes out, but by definition we're only measuring success on how much we lost."

. . .

Democrats have lost the opportunity to put Democratic priorities on the table, the concerned Democrats said.

"People are pissed," one lawmaker said of the mood among Democrats.

The White House should have immediately put on the table Democratic priorities, Democratic aides and lawmakers said.

  • "When someone's demanding only cuts, that's when you introduce demands for revenue generation or the corporate tax rate, rescind the Trump tax cuts," one lawmaker said, adding that the White House should have also included other priorities like gun violence prevention or other Democratic issues.

"This is not a negotiation exercise. This is a concession exercise," the lawmaker said.

If these fears do actually materialize in the final deal, Biden will have to face a whole lot of these sorts of complaints. By refusing to match Kevin McCarthy's public negotiating spin, Biden will be seen as having been outplayed by McCarthy politically.

Biden, as already mentioned in the previous award segment, obviously feels that keeping his powder dry (in terms of trying to whip up public pressure) is the way to go, since it avoids goading McCarthy into taking even more of a hardline stance. If Biden were out there taunting the Republican positions, then McCarthy would face a huge amount of pressure from his own caucus to stand firm and stand up to Biden. By keeping things quiet, Biden figures he can get a better deal.

But he might be wrong about that. Which is why this week we can only really offer up quantum-dependent awards. When the position of the deal is finally observed by the public, we'll all be able to see whether Biden's strategy bore fruit or was a disaster. Until that point, our awards will remain in abeyance.


Friday Talking Points

Volume 708 (5/26/23)

Today we present a rant, in the form of a presidential speech. This isn't about Joe Biden speaking to the public during all the dealmaking though, it is instead what Biden should go on primetime television and say after he signs the final deal into law. Because in the long run, America truly does have to solve this problem once and for all (one way or another).

The debt ceiling is a ridiculously stupid fiction that has the potential to cause worldwide financial calamity, and it should be done away with entirely at some point. But, as Biden admitted, the time to do away with it isn't right before we actually hit the debt ceiling, because that would almost certainly lead to legal chaos -- which would set off the financial chaos Biden would be attempting to avoid.

So what point should this be dealt with? At the start of the whole cycle, not at the end. So this is what we would dearly love to hear Biden say to the country, right after he signs the debt ceiling hike into law.


The Right Thing To Do, Without Question

My fellow Americans,

Today I signed the bill Congress just passed that will raise the country's debt ceiling. I am happy to report that the United States will not default on its obligations, which if it had happened would have been the first such default in American history. But getting this bill to my desk took far too long because it was held hostage by the Republicans in Congress. We got far too close to defaulting for anyone to be comfortable about this process.

The bill is a compromise, which probably means that both sides of the aisle already hate certain parts of it. This is the nature of compromise, but there is a key point here that must be made. This negotiation should have taken place over the federal budget and not by holding the full faith and credit of the United States hostage to political demands. That is the wrong way to go about budget dealmaking, and I am now going to put an end to this brinksmanship. There is no reason why the country has to go through this self-imposed trauma -- with severe possible consequences -- on such a regular basis. Hopefully, this will be the last time such a thing is even possible.

During the negotiations over the past few weeks, some in Congress urged my administration to cite the Fourteenth Amendment and refuse to negotiate at all. But what would that mean?

The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified as part of Reconstruction, after the Civil War. It was adopted 155 years ago, in 1868. And each state that had been part of the Confederacy was required to ratify the amendment before their representatives could be seated in Congress once again. It was passed to ensure that the former slave states could never somehow overturn the important things the Civil War had accomplished. It guaranteed citizenship to former slaves. It counted former slaves as fully human, instead of the notorious "three-fifths of a person" clause which had preceded it. It protected many civil rights, although sadly civil rights were not fully realized for many until a whole century later. It was passed as an amendment to the Constitution to make sure that future Congresses could not somehow overturn these rights and return us to the days before the Civil War was fought.

The Fourteenth Amendment did all of this and a lot more. One of the things included was to make sure that the United States was not liable for the debts incurred by the Confederacy. Since the South lost the war, foreign banks who had loaned the Confederacy money to fight the war would not be paid back by the United States. They had bet on the wrong side and they lost, in other words, so they should pay the price of their bad bet. It also guaranteed that no slaveowner could ever sue the United States for compensation for their freed slaves -- which, to them, were "property" which had been "confiscated" by the government.

But this clause also guaranteed that the debt of the United States government shall not be questioned. Let me read the text of the Amendment itself: "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned." Period. That's what it says -- the public debt shall not be questioned. And since it is written in the Fourteenth Amendment, this text is now part of the United States Constitution itself. It is not some mere law Congress passed, it is not some regulation issued by some department, it is instead what the Constitution says.

The debt ceiling is a law which passed Congress in the time of World War I. It was meant to streamline the process of Congress approving the payment of debts. But it was never meant to be used as political leverage over not just America's economy but the entire world's. That wasn't its intended purpose. However, over the past few decades, the debt ceiling has become a political football and has been used as leverage in negotiations between the political parties, and between the legislative and executive branches of our government.

I should mention that almost every other country on Earth has a much simpler system. When a budget is approved -- when spending is authorized, in other words -- any debt which is necessary to accommodate this spending is also automatically authorized. Other countries don't even have the concept of a "debt ceiling." And you know what? They get along just fine without one. It is only here in America where Congress can order a lavish meal and then decide after it is half-eaten that they are not going to pay the bill when it comes due. This is ridiculous and it is downright embarrassing -- and it sends tremors through the world's financial markets.

These tremors are not cost-free, either. When America is seen as a shaky investment, interest rates go up. Not just for money the United States must borrow, but for everybody -- everyone's credit card rates go up, car loans get more expensive, mortgages become harder to pay. This damages the economy. It is not a good thing for other countries to get nervous about America paying its bills -- for anyone.

Which is why, from now on, I and my administration are taking the following legal position, in direct response. We have determined that the debt ceiling, by limiting the budgets that are passed by Congress, questions the public debt of the United States. It throws into question whether that debt will be paid in full. And since it does so, the debt ceiling itself is completely unconstitutional by the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment. It is null and void. It simply does not exist, and because it does not it will never need to be raised ever again.

Now, you may be wondering why, if this is what I and my administration believe, I even bothered to negotiate this final debt ceiling hike -- the one I just signed. Well, the answer to that question is that I have to be very careful. After all, I certainly wouldn't want any action of mine to bring into question the creditworthiness of the United States. I don't want to fall afoul of the Fourteenth Amendment myself, in other words!

If I had made this announcement a few weeks ago -- when the House Republicans were pushing hard for their political agenda by holding the full faith and credit of the American people hostage -- then they almost certainly would have sued me. They would have run to the courts and tried to stop me from declaring the debt ceiling unconstitutional.

Let's just stop for a moment and think about what that would have meant. It would have meant that the Republicans would be suing in court to try to force the American government into default. This would have been a worldwide financial disaster, but that wouldn't have mattered to them. All they would have cared about would have been scoring cheap political points against me and Democrats in general, and they wouldn't have had a problem seeing the American economy crumble as a result of their legal challenge. They would have seen it as a political opportunity for the next election.

That is not only disgraceful, it would have been disastrous -- and that is precisely why I did not make such an announcement at that time. The courts simply would not have had enough time to adequately deal with the matter, and the effect on the world economy would probably have been exactly the same as if we had gone ahead and defaulted.

As your elected leader of this country, I could not allow that to happen.

So I did enter into negotiations with the House Republicans and we came up with the compromise I have just signed into law.

And now the debt ceiling crisis has been postponed -- once again -- for over a year.

But now I do not seek to merely postpone this perpetual crisis once again, but to defuse it forever. Because it is unnecessary and it is dangerous for us to keep playing this game as the new "politics as usual." We can do better than this, as a country.

So now -- at the beginning of this period, instead of at the end of it -- I am announcing to the American people that we will never have our financial future held hostage again. There are many, many months before we will exceed the debt ceiling I just signed into law. In that time, I welcome any and all legal challenges to my position that the Fourteenth Amendment precludes any questioning of the public debt -- including the entire concept of a "debt ceiling." I see it as unconstitutional.

However, I realize that others may disagree. Not every legal scholar agrees with this interpretation of the Constitution. I feel I am on firm constitutional ground, but also realize that not everyone will think the same way. So let's put it to the test, shall we?

We've now got plenty of time for any and all of these court challenges to work their way up through the federal court system. We should have plenty of time for one or more of these cases to reach the Supreme Court. And we can argue it all out in front of them and see what they say about it all.

But here's the important part: we will have the time to do all of this without economic catastrophe hanging over all our heads.

Because that was the only responsible thing to do. So I am now doing it.

You know what is truly and historically ironic? The political faction which pushed through the Reconstruction amendments to the Constitution were known as the "Radical Republicans." Look it up. They were called "radical" because they were firm in their belief that slavery should be immediately and permanently abolished in the United States.

But today's "radical Republicans" are the ones who are pushing for the United States to become a deadbeat on the world's stage. They don't care what this means to the worldwide economy. They don't care what it means to average Americans. They don't care how many millions of jobs would be lost if America defaults on its debt. All they see is political leverage and a possible political advantage in the next election. That is radical indeed, you've got to admit. They are willing to gamble on everyone's well-being just to gain a political edge.

This is wrong. This is not America. This is not the way this country should operate.

And so my fellow Americans, I am announcing tonight that this brinksmanship -- this taking things to the very edge of default for no real reason other than political hardball -- is never going to happen again, if I have my way. If I am right and the courts agree with my interpretation of the Constitution, then this nightmare will never have to happen again.

Never again will the American economy be taken hostage by a radical and extreme faction within Congress.

Never again will the full faith and credit of the United States of America be "questioned." Period.

Thank you, and please know that with this drag on the economy permanently eradicated, America's best days truly will be ahead of us all.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground


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