Friday Talking Points -- America Is Back

[ Posted Friday, June 18th, 2021 – 17:57 UTC ]

President Joe Biden had a pretty good week all around. He began the week in Europe, where he met with the leaders of NATO, the European Union, the G7, a few royals (just to mix things up), and Vladimir Putin. That's a pretty packed schedule, but Biden seemed to manage just fine. The Europeans were both visibly thrilled and massively relieved to be visited by a United States president who was, once again, a sane adult (and not a petulant little child-man). They heaped praise upon Biden -- mostly just for being "President Not-Trump." You may laugh, but please recall President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize solely for being "President Not-Dubya," years earlier. But more seriously, Europe announced some deals with Biden (including, notably, a truce being called on the subsidy war over Boeing and Airbus airplanes). Not only were personal relationships either reaffirmed or begun, tangible diplomatic progress was made. Europe stood as one with the United States over the contentious issues of Russia and China, which only strengthened Biden's position for his meeting with Putin. The Putin summit didn't produce a whole lot in the way of tangible deliverables, but then again it didn't produce an American president willing to believe Russia's ex-K.G.B. leader over his own intelligence services either, so it has to be chalked up as a major improvement. Throughout it all, Biden stuck to one very simple slogan that summed up what his trip was supposed to be showcasing to the world: "America is back."

Republicans (being Republicans) badmouthed Biden for all they were worth, back home. So much for that whole "politics ends at the water's edge" tradition, but truth be told that has been fading for the past few decades anyway, so this wasn't a total surprise. In fact (and astonishingly enough) the only Republican quote we heard this week that was exactly what an opposition party leader should say about a president abroad came from none other than Donald Trump. He actually said, of Biden: "I think the election was unbelievably unfair, but I want this guy to go out and do well for our country." Again, this used to be a fairly normal sort of comment ("If the president succeeds, then America succeeds, so of course I hope he does well") for these sorts of situations, but it was actually pretty extraordinary because, as mentioned: (1) it was the only one like it we heard, and (2) it came from Donald Trump, of all people.

In fact, there was an even-more-astonishing quote from Trump, in the same phone-in interview with Sean Hannity: "We got them by surprise in '16, and in '20 we did much better than we did in '16. Shockingly, we were supposed to win easily at 64 million votes and we got 75 million votes. We didn't win, but let's see what happens on that. The whole thing was shocking." Did you catch that? "We didn't win." That is the first time since the election that Trump has actually admitted that Joe Biden won the election, and he lost. It only took him seven-and-a-half months, but many (us included) expected Trump never to actually admit it in such plain language -- so it was a welcome surprise as well.

As for Biden's "America is back" tour, Republicans have been having a hard time complaining about such obvious success. They half-heartedly tried to claim Biden was somehow saying "We're taking America backwards, not forwards," but they quickly dropped this tactic when it gained zero traction. There was the usual vitriol over Biden gaffes (real and imagined), and lots of downright bizarre championing of Vladimir Putin's opinions, but they really didn't have much to work with -- and it showed. Other than Trump, the GOP has now sunk to the level where they will actually side with the leader of Russia over an American president (if you walk by Ronald Reagan's grave and listen closely, you will hear some very rapid spinning sounds). They also tried to somehow say that the summit happening at all was a gigantic mistake by Biden ("don't reward Putin!"), which completely ignores the fact that they cheered Trump's Putin summits on wholeheartedly. They also, laughably, tried to suggest Biden should somehow have "gotten tougher" on Putin, again hoping everyone would just conveniently forget all those times when Trump absolutely fawned over Putin, without getting a thing in return.

Back home, Republican messaging idiocy has been on full display over the lightning-fast passage of a bill to make Juneteenth (6/19) a federal holiday. The right-wing media is trying to somehow morph this into "they're cancelling Independence Day!" but not with any noticeable success. But much more on Republican idiocy later in the program.

Biden's old boss got a big win this week, when the Supreme Court threw out the latest nonsense court case trying to declare Obamacare unconstitutional. The vote, astonishingly, was 7-2, and this makes the record for such cases at this level now 0-3. We're hoping (to mix a few metaphors) that this doesn't represent the "third strike" against rabid GOP Obamacare opposition, but in fact that it has now "gone down for the third time" and will peacefully sink beneath the political waves, never to bother us all again. One can hope, at any rate.

Let's see, what else? More and more abuses of power by Trump and his henchmen are coming to light, as Democrats continue to investigate. This week, it was memos from the Justice Department showing some of the political pressure that was applied to the department between the election and the inauguration. No real surprise, just confirmation of what everyone already assumed, really.

Infrastructure efforts keep chugging along. There's a new bipartisan group with an oh-so-slightly-higher offer (higher than the last Republican offer) on the table, but so far Biden hasn't indicated what he really thinks of it. The White House did warn that they'd only continue trying the bipartisan route for another week or so, and that the reconciliation train is now boarding at the station. So things could develop next week on this front.

Mitch McConnell just keeps proving (and ourtight admitting) over and over again that he wouldn't join a bipartisan effort if his life depended on it, which really should help Democrats to convince Joe Manchin that it's time to do something about the filibuster (more on Manchin in a moment).

And we close with some COVID news. It looks like Biden's goal of "70 percent of American adults getting at least their first vaccine shot" by the Fourth of July is going to fall somewhat short (but not by a whole lot, no matter what the actual number winds up being, it'll be in the high 60s, which is pretty close). And the Washington Post did a data dive that produced a story which can be filed under "Duh" -- COVID infection rates are dropping in the parts of America where more of the public has been vaccinated, while the rates are rising in the areas with fewer vaccinated. What few in the mainstream media have pointed out is just going to become more and more obvious as time goes by: vaccination is a political issue, and the stubborn refusal of many Republicans to get vaccinated is going to directly cause more deaths in red states in the very near future. Or, to put it another way: yes, the Republican Party has indeed become a death cult, folks.


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

We have a few minor awards to hand out before the big one this week.

First up for an Honorable Mention are the Texas Democrats who all came to Washington this week to lobby Congress. These are the brave folks who denied the Texas Republicans a quorum to pass severe voting restrictions in their state. The governor is going to call them all back for a special session, though, so this will probably just postpone the inevitable.

Which was their message: Pass the For The People Act in Congress, to preclude such voter-suppression efforts at the state level. They deserve continued applause not just for their stunt, but for using the national political leverage they gained by it in the best possible way.

Also from Texas, House member Lloyd Doggett also deserves an Honorable Mention for his new idea on how to improve Obamacare. Since there are several diehard Republican states that still refuse to expand Medicaid, Doggett's bill would make it possible for individual cities and counties to independently buy in to the Medicaid expansion. This would avoid waiting for their state to do it, and is an absolutely brilliant solution to a seemingly-intractable problem. It could wind up getting millions more people heath insurance, which is a worthy goal indeed.

And we've got to be fair and also hand an Honorable Mention to Senator Joe Manchin for releasing a very detailed list of exactly what he can and cannot support in the effort to pass voting rights legislation. Manchin laid out his priorities for both the For The People Act and the upcoming John Lewis Civil Rights Act, and while his priorities list is a lot shorter than what's in the bill (and even includes some rather Republican ideas), the mere fact that he's being so detailed about what he wants is impressive enough, at this point. Up until now, his only public stance had been that any such bill had to be at least a little bipartisan, and that was it (we did write about this in more detail yesterday, if anyone's interested).

Stacy Abrams also deserves an Honorable Mention for almost immediately throwing her considerable support behind Manchin's new memo.

But we have to admit, there was indeed a clear winner of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week, and it was President Joe Biden.

Biden's Europe trip did indeed show the world that "America is back." He accomplished that goal, hands down. Foreign policy has returned to normal (meaning "sane"). The world breathed a gigantic sigh of relief. Praise was heaped upon Biden by his peers from the biggest of our allies. Biden met with Putin, and conducted himself well. All around, America was indeed back.

There's one more thing to add that kind of got lost in the fray this week, too. The Biden administration unveiled a policy that is approximately 20 or 25 years overdue. Ever since the Oklahoma City bombing, in fact.

Since that point, there has been an ongoing refusal to allow federal law enforcement to take seriously the threat of right-wing political violence in this country. Report after report showed that right-wing domestic terrorists were the biggest internal threat this country faced, and yet there was a political refusal to really do much of anything about it.

As Joe Biden tells the story, he decided to enter the race to beat Trump when he saw the response to the deadly Charlottesville white supremacist rally. That one event was the deciding factor for Biden -- that's why he ran. So this may not have been his biggest campaign promise, but it certainly was his most personal. And now he has followed through and the federal government can finally treat the threat with the seriousness (and resources) it has been demanding all along.

So for achievements both foreign and domestic this week, President Joe Biden is the clear choice for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

[Congratulate President Joe Biden on the White House official contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

We're going to have to punt on this one. We have one incident which was disappointing, but it somehow didn't seem to qualify for the main MDDOTW award.

So instead we'll give Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer a (Dis-)Honorable Mention for slipping up and using a very outdated term this week. In an interview, Schumer said the following:

When I first was an assemblyman, they wanted to build a congregate living place for retarded children. The whole neighborhood was against it. These are harmless kids. They just needed some help.

This used to actually be the accepted and standard term, and Chuck is old enough to have learned it when it was contemporary. But it has been seen as a slur and has been removed from polite (and political) conversation for at least the past few decades. So Schumer really should have known better.

To his credit, he immediately apologized, saying he was "sincerely sorry for his use of the outdated and hurtful language."

Which is, in part, why we decided it only really merited a (Dis-)Honorable Mention instead of the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

And as always, if anyone's got any suggestion for a nominee that we overlooked this week, please let us know about it in the comments.


Friday Talking Points

Volume 623 (6/18/21)

As we are sometimes wont to do, we decided it was a good week for a rant. This is a subject we've long been annoyed about, but the lack of proper Democratic outrage for everything that is happening today is not just regrettable, it is fast becoming political malpractice.

We are in a very fragile and momentous period. It is getting more fragile by the day, as Republicans continue to attack and undermine pretty much every institutional norm in all of government. They have been exposed for being morally and ideologically bankrupt, and caring solely about getting and retaining power. That's it. That's really all the party stands for, anymore.

So where are the Democrats who are pointing this out, on a regular basis?


Where are our attack dogs?

Where are the Democratic attack dogs? Where are the people on our side who can get booked on nationally-televised political shows and show some fierce indignation and scorn for the Republican Party? Oh, sure, there's the Squad, but too many of their fellow Democrats are so frightened by the Republicans demonizing the Squad for them to be completely effective.

Granted, in general Democrats don't go in for the emotional side of politics nearly as much as Republicans do -- and that was true long before the rise of Trump and Trumpism. Democrats are more prone to rational debate and trying to build their case to the public with fact-based reasoning. But, really, who has time for that anymore? Who would watch that? When does a clip of any of that make the news and get seen by tens of millions?

Where is our version of a Ted Cruz? Or Lindsey Graham? Or even the governors of Florida or Texas? Where is the Democratic outrage towards the increasing insanity within the Republican Party? It's like the house is burning down and the Democrats are convening a hearing on the back lawn to soberly discuss the relative merits of different types of fire extinguisher, while the flames leap higher.

In fact, pointing out how insanely dangerous the Republican Party has gotten these days has really become pathetically easy, which is why I am so astonished that Democrats don't explicitly make that case, every time they get the chance.

Let's start at the top of the party, but because we'd be here all day discussing Donald Trump's craziness in full, we'll just limit ourselves to the past week. A respected New York Times journalist reported that, while watching President Biden meeting with Vladimir Putin, it finally sunk in for both Trump and those around him that: "Oh, someone else is president and not Donald Trump." Think about that for a moment. The election was almost eight months ago. Biden was sworn in to office in January. And Trump and his team are just now fully realizing that Biden is actually president. This is insanity, plain and simple.

But maybe you'll say: "Oh, well, that's just Trump." But it's not. Congress passed a bill this week to give every single Capitol Hill and other police office a Congressional Gold Medal for bravely defending the United States Capitol from insurgents hell-bent on a coup attempt. An astounding twenty-one Republicans in the House actually voted against the measure. So much for all that "defend the police" and "blue lives matter" talk, eh? In fact, Representative Andrew Clyde wouldn't even shake the hand of Officer Michael Fanone in an elevator this week. This story is just shameful -- or it should be, at least:

"I simply extended my hand and said, 'How are you doing today, Congressman.' I knew immediately he recognized me by the way he reacted. He completely froze. He just stared at me," Fanone said in an interview.

Fanone said Clyde did not motion to shake his hand in return.

"I said, 'I'm sorry, you're not going to shake my hand?'?" Fanone said he told Clyde.

He said Clyde answered, "I don't know who you are."

Fanone said he responded: "I'm sorry, sir, my name is Michael Fanone. I'm a D.C. police officer and I fought to defend the Capitol on Jan. 6." Fanone said he described being stunned repeatedly in the back of the neck and beaten unconscious, stripped of his badge and radio.

"His response was nothing," Fanone said. "He turned away from me, pulled out his cellphone and started thumbing through the apps." Fanone said Clyde turned on the camera app but did not point the phone in his direction. Fanone said he believes Clyde was trying to record audio of the encounter.

"After that, I just simply stood there," Fanone said.

He said Clyde bolted when the doors opened.

In a separate interview, Fanone used even more pointed language:

Once the elevator doors opened, Fanone said Clyde "ran, as quickly as he could, like a coward."

Fanone said he took his interaction with Clyde "very personally," saying it was an insult and "middle finger" not only to himself, but also to every officer who bravely responded to defend the Capitol on January 6.

That is today's Republican Party, folks. What other Republican has denounced such disrespect? None that I am aware of. This is par for the course in the Republican Party today. This, mind you, from a Republican who was reportedly "screaming like a banshee" in the House while the mob attacked the doors to their chamber. Now just for one minute imagine how much loud and indignant political hay Republicans would make over such an incident if a Democrat had dared such a snub. It would last for months! And yet, I'm willing to bet many of you haven't even heard this story yet. That is the measure of the utter failure of Democrats to show the right and proper amount of indignation.

And remember -- he was just one of almost two dozen House Democrats to vote against honoring the cops who defended Congress with their lives. Where's the outrage for all of them?

Not only are House Republicans shamefully voting against cops, they're also shamefully voting against honoring the liberation of the last slaves in America. The Juneteenth holiday bill was unanimously passed by the Senate, but 14 Republicans in the House voted against it. At least, with that one, it makes a little more sense, sad to say.

Astoundingly, some right-wingers came out in ideological opposition to the new Juneteenth holiday because, according to them, it will create a second Independence Day, and "cancel" July Fourth, somehow. Again, where is the sustained and vocal outrage from Democrats?

Republicans just seem to be getting more and more unhinged these days. The divorce from reality is almost complete, folks. People like Jim Jordan are just unbelievably out of touch, and they show it on a regular basis. In a hearing which touched on the new revelations of abuses of power by Trump and all his minions, much of the discussion centered on the recent news that the Department of Justice had been ordered by Trump's chief of staff to investigate whether -- and you cannot make this stuff up, folks -- Italians had somehow hacked the 2020 election from satellites. This wasn't the only attempt to get the Justice Department to buy into crazy post-election conspiracy theories, either. Thankfully, the acting attorney general ("acting" because the previous one had quit suddenly, likely to avoid being caught up in this idiocy) refused all such pressure to turn the Justice Department into a personal attack dog for Donald Trump. Jordan was outraged (as he usually is), but not because of the blatant abuse of power, but because the Justice Department refused a presidential order. No, really -- here's how he put it: "That is a problem. When the chief of staff to the president of the United States asks someone in the executive branch to do something, and they basically give him the finger, I think that's the problem we should be looking into." Such an insane viewpoint "gives the finger" to the entire concept of the Justice Department being independent of political pressure, you'll note. Again, think of how Republicans would react if a Democrat had expressed such an outrageous opinion.

Sadly, he's not even the stupidest or craziest Republican around. Now we've got even-worse lunatics running for high office. In New Hampshire, a guy who didn't just storm the Capitol on January 6, but actually posted a video of himself chugging a bottle of wine he had just stolen, isn't even aware who he is running to replace. Here's the exchange between Jason Riddle and an NBC reporter, about him entering the race to replace Representative Ann Kuster:

RIDDLE: I thought Ann was a state representative.

Q: No. So, a state rep is in the State House, in Concord.

RIDDLE: Yeah, that's what Ann is!

Q: No, no, no, she's in Washington.

RIDDLE: Oh. Well, I guess I have to run against that, then.

Clueless! And he's not even the craziest! Down in Florida... no surprise, right?... a candidate running for the House of Representatives was recorded threatening one of his opponents, Anna Paulina Luna, with a foreign hit squad. Here are just a few excerpts of what William Braddock had to say to a Luna supporter he was trying to win over:

I really don't want to have to end anybody's life for the good of the people of the United States of America. That will break my heart. But if it needs to be done, it needs to be done. Luna is a fucking speed bump in the road. She's a dead squirrel you run over every day when you leave the neighborhood....

I have access to a hit squad, too, Ukrainians and Russians. Don't get caught out in public supporting Luna.... Luna's gonna go down and I hope it's by herself.

My polling people are going to charge me $20,000 to do a poll right before the primary. And if the poll says Luna's gonna win, she's gonna be gone. She's gonna disappear. For the good of our country, we have to sacrifice the few.... For the better or the good of the majority of the people, we've got to sacrifice the few....

I call up my Russian and Ukrainian hit squad, and within 24 hours, they're sending me pictures of her disappearing. No, I'm not joking. Like, this is beyond my control this point.

He even offered up more specifics about the hit squads:

Russian mafia. Close-battle combat, TEC-9s, MAC-10s, silencers kind of thing. No snipers. Up close and personal. So they know that the target has gone.

Braddock now has restraining orders against him, but for some reason has not been arrested yet. And he was bragging about assassinating a fellow Republican.

Have you even heard about this? Has any Democrat expressed the opinion that the entire Republican Party is quickly advancing down a road where political violence -- an incredibly dangerous concept -- is actually no big deal? I certainly haven't heard any Republicans condemning this, have you?

You think this is overstating things? I don't. Marjorie Taylor Greene apparently went too far when she compared having to wear a mask to fight a global pandemic to the Holocaust, so she was forced by her party to go to the Holocaust Museum, where she gave a half-hearted apology (of sorts). But she has not retracted nor apologized for calling the Democratic Party Nazis, and Republicans seem to be fine allowing that one to slide by.

This is dangerous idiocy, folks. This normalization of what used to be considered fringe, tin-foil-hat lunacy is not going to end well unless it is opposed now and doesn't get any further out of control.

You really don't have to look very far in today's Republican Party to find opinions and positions that aren't just rotten to the core, but are downright insanely dangerous. The United States Capitol has already been attacked once. A coup was attempted, in broad daylight, and Republicans refuse to even agree to investigate it. A sitting U.S. president tried to steal an election and he was aided and abetted by far too many in his own party. They are now consumed with rigging all the state-level election laws in their favor so the next time around they will be able to just disregard whatever the voters think and install a Republican president no matter what. Do you think that a House of Representatives run by Kevin McCarthy is going to certify Joe Biden's re-election if he beats Donald Trump once again? I don't.

Again, this is dangerous stuff to even contemplate. And it should provoke outrage. But for some reason, Democrats keep calm and collected and refuse to make a big deal out of any of it.

Democrats can't even do a good job of tooting their own horn on the things they have managed to accomplish. Far too few voters are even aware that the COVID relief bill passed earlier this year was a completely Democratic effort. Far too few realize that the Republican Party voted en masse against those $1,400 relief checks. When checks start arriving in millions of parents' mailboxes this month for the new child tax credit refund, few will realize that those checks didn't get there by magic but because Democrats put them there.

So I ask once again: where are our attack dogs? Where are the prominent Democrats who can get just as wound up as Ted Cruz or Jim Jordan over the undermining of democracy that the Republican Party is now in the midst of? Where is the outrage? Where is the indignation? These are not normal times. Normal and calm political discourse is not what is called for here. A little high dudgeon would be nice to see instead. But I'm not exactly holding my breath waiting for it, if you know what I mean.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground