Friday Talking Points -- Crisis Averted

[ Posted Friday, June 2nd, 2023 – 16:57 UTC ]

And so it all ended with a whimper and not a bang. President Joe Biden will sign the bill passed by both houses of Congress to increase the debt ceiling until after the 2024 elections. The bill is a clear victory for Biden, since it contains very little (virtually any) of the initial Republican budget-slashing demands. But Biden couldn't come out and say how good a deal he got from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy until now, because if he had done so it would have fed into the resistance by the farthest-right members of Congress, but now that the bill has safely been passed Biden has scheduled an Oval Office address for later today (7:00 PM, Eastern Time). We should note this is too late for anything he says to be addressed or included here in this column, but we will definitely be watching Biden speak later on today. [Editorial Note: we did listen to Biden's address, and we know it may be hard to believe, but we had picked out our "Crisis Averted" headline before Biden used the phrase tonight.]

All week long, the hurdles were cleared. Over the Memorial Day weekend the deal was announced and then publicly revealed, then after the week began the House voted and the Senate followed. The parliamentary stumbling blocks were easily cleared during the entire process. The most remarkable thing about the week was how downright low-key it was, at least looking back on it. Two party leaders hammered out a deal, both sides claimed it was as good a deal as they were going to get, and then the votes were impressively bipartisan in both houses. In the House, the vote was 314 to 117, with 149 Republicans voting for it (over two-thirds of them). More Democrats voted for it than Republicans, showing that Biden was successful in getting a good deal for his party. The Senate vote was 63 to 36, with only 17 Republicans voting for it, but for these days that's still pretty impressive.

One thing we would bet our bottom dollar will be included in Biden's address tonight: bragging about how he has fulfilled one of his campaign promises in a big way, by bringing bipartisanship back to Washington. Even with divided control of Congress, Biden still got a fairly good deal that all the centrists in both parties wound up supporting. He will doubtlessly present this as a very good thing for the country at large, and he'll mostly be right.

The biggest loser in all of this was the hard-right MAGA/Freedom Caucus faction of the GOP. They didn't get anything they had demanded in the Republicans' opening bid (the bill the House passed which started the negotiations), they weren't able to strongarm McCarthy into blowing up the economy, and they showed that bills can indeed pass the House not only with a majority of Republicans voting for it but also with a whole bunch of centrist Democrats as well. This is (to be polite) not what they had set out to prove in all of this. The hard righties have been largely defanged, and they seemed resigned to how bad it was when they (unsuccessfully) tried to rile everyone up when denouncing the bill, early in the week:

The MAGA Republicans' opposition was categorical. It was also scatological.

Many of the same House GOP extremists who nearly denied Kevin McCarthy the speakership did their utmost this week to tank the bipartisan debt and budget agreement he struck with President Biden.

Rep. Chip Roy (Tex.) wanted colleagues to know "what a turd-sandwich this 'deal' is."

Rep. Dan Bishop (N.C.) told me and other reporters that the hard-liners needed "to fix this s--- sandwich."

Rep. Byron Donalds (Fla.), at a news conference, declared it "crap."

And Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) said she needed sides and a dessert in order "to eat [this] s--- sandwich."

They were left to whine about not having enough time to read the bill (even though they had a full 72 hours to read only 99 pages), or McCarthy supposedly breaking secret agreements made when he was struggling to become speaker, and in the end were left carping that more Democrats voted for the bill than Republicans did, even though 68 percent of Republicans actually did support it. Embarrassingly, this actually included eight members of the Freedom Caucus, showing they couldn't even prevent defections from within their own ranks. And they seem to be backing down from the calls to oust McCarthy as speaker, because (as usual) they have no actual plan as to how they would do so or who they would support instead. McCarthy actually showed a surprising amount of political strength over the course of the past week (as hard as it is for us to admit that).

But in the end, Biden got more than McCarthy out of the actual deal itself. Republicans started by demanding meat-axe-sized cuts to domestic spending and they wound up with very little. They wanted to lock budget caps in for ten years, and they essentially only got two. They wanted to raise the debt ceiling for only one year, so they could do this all over again during the presidential primaries next spring, and now this won't happen until a new Congress is seated after the elections. And that new Congress will doubtlessly throw everything in this deal out the window and draw up their own budget as their first order of business. So McCarthy got extremely modest cuts while Biden cleared the decks for his own re-election effort without having to give up very much. Even the biggest psychological win for Republicans -- adding some more-stringent work requirements to certain federal programs -- turned out to be a loss, since Biden managed to exempt veterans, the homeless, and recent foster-care children who become adults. All of this will actually increase the number of people the program covers, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And as for those budget caps, both sides are already figuring out ways to get around them (which is par for the course on budget caps, it bears mentioning).

Here is another take on what the two sides managed to get in the deal (emphasis in original):

Recall where this began: the Republican House Freedom Caucus making promises such as repealing much of the Inflation Reduction Act (including eliminating $80 billion in new funds for the Internal Revenue Service), capping nondefense spending at fiscal 2022 levels for a decade and blocking Biden's $400 billion proposed student debt relief. None of that happened.

When factoring in agreed-upon appropriations adjustments, the deal holds nondefense spending essentially flat in fiscal 2024 and increases it by 1 percent in fiscal 2025. According to White House aides, that's a better outcome than a straight continuing resolution.

So it will be interesting indeed how Biden frames the entire thing, when he addresses the nation tonight. But we're still betting he'll be leaning heavily on how he has successfully brought the spirit of bipartisan compromise back to Washington. Where Biden may spike the football a little bit is on his own economic record, after yet another much-better-than-expected jobs report (we'll have more on this in the talking points).

The Republican race to take Biden on in 2024 is heating up, both in rhetoric and in volume. Not that they're shouting at each other, mind you, but rather in the sense of so many of them getting in the race that we saw the first headline of the cycle to use the term: "Republican Clown Car." So take a drink if that was on your Bingo card for this week, we suppose.

This will actually happen next week, as this week had only the pre-announcement announcements from three more Republican contenders: Mike Pence, some guy from North Dakota nobody's ever heard of, and Chris Christie. Christie's announcement will be amusing to watch, since he's scheduled it for next Tuesday -- which also (coincidentally) happens to be the anniversary of D-Day. Talk about some potent symbolism! The forces of democracy and freedom landing and establishing a beachhead against the forces of tyranny and fascism. After all, what better way is there to symbolize taking on Donald Trump?

Christie is quite likely not going to win the GOP nomination, but he could serve in a role he adamantly denied he would play (a few weeks ago) -- that of a "paid assassin." Christie, much more than any other GOP candidate running, has the same bullying nature as Donald Trump and can take a punch on stage while dishing them out in return. So it will be amusing indeed if the two ever face each other on a debate stage (although this is not guaranteed -- Christie might fail to clear the bar the R.N.C. is setting for their debates, and Trump might decline to participate).

The news from the actual campaign trail (with already-announced candidates) is where the rhetoric heated up this week, as Ron DeSantis apparently woke up from a long nap and realized he is actually running against Donald Trump. Up until this week, DeSantis has been trying to run the playbook that Glenn Youngkin ran to become governor of Virginia -- just don't mention Trump and hope everyone doesn't notice. But with DeSantis the only viable threat to Trump in the polling, Trump has been unloading on (as he calls him) "Ron DeSanctimonious" by the truckload, each and every week. This week, DeSantis decided it was time to throw a few punches of his own.

There were many petty little spats in this fray, but the most amusing one to us was a gambit DeSantis tried to play. DeSantis is still mostly avoiding mentioning Trump by name in his stump speeches, but he has been ripping into Trump in the Q-and-A periods afterwards with the press. DeSantis tried a new argument this week that makes a certain degree of sense (seen from his point of view): that he could serve for eight years, while Trump would be term-limited out after only four. Trump, in classic Trump style, taunted this logic by claiming that he could fix everything in only six months -- he wouldn't need eight years to do it. Surprisingly, this time DeSantis shot back, asking Trump if he could fix everything in six months then why didn't he do it in his first four years in office? This type of counterpunching has been entirely absent from the DeSantis campaign, so it was kind of a surprise to hear, and things are only going to get more and more vicious between the two as time goes by. So we've all got that to look forward to!

What else? The debt ceiling fight dominated the political news this week, so not much other news was made, we have to admit. Trump's legal problems continue to get more dire, as first it was leaked that Trump not only hoarded classified documents and showed them off to everyone he felt like, but that his staff may have been complicit in hiding a lot of these from the federal agents who were legally entitled to them. They even held "dress rehearsals" of moving boxes out of the storage room, apparently.

This news was topped by another leak -- that there is an audio recording which was made while Trump was being interviewed for a book, where Trump not only reportedly waved around a highly-secret war plan to attack Iran, but also that Trump knew: (1) that it was still classified and (2) that he could get in trouble for having it or showing it to others. The reports were all secondhand, however -- no media organization has actually heard this recording yet, just a description of what it contains. But Trump musing about how he really should have declassified a document back when he was president totally undermines one of his main legal defenses he's been telegraphing up to this point: that he could mentally declassify any document he wished merely by thinking about it. This could wind up being the smoking gun in the entire mishandling-of-documents case against Trump.

Meanwhile, in news that just has to have rankled Trump, the Department of Justice let Mike Pence's lawyers know that their investigation into classified documents Pence found (and voluntarily turned over) was now closed and nobody would be charged with any crime. We have no doubt that the special counsel investigating Joe Biden will eventually come to the same conclusion, seeing as how what Trump did was so vastly different than what Pence or Biden did.

Outside of Washington, the Texas attorney general was impeached on 20 counts by the state's lower legislative chamber -- which is controlled by Republicans. The vote to impeach was rather overwhelming, too. The legislative session is now over, but the state senate could convene in a special session to hold the trial, so this could get very interesting in the coming weeks. Also, Trump was reportedly not very happy with this outcome, making it all the more delicious.

In New Mexico, the Republican candidate who lost a state house district race and then allegedly went berserk and joined in a conspiracy with two other men to shoot up the houses of the Democrats who certified his loss, was charged this week with conspiracy, interference of elections, and "several firearms offenses that include the use of a machine gun." At least three of these shootings were at houses where children were inside, one of them as young as 10 years old. Pushing the Big Lie of "rigged elections" can be dangerous stuff, folks, in the hands of unstable Republicans.

And speaking of unstable Republicans, we have this charming story to end upon:

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) got a strong rebuke from the White House on Friday for a tweet she posted on Thursday that was critical of the president's plan to combat hate, bias and violence against Jewish people.

After Joe Biden announced the first U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, the Colorado congresswoman took to Twitter to suggest that any plan to target hate was actually a plan to target conservatives. She added, "Their tactics are straight out of the USSR's playbook."

Many Twitter users rebuked Boebert and noted that her comments suggested bigotry was a big part of the conservative mindset.

On Friday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates also criticized Boebert's tweets in a statement to HuffPost.

"Congresswoman Boebert is mistaken; antisemitism is not 'conservative' -- it is evil," Bates said. "President Biden is standing up for a bedrock American value that goes beyond politics and is embraced by liberals, conservatives and independents: That we are better than antisemitism and hate. Those vile forces fly in the face of what America represents."

Bates said anyone who "finds opposition to hate threatening" needs "to look inward."

He also suggested Boebert Google the Soviet Union's long, repulsive history of antisemitism.

"She might find a result for Joe Biden, who at the time decried antisemitic acts by Soviet communists as 'shameful,'" Bates said.


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

In a very quiet sort of unassuming way, President Joe Biden saved the country from the nightmare of defaulting on its obligations this week. Unlike his predecessor, Biden conducted his negotiations in private with the opposition leader. Biden did not flood the zone with tweets, there were no playground insults, he did not whine and moan to the cameras on a daily basis, and he did not attempt to take all the credit at the end of the process.

In other words, he did exactly what 81 million people elected him to do: not be Donald Trump.

Biden did not roll over in the face of Republican bluster. He did not give away the store. He got a much better deal, in fact, than the one Barack Obama was willing to cut in the last debt ceiling hostage standoff. Neither the Republicans nor the press truly cares all that much about the deficit these days (as was decidedly not the case, back in Obama's time), and this fundamental unseriousness undercut McCarthy's bargaining position from the beginning.

McCarthy wound up with a deal that more Democrats in the House voted for than Republicans. But to his credit, he did almost perfectly match the number he had apparently committed to (reports before the vote were that McCarthy was promising 150 GOP "yea" votes; in the end he delivered 149 of them).

The deal delivered exactly zero of the extremist wish list the Republicans had passed at the start of the negotiation. Biden's signature Inflation Reduction Act was not overturned, Biden was not forced to jettison his attempt to cancel student loan debt (more on that in a moment), and the entire deal really only covers the next two years, not the next ten. All in all, a solid win for Democrats, given the fact that the Republicans control the House.

As we've already mentioned, the outcome of the negotiations and the votes in both chambers of Congress are going to allow Biden to frame the entire exercise as a fulfillment of one of his main campaign promises: the center held. The hardline partisans on both the left and right wound up voting against the deal, but the large majority of centrists in the middle prevailed. Biden may offer up some hopeful words tonight about the possibility of this happening again in the next year or so, but we'll all have to wait and see.

For now, though, Biden saved the day. America will not be defaulting on its debt next week. The world's financial markets will not go haywire. There will not be a global recession or depression due to Republican hostage-taking. And the federal budget emerged largely intact, with no Draconian cuts to be seen anywhere.

For accomplishing all this while keeping a very low profile, President Joe Biden was easily the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. And for good measure, one endearing moment showed us why so many millions of Americans voted for him. During a ceremony at the White House this week, a child began audibly crying while Biden was speaking. Biden's response? "That's OK, she's allowed to do anything you want. Kids rule in my house." When the child continued to cry, Biden addressed the toddler: "What's the matter? What's the matter? I don't blame you; I'm bored with me too." Which is exactly what we voted for when we elected him: a return to a president who can feeling comfortable being downright boring.

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


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

Biden did, however, fall down on the job this week [...pause for laughter...].

Which leads us to wonder: is anyone else missing late-night comedy as much as we are? (Sigh....)

Joe Biden, after giving the commencement speech at the Air Force Academy, stumbled over a sandbag on the stage and fell down. He was fine, he was helped back up and it was no big deal, but it certainly wasn't the image the White House wanted from the ceremony. Biden did joke later on that he had been "sandbagged," showing he is fine with a bit of self-depreciating humor (something else Trump could never manage to do).

Kidding aside, we do have two Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out, and one we really want to hand out (but can't, if we strictly stick to the rules).

This week, shamefully, the Senate passed a bill which would repeal President Biden's plan to forgive either $10,000 or $20,000 of student loans. The bill had passed the Republican House, but the Democrats actually hold the upper chamber so Republicans never would have gotten to even 50 votes without some help. Two Democrats and one former Democrat gave them this help: Senators Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and Jon Tester. Of course, 52 votes is nowhere near enough votes to overturn a veto, so this entire exercise was merely designed to embarrass Biden. The student loan forgiveness program may get (ahem) sandbagged by the Supreme Court in the upcoming weeks, but for these three that wasn't even enough. They had to join with the Republicans just to give Biden a political black eye.

Which is beyond disappointing, really. Since Sinema is now an Independent, however, we can only rightfully give the MDDOTW award out to Manchin and Tester. Thanks for nothing, guys....

[Contact Senator Joe Manchin on his Senate contact page, and Senator Jon Tester on his Senate contact page, to let them know what you think of their actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 709 (6/2/23)

By the time you read this, President Biden will have already addressed the nation from the Oval Office. Our talking points will either have been used in some form, or not. They are comprised of what we expect Biden to say, what we would like to hear him say, and what he will almost certainly say. But just to warn everyone, they'll already be superseded by whatever Biden did actually say.

Most of these aren't even about the debt ceiling/budget deal at all. Democratic presidents seem to have a curse on them, because they continually produce a much better economy than when Republicans are running things, but Republicans (aided by a doom-and-gloom mainstream media) are so much better at convincing everyone that things are truly terrible under Democratic rule and peachy-keen under a Republican. So the public mood never seems to match what is truly good economic news. But since Joe Biden is about to run for re-election, he's really going to have to do a better job making this case.


   Biden's bipartisan win

This will doubtlessly be a big theme of Biden's address.

"When I ran for president, I promised to bring back the spirit of bipartisanship to Washington, and all the pundits scoffed that it just wasn't possible anymore. So far, I have actually achieved this a number of times on very large pieces of legislation which have invested in America in numerous ways. Today I am happy to announce that even though one house of Congress is in the other party's hands right now, we can still come together and meet in the middle to do what is right for the American people. In doing so, we will lose some votes from both sides, but the large majority of Congress realizes that you can't always get everything you want and that compromise is not a dirty word. I look forward to working with the leaders of Congress in the future to solve more problems in this bipartisan fashion."


   Drive a stake through its heart

Biden really should publicly call for this, even if it is impossible with a Republican House.

"This entire exercise was nothing short of playing Russian roulette with the American economy. It is hostage-taking, plain and simple. Republicans threatened to tank the entire world's economy, if I didn't go along with the most extreme budget cuts you can imagine. This is wrong -- this is not how America should debate partisan ideas for the budget. So I am calling on Congress to abolish the debt ceiling forever in their next budget, by passing a law that says whatever spending is appropriated includes issuing whatever debt is necessary to spend that amount of money. If Congress doesn't act, I may -- because the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution means that the entire idea of a debt ceiling is unconstitutional on its face. No president -- whether me or someone else -- should ever have to go through this hostage-taking ever again. I call on Congress to abolish the debt ceiling and stop playing these dangerous games with the full faith and credit of the United States."


   Jobs, jobs, jobs

The rest of these talking points are all on the economy, and thus are tangential to what Biden will say -- but we would bet at least a few of these make it into his remarks, as most of them come from a helpful statement the White House put out earlier today.

"Since I took office, America has created over 13 million jobs. That is more jobs created in 28 months than any other president in American history managed to create in four full years. America has recovered from the COVID pandemic slump, and even with all the doom and gloom from economists, more jobs than ever have been created in record time."


   Best unemployment in 60 years

Another bragging point for Biden to make.

"The unemployment rate has now stayed below four percent for 16 months in a row. That is astonishingly good news -- it is the first time this has happened since the 1960s, in fact. Jobs are plentiful, and more people are working. If they don't like the job they're in, they feel a lot freer to look around for something better. That is a real success story for tens of millions of American workers."


   Inflation keeps going down

These aren't just possible talking points for tonight's address, they will also be core points Biden will no doubt be making out on the campaign trail as well.

"Inflation spiked after the pandemic recession, but it has now fallen for 10 straight months. It is still too high, but it keeps coming down, so the trend is in the right direction. From its peak last summer, inflation has fallen by more than 40 percent. If everything continues to go well, by this time next year it'll be back down to two percent or less, where it should be."


   Wages up

Biden deserves to lean in hard to his economic achievements.

"Take-home pay for workers has gone up while inflation has come down as well. Even when you factor in inflation, wages still went up for workers, including those at the lowest end of the pay scale. That is a big deal, folks, since wages at the low end have been stagnant for decades -- far too long. I promised to build this economy from the bottom up, and that is exactly what has happened."


   Recession fears fade

Biden has been beating expectations his entire term, so it's time to point it out.

"Economists have been predicting a recession is right around the corner for a very long time now. Each and every month we hear that we could enter into a recession real soon now. The parade of doom and gloom has been rather astonishing. But you know what else is even more astonishing? They have not been right. According to them, we either should be in a recession now or have already gone through one that started last year. Neither happened. Let me repeat that: It did not happen. With each month of positive economic data -- that usually is a lot better than the professional forecasters had guessed -- the fears of a recession seem to get pushed out later and later. But two-and-a-half years into my first term, they have yet to call this one right. Just something to keep in mind the next time you hear an 'expert' predicting that a recession is just around the next corner, folks."

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground