Friday Talking Points -- A Busy Week

[ Posted Friday, January 21st, 2022 – 17:37 UTC ]

It was an eventful week in Washington, with a holiday and an anniversary thrown in for good measure, so we're going to try to be a little more succinct in this week's rundown. Well... try to, at any rate.

The week began with Martin Luther King Junior Day, saw a historic (but failed) vote in the Senate on voting rights, contained a marathon of a presidential press conference, and marked the first year President Joe Biden has spent in office. Plus a whole lot of other notable developments along the way.

The biggest of the other developments of the week surrounded the investigation into the January 6th insurrection attempt, which seems to have picked up pace in a considerable way. These efforts were aided this week by the Supreme Court ruling 8-1 that Donald Trump's papers at the National Archive could indeed be turned over to the House investigating committee. His claims of executive privilege were essentially laughed out of court, and the transfer has already begun. Which immediately led to the leak of a jaw-dropping document in Politico, which published an extraordinary Trump draft executive order in full. The White House was fully prepared -- although the order was never actually given -- for federal agents to seize voting machines across the country. This is astounding news, and puts the lie to anyone who thinks the events of that day or Trump's connection to them have somehow been "overblown." The president's lawyers put together a document where the federal government would have aided and abetted the stealing of a presidential election. "Stunning" doesn't even begin to describe this development.

Trump had a pretty bad week all around, as his legal woes continue to mount. The Washington Post had a good summary of his week (so far):

On Tuesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) submitted a 157-page filing detailing much of the evidence her investigators have gathered so far on the business practices of Trump and his children, focused on a possible pattern of fraud. The civil investigation is separate from a criminal probe James is running in tandem with new Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D).

Then, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court rejected Trump's request to block the release of some of his White House records to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

Thursday brought a double whammy: The House committee sent a letter to Ivanka Trump requesting her voluntary testimony. In the letter, the panel said witnesses have told investigators that the former White House adviser might have direct knowledge of her father's actions before, during and after the mob of his supporters tried to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden as president.

And in Atlanta, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) requested a special-purpose grand jury to aid in her investigation into whether Trump and others committed crimes by trying to pressure Georgia election officials to overturn his loss in the 2020 election.

The article only itemized things that personally happened to Trump and his family, so it left out the fact that Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and two other Trump personal lawyers were subpoenaed by the House committee this week, too. The committee put out a statement to explain: "The four individuals we've subpoenaed today advanced unsupported theories about election fraud, pushed efforts to overturn the election results, or were in direct contact with the former President about attempts to stop the counting of electoral votes." In a related story, Rudy was apparently the driving force behind Republicans creating fake slates of presidential electors in multiple states, in another effort to overturn a free and fair election.

We have to say, the committee promised they'd be upping the pace in the new year, and so far they seem to be living up to that promise.

But let's get back to President Biden's week. The biggest news of the week came out of Biden's press conference, which clocked in at almost two full hours. Perhaps he was responding to media complaints that he hasn't given enough interviews or press conferences in his first year in office, as Biden tried to outlast the entire White House press corps. Overall he did a pretty good job (we wrote our snap reactions to the presser earlier this week, in case you're interested, or you can read a liveblog of it from the Washington Post). He stumbled a bit in talking about the situation between Russia and the Ukraine, which caused some consternation abroad, but by week's end the White House had done a good job of clarifying what Biden's official position is -- that no invasion will be considered a "minor incursion."

Biden did a fairly good job at attempting to reject the framing the media is using and provide his own. He pushed back on the focus on the handful of schools that had gone remote and pointed out the fact that 95 percent of them were still open across the country.

Biden also tooted his own horn on the economic recovery he's overseen and the progress of the pandemic. These points really need to be made if the Democrats are going to have any chance at all in November, and Biden is the one with the biggest bully pulpit around, so it was refreshing to see him doing a decent job of getting his message out to the people. In fact, he did such a good job one wonders why he doesn't do more of it. Perhaps that will change, too -- like all new presidents, Biden expressed his wishes to get outside the Washington bubble and go talk to more people across the country. If he puts some effort into doing so, it would go a long way towards reframing the political discussion among the punditocracy (and in the population as a whole, too).

This is absolutely necessary, since the political media keeps right on proving how much they love the shiny, shiny distracting objects the Republicans keep tossing their way. The current joke of a concern from the right is that Biden is somehow being "too divisive" in his language. Instead of accurately pointing out that, yes, the Republicans are indeed standing on the side of Bull Connor and all the other racists, the reporters decide that somehow the real problem is that Republicans' feelings are hurt when Biden calls the GOP out on it. And somehow it should all be Biden's fault.

This was during the same week, it's worth mentioning, that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (who used to take pride in his support for voting rights laws) actually said the following: "...if you look at the statistics, African-American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans." Got that? They're two separate and distinct groups, to Mitch. They're not even bothering to hide their true feelings anymore. So why shouldn't Biden and other Democrats point it out? The media certainly hasn't been, so why not?

Biden's first anniversary in office passed this week, which gave rise to a whole raft of articles grading him on his performance (which we joined in with yesterday). We gave him a solid "B," and noted room for him to improve.

The most poignant commentary we read on the anniversary, however, came from the same person who stole the show at the Inauguration: poet Amanda Gorman. She wrote an anniversary article for the New York Times where she explained the terror she felt in the days leading up to the event -- both personal terror and fear for our country. The key paragraph (for us, at least) harkened back to another historic inaugural speech (emphasis in original):

I'm a firm believer that often terror is trying to tell us of a force far greater than despair. In this way, I look at fear not as cowardice, but as a call forward, a summons to fight for what we hold dear. And now more than ever, we have every right to be affected, afflicted, affronted. If you're alive, you're afraid. If you're not afraid, then you're not paying attention. The only thing we have to fear is having no fear itself -- having no feeling on behalf of whom and what we've lost, whom and what we love.

So, once again (for us), Amanda Gorman stole the show. Take the time to read her whole article, it is definitely worth it.

The big legislative news was the failure of the Senate to pass voting rights bills, and the failure of the Senate Democrats to alter the filibuster rule enough to allow the bills to pass. In the first instance, Republicans voted unanimously against voting rights, and in the second instance the Republicans were joined by Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Yet another chapter in the ongoing saga: "Profiles In Cowardice," we suppose.

Some of their fellow Democrats weren't shy about saying what they thought of this performance. Bernie Sanders, in particular, didn't mince words: "It's not just this vote. These are people who I think have undermined the president of the United States. They have forced us to have five months of discussions that have gone absolutely nowhere." Which is accurate -- the worst thing about this whole situation is how much time was lost chasing this wild goose.


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

Before we get to the main award, we have to hand out an Honorable Mention to President Joe Biden, for the sheer endurance on display at his press conference. We expected it to be a normal, traditional hour plus maybe a few extra minutes -- which is how long these things usually last. But an hour and twenty-five minutes in, Biden looked at his watch and challenged the press to keep going "for another two or three hours," then laughed and said he'd give them another 20 minutes. And he didn't even end it then, he went on for another ten minutes or so afterwards. Pretty good for the oldest president ever!

In a more serious vein, we also have to award an Honorable Mention to Representative Jamaal Bowman, who was arrested outside the Capitol protesting the lack of action on voting rights:

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) was arrested Thursday while participating in a voting-rights protest near the Capitol, according to a spokesman.

The news comes one day after Senate Republicans rejected an attempt by Democrats to change the chamber's rules, effectively killing a year-long Democratic effort to pass federal voting rights legislation.

Marcus Frias, Bowman's director of communications, said the congressman "was arrested alongside at least 20 others, including faith leaders and youth who have been hunger striking for our democracy."

"Today, Congressman Jamaal Bowman joined a voting rights non-violent direct action at the North Barricade of the U.S. Capitol Building and was arrested by the U.S. Capitol Police," Frias said in a statement.

You'll note that he was not attempting to violently storm the building or prevent Congress from doing its constitutional duty. An important distinction, these days.

But we have to admit being biased this week, because our choice for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week is Louisiana Senate candidate Gary Chambers. Chambers released the most strongly pro-legalization ad we have ever seen, where he lights up and smokes a fat "blunt" of marijuana. The voice-over he reads is equally as powerful as the visual impact, as well (note: the ad itself is 37 seconds long):

Every 37 seconds someone is arrested for possession of marijuana. Since 2010, state and local police have arrested an estimated 7.3 million Americans for violating marijuana laws. Over half of all drug arrests. Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana laws than White people. States waste 3.7 billion dollars enforcing marijuana laws every year. Most of the people police are arresting aren't dealers, but rather people with small amounts of pot -- just like me. I'm Gary Chambers and I'm running for the U.S. Senate and I approve this message.

He also put out a statement to further clarify his position:

For too long, candidates have used the legalization of marijuana as an empty talking point in order to appeal to progressive voters. I hope this ad works to not only destigmatize the use of marijuana, but also forces a new conversation that creates the pathway to legalize this beneficial drug, and forgive those who were arrested due to outdated ideology.

He's right. We've been begging Democrats for years to start using pro-legalization messages from a position of strength. This is a winning issue, it actually cuts across the partisan divide (rare for any issue, these days), and it motivates people to vote who normally don't bother. The days of a politician "paying a political price" for being pro-legalization are long gone, folks. And it's about time the rest of the Democratic Party truly took this lesson to heart.

For showing precisely how effective and how powerful the issue can be, Gary Chambers is easily our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. More power to him, and we'll be watching his campaign with interest.

[Gary Chambers is a candidate for office and we do not link to candidate web pages, so you'll have to look his contact info up yourself if you'd like to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

There was one odd piece of news this week, but we're going to reserve judgment (and awards) until things get a little clearer. Representative Henry Cuellar was apparently raided by the F.B.I. this week, although everyone is being very hush-hush about what they might have been looking for.

For the time being, we have yet another pair of Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards to hand to (you guessed it) Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

Their basic position is that it is more important for the Senate to reach bipartisan agreement on each and every thing than it is to protect the voting rights of minorities in states where Republicans unilaterally are making it harder and harder for Black and Brown people to vote. There's just no other way to put it.

The astonishing thing was that the Senate actually debated something, for once. Here's the best overview we read of what took place:

While defeat appeared assured, Democrats on Wednesday moved forward with a day-long final debate on the issue. Party leaders encouraged Democratic senators to remain at their desks on the Senate floor through the day as the final vote approached to emphasize the gravity of the issue. While GOP attendance was more sparse, more than a dozen Republican senators delivered floor speeches rebutting the Democrats throughout the day.

There were moments of strong words and pointed emotion, as well as occasional exchanges between members of opposite parties that resembled the sort of bygone, freewheeling debates that many senators say should be a more routine feature of an institution that was once deemed, in seriousness that has evolved into sarcasm, the "world's greatest deliberative body."

HuffPost also noted how extraordinary the session was:

"That was the most substantive back and forth I have seen in my 13 years in the Senate," remarked Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) after an extended exchange between Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) over the failure to reauthorize parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Floor debate in the Senate is often theatrical, highly choreographed, and basically fake. Unanimous consent requests and objections to such requests are negotiated and scheduled ahead of time. Few, if any, senators stick around on the floor to listen to their colleagues deliver remarks -- especially when it concerns a member of the opposite party. Colloquies do happen occasionally, but they, too, are rare.

When senators do gather on the floor to actually listen to each other speak, it's usually to show their support for a retiring member, who normally opines on how the Senate used to function and doesn't anymore, and why they've decided to leave.

"I think the problem is we've gotten lazy," Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) observed at one point.

Not going to disagree with that one.

Salon had the best direct quotes, first from the Ossoff-Collins discussion:

Ossoff noted that Collins previously said that reauthorizing the 1965 Voting Rights Act would "ensure that the voting rights afforded to all Americans are protected" and accused Republicans of hypocrisy for praising the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., while opposing the bill named after him.

"I speak for the state of Georgia when I say do not invoke Congressman Lewis' name to signal your virtue while you work to erode his legacy and defy his will," Ossoff said.

And this, from Senator Cory Booker's response to Senator Tim Scott (after Scott scoffed at the idea that this was some sort of "Jim Crow 2.0"):

"Don't lecture me on Jim Crow," Booker fired back. "I know this is not 1965. That's what makes me so outraged -- it's 2022 and they're blatantly removing more polling places from the counties where Blacks and Latinos are overrepresented. I'm not making that up. That is a fact."

Booker noted that Black voters statistically have to wait in line to vote twice as long as white voters.

"In the United States today, it is more difficult for the average African American to vote than the average white American," Booker said. "That is not rhetoric, that is fact."

But none of this rather rare display of actual substantive debate in the Senate budged either Manchin or Sinema an inch.

And, just to add salt to the wound, Manchin reportedly had dinner with a bunch of Republicans during the night, while Sinema found her own way to be obnoxious:

More than a half-dozen Republican senators lined up to shake Sinema's hand after the vote, including Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., one of the GOP members who voted to block the certification of Joe Biden's victory after the Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021.

So yet again, the choice was pretty obvious this week. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema can add another Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to their growing piles.

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


Friday Talking Points

Volume 647 (1/21/22)

We have to begin with something funny Mitt Romney said this week, just because it didn't really fit anywhere else. During Joe Biden's press conference, he made a point of saying that he still respects Republicans in the Senate and is even friends with some of them. He used one particular term to praise Mitt Romney, which is (shall we say) a bit outdated... or at least, now has multiple meanings. Romney, who actually does have a sense of humor, responded that his wife Ann had told him that Biden "said that I was a 'straight guy' and someone tweeted that that made Ann happy to know."

It's rare these days when Republicans are actually funny, but we have to give credit when it is due.

With that out of the way, let's move right along to what Democrats should be saying, after the eventful week that was. As always, use responsibly!


   Not just from the North

Since we all celebrated his birthday this week, we thought it'd be a good idea to post a quote from Martin Luther King Junior to kick off the talking points. Note that what King is talking about is no longer confined just to the "North." It can be found in places like West Virginia or Arizona, in fact.

A second area in which there is need for strong leadership is from the white northern liberals. There is a dire need today for a liberalism which is truly liberal. What we are witnessing today in so many northern communities is a sort of quasi-liberalism which is based on the principle of looking sympathetically at all sides. It is a liberalism so bent on seeing all sides, that it fails to become committed to either side. It is a liberalism that is so objectively analytical that it is not subjectively committed. It is a liberalism which is neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. We call for a liberalism from the North which will be thoroughly committed to the ideal of racial justice and will not be deterred by the propaganda and subtle words of those who say: "Slow up for a while; you're pushing too fast."


   Seriously? I mean, seriously?!?

This was just too ridiculous, so it certainly deserves some ridicule.

"Republicans are clutching at their pearls because they think President Biden said something mean about them, lumping them on the same side of the civil rights struggle as Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis. Awwww... poor benighted Republicans! Such fragile little snowflakes! It's like they live in some alternate universe where the previous four years -- and the guy they slavishly follow now -- just never existed. I mean, seriously? They're upset that Biden insulted them? I would invite them to pick any week whatsoever between January 20th, 2017 and January 20th, 2021, and I guarantee I can find a Trump tweet from that week where he says something worse about somebody. This is such a laughable double standard, folks. Seriously? You're swooning and pearl-clutching over something Joe Biden said? You poor things, you."


   Mitch, please!

All kinds of people expressed their righteous outrage over Mitch's recent comments, so we thought we'd join in.

"This week in his press conference, Joe Biden asked a very good question -- what is Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans actually for? So Mitch gave us a truly ugly answer. McConnell tried to draw a distinction between African-American voters and, quote, Americans, unquote. No, really. In the year 2022. He was quite properly raked over the coals for his viewpoint on social media (with the hashtag #MitchPlease). But you know what? He deserves all of it and probably more. Republicans everywhere are starting to say things out loud and in public that they used to only think to themselves or talk about behind closed doors. African-Americans are indeed "real" Americans, Mitch, and the whole point of the argument is that they should have equal voting rights as everyone who looks like you. Why is that such a hard concept for Republicans to grasp? So, yeah -- Mitch, please!"


   Credit where it isn't due

We fully expect to see more and more of this, as we get closer to the election. And each and every one needs to get called out by the media, so the voters know.

"I see that Republican Representative Ashley Hinson is celebrating some of the infrastructure money that Joe Biden signed into law. She boasted that 'we secured' $829 million from the feds to restore locks and dams in Iowa. She tweeted: 'This is game-changing for Iowa's agriculture industry & our Mississippi River communities!' There's only one big problem, though -- she voted against it. So I have no idea what 'we' she is talking about, because she was on the side that didn't want that money to come to her state -- it was Democrats and a few other Republicans who made it possible. Hypocrisy, thy name is Ashley Hinson."


   Trump crime family

Stay tuned....

"It looks like the entire Trump crime family is getting closer and closer to being forced to legally answer for their criminal activities. They're getting subpoenaed to explain the tax fraud and bank fraud they signed their names to, they're getting requests to testify before the January 6th committee, and a brand-new grand jury has been created in Georgia to address the election-rigging attempt made by Donald Trump on that infamous phone call where he asked the state's GOP leaders to just 'find' enough votes for him to win. Even all three Supreme Court justices he nominated to the high court ruled against Trump's laughable claim to executive privilege this week. The legal watchdogs seem to be circling the Trump crime family from pretty much every direction, folks. Can't wait to see what happens next!"


   Getting closer

OK, this one is spin to help the defeat go down easier, we fully admit. But hey, the news wasn't universally bad.

"While the effort did ultimately fail, what I found interesting is that 48 Democrats in the Senate voted this week to weaken the filibuster rules. That is good news, because never before have this many of them gotten on board with the idea. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema used to have a lot of company taking their stance that the filibuster is so holy that it can never be changed, but one by one each of the other Democrats came around to the realization that bipartisanship is just never going to exist on issues that directly deal with guaranteeing constitutional rights for all -- at least not any time soon. None of the state laws passed to suppress voting rights had to pass a 60-percent filibuster margin in their statehouses, so why shouldn't a simple majority of the United States Senate be able to legislatively overturn these efforts? If Democrats could pick up two more Senate seats in the midterms, then the filibuster could actually be changed or abolished -- and plenty of Democratic candidates in possible battleground states are already running on promises to do just that. Sure, the defeat was tough to swallow, but at the same time we should realize just how much progress we made this time around. A full 48/50ths of the Senate Democratic caucus is on board -- and that just wasn't true even a few months ago."


   Let me check... yep, still the same!

And finally, one just for President Biden's first anniversary in office.

"You know what the best thing about Joe Biden's first year of being president was? He's still not Donald Trump. That's exactly what I voted for, and I am overjoyed to see that after a full year in office, it is just as true today as it was on Day One."

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground