Friday Talking Points -- Democrats Should Lean In To Biden's New Pandemic Mandates

[ Posted Friday, September 10th, 2021 – 17:04 UTC ]

This week, President Joe Biden picked a political fight. Or, more accurately, he got up off the sidelines and engaged in a political fight that had already begun, by strongly opposing Republican politicians fighting against basic public health safety measures under the fake guise of "freedom." Biden stood squarely for science and safety, while Republicans are left to fight for recklessness and death. That is precisely how the matter should be framed politically, and so far it looks like Biden is doing a fairly good job of presenting this dichotomy to the public. He's even taking the fight directly to all the GOP governors who are sounding increasingly unhinged about the basic concepts of public health and safety.

Biden gave a speech yesterday where he laid down some new rules (which have yet to take effect). The ones with the biggest impact are vaccine mandates for all federal employees and contractors, all workers at healthcare facilities that take Medicare and Medicaid money (most of them, in other words), and all federally-paid schoolteachers (think: Head Start). Furthermore, private businesses which have 100 employees or more must require either vaccinations or weekly testing for all workers -- or face a $14,000 fine for each individual violation.

To some of those frustrated by the intransigence of the unvaccinated among us, this didn't go nearly far enough. The new workplace-safety rule is not an actual mandate -- the weekly testing option will still be there for those who refuse to get their shots. This rule will, however, cover 80 million workers, or two-thirds of America's workforce. The one thing Biden didn't do, however, was to mandate vaccinations for passengers on airplanes, trains, and buses. Perhaps if this phase of ramping up the pressure on the unvaccinated goes down well politically, Biden might take this step later. It would be significant indeed if he did decide to do this right before both the Thanksgiving and winter holidays.

For now, though, Biden's moves have to be seen as pretty bold. Politically, they should also be seen as a lot less risky than some might now imagine. In actuality, a solid majority of the public -- even in battleground states like Michigan and Georgia -- supports mandates for both masks and vaccination. Bear in mind that nationwide 75 percent of eligible adults have now gotten at least their first shot. Only 25 percent are still resisting.

Up until this point, the Biden administration has largely been trying to coax and wheedle the holdouts to get vaccinated. That changed this week. Instead of begging, now life is going to get tougher for those who still refuse their shots. Those who work for places covered by the new mandate will have to either get vaccinated tout de suite or else find a new place of employment. There will, of course, be exceptions for valid medical reasons why an employee cannot get vaccinated and for valid religious reasons, as always. But even so, a lot of people are going to be faced with a tough choice: get the shots or lose your job. Those working for medium-to-large private employers will also have the option of weekly testing, but even that will add some degree of hassle for the unvaccinated.

Biden has a very strong political case to make, on the subject. Essentially, it can be boiled down to: "freedom isn't free." You have to pay a price for it. In this case, the price for the freedom to refuse vaccination could be losing a job or making it harder to get a new job. As for all of the Republicans screaming "un-American!" (or worse), George Washington himself ordered a mandate for all his troops to be inoculated against smallpox in 1777, during the American Revolution. It's pretty hard to make the "un-American" case when the so-called "Father Of Our Country" is squarely on the other side of the issue (to put it mildly).

Biden's got other political cases to make, too. Such as: "It's the economy, stupid." He can plausibly argue that these measures are necessary to prevent the economy from stalling or even slipping backwards again. That is language that Republicans usually respond to, so it is an especially potent argument.

Biden's basic case is that he is responsible for ending the COVID-19 pandemic once and for all and he tried persuading people without resorting to mandates, but while that worked to a certain degree, it just wasn't enough in the end. The politicization of basic public health measures has meant too large a percentage of the population has still not gotten vaccinated -- which now requires much more drastic action to change.

The best political benefit Biden will reap, however, is that Republicans have already painted themselves into a corner on this one. Republican governors are actually trying to outdo each other on how stupid and destructive a position they can take. Draconian doesn't even come close to the laws and rules they've been enacting in places like Florida and Texas. They are banning local governments from instituting safety measures in the middle of a pandemic -- right in the midst of an enormous spike in deaths. Republicans have staked out the "pro-death" position -- and that's an astoundingly easy thing to counter.

In short, Biden looks like a sane adult. He has reached the end of his patience and has now acted. And just like clockwork, all the Republicans who have already pushed pro-death policies immediately took the bait. Lawsuits have been threatened by governors, other GOP politicians, and even the national party itself. In all of these lawsuits (none of which has any legal chance of success, unless the Supreme Court has also become heavily pro-death), the Republicans will be arguing for the most irresponsible and reckless position imaginable. The more they rant and rave about it, the stronger and saner Biden's position is going to look. Even most of the business community is relieved over Biden's new rules, since it means they won't have to take any political heat for doing what they already wanted to do anyway: institute vaccine mandates.

Today, Biden responded to the Republican pushback with a simple challenge: "Have at it." He then provided a preview as to how this fight will be fought in the court of public opinion: "I am so disappointed, particularly that some of the Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier with the health of their communities."

That's the basic case. Biden is fighting for sanity, safety, and the end of the pandemic. Republicans are fighting for more children to die, more adults to die, and to extend the pandemic as far into the future as possible. Which of those political positions sounds like a winner to you? Again, please remember that over three-fourths of adults have been vaccinated.

Republicans, meanwhile, aren't even making sense anymore (indeed, if they ever did). Much more on this later, in our talking points section, but for now: a while back, Kevin McCarthy sued the House in an effort to stop the emergency proxy voting rules that Nancy Pelosi instituted early on in the pandemic. But unfortunately for him, in the time from when he originally filed this suit (which is now under consideration at the Supreme Court) until now, nearly 100 Republicans have used proxy voting to their advantage. This even included non-pandemic (and purely political) reasons. Here's the basic story:

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is asking the Supreme Court to review and overturn the House's proxy voting rules, which were adopted last year to allow lawmakers to cast votes remotely as a pandemic precaution.

In a statement Thursday, McCarthy blasted proxy voting as a "power grab" and "a raw abuse of power" by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who along with many Democrats pushed for the historic rule change at the beginning of the pandemic. The House adopted the new protocols in May 2020 in a 217-189 vote along party lines.

"Although the Constitution allows Congress to write its own rules, those rules cannot violate the Constitution itself, including the requirement to actually assemble in person," McCarthy said. "Since its adoption 14 months ago, proxy voting has shattered 231 years of legislative precedent and shielded the majority from substantive policy debates and questions, effectively silencing the voices of millions of Americans."

Left unmentioned was that lawmakers from both parties, including nearly 100 GOP members of the House, have since taken advantage of the ability to cast votes remotely -- and not always for reasons directly related to COVID.

In February, several Republican lawmakers skipped House floor votes, instead asking proxies to vote on their behalf, citing the "ongoing public health emergency" in proxy letters filed with the House clerk. However, those members of Congress were actually spotted at or expected to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who opposed the vote to allow proxy voting in the House, defended his designation of a proxy for the week of CPAC.

"I am O.G. pro-remote voting," Gaetz said then. "I wrote an essay in the Washington Examiner about it. Remote voting is a great thing for the country, and we should do it more."

So while some Republicans are gung-ho about proxy voting, McCarthy will argue before the Supreme Court that proxy voting somehow (he doesn't specify how, of course, since the idea is pure codswallop) "silenc[es] the voices of millions of Americans." They can't even get their crazy stories straight, these days, it seems.

The other big legal news this week was the announcement by the attorney general that the Department of Justice will be suing Texas for their new law which strips women of their constitutional right to an abortion. This announcement comes roughly a week late, but better late than never, we suppose.

The negotiations over the budget reconciliation bill began in earnest this week, as the House returned to business yesterday. Look for some epic battles to be fought next week, as this process gets more intense.

Also teed up is a voting rights bill that has been rewritten specifically for Senator Joe Manchin, who is still under the delusion that he can convince 10 Republican senators to vote for it. So that should prove interesting (when he is proven wrong).

What else? Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer and 16 other Trump toadies were unceremoniously fired from cushy sinecures on advisory boards to the military academies this week. We offer up a hearty: "Good riddance!" to them all....

Donald Trump praised Robert E. Lee (because of course he did) as the statue of the leader of the treasonous and seditionist Confederate army was removed from the former capital of the Confederacy, in Richmond, Virginia.

In other disrespecting-America news, Trump will be memorializing 9/11 this year by selling his own pay-per-view commentary on a boxing match for $49.99 on the day the planes hit the buildings 20 years ago. Just for one tiny second, imagine what Republicans would say if a Democrat dared do something that crass and disrespectful.

And finally, we end with a headline (and subhead) that pretty much took the cake in the "hilarious headlines we never thought we'd see" department. It's so funny we aren't even going to provide any further information... just a link (for those interested in further details):

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton Denies Setting Zebras Free In D.C. Suburbs

"My alibi is solid," said the Democratic lawmaker. "I hope the owners find the zebras and that all involved live long, full lives."

We do too, of course. Because we simply can't sanction the idea of Prince George's County, Maryland becoming an open-air nature preserve.


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

This one may be premature. That's a good way of saying we might wind up with egg on our face. But we're betting this won't be the case.

President Biden was a strong contender for the big award this week for taking such a strong political stand on the pandemic. But he really owes his political boldness in large degree to two other Democrats.

Which is why we're giving this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award to California Governor Gavin Newsom and Virginia's former governor and current gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.

McAuliffe probably deserves more credit than Newsom, but the way the political schedule is going to happen means that Newsom will be the first to prove the point that leaning in to COVID-19 safety restrictions is really an excellent political move for Democratic candidates and officeholders to make.

The reason we give McAuliffe more credit than Newsom is he was really the first to get out in front of the issue. Two states (New Jersey and Virginia) always are heavily scrutinized the year after a presidential election, because that is when they elect their governors. Virginia is odd because it has a law that says that governors cannot serve two consecutive terms, so McAuliffe had to wait for his chance to run again (while the current Democratic governor of Virginia won't be eligible to run until next time around).

McAuliffe started in early by painting a stark contrast between himself and the Republican frontrunners. He framed the issue around safety and pandemic restrictions. It's a simple case to make: if the Republican were to win, it would set Virginia back. Keeping a Democrat in control meant not just safety, but an earlier end to the pandemic itself -- meaning a faster return to true normalcy. He was making this case even before the Delta surge, because he saw it as a political winner.

Newsom is a little late to this game, but he did make a timely pivot. His campaign against the recall in California started with him highlighting different subjects, but roughly a month ago he decided it would be a better idea to paint his likely Republican opponent as an extremist who would end all mask mandates and take California in the same direction as Florida and Texas. Newsom's ads have not exactly been subtle about making this point, either.

But as we said, Newsom will likely prove the point sooner. The recall votes will be counted next Tuesday, and Newsom is now heavily favored to beat the recall effort. We've been predicting at least a double-digit margin of victory for him for over a month now, because unlike the national punditry we simply didn't believe the one bad poll in July which showed Newsom neck-and-neck in the "likely voters" category. We wrote about this at length earlier in the week, if anyone's interested.

But because all the national pundits did freak out over that one outlier poll, they now have a storyline that goes something like this: "Gavin Newsom was in trouble two months ago, but then he changed his campaign tactics to focus on his strong pandemic response and how all the safety measures he has instituted will disappear if he is recalled -- and this tactic worked brilliantly." We don't really believe this is true -- we think the fact that this will only be the second universal mail-in ballot election in California's history has a lot more to do with it, in fact. But that will indeed become the national narrative after Newsom's victory.

And this is a good thing, in the end. Especially if McAuliffe wins another resounding victory in November. Taken together, this should convince a whole lot more Democrats (both in office and those running for office) to be a lot more bold in standing up for mandates and safety, and painting Republicans as reckless and irresponsible. Joe Biden is now a convert to this way of thinking, in fact. And as we have already said, we think this is a winning issue for Democrats.

So this week, even before the recall results are in, we are going to go out on a limb and hand the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award to Terry McAuliffe and Gavin Newsom, for pioneering the tactic of standing up strongly for safety measures and ending the pandemic as early as possible. It showed leadership on both their parts, which is why they have both earned this week's MIDOTW.

[Congratulate Governor Gavin Newsom on his official contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts. Terry McAuliffe, however, is a private citizen and we do not as a rule link to campaign websites, so you'll have to look his contact information up yourselves, sorry.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

File this in the "with friends like these..." category.

This week, President Biden was forced to withdraw his nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (usually just referred to as "A.T.F."). This was made a Senate-confirmable position a while back, and since then it has proven almost impossible to get anyone confirmed to the job.

This week showed that Biden's choice will also not become the head of the agency. But this development wasn't due to Republican resistance (although all Republican senators seem to be lined up against him), but rather by two Democrats and an independent. Since he's not a Democrat, Maine's Angus King is ineligible for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, but that doesn't stop us from handing it to the other two: Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana.

Here's a pretty good take on the story:

The White House has reportedly decided to withdraw the nomination of David Chipman to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Chipman had run into resistance in the Senate that apparently made his confirmation impossible. Was it a scandal in his past? A lack of qualifications? A bizarre and disturbing ideology?

No, what got Chipman into trouble in his nomination to run the agency in charge of enforcing federal gun laws and stopping illegal gun trafficking is that Chipman was seen as insufficiently pro-gun.

The agency's mission is to investigate "armed violent offenders and career criminals, narcotics traffickers, narco-terrorists, violent gangs, and domestic and international arms traffickers." And being insufficiently pro-gun is a disqualification?

Consider that for a moment. What if I expressed reservations about the nominee for attorney general because he is anti-crime and that could lead him to pursue some kind of weird anti-crime agenda at the Department of Justice? Or if I said the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency had better not be too opposed to pollution?

. . .

Chipman is a former A.T.F. official who spent 25 years at the agency; there wasn't any suggestion that he was unqualified. The problem was that he had acted as an advisor to Giffords, the organization founded by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, which advocates for stricter gun laws.

This led to him being labeled by Republicans as an extremist who might take his crazy anti-gun ideas to A.T.F. But what killed his nomination in the end was a lack of support from conservative Democrats in the Senate, including Angus King (I-Me.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and of course, Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). While they've expressed vague concerns about his nomination, none seems to have said anything specific -- and they've been targeted by lobbying from pro-gun groups in their states to reject Chipman's nomination.

As we said, with friends like these...

[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 634 (9/10/21)

Oh, before we begin today, we have a program note for regular readers. Next Friday, we are taking a vacation day. So there will be no new Friday Talking Points column next week. We might come to regret this, as it could prove to be a pivotal week for the budget negotiations in Congress, but we will be writing new columns from Monday through Thursday, so there's that, at least. Fair warning to everyone....

OK, since this is the start of the professional football season, we are going to deploy a football metaphor which describes this week's talking points: we are punting.

It's not exactly "fourth and long," but this week we are providing a do-it-yourself worksheet for Democrats to create their own talking points. And even using "we" in that previous sentence isn't really accurate. Today's talking points segment consists of an overview of a memo from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (the House political committee tasked with electing more Democrats in the midterms), and then the full text of the memo itself. We rarely punt to just copying and pasting like this, so we hope everyone will forgive us, but as we've said throughout today's column we really think this is a winning issue for Democrats, and will become even more potent the more Republican governors try to defend their anti-science and anti-safety stances, both in courts of law and in the court of public opinion.

Most of the memo itself is just an extensive list of all the idiotic and dangerous things Republican members of Congress have been saying, of late (the online PDF version of the memo has links to back up each and every one of the bullet points). These positions are all undeniably extreme, and the more the public hears about them the more it paints the entire Republican Party as being dangerously (and recklessly) out of touch with reality. Which is why we found we simply could not pick and choose only seven of them for this week's talking points.

We agree fully agree with the overview article -- this is a winning issue for Democrats:

Here's a midterm message for you: Judging by the GOP's continuing slide into extremist and destructive behavior in the face of a surging COVID-19, electing more Republicans to positions of responsibility right now would likely mean more economic malaise, sickness, misery and death.

This is what Democrats come very close to saying in a new memo about the 2022 elections that their House campaign arm is now distributing. The memo is an important marker: It suggests Democrats are finally leaning into prosecuting the case against Republicans for actively impairing the nation's response to the COVID-19 resurgence.

. . .

The memo from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee directly ties GOP extremism on COVID to the health of the country -- and, importantly, to our prospects for economic recovery and a return to normalcy.

"House Republicans have lied about its impact" and "dangerously rejected medical guidance to wear masks and social distance," the memo says, adding that "extremist Republicans" have "even encouraged Americans to consume horse and cattle dewormer."

House Republicans and GOP candidates have spread disinformation about the virus, have staged epic fake-outrage fests about mask mandates, have demagogued about vaccines in ridiculous, hallucinogenic and obscenely wretched ways, and have pushed the rankest of absurdities to undermine confidence in federal health officials.

Critically, the memo notes that if Republicans continue impeding our COVID response, that will stand in the way of "getting Americans back to work." And it's true that the backsliding on COVID is showing serious signs of harming the economic recovery.

That's how easy it is to turn this memo into even-more-potent political rhetoric. The talking points truly just write themselves, folks. So without further ado, here is what the Democratic Party has provided for this week's talking points (emphasis in original):

Interested Parties Memo: House Democrats Ring The Alarm, House Republicans' Deadly, Dangerous, and Divisive COVID-19 Lies Threaten America's Health and Economic Progress
TO: Interested Parties
FR: Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
DT: 09.09.2021


Since COVID-19 began threatening the health and safety of the American people and taken the lives of over 650,000 Americans including 425 children, House Republicans have lied about its impact, dangerously rejected medical guidance to wear masks and social distance, and extremist Republicans like Reps. Louie Gohmert and Yvette Herell (NM-02) have even encouraged Americans to consume horse and cattle dewormer in lieu of the proven COVID-19 vaccine.

President Biden and House Democrats have rushed to get Americans back to work and crush the COVID-19 virus and rebuild our economy with the American Rescue Plan. We've added 4.5 million new jobs since January 2021, returning the nation's economy to pre-pandemic levels and put more than 374 million shots in arms. But House Republicans are threatening our economic progress by doubling down on their deadly lies. With the rising Delta variant, COVID cases are back up around 100,000 per day and schoolchildren are filling up ICU beds. Still, extremist House Republicans like Reps. Majorie [sic] Taylor Greene and Madison Cawthorn have taken to social media and blanketed the airwaves of conservative media outlets where they are welcome to spread lies and misinformation that is endangering the health and safety of the American people.

Despite their abysmal failure at handling COVID-19, House Republicans' Extremist Ringleaders Kevin McCarthy and Tom Emmer have a moronic proposal for the American people; hand them control of Congress next November and usher in their clan of dangerous extremists. McCarthy and Emmer's band of extremist hopefuls are lusting for a starring role in the dangerous circus that's threatening American lives:

  • Rep. Yvette Herrell (NM-02) has repeatedly promoted the use of the animal dewormer (Ivermectin) and sponsored legislation to ban vaccine mandates for airlines and universities
  • Anna Paulina Luna (FL-13) was not vaccinated, pushed hydroxychloroquine as an alternative to vaccination, and compared vaccine requirements to racial segregation and Nazi Germany
  • Rep. Mike Garcia (CA-25) spent the past few months opposing mask and vaccine mandates, calling it "dangerous" and an infringement upon people's constitutional rights if canvassers went door-to-door to encourage vaccination
  • Even amid a deadly surge in COVID-19, Rep. Carlos Gimenez (FL-26) said that social media companies should be prohibited from censoring COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation
  • Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA-14) was even suspended from using her Twitter account for spreading lies that suggested COVID-19 wasn't deadly for certain groups deemed vulnerable by health experts
  • Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02) falsely claimed children could not transmit COVID-19 to adults or to other children and criticized social media companies for taking down COVID misinformation
  • Rep. Jeff Van Drew (NJ-02) cosponsored legislation to ban vaccine passports, an effort that could make air travel less safe
  • Rep. Madison Cawthorn (NC-11) took to Right-wing media suggesting President Biden's door-knocking effort to ensure Americans could get vaccinated infringed on people's rights and that next "They could then go door to door to take your Bibles,"
  • Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (NY-11) even led a lawsuit seeking to block New York City's vaccine mandate, calling it an "unacceptable overreach"
  • Rep. Claudia Tenney (NY-22) opposed vaccination requirements and falsely claimed that people who already had COVID-19 did not need to get vaccinated
  • Rich McCormick (GA-07), a practicing emergency room doctor, despite his medical background downplayed the danger of the Delta variant as hospitalizations were on the rise in Georgia and falsely claimed that "the spike in cases has been overblown." McCormick also discouraged vaccinations, claiming it "makes no sense" to "[vaccinate] people to protect other people who are unvaccinated" and said "who really cares" if children get vaccinated,
  • Karoline Leavitt (NH-01) called Americans who protected themselves and their community from COVID-19 by becoming vaccinated were "guinea pigs," and wrongly claimed Dr. Fauci was a "fraud" who was "in on [the COVID-19 virus] from the beginning,"
  • Alek Skarlatos (OR-04) spoke at an event with anti-vaccine protesters and opposed COVID-19 safety measures like vaccine and mask mandates.
  • Teddy Daniels (PA-08) claimed liberals wanted to kill people who refused COVID vaccines
  • Rep. Scott Perry (PA-10) spread lies about vaccines, hydroxychloroquine, and ivermectin, sponsored legislation to prohibit mandating vaccines, wouldn't encourage his constituents to get vaccinated, and mocked Biden for saying people who weren't vaccinated could die from COVID-19
  • Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez (TX-15) failed an Associated Press fact check for falsely claiming that bringing COVID-19 vaccination information door-to-door would violate HIPAA,
  • Derrick Van Orden (WI-03) mocked efforts to increase vaccination rates, calling programs to promote vaccination "absolutely bizarre" and compared virus contact tracing to what the "KGB used to do in the Soviet Union and the Stasi used to do in East Germany"
  • Jarome Bell (VA-02) made numerous inflammatory statements opposing COVID-19 vaccines, even invoking Americans living with AIDS

BOTTOM LINE: House Republicans have made clear that the health and safety of the American people comes second to their politics. If we lose progress in our fight against this virus and getting Americans back to work there will be no wonder about who is to blame. The American people simply can't afford to give extremist House Republicans control of Congress. The health and well-being of our people and our economy simply cannot afford it.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground