Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, June 12 through Friday, June 18, 2021 [Vol.2 No.48]
Tectonic Political Shifting
The Week’s Most Notable
This was one of those weeks that needs a review of several events to draw the picture – some important political shifting is underway.
Start with Biden’s G7 and NATO meetings, where he reasserted America’s desire for leadership in the fight for democracy and a recommitment (compared to Trump) for strengthening ties with allies. He left a good impression; few question his administration’s competence, but many wonder if his policies will survive the 2022 midterms. In the new politics of this era, U.S. positioning with the world must include China and Russia, whose influence radically affect NATO and European economics. Even with preserving democracy, it’s a new political world complicated by the presence of populist/authoritarian governments (China, Russia, Hungary, Brazil, UK, Poland, Philippines, Vietnam etc.).
Having reset relationships with U.S. allies, Biden met with Putin. It was carefully staged to allow relatively evenhanded spin while affirming some obvious channels for further discussion, such as nuclear disarmament. Of course, Biden wanted to emphasize a massive shift in policy from Trump’s fawning over Putin to Biden’s post-cold war “détente with sharp elbows.” Now we wait to see to what degree Putin got the message.
Then there was the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act, which sent a loud message to Republicans: the 7-2 margin was stunning, especially Justices Thomas and Barrett voting with the majority. In effect the court announced it was stupid for the 17 Republican state attorneys general to file as the aggrieved party. The court ruled they had no standing and therefore the case was rejected. For practical purposes, this ruling marks the end of years of efforts to kill the ACA, a huge victory for the Democrats.
Enter Joe Manchin, acknowledged kingpin for Democrats’ legislative hopes. On Thursday he dropped a memo with more than two dozen suggestions for the voting rights acts (For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act). It included items like an end to gerrymandering but also offered ideas for voting ID alternatives. The memo was a major bombshell, because it meant Democrats could coalesce around a new “compromise” voting rights act and demand that Republicans show their true colors. Unfortunately, most of the media pronounced the compromise a dead end, assuming the Republicans would filibuster it. Meanwhile, Manchin was also dropping breadcrumbs about rejecting Republican obstructionism and being in favor of “strengthening of the original idea of the filibuster.” He even let it be known that maybe dropping to 55 votes for cloture could be considered or, more radically, that filibuster would require 41 votes and continuous debate (the Franken/Ornstein proposal). Manchin’s moves suggest some massive negotiations at least among Democrats. It could be the beginning of the end of the crippling Senate legislative logjam.
Finally, the week closed with a symbolic act, the creation of a federal holiday for Juneteenth commemorating the official end of slavery in the U.S. This passed Congress with a huge bipartisan margin, at the same time that many Republican states were passing laws to disadvantage voters of color and even going so far as to ban teaching the history of racism. Does the support of Juneteenth represent a shift in fundamental attitudes toward racism? Obviously not, but having the day will provide a platform for ongoing fulminations about fully addressing American racism.
Saturday, June 12
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 34,318,232; Deaths: 614,976
[G7 Summit] First Biden-Era G7 Summit Ends with Final Communiqué – Agreements include promises on COVID-19 vaccines, international corporate minimum tax, carbon emission goals, and human rights in China. Although limited in effect, several of these items – especially the minimum corporate tax of 15% – represent a major change in policy, and not only from Trump times. The hand of Biden negotiators in this document is striking.
Sunday, June 13
[Israel Politics] Netanyahu Out, Naftali Bennett In – For the first time in 12 years Israel has a new government without Benjamin Netanyahu. In fact, the coalition that ousted him had just about one thing in common – getting him out of government. Bennett will be prime minister for two years and then pass control to centrist Yair Lapid.
Monday, June 14
[DOJ] Developments in the DOJ Leak-Subpoena Investigation – It started with the revelation that the Trump DOJ had subpoenaed records from Apple and Microsoft about numerous journalists, and then expanded to members of Congress (Schiff and Swalwell), their staffs, and families. Apparently, it was a Trump-ordered search for leaks that had damaged the administration. This week revealed that the White House Counsel, Don McGahn, was covered in the data search, meaning he was also under suspicion. On Monday, John Demers, head of the DOJ national security division, resigned in connection with the subpoenas. He will testify before Congress shortly. As predicted, the issue of questionably legal subpoenas is widening, and now includes investigation by the House Judiciary Committee.
[NATO] NATO Convenes with Biden Leading the Charge against China – The second major stop in Biden’s first international tour, repairing relationships with NATO partners, took the form of a more forceful stance against Chinese ambitions. NATO is expected to endorse joint commitments to increasing military readiness for aggressive moves by both China and Russia. It’s more akin to what NATO used to do prior to Trump’s Putin-friendly policies.
[Supreme Court – GOP] McConnell Vows to Block Democrat Supreme Court Nominees – Whether in 2022 or 2024, if the Republicans gain control the Senate, McConnell promised no Biden nominee would be acceptable.
Tuesday, June 15
[DOJ] White House Emails Pressured DOJ to Push Election Fraud Claims – The emails document attempts to influence the start of DOJ investigations into the false allegations that widespread fraud had robbed Trump of re-election. For example, one email request from Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted an investigation into people in Italy allegedly manipulating U.S. voting machines with satellites. This and similar emails were not well received. Nevertheless, they show widespread efforts by the White House to influence the DOJ, which may become part of a broader investigation into the (potentially illegal) relationship.
Wednesday, June 16
[Biden/Putin Meeting] Biden and Putin Stage a Meet and Greet – It’s not like they don’t know each other, but in their official roles this was the first time they met to exchange ongoing priorities and get the ball rolling on the few talks that can continue constructively. The most interesting diplomatic message was sent by Biden concerning cyber warfare. He suggested that it was in the interests of both the U.S. and Russia to protect their infrastructure from cyberattack. He reminded Putin that the U.S. has considerable resources for counterattack. It sounded like he wanted to work together on preventing ransomware etc., but a close reading comes out more like the familiar mafia trope – nice oil pipelines you have there, it would be a shame if something happened to them.
Thursday, June 17
[Supreme Court] SCOTUS Denies Challenge to ACA – Uncharacteristically, the Supreme Court issued a gut-punch 7-2 ruling against Republicans seeking to make the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. Upholding the Act for the third time, this ruling simply said that the 17 state attorneys general who brought the suit could not make the claim that they would be harmed, which in court-speak means they did not have standing. Case closed, without even getting into the merits of it. In short, the court said the case was a stupid move, blatantly political, and legally-constitutionally ill-framed. While Republicans may eventually look for a way to again attack the ACA, this ruling effectively kills the legal approach for at least a while.
[AUMF] House Votes to Repeal 2002 War Powers Authorization (AUMF) – Intended to authorize and limit military engagement by the U.S. during the Afghan conflict, later extended to cover Iraq, the AUMF continues to be used by presidents to justify “instant wars” as they see fit. Now Congress is seeking to reinstate its control over war declaration, at least in the House. Whether this can pass the Senate is another issue for the ongoing filibuster debate.
[Voting Rights] Manchin Delivers a List of Desired Changes in the For the People Law (S1) – The list has more than two dozen items, some of them quite substantive: A guarantee of 15 days of early voting, a ban on partisan gerrymandering, election day a public holiday, and automatic voter registration. Within a day his suggestions were seconded by none other than Stacey Abrams. (Her stance is remindful of Rep. Jim Clayborn announcing support for Biden in the North Carolina primary – an authoritative, decisive voice on the subject.) Democrats of multiple stripes have since joined the endorsement. Manchin’s changes, especially the one suggesting universal voter ID, are designed to dangle concessions to Republicans, which they undoubtedly will refuse, thereby giving Manchin an excuse for saying that maybe it’s time for changes in the rules of filibuster. [Update: McConnell rejects Manchin’s compromises, “It still retains S1’s rotten core. . .”]
[Filibuster] Manchin Leaks Possibility of Negotiating Modification of Filibuster Rules – Manchin was recorded in a Zoom call to donors that he might be in favor of changing some filibuster rules, specifically dropping the required votes to 55, or the (Franken/Ornstein) proposal that instead of requiring 60 votes to end a filibuster, 41 votes would be needed to keep a filibuster going and had to be coupled with continuous Senate floor debate. Currently, this would force the Republicans to maintain 41 votes and keep them on the Senate floor continuously. This change would not guarantee passage of everything the Democrats might want, but it opens up the possibility of far more legislation passing that the current 60 vote rule, which forces the Democrats to come up with the usually impossible 10 Republican votes.
[Juneteenth] Biden Signs Law Creating Juneteenth as a New Federal Holiday – The Emancipation Proclamation was made in 1863 but final actual emancipation didn’t occur until 1865 in Galveston Texas. It was 19 June, and Texans have commemorated the date for many decades. Now in large part thanks to the unflagging efforts of a single woman, Opal Lee, Congress has overwhelmingly approved and Biden has signed the new holiday into law, but actual implementation is up to individual states. So far, 40 states have committed, largely bowing to commercial interests.
Friday, June 18
[Climate Change] West Suffers from Record Heat – 40 million Americans experienced triple-digit highs, including 118° in Phoenix, 116° in Las Vegas, and 101° in Denver. Such “mega heat waves” are characteristic of global warming and climate extremes.
[Tropical Storm] First Tropical Storm of the Year, Claudette, Hits Gulf Coast – Flash flooding will be common in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 34,328,027; Deaths: 616,913
Biden specifically called out the Delta variant as a concern for the U.S. His message: This is a virulent new strain that will hit people hardest who have not been immunized, mainly those without vaccination. What he didn’t mention specifically is that southern states with large minority populations or Trump-supporting Covid denialists are especially vulnerable. It’s in Biden’s interests to lean heavily on vaccination, because it is medically the right thing to do and politically advantageous.
Politics, Legislation, Election Notes
There is now a path to breaking the legislative logjam in the Senate. It’s far from a done deal, but a plausible sequence is taking shape: Manchin has proposed compromises on the voting acts. The Democrats will agree to most of the items, but when the bill comes to the Senate floor, Republicans will reject it. Along with the Republican rejection of the January 6 non-partisan investigation, which really pissed-off Manchin, a rejection of his compromise gives him cover to “change his mind” about the conditions of filibuster. Recent tidbits from him make it look like it will be possible for Democrats to coalesce around a change to the filibuster rules, specifically the Franken/Ornstein model of requiring 41 votes for filibuster and continuous debate. Something like this has been the unstated goal of both Pelosi and Schumer. The changes to filibuster can be made with a standard 51 vote majority. Specifics, timing, and final outcome are still uncertain but the wheels are in motion.
Emotional high note: The picture of President Biden taking a knee to talk to 94-year-old Opal Lee while presenting her with the first signed copy of the law that proclaimed Juneteenth a federal holiday. She spent most of her adult life pushing to get a Juneteenth bill through Congress.
Pinned Trend: CDC and WHO warn of Delta variant becoming the dominant strain worldwide. It has reached 99% of new cases in the UK and 12% in the U.S. It’s about 100% more infectious than the original COVID-19 virus and appears to be more virulent, especially for the unvaccinated.
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, most of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quote of the Week
Abortion has long been one of the most mobilizing political forces for the religious right. That subtext was made plain as the bishops debated the topic for more than two hours on Thursday: ‘I can’t help but wonder if the years 2022 and 2024 might be part of the rush,’ Bishop Robert M. Coerver of Lubbock, in Texas, said.
Elizabeth Dias, “Targeting Biden, Catholic Bishops Advance Controversial Communion Plan,” The New York Times, June 18, 2021.
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