Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, February 27 through Friday, March 5, 2021 [Vol.2 No.33]
The Week’s Most Notable
This week we saw “the real deal,” as Biden would say, in that almost all legislation going through the Senate will pass 51-50, or not at all. A year or two from now, it’s possible that on a few bills a couple of Republicans or Democrats might stray from the 50-50 mark, but that will be exceptional. Be alerted, the media will insist on taking every positioning pronouncement as some kind of viable contest – hyping the drama – but in most cases, there is no drama and, in the end, it will be a 50-50 vote with the VP casting the tiebreaker. This will certainly be true for bills going to the Senate on budget reconciliation, the first being the current American Rescue Plan (Covid relief bill), the second being some kind of infrastructure bill. The Senate Republicans will vote as a block, regardless, throwing in as much obstruction and delay as possible. Joe Manchin (D-WV) will usually be a one-man powerbroker, not necessarily killing bills, but frequently altering their content. He may or may not be joined by Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and occasionally other Democrats. The Democrats may try the age-old tactic of tucking controversial elements into must-pass bills, such as placing the minimum wage increase into an armed forces funding bill. All other bills passed by the House – voting rights, immigration, healthcare reform, police reform, you name it – will hit the Republican filibuster and require the impossible 60 votes. Unless, of course, the Democrats opt to perform corrective surgery on the filibuster. (See last page.)
What an insane party: At week’s end Trump issued a cease-and-desist order to the Republican National Committee and other GOP fundraisers, enjoining them to not use his name or likeness in their fundraising campaigns. This is a tried-and-true Trump tactic; very few such orders become actual lawsuits – but still, against Republicans? What’s his beef? Is it that not all GOP organizations are eager to punish his enemies? Or to promote the Big Lie for that matter? Heresy, he thinks, punishable by political conflagration; his firebrand base will immolate them. Quite a few Republican politicians will be happy to light the matches. Much of the recent CPAC meeting was taken up with coruscating contumely against quasi-conservative heretics such as Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney. The rest of the conference was mostly about Culture Wars (lib culture at that). To quote the Ted Cruz rant, “So defend liberty, but number two, have fun. Have fun. So many on the right, they act like they got a stick inserted somewhere it doesn’t belong. Just lighten up. Especially now, the left, they are shrill. They are angry. How many leftists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? ’That’s not funny!’ God bless, who would want to be around these people?” Disturbing truth – the Trump base likes politics this way; it’s entertainment.
Saturday, February 27
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 29,224,181; Deaths: 524,481
[Coronavirus] FDA Authorizes Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine – Granted for emergency use, which usually means good until proven otherwise, the vaccine was developed by traditional immunization techniques, uses a single-shot and requires only normal refrigeration. In the U.S. it has shown a 72% efficacy rate against all levels of COVID-19 infection, well below that of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which approach 95% efficacy. However, the J&J vaccine showed 100% efficacy against hospitalization and death from COVID-19; it may also be more effective against COVID-19 variants.
Sunday, February 28
[New York – Cuomo] Cuomo’s Crisis Deepens – With the advent of a third sexual-harassment allegation, on top of Cuomo’s troubles with COVID-19 and nursing homes, he has changed strategy to admitting some bad judgment, though good intent (the classic-non-apology apology). He has called for the New York AG to guide the pending investigation. [Update: Later in the week Cuomo said he would not resign.]
[Biden – Unions] Biden Expresses Full Throated Endorsement of Unions – Speaking about unionization of Amazon workers in Alabama, Biden said “Every worker should have free and fair choice to join a union.” This is already American law, but it’s unusual for presidents – even Democratic presidents – to support unions unequivocally. It follows from Biden’s campaign promise to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen.”
[GOP] Trump Addresses CPAC – Other than well-rehearsed rhetoric about winning the election, Biden’s failures, and the perfidy of Republican traitors, the take-away was mainly that Trump will not start a new party and maybe he’ll run for president in 2024. CPAC demonstrated once again that Trump is still in charge of the GOP, though possibly not as completely.
Monday, March 1
[Supreme Court] Supreme Court Rejects Sidney Powell Election Lawsuits – For the record, and for the calumny due to Trump’s former quasi-lawyer Sidney Powell, she of the election conspiracy theory involving Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez, without comment the Supreme Court rejected her two pending cases involving Arizona and Wisconsin. This brings to 40 the number of failed in-court election challenges by the Trump campaign.
[Biden Administration] Miguel Cardona Confirmed as Education Secretary – It may be slower than hoped, but Biden’s nominees for cabinet posts continue to be approved by an unpredictable Senate. Cardona will have a full plate from the get-go, as guiding the reopening of schools and the new money from the American Rescue Plan to schools will mainly flow through his office.
[Immigration] Biden Administration Focuses on Reuniting Separated Migrant Families – Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced a new policy seeking ways for the 500 to 600 children still separated from their parents to be reunited with their families and perhaps find legal ways to remain in the U.S. The Biden administration is also looking to turn several former detention centers into processing hubs for immigration and asylum claims.
Tuesday, March 2
[Coronavirus] Biden Announces COVID-19 Vaccine for Every Adult by May – No doubt buoyed by the knowledge of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine becoming available, Biden stoked American optimism by predicting vaccine supplies to exceed adult demand two months earlier than previously predicted.
[Coronavirus] Texas and Mississippi Lift Mask Mandates and Reopen Businesses – Only two days ago the CDC warned against premature lifting of COVID-19 mitigation, mainly because of the rise in virus variants. This move by two Republican governors, which probably will have others join them, sets up a classic “we’ll see what’s happened” a few months down the road, only this isn’t about statistics it’s that people who didn’t need to will die.
[Domestic Terrorism] FBI Director Wray Warns That Domestic Terrorism Has Significantly Grown – In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Wray emphasized the increase in FBI investigations and the growing prevalence of right-wing groups aimed at violence.
[Biden Administration] Neera Tanden Withdrawn as OMB Nominee – A casualty of the Senate 50-50 power split, with Democratic Sen. Manchin (D-WV) marking his territory, Tanden was nominally rejected for “mean tweets.” It’s been intimated that Biden will find another (non-Senate confirmable) position for her; she’s actually very competent and would be an asset to the administration.
[U.S. – Russia] Biden Administration and EU Sanction Russian Officials over Navalny Poisoning – Inconceivable during the Trump administration, Biden along with U.S. allies issued sanctions against 7 Russian officials and 14 organizations for complicity in the poisoning of opposition leader Navalny. Biden doesn’t owe Putin anything.
Wednesday, March 3
[Coronavirus] Biden Accuses Texas, Mississippi Governors of “Neanderthal Thinking” – Biden was talking about their politically motivated ending of mandatory coronavirus mitigation in their states; but the right-wing have already placed the phrase “Neanderthal thinking” in their linguistic pantheon with “basket of deplorables.”
[Police Reform] House Passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act – The bill contains some significant legislation concerning chokeholds, no-knock warrants, a national police database, and an end to racial profiling. It now goes to the Senate where it will await a decision by the Democrats on curtailing the filibuster.
[Voting Rights] House (Re-)Approves Bill to Expand Voting Rights – The comprehensive bill, all 800 pages of it a rewrite of last year’s bill, covers many aspects of voting rights from curtailing state voter ID laws to limitations on gerrymandering. Formerly labeled HR–1, the For the People Act goes to the Senate where it will await the decision by Democrats on curtailing the filibuster.
[Voting Rights] Pence Breaks Silence, Denounces House Voting Reform Bill – Aligning himself with Trump-GOP positions across the board, former VP Pence called the House’s voter rights bill “an unconstitutional power grab.” The former lapdog has walked a tight line atop the fence between being the almost victim of the January 6 insurrection and his desire to remain viable as a GOP presidential candidate. Gymnastics are usually difficult for people without a spine.
[Elaine Chao] IG Finds Chao Used Office to Benefit Family Members – The former Transportation Secretary channeled business to her family’s shipping company in China, according to a letter sent to the Senate from the Transportation Department Inspector General. The case had been referred to the Department of Justice in December, which declined to continue the investigation. That may change when the DOJ has new leadership under Merrick Garland.
Thursday, March 4
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 745,000 – A slight uptick (5,000) from last week, but just another reminder that unemployment remains stubborn, close to 10 million jobs still unrecovered from last spring. On the other hand, the economy added 379,000 new jobs in February, beating expectations. There are signs of recovery in the retail and travel industries, which everyone hopes will take off in the fall if the impact of COVID-19 vaccines is what experts have predicted.
[Coronavirus] CDC Announces Coronavirus Vaccination Pace Hits 2 Million a Day – With this number Biden should easily hit his promise of 100 million doses given by the end of April. The current total of vaccinations is 54 million.
[Government] House Cancels Session under Threat of Violence – As a measure of new-found paranoia, what QAnon and other right-wing groups dubbed “March 4, Trump’s true Inauguration Day,” which was supposed to trigger attacks on the Capitol, provoked beefed-up security and a reminder that violence remains at the tip of the right-wing tongue (if not true in action.) Of course, nothing happened, and another QAnon prediction failed, probably to no avail among its adherents.
[Covid Relief Bill] Senate Votes to Start Debate on $1.9 Trillion Bill – Now called the American Rescue Plan, the Senate allowed debate on a 51-50 vote (VP Harris casting the deciding vote), the hair’s-breath margin that will become routine for most Senate legislation.
[Capitol Police] Capitol Police Request Extension of National Guard Deployment – As another measurement of the “burned once, never twice” attitude among those charged with protecting the Capitol, the Pentagon was asked to keep around 5,200 National Guard members for additional months. This becomes part of the ongoing discussion/argument about the need for security measures around the Capitol building. Generally, the argument is not about if additional security is needed, but for how long it is needed.
Friday, March 5
[Covid Relief Bill] Senate Democrats Keep Covid Relief Bill on Track – After nine hours of negotiations – and still running into the night – Democrats kept unemployment relief at $300 per week but extended its lifetime into September, dropped the $15 per hour minimum wage increase, and forgives $10,200 taxes on unemployment benefits. The bill still totals about $1.9 trillion. Too high say some, just right say others; we’ll see, say the rest.
[Coronavirus] CDC Report Confirms Mask Mandates Work – Department of High Irony: just as some red state governors are doing away with mitigation mandates, the CDC says those mandates are important, are effective, and should be kept in place.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 29,595,663; Deaths: 535,604
Constitutional, Political, Legislative Notes
The filibuster will not be killed; it could be mutated. Historically, the rules for a filibuster have been changed many times (161 times to be exact). Killing the ability to filibuster has never been popular, but limiting its invocation and scope of application, that’s different. Fact of the matter is, it takes only a majority vote to change the rules. The question is always, what changes to what rules? Whatever the changes, they must garner majority support. In the current case, where Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema say they will not vote to get rid of the filibuster, what alteration to the rules would they accept? For example, the Senate requires 60 votes for “cloture,” the ending of debate (and the end of filibuster). The Senate can make a new rule which may start with requiring 60 votes but will gradually reduce, until after some number of days only 51 votes are required. Here’s another: Current Senate rules require the majority to break a filibuster – the majority has to find 60 votes. This could be flipped, requiring the minority produce 41 votes to maintain a filibuster. The options are extensive, including targeting filibuster for specific types of bills and not others, as is already the case for many Senate confirmations. There’s a lot of room for nitty-gritty negotiations, which you can expect will happen when the demand for Senate action on almost all of Biden’s agenda ratchets up the pressure on Democrats. Timing is hard to predict here, but quite likely the second bill under budget reconciliation will come first, and much later in the year Democrats will get serious about modifying the filibuster.
Cancel culture, say what? It’s a hot topic for the Republicans and the right-wing. It’s a good bet that less than 20% of the American population has even heard of the phrase “cancel culture” much less understand it. Yeah, it’s from television where unpopular shows get canceled, but how does that transfer to politics? And even if it did, who cares? The right-wing media is spending millions on pushing this concept, but it’s hopelessly abstract. Cancel that thought.
Quote of the Week
Refusing to wear a mask has become a badge of political identity, a barefaced declaration that you reject liberal values like civic responsibility and belief in science. (Those didn’t used to be liberal values, but that’s what they are in America.)
Paul Krugman, “Unmasked: When Identity Politics Turns Deadly,” The New York Times, 3/05/2021.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are at least casually familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search.]