by Gabe Fleisher
Good morning! It’s Friday, January 14, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 298 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,026 days away.
Thanks for reading Wake Up To Politics this week. Barring any breaking news, the newsletter will be off on Monday, in honor of the MLK Day federal holiday, now that both chambers of Congress plan to be on recess.
One day, two blows for Biden
President Biden received a reminder — two of them, actually — of the limits of his office on Thursday, as both of the other branches of government delivered major blows to his agenda.
The first setback came courtesy of his own party. Biden stopped by the Capitol on Thursday, visiting his old colleagues in the Senate to urge them to reform the chamber’s rules in order to advance voting rights legislation. But less than an hour before the president got there, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) had already sounded a death knell for the efforts.
“While I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country,” Sinema said on the Senate floor, repeating her support for the voting rights measures but her opposition to modifying the filibuster to pass them.
Sinema’s fellow centrist, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), soon applauded the speech as “excellent” and added a statement of his own opposing filibuster reform: “The filibuster plays an important role in protecting our democracy from the transitory passions of the majority and respecting the input of the minority in the Senate,” he said.
In a 50-50 Senate, Democrats would have needed support from every member of their party in order to weaken the filibuster (the 60-vote threshold for cutting off debate on legislation). Without Manchin and Sinema on board, the push to change the Senate rules is officially dead.
Democrats are still moving forward with a vote on filibuster reform next week, however. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) kept open a vote on a bill to sanction a Russian gas pipeline for almost seven hours on Thursday — the bill eventually failed, although six Democrats broke with Biden to support it — while he plotted his next moves.
Just before 10 p.m., Schumer appeared on the Senate floor to close the vote and announce that the showdown over voting rights would still take place, although on Tuesday, instead of by MLK Day on Monday as he’d originally promised. (An approaching snowstorm and positive Covid test forced a change of plans.) It is still unclear how exactly Schumer will propose to change the filibuster, but any modification without bipartisan support appears to be a no-go.
Schumer said that holding the vote anyway would ensure “every member will go on record” on changing the rules — even if the outcome is pre-ordained. In addition to speaking to Senate Democrats during the day (after Sinema had already given her speech, which blindsided and rankled some of her colleagues), Biden also met with Sinema and Manchin on Thursday night. The White House described it as a “a candid and respectful exchange of views,” but there is no indication either senator changed their position.
That wasn’t the only defeat dealt to the White House on Thursday. The Supreme Court also handed down a 6-3 ruling that blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-testing mandate for U.S. companies with more than 100 employees. The mandate had been Biden’s most dramatic step toward prodding unvaccinated Americans to get their shots.
The court also voted 5-3 to allow a more limited mandate requiring vaccinations for health care workers at facilities that receive funds from Medicare or Medicaid, but without the mandate for large employers, Biden is left without a key part of his plan to combat Covid-19. As the Washington Post notes, the mandate for health care workers applies to only about 10 million Americans; the mandate for businesses would have applied to 84 million.
“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law,” Biden said in a statement after the decision.
After a day of defeats — and with the rest of his domestic agenda languishing before Congress — Biden’s presidency remains in an uncertain state. The president himself acknowledged that uncertainty in a set of remarks after his meeting with Senate Democrats.
Asked by several reporters if he saw any path forward for voting rights, Biden briefly flashed with anger, answering in a tone that some reporters said was as upset as they’d ever seen him.
“Y’all ask questions about complicated subjects like, ‘Can you get this done?’ I hope we can get this done,” he responded. “The honest to God answer is: I don’t know whether we can get this done.”
What else you should know
→ January 6 investigations. Elmer Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers (a far-right militia group), was arrested and indicted along with 10 others on Thursday “in connection with events leading up to and including Jan. 6,” as the Justice Department put it. The 11 defendants were charged with “seditious conspiracy,” the most serious accusation yet in the 700+ cases prosecutors have brought against rioters who participated in the Capitol attack.
- Meanwhile, the House committee investigating the January 6 riot issued subpoenas to the parent companies of Google, Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter as the panel continues to probe the role those platforms played in spreading misinformation ahead of the attack.
→ 2024 watch. According to the New York Times and other outlets, the Republican National Committee is preparing to require candidates seeking the GOP presidential nod sign a pledge not to take part in any general election debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. The non-partisan commission has hosted presidential debates for more than three decades, but Republicans are arguing that the group is unfairly slanted towards Democrats.
→ Covid response. President Biden announced on Thursday that his administration would buy 500 million additional at-home Covid-19 tests that will be provided to Americans, bringing the total he is purchasing to 1 billion. The tests will be available to order for free on a website set to launch next week. Biden also announced that the White House would provide free, high-quality masks to all Americans, and said that new federal medical teams would be dispatched to aid hospitals in six states.
→ In the states. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) moved Thursday to deny parole for Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, the 77-year-old man who killed Bobby Kennedy more than 50 years ago. A state board had previously found Sirhan suitable for parole, after some members of the Kennedy family issued statements of support. Other family members have remained staunchly opposed to the parole request; Newsom wrote in an op-ed on his decision that Sirhan “remains a potent symbol of political violence.”
Policy Briefing: Economics
Wake Up To Politics contributor Davis Giangiulio offers a briefing every week on the top economic news to know — usually on Mondays, but this week on Friday!
The U.S. economy added 199,000 jobs last month, another miss as the job market continues to be hit by Covid and a labor shortage. The unemployment rate did fall to 3.9% this month, a figure that a year ago was not expected to be achieved until 2024 — but that figure does not include those who are not actively looking for work, a group that is driving the labor market amid “the great resignation.”
Meanwhile, the October and November unemployment reports were belatedly revised to show 141,000 more jobs were added in those two months combined than initially estimated. Those changes add to an ongoing trend: revisions last year were so stark that through them an extra 1.1 million jobs were added in the first 10 months of 2021 compared to the first releases of the monthly reports.
Meanwhile, inflation jumped 7% in December compared to last year, a sign of the persistent strength of price hikes. The figure is the highest since 1982. Subtracting the volatile energy and food prices from the equation, prices overall rose 5.5% in the last year, but that’s still the fastest rise since 1991. A brighter piece of news in the report is that inflation month over month was 0.5%, the slowest rise since September.
Energy prices are up 29.3% compared to December 2020, but they did fall 0.4% compared to November 2021. Shelter prices are up 4.1% in the last year, food is up 6.3% and the used car market continues to be one of the hardest-hit sectors with prices up 37.3%. Over the last 12 months, average hourly earnings rose by 4.7%, but compared to the inflationary figures consumers have lost 2.3% of their purchasing power in the last year. People have more money in their pockets, but it’s not worth as much as it was before.
To combat inflation, Fed Chair Jay Powell made clear this week that the bank would be willing to raise interest rates. He made the news at a confirmation hearing for his re-nomination to a second term as chair. After calling inflation “transitory” for months, Powell now believes it is a “severe threat” to a complete economic recovery out of the pandemic. Powell said he expects inflation to last into the middle of 2022, and it is the goal of the Fed to contain it. “If we have to raise interest rates more over time, then we will,” he said. He added that a faster tapering of stimulus measures could be an option too, and that these decisions will be made at a meeting later this month.
All times Eastern.
→ President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 10 a.m. Then, at 12:30 p.m., he will deliver an update on the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure package, marking 60 days since he signed the measure into law. Finally, at 6 p.m., Biden will travel to his home in Wilmington, Delware, where he will spend the weekend. He will touch down in Wilmington at 6:55 p.m.
→ Vice President Kamala Harris will ceremonially swear in Rufus Gifford as U.S. Chief of Protocol at 10:20 a.m. Gifford, who served as Ambassador to Denmark during the Obama administration, was Biden’s deputy campaign manager in 2020.
→ First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Bowling Green, Kentucky, with Deputy FEMA Administrator Erik Hooks today, in the aftermath of the recent tornadoes there. After touching down at 12:15 p.m., they will join Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY) and First Lady Britainy Beshear at 2 p.m. to survey storm damage in the Creekwood neighborhood. At 2:30 p.m., the foursome will visit a FEMA State Disaster Recovery Center in Bowling Green. The first lady will help with the volunteering and then deliver remarks.
→ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing at 11:45 a.m. She will be joined by FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.
→ The Senate will convene at 11:20 a.m. for a brief pro forma session. No business will be conducted.
→ The House will convene at 11 a.m. for a brief pro forma session as well. No business will be conducted there either.
→ The justices will meet for their weekly conference today.