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Wake Up To Politics - June 17, 2021 (+)

Good morning! It’s Thursday, June 17, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 509 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,237 days away.

Note: There will be no issue of Wake Up To Politics tomorrow in honor of America’s newest federal holiday, Juneteenth. I hope you have a great weekend, and I will see you back in your inbox on Monday. More on Juneteenth later in the newsletter...

Biden returns to new developments on infrastructure, voting rights

President Joe Biden is back in Washington today after spending a week away. He’s being greeted by a knot of new developments on the two issues atop his agenda, infrastructure and voting rights, a pair of legislative battles that are only growing more complicated.

On infrastructure, Biden’s long-sought bipartisan deal is finally coming together. A group of 20 senators — 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans — announced support on Wednesday for the compromise plan.

According to a draft proposal obtained by Politico, the bipartisan plan would include $579 billion in new spending — including $312.8 billion for roads, bridges, public transit, and other transportation projects, and $266.2 billion for power, broadband, water, and other types of infrastructure.

The new spending would be paid for through a variety of methods, including public-private partnerships, increased IRS tax enforcement, repurposing unused COVID-19 relief funds, and indexing the gas tax to inflation.

The backing from 10 Republicans means the deal will be able to clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold — if all 50 Democrats rally behind the legislation. That remains an open question, as a smattering of progressive senators are threatening to oppose the measure unless they receive assurance that Democrats will follow it with a larger spending package passed by reconciliation.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) has said he will not support an infrastructure deal without the promise of significant climate action. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

But several hurdles remain in the way of that “two-track” approach. For one thing, Democrats can’t seem to agree on what the reconciliation package should include, with various senators suggesting everything from immigration reform to Medicare expansion. The progressive faction is demanding that some sort of climate action be included in the measure: “No climate, no deal” has become the mantra of Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and their allies.

But before the details can be hashed out, first every Democrat would have to sign on to the reconciliation approach — which moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have yet to do. Without buy-in from Manchin and Sinema, Democrats won’t be able to push the package through the 50-50 Senate.

Manchin, of course, is also at the center of the fight over expanding voting rights. He is the sole Democrat who has announced opposition to the For the People Act, the party’s sweeping elections bill, and he has also a staunch defender of the filibuster — which would likely needed to be modified or eliminated for a voting rights bill to advance.

But the West Virginian is showing some signs of softening on both fronts. Manchin outlined his specific objections to the For the People Act for the first time on Wednesday, and announced what could be changed in order to pick up his support.

In a memo obtained by NBC News, Manchin proposed a modified For the People Act which would make Election Day a public holiday, mandate a 15-day early voting period for federal elections, and ban partisan gerrymandering, while also including voter ID requirements, among other provisions.

Also on Wednesday, The Intercept published a leaked recording of Manchin speaking to donors from the centrist group No Labels. During the call, Manchin suggested that he could be open to filibuster reform: “I’m open to looking at [lowering the threshold to 55],” he said. “I’m just not open to getting rid of the filibuster, that’s all.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is at the center of the infrastructure and voting rights debates. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The combination of those developments — Manchin’s openness to weakening the filibuster and to voting for a modified For the People Act — by no means suggest a voting rights bill will pass, but they do represent significant movement from his previous stance: flat opposition to the legislation and to changing the filibuster.

Even with all these moving parts, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) indicated Wednesday that he is plowing ahead on both voting rights and infrastructure. Schumer initiated the process to put the For the People Act on the floor next week, while expressing openness to using the current bill “as the vehicle for the voting rights legislation being discussed with Senator Manchin.”

Schumer also met with the Democratic members of the Senate Budget Committee, which is led by Sanders, to begin work on the reconciliation package that would act as a sequel to the bipartisan infrastructure deal.

But the path forward for both issues is paved with uncertainty. That fluid state of Biden’s agenda was underscored best by no less than Manchin himself, who had this to say Wednesday when asked by reporters if he planned to back the Democratic reconciliation package:

“I’m not a no, I’m not a yes. I’m basically just evaluating.”

Top takeaways from the Biden-Putin summit

From the Associated Press:

U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin exchanged cordial words and plotted modest steps on arms control and diplomacy but emerged from their much-anticipated Swiss summit Wednesday largely where they started — with deep differences on human rights, cyberattacks, election interference and more.

The two leaders reached an important, but hardly relationship-changing agreement to return their chief diplomats to Moscow and Washington after they were called home as the relationship deteriorated in recent months. And Biden and Putin agreed to start working on a plan to solidify their countries’ last remaining treaty limiting nuclear weapons.

But their three hours of talks on the shores of Lake Geneva left both men standing firmly in the same positions they had started in.

“I’m not confident he’ll change his behavior,” Biden said at a post-summit news conference, when he was asked about what evidence he saw that former KGB agent Putin would adjust his ways and actions. “What will change his behavior is the rest of the world reacts to them, and they diminish their standing in the world. I’m not confident in anything.”

Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin share a laugh during their summit in Geneva. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Policy Briefing: The week in legal news

Wake Up To Politics contributor Anna Salvatore offers her weekly briefing on the top news you should know from the legal world:

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced last Friday that he will expand the Justice Department’s voting rights staff. In a speech the Washington Post called “one of the most sweeping commitments to voting rights in recent U.S. history,” Garland pledged to scrutinize new laws that could make it harder for minorities to vote.

In light of former President Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud, Garland said there has been a “dramatic increase” in both threats against poll workers and “abnormal” ballot auditing. The expanded voting rights unit will monitor state laws, prosecute those who threaten election workers, and file lawsuits in court to enforce the Voting Rights Act. “Where we see violations,” Garland said, “we will not hesitate to act.”

  • Garland also reversed a Trump-era policy on Wednesday which made the asylum process more difficult. According to the New York Times, the decision will affect tens of thousands of immigrants.

The Senate voted 53-44 on Monday to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the second most powerful court in the country. With Ivy League credentials and experience on the federal district court, Jackson is widely viewed as a Supreme Court candidate if Justice Stephen Breyer retires. Her elevation is all the more likely, some say, because President Biden has vowed to appoint the first Black female justice. The D.C. Circuit is a common stepping stone for the Supreme Court, with three of the nine current justices having served there.

A 2019 mass shooting at a Colorado high school wounded eight people and left senior Kendrick Castillo dead a week before his graduation. The alleged shooter is now facing 40 charges, including first-degree murder. Throughout his three-week trial, his defense team argued that he was coerced into the attack by an accomplice when he was 18 years old. They also claimed that he didn’t intend to fire his gun, as it was an “involuntary physiological reaction” when a group of students charged him. “To believe the defendant,” one prosecutor countered, “you have to believe Kendrick Castillo is responsible for his own death.” The 12-person jury will deliberate until it reaches a verdict.

A chair is left empty for Kendrick Castillo at his Colorado school’s 2019 graduation. (CNS Photo/Courtesy of Knights of Columbus Council 4844) 

More legal bulletins, via Anna:

  • In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that low-level cocaine offenders are not eligible for resentencing under the First Step Act. Justice Sotomayor agreed, although she called on Congress to “right [the] injustice” of crack cocaine users serving longer than powder users due to “race-based myths.”
  • On Monday, the Supreme Court asked the government to weigh in on Asian Americans’ challenge to affirmative action at Harvard. This means that the case could be heard next term.
  • Can Louisiana require sex offenders to carry special drivers’ licenses? After a Louisiana court struck down this policy, state officials are urging the Supreme Court to hear the case.

🔒 Gabe’s Picks

This section is available to readers who have donated to Wake Up To Politics or used their unique signup link to refer other subscribers. Thank you so much for your support!
My favorite story this morning: Everything Olivia Nuzzi of New York Magazine writes is pure gold. Her new story on Andrew Giuliani’s New York gubernatorial bid is no exception.

Something I’m watching: Those who know me know that I’m a big presidential library buff. Which is why I was interested by this piece in the Wall Street Journal on the historic delay in building the Obama Presidential Center. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, opened his library about 1,600 days after leaving office. It is projected to take more than 3,100 days — almost twice as long — between the end of Obama’s term and his library’s opening.

A story you may have missed: The National Republican Congressional Committee will begin accepting contributions in cryptocurrency, Axios reported on Wednesday. The NRCC is the first national party committee to take crypto donations, which could open an interesting new chapter in campaign finance.  

Quote of the day: “There is no happiness in life, there is only a mirage on the horizon, so cherish that.” — Russian President Vladimir Putin, paraphrasing Leo Tolstoy during the press conference following his meeting with President Biden. Yikes.


What’s happening in Washington today. (All times Eastern.)
White House

President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 10 a.m. Then, at 3 p.m., he will sign S.749, the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, into law and deliver remarks.

  • Vice President Kamala Harris will also attend the bill signing and deliver remarks.
  • Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough will travel to Birmingham, Alabama. At 12 p.m., they will participate in an event with community members to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations. At 12:30 p.m., they will visit a vaccination site. At 2 p.m., Emhoff will visit the 16th Street Baptist Church, the site of a 1963 bombing that killed four Black schoolgirls.
  • U.S. public health officials will hold their weekly press briefing at 11 a.m. to provide an update on the COVID-19 response. Participants will include Dr. Anthony Fauci, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, and White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients.Congress

The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and resume consideration of a pair of Biden administration nominees. At 11:30 a.m., the chamber will vote to confirm Tommy Beaudreau as Deputy Secretary of Interior, followed by a cloture vote to advance the nomination of John Tien to be Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security. The Senate will then recess until 1:45 p.m., when it will return to vote on Tien’s confirmation.

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Rules Committee Ranking Member Roy Blunt (R-MO) will hold a press conference on S.1, the Democratic election package, at 12:15 p.m.
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on the president’s Defense Department budget request. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley will testify.
  • The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on “supporting the needs of students in higher education and lessons on safely returning to campus” after the COVID-19 pandemic. The presidents of Miami Dade College and Xavier University of Louisiana, the vice provost of the University of California, and a student from Baldwin Wallace University will testify.

The House will convene at 9 a.m. and hold one hour of debate on H.R. 256, which would repeal the 2002 Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iraq. The chamber will then hold a final vote on the measure.

The 2002 resolution was invoked several times over the past two decades — by the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations — as a legal justification for incursions into the Middle East; lawmakers from both parties are backing the effort to revoke the AUMF, an attempt to push Biden and his successors to obtain new authorization from Congress before using military force in the region.

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will hold her weekly press conference at 10:45 a.m.
  • The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing at 8:30 a.m. on the president’s DHS budget request. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas will testify.
  • The House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress will hold a hearing at 9 a.m. on “building a more civil and collaborative culture in Congress.”
  • The House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on the president’s Treasury Department budget request. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will testify.Supreme Court

The justices may announce opinions at 10 a.m. They will also meet for their weekly conference.

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