Good morning! It’s Wednesday, March 10, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 608 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,336 days away.
In today’s newsletter: A preview of the messaging wars over the stimulus package, a roundup of international news, and “Ask Gabe.” Tell your friends to sign up here.
Get ready for the Biden Show
It’s not common to hear officials in the Biden White House offer critiques of the Obama administration, which many of them served in. But White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki did so last week, when asked if President Biden’s “victory lap” after his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package passes would differ from former President Obama’s messaging around his 2009 stimulus package.
“Well, I was here during that period of time,” Psaki replied, “and I would say that any of my colleagues at the time would say that we didn’t do enough to explain to the American people what the benefits were of the rescue plan and we didn’t do enough to do it in terms that people would be talking about it at their dinner tables.”
Democrats on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue have increasingly expressed regrets about how the party sold their Obama-era accomplishments to the public — blaming their subsequent “shellacking” in the 2010 midterms on those communications failures. “The public didn’t know about the Affordable Care Act,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Tuesday. “And the administration was not exactly advertising it.”
This time, Democrats are determined not to repeat those same mistakes. Pelosi said in her press conference that the nearly $2 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” which is on track to pass the House today, is “on par” with Obamacare in terms of impact for the American people. But, she added, there is “one big difference: the public knows.”
And Biden will spend the next week making sure the public does not forget. The president is scheduled to deliver his first primetime address since taking office on Thursday, to celebrate the relief bill’s passage. Then, Psaki said, he will hold his first formal press conference later this month; his first address to a joint session of Congress is also expected soon.
“The Biden blitz is coming,” Politico reported on Tuesday. According to the outlet, “Officials are busy preparing for a sprawling sales campaign designed to draw attention to the benefits of the Covid-relief package. Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and others will hit the road to tout, among other things: the $1,400 checks, how billions of dollars in the bill will reopen schools, and the investments being made in increasing the numbers of vaccinations.”
The White House is entering the messaging wars with two significant advantages. For one thing, the package is already broadly popular. A poll by Pew Research Center found that 70% of American adults back the stimulus plan, including 94% of Democrats and 41% of Republicans. Other polls have had similar results: a CNN poll this morning pegged support for the legislation at 61%, a survey by Morning Consult last week saw it go as high as 77%.
And, secondly, Biden doesn’t really have a rival in those wars. In 2009-10, Republicans pummeled the Obama administration over the stimulus package and Obamacare. But this time around, opposition to the “rescue plan” has been largely muted: no Republicans have backed the bill in the House or Senate, but they haven’t focused their ammunition on it either.
“Many Republican politicians conservative commentators had other priorities in recent days,” the Associated Press reported, such as “a passionate defense of Dr. Seuss” and “questions about the future of Mr. Potato Head.”
“Unlike previous Democratic leaders,” the AP added, “Biden himself simply isn’t proving to be an easy target or animating figure for the GOP base, prompting Republicans to turn to the kind of cultural issues the party has used to cast Democrats as elitist and out of touch with average Americans.”
That emphasis could change as Biden — not always known for his smooth messaging — increasingly moves into the spotlight in the coming days and weeks. When he does so, though, expect to hear him talk more about $1,400 checks than Mr. Potato Head.
by Miles Hession
A German court has halted surveillance by the country’s domestic intelligence agency on leading opposition party Alternative for Germany (AfD). The move was lauded by AfD party leaders who criticized the probe as a political attempt to brand the party as extremist in the run-up to the 2021 German federal elections. Since AfD’s inception in 2013, the party has been mired by controversy as party leaders increasingly showed a willingness to embrace far-right ideology, especially with regards to hardline immigration policies espoused during the height of the European Migrant Crisis. AfD has been successful, securing around 13% of the national vote, and is currently the largest opposition party in the parliament, the Bundestag.
The domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), urged the courts to allow them to label AfD as “anti-constitutional,” arguing that “has a questionable relationship to democracy” and “stokes hatred of Muslims and immigrants.” If the designation is granted, the BfV would be able to expand their surveillance operations to the whole national party apparatus, which would be a first for a main opposition party since the Nazi era. For now, nationwide surveillance of the party has been suspended until a wider legal battle between the AfD and BfV is resolved.
Pope Francis’ historic visit to Iraq concluded with a message of interfaith unity and a boost to regional Christians. The four-day tour of the war-torn country was a first in papal history, and continued despite security risks and public health concerns. The Pope traveled to bombed churches and religious sites and met with many Iraqi Christians who had been displaced by ISIL forces. The Pope also continued his pursuit of interfaith unity, meeting highly respected Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistan to discuss the Christian minority in the country and peace, building on his previous work for the cause. The tour struck a different tone than other western leaders visiting the country, with the Vatican insisting on a more transparent itinerary to the ire of security experts, and with large crowds despite spiking coronavirus infections.
Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko has called for more protests after his release on bail, but urged them to be peaceful. The call came after days of violent protests following Sonko’s arrest, rocking what has widely been regarded as one of the most stable democracies in the region. Sonko claimed that charges of rape and disturbing the public order levied against him are politically motivated, blaming President Macky Sall. Critics of Sall noted this is not the first charge and arrest made against an opposition leader, and Sonko is seen as a powerful candidate in the upcoming 2024 elections. Services from two TV stations were suspended after the government accused them of focusing too much on the clashes.
Sonko is a particularly popular figure among the country’s youth for his anti-corruption and anti-imperialist messages. The latter message had been invoked in the recent protests, with many French companies becoming a target of the protestors’ frustrations. Many view France’s economic holdings in the former French colony as a drain of economic resources that could be going to Senegalese citizens, and view Sall, a close ally to France, as permitting it. The UN, the Economic Community of West African States, and embassies in the capital city Dakar, including the U.S. and the EU, have pushed for tensions to be eased and peace restored in the country.
Some more global headlines, via Miles:
- The International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a probe into “war crimes” committed in Israel-occupied territories, infuriating the country’s leaders.
- A dynamite explosion in Equatorial Guinea killed 98 people. The government has blamed the military for mishandling of explosives.
- South Korea and the United States have reached a new military cost-sharing deal, settling an often “thorny” issue between the two allies.
- Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has pushed for renewed peace talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban. Pressure is on to act quickly as a troop withdrawal deadline nears.
- Deadly fire kills 8 people in a Houthi-run migrant detention center in Yemen. The majority of the migrants in the center were detained trying to flee into Saudi Arabia.
Q: Since President Biden does not have some Cabinet positions filled, who is in charge of those departments? – Sean L. of Belville, Illinois
A: During the transition, career officials (who serve in their posts from one administration to the next, regardless of party) are designated to serve as “Acting Secretaries” to lead their departments until the president’s permanent choice is confirmed by the Senate. At the moment, out of the 15 executive departments, five are being led by acting officials — as are many of the other federal agencies under their purview.
Q: I frequently hear that the US Senate is predicated on “thoughtful” discussion, and that is why the filibuster remains intact. How hard would it be to pass a law saying that all senators of the party attempting to filibuster the proposed legislation remain on the floor the entire time? This would seem to make the filibuster more about substance and less about procedure. — Evan Miller of Columbia, Missouri
A: This sort of reform to the filibuster would certainly be possible, and it’s one of many proposals being mentioned by filibuster opponents. Generally, changing the rules of the Senate requires a two-thirds vote — but a new precedent (effectively a rules change) can be set by a majority vote, a backdoor trick known as the “nuclear option.” That is how Democrats prohibited filibusters for most presidential nominees in 2013 and how Republicans did the same for Supreme Court nominees in 2017.
Democrats could flat-out abolish the legislative filibuster this way, too, but moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Jon Tester (D-MT) have signaled that they would vote to protect the filibuster. However, Manchin suggested this weekend that he might be open to using the “nuclear option” to change the filibuster like Evan suggested, to make it “a little bit more painful” to use. (He later partially backtracked.)
Under current Senate practice, all a senator has to do to filibuster a bill is alert their party leadership — thereby placing a “hold” on the legislation and requiring a 60-vote majority to end debate on the measure. One reform to that progress that Manchin and others have discussed would be requiring “talking filibusters,” so senators can only block bills from advancing by physically speaking on the floor of the Senate for as long as they can muster.
Do you have a burning question about politics? Send it over to firstname.lastname@example.org and it might get answered in the newsletter! Don’t forget to include your name and where you’re from.
In Tuesday’s newsletter, I made a typo that gave the wrong home state for Sen. Ron Wyden. He is a Democrat from Oregon. My apologies for the error!
All times Eastern.
President Joe Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:50 a.m. in the Oval Office. At 3 p.m., he will host an event with the CEOs of Johnson & Johnson and Merck to showcase the unusual partnership between the rivals to produce COVID-19 vaccines.
- Vice President Kamala Harris will join Biden for the President’s Daily Brief. At 5 p.m., she will virtually administer the ceremonial oath of office to Marcia Fudge as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
- First Lady Jill Biden will visit Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California, at 1:15 p.m. to meet with military families.
- White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing at 12:30 p.m. with Roberta Jacobson, who served as U.S. ambassador to Mexico during the Obama administration and is now Biden’s coordinator for the Southern border.
- U.S. public health officials will hold a press briefing at 11 a.m. on the COVID-19 response effort. The briefers will include Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the president; Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Andy Slavitt, a White House senior advisor for COVID-19 response. The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and resume consideration of Biden Cabinet nominees. The chamber will vote at 12 p.m. to confirm Marcia Fudge as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and at 2:15 p.m. to confirm Merrick Garland as Attorney General.
After the Garland vote, the Senate will hold a cloture vote to advance the nomination of Michael Regan to be Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and then vote at around 5:45 p.m. on Regan’s confirmation.
- The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies will hold a private hearing at 9:30 a.m. on “domestic and foreign threats and other challenges facing the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” FBI Director Christopher Wray will testify.
- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on “the state of democracy around the world.” Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will be one of the witnesses.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on “addressing climate change in the electricity sector and fostering economic growth.” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will be one of the witnesses.
The House will convene at 9 a.m. and begin consideration of the Senate version of H.R. 1319, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. The chamber will hold two hours of debate before holding a final vote on the measure, which will then be sent to President Biden’s desk.
The chamber will then begin consideration of two gun control bills: H.R. 8, which would require a background check for every firearm sale, and H.R. 1446, which would close the so-called “Charleston loophole.” The loophole, named because of its use by the 2015 Charleston shooter, allows firearm sales to go ahead if the government does not complete its background check within three days; the bill would expand that timetable to 10 days.
- The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing at 1:30 p.m. on “the Biden administration’s priorities for U.S. foreign policy.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken will testify.
- The House Administration Committee will hold a meeting at 12 p.m. on the contested congressional race in Iowa’s second congressional district, where Democrat Rita Hart has formally challenged her 6-vote loss to Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA), who was seated in January. The Administration panel will consider Miller-Meeks’ motion to dismiss the claim in its meeting today.
The Supreme Court is not in session.
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