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Wake Up To Politics - March 17, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: Biden vs. McConnell, Round 1
Wake Up To Politics - March 17, 2021

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, March 17, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 601 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,329 days away.

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Biden vs. McConnell, Round 1

President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are longtime frenemies, with a decades-long history of legislative negotiations and squabbles. But comments by both men on Tuesday positioned them for perhaps their highest-profile showdown yet, as they landed on opposite ends of a debate that could dictate the future of the Biden presidency — and of the U.S. Senate itself.  

Biden came out in favor of reforming the Senate filibuster for the first time. As recently as this week, the White House had insisted that Biden, a 36-year veteran of the Senate, opposed any movements to change the chamber’s rules. But that changed on Tuesday in an interview with ABC News, when the president told anchor George Stephanopoulos that he supported a return to the “talking filibuster.”

First, a quick recap: The filibuster is the Senate rule that requires most pieces of legislation to receive 60 votes in order to cut off debate and advance to a final vote. In its early days, that meant a senator (or group of senators) holding the floor and physically blocking the bill from advancing in a “talking filibuster” (think Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”). But in the 1970’s, the Senate changed its rules so it could consider other pieces of legislation even while a bill is being filibustered — which meant senators no longer had to stand on the floor and talk for hours to block a bill. Now, a senator simply has to signal their intent to filibuster and a bill is shelved — no speeches necessary — and launched into legislative limbo unless 60 senators come together to break the filibuster.

Now, back to Biden. “You have to do it what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days,” he said in the interview. “You had to stand up and command the floor, you had to keep talking.”

“So you’re for that reform? You’re for bringing back the talking filibuster?” Stephanopulos asked.

“I am,” Biden responded. “That’s what it was supposed to be.”

Hollywood’s portrayal of a talking filibuster in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

That constitutes a major shift for the president. House-passed bills are already beginning to pile up in the Senate, on issues from voting rights to gun control to labor unions, that have little chance of passage in the upper chamber if the filibuster remains intact. But most Democratic senators still remain committed to preserving the filibuster in some form; Biden’s comments could be pivotal in nudging them along.

Crucially, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — the swing Democratic vote on almost every issue — has also expressed openness to reinstating the talking filibuster. However, Manchin has also said he would want to keep the 60-vote requirement for a bill to advance, which would likely defeat the purpose of the rules change if a supermajority was still needed for legislation to advance. (One proposed work-around is to subtly change the rules to require 41 votes to continue debate, instead of requiring 60 to end it, thereby placing the onus on the minority to always have senators present on the floor and talking if they want to block a bill.)

But McConnell warned Democrats on Tuesday not to even go there. In a searing speech on the Senate floor, the Kentucky Republican told Democrats that he would do whatever he could to make life painful for them if they ended — or modified — the filibuster. “Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like,” McConnell said.

The minority leader continued, promising that past Senate obstruction would look like “child’s play compared to the disaster” he would unleash in a post-nuclear Senate, requiring repetitive procedural votes and quorum calls for even “the most mundane tasks.” McConnell also detailed what he would do if he recaptured the majority in a filibuster-less Senate, such as defunding Planned Parenthood and sanctuary cities.

And what about the talking filibuster that his former colleague proposed? Put the gentleman from Kentucky down as a “no” on that one too. The filibuster is “not broken and it doesn’t need to be fixed,” McConnell asserted when asked about that potential reform.

The Rundown

— President Biden told ABC News that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo should resign if the allegations against him are confirmed.

— A U.S. intelligence report confirmed that Russia meddled in the 2020 election to hurt Biden’s candidacy and boost former President Trump.

— The number of unaccompanied migrant children in U.S. custody has more than tripled in two days, to more than 13,000.

— Trump urged his supporters to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

Global Roundup
Contributed by Miles Hession

Bolivia’s former interim president, Jeanine Áñez, was arrested over an alleged coup attempt. The charges against Áñez stem from the tumultuous 2019 election, when incumbent president Evo Morales stepped down and fled the country amid reports of electoral irregularities. Morales and allies have disputed these reports, arguing they were part of an effort to oust him from power in which Áñez played an active role. Áñez assumed the presidency after high-ranking members in Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS) party resigned, placing her next in the constitutional line of succession. Throughout her time in office she faced criticism from human rights groups for a crackdown on protests and accusations of trying to prolong her caretaker presidency. Jeanine Áñez responded to her arrest by declaring, “the political persecution has begun.” Morales has returned to Bolivia following recent elections that saw MAS return to power.

Clashes with protestors and a new policing bill have put British police under new scrutiny. London’s Metropolitan Police (the Met) arrested four as it broke up a vigil for Sarah Everard, a woman whose murder by a Met officer has sparked a national debate on women’s safety. The Met’s commissioner has rejected calls for her resignation over what many view as an inappropriate use of force, citing Coivd restrictions as justification for the response. The arrests came just after the government introduced a new bill that would give police more powers to break up peaceful protests, including those that are “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance.” Amnesty International UK has warned that more scenes like the Sarah Everard vigil will take place throughout the country if the bill becomes law.

Police officers attempting to disperse the vigil for Sarah Everard. (Mary Turner/New York Times)

Refugees continue to flee the Tigray region of Ethiopia as the humanitarian crisis worsens and health care facilities are attacked. Conflict first broke out in the region in November after the Ethiopian government cracked down on the autonomy of the local ruling party in Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia. Though the Ethiopian government declared an early victory, fighting continued as electricity and supply-links were cut for people in the territory. Health care facilities have been looted and damaged, leaving much of the region without access to medical care. Troubling reports have found evidence of mass killings of ethnic Tigrayans at the hands of Ethiopian-allied troops. This has amounted to a dire humanitarian crisis as thousands are fleeing to neighboring countries and further evidence of famine and violence comes to light. The U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has condemned “ethnic cleansing” in Tigray and called for an investigation into the crisis.

More global headlines:

  • The European Parliament overwhelmingly voted to declare the European Union a “LGBTIQ Freedom Zone” in an affront to member-state Poland’s “LGBT-free zones.”
  • Tanzania’s Covid-denying president has not been seen in public in over 3 weeks, prompting speculation of poor health.
  • The ruling junta in Myanmar has declared martial law in the country’s largest city as the death toll from pro-democracy protests rises to 138.
  • The kidnap-for-ransom crisis in Nigeria is worsening as primary school children begin to be targeted.
  • As Syria marks the 10th anniversary of its ongoing civil war, the UN special envoy sees an opportunity for peace, while others remain less optimistic.

Ask Gabe

Q: Are the $1400 stimulus checks only for people who work or were working until the pandemic?Lois from Boynton Beach, Florida

A: Nope, all Americans below the annual income threshold — $75,000 for individuals or $150,000 for couples, plus their children or adult dependents — qualify for the stimulus checks, regardless of their employment status. The lack of any work requirements for the direct checks, as well as for the expanded child tax credit, represents a marked shift in the conventional wisdom on welfare since the 1990’s, when such requirements were attached to President Bill Clinton’s welfare reform legislation.  

Q: Is it true that the stimulus package will reduce funds available for Medicare? — Jonathan from St. Louis, Missouri

A: Yes, that’s true. Under the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010, any spending increases or tax cuts that add to the deficit (which the stimulus package does) trigger automatic spending cuts for the next year. In this case, according to the Congressional Budget Office, that will mean a $36 billion cut to Medicare and up to $90 billion in cuts to other programs, which Republicans highlighted during the debate over the package. However, the “pay-go” law has been waived in the past, including for the 2017 GOP tax cuts, and could be again this time — if both chambers of Congress (including 60 senators) sign off. The House Rules Committee met on Tuesday to begin work on a waiver for the spending cuts.

Do you have a burning question about politics? Send it over to gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com and it might get answered in the newsletter! Don’t forget to include your first name and where you’re from.


All times Eastern.

Executive Branch
President Joe Biden will attend Mass in Wilmington, Delaware, at 8 a.m. in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. He will then travel to Washington, D.C., receiving the President’s Daily Brief at 9:50 a.m. while aboard the flight. At 1 p.m., after returning to the White House, Biden will hold a virtual bilateral meeting with H.E. Micheál Martin, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland.

Vice President Kamala Harris will hold a virtual bilateral meeting at 11 a.m. with Martin. At 12:10 p.m., she will attend a virtual event with him to celebrate the Frederick Douglass Global Fellows. At 2:30 p.m., Harris will attend a virtual meeting with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill of the Northern Ireland Executive. At 4 p.m., she will ceremonially swear in Michael Regan as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

First Lady Jill Biden will visit the Christa McAuliffe School in Concord, New Hampshire, at 12:20 p.m. to highlight the $130 billion in funds for school reopenings included in the American Rescue Plan. She will be joined by family members of the school’s namesake, the Concord teacher who was killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico. He will tour a COVID-19 vaccination site to highlight the vaccine funds included in the American Rescue Plan and will convene a listening session with working women to highlight the funds for reopening schools and direct relief for families included in the package.
U.S. public health officials will hold a press briefing at 11 a.m. on the COVID-19 response effort. The participants will include Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC Director.  

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will hold a press conference on monetary policy at 2:30 p.m.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona at 3 p.m.
Legislative Branch
The Senate will convene at 10:30 a.m. and resume consideration of the nomination of Katherine Tai to be U.S. Trade Representative. The Senate will vote at 11:30 a.m. on Tai’s confirmation, followed by a cloture vote to advance the nomination of Xavier Becerra to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The House will convene at 10 a.m. to consider two pieces of legislation related to gender. After one hour of debate on each bill, the chamber will vote on H.J.Res. 17, which would eliminate the deadline for ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, and H.R. 1620, which would reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (the 1994 law stregntheing domestic violence protections for women, which expired in 2019).

The chamber will vote under “suspension of the rules” (a fast-tracked process that requires bills to receive two-thirds support) on three bills that were postponed from yesterday:

  1. H.R. 1085, a resolution to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the United States Capitol Police and others who protected the U.S. Capitol during the January 6 riot
  2. H.R. 1651, the COVID–19 Bankruptcy Relief Extension Act
  3. H.R. 1652, the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act

The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing with Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas at 9:30 a.m. amid the growing crisis on the Southern border.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the Equality Act, a bill to prohibit discrimination against LGBT Americans, at 10 a.m. Four members of Congress from each party will testify.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on COVID-19 vaccinations at 10 a.m. Witnesses will include Drs. Fauci and Walensky.

The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on the GameStop stock trading phenomenon at 10 a.m.

The Senate Budget Committee will hold a hearing on income and wealth inequality at 11 a.m. Witnesses will include Jennifer Bates, an Amazon worker in Alabama advocating for unionization, and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.
Judicial Branch
The Supreme Court is not in session.

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