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Wake Up To Politics - May 27, 2021 (+)

Good morning! It’s Thursday, May 27, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 530 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,258 days away.

The Senate filibuster has loomed over the Democratic agenda for months now, but the procedural tool has yet to actually be used since President Biden took office. That streak may end today.

The filibuster is the Senate rule that requires most pieces of legislation to receive 60 “yea” votes in order to cut off debate and advance to a final vote. Many Democrats, frustrated that much of their agenda cannot advance in the 50-50 Senate, have advocated for the filibuster to be modified or eliminated, but centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have opposed such efforts.

For much of the past four months, tensions over the filibuster have been simmering in the background of the Senate chamber, as the body has focused on confirming presidential appointees and passing Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package. (Nominations have not been subject to filibusters since a 2013 rules change; the stimulus bill was approved under a workaround known as reconciliation.)

But those tensions are expected to break into the foreground today during a pair of high-profile votes. First up will be the Endless Frontier Act, a $110 billion measure designed to promote American investments in technology research in order to compete with China. The bill has bipartisan support — it was co-authored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) — but it is unclear if enough Republicans will vote to advance the measure in a procedural vote today.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been “lukewarm” on the bill, according to NBC News; the network also reported that he “has been telling his members not to be in a hurry to pass it.” Several Republican senators have said that more GOP amendments to the bill need to be voted on before they can offer their support.

If cloture is invoked on the China bill — meaning 60 senators have voted to cut off debate and a filibuster was averted — the Senate will move on to the House-passed plan to create a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate the January 6 Capitol riot.

Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), the main Democratic obstacles to filibuster reform. (Stefani Reynolds/New York Times)

At that point, the January 6 commission would likely become the first bill to filibustered in the Biden era. The measure was also written with bipartisan support, but after McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy  (R-KY) came out against it, the bill passed with only 35 Republican votes in the House.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is the only Republican senator who has announced support for the January 6 commission bill. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) have also indicated support for the concept, but are working on changes to the staffing structure of the proposed commission.

For the measure to advance, it would need support from 10 Republicans. The two main Democratic obstacles to filibuster reform — Manchin and Sinema — released a joint statement this week urging their GOP colleagues to work with them on the January 6 bill.

If the bill is blocked today, it will only add to Democratic frustrations surrounding the filibuster and could also diminish the party’s willingness to continue bipartisan talks on infrastructure. But the filibuster is likely to remain intact — at least for now — no matter what happens today: “No,” Manchin answered this week when asked if the vote on the January 6 commission would impact his support of the filibuster.

Policy Roundup: Legal

A rotating group of student journalists offer daily policy briefings. On Thursdays, Anna Salvatore breaks down the week’s top legal news.

The 4th Circuit heard arguments on Tuesday about whether to overturn the Charleston church shooter’s death sentence. In 2015, the gunman killed nine worshippers in a historically Black church, which soon made him the first person in American history to be sentenced to death for a hate crime. But now his attorneys argue that he shouldn’t have been allowed to represent himself during trial. “Under the delusion,” they wrote, “[that] he would be rescued from prison by white nationalists… he kept his mental impairments out of the public record.” They are urging the 4th Circuit to invalidate both his guilty conviction and his multiple life sentences.

Earlier this week, a death row inmate named Ernest Johnson asked Missouri to execute him by firing squad. Johnson claimed that the state’s intended execution method — a lethal drug called pentobarbital — would aggravate his seizure disorder, which he has had since a botched brain surgery. But the Supreme Court declined to give the inmate a say in how he would be executed. In a dissent joined by her two liberal colleagues, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “There are higher values than ensuring that executions run on time. The Eighth Amendment sets forth one: We should not countenance the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment simply for the sake of expediency.” The court’s decision could make it harder for other death row inmates to challenge the terms of their execution.

The South Carolina Supreme Court will decide whether the state can prevent cities from taking down Confederate statues. Under its Heritage Act, South Carolina requires a ⅔ majority in the state legislature before cities can remove or rename Confederate monuments. “Critics have long argued,” wrote Charleston’s Post and Courier, “[that] the two-third requirement unconstitutionally restricted future legislatures from taking action by simple majority.” In oral arguments on Tuesday, the state’s lawyers countered that the Heritage Act preserves South Carolina history through a democratic process. The justices seemed to lean towards preserving the law while striking down its restrictive ⅔ requirement.

A statue of John Calhoun is removed in South Carolina last year. (Matthew Fortner/Post and Courier)

🔒 Gabe’s Picks

What I’m reading and watching this morning. This section is currently available to readers who have referred other subscribers or donated to the newsletter. Thank you so much for your support!
An interesting read: “‘The only Bush who got it right,’ as far as Trump is concerned” Politico

An encouraging read: “Immunity to the Coronavirus May Persist for Years, Scientists Find” New York Times

A fun read: “The senator and the star: The brief marriage of John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor” Washington Post

Photo of the day: Karine Jean-Pierre, the principal deputy White House press secretary, became the second Black woman to brief from behind the White House podium on Wednesday. The first, George H.W. Bush spokeswoman Judy Smith, was the inspiration for the TV show “Scandal.”

The two were photographed together behind the podium before Jean-Pierre’s briefing:

Amanda Finney/Twitter



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

President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 10 a.m. before traveling to Cleveland, Ohio. At 1:50 p.m., he will tour Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland. At 2:20 p.m., he will deliver remarks on the economy there. Biden will then return to Washington, D.C.

  • Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with private sector leaders at 4 p.m. to discuss economic development in the “Northern Triangle” countries of Central America. Harris was tapped by Biden to examine the underlying causes of the recent migration surge from those countries; according to the Wall Street Journal, she will announce today that 12 companies have agreed to invest in the region, including Microsoft and Mastercard.
  • First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Grand Rapids, Michigan. At 11:45 a.m., she will tour a vaccination clinic at Grand Rapids Community College. She will then travel to Kansas City, Missouri, and tour a vaccination clinic at Metropolitan Community College at 3:15 p.m.
  • Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to attend a campaign event for Melanie Stansbury, the Democratic nominee in the June 1 special election to fill the House seat vacated by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press gaggle during the Air Force One flight to Cleveland.

The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will resume consideration of S.1260, the Endless Frontier Act, a bipartisan bill to invest $100 billion in technology research in an effort to compete with China. The Senate is scheduled to hold a procedural vote on the measure — requiring 60 “yea” votes — at 11 a.m.

If the bill advances in that vote, another procedural vote is possible later in the day. A procedural vote is also possible to advance H.R.3233, the House-passed bill to create a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate the January 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol. Those procedural votes would also require 60 “yeas.”

  • Sens. John Barrasso (R-KY), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Pat Toomey (R-PA) will hold a press conference at 9:05 a.m. to announce their new infrastructure counteroffer.

The House is not in session.

  • Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will testify before a House Appropriations subcommittee at 11 a.m. on the Treasury Department’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget request.
  • The CEOs of JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs will testify before the House Financial Services Committee at a 12 p.m. hearing on “holding megabanks accountable.”
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley will testify before a House Appropriations subcommittee at 1 p.m. on the Defense Department’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget request.

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

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