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Wake Up To Politics - November 11, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: Biden wrestles with inflation spike
Wake Up To Politics - November 11, 2021

Good morning! It’s Thursday, November 11, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 362 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,090 days away.

Today is Veterans Day. Thank you to those who have served our country. 🇺🇸

Rising inflation imperils Biden’s political standing, domestic agenda

This story was co-written by me and Wake Up To Politics economics contributor Davis Giangiulio.

Inflation surged in October by 6.2% compared with a year ago, the largest jump in more than 30 years. That’s according to the Consumer Price Index, which was updated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Wednesday.

Price rose by 0.9% from September to October, tying June’s increase for the biggest one-month spike since the 2008 recession. Core inflation, which does not include more volatile prices like food and energy, increased 4.6% from a year earlier, the highest jump since 1991.

Fuel prices are up 59% compared to last year and rose more than 12% in just October. The price of gas is up 49.6% from a year ago. Food prices are up 5.3% in the last year, with meats, poultry, fish and eggs prices up almost 12%. The price for utilities also rose sharply, up 6.6% in October and now more than 26% over the last year.

As temperatures begin to cool across the country, the Energy Department also released a report forecasting that heating bills will be up to 54% higher this winter than a year ago.

Year-over-year change in the Consumer Price Index. (Graphic by the New York Times)

The new figures present a dire challenge for President Joe Biden. The White House had long pushed the narrative that rising prices were just “temporary,” and Biden’s team had taken solace in the fact some inflation data was showing a slowdown from the summer surge. The figures released on Wednesday, however, have weakened those arguments and put into clear view just how quickly prices continue to rise in the United States.

“Reversing this trend is a top priority for me,” Biden said in a statement after the new Consumer Price Index came out. The numbers are also a blow to leaders of the Federal Reserve, who have repeatedly argued that the inflation spike was merely transitory.” Now, the Fed is expected to raise interest rates earlier than expected to curb rising prices.

Inflation is not just an economic issue. It’s political as well. According to a Morning Consult poll released on Wednesdays, 39% of voters — a plurality — said the economy was their top issue when voting for federal office; 48% of voters said they trust Republicans more to handle economic issues, while 38% said Democrats.

Among suburban voters, a key demographic, the GOP’s 10-point edge on the economy grows to 16 percentage points.

This dynamic was evident in the Virginia gubernatorial election last week, when CNN’s exit polling found that a 33% plurality of voters viewed the economy as the most important issue in the race, and that voters trusted Republican victor Glenn Youngkin to handle the economy more than Democratic also-ran Terry McAuliffe.

Inflation is also likely to play a key role in the midterm elections, as Biden’s approval rating continues to slip — and Republicans continue to rise in generic ballot polling — partly due to price increases.

Year-over-year price increases for various products. (Tweet by Ryan Struyk)

The new inflation data could also imperil Biden’s sweeping domestic agenda. Now that the bipartisan infrastructure package has passed both chambers of Congress, some progressive lawmakers are worried that they no longer have leverage over their centrist counterparts to ensure that the $1.75 trillion “Build Back Better” package is approved as well.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) only exacerbated those fears on Wednesday. “By all accounts, the threat posed by record inflation to the American people is not ‘transitory’ and is instead getting worse,” the powerful legislator wrote on Twitter. “From the grocery store to the gas pump, Americans know the inflation tax is real and DC can no longer ignore the economic pain Americans feel every day.”

According to Axios, some top Democrats now worry that Manchin will use the inflation numbers as a pretense to block the spending package.

In his statement on Wednesday, Biden pointedly claimed that the legislation would ease inflation — a view that runs counter to the conventional wisdom (which Manchin shares) that higher government spending leads to further price increases.

What else you should know

→ Inside the House GOP. Tensions are rising among Republicans as some House conservative push to punish their 13 GOP colleagues who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure package. Although the 13 are unlikely to face consequences from GOP leadership, they are feeling the heat from Republicans calling their offices — especially after Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) posted their office phone numbers on Twitter.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), a longtime congressman who was one of the infrastructure bill’s GOP backers, has released the audio of one voicemail which threatened him and his family. “I hope you die,” the caller, a man from South Carolina, can be heard saying. “I hope everybody in your f------  family dies.”

Rep. Fred Upton has received death threats since voting for the bipartisan infrastructure package. (Wikimedia Commons)

→ America and the world. In a surprise move, the U.S. and China released a joint statement on Wednesday promising to work together to combat climate change. The two countries vowed “to work individually, jointly, and with other countries during this decisive decade, in accordance with different national circumstances, to strengthen and accelerate climate action and cooperation,” according to the statement.

The promise was issued on the sidelines of the global summit in Glasgow, which will wrap up on Friday after two weeks. White House officials also indicated that the highly-anticipated virtual summit between President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping will take place next week, possibly as early as Monday.

→ An LGBT milestone. Kimi Cole, the chair of the Nevada Democratic Rural Caucus, announced her bid to become Nevada’s lieutenant governor on Wednesday. If elected, she would be the first openly transgender statewide elected official in U.S. history.

Policy Roundup: Legal

On Thursdays, Wake Up To Politics legal contributor Anna Salvatore offers a briefing on the legal news to know this week.

The Supreme Court heard arguments on Monday about whether the FBI improperly surveilled three Muslim American men in 2006. Taking the podium for the government, Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler argued that the Supreme Court should dismiss the trio’s lawsuit. The government’s decision to surveil them rested firmly within its “state secrets privilege,” he said, and it can’t reveal further information without imperiling national security.

Justice Neil Gorsuch seemed skeptical of this argument. “In a world in which the national security state is growing larger every day,” he replied, “that’s quite a power.” Both Gorsuch and his colleagues seemed to seek a narrow solution in this case, one that could allow the lawsuit to go forward without compelling the government to reveal secret evidence.

Edwin Kneedler argued the government’s side in a surveillance case this week. (C-SPAN screengrab)

The next day, the justices considered whether Texas can forbid a death row inmate from praying with his pastor during his execution. Their main question, it seemed, was how to balance the state’s interest in security with the inmate’s freedom to practice his religion. Justice Brett Kavanaugh suggested that state employees could stay with the inmate, but he expressed concern about “someone from the outside… coming in.”

Signaling her disagreement, Justice Amy Coney Barrett said that the state’s most pressing interest should be “carrying out the execution in a humane and safe way.” The hinge vote in this case — Justice Neil Gorsuch — did not speak once during oral arguments, so it is difficult to predict how the court will rule.

Can Congress deny welfare benefits to Puerto Rico? The Supreme Court probed this topic on Tuesday, considering whether the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which offers benefits to disabled Americans, can exclude Puerto Ricans. Some justices felt that this policy violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, which gives all citizens equal protection of the laws. “Puerto Ricans are citizens, and the Constitution applies to them,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who herself has Puerto Rican heritage. “Their needy people are being treated differently than the needy people in the 50 states.”

The government’s attorney replied that SSI draws distinctions based on geography, not on any kind of animus towards islanders. The court then debated whether Congress is required to treat all states and territories the same. Its consensus, or near-consensus, was that the Constitution doesn’t require “equal treatment across the board,” but rather that Congress can choose whether to include territories in federal programs.

Sonia Sotomayor, a justice of Puerto Rican heritage, suggested this week that Puerto Ricans were being excluded from constitutionally-guaranteed benefits. (Gage Skidmore)

More legal headlines:

  • The Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned a $465 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson, ruling that the company wasn’t responsible for the state’s opioid epidemic.
  • Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager accused of killing two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin last summer, testified in his own defense Wednesday in a federal trial.
  • In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, the Justice Department accused Uber of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. “Uber’s wait time fees take a significant toll on people with disabilities,” said U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds.


All times Eastern.
→ President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will spend the morning at Arlington National Cemetery marking Veterans Day. At 9 a.m., the president will host veterans and members of the military community at the White House before leaving as a group for the cemetery. At 11 a.m., both Bidens will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. At 11:15 a.m., the president will deliver remarks at the national Veterans Day observance at Arlington cemetery.

Earlier this week, members of the public were able to approach the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a famed monument at Arlington National Cemetery dedicated to unidentified U.S. service members killed in action, and lay flowers there for the first time in memory. The special access was to mark the centennial commemoration of the monument, which was built in 1921; “We do not anticipate holding another event in our lifetimes in which the public will be able to approach the Tomb in this manner,” the cemetery’s website said.

Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff are in Paris, France. Earlier this morning, they both attended separate ceremonies to mark Armistice Day. (Like Veterans Day, Armistice Day — which is celebrated in France and many other European countries — marks the official end of World War I on November 11, 2018.)

At 8 a.m., Emhoff attended a listening session on gender equity. At 11:05 a.m., Harris will deliver remarks at the Paris Peace Forum, an annual multilateral event on global governance. At 2:30 p.m., Harris and Emhoff will attend a dinner hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron. Harris’ visit to France comes as tensions are still raw between Macron and the Biden administration after the U.S. undercut France in striking a submarine deal with Australia.  

→ There will be no White House press briefing for the second consecutive day.

→ The House and Senate are on recess until November 15.

COURTS → The Supreme Court is not in session.