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Approval ratings dipping, Biden jumps into spending talks and partisan fray
President Biden was running a little late to his campaign rally in Virginia on Tuesday night.
He had a good reason, though: The president was meeting with arguably the two most powerful legislators in America, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who share the power to derail his sweeping economic agenda.
Biden huddled with the two centrist senators in the Oval Office about the spending package, then promptly hopped in his limousine and headed across the Potomac for an event with Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe, whose race in Virginia has taken on a national flavor.
Both Tuesday night tasks represented a subtle shift in activity for Biden. The president spent weeks staying mostly above the fray of the Democratic spending negotiations, opting to delegate to his party’s leaders on the Hill. But now, as the Washington Post noted, he “is doing something new: getting specific and plunging into details,” summoning lawmakers to the White House and duking it out with them in person.
His meeting with “Manchinema” on Tuesday was just his latest personal engagement in the spending talks, after dropping in on a meeting with key caucus chairs earlier in the day and hosting Manchin at his Delaware home this weekend.
Similarly, McAuliffe has kept Biden at arm’s length for much of the Virginia race, with the president making only one other stop in the state despite its proximity to Washington, D.C. However, Biden is now going “all-in” on the gubernatorial race, according to Politico, having decided that the contest is too critical for him to remain a spectator.
Biden’s speech in Virginia, which I attended, also featured a notable shift in tone. For long stretches of his presidency, Biden has avoided referring directly to his predecessor, sometimes calling him “the former guy,” in an attempt to preserve his self-image as a uniter removed from partisan politics.
On Tuesday, though, Biden seemed to delight in needling former President Trump, charging that it was Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin who was trying to hide from the ex-president. “He doesn’t want to talk about Trump anymore,” Biden said. Then, he paused and flashed a grin: “Well, I do.”
Indeed, the speech included some of Biden’s most direct attacks against Trump since taking office. Referring to his former rival’s push for “election integrity,” Biden joked: “Talk about an oxymoron, Donald Trump and election integrity. I can’t believe [Youngkin] puts the words ‘Trump’ and ‘integrity’ in the same sentence.”
Biden sought to use Trump’s long shadow — and that of the January 6 riot at the Capitol — against Youngkin. Calling the Republican candidate “an acolyte of Donald Trump” and referring to Youngkin’s typical campaign trail grab, the president pointedly added: “Extremism can come in many forms. It can come in the rage of a mob driven to assault the Capitol. It can come in a smile and a fleece vest.”
Biden didn’t mention the meeting he had just come from in his remarks, but the spending bill has loomed over the Virginia race as well. As the talks have dragged on, Biden’s approval ratings have dropped into dangerous territory — while McAuliffe has gone from leading Youngkin in the polls to suddenly tying with him ahead of next Tuesday’s election.
Some rallygoers I spoke to attributed the tightening race to the Democrats’ struggles to make progress on their legislative priorities. “I think part of it is the inability of the Democratic Party, my party, to get bills passed and demonstrate more action,” Michael Cook, the chair of Virginia’s Medicaid board, told me.
Sharon Hughes, an Arlington voter, said she was “a little nervous” about McAuliffe’s chances. “I mean, it’s not helping,” she added of the stalled spending package. “If that had gone through and was successful and we were starting to see the fruits of it, that kind of momentum would have helped.”
“That’s one of the things that frustrates voters, that Congress doesn’t work the way it should,” said Tina Barchik, a vice chair of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, before adding a note of confidence: “But I do believe that Democrats are gonna do what they need to do this week. We’re gonna pass that bill. And it will help our chances next week.”
Both in Virginia and at the Capitol, time is running out for Biden. Election Day is less than a week away, while Biden’s target for passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill and inking a spending agreement with Manchin and Sinema is tomorrow — the same day he leaves for a climate summit in Europe.
Democrats claim to be zeroing in on a deal, but many of the details remain hazy. “We are just missing two things,” Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) joked on Tuesday. “What exactly is going to be in the bill and how we’re going to pay for it.”
In other words: pretty much everything.
What else you should know
— “Senate Democrats unveil new income tax for billionaires” Axios
— “FDA advisers back Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for children 5 to 11, saying benefits outweigh risks” Washington Post
— “At least five former Trump White House staffers are talking to the House January 6 committee” CNN
— “U.N. finds nations’ climate plans fall short of Paris accord” Wall Street Journal
— “Biden nominates Rosenworcel as F.C.C.’s first female leader” New York Times
— “U.S. Senate confirms Flake, McCain, Kennedy, Udall as ambassadors” Reuters
Policy Roundup: Global
A weekly briefing from Wake Up To Politics global contributor Miles Hession.
Large crowds of protestors demonstrated their opposition to a coup attempt in Sudan as Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was placed under house arrest. The government takeover by the military had been a lingering possibility since long-term authoritarian leader Omar al-Bashir was deposed in 2019, leaving a power vacuum. In the aftermath, the military assumed control over the government but always maintained a promise of democratic government.
Despite these assurances, the most recent coup attempt was part of a string of attempts since 2019 to seize power. Although the military looks to be on stronger footing after nationwide protests against Hamdok, the pro-government response has been growing. Previous coup attempts in Sudan have been fended off by large waves of civic unrest, and the recent large international outcry will isolate the new government further. Ten have been killed so far in the protests.
The Brazilian Senate is recommending President Jair Bolsonaro be charged with criminal neglect for his handling of the pandemic. While the Senate report calls for softer criminal charges than an earlier iteration, which included recommended charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, it was still a strong rebuke of the president.
The report has now been passed onto the chief prosecutor who, as a Bolsonaro appointee and key ally, is likely to not pursue charges. With 606,000 Brazilians dead from the pandemic, and Bolsonaro adamant in his opposition to vaccines, the Senate vote comes at a tenuous time for Bolsonaro’s popularity.
More global headlines, via Miles:
- Egypt will lift its state of emergency for the first time in four years after a series of deadly bombings which some analysts are saying is a bid for foreign investment.
- Aung San Suu Kyi, the former leader of Myanmar, testified in her trial that her supporters had declared a thinly veiled political move to legitimize the junta.
- Mali has expelled envoys from ECOWAS, a regional body it is a member of, after pressure from the bloc to transition to a democracy.
- After threatening to expel Western diplomats, the government of Turkey has backed down after backlash.
- 24 people were executed in Syria for their roles in starting wildfires in the country in a government crackdown.
All times Eastern.
President Joe Biden will participate virtually in the annual East Assia Summit at 8:30 a.m. He will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 9:45 a.m.
First Lady Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will attend the Senate Spouses Luncheon at the Library of Congress. The first lady will deliver remarks at 12 p.m.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing at 1 p.m.
U.S. public health officials will hold their weekly COVID-19 press briefing at 2:30 p.m. Participants will include CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients.
CONGRESS The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. to continue consideration of seven Biden nominees:
- Michael Nachmanoff, to be a U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia
- Sarala Nagala, to be a U.S. District Judge for the District of Connecticut
- Omar Williams, to be a U.S. District Judge for the District of Connecticut
- Matthew Olsen, to be Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division
- Christopher Schroeder, to be Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel
- Hampton Dellinger, to be Assistant Attorney General for Legal Policy
- Elizabeth Prelogar, to be Solicitor General
At 11 a.m., the chamber will hold confirmation votes on Nachmanoff and Nagala, followed by a cloture vote to advance Williams. At 2:15 p.m., the chamber will hold cloture votes to advance Olsen and Schroeder. At 5:15 p.m., the chamber will hold cloture votes to advance Dellinger and Prelogar.
The House will convene at 12 p.m. The chamber is scheduled to consider five pieces of legislation under “suspension of the rules”:
- H.R. 5661, the Continued State Flexibility to Assist Older Foster Youth Act
- H.R. 4035, the Real Justice for Our Veterans Act of 2021
- S. 921, the Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Officers and Employees Protection Act
- S. 1502, the COPS Counseling Act of 2021
- S. 1511, the Protecting America’s First Responders Act of 2021
CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEES The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. featuring testimony from Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The House Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing at 9:30 a.m. on diversity in the intelligence community, with testimony from Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, CA Director William Burns, and NSA Director Paul Nakasone.
The Supreme Court will not meet today.