U.S. Government & governance 2021

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Ross Douthat: How Joe Manchin Can Fix the Filibuster
(NYT) …there is a half measure available that Manchin should consider as an alternative to abolition: weakening the filibuster by taking its threshold to 55 votes instead of 60.
As a practical matter a 55-vote threshold puts a lot of things that the West Virginia senator favors more in play — from the gun-control measure he hashed out with Pat Toomey in the Obama years to infrastructure spending and the Jan. 6 commission in this presidency — while still throwing up a strong impediment to ideological legislating. It gives the kind of Republicans he’s most inclined to work with more power in the Senate, without creating a situation where activists can expect moderate Democrats to constantly join 51-49 votes. It adapts the filibuster in a reasonable way to our age of heightened polarization, maintaining protections for the minority, while making some deals that used to be possible available again.
The Dark Money Influencing Senator Manchin’s Right-Wing Agenda
(Truthout) New reporting by CNBC has found that the advocacy arm of Charles Koch’s network has been pressuring Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) to oppose key Democratic priorities like voting rights and labor provisions.
The Koch advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, has been orchestrating an online campaign to push Manchin to stand against proposals like the For The People Act, or S.1, Democrats’ keystone voting rights bill, and the abolition of the filibuster.
Heritage Action, the advocacy side of the conservative Heritage Foundation, which receives funding from the Koch Foundation, also organized a rally in March to get Manchin to oppose legislation like the For the People Act.
Groups like Heritage Action have their own reasons for opposing the For the People Act, however. In a leaked video obtained by Mother Jones, Heritage Action leaders bragged about writing voter suppression legislation that is then hawked by Republican state legislators across the country.
In the video, Heritage Action also said they “had a little fun with Senator Manchin” in pressuring him to oppose both S.1 and filibuster abolition.

The world is horrified by the dysfunction of American democracy
Brian Klaas
As Biden and Senate Democrats grapple with how aggressively to protect democracy in the United States, this should be a wake-up call. Until the United States yet again becomes more of an example to be emulated, it — and the world — will remain a dark and dangerous place for democracy.
(WaPo Opinion) Data released Thursday from Pew Research shows that our allies are beyond delighted that the Trump presidency has ended. Confidence in U.S. leadership has soared. Our friends are breathing a sigh of relief.
But buried in that story about the United States’ post-Trump redemption is some seriously bad news: U.S. allies see our democracy as a shattered, washed-up has-been. We used to provide a democratic model for the world, but no longer. The chaos, dysfunction and insanity of the past several years have taken a predictable toll.
The numbers are depressing. Just 14 percent of Germans see American democracy as a desirable model for other countries, while 54 percent say that it “used to be a good example, but has not been in recent years.” Public opinion in France, Britain, South Korea, Japan and Australia is similarly bleak. In New Zealand, fewer than 1 in 10 citizens sees American democracy as a desirable model.
…these numbers coming out of our allies aren’t just depressing bits of polling trivia. They have real-world consequences. And they highlight a disturbing, inescapable dilemma that the Biden administration must confront: Until the United States fixes its broken democracy at home, it will be unable to effectively fight authoritarianism abroad.
Put bluntly: The United States’ authoritarian slide isn’t just a domestic policy issue. It’s a foreign policy disaster, too.

8 June
Senate Democrats Pass $250 Billion Bipartisan Bill With One Simple Trick
Schumer & Co. passed a massive bill investing in scientific research at home by invoking the threat of Chinese technological advancement.
On Tuesday, Democrats’ negotiations on a bipartisan infrastructure bill fell apart for good, as Republicans failed to budge past $330 billion in new investment — far from the $1 trillion that President Biden planned for the effort, which effectively doubles as his climate bill. In another blow to Biden’s agenda earlier in the week, West Virginia senator Joe Manchin — whose state represents around 0.5 percent of the U.S. population — determined that there would be no federal voting-rights push for the rest of the nation when he announced he would oppose the landmark For the People Act.
With the clock rapidly counting down the hours until Democrats are expected to lose their legislative control of Congress, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is facing a formidable challenge: How does his party pass big, bipartisan, 12-figure bills without resorting to the once-a-fiscal-year process of budget reconciliation?

3 June
Vice President Harris May Be ‘The Busiest Woman In Washington
(NPR) President Biden has now tasked her with some large responsibilities, including:
finding the root causes of mass migration from Central America to the United States;
boosting vaccination rates; and
protecting voting rights.

Heather Cox Richardson June 1, 2021
Today, more than 100 scholars who study democracy issued a letter warning that “our entire democracy is now at risk.” The letter explains that the new election laws in Republican-led states, passed with the justification that they will make elections safer, in fact are turning “several states into political systems that no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections.”
If we permit the breakdown of democracy, it will be a very long time before we can reverse the damage. As a nation spirals downward, the political scientists, sociologists, and government scholars explain, “violence and corruption typically flourish, and talent and wealth flee to more stable countries, undermining national prosperity. It is not just our venerated institutions and norms that are at risk—it is our future national standing, strength, and ability to compete globally.”
The scholars called for federal action to protect equal access to voting and to guarantee free and fair elections. Voting rights should not depend on which party runs the state legislature, and votes must be cast and counted equally, regardless of where a citizen lives. They back the reforms in the For the People Act, which protects the right to vote, ends partisan gerrymandering, and curbs the flood of money into elections.31 May
After defeating restrictive voting bill, Texas Democrats send loud message: ‘We need Congress to do their part’
Texas Democrats who defeated a Republican effort to pass a suite of new voting restrictions with a dramatic late-night walkout from the state House chamber on Sunday have a message for President Biden and his allies in Congress: If we can protect voting rights, you can, too.
The surprise move by roughly 60 Democratic lawmakers headed off the expected passage of S.B. 7, a voting measure that would have been one of the most stringent in the nation, by denying Republicans a required quorum and forcing them to abruptly adjourn without taking a vote.
The coordinated walkout just after 10:30 p.m. Central time jolted the national debate on voting rights, putting the spotlight on Democratic-backed federal legislation that has been stalled in the Senate all spring, even as state Republicans move to enact new voting rules.

Heather Cox Richardson: May 17, 2021
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson urged Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act to “help rid the Nation of racial discrimination in every aspect of the electoral process and thereby insure the right of all to vote.” And yet, in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted that law, and in the wake of the 2020 election in which voters gave Democrats control of the government, Republican-dominated states across the country are passing voter suppression laws.
Today, Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) begged their colleagues to reinstate the Voting Rights Act. In 2006 a routine reauthorization of the law got through the Senate with a vote of 98-0; now it is not clear it can get even the ten Republican votes it will need to get through the Senate, so long as the filibuster remains intact.

27 April
US marks slowest population growth since the Depression
(AP) Altogether, the U.S. population rose to 331,449,281 last year, the Census Bureau said, a 7.4% increase over the previous decade that was the second-slowest ever.
The state population figures, known as the apportionment count, determine distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year. … The numbers released Monday, along with more detailed data expected later this year, will be used by state legislatures or independent commissions to redraw political maps to account for shifts in population.
Texas was the biggest winner — the second-most populous state added two congressional seats, while Florida and North Carolina each gained one. Colorado, Montana and Oregon all added residents and gained a seat each. States losing seats included Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The report also confirms one historic marker:  For the first time in 170 years of statehood, California is losing a congressional seat.

22-26 April
If D.C. Becomes a State, the National Mall Gets to Vote for President
(New York) The presidency is the most powerful position in the country, but it could accidentally wind up with a new perk: the ability to cast electoral votes. That’s because, as a result of a constitutional quirk, the current push for D.C. statehood would leave a remnant federal district in which the White House might be the only permanent residence. It’s one of the more bizarre features of the long-running fight to grant congressional representation to the 700,000 taxpaying residents of the District of Columbia.
U.S. House approves Washington D.C. statehood bill as Senate fight looms
By Ashraf Khalil The Associated Press
A decades-long movement to reshape the American political map took a further step Thursday as the House of Representatives approved a bill to make the U.S. capital the 51st state.
Voting along party lines with minority Republicans in opposition, the House approved the bill 216-208. That’s likely the easy part, though. The proposal faces a far tougher fight in the Senate, where simple Democratic control of the chamber won’t be enough.
The legislation proposes creating a 51st state with one representative and two senators, while a tiny sliver of land including the White House, the U.S. Capitol and the National Mall would remain as a federal district. Instead of the District of Columbia, the new state would be known as Washington, Douglass Commonwealth — named after famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who lived in Washington from 1877 until his death in 1895.
Heather Cox Richardson April 22, 2012
Today there are three stories in the news about the mechanics of government that add up to a much larger story about American democracy.
The admission of D.C. as a state, as well as the popular new voting rights bill (which would protect the right to vote, stop gerrymandering, and end the flood of corporate money into our elections), the infrastructure bill, and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (which bans chokeholds, limits military equipment on our streets, and requires body cameras) all come down to whether the Senate will preserve the filibuster, which enables the 50 Republicans in the Senate—who represent 40.5 million fewer Americans than the 50 Democrats in the Senate—to stop the passage of bills unless the majority can nail together 60 yes votes.
It seems to me that these three stories about the mechanics of our government show that our democracy is in a bad place right now. Republicans have stacked the deck in their favor for a long time and have come to rely on that unfair system, rather than policies that appeal to voters, to retain power.

7 April
Paul Waldman: The Senate just moved one step closer to sanity
Democrats just won a major victory in the form of a ruling from the Senate parliamentarian. The path is now clear for them not only to pass an infrastructure bill but also to use budget reconciliation — which allows a bill to be passed with a simple majority and not a supermajority — as many times as they want.
… the American Rescue Plan was passed via reconciliation, which is only supposed to happen once per fiscal year. In this case it was technically the 2021 reconciliation bill, allowing for another reconciliation bill — likely for infrastructure — to be passed this year, since that would cover fiscal 2022.
That would have been the only opportunity for Democrats to pass anything this year with 51 votes, overcoming Republicans’ determination to filibuster everything on President Biden’s agenda. But on Monday evening, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that the parliamentarian, who referees the chamber’s processes and procedures, has approved what was essentially a hidden tool in the law, permitting Democrats to use reconciliation rules to pass new bills, including infrastructure, as revisions to the previous reconciliation bill.

2 April
The American Rescue Plan’s secret ingredient? Flexible state and local aid.
Mark Muro, Eli Byerly Duke, and Joseph Parilla
(Brookings) The investment opportunity is magnified by the fact that the funding for state and local governments appears to be incredibly flexible, and therefore even more supportive of innovative recovery solutions. Despite scattered carping about the need for more “accountability,” the most striking and underdiscussed aspect of ARP is that it represents not only the largest positive fiscal jolt to state and local budgets in decades, but also the one most supportive of local discretion.
In technical terms, the funds are substantial. They are available for use until 2024 and encumbered with minimal restrictions—a big departure from the norm of federal grants. Major provisions of the package are permissive and make clear that ARP money can be used to backfill revenue declines; respond to COVID-19’s public health and recessionary impacts; or invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure

30 March-7 April
Fact Check: How Colorado, Georgia Voting Laws Differ Despite Conservatives’ Claims

Inside Corporate America’s Frantic Response to the Georgia Voting Law
Companies like Delta are caught between Democrats focused on social justice and populist Republicans. They face major political consequences no matter what they do.
Over the past five years, corporations have taken political stands like never before, often in response to the extreme policies of former President Donald J. Trump.
But for corporations, the dispute over voting rights is different. An issue that both political parties see as a priority is not easily addressed with statements of solidarity and donations. Taking a stand on voting rights legislation thrusts companies into partisan politics and pits them against Republicans who have proven willing to raise taxes and enact onerous regulations on companies that cross them politically.
Nate Cohn: Georgia’s Election Law, and Why Turnout Isn’t Easy to Turn Off
Making voting convenient doesn’t necessarily translate into more votes, research shows.
(NYT) There’s nothing unusual about exaggeration in politics. But when it comes to the debate over voting rights, something more than exaggeration is going on.
There’s a real — and bipartisan — misunderstanding about whether making it easier or harder to vote, especially by mail, has a significant effect on turnout or electoral outcomes. The evidence suggests it does not.
Faith leaders plan April 7 boycott over Georgia voting law
Goal is to push Coke, Delta, Home Depot to oppose restrictions here and in other states
(Atlanta Journal-Constitution) The measure, which Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law last month, harkened back to the days of Jim Crow racism, said Jackson, presiding prelate of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s 6th District of Georgia.
The AME’s 6th District is also a plaintiff in one of three lawsuits challenging the Republican-backed law.
How Georgia’s voting law could backfire
(Politico Nightly) African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Reginald T. Jackson and other Georgia faith leaders announced a national boycott today, starting April 7, of Coca-Cola, Home Depot and Delta — three Atlanta-based companies — over the state’s new voting law. The boycott could eventually extend to other companies including UPS, Aflac, Georgia Power and UBS.
President Joe Biden has called on Major League Baseball to move the All-Star Game out of Atlanta in response to the law, a move that Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp called “ridiculous.”
The new law, which requires ID for a mail ballot, is “inhumane,” Jackson told Nightly today. In addition to the boycotts, the AME church joined one of three lawsuits challenging the Georgia voting restrictions in federal courts.
Nightly spoke with Jackson today about the boycott and why he believes it’s necessary.
“… We need them to demonstrate their opposition to these bills. If we did not announce the boycott, I am not sure they would have made a public statement. We said to them there are four things they have to do in order for us not to have the boycott.
The first: Hold a press conference and speak in opposition to SB 202. The second thing — you have 361 bills and 47 states which in some way try to suppress the votes of Black and brown people — they have to speak out nationally against these bills in these other states. We expect them to use their lobbies and financial resources to fight these bills. The third thing: They have to publicly come out in support of H.R. 1 and H.R. 4, federal legislation that would counteract and nullify the bill passed in Georgia. Finally, we said to these corporations: You all have to help pay for this litigation.”
Delta CEO takes a stand against ‘unacceptable’ Georgia voting law
The new Georgia law is part of a tide of Republican-sponsored election bills introduced in states across the US after former President Donald Trump’s false assertions about fraud in the 2020 elections.
(Al Jazeera) Civil rights and voting rights groups have filed multiple federal lawsuits challenging the Georgia law. Activists also have turned their attention to congressional Democrats’ push for sweeping federal action on voting rights. Democrats’ measures in Washington could effectively override many of the changes being enacted in Georgia and considered in dozens of other state legislatures led by Republicans.
Georgia faces growing number of legal challenges over new voting law
Because federal courts have made it harder to prove intentional racial discrimination, “a partisan intent, even if it overlaps with race, may well not be enough,” one expert said.
(NBC) Civil rights groups have now filed at least three legal challenges to Georgia’s newly enacted law changing state election procedures, putting it to the courts to decide if the law’s passage was simply the result of bare-knuckled politics or whether it crossed the line into illegal discrimination.

25-26 March
Biden calls Georgia law ‘Jim Crow in the 21st Century’ and says Justice Department is ‘taking a look’
(CNN) Georgia is the first presidential battleground to impose new voting restrictions following Biden’s victory in the state, but the bill, which Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law Thursday evening, is part of a national Republican effort to restrict access to the ballot after the 2020 election saw record turnout.
Georgia bans giving water to voters in line under sweeping restrictions
(Reuters) – Georgia on Thursday enacted broad voting restrictions championed by Republicans that activists said aimed to curtail the influence of Black voters who were instrumental in state elections that helped Democrats win the White House and narrow control of the U.S. Senate.
As soon as Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed the law, voting rights activists vowed to challenge it. The provisions add a new ID requirement for absentee ballots and limit ballot drop boxes.

22 March
Trump officials hindered at least nine key oversight probes, watchdogs said. Some may finally be released in coming months.
Tensions between federal watchdogs and the administration they monitor are not uncommon. But 11 inspectors general or their senior aides who served under Trump, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal government deliberations, said hostility to oversight reached unprecedented levels during his time in office.
The result, they said, was that government hid wrongdoing from the public and important reforms to improve government efficiency were ignored. With Trump now out of office, advocates for government accountability predict other damaging revelations may only now begin to emerge.
… Thirty-eight of the 75 inspectors general who monitor the government’s largest agencies are by law appointed by the president and confirmed by Congress. President Biden has not yet made any nominations for any of the 13 of the jobs that are vacant and being filled in an acting capacity.

Heather Cox Richardson March 22, 2021
Democrats in the House passed HR 1, a sweeping bill to protect voting, end gerrymandering, and limit the power of dark money in our elections. The “For the People Act” has now gone on to the Senate, where Republicans recognize that it would “be absolutely devastating for Republicans in this country.”
The bill will die so long as Republican senators can block it with the filibuster, and if it does, the Republican voter suppression laws that cut Democrats out of the vote will stand, making it likely that Democrats will not be able to win future elections. That reality has put reforming the filibuster back on the table. While President Biden, as well as Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have all expressed a wish to preserve at least some version of the filibuster, they are now all saying they might be willing to reform it. This might mean making election bills exempt from the filibuster the way financial bills are, or going back to the system in which stopping a measure actually required talking, rather than simply threatening to talk.
Both parties recognize that their future hangs on whether HR 1 passes, and that hangs on the filibuster.

20-22 March
‘It’s not a local issue anymore’: D.C. statehood moves from political fringe to the center of the national Democratic agenda
(WaPo) The issue, once a fanciful dream of local activists, now enjoys near-unanimity inside the Democratic Party. Many congressional Democrats mention it in the same company as the party’s other top voting rights priorities, putting it at the center of the internal battle over whether to change Senate rules to allow for major legislation to pass with a simple majority.
The jolt of momentum stems in part from an increasingly urgent desire among Democrats to act while they have power to erode what they see as Republican structural advantages in the nation’s democracy — including the Senate. D.C. statehood would probably result in two additional Democratic senators, shifting the dynamic in a chamber where members from conservative, rural states can wield disproportionate influence over legislation, federal courts and presidential nominations.
Statehood supporters have also presented statehood for the District, a city with a Black plurality, as a crucial element of the broader racial justice movement that has energized liberal activists across the country.
The fight is arriving on Capitol Hill: The House Oversight and Reform Committee on Monday will convene a hearing on a statehood bill, and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said in an interview that he expects that the bill will pass the House before summer.
Statehood advocates still face major obstacles: They do not yet have 51 allies inside the Senate, and as long as the body’s filibuster rule requiring a supermajority margin for most legislation remains intact, it will take even more support than that.
The key question as the House considers D.C. statehood: Do we believe in the ‘consent of the governed’ or not?
Why Republicans Have No Good Arguments Against D.C. Statehood
(New York) The Constitution requires that the capital of the United States be located in a federal district outside the control of any one state government. It does not require that the boundaries of that district remain fixed. The District of Columbia ceded the portion of its land lying west of the Potomac River in 1846. Democrats propose to cede most of the rest of the land to a new state, shrinking the federal district to the small area occupied by federal buildings downtown.
Both parties have partisan reasons for their positions on D.C. statehood. The difference is that Democrats also have a principled reason, while the “principles” trotted out to justify Republican opposition are farcical.
At today’s hearing on D.C. statehood, Representative Jody Hice argued that D.C. does not deserve statehood because it “would be the only state in America without a car dealership, without a landfill.” D.C. does in fact have car dealerships. Why would the absence of dedicated retail outlets for selling automobiles preclude representation in Congress? Why would the lack of buried trash do so? There is no reason; it’s just a hunt for distinctions that can be turned into a meaningful basis for discrimination.

17 March
Republicans: End the Filibuster, and We’ll Punish America by Enacting Our Agenda
By Jonathan Chait
McConnell benefits from rules that allow him to enact all the changes he cares about — lax regulation of business, tax cuts, and confirming judges — either with just the presidency, or the presidency plus a majority. He fears allowing his caucus to actually enact laws carrying out most of their promises. That is why the bogeyman role of Hawley and Paul is so revealing. They represent McConnell’s fear of having to translate conservative demands into concrete legislation. He’d much rather use the passions of his base to get elected, and then use that power for ends McConnell cares about.
The House Brings Back the Equal Rights Amendment
By Ed Kilgore
…the underlying reality is that this basic expression of equal rights between men and women cannot be placed in the Constitution where it manifestly belongs because the Republican Party is in perpetual debt to a Christian Right movement that views anti-ERA activism as one of its foundational experiences. More to the point, conservative Evangelical and traditionalist Catholic leaders committed to all-male leadership of the Church (and, in the former case, of the family) object to the ERA on its merits. Add in the possibility that the ERA implies reproductive rights and conservative religious opposition is complete.
Making Republican senators and their conservative allies articulate their not-very-popular grounds for opposing a step once thought to be a bipartisan no-brainer may be useful for Democrats even if it is doomed to defeat. It’s certainly not an issue on which Republicans would prefer to fight out the 2022 midterms.

10 March
Stacey Abrams Has a Plan to Dismantle the Filibuster and Protect Voting Rights
And she thinks it can get support from reluctant centrist Democrats.
(Mother Jones) “Republicans are rolling back the clock on voting rights,” she says. “And the only way to head that off is to invoke the elections clause of the Constitution, which allows the Congress—and the Congress alone—to set the time, place and manner of elections at a federal level.”
The problem is that Republicans will surely use the filibuster to set an impossible 60-vote threshold for any such effort—and that two centrist Democratic senators, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, have said they oppose abolishing the filibuster. That’s why Abrams proposes tweaking it to allow major voting rights legislation to pass, and she thinks her plan can get reluctant Democrats on board.

8 March
Biden marks ‘Bloody Sunday’ by signing voting rights order
(PBS Newshour) A new executive order from President Joe Biden directs federal agencies to take a series of steps to promote voting access, a move that comes as congressional Democrats press for a sweeping voting and elections bill to counter efforts to restrict voting access.
Biden’s order includes several modest provisions. It directs federal agencies to expand access to voter registration and election information, calls on the heads of agencies to come up with plans to give federal employees time off to vote or volunteer as nonpartisan poll workers, and pushes an overhaul of the government’s Vote.gov website.
Democrats are attempting to solidify support for House Resolution 1, which touches on virtually every aspect of the electoral process. It was approved Wednesday on a near party-line vote, 220-210.

4-10 March
We Already Got Rid of the Filibuster Once Before
The House used to have a filibuster too. And when legislators got rid of it, the result was a more democratic, productive institution.
(The Atlantic) Last week the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, a bill that would make voter registration automatic, end partisan gerrymandering, strengthen campaign-finance law, and bolster oversight of lobbyists. It’s the most sweeping package of democracy reforms in generations. Yet the mood among most democracy reformers was not giddy excitement but resigned dismay: Although H.R. 1 has passed the House, it remains in the pile of campaign promises—a higher minimum wage, an assault-weapons ban, comprehensive immigration reform, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and more—that under current Senate rules need 60 votes or more to pass, an essentially insurmountable requirement in today’s deeply polarized, evenly split legislature.
The demise of the House filibuster ought to be better remembered, and not just because it’s one of the most dramatic episodes in American political history. The procedural battle that took place more than a century ago holds an important lesson for lawmakers of both parties today: Ending the filibuster may be messy, but it won’t destroy a legislative body. In fact, in a polarized age, the only guaranteed cure for political dysfunction is majority rule.
Pressure grows on Biden to end the filibuster
(WaPo) Pressure is building on President Biden, a longtime backer of traditional Washington rules, to do away with the filibuster and other procedures, as Democrats press him to seize what could be a fleeting moment of power to enact a progressive agenda.
Liberals have long pushed for sweeping changes like expanding the Supreme Court, ending the electoral college and banning gerrymandering. But as Biden faces a critical stretch of his presidency, even moderate Democrats are urging more immediate changes — particularly rewriting the filibuster, so that at the very least fewer bills need 60 votes to pass the Senate.
Democrats increasingly worry that popular pieces of Biden’s agenda will hit a wall in the Senate, including his plans for climate change, immigration, gun control, voting rights and LGBT protections. Failing to enact them, they fear, could be a political disaster for Democrats as well as a substantive one.
More Democrats join the effort to kill the filibuster as a way of saving Biden’s agenda.

How Dems Can Turn Filibuster Reform Into the ‘Moderate’ Option
(New York) Through the opening weeks of the Biden presidency, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have held the line against altering the legislative filibuster. To progressives’ dismay, these Democratic senators have forced their party to advance relief through a byzantine process that has delayed the bill’s passage and narrowed its scope. Nevertheless, since the bulk of Biden’s first big bill was reconciliation eligible, the moderates’ fetishization of the filibuster has condemned their party to headaches — but not yet to paralysis. Soon, that will change.
On Wednesday, House Democrats passed the “For the People Act,” the package of anti-corruption and voting-rights reforms that Nancy Pelosi’s caucus has treated as its top priority since taking control of the House in 2019. Among the 800-page bill’s myriad provisions are a national system for automatic voter registration, a ban on partisan redistricting, and the establishment of public financing for federal campaigns. Congressional Democrats are nearly unanimous in their support for the legislation, and a supermajority of the U.S. public has endorsed its core provisions in opinion polls.
… In the Senate, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar — no one’s idea of a progressive firebrand — vowed to send the bill to the Senate floor. If Republican support is founding wanting, Klobuchar said that her committee will ask itself, “Is there [a] filibuster reform that could be done generally or specifically?”

2 March
Late tweaks keep HR 1 on track for House passage despite new assault from the right
(The Fulcrum) Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised to force a vote on the measure, which would nationalize rules easing access to the ballot, limit the influence of dark money on campaigns, stiffen election security, tighten government ethics rules and seek to end partisan gerrymandering. But he has not signaled how quickly he will do so after House passage — or whether there’s a chance he might use that debate as the moment to undo the decades-long power of 41 dissenting senators to block legislation.
Doing so is the only way HR 1 might get to President Biden for his signature, which the administration formally promised on Monday.
HR 1 would also enhance federal support for voting system security, increase oversight of election system vendors, upgrade online political ad disclosure and require all organizations involved in political activity to disclose their large donors. And, in a minimally veiled rebuke of Trump, it would compel presidents to divest themselves of financial interests creating potential conflicts of interest — and release 10 years’ worth of tax returns.

Heather Cox Richardson February 25, 2021
In the face of voter suppression legislation in Republican legislatures around the country, Democrats in Congress are trying to pass a law, called the For the People Act, to stop partisan gerrymandering, limit money in politics, and expand voting access.
The For the People Act, numbered in Congress as H.R. 1 and S. 1, would provide for automatic voter registration across the country and would require paper ballots. It would require that early voting be made available, and would expand mail-in voting. It would authorize $1 billion for upgrades to state voting systems.
Polling by Data for Progress and Vote Save America shows that the principles in H.R. 1 are very popular, across parties.
Democrats passed a version of H.R. 1 in the previous Congress, but then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to take it up. Now, every House Democrat supports the bill, while Republican lawmakers oppose it.
To try to stop the bill from becoming law, Republicans are launching a full-throated defense of the filibuster, a tradition that enables a minority in the Senate to stop legislation unless it can command 60 votes. Republican objections to this popular, and seemingly vital, measure will test whether the Senate will protect the filibuster or continue to chip away at it.
The For the People Act Is Popular, Pass It Right Away
(Crooked Media) Next week members of the House of Representatives will be voting on H.R. 1, otherwise known as the For the People Act. The act calls for sweeping reforms to reduce barriers to voting, such as extending early voting periods and automatic voter registration, increasing transparency around money in politics and elevating the voices of small donors. The legislation would also require states to use independent, nonpartisan commissions to form congressional districts. These reforms are urgently needed particularly when reflecting on Republicans’ ongoing battle both during and following the past November election to drastically restrict voting access, actions that would pointedly suppress the votes of people of color.
In a mid-February poll by Data for Progress and Vote Save America, we examined attitudes on H.R.1 through a national sample of 1,555 likely voters. We find that voters overwhelmingly support the legislation and key reforms that the legislation would implement — from limiting money in politics to independent commissions for redistricting.

24 February
(NPR Politics) DeJoy appears before Congress: During a House hearing that became testy at times, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy apologized for widespread mail delays, but blamed them on the U.S. Postal Service being “operationally faulty” and, when asked how long he planned to stay in the role, said: “A long time. Get used to me.” Shortly after DeJoy’s testimony, President Biden announced three nominees to the Postal Service’s Board of Governors, which has the power to appoint — and replace — the postmaster general. 

22 February
Catherine Rampell: Republicans fearmonger about regulation, but deregulation is what left Texas in the dark
(WaPo Opinion) In the throes of the current crisis, as people were dying of hypothermia, Republican former governor Rick Perry a past U.S. energy secretary declared that Texans are willing to suffer extended blackouts for the paramount objective of keeping the feds out of their grid. Apparently the warm, fuzzy feeling some Texans get from bucking regulators must substitute for actual heat.
I suppose Texas’s widespread power failures will create some new employment opportunities for plumbers and electricians, given the many buildings and homes with burst pipes and other structural damage. But for everyone else, the state’s failure to ensure minimum quality standards has been a humanitarian and economic disaster. Amid pandemic-driven unemployment, even more workers were displaced because regulators failed to ensure the basic infrastructure necessary for businesses to function.

Jelani Cobb: Why Impeachment Doesn’t Work
(The New Yorker) ..as with all the provisions of the Constitution, impeachment was designed before American political parties had become a force in electoral politics. There was no way to consider the ultimately dominant effect that partisanship would have on the process, since the partisans had not yet officially emerged.
Partisanship…has been a crucial factor in each Presidential impeachment that preceded it. No President has been impeached while his party held a majority in the House, and only a very small number of representatives have ever crossed over and voted to impeach a President from their own party. Impeachment is, at best, a tool that can deliver justice when a President’s party is a congressional minority, and, at its worst, a mechanism whose bar for success is so high as to nullify its own utility.

15 February
Elizabeth Drew: Impeachment’s Partisan Doom
(Project Syndicate) The US Senate has failed to convict former President Donald Trump for inciting insurrection on January 6. This outcome raises the question as to whether Congress has any effective means of holding a president to account for acts against the Constitution.
One reason to doubt the efficacy of impeachment and conviction as an instrument for removing (at least a Republican) president is that since each state has two senators, small states, whose populations tend to be rural and conservative, have excessive power for their relative size. But the great difference between the impeachment processes pertaining to Nixon, on which there was a bipartisan consensus, and those pertaining to Trump stems mainly from profound changes in the Republican party.

14 February
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy Plans to Roll Out Slower Mail, Higher Prices
While the plan has yet to be finalized, new details of the proposal — first reported by the Washington Post — intensified pressure on President Joe Biden to take decisive action before DeJoy inflicts any more damage on the most popular government institution in the country.
The new details of DeJoy’s plan came as a growing number of Democratic lawmakers and outside progressives are urging Biden  to take the forceful step of terminating every sitting member of the postal board and filling it with officials committed to preserving and strengthening the USPS as a public service. Postal governors, who can remove the postmaster general by a majority vote, must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, which Democrats narrowly control.

8 February
Why Biden Can’t Fire Postmaster General Louis DeJoy
Trying to force DeJoy out could lead to constitutional chaos.
(Slate) During his first weeks in office, President Joe Biden has ousted a number of powerful officials appointed by Donald Trump. One controversial figure from Trump’s presidency, however, remains in office: Louis DeJoy, the notorious postmaster general who almost sabotaged mail voting in the fall and continues to gut the agency, creating catastrophic delays throughout the country. Progressives are furious that DeJoy has kept his post, but Biden’s hands are tied: While the president can fire other high-ranking executive officials at will, federal law bars the president from terminating the postmaster general under any circumstances. Biden can attempt to oust DeJoy indirectly, but that option is fraught with legal uncertainties, and certain to trigger Republican complaints of norm busting. Unless the president is willing to take a significant legal risk, DeJoy will remain in control for months or years to come. (see Biden inherited a USPS crisis. Here’s how Democrats want to fix it.)

27 January
Biden Team Rushes to Take Over Government, and Oust Trump Loyalists
President Biden named nearly all of his cabinet secretaries and their immediate deputies before he took office, but his real grasp on the levers of power has come several layers down.
(NYT) When President Biden swore in a batch of recruits for his new administration in a teleconferenced ceremony late last week, it looked like the country’s biggest Zoom call. In fact, Mr. Biden was installing roughly 1,000 high-level officials in about a quarter of all of the available political appointee jobs in the federal government.
At the same time, a far less visible transition was taking place: the quiet dismissal of holdovers from the Trump administration, who have been asked to clean out their offices immediately, whatever the eventual legal consequences.
If there has been a single defining feature of the first week of the Biden administration, it has been the blistering pace at which the new president has put his mark on what President Donald J. Trump dismissed as the hostile “Deep State” and tried so hard to dismantle.

20 January
3 Actions CEOs Must Take to Uphold U.S. Democracy
by Paul Polman
(Harvard Business Review) Summary.
It’s time to reset the private sector’s relationship with politics and move forward in a way that ensures governments run on the will of the people not the power of the dollar. Reactive and piecemeal solutions won’t cut it. We need to fundamentally rethink the way businesses operate in Washington. That means dissolving corporate PACs, ending trade association and corporate lobbying, and advocating for legislative reform that will reverse Citizens United.
It’s time to reset the private sector’s relationship with U.S. politics and move forward in a way that ensures the government runs on the will of the people not the power of the dollar.
After a tumultuous summer of protests against racial injustice, the American public was already calling for shifts in corporate behavior. Now, they seem even more keen for business leaders to take a stand where elected officials fall short. According to a recent survey from Just Capital, 54% of people (both Republican and Democrat) now trust CEOs over politicians to take action to protect and uphold democracy.
But for leaders to earn the right to this trust, they must first recalibrate their own moral compasses. During the Trump administration, many CEOs chose to look the other way as the president stoked the flames of white supremacy and racism, spewed misinformation that cost hundreds of thousands of lives in a deadly pandemic, and continued to deny the existence of our climate crisis. They chose tax breaks and a booming stock market over ethical leadership. Make no mistake: This silence — in the face of repeated assaults on common decency, respect and rule of law — helped to create an atmosphere that allowed the recent insurrection to occur.
Dissolve corporate PACs. Companies need to take the lead on separating policy from politics. One way to do so is by not just pausing political giving (and then resuming it when people stop paying attention) but committing now to end campaign contributions and dissolve corporate PACs, which can be used to obscure the extent of influence peddling.
End trade association and corporate lobbying.  Another way that corporations use their cash to take politics out of the hands of the people is through corporate lobbyists and trade associations.
Citizens United and legislative reform. Finally, CEOs need to push for a reversal of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which held that unlimited spending by corporations and other outside groups on elections was protected as free speech.
The ruling has, frankly, brought the U.S. political system to the point of legalized corruption. In other countries, some businesses offer bribes to escape persecution from already enacted laws. In the United States, bribery happens before the laws themselves are passed — legally. Citizens United reinforced the notion that America’s democracy serves the interests of those who can afford to buy authority. Political spending in the 2020 election cycle alone was $14 billion, making it the most expensive in U.S. history.
Without a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, this could remain the status quo. The private sector must recognize that its long-term license to operate in a stable democracy depends on supporting lawmakers who stand ready to challenge the status quo, not just reduce tax and regulation.

16 January
Reimagining the presidency: 3 constitutional revisions that might bring America back from the brink | Opinion
Conservative, libertarian and liberal scholars reimagine executive power and other aspects of American government in a project for the Constitution Center.
(Philadelphia Inquirer) Does the Constitution need updating? How can its guardrails be strengthened to protect the thoughtful deliberation that Madison considered crucial to the survival of the new republic?
…the National Constitution Center launched the Constitution Drafting Project, which gathered some of America’s leading progressive, conservative, and libertarian scholars into teams to write their own ideal constitutions. Although all three teams disagreed about many details, they converged around the vibrancy of the Constitution itself, and all decided to reform the Constitution rather than start from scratch. In addition, the teams unexpectedly agreed on certain reforms, including limiting executive power.

Two critical and historically connected domestic reforms are the abolition of the Electoral College, which is already in (slow) motion, and reduction of the long lame-duck period which not only has allowed Trump supporters months to plan a violent uprising, but weakens any administration in the eyes of its partners around the world. A hold-over from horse-and-buggy days, it no longer makes sense.
It’s time to abolish the Electoral College
(Brookings) In this paper, I explain the history of the Electoral College, why it no longer is a constructive force in American politics, and why it is time to move to the direct popular election of presidents. Several developments have led me to alter my opinion on this institution: income inequality, geographic disparities, and how discrepancies between the popular vote and Electoral College are likely to become more commonplace given economic and geographic inequities. The remainder of this essay outlines why it is crucial to abolish the Electoral College.
As Joe Biden becomes president, here’s an easy proposal for Electoral College reform
(The Conversation) …why not eliminate winner-takes-all completely, and simply allocate each state’s electors proportionally to the popular vote in that state? If this were nationwide practice, Biden would still have won in 2020, Barack Obama would still have won in 2008 and 2012, and George W. Bush would still have won in 2004. But things get more interesting in the two recent presidential elections in which the Electoral College victor did not win the popular vote.
Of the 700 attempts to fix or abolish the electoral college, this one nearly succeeded
(WaPo) In 1969, Congress almost approved a constitutional amendment to get rid of the electoral college, which meets Dec. 14 to ratify Joe Biden’s election, despite President Trump’s refusal to concede.

Abolish the lame-duck period
(Vox) America’s long lame-duck period gave Trump supporters months to plan a violent uprising. It needs to end. Modern democracies can and do transfer power very rapidly — and much faster than the two and a half months that separate President-elect Joe Biden’s election on November 3, 2020, and his inauguration on January 20, 2021, the official transition date established by the 20th Amendment.
American history is replete with examples of outgoing presidents who actively sabotaged their successor during the lame-duck period — sometimes in the middle of a historic crisis.
The United States, in other words, pays an enormous price for its long lame-duck period. There’s no good reason the US cannot join Canada, Britain, France, India, Japan, and other nations in transitioning swiftly to a new administration after a presidential election.

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