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Biden town hall shows a president focused on uniting the nation, even if it puts his agenda at risk

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At the start of the evening, Biden was asked if he still “felt the virus is in retreat,” as he had said when he gave a speech announcing that America had passed 200 million doses of vaccine. In response, Biden said, “We have a pandemic for those who haven’t gotten a vaccination. It’s that basic, that simple. Ten thousand people have recently died; 9,950 of them, thereabouts, are people who hadn’t been vaccinated.” Biden went on to point out that since taking office his administration has vaccinated over 160 million people, including 85% of those over the age of 50. And for those people, “this is not a pandemic.”

There’s a simple, basic proposition,” said Biden. “If you’re vaccinated, you’re not going to be hospitalized, you’re not going to be in an ICU unit, and you’re not going to die.”

Pressed over the topic of whether people should be concerned about a new round of mask mandates, social distancing requirements, and business restrictions, Biden responded by saying that he had a simple response to people with those concerns: “Get vaccinated.”

The first question to Biden from a member of the audience was about the restrictions that children will face when going back to school. The president said that he expected the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to warn that everyone under 12—who are currently not eligible for vaccines—should wear masks when school begins in August. Biden said that “the vast majority of teachers are vaccinated” and anyone not vaccinated should be wearing a mask. But he did not state, as the American Association of Pediatrics did on Tuesday, that everyone should wear a mask in schools.

Following this, Biden was asked two important questions concerning vaccine available. The first was when children under 12 would have access to vaccines. Biden’s answer was “soon,” but when Lemon tried to secure a more specific response, Biden gave one of the key statements of the evening. After reminding the audience that the vaccines produced “so quickly” were actually the result of over two decades of work, Biden directly addressed the concerns of those who keep saying that the vaccines are somehow “experimental” or “only temporarily approved.”

The vaccines, said Biden, will be available “’Soon’ in the sense that I do not tell any scientists what they should do. I do not interfere.”

A follow-up question from a Republican pediatrician spoke to her own concerns about the misinformation being spread about vaccines. “What,” the pediatrician asked, “is the White House doing to combat medical misinformation and to restore America’s faith in science?”

Biden’s response was straightforward. First he said that the White House would “literally listen to the scientists, and not interfere, not rush anything. Just make—let the scientists proceed, because they desperately want to get this right.” And then he spoke to the issue of false information on social media: “There was a report out saying that for that—something like 45% of the overwhelming disinformation on Facebook comes from 12 individuals. I said: ‘They’re killing people — those 12 individuals; that misinformation is going to kill people.’ Not a joke. Not a joke.” (Note: No. 2 on that list of 12 propagandists spreading false information about vaccines is Robert Kennedy Jr.)

The president also noted that many of those who had been speaking against the vaccine have recently had “an altar call” as they’ve watched the delta variant drive up numbers in red states: “All of a sudden, they’re out there saying, ‘Let’s get vaccinated. Let’s get vaccinated.’”

Following more questions about the pandemic, Lemon again questioned President Biden about the need for getting full FDA approval for the vaccines. 

What the scientists are saying, said Biden, is: “Let us decide, based on scientific data, in how we proceed. Do it the way we would ordinarily do it.” But Biden did put a rough date on when he thinks the FDA will finally remove the “emergency use” from the vaccine authorization: “They’re not promising me any specific date,” said the president, “but my expectation, talking to the group of scientists we put together—over 20 of them, plus others in the field—is that sometime maybe in the beginning of the school year, at the end of August, beginning of September, October, they’ll get a final approval.”

When it came to the infrastructure plan, Biden expressed that he was still having to “haggle” with both Republicans and with some Democrats, making real compromises to find a deal. That included, said Biden, compromises within the Democratic Party “between the far left and the center and some of the folks who are more conservative.” Since they were in Ohio, Biden didn’t miss the opportunity to say that he expects Sen. Rob Portman, who is part of the bipartisan group negotiating the final details, to keep his word about the infrastructure deal.

Asked by a Republican member of the audience about concerns over inflation, Biden responded that of course there was inflation—because demand is so much higher now that vaccinations are helping the nation recover from the pandemic. “There will be near-term inflation because everything is now trying to be picked back up.” Biden also warned that employers might  be fighting over employees for some months. But Biden said that economic forecasts didn’t predict that either the inflation or the employee shortage would last for long.

When it came to a question on voting rights, Biden stuck by the blunt terms he had used in earlier appearances: “Never before has there been an attempt by state legislatures to take over the ability to determine who won. Not count the votes—determine who won.” Even so, Biden continued to be just as stubborn in his refusal to call for an end to the filibuster. Despite saying that “the abuse of the filibuster is pretty overwhelming,” when directly challenged over whether it was more important to protect the filibuster than voting rights, Biden replied, “No. It’s not. I want to see the United States Congress, the United States Senate, pass S.1 and S.4, the John Lewis Act, and get it on my desk so I can sign it. But here’s the deal: What I also want to do—I want to make sure we bring along not just all the Democrats; we bring along Republicans, who I know know better. They know better than this.”

And that seems to be a wall that no amount of evidence can shatter. Biden insisted that his effort was all about bringing the country together. He bluntly admitted that the filibuster is a remnant of the Jim Crow era, but insisted that attempts to remove the filibuster would “throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done.”

Biden built on this theme, saying that Republicans would “love to have a debate about the filibuster instead of passing the recovery act.” Or would love to debate the filibuster rather than making child care payments permanent. But Biden wouldn’t seem to acknowledge that the focus on attempts to pass his legislative packages while leaving the filibuster in place meant that much of that agenda—including protections of voting rights being eroded at the state level—would never pass.

When it came to the Floyd Act, named for police murder victim George Floyd, Biden insisted that the Senate needed to work toward its passage, but he had a sharp answer for Republicans who claimed that he was anti-police. “They’re lying,” said Biden. However, “The point is that they—it doesn’t justify maltreating the public. You have no right to do that. None.“ Biden insisted this was because, in many localities, police were called on to do too much, and that there were situations that really demanded “a psychologist or a social worker.”

Biden finished up by answering a question about the opioid crisis in which he both said that drug companies should be held to account for their role and called out China for “sending fentanyl to Mexico, in large part, that’s being mixed with opioids and/or heroin and other drugs.” Biden also took this opportunity to talk about addiction in general, to empathize with families that have suffered from drug addition, and to express his pride in his son Hunter for how he was fighting his own addictions. 

Finally, President Biden ended the night talking about how odd it was to first hear Hail to the Chief and realize it was being played for him. When he heard the music, Biden said, “I wondered, ‘Where is he? No, you think I’m kidding. I’m not kidding.”

Being president, said Biden, requires that every action he takes means deliberate and careful thought beyond his role as a senator or vice president. “‘Is the decision I’m about to make, will that cause war? Will that cause conflict? The decision I’m about to make, is that going to hurt people?  Is it going to help people?’ That’s the part that is different.”


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Republicans are discovering that they’ve done too good a job in separating their base from reality

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Most “slippery slope” arguments are just another example of right-wing mushroom farming used to push back against even the most modest proposals. As in Rep. Madison Cawthorn suggesting that asking volunteers to go door-to-door offering COVID-19 vaccine is the first step into “constructing a mechanism” that will reach into every home in America to “take your Bibles.”

But what Republicans built in their anti-reason agenda wasn’t so much a slope as the pathway to the top of a cliff. All along the tattered rightward edge of what was the “alt right” just a period of months ago, people from high school drop-out bar owners to college drop-out real estate scammers have discovered that all they had to do to pocket millions from a party already tumbling through the void was to do exactly what Vladimir Putin had taught them: Get on social media and confirm every racist, xenophobic, anti-intellectual position that had been minted from the Know Nothings to date.

Why hasn’t Q spoken in months? Why should he? Who would even notice in a party where a senator is waging a daily battle to charge a doctor with a felony for trying to protect the country?

The weaponization of social media against the Republican base has been amazing, and absolutely predictable. What Russia did in 2016 was nothing more than putting a modest military budget behind a digital crowbar that could open the nation along lines of weakness. It knew where to find those lines because Republicans drew big circles around them every election cycle. Russia didn’t create a million bots to spread a ridiculous message that the system was unfair to white people and overly generous to Black people by coincidence. They just took the script Republicans had been selling for years. Once you can believe six impossible things before breakfast, there really is no limit.

Of course, none of this means that the Republican Party is doomed to fade away. Republicans have made a blatant and so far successful effort to cripple the election system in America. They’ve demonstrated that they can turn out record numbers in support of an agenda that left a million people dead. And they’ve turned mumble-mumble racism into an overt, out-and-proud bigotry that has touched the hearts of millions of America’s most downtrodden: middle class white people.

So what have they got to worry about?

Well … in the last week, Republicans have noticed that the up = down machine has put them in a position where 90% of the people dying from COVID-19 are their people. That’s because 90% of Democrats are already vaccinated and 99.5% of those dying are unvaccinated. Who are those unvaccinated? Oh, right, the Republican base that’s been taught scientists, doctors, and experts can’t be trusted. 

Over the course of that week, Republicans who still think of themselves as party leaders have begun to get louder about suggesting to their followers that maybe, just maybe, taking five minutes out of their day to not die would be a good thing. And this is the kind of response they’re getting.

You know what they say: How are you going to get them back in the land of boring old reason once they’ve seen all the glittery lights and spectacular claims of Bigfoot driving UFOs land?

But it’s worse than that. For Republicans who ever actually cared about the traditional Republican agenda, eh. That’s all gone. For those who care about nothing but their own personal power, they’re out of luck as well. Just ask former Rep. Scott Tipton. Tipton was a conservative Republican who checked all the boxes. He voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He frequently angered environmental groups with a push to privatize public lands. He was solidly against reproductive rights as well as gay marriage, supported by wads of cash from the oil and gas industry, and he easily won election for 10 years. Then Tipton was knocked out of his primary by a woman who claimed to have inside knowledge about Hillary Clinton’s upcoming arrest as well as secret documents that would reveal the QAnon truth about the pizza-ordering  cannibals in Congress.

Marjorie Taylor Greene didn’t step into a seat that was formerly held by a Democrat. She ousted Rep. Tom Graves, who had one of the most conservative ratings in the House. Cawthorn took over Mark Meadows’ former seat in a district freshly gerrymandered to make it super Republican safe, but in doing so Cawthorn actually defeated well-funded conservative businesswoman Lynda Bennett, who was the choice of not just Republicans in the state party but also endorsed by Donald Trump. It’s easy to say that Cawthorn won in spite of posting an Instagram photo celebrating his visit to Adolf Hitler’s vacation residence while explaining that a visit to see “the Führer’s” home was on “my bucket list.” But a more truthful framing would be that Cawthorn won because of his unabashed adoption of white supremacist positions.

What most Republicans in leadership positions today are just beginning to discover is that they are the alt-right. The white nationalist agenda that was cautiously courted along the fringe a decade ago is now the mainstream. If there is still a pro-business agenda, it exists only so much as it locks in racism. If there’s still a social conservative agenda, it survives only as a means of tacking a halo onto actions of hate. And the media outlets that Republicans were counting on to keep the base in line have discovered that it’s even more lucrative to feed them to the volcano god who pays Tucker Carlson’s bills.

The new Republican Party demands that America explicitly cover up slavery, Jim Crow, and every expression of racism. Why teach kids about the Civil Rights era when obviously Black people have always had the edge over poor, struggling, mistreated whites? In the last few years, Republicans have already tried to revive the idea that Joseph McCarthy was a hero. Don’t worry—they’re also holding pedestals open for George Wallace and Strom Thurmond. 

Republicans have thought they might cut the bleeding off with a Justin Amash here and a Jeff Flake there. But those who see just signing onto “yes, Donald” as a solution to their electoral ills are missing the big picture. If there was anyone who still cared about “traditional conservative values,” they can forget it. And if all they care about is their personal power, they won’t have that either. 

There’s always another Boebert in the weeds.


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Republicans continue dragging out infrastructure talks, while calling Democrats ‘unreasonable’

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Transit. It’s only an essential, core part of what we like to call “transportation.” Portman says Democrats are “not being reasonable.” Apparently that’s because Democrats want to adhere to existing law under it that says the federal gas tax-funded Highway Trust Fund has to be split 80% for highways and 20% for transit. Republicans want to renege on that, arguing that transit systems already got COVID-19 funding (to make up for lost revenue from the pandemic) and shouldn’t get more from this bill.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, chair of the Banking Committee which has jurisdiction over transit, is frustrated. “The Republicans don’t have great interest in public transit,” he said. “Their proposals are far too inadequate.” He added that “there’s been a tradition of fairly good public transit funding, but it doesn’t seem to be on the table from them yet.” Brown continued “I just want to get to an agreement where they take seriously public transit funding, and they haven’t yet.” Sen. Jon Tester—a member of that bipartisan gang—was more succinct. “Republicans hate transit, Democrats like transit.[…] It’s that simple.”

It’s not entirely that simple, though, because what this is is another manufactured excuse from Republicans to keep on dragging this thing out. They are also arguing about “broadband, Davis-Bacon requirements, and rescinding unspent COVID funds” according to an aide. So, pretty much all of it? Even if there is a weekend miracle and the gang produces something on Monday, there’s no guarantee at all that there will be 10 Republicans interested in voting even to start talking about it next week. If they were that close, they would have agreed to starting the process on Wednesday.

The Democrats in charge of making Biden’s plan happen in the Senate are prepared for the contingency of having to fold this “hard” infrastructure piece into the larger budget reconciliation bill that can pass with just Democratic votes, the part of the Biden plan that would transform the lives of millions, in a really good way. They’ll vote for this bipartisan thing if it ever happens, though most who aren’t in the gang will do so grudgingly because the damned thing has to get done so they can have the good stuff.

That good stuff, chief economist Mark Zandi at Moody’s reports “will strengthen long-term economic growth, the benefits of which would mostly accrue to lower- and middle-income Americans.” The report also concludes that concerns about inflation that Republicans have been shouting about are “likely misplaced” and “overdone.”

“It is a unique opportunity,” Zandi told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. “The economic environment is ripe for game-changing policies that address long-running, pernicious problems that only government can address, because the scale of the problems is so large.” His report says that the failure to pass the  bills—the entire $4.1 trillion package either as two bills or combined into one—”would certainly diminish the economy’s prospects.”

“The nation has long underinvested in both physical and human infrastructure and has been slow to respond to the threat posed by climate change, with mounting economic consequences,” the report says. “Greater investments in public infrastruc­ture and social programs will lift productivity and labor force growth, and the attention on climate change will help forestall its increas­ingly corrosive economic effects.”

That’s critical analysis for the Democrats to keep front and center in this last push to get the job done, to make the bills as expansive as possible (yes, climate change policies, yes expanding health care, yes fixing the safety net, yes education).


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Morning Digest: Democrats land notable Senate candidate in Iowa, but the odds remain tough

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Republicans, though, quickly set out to make Finkenauer one of their top 2020 targets, and they successfully recruited state Rep. Ashley Hinson to take her on. Major outside groups on both sides ended up spending $8 million between them, but while Democrats hoped that this part of Iowa would swing back to the left, that’s very much not what happened: Trump’s 51-47 victory in the 1st District was little different from his 2016 performance, and while Finkenauer ran ahead of the ticket, she still lost 51-49.

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Finkenauer kicked off her new campaign by focusing on the Jan. 6 attack in the Capitol and arguing that, after so long in office, Grassley has “lost touch” with both Iowa and democracy. She refrained from focusing, however, on the vast generational gap between her and the incumbent, who will be 89 on Election Day.

Grassley has pulled off landslide victories during each of his six re-election campaigns, but there is some evidence that Iowans may be tired of the veteran senator. Last month, a Selzer & Co. survey for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom Iowa pegged his approval rating at 45-39 among adults―his worst showing in this poll since 1982. President Joe Biden, though, was in worse shape with a 43-52 score, which is the type of negative rating that would present a serious obstacle to any Democratic nominee.

Grassley himself recently said that he’d decide between Labor Day and Nov. 1 if he’d run again, and his recent fundraising doesn’t give us a good idea which way he’s leaning: The senator hauled in $415,000 during the second quarter of 2020, and he ended June with $2.5 million on-hand. That was dramatically better than Grassley’s primary foe, far-right state Sen. Jim Carlin, who had a mere $9,000 in the bank.

The only notable Democrat who entered the race before Finkenauer was former Crawford County Supervisor Dave Muhlbauer, who raised $45,000 from donors during his first quarter in the race, self-funded another $20,000, and had $60,000 to spend. A few others have made noises about running, though: The most prominent potential contender is Rep. Cindy Axne, who has also expressed interest in challenging GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds.

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Senate

GA-Sen: Republican state House Speaker David Ralston has at long last said he won’t challenge Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock next year, a wholly unsurprising decision given that such a bid would have required him to abandon his powerful post atop the legislature. (When asked about the possibility of a Senate run back in 2013, Ralston retorted, “Why would I want the demotion?”) The GOP field remains uncertain as ever, though, as Georgia Republicans are still waiting on former NFL star Herschel Walker to make up his mind.

NH-Sen: A new University of New Hampshire poll pitting three Republican challengers—two hypothetical and one actual—against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan finds little change from the school’s last survey in February. The new numbers are below, with trendlines in parentheses:

  • Gov. Chris Sununu: 49, Hassan: 48 (48-46 Sununu)
  • Hassan: 49, former Sen. Kelly Ayotte: 45 (48-43 Hassan)
  • Hassan: 51, retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc: 41 (52-39 Hassan)

The good news for Hassan is that Bolduc is the only candidate actually in the race right now, even more so considering he raised just $47,000 in the second quarter of the year (Hassan raised $3.1 million and had $6.6 million in the bank). Sununu, though, has the name recognition to enter the race late if he so chooses, though last month he said he intends to “enjoy having a summer and fall … of just being a governor,” so any launch could come very late indeed.

Governors

CA-Gov: A state court judge has reinstated conservative talk show host Larry Elder on the September recall ballot after finding that Elder was not required to submit five years of tax returns when he filed his candidacy under a new California law because the law only applies to primaries. A final list of certified candidates is available here.

MI-Gov: Charade much? Just hours after announcing the formation of an “exploratory committee”—a vehicle not recognized under Michigan law—former Detroit police Chief James Craig told Fox host Tucker Carlson, “I am running” for governor.

VA-Gov: While finance executive Glenn Youngkin, the Virginia GOP’s self-funding nominee in this fall’s race for governor, has been spending freely on television for quite some time, former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe is only now going up with his first TV ad of the race. The spot, narrated by McAuliffe himself, follows the classic compare-and-contrast formula: “When I was Governor last time, I worked with reasonable Republicans to get things done,” says McAuliffe. “We created thousands of new jobs, put billions into our infrastructure projects and a billion dollars into education.”

But, he warns, “Glenn Youngkin is not a reasonable Republican. He is a loyalist to Donald Trump.” The ad switches to showing side-by-side clips of Youngkin wearing a red baseball cap bearing his own name and Trump sporting a similar-looking MAGA hat, then plays an audio clip of Youngkin—surprisingly, from several days after he’d sewn up the GOP nomination—saying, “President Trump represents so much of why I’m running.” (Incidentally, Youngkin only offers caps in white and blue in his campaign store.) Concludes McAuliffe, “Well you know what folks, I’m running because of you.”

The ad tracking firm AdImpact says McAuliffe is putting $452,000 behind this ad, while Youngkin has spent $4 million on TV since early June.

House

CT-05: Former state Sen. George Logan, who lost his bid for a third term in the legislature last year, announced this week that he’d challenge Democratic Rep. Jahana Hayes in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District. Logan’s career has been marked by a string of close races: In 2016, he unseated veteran Democratic state Sen. Joseph Crisco in the 17th District by a 51-49 margin to become the Senate’s first Black Republican, but after defeating Democrat Jorge Cabrera just 51.1-49.9 two years later, he lost to Cabrera 52-48 in a rematch in 2020.

Logan’s old Senate district, however, doesn’t actually overlap with the congressional seat he’s seeking, though he said he’d move into the 5th District once new lines are drawn. They aren’t likely to change too much, though, since the next map will probably reflect a compromise between the two parties or be crafted by a court. That’s because Connecticut requires a two-thirds supermajority vote in the legislature for new districts, which Democrats currently lack.

(Also, important reminder: Members of Congress do not have to live in the districts they represent. The Constitution only mandates that they reside in their home states, and courts have said states cannot add further requirements.)

Hayes, a former National Teacher of the Year, was first elected to Congress in 2018, after Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty resigned following her failure to properly address sexual harassment complaints levied against her former chief of staff. Hayes easily turned back Republican Manny Santos 56-44 to become the state’s first-ever Black member of Congress, then won re-election by a similar 55-44 margin in a race that attracted little outside attention last year—the exact same spread Joe Biden prevailed by.

Republicans had long dominated in the northwestern corner of Connecticut until Democrat Chris Murphy defeated GOP Rep. Nancy Johnson in the 2006 wave. Since then, though, the closest they’ve come was in 2012, when Murphy successfully ran for Joe Lieberman’s Senate seat and Esty won her first term 52-48 over state Sen. Andrew Roraback.

TX-06: Does anyone else think this is, like, not so great for Susan Wright? The Trump-endorsed wife of the late Rep. Ron Wright has released a poll from American Viewpoint of Tuesday’s special election runoff for Texas’ 6th Congressional District that shows her up 44-34 on state Rep. Jake Ellzey, which doesn’t look all that dominant with the race just days from concluding.

What’s more, that’s actually worse than an early June poll that had Wright ahead 49-34. And not only does Wright’s own data show a decline in her fortunes, it also shows there’s still a great deal of fluidity left to resolve. Just how unsettled things are is quite unclear, though: American Viewpoint’s memo says that 12% of voters are undecided, but as that tickle in your brain will quickly tell you, those figures only add up to 90%.

So what’s going on with that other 10%? We just can’t say. If they’re people saying they won’t vote, then they should probably just be excluded, especially since the poll says it’s a sample of likely voters. On the other hand, if those are folks declining to state a preference or insisting on some other candidate, well, there are only going to be two names on the ballot, so they probably belong in the undecided pile. And it doesn’t appear to be a typo, either, as Wright’s June survey likewise only totaled 94%.

Ellzey, however, hasn’t released any polling of his own—in fact, the only numbers we have are from Wright—and that’s always a lacuna worth noting. But this contest does seem up for grabs, especially if Ellzey can quietly convince Democratic voters that if they turn out for him, they’ll be sticking it to Trump.

Mayors

Boston, MA Mayor: Acting Mayor Kim Janey earned an endorsement on Tuesday from 32BJ SEIU, which GBH writes “represents janitors, security officers and custodial workers,” ahead of the September nonpartisan primary.


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