On the eve of his one-year anniversary, Joe Biden attempted a reset, bracketed by dismal polling, intraparty squabbling, and a historic failure on voting rights.
As the Wapo noted, Senate Democrats were “determined to push forward with a floor confrontation regardless, even as it promises to expose bitter divisions inside their own party rather than amplify a GOP blockade that they have described as an existential threat to democracy.”
So, the optics for Biden’s presser were less than ideal. But let’s break down the Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and the bit I’m going call “On Second Thought.”
Amid the malaise and angst of the day, Biden highlighted some of his wins and called out GOP obstructionism. He reminded listeners that he had signed a $1.9 trillion package that included stimulus checks, monthly payments for parents, and funded schools. In November, he signed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.
We went from 2 million people being vaccinated at the moment I was sworn in to 210 million Americans being fully vaccinated today.
We created 6 million new jobs — more jobs in one year than at any time before. Unemployment dropped — the unemployment rate dropped to 3.9 percent. Child poverty dropped by nearly 40 percent — the biggest drop ever in American history.
New business applications grew by 30 percent — the biggest increase ever.
In other words, on Earth 2.0, his party would not have spent the day donning sackcloth and ashes.
On the GOP: “I honest to God don’t know what they’re for,” Biden said at one point “What is their agenda?” (Asked later whether he had a legislative agenda, Mitch McConnell “acknowledged that a question about the agenda is a ‘very good’ one, he declined to answer, noting, ‘I’ll let you know when we take it back.’”)
On schools: “We have the tools — vaccines, boosters, masks, tests, pills — to save lives and keep businesses and schools open.”
Reality check on BBB: “It’s clear to me that we’re going to have to probably break it up.”
He’s not Bernie: “You guys have been trying to convince me that I am Bernie Sanders. I’m not. I like him, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I’m not a socialist. I’m a mainstream Democrat, and I have been.”
Oof. Biden seemed to raise questions about the legitimacy of the midterm elections if the Democratic voting rights bills did not pass. Via the BBC:
Biden was asked if November's congressional elections would be legitimate if he could not pass his voting plans.
"It all depends on whether or not we're able to make the case to the American people that some of this is being set up to try to alter the outcome of the election," he said, referring to stricter voting rules enacted by Republican state houses.
"I'm not saying it's going to be legit," Mr Biden said when asked about the possibility of fraud in the forthcoming elections that will decide the balance of power in Washington.
“The prospect of an illegitimate [election] is in direct proportion to us being able to get these reforms passed,” he said at one point.
As Philip Bump notes, this is not great.
Again, this is a remarkable break from the main line of rhetoric over the past two years. With good reason, there’s been a broad insistence that the most recent election wasn’t tainted by shenanigans. Here, Biden was suggesting that such a thing was possible — within the constraints of changed state laws and processes and, presumably, the context of a concerted effort to install officials sympathetic to Trump’s false claims at the local and state level of election monitoring….
So now what? Are we heading into a federal election with the president’s stated position that the results should be eyed skeptically? This is not unfamiliar territory, certainly, but not a situation that many Americans are eager to repeat.
This is how we get caught in a doom loop, in which everyone questions the outcome of every election.
There are gaffes, and then there are gaffes that might lead to war.
During his presser Biden suggested that if Putin mounts “a minor incursion,” there were “differences within NATO about what countries are willing to do.” If it was “a major invasion,” he warned there would be “severe costs” and “significant harm” for “Russia and the Russian economy.”
Wut? Fred Kaplan, writing in Slate, had some questions:
So was Biden saying Russia might not incur severe costs and significant harm, if Putin mounts merely a “minor incursion”? And what is a minor incursion? Just another salami slice of eastern Ukraine, beyond Russia’s 2014 incursion into Donbas province and its annexation of Crimea? Just a helicopter landing in the capital? Just a few airstrikes?
The White House rushed to clean up the mess, but only added to the confusion:
As major news outlets sent push alerts with Biden’s comments, White House press secretary Jen Psaki rushed to the rescue with a clarifying statement an hour after the news conference ended:
President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe and united response from the United States and our Allies.
Good work, but as the entire world already noticed, that’s not what President Biden said at all. Or it is what he said at one point during the news conference, but not at another point.
Liz Cheney had some thoughts:
On Second Thought
Biden said he was surprised by the GOP’s lockstep obstructionism.
“I did not anticipate that there would be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn’t get anything done,” he said. “They weren’t nearly as obstructionist as they are now.”
This came off as more than a bit naïve. It wasn’t like he wasn’t warned — over and over and over again that this was not the Senate of his youth. He seemed to be memory-holing much of the Obama presidency, and has clearly not kept up on the ongoing devolution of the GOP.
So there has been a lot of dunking.
But let me offer a small word in his defense here: A year ago, the notion that there could have been an outbreak of bipartisanship was not wholly delusional.
Consider some numbers: Last year, 10 Republicans in the House voted to impeach Trump; seven GOP senators voted to convict him. At least for a moment, they were men and women in the political wilderness and their votes may have been in play. Both Biden and Mitt Romney were floating ideas about expanding the child tax-credit. If you listened closely enough, you might even have detected early signs of possible compromise. Eventually, 19 GOP senators would vote for the president’s infrastructure bill.
So there are a lot of What Ifs.
If Biden been more skilled and the Democrats more flexible; if the GOP had not been so thoroughly Trumpified; if the center had held… it’s possible, just possible that things would have worked out differently.
But here we are.
Trump’s SCOTUS Thumping
The vote was 8 to 1. Even the justices that Trump imagined would be “loyal” to him refused to back his attempts to obstruct the investigation into the January 6 attack.
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused a request from former President Donald J. Trump to block the release of White House records concerning the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, effectively rejecting Mr. Trump’s claim of executive privilege and clearing the way for the House committee investigating the riot to receive the documents hours later.
The court, with only Justice Clarence Thomas noting a dissent, let stand an appeals court ruling that Mr. Trump’s desire to maintain the confidentiality of internal White House communications was outweighed by the need for a full accounting of the attack and the disruption of the certification of the 2020 electoral count.
It’s worth revisiting the language of the appeals court decision that was upheld last night:
“The events of January 6th exposed the fragility of those democratic institutions and traditions that we had perhaps come to take for granted,” wrote Judge Patricia A. Millett, joined by Judges Robert L. Wilkins and Ketanji Brown Jackson. “In response, the President of the United States and Congress have each made the judgment that access to this subset of presidential communication records is necessary to address a matter of great constitutional moment for the Republic.”
But about Clarence Thomas.
I’ve actually been somewhat agnostic about the question of recusal, because the sins of the spouse are not always dispositive. But Ginni Thomas’s extracurricular activities on the issue of January 6 are hard to ignore, especially in cases like this one. As I mentioned the other day, Mrs. Thomas’s activism has included signing a letter calling for Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger to be expelled from the GOP House Conference for their participation in the January 6 investigation. Her involvement in the actual event may have been even deeper.
So, the basic issue is this: Ginni Thomas’s name may well show up in some of the documents and testimony that the January 6 Committee is seeking — and that Trump is asking the justices to block.
Of course Justice Thomas should recuse.
Biden’s Anniversary Poll
Now, as Biden begins his second year as president, majorities of Americans give him low marks for uniting the country, being competent and having the ability to handle a crisis, according to results from a new national NBC News poll.
What's more, 6 in 10 disapprove of Biden's handling of the economy, while more than half give him a thumbs-down on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
His overall job rating among adults stands at 43 percent approve and 54 percent disapprove — unchanged in essence from October's survey. (Among registered voters, it is 44 percent approve, 54 percent disapprove.)
Actually, the more you dive into the numbers, the worse it gets.
Biden's standing among key parts of the Democratic base has eroded while just 15 percent of Americans strongly approve of his job performance, compared to 43 percent who strongly disapprove, and only 5 percent believe his presidency has been better than expected.
"This poll would have to be described as bleak, discouraging and truly terrible," said Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies.
1. The Six Main Strands of the Trump Coup Attempt
How did Trump try to overturn the election? Amanda Carpenter counts the ways:
Donald Trump’s actions to overturn the 2020 election were dedicated, intentional, and sustained over time. The insistent notion that Trump and his allies are “too stupid to coup” should not be reassuring. Like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, shake enough door handles, and eventually one opens. By the end of the 2020 story, Trump had learned just how loose are the dusty old frameworks like the Electoral Count Act.
From the summer of 2020 through January 6, 2021, Trump’s buffoonish plans evolved—ultimately taking shape as a multipronged plot to rob Joe Biden of the presidency, one that descended into bloody violence at the United States Capitol.
It happened fast, but not all at once: Lawsuits were filed in state and federal courts, up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Strategies changed. Officials inside the Department of Justice clashed over whether to enable Trump or hem him in. His team rallied activists to swarm the homes and workplaces of election officials. Trump pressured state officials to “find the votes.” More than one hundred members of Congress were organized to object to the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6th. In several states that Biden won, Republicans went so far as to submit fake Electoral College paperwork to “certify” Trump as the 2020 winner.
It’s a lot to process. Given all the details that have been emerging in recent months from journalists, from the House Jan. 6th Committee and other congressional investigations, from the Department of Justice, and from memoirs, there is a need for an overview that tries to bring it all together—not a comprehensive report on every detail, but an explanation of the six strands of the plot and how they are entwined.
Because a sequel may be on its way.
2. Is Inflation Biden’s Fault?
In today’s Bulwark, Mona Charen writes that he didn’t start it, but he’d better end it.
So even if Biden is only partially responsible for the inflation we’ve got, there are steps he can take. One would be to remove the Trump-imposed tariffs which are taxes that raise the price of goods to Americans. Another would be to promote more legal immigration. We are suffering a severe labor shortage in all areas, including truck drivers. More labor would ease bottlenecks at ports and in transportation. Make keeping schools open a priority. We need better ventilation, better masks, more tests, and some pushback against recalcitrant unions. Remote learning has been terrible for kids, and many parents cannot work if their kids are not in school.
More important than anything is that Biden forthrightly address what’s on voters’ minds. He’s gotten tangled up in internecine fights with other Democrats over matters voters don’t know or care about and that he can’t even win. If they sense he’s not really engaged in controlling the inflation menace, it could well do to him what it has done to other presidents.
3. Sununu: ‘Everything is on the table’ for 2024
His state inched past Gov. Ron DeSantis's Florida to win the libertarian think tank’s honor, underscoring a divide within the Republican Party over the best way to represent conservatism—and perhaps previewing a future presidential-primary clash.
DeSantis is a fan of using the power of government to achieve conservative ends. His anti-mask mandates, allowing parents to choose whether to let their kids wear masks in school, left no room for individual Florida counties to decide the best course of action in their respective jurisdictions. He signed legislation into law in November to prohibit private Florida companies from requiring vaccination as a condition of employment. That aggressive approach is finding a home elsewhere, most notably in Virginia, where newly inaugurated Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order on his first day in office requiring all counties to give students the option not to wear a mask in school. Youngkin also rescinded his state’s vaccine mandate for state employees upon taking office.
Sununu, on the other hand, has chosen a classically conservative path: Let local governments, individual businesses, and school districts choose the best path for themselves. Most of the state’s public schools still have mask requirements in place, for example, but they’re each free to make their own policies.
Yes, they can.