Democrats: Maybe Failure Is An Option

Plus: The real voting rights crisis

Vehicles on Interstate 95 travel past a construction project to add three lanes to the I-95 Rappahannock River Crossing (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

By the time you read this, Nancy Pelosi may well have pulled a rabbit out of her parliamentary hat. But here is roughly the state of play:

So what we have here is a high-stakes game of political chicken; and today’s DC punditry boils down to the question “Who blinks first?” The centrists who want to go ahead and pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill? Or the progressives who have insisted that the bill won’t get passed until the $3.5 trillion plan is pushed through reconciliation… which won’t happen.

You see the problem. As I write this morning, Pelosi (who doesn’t really have any votes to spare) does not have the votes to move ahead on the budget, and the House went home last night. They’ll try again today.

A few quick thoughts (subject to review and revision later today):

  • This seems to be a very bad time to sail Congress into an iceberg. With Biden damaged by the Afghanistan pullout, the last thing Democrats need is for his domestic agenda to founder because of intra-party fighting.

  • Linking the two bills — and imperiling both —seems to be a rare own-goal for Pelosi. We might even think of it as political malpractice

  • After months of saying that “failure is not an option”, failure now seems a very real option on both voting rights and infrastructure.

Let’s start with the infrastructure bill. Nine moderate Democrats penned an op-ed piece for the Wapo Sunday, arguing that Democrats should just “take the win.” The House could quickly pass the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill — the one that got 19 GOP votes in the Senate — and put it on the president’s desk. But, they write:

The challenge we face right now is that there is a standoff with some of our colleagues who have decided to hold the infrastructure bill hostage for months, or kill it altogether, if they don’t get what they want in the next bill — a largely undefined $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. While we have concerns about the level of spending and potential revenue raisers, we are open to immediate consideration of that package.

But we are firmly opposed to holding the president’s infrastructure legislation hostage to reconciliation, risking its passage and the bipartisan support behind it.

We can walk and chew gum, just as the Senate did. We can pass the infrastructure measure now, and then quickly consider reconciliation and the policies from climate to health care to universal pre-K that we believe are critical.

This. Makes. Sense. When you have a win — in this case a huge win — you take it. And, as the centrist Dems point out, they have a very big win in their grasp:

This once-in-a-century infrastructure bill does just that: It meets the actual moment we are in. It is bipartisan at a moment when we are deeply divided. It will add jobs, build the economy, fix our crumbling infrastructure and help tackle climate change. Let’s take the win for American workers, and the nation, and pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

On Monday, centrist representative Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) became the tenth hold-out. In an op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel, Murphy said she was “bewildered by my party’s misguided strategy to make passage of the popular, already-written, bipartisan infrastructure bill contingent upon passage of the contentious, yet-to-be-written, partisan reconciliation bill. It’s bad policy and, yes, bad politics.”

And then there is Joe Manchin, whose vote would obviously be needed to pass any bill through reconciliation. On Monday, he tweeted out his support for the House moderate position.

Exit take: Pelosi and the progressives risk making the perfect the enemy of the good — and getting neither if this all falls part.


Please don’t take my word for it. Listen to the warning from John Halpin in the “Liberal Patriot,” about the risks posed by a $3.5 trillion partisan package:

With the Democrats now rushing to write reconciliation legislation on “soft” infrastructure approaching $3.5 trillion – on top of the Senate’s $1.2 trillion in “hard” infrastructure spending – the risk of screwing this up is high. For proponents of active government, the cost of getting these domestic spending plans wrong in terms of structure and implementation will be even greater than the “miscalculations” on foreign policy.


No waste or corruption or random spending will be tolerated. Having just lived through the “we wasted trillions of dollars in Afghanistan and got nothing but defeat” narrative, Biden and the Democrats can ill afford to have similar sentiments set in on its domestic plans. This is particularly true on the “hard” investments in roads, bridges, broadband, and climate mitigation where the potential for boondoggles and dodgy spending is dangerously high.

You should read the whole thing here.


And (ahem) on voting rights:

I’d go further than that: while the threat of voter suppression is real, the much larger threat is the question of who counts the votes.

Sure, go ahead and fight about 24-hour voting in Texas, but the much bigger story is the possibility that (1) partisan state legislators may throw out the votes that are actually cast, and (2) a GOP Congress might refuse to certify the electoral votes of states they lose.

Make sure you read Amanda Carpenter’s piece in today’s Bulwark about the real significance of the bogus Arizona election “audit”:

What Trump supporters have discovered is that elected officials in state legislatures have the power, through subpoenas, to seize ballots, machines, and associated equipment, to run their election investigations. That’s the real lesson of the Arizona audit: not that the election results were flawed, but that other jurisdictions can emulate this model to undermine our most essential mechanism of our democracy.

And guess what? Trump supporters in other states have learned that lesson. Republicans in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are taking steps to set up faux audits of their own.

Meanwhile, in D.C., the prospects for any meaningful voting legislation coming out of Congress seem… slim. Once again, failure is a very real option.

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Will the FDA approval change hearts and minds?

Unlikely, because you really can’t fix stupid. But it just might help change behavior.

There are four factors here:

  • The FDA formal approval.

  • The wave of new vaccine mandates it will trigger.

  • The flood of stories about unvaccinated folks dying.

  • The rage of the responsible.

As AB Stoddard argued on yesterday’s podcast, the stories of the deaths of the unvaccinated are likely to have the greatest impact. But the mandates will also have a big impact because, as one medical professional told the NYT, “Mandates simplify things for people.”

New poll numbers also suggest that patience with the stupid and the selfish is running thin. ICYMI: “An overwhelming 72%-28% of those surveyed by USA TODAY and Ipsos called mask mandates "a matter of health and safety," not an infringement on personal liberty. By 61%-39%, they endorsed requiring vaccinations except for those with a medical or religious exemption.”

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What did Peter Thiel buy with his money?

The billionaire put $10 million behind the revanchist and revisionist campaign of J.D. Vance.

What, exactly, did he think he was going to get for that investment?

And last night:

Pampered man-child shares thoughts with pampered man-child. A palindrome of bigotry.

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Some numbers from Afghanistan.

First this:


Then this: Jonathan Rauch provides some perspective on the costs and benefits of the 20-year war.

The cost in U.S. fatalities was too high in the sense that any fatalities are too many; but, as long wars go, this one’s total was modest: about 2,500 U.S. military fatalities, versus almost twice that total in Iraq and, of course, far more (upwards of 58,000) in Vietnam. Moreover, since 2015, after the U.S. ended its surge and delegated front-line fighting to the Afghans, annual U.S. fatalities have not risen above two dozen. More service members die every year in training accidents. (In fact, the relatively low fatality numbers are a reason to be puzzled that President Biden felt such urgency in pulling out.)

As for the Afghans, they assuredly suffered in the war, but they suffered more under Taliban rule. Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution figures that the war may have cost 400,000 Afghan lives over the past 20 years, but he guesstimates that U.S. activities there saved a million or more lives, a significant net positive.

Consider: Infant mortality dropped by half during the U.S. operation. Life expectancy improved by six years. Electricity consumption, a key quality of life indicator, increased by a factor of 10. Years in school increased by at least three years for men and four for women. University graduates rose from under 31,000 to almost 200,000. (Those and other indicators are available at the Brookings Afghanistan index.)

Timeline: The Lies of Jim Jordan

Very much worth your time: The folks at Just Security have performed a flagrant act of journalism by putting together a comprehensive timeline of Jim Jordan’s systematic disinformation campaign about January 6.

Over the course of the past year, congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, has engaged in a systematic effort to cast doubt on the integrity of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. He also led efforts to create an image in the minds of Trump supporters of Jan. 6 as the “ultimate date of significance” (his words, repeated several times). He helped spearhead the effort to oppose certification of the election in Congress. He has continued to promote the “Big Lie” even after the events on Jan. 6 and subsequent FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warnings that this conspiracy is propelling domestic violent extremists. 

What follows is a comprehensive Timeline of Rep. Jordan’s public statements (in Congress, in public, on social media, and in media interviews) and his known activities related to the presidential election and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The following fifteen highlights are from the Timeline below. 

Congressman Jordan took the following actions:

  1. Suggested Democrats will try to steal the election (starting Aug. 22, 2020)  

  2. Suggested and directly alleged the election was stolen (starting Nov. 5, 2020)  

  3. Endorsed Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell’s call to investigate Dominion and Smartmatic (starting Nov. 15, 2020)

  4. Called for immediate congressional investigations of alleged election fraud (starting Nov. 18, 2020)

  5. Endorsed state legislators’ picking their own electors (starting Dec. 7, 2020)

  6. Said Trump should not concede (starting Dec. 7, 2020)

  7. Started public call to object to certification on Jan. 6 (starting Dec. 13, 2020)

  8. Supported call for “special counsel” to investigate alleged election fraud (starting Dec. 10, 2020)

  9. Called Jan. 6 the “ultimate date of significance” (Dec. 16, 2020)

  10. Met with President Trump and small group of House Republicans to coordinate plans to object to certification on January 6 (Dec. 21, 2021)

  11. Raised Trump supporters’ expectations by saying he hoped a majority of Congress will object on January 6 (Jan. 5, 2021)

  12. Helped lead the effort to vote against certification on January 6 (starting Dec. 13, 2020)

  13. Called for Trump supporters to remain peaceful, but does not say to disperse (Jan. 6, 2021 3:02 PM)

  14. Made false claims about Speaker Pelosi and security preparations for January 6 (starting Feb. 15, 2021)

  15. Revealed for the first time that he spoke with President Trump on Jan. 6 (July 28, 2021)

This course of conduct arguably sets Rep. Jordan apart from every other Republican member of Congress who supported the Big Lie, voted to object to the certification of the election, or engaged in other related activities. 

Exit take: Remember that GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy tried to name Jordan to the January 6 Select Committee…

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Quick Hits

‘The Chair’ Brings the Campus Home

This show looks great. Daniel N. Gullotta has a review of the new Netflix series.

The picture of campus life painted by The Chair is often bleak—though if the action had been moved from an Ivy League-style campus to the more common world of regional and liberal arts colleges, and focused on the demands placed on adjunct professors, it might have been even bleaker. Students feel unheard by teachers, professors struggle to instruct their undergraduates, graduate students fight in vain for their supervisor’s attention, not to mention dean’s anxieties over enrollment, funding from alumni, the state of the endowment, as well as the university rankings. Though it is set in an English department, The Chair could have been set on any liberal arts or humanities department facing these very real concerns. Despite this vaguely dystopian setting, there are still more Ph.Ds. being produced than there are jobs to go aroundmore colleges are being closed due to shrinking enrollment numbers, and academic scandals continue to shock and fascinate onlookersThe Chair is at its best when it reveals the unruly and often contradictory nature of the modern American university.

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Cheap Shots

When you’ve lost Alex Jones.

Andrew Cuomo isn’t sorry. At all.

"The attorney general's report was designed to be a political firecracker on an explosive topic, and it worked," Cuomo said. "There was a political and media stampede. But the truth will out in time -- of that, I am confident."

At another point, Cuomo called the investigation led by state Attorney General Letitia James "unjust" and "unfair."