Sunday, January 9, 2022

Last Call For The Manchin On The Hill, Con't

The week before Christmas, Sen. Joe Manchin III sent the White House a $1.8 trillion counteroffer to President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda that included substantial funds for climate, health-care and education initiatives.

About four weeks later, the West Virginia Democrat has made clear that he does not currently support advancing even that offer following a breakdown in negotiations between Manchin and the White House right before Christmas, three people with knowledge of the matter said.

Manchin said publicly this week that he was no longer involved in talks with the White House over the economic package. Privately, he has also made clear that he is not interested in approving legislation resembling Biden’s Build Back Better package and that Democrats should fundamentally rethink their approach. Senior Democrats say they do not believe Manchin would support his offer even if the White House tried adopting it in full — at least not at the moment — following the fallout in mid-December. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Negotiations deteriorated quickly in December after a White House news release named Manchin as the obstacle to passing the legislation. Manchin then surprised the administration by criticizing the bill on Fox News, after which the White House released a blistering statement calling his credibility into question. Manchin, who has drawn protesters’ ire because of his opposition to the legislation, later said the decision to name him in the news release imperiled the safety of his family.

The White House has continued to project optimism that it will eventually secure Manchin’s vote and approval of a major economic plan by Congress. And Manchin’s $1.8 trillion counteroffer suggested that much common ground between the two sides remained on the policy substance. He said in recent days that he supports much of the administration’s climate agenda, for example.

But Democratic leaders in Congress have abruptly pivoted from trying to complete the economic package to addressing voting rights legislation, leaving unclear the fate of the White House’s chance to remake big parts of the U.S. economy and provide the biggest-ever investment in fighting climate change.

Manchin has talked with a range of public officials trying to sway him on Build Back Better, such as senior White House aide Steve Ricchetti; Larry Kudlow, who was an adviser to President Donald Trump; and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), among others.

White House allies, including several officials in the White House itself, have in recent days expressed confusion as to how the administration could pass up on the potential for $1.8 trillion deal that would amount to one of the most significant pieces of domestic policy in decades.

Manchin’s offer included permanent funding for universal prekindergarten, an expansion of the Affordable Care Act and hundreds of billions of dollars in climate-related spending — measures staunchly opposed by congressional Republicans. His plan also included support for a tax on billionaires, which would amount to the most aggressive plans to reduce wealth inequality in modern American history. And Democrats may not see another majority in Congress for many years.

“A $1.8 trillion package along the lines of what Manchin offered last month would be one of the most transformative, progressive pieces of legislation in modern history,” said Ben Ritz, a budget expert at the Progressive Policy Institute, a D.C. think tank. “The White House should absolutely take it if they can.”
Last month, Manchin was the villain, and what he needed most was a way to kill Build Back Better without being the obvious bad guy. Now he's won on that, and the BBB plan is 100% dead.

It'll be blamed on "Biden and the progressives" for not taking his offer, which was never really an offer anyway. He would have objected to his own offer on the table in order to reset the news cycle, but now he doesn't have to lift a finger.

He's most going to get away with it.

On A Need To Don't Know Basis

When Iowa’s 2022 legislative session commences Monday, there will be a notable absence on the floor of the state Senate: reporters.

Republican leaders in the state Senate told journalists last week they will no longer be allowed to work on the chamber floor, a change that breaks with a more than 140-year tradition in the Iowa Capitol. The move raised concerns among free press and freedom of information advocates who said it is a blow to transparency and open government that makes it harder for the public to understand, let alone scrutinize, elected officials.

The new rule denies reporters access to the press benches near senators’ desks, a proximity current and former statehouse reporters told The Washington Post is crucial for the most accurate and nuanced coverage. The position allows reporters to see and hear everything clearly on the Senate floor and to get real-time answers and clarifications during debates.

Beginning this session, reporters will be seated in a public upper-level gallery.

“When you take journalists and restrict their access and then you couple that with changes that have occurred in the past couple of years with procedures in Iowa, it makes it that much harder for the public to know what’s going on,” said Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, a government transparency watchdog.

In an email to statehouse reporters obtained by The Washington Post, Senate Republican spokesperson Caleb Hunter said the new rule arose from the “evolving nature and definition of ‘media.' ”

“As nontraditional media outlets proliferate, it creates an increasingly difficult scenario for the Senate, as a governmental entity, to define the criteria of a media outlet,” the email said. Hunter did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

To critics of the new rule, including members of the Iowa Capitol Press Association and Democrats in the state Senate, the change is little more than a thinly veiled retaliation against news outlets for unflattering coverage of the Republican-controlled legislature. Longtime statehouse reporters also called the justification specious and said there are no instances of nontraditional media causing disruptions.

“Keeping reporters out doesn’t make reporters more accurate or fair. [Senators] would be better off letting those folks in and getting to know them,” said Kathie Obradovich, editor in chief of the Iowa Capital Dispatch, who also serves as vice president of the Iowa Capitol Press Association (ICPA). She called the move “discouraging” and unprovoked.

Obradovich noted that the Iowa House, the judiciary and the governor’s office have all managed to define criteria for media outlets and said the Iowa Senate will have to eventually, whenever it next holds news conferences that require credentialing.

Unlike the Washington press corps covering Congress and the White House, the media space at the Iowa Capitol is allocated by the party that has control of the Iowa House and Iowa Senate; both chambers of the statehouse and the governor’s office are currently controlled by Republicans.

The change in access comes as government accountability and media watchdogs raise the alarm about the effects of dwindling statehouse coverage across the United States as larger swaths of the country become local news deserts.
Understand that authoritarians only want you to know about laws after they are passed, and that Republican state legislatures are hurtling towards regime status at these statehouse levels
When I say "please, please get involved in local politics like county commissions, city councils and school boards where you live" I mean it, because literal white supremacist domestic terrorists are more than happy to do so.

On the morning she met her opponent for coffee, Sarah Cole walked in with a front-runner’s confidence.

To Cole, the school board seat in this rural red district about an hour outside Seattle was all but hers. Educators and community leaders had endorsed her. She had name recognition from years in the Parent Teacher Association. And, besides, she was running against Ashley Sova, a home-schooling, anti-masking member of the far-right Three Percent movement.

“I kind of thought I had it in the bag,” Cole recalled.

Their coffee date that October day, as recounted by both women, was an exercise in gritted-teeth civility. Cole asked about the Three Percent logo tattooed on Sova’s neck in red, white and blue bullets. Sova tried to corner Cole on critical race theory. At the end, they took a photo and promised to work together no matter who was elected, each privately expecting Cole to win.

In December, however, it was Sova who was sworn in, the second Three Percenter on the five-person Eatonville School Board. Three Percenter ideology, part of the self-styled militia movement, promotes conspiratorial views about government overreach and imagines “patriotic” Americans revolting against perceived violations of the Constitution.

Presented as “defending liberty,” extremism analysts say, those far-right views are spreading in conservative places like Eatonville, where the school board race spiraled into a fight over mask mandates and how race is taught in school. Cole lost by more than 200 votes.

“The race was basically sabotaged by the national narrative,” Cole said. She sounded incredulous that parents felt best represented by a Three Percenter whose kids aren’t even in public school: “I don’t even know how to explain it except to say, in the face of the facts, they still chose to run with fears.”

What happened in Eatonville, according to extremism trackers, is bigger than a small-town upset. In recent years, far-right groups have been moving away from national organizing to focus on building grass-roots support, harnessing conservative outrage to influence school boards and other local offices. That effort was stepped up after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol left much of the militant right under federal scrutiny and in operational disarray.

Eatonville is among several rural, conservative parts of the West where members of self-styled militias are making inroads through what researchers call a mix of opportunism and intimidation. Once-fringe views about government “tyranny” now match the mainstream conservative discourse on vaccine and mask mandates, softening the public image of movements linked to political violence.

“If you’re going to make a change, you don’t do it by storming the Capitol. You make change by using the process that you’ve been given and starting at the bottom,” said Matt Marshall, founder of the Washington Three Percent and a member of the Eatonville School Board.

Two years ago, watchdog groups warned that Marshall’s election represented the dangerous creep of anti-government extremism. Today, the Washington Three Percent claims members in dozens of official posts throughout the state, including a mayor, a county commissioner and at least five school board seats. Sova, an officer with the group, was among four female members who ran in local races this cycle. Three won.
The fascists like Steve Bannon are organizing and are winning at the local level as Ezra Klein points out.

The difference between those organizing at the local level to shape democracy and those raging ineffectually about democratic backsliding — myself included — remind me of the old line about war: Amateurs talk strategy; professionals talk logistics. Right now, Trumpists are talking logistics.

“We do not have one federal election,” said Amanda Litman, a co-founder of Run for Something, which helps first-time candidates learn about the offices they can contest and helps them mount their campaigns. “We have 50 state elections and then thousands of county elections. And each of those ladder up to give us results. While Congress can write, in some ways, rules or boundaries for how elections are administered, state legislatures are making decisions about who can and can’t vote. Counties and towns are making decisions about how much money they’re spending, what technology they’re using, the rules around which candidates can participate.”

An NPR analysis found 15 Republicans running for secretary of state in 2022 who doubt the legitimacy of Biden’s win
. In Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, the incumbent Republican secretary of state who stood fast against Trump’s pressure, faces two primary challengers who hold that Trump was 2020’s rightful winner. Trump has endorsed one of them, Representative Jody Hice. He’s also endorsed candidates for secretary of state in Arizona and Michigan who backed him in 2020 and stand ready to do so in 2024. As NPR dryly noted, “The duties of a state secretary of state vary, but in most cases, they are the state’s top voting official and have a role in carrying out election laws.”

Nor is it just secretaries of state. “Voter suppression is happening at every level of government here in Georgia,” Representative Nikema Williams, who chairs the Georgia Democratic Party, told me. “We have 159 counties, and so 159 different ways boards of elections are elected and elections are carried out. So we have 159 different leaders who control election administration in the state. We’ve seen those boards restrict access by changing the number of ballot boxes. Often, our Black members on these boards are being pushed out.”

America’s confounding political structure creates two mismatches that bedevil democracy’ would-be defenders. The first mismatch is geographic. Your country turns on elections held in Georgia and Wisconsin, and if you live in California or New York, you’re left feeling powerless.

But that’s somewhere between an illusion and a cop-out. A constant complaint among those working to win these offices is that progressives donate hundreds of millions to presidential campaigns and long-shot bids against top Republicans, even as local candidates across the country are starved for funds.

“Democratic major donors like to fund the flashy things,” Litman told me. “Presidential races, Senate races, super PACs, TV ads. Amy McGrath can raise $90 million to run against Mitch McConnell in a doomed race, but the number of City Council and school board candidates in Kentucky who can raise what they need is …” She trailed off in frustration.
If we give up these local offices to the terrorists and anti-democracy authoritarians, they will be taken and used against everyone who isn't them.
And this is why GOP authoritarians don't want local and state legislation covered until it's far too late.

Sunday Long Read: Post-Trump Stress Disorder

"Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance is running for Rob Portman's US Senate seat in Ohio against perennial GOP loser Josh Mandel, and while Mandel is leading the primary race, Vance is the threat in the long term because of his Trumpian radicalization, as our Sunday Long Read from WaPo's magazine's Simon van Zuylen-Wood documents.

Let’s start with the beard. J.D. Vance didn’t used to have one. The Vance who in 2016 achieved incandescent literary fame with his memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” was all baby fat and rounded edges. The Vance I’m watching now, from the back of a coffee shop in the depressed steel town of Steubenville, Ohio, has covered up his softer side. In small-format events like this one, addressing a couple dozen primary voters, he spends about 15 minutes attacking corporate and governmental elites for failing the country, then answers questions and mingles for maybe another 45 minutes. Vance, 37, is comfortable in the folksy idiom of GOP campaigning (e.g., “she loved the Lord, she loved the f-word — that’s what Mamaw was”) but he tends to gloss over his famously traumatic childhood, immortalized on screen in Ron Howard’s 2020 film adaptation of his book. In Steubenville, he paces the room with a Big Gulp-sized foam cup in his hand, an Everyman touch that accentuates his new aesthetic.

I’m not the only one thinking about J.D. Vance’s beard. Recently, I asked one of his law school friends to tell me about his personality. “He’s lovely,” the friend said, describing Vance’s smile and laugh. Then he paused. He wanted to talk about Vance’s facial hair. Even as a slightly older law student — Vance had served four years in the Marines before enrolling at Ohio State as an undergraduate — he came across as guileless, boyish. No longer. “He looks different,” the friend said. “He’s going for a kind of severe masculinism thing. He looks like Donald Trump Jr.” Toward the end of our conversation, which was mostly about the way the culture shock of Yale Law School informed Vance’s politics, I asked the friend if he wanted to discuss anything else. He returned to the beard. “That’s honestly occupied an outsized amount of my attention,” he said.

The beard isn’t a bad symbol for Vance’s U.S. Senate campaign — or at least for how that campaign is being received. Discourse around the race centers mostly on the idea that Vance is a changed or fraudulent person. Five years ago, Vance was eloquently decoding Donald Trump supporters for liberal elites, while lamenting the rise of Trump himself. Vance, whose mother is a recovering heroin user, compared Trump to an opioid, calling him an “easy escape from the pain.” Now, since announcing his run, he’s reversed himself on Trump and adopted a bellicose persona at odds with the sensitive, bookish J.D. of his memoir. On Veterans Day, 48 hours after the Steubenville event, Vance tweeted that LeBron James — of Akron, Ohio — is “one of the most vile public figures in our country.” (James had joked that Kenosha, Wis., shooter Kyle Rittenhouse “ate some lemon heads” before crying on the stand during his trial.) Watching Vance campaign, I felt him straining to deliver his talking points in an angry register. It wasn’t just that steel jobs had been offshored; they were outsourced by “idiots” in Washington, to countries that “hate us.”

Commentary about Vance from Never-Trumpers and liberals tends to strike a note of personal chagrin about his evolving image. Pundit Mona Charen, writing about Vance as if he had died, called him an “extremely bright and insightful man who could have been a fresh voice for a fundamentally conservative view of the world.” Frank Bruni of the New York Times predicted that a Vance tweet about Alec Baldwin’s recent accidental shooting incident would “endure as one of the boldest markers of his descent.” In Ohio, meanwhile, the pressure on Vance runs entirely in the opposite direction. Every campaign stop he makes, he patiently tries to explain away his past Never-Trumpism, which has been exhumed in the form of deleted tweets and “Charlie Rose” clips. An attack ad playing his anti-Trump sound bites ends with a woman saying, “That’s the real J.D. Vance.”

Vance’s friends split the difference: They say he’s the same guy but he’s been radicalized. “I think he’s gotten a lot more bitter and cynical — appropriately,” conservative blogger Rod Dreher told me. To Dreher, the change in tone is justified by the course of American politics over the past five years. “Trump remained Trump — but the Left went berserk,” he wrote in a post defending Vance. Still, Dreher — who attended Vance’s 2019 baptism into the Catholic Church — worries about the toll campaigning is taking on his friend. “S--t-posting has become the signature style of young radicals on the right, and this is particularly a hazard I think for Christians,” he told me.

The surface-level changes are indeed striking. Yet the more I watched him, the more it seemed to me that the emerging canon of “what happened to J.D. Vance” commentary was missing the point. Vance’s new political identity isn’t so much a fa├žade or a reversal as an expression of an alienated worldview that is, in fact, consistent with his life story. And now there’s an ideological home for that worldview: Vance has become one of the leading political avatars of an emergent populist-intellectual persuasion that tacks right on culture and left on economics. Known as national conservatism or sometimes “post-liberalism,” it is — in broad strokes — heavily Catholic, definitely anti-woke, skeptical of big business, nationalist about trade and borders, and flirty with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban. In Congress, its presence is minuscule — represented chiefly by Sens. Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio — but on Fox News, it has a champion in Tucker Carlson, on whose show Vance is a regular guest. And while the movement’s philosopher-kings spend a lot of time litigating internal schisms online, the project is animated by a real-life political gambit: that as progressives weaken the Democratic Party with unpopular cultural attitudes, the right can swoop in and pick off multiracial working-class voters.

Vance’s Senate race is an almost perfect test of these ideas because the front-runner in the Republican primary, former state treasurer and tea party product Josh Mandel — who, according to recent polling, leads Vance by 6 points — is the candidate of traditional conservative tax-cutters. To those watching the Vance-Mandel slugfest from afar, it may just look like two candidates trying to out-flank each other on the right; but the fissures between them run deep. The Club for Growth, known for its free-market zealotry, is supporting Mandel and has spent roughly $1.5 million on anti-Vance attack ads. One TV spot highlights a tweet in which Vance says he “loved @MittRomney’s anti-Trump screed.” The narrator does not linger on the rest of the message, which reads: “too bad party will do everything except admit that supply-side tax cuts do nothing for its voters.” Before Vance deleted his old anti-Trump tweets, he tended to attack Trump for abandoning his stated commitment to economic populism. In a 2020 interview with anti-establishment pundits Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti, Vance contended that Trump’s great political failure wasn’t his handling of the pandemic, but his signature corporate tax cut and his attempts to undo Obamacare.

A couple of weeks after I saw him in Steubenville, Vance called me from the road, on his way to an event in Toledo. I asked about his sudden estrangement from polite society. “The price of being beloved by the establishment is you don’t say anything interesting,” he told me. “And if you don’t say anything interesting, you’re not going to be a useful part of solving any of the problems we have in this country.” What Vance is saying now may or may not prove appealing to voters, but it certainly meets the test of being interesting. “Dominant elite society is boring, it is completely unreflective, and it is increasingly wrong,” he told me. In other words: “I kind of had to make a choice.”
The term "radicalization" is true, but it also partially absolves Vance of his screaming, hateful racist rhetoric. As he says in the last paragraph above, he made a choice.

That choice was deciding, as so many white Americans have done over the years, that blaming, attacking and destroying the rights, lives, and humanity of those who are not white is the best way for a white Americans to stay in power at our direct expense.
There's a significant chance he ends up as Ohio's next senator, where he will seek to codify that racism into permanent law.

Vance isn't anything new, but something as old as America itself.

From Frankfort To Hickman

Kentucky Republicans are redistricting the state's six congressional districts this week as the 2022 General Assembly gets underway in Frankfort, and the first order of business is to make sure GOP Rep. Andy Barr never has a Democratic challenge again.

The Kentucky General Assembly approved new redistricting maps Saturday, mere days after its Republican leaders introduced their plans to redraw the boundaries for the state's legislative and congressional seats.

Redistricting happens every 10 years to reflect shifts in population, and this is the first time the GOP has fully controlled that process in Kentucky.

The Kentucky House of Representatives and Senate usually don't meet on weekends, but they did Saturday to pass this set of maps. Leading House Republicans unveiled their proposal just before the new year, while the Senate's GOP leadership waited to release their redistricting plans until the state's annual lawmaking session began this week.

The bills lawmakers approved Saturday and sent to Gov. Andy Beshear's desk included new maps for the state House and Senate as well as for the commonwealth's six congressional seats. The General Assembly also passed legislation that changes the Kentucky Supreme Court's districts for the first time in decades.

Leading Republican lawmakers have said they made sure these new maps meet all legal and constitutional requirements for redistricting.

It's possible, however, that someone could try to challenge the new redistricting plans in court.

The first redistricting plan that got final passage Saturday was the Senate GOP's redrawn map for Kentucky's congressional districts.

The House gave that proposal the last approval it needed in a 65-25 vote Saturday morning.

The new congressional map doesn't chop up Kentucky's 3rd Congressional District, represented by Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth, as some people feared it might. That district still will include most of Jefferson County, except for an eastern and southeastern swath that now will be represented by Rep. Brett Guthrie's 2nd Congressional District.

The particularly controversial part of the new map is Rep. James Comer's reshaped 1st Congressional District, which will stretch further northeast and take Franklin County — the home of the Democrat-friendly state capital of Frankfort — out of Rep. Andy Barr's 6th Congressional District. That's expected to make Barr's seat safer.

Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, criticized that shift in Franklin County's representation to Comer's district, which is primarily based in Western Kentucky.

"What it does to Franklin County is wrong," Graham said Saturday. "Franklin County was and is and always will be a part of Central Kentucky, both geographically and in spirit. ... Franklin County shares a lot of bonds with Western Kentucky, but we should not share a congressman."

So yeah, expect 5-1 US House delegations in favor of the GOP here long into the future. 
At the state level, the KY GOP is making sure that it can keep their three-quarters super majority in both chambers in perpetuity, too. They only need 50% + 1 to override a Beshear veto, but...why not grab all the power you can? Worked for Ohio's GOP, after all.
The Senate signed off on the House's redistricting plan Saturday in a 23-10 vote, with a few Republicans joining the chamber's Democrats in opposition.

The House already had approved that bill earlier in the week on a mostly party-line vote, as Democrats repeated their objections that the maps were unfairly drawn to split urban areas and further help Republican candidates.

Democrats and the League of Women Voters of Kentucky have heavily criticized the House map. Common complaints have been that it unnecessarily splits some of Kentucky's biggest counties into different districts and targets women by pitting two sets of incumbent women against each other in Jefferson County.
Top Republicans have defended their plan, with House Speaker David Osborne recently saying he believes they achieved their goal of drawing "a thoughtful map that complied with every legal and constitutional requirement."

The House gave the Kentucky Senate's redrawn districts the final approval they needed in a 67-23 vote.

When the Senate passed the new map for its chamber earlier in the week, the Republican plan actually got the support of most Senate Democrats, none of whom will have to run against each other in the same district.

One criticism some people have raised is the way this map splits a few of the state's biggest counties into different districts.

Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, said Saturday her home county of Warren had to be divvied up because it has gained so many residents in recent years, but she argued it should only have been cracked into two districts, not the three that make up its territory in this map.
Right now the KY GOP has 75 of 100 state House seats, and 30 or 38 Senate seats.  The news plan will probably make it closer to 80-20 in the House and 32-6 in the Senate, meaning that there's absolutely no chance Democrats will ever be in power again in my lifetime, and that the GOP can pass whatever laws they want and override any possible veto from any future Democratic governor easily, and never have to pay a political price for it.

One party rule for good here, folks. Not a fun place to be in the years ahead.
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