Sound and Fury: Will Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s impassioned speeches impact voting rights results?
White House chooses historic, symbolic setting in Atlanta to draw line in the sand with Republicans, Democrats hesitant about changing filibuster
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
ATLANTA (CFP) — The setting was both symbolic and historic. To promote their push for federal voting rights legislation in the U.S. Senate, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris chose Atlanta, the cradle of the civil rights movement, and spoke on the campus shared by three historically black colleges with a rich legacy of activism.
Georgia is also the state where Republicans undertook a wholesale revision of state election laws after Biden carried the state in 2020 and Democrats flipped two U.S. Senate seats, based on claims of voting fraud for which no evidence has yet to emerge.
However, whether Biden and Harris’s dramatic exhortations will affect the outcome of the Senate vote in the coming days remains very much up in the air.
While that result could have impact nationwide, it will be of particular interest in three Southern states – Georgia, Florida and Texas – where Republicans control the political machinery and are striving to thwart any Democratic advance by reworking the rules to their advantage.
If the 50 Democrats in the Senate don’t unite to find a way around united Republican opposition to the bill, Democrats in Georgia fear their 2020 breakthrough will be short-lived, and the uphill task Democrats face in Texas and Florida will be even steeper.
The headline from Biden’s January 11 speech was his most full-throated endorsement yet of changing the Senate’s filibuster rule to advance the voting rights legislation on a simple majority vote.
Biden argued that if state legislatures, in the South and elsewhere, can pass laws restricting mail and in-person voting, ballot drop boxes, and even handing out food and water to voters stuck in long lines, then senators should be able to stop them with the same simple majority.
But U.S. senators, perhaps above all else, enjoy their perks and traditions, and the filibuster, which allows a small number of senators to thwart the will of a majority, is one of the most cherished.
In essence, it makes every senator a king, which can go to some of their heads.
From a small “d” democratic perspective, the filibuster is indefensible; indeed, no state legislature anywhere in the country operates this way.
But its supporters – currently led by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky – argue that it acts as a check on the untrammeled will of a majority.
Utah U.S. Senator Mitt Romney even advanced an argument to support the filibuster that is the stuff of Democratic nightmares — what if Donald Trump wins in 2024, Republicans control both houses of Congress, and Democrats have no tools to stop them from doing whatever they want?
Support for the filibuster is not just a Republican view – it is also held by some Democrats, including most notably, but not exclusively, by West Virginia U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. Until recently, it was held by Biden himself.
Manchin, who as a former secretary of state once oversaw elections in his home state, has expressed support for the underlying voting rights legislation. Indeed, the version the Senate is now considering, the Freedom to Vote Act, was written by Manchin as part of a quixotic quest to find a bipartisan way forward.
But Manchin has made it clear that even though he wrote the bill, he won’t blow up the filibuster to get it passed, and he wants any change in Senate rules to be made on a bipartisan basis, which McConnell has made clear isn’t going to happen.
Biden apparently believes that his Atlanta speech – which cast the senators’ filibuster vote not in institutional Senate terms but as a moral issue of right or wrong, justice or injustice – will change Manchin’s mind, even though the West Virginian has given little indication he’s receptive to that argument.
Biden and Harris drew a rhetorical line in the sand, with sharp language; Biden went so far as to liken opponents of moving forward with voting rights legislation to George Wallace and Jefferson Davis. The president and vice present took an unambiguous, firm stand that will no doubt please the Democratic base and voting rights activists, some of whom boycotted the speech to protest what they see as lack of action from the White House.
But the line having been drawn, it is also unclear what the next steps might be if Manchin and other Democrats balk at the filibuster reform needed to get the bills through. There can be political benefit in trying and failing; there’s much less political wisdom in trying something when there isn’t a clear way forward.
In his speech, Biden also castigated Republican senators for unanimously opposing this voting rights legislation, contrasting that position with the actions of Republican senators in the past (including Strom Thurmond) and Republican presidents who supported extensions of the Voting Rights Act.
Yet, that denies the reality that some Republican senators’ objections are not to voting rights per se but specific parts of this legislation, including limits on partisan gerrymandering, greater federal oversight of state elections, changes to campaign financing laws, and a fund to match donor contributions to political campaigns.
Opposing creation of a vehicle to lavish more money to the political grifter class, or defending the primacy of states in election administration as set out in the Constitution, does not make someone Bull Connor. Romney and Maine’s Susan Collins are not opposing this because they are power-mad racists bent on the destruction of democracy, and, one might argue, casting them as such isn’t likely to change their minds.
Democrats have a strong argument here that Republican efforts to change voting laws aren’t necessary because the rationale on which they are based – that the 2020 election was rife with fraud – is specious. It is also the case that the changes will make it more difficult for Democrats to win elections in Georgia, Florida, Texas and elsewhere, which Democrats should oppose out of plain common sense.
But the ultimate success of Biden and Harris’s sound and fury — casting the fight over this legislation as a black-or-white moral imperative and its opponents as maliciously misguided — is rather less clear.
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Trump’s sway will be key metric in outcome of midterm elections across region
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
(CFP) — 2022 has dawned, and with it a mid-term election year in which most Southern states will decide who gets to be their governor and congressional races across the region will play a key role in deciding which party controls Congress.
Of the eight Southern states with open races for governor this year, seven will feature incumbents seeking re-election, with the only open race in Arkansas, where former Donald Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders appears on her way to victory.
Nine U.S. Senate seats will be up, with open races in Alabama and North Carolina and Georgia Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock battling for a full term after winning a special election runoff in 2020.
Here is a look at some of the hottest races, and likely biggest political stories, of the upcoming year.
The redrawing of new U.S. House maps after reapportionment has set up two Southern primary contests, one in each party, where incumbents will need to defeat a current colleague to stay in Congress.
In Georgia, Republican mapmakers have pitted Democratic U.S. Reps. Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux against each other in Atlanta’s suburbs. McBath’s existing district in the northwest suburbs became too Republican for her to survive; Bourdeaux’s in the northeast suburbs actually became more Democratic with the addition of areas that had been in McBath’s orbit.
The two women — who campaigned with each other in 2018 and 2020 and differ little politically — will face off in what is likely to be an expensive primary. McBath has a stronger national profile and fundraising operation, but the district now centers on Gwinnett County, which Bourdeaux currently represents.
One caveat is that voting rights groups are suing the block the new map, which, if successful, could provide a wrinkle ahead of the March filing deadline.
In West Virginia, the loss of one of the state’s three U.S. House seats sets up a primary contest between Republican U.S. Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney for a new district that includes the northern half of the state.
However, this race will have more of an ideological flavor than the primary in Georgia. Mooney, a former Washington lobbyist who moved to the state in 2014 from Maryland to run for Congress, is a member of the ultra-conservative, anti-establishment Freedom Caucus. McKinley, a seventh-generation West Virginian and former state party chair, is more aligned with the Republican Party’s establishment wing.
Expect to hear a great deal in this race about McKinley’s vote in favor of establishing a bipartisan commission to investigation the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, which Mooney opposed.
The Power of Trump
The former president has already been active in offering endorsements and pursuing revenge, particularly against Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for refusing to indulge his claims of widespread fraud in the state’s 2020 vote.
Trump recruited former U.S. Senator David Perdue to run against Kemp, setting off what is likely to be a bare-knuckled brawl in the Republican primary ahead of a stiff challenge from Democrat Stacey Abrams. He also endorsed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice’s bid to unseat Raffensperger.
And in one of the strangest early developments of the 2020 campaign, Trump also reportedly encouraged his former ambassador to Slovenia, Lindy Blanchard, to drop out of the U.S. Senate race to run instead against the very popular Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, in a fit of pique over cancellation of a July 4th Trump rally (a decision Ivey did not actually make.)
Trump has also waded into the attorney general’s race in Texas with an endorsement of incumbent Ken Paxton, who has drawn a gaggle of primary challengers (including Bush family scion George P. Bush and stalwart pro-Trump U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert) after a criminal indictment and FBI bribery investigation.
Taking down Ivey would seem a long shot at this point; Kemp is holding his own against Perdue in early polls; and Paxton race seems likely to be headed to an unpredictable runoff in March. So it remains to be seen whether the Trump endorsement machine will produce results in 2022.
Trump has also endorsed in three U.S. Senate races. In Georgia, his nod put Herschel Walker on a glide path to the Republican nomination, but his chosen candidates in Alabama (U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks) and North Carolina (U.S. Rep. Ted Budd) are facing tough primary battles against more establishment candidates.
Adding to the MAGA Squad
Trump’s election has led to the rise of a core group of MAGA-philes in the House – social media savvy, outspoken, and willing to pounce on fellow Republicans who display the slightest scrap of bipartisanship. Among this group are Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, Florida’s Matt Gaetz, the aforementioned Gohmert and Brooks, and North Carolina’s Madison Cawthorn.
In 2022, they are hoping to add to their numbers by offering endorsements and fundraising help to like-minded candidates across the South and around the country, which will put them in position to be power brokers if Republicans take control of the House (a prospect likely to give House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy heartburn.)
Some of these candidates are little known and will face tough climbs against incumbent Republicans. But it is worth noting that both Greene and Cawthorn followed this same playbook successfully in 2020, going from unknowns to the halls of Congress with lightning speed.
Southern Black Woman in the U.S. Senate?
No black woman has ever been elected to represent a Southern state in the Senate. This year, Democrats are poised to pick two black women as their Senate nominees – U.S. Rep. Val Demings in Florida and Cheri Beasley in North Carolina.
Demings, the former police chief of Orlando who served on the first House impeachment committee that investigated Trump, faces an uphill climb against Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, particularly with his strong core of support among Hispanic voters in South Florida. But with her national profile, she has been posting strong fundraising numbers that could make the race competitive.
Beasley, the former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, may have better prospects in running for an open seat in a race where Republicans are slogging through a multi-candidate race in which Trump has intervened in favor of Budd.
A victory by either in November will make history.
Palmetto State “RINOs”
The most serious insult that can be hurled in Republican politics these days is to call someone a RINO – a Republican in Name Only.
Two incumbent U.S. House members in South Carolina have been branded with the RINO label by their critics – Nancy Mace in the Lowcountry and Tom Rice in the Pee Dee – and are each facing multiple challengers in their respective Republican primaries.
Mace was among the few Republican House members to offer criticism of Trump after the January 6th Capitol attack, although she did not vote to impeach him. Rice did, which got him censured by the state’s Republican Party, and he compounded his sin among the MAGA fervency by supporting the bipartisan commission to investigate the attacks.
As a result, Mace has four GOP challengers; Rice has 12. Trump has encouraged their challengers but has yet to announce a favorite. His blessing may be good enough to earn a runoff slot against the incumbent.
Thinking Outside The Box
After Warnock won a January special U.S. Senate election runoff in Georgia, he immediately become the Republicans’ primary 2022 target. Yet, no sitting U.S. House member ventured to take him on, nor did the three Republicans who ran against him in 2020.
Enter Herschel Walker, University of Georgia football hero and NFL standout. Though he carries significant personal baggage and has not a whiff of political experience, he does have the one accessory every Republican candidate wants in 2022 – Trump’s blessing.
Trump’s endorsement didn’t clear the primary field, but it did get Republican Senate leaders in Washgington behind Walker’s candidacy – taking a significant leap of faith in a race against a charismatic Democrat with Obama-level political skills.
Is this a gamble that will pay off or blow up? The answer may decide control of the Senate.
Beto O’Crist for Governor
The good people of Texas told Beto O’Rourke that they didn’t want him to be their senator in 2018, even after he spent $80 million trying to persuade them otherwise. The good people of Iowa and New Hampshire told him they didn’t want him to be their president in 2020, without nearly as much money going down the drain.
But not willing to take no and no for an answer, O’Rourke is back again, running this time for governor against incumbent Republican Greg Abbott. Only this time, he’s running in the gun-loving Lone Star State after telling a Democratic presidential debate audience that he was in favor of confiscating their assault weapons.
But lest you think Beto is the region’s most resolute embracer of questionable causes, he pales in comparison to Florida’s well-tanned political chameleon Charlie Crist, who is running for governor again this year after losing two statewide races in the past eight years and metamorphosing from a conservative Republican into an independent and then into a liberal Democrat.
Which begs the question: What part of “no” don’t you understand?
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West Virginia senator drops bomb in TV interview, enraging Democratic left and earning White House rebuke
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) – For more than five months, the political class, and the chattering class, in Washington have been obsessed with one question: Will West Virginia Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin support President Joe Biden’s ambitious $2 trillion Build Back Better plan, or won’t he?
In one of the year’s most dramatic political interviews, Manchin gave his final answer Sunday morning.
Joe’s a no. And with every Republican in the Senate also opposed, his no – if he doesn’t change his mind – deals a death blow to the bill in the evenly divided chamber.
“If I can’t go home and explain it to the people of West Virginia, I can’t vote for it,” Manchin said on Fox News Sunday. “And I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t.”
Moderator Brett Baier, who appeared to be taken aback by Manchin’s bombshell, asked, “This is a no?”
“This is no,” Manchin quietly repeated.
His announcement came at the end of a tense week of negotiations over Build Back Better before senators left town for their Christmas break. Manchin had been the subject of intense media attention and pressure from colleagues and the White House, prompting the usually amiable lawmaker to lose his temper at one point and shout an explicative at a reporter.
Politico reported that just before he was about to go on the air Sunday, Manchin dispatched an aide to the White House to let administration officials know what was about to happen – and then rebuffed a phone call to try to get him to change his mind.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki then released a statement with extraordinarily strong language aimed at a senator from the president’s own party.
“Senator Manchin’s comments this morning on Fox are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances,” Psaki said. “They represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the President and the Senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate.”
Manchin explained that his decision was driven by concerns about inflation, the federal debt, and the looming specter that the COVID-19 omicron variant will extend the duration and severity of the pandemic.
He also complained that Democrats pushing the bill were trying to disguise the full, eventual cost of the total package by artificially phasing out provisions after short periods of time, rather than funding a smaller, more affordable package of priorities for a 10-year period.
“That’s not being genuine with my constituents in West Virginia,” he said, pointing to a Congressional Budget Office estimate that fully funding all of the priorities in the bill for 10 years would cost $4.5 trillion.
But those explanations fell flat with many of his Democratic colleagues, who erupted at the news of his decision.
“I think he’s going to have a lot of explaining to do to the people of West Virginia, to tell them why he doesn’t have the guts to take on the drug companies to lower the costs of prescription drugs, why he is not prepared to expand home health care” said Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union.
U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the House Progressive Caucus, said Manchin “has betrayed his commitment not only to the President and Democrats in Congress but most importantly, to the American people.”
“He routinely touts that he is a man of his word, but he can no longer say that. West Virginians, and the country, see clearly who he is,” Jayapal said in a statement posted on Twitter.
Texas U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett likened Manchin to the Grinch who “just stole Christmas for many and don’t expect any last minute Dr. Seuss happy ending.”
“After 6 months of talking and talking, Joe Manchin finally made it unequivocal … he’s with the Republicans,” Doggett said in a Tweet. “What an outrage!”
Lawmakers on the Democratic left who style themselves as “Progressives” were particularly irked because they reluctantly agreed to go along with a bipartisan infrastructure bill that Manchin supported in exchange for a promise from Biden to push Build Back Better through the Senate.
However, New York U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez — who refused to go along with that bargain — tweeted out an I-told-you-so after Manchin’s appearance on Fox.
“People can be mad at Manchin all they want, but we knew he would do this months ago,” she tweeted. “Where we need answers from are the leaders who promised a path on [Build Back Better] if [infrastructure] passed: Biden & Dem leaders … So they need to fix it.”
Sanders said he wants the Senate to vote on Build Back Better, even if it fails, saying if Manchin “doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world.”
However, Manchin told Baier that he has no problem with a Senate vote on the bill – which he will oppose.
“I’ve tried everything humanly possible,” he said. “I can’t get there.”
Manchin’s no is unlikely to harm him politically in West Virginia. Even though the state has many economically disadvantaged residents who would benefit from Biden’s social spending, it is also deeply conservative, handing Biden a 39-point loss in 2020.
Manchin, who is 74, is also not up for re-election until 2024 and has been non-committal on whether he’ll run again.
However, Manchin’s increasingly bitter dispute with members of his own party is likely to heighten speculation that he might change parties (which he has dismissed) or leave the Democrats to become independent, which he had previously offered to do if he became a “problem” for his caucus.
A party switch would flip control of the Senate to Republicans, which could also happen if he left to become an independent but caucused with the GOP.
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Perdue launches primary fight with incumbent after Donald Trump’s encouragement
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
ATLANTA (CFP) – Former Georgia U.S. Senator David Perdue is running to unseat fellow Republican and former political ally Governor Brian Kemp in next May’s party primary, setting off what’s likely to be a contentious and divisive battle armed with an endorsement from Donald Trump.
Perdue launched his campaign in a December 6 video, in which he said Kemp can’t beat likely Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams and blaming him, rather than Trump, for the loss of two U.S. Senate runoffs in January.
“I like Brian. This isn’t personal. It’s simple. He failed all of us and cannot win in November,” Perdue said. “If our governor was ever going to fight for us, wouldn’t ne have done it already?”
Perdue also cast the prospect of Abrams as governor in apocalyptic terms.
“Make no mistake – Abrams will smile, lie and cheat to try and transform Georgia into her radical vision of the state that would look more like California or New York,” he said. “Over my dead body will we ever give Stacey Abrams control of our elections again.”
Video of Perdue’s announcement at end of story
Perdue, 71, was elected to the Senate in 2014. He lost his seat in January when he was defeated by Democratic U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff in a runoff.
He and his politically connected family had, until Monday’s announcement, been allies of Kemp. Perdue’s cousin, former Governor Sonny Perdue, appointed Kemp as secretary of state in 2010 and helped persuade Trump to endorse Kemp during his first run for governor in 2018.
One of the key issues in the primary campaign will be who is responsible for Republicans losing both Perdue’s seat and the seat of Kelly Loeffler in the January runoffs, which came two months after Joe Biden became the first Democrat to carry Georgia in 28 years.
In his launch video, Perdue implied that the decision by Kemp and Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to enter into a consent agreement with a voting rights group led by Abrams about verification of absentee ballot signatures led to the GOP’s defeat – a theory Trump has repeatedly advanced.
“Instead of protecting our elections, he caved into Abrams and cost us two Senate seats, the Senate majority, and gave Joe Biden free rein,” he said.
However, three different audits of Georgia’s 2020 election results have turned up no evidence of absentee ballot fraud. And results of the runoffs show that Perdue and Loeffler may have been done in by weak Republican turnout, after weeks of claims by Trump that state elections couldn’t be trusted.
Both Kemp and Raffensperger, who is in charge of state elections, refused to go along with attempts by Trump to overturn the state’s results, which are now the subject of a criminal investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.
Trump turned on both Kemp and Raffensperger after the November election and has been encouraging primary challengers to unseat both of them. He enthusiastically greeted the news of Perdue’s candidacy and offered what he termed “my Complete and Total Endorsement.”
“This will be very interesting, and I can’t imagine that Brian Kemp, who has hurt election integrity in Georgia so badly, can do well at the ballot box (unless the election is rigged, of course),” Trump said in a statement.
There was no immediate response from Kemp to Perdue’s announcement, although the Washington Post quoted a Kemp spokesman as saying Perdue was running to “soothe his own bruised ego” after losing the Senate race.
As Kemp and Perdue battle it out on the Republican side, Abrams – who lost to Kemp by 55,000 votes in 2018 — is likely to face only token opposition in her primary, allowing her to save money for the November general election.
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Former state legislator narrowly lost to Republican Governor Brian Kemp in 2018
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
ATLANTA (CFP) — Democrat Stacey Abrams has launched a new bid for Georgia governor, setting up a possible rematch with Republican Governor Brian Kemp — if he can get through his party’s primary in the face of fierce opposition from Donald Trump.
Abrams, 47, a former state legislator who founded a voting rights group after her 2018 loss to Kemp, announced her candidacy in a video posted on Twitter December 1, reviving the “one Georgia” theme that was central to her 2018 campaign.
“If our Georgia is going to move to its next and greatest chapter, we’re going to need leadership,” she said. “Leadership that knows how to do the job. Leadership that doesn’t take credit without also taking responsibility. Leadership that understands the true pain folks are felling and has real plans.”
In 2018, Abrams lost to Kemp by 55,000 votes, coming closer to winning the governorship than any Democrat had in two decades. She acknowledged Kemp’s win but refused to formally concede, alleging that voting suppression tactics had tainted the outcome.
At the time, Kemp was in charge of state elections as secretary of state.
After her loss, Abrams founded a voting rights group, Fair Fight, and led an effort to mobilize Democratic voters that was widely credited with Joe Biden’s win in Georgia in 2020 and victories in two U.S. Senate runoffs.
While she is unlikely to face any significant opposition in the Democratic primary, Kemp may not have that luxury.
Trump — angry that Kemp didn’t go along with efforts to overturn the 2020 results in Georgia — has been encouraging Republicans to try to take the governor down in a primary. His criticism has taken a toll on Kemp’s approval rating, which stood at just 42% in a recent Morning Consult poll.
Former U.S. Senator David Perdue is reportedly considering launching a primary challenge, which could plunge Republicans into ugly combat as Abrams stands by turning her national profile into a mountain of cash.
If elected, Abrams would be the first woman and the first person of color to serve as the state’s chief executive. However, Democrats haven’t won a governor’s race since 1998.