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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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House Judiciary Committee can now sue to force compliance with requests for documents, testimony
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — In the first major test of how Southern Democrats in vulnerable seats will navigate through ongoing House investigations of President Donald Trump, all of them stuck to the party line in supporting new powers that could escalate those inquiries.
All 10 Southern House Democrats who flipped seats in 2018 and are at the top of the GOP hit list in 2020 agreed to give the committee the power to sue to force compliance, although none of them yet support moving toward impeaching the president.
That list includes Reps. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina; Lucy McBath of Georgia; Kendra Horn of Oklahoma; Elaine Luria, Jennifer Wexton and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia; Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher of Texas; and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala of Florida.
Not a single Southern Republican supported the resolution, including 11 GOP members who are on the Democrats’ target list for 2020.
The resolution is aimed squarely at Attorney General William Barr, who has refused to comply with some document requests, and former White House counsel Don McGahn, who has refused to testify at a committee hearing under instructions fro the White House.
The resolution ratchets up the pressure on the Trump administration, as an increasing number of House Democrats are calling for an impeachment inquiry.
While none of the Southern Democrats in competitive seats have so far come out in favor of an impeachment inquiry, 14 members in safe seats have done so.
That list includes Steve Cohen of Tennessee; Val Demings of Florida; Veronica Escobar, Sheila Jackson Lee, Joaquin Castro, Lloyd Doggett, Al Green, and Filemon Vela of Texas; Cedric Richmond of Louisiana; Alma Adams and G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina; Don Beyer of Virginia; Bennie Thompson of Mississippi; and John Yarmuth of Kentucky.
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Rulings may leave current maps will be in place until after reapportionment in 2021
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Republican legislators in Texas and North Carolina have both dodged a bullet after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to invalidate congressional maps in both states that lower courts had struck down as illegally gerrymandered.
In the Texas case, the justices rejected a claim that state legislators impermissibly used race to draw electoral maps. In the North Carolina case, they vacated a lower court decision holding that the state’s map unconstitutionally diluted the voting strength of Democrats and ordered the case to be reconsidered.
The high court’s June 25 decisions mean that neither state is likely to face a court-ordered redraw in this election cycle. And while the North Carolina case could be reconsidered for the 2020 election, the ruling in the Texas case likely means that the current map will be used until after new maps are drawn in 2021, based on the results of the 2020 census.
In their decison in the Texas case, the justices ruled 5-to-4 that a lower court erred in finding back in 2017 that a congressional map and state House maps adopted in 2013 should be struck down because they were impermissibly drawn using racial considerations. The Supreme Court had put that ruling on hold while it considered the state’s appeal.
The two congressional districts involved in the lawsuit were the 27th District, which stretches along the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi toward Houston, and the 35th District, which covers parts of Austin and San Antonio linked by a narrow strip of land.
The lower court’s objection to the 27th District was the GOP-controlled legislature reduced the Latino population from 70 percent to around 50 percent. The objection to the 35 District was that legislators used race to create a district that is more than 70 percent Latino and African American, reducing minority populations in surrounding districts.
The 27th District, currently vacant, has been held by Republicans since it was redrawn. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a white Democrat from Austin, represents the 35th District.
In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said the evidence offered by the plaintiffs “is plainly insufficient to prove that the 2013 Legislature acted in bad faith and engaged in intentional discrimination.” The justices did uphold a ruling that a Texas House district in Fort Worth was an impermissible racial gerrymander.
But in her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the court’s decision means minority voters in Texas “will continue to be underrepresented in the political process.”
“Those voters must return to the polls in 2018 and 2020 with the knowledge that their ability to exercise meaningfully their right to vote has been burdened by the manipulation of district lines specifically designed to target their communities and minimize their political will,” she wrote.
In the North Carolina case, the justices vacated a 2018 ruling by a three-judge panel that the congressional map adopted by Republican legislators in 2016 was unconstitutional because it diluted the voting strength of Democrats — the first time that a federal court had ever struck down a congressional map on the grounds of political, rather than racial, gerrymandering.
The Supreme Court had also put that ruling on hold while it considered an appeal.
The Tar Heel State’s map had been redrawn in 2016 after a previous map had been struck down for improperly using racial considerations. GOP lawmakers freely admitted that they were drawing lines to maximize the number of Republican-friendly seats, which the lower court found was evidence of unconstitutional partisan taint.
The Supreme Court sent the case back to North Carolina to be reconsidered in light of a ruling earlier this year in case involving a partisan gerrymander in Wisconsin. In that case, the high court sidestepped the question of whether drawing maps that favor one party over another can be found unconstitutional, returning the case to a lower court on narrow jurisdictional grounds.
The court’s order did not indicate how, or if, justices were split on the merits of the case.
While North Carolina is divided fairly evenly in presidential races and has a Democratic governor, Republicans hold a commanding 10-to-3 margin in the U.S. House delegation.
Texas, which leans more Republican, has 24 Republicans and 11 Democrats in its delegation, with one seat vacant.
All of the no-shows represent districts carried by Hillary Clinton
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Thirteen of the 40 Southern Democrats in the U.S. House have announced that they will not take part in the January 20 inauguration of Donald Trump.
Lawmakers from Florida, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia are among the no-shows. All of the boycotting members represent urban or black-majority districts that were carried by Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s tweets castigating U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, for announcing an inauguration boycott seemed to particularly rankle some of the members opting not to attend; Trump’s reaction was called “repugnant,” “ignorant,” and “insensitive and foolish.”
“We are sending a message to Mr. Trump. Respect, like Pennsylvania Avenue, is a two-way street,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, who will be among the no-shows.
However, none of the three other Democrats in Lewis’s own Georgia delegation have joined the boycott. Also not joining so far is U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who, as head of the Democratic National Committee during the presidential campaign, had been a sharp Trump critic.
As for the contention by Trump supporters that the inauguration is a celebration not of him but of the peaceful transfer of power, U.S. Rep. Julian Castro, D-Texas, said, “Every American should respect the office of the presidency and the fact that Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. But winning an election does not mean a man can show contempt for millions of Americans and then expect those very people to celebrate him.”
U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia, said Trump’s “behavior and harmful words during and after the campaign have left the country I love with open, bleeding wounds. Instead of binding those wounds, he has poured salt on them. Instead of unifying us, he has reveled in driving wedges between us.”
Trump won 108 of the 154 congressional districts across the South in the November election; none of them are represented by Democrats.
Lawmakers boycotting the inaugural are unlikely to pay a political price, as all but two of them represent districts that Clinton carried with at least 60 percent of the vote. However, U.S. Reps. Darren Soto, D-Florida, and John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, come from districts where Clinton’s share was just 55 percent.
The list of boycotting Democrats includes:
- John Lewis, D-Atlanta
- John Yarmuth, D-Louisville
- Bennie Thompson, D-Jackson
- Steve Cohen, D-Memphis
- Gerry Connolly, D-Fairfax County