Editors’ Blog

Poisoning The Well

We are now down to the crunch time on the Biden agenda. And we don’t know how it will turn out. But there are two aspects of the story which have been quite damaging for the Democrats. They’re worth discussing.

The first is one we’ve discussed before but in a different context. It’s largely a press failure. But it’s one Democrats could do more to fix. For months we’ve had this intra-party debate presented as one between “progressives” and “moderates.” Often that gets personalized as AOC and Bernie versus Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema. This is demonstrably false. The overall package is supported overwhelmingly by Democrats in both chambers and pretty much across all factions. There are some quibbles about SALT taxes and the scope of the climate package. Some more middle-of-the-road Dems resist making some of the social programs permanent. Those are real and potentially consequential differences. But they’re all negotiable. The important point is that this package is the consensus position, supported by virtually everyone. It is after all the President’s agenda. Literally. And, as much as these labels confound more than they clarify, President Biden isn’t from AOC’s wing of the party.

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A Democrat Only Republicans Can Love
Sinema's Been Flagging All Year with Democrats; But She's Built a Strong Constituency with Partisan Republicans.
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 08: U.S. Sen. Kirsten Sinema (D-AZ) heads back to a bipartisan meeting on infrastructure in the basement of the U.S. Capitol building after the original talks fell through with the White House on June 8, 2021 in Washington, DC. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said they are now pursuing a two-path proposal that includes a new set of negotiations with a bipartisan group of senators. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Kirsten Sinema

I saw a few people questioning the Data for Progress poll I which I used as the basis for yesterday’s post about Kyrsten Sinema cratering at home among Democrats. So I decided to dig into some other polling data. Data for Progress is a progressive-aligned organization, as the name suggests. And some skepticism is always warranted when the pollster is in some way an interested party. But Data for Progress is a respected outfit. And my review of data from other pollsters over the last year bears that out. Their numbers are consistent with what other pollsters have found. But there were some more details that helped fill out the picture.

Back in March (March 8th-12th) an Arizona Public Opinion Pulse (AZPOP) poll found a similar picture to what we discussed yesterday. Sinema had very anemic support among Democrats – just 50% favorability – and she wasn’t doing well with independents either. Just 36% of independents viewed her favorably. This came just after Sinema had declared her support for the filibuster and helped tank a minimum wage increase. (Favorability is different from approval. This poll only had the former. But for these purposes it’s a close enough approximation.)

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Where Things Stand: But What If There Was No Debt Ceiling? Prime Badge
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UNITED STATES - AUGUST 9: Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., right, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are seen in the U.S. Capitol on Monday, August 9, 2021. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Mitch McConnell’s dangerous game with the debt ceiling seems to be playing out more or less as intended.

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Big Tent Wrangling

A new episode of The Josh Marshall Podcast is live! This week, Josh and Kate discuss the debt ceiling, impending government shutdown and fate of the two-track infrastructure plan.

Watch below and email us your questions for next week’s episode.

You can listen to the new episode of The Josh Marshall Podcast here.

Another View from Arizona, Annals of Sinema

TPM Reader XX gives us another view on how Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is doing back in Arizona.

I am a longtime TPM subscriber who has known Krysten Sinema since she was running for Phoenix City Council as a Green party candidate. I think your analyses, and that of fellow reader GT, of her behavior are largely on target, though the revelation this morning that the big mail and digital push on her behalf is coming directly from Big Pharma suggests that this, again, is short-term positioning rather than some long-term plan.

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A Few Notes on the State of Play

Last night, with a lead-in from our friend Ed Kilgore, I sketched out what I think must happen for the Democrats to make good on the work of the 2018 and 2020 election cycles and avoid electoral and policy catastrophe. Let me share a few notes on what it appears is happening.

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BFD and STFU – It’s All Down to Biden

Our friend Ed Kilgore has a piece in New York Magazine that’s worth your time to read. The gist is that the Democratic party and its tenuous control of the federal government is at a critical moment of decision. There’s now a very real chance that the President’s whole agenda could go down in flames. Remember 1994 and 2010 and then multiply one times the other. The consequences for the country and the Democratic party will be vast and hard to calculate. This isn’t just about saving Biden’s presidency. That actually gets things backwards. It’s the ability to pass legislation like this that was the point of all the effort that went into the 2018 and 2020 cycles in the first place.

I have a quibble on exactly what Ed says should happen next. But I think it’s largely a tactical one. Big picture we totally agree.

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Where Things Stand: Loudmouthed Former Guv Gets Surprising Endorsement For Comeback Bid Prime Badge

Susan Collins refused to endorse Trump in 2016, and she voted to remove him during his 2020 impeachment trial.

But in 2022, she will be supporting the self-declared proto-Trump Paul LePage. (“I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular,” the former two-term governor of Maine once opined.)

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Yep. Sinema’s Cratering Back Home
before the college football game at Sun Devil Stadium on November 3, 2018 in Tempe, Arizona.

Let me share a few more thoughts on the post from yesterday on Kyrsten Sinema from TPM Reader GT. And here I am not talking about the substantive impact of her stance. I’m talking purely about her own political future, self-aggrandizement, etc.

It makes perfect sense for someone like Sinema to carve out a centrist niche in the Senate. Arizona is purple but just barely, at least for now. It just voted for Biden and now has two Democratic Senators. But Sinema, who was only elected in 2018, is the state’s first Democratic Senator since Dennis DeConcini. He retired in 1994 but he was first elected all the way back in 1976, almost 45 years ago. Arizona may be trending blue but it’s just at the beginning of the trend.

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Policy vs Positioning Has Dems in a Stalemate

On Capitol Hill – among the Democrats alone since the Republicans have absented themselves from the process – we’re seeing one of those legislative stand-offs that seem insoluble and which, for the Democrats, raises the real risk of disaster. These crises tend to resolve themselves, eventually. Because both sides eventually see that they’re courting disaster and draw back from the brink.

But there’s something a bit different this time. And it’s worth teasing out what that is.

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Where Things Stand: McConnell’s Not Biting Prime Badge
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WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 12: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) walks through the Senate subway on his way to the fourth day of the Senates second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on February 12, 2021 in Washington, DC. Trump’s defense team begins their presentation of the defense that Trump should not be held responsible for the January 6th attack at the U.S. Capitol on First Amendment grounds and the fact that he is no longer in office. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Mitch McConnell

We covered a report over the weekend about ex-President Trump’s ambition to boot longtime Republican leader Mitch McConnell out of office. McConnell has refused to comment on the news, a stance first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, and he shrugged again today.

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Sinema Cueing Up To Go Indy (Must Read)

Absolutely fascinating look at Kyrsten Sinema’s efforts to position herself as an independent in Arizona, possibly formally but definitely in effect. It makes pretty clear she’s not done with politics or angling for a high dollar lobbying gig, as some speculate. She thinks she can be a latter-day McCain and build her political brand on that basis, likely looking for a promotion above the Senate. TPM Reader GT, a registered independent in Arizona, walks us through the view from in-state as well as the mailers he’s been getting on Sinema’s behalf from something called the “Center Forward” PAC run out of New Jersey and chaired by former Alabama Rep. Bud Cramer (D).

I remain pretty confident that Sinema has misjudged the politics. But as GT makes clear, there’s no question she has a plan and is following it in a very considered way.
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Walking the Crumbling Firmament

There was a time in the life of this site when its focus was at least as much foreign and national security policy as domestic and electoral politics. But that hasn’t been the case for well over a decade. Indeed, when it came time to build out a staff for TPM beyond just me in the 2005-07 era we never saw either topic as part of our core purview. The one exception to this was when Spencer Ackerman worked for TPM (virtually everyone worked for TPM at one point or another). But we hired Spencer in a sense in spite of his foreign policy/national security focus. He’s just so good and I had an opportunity to bring him on so I did. The fact that his core focus wasn’t really our core focus … well, we just decided we’d make it work and we largely did. (Definitely check out his just-released, years-in-the-making new book.)

In any case, foreign policy and national security policy isn’t our thing and it’s not going to become our thing. But just in the last few weeks I’ve had the sense – foreboding as much as anything – that it’s moving back to the center of our national life. Maybe it won’t be in terms of focus for the average American but it probably should be.

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Where Things Stand: Gun Couple Might Lose Their Law Licenses Prime Badge
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Mark and Patricia McCloskey leave the Carnahan Couthouse on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, after pleading not guilty to two felony charges each of unlawful use of a weapon and evidence tampering for an incident in June when they pointed guns at protesters in front of their Portland Place home. (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Their gun-waving earned them a coveted speaking gig at the Republican National Convention last year, victimhood status in Trumpworld and the inflated confidence needed to run for Senate in Missouri.

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Kyrsten Sinema’s Final Senate Term

Like many people I spent a lot of time trying to figure out Kyrsten Sinema’s motivations this year. I’ve discussed my conclusions in other posts. But what I’ve focused on more recently is that as near as I can see, unless she shifts her stance pretty dramatically the odds of Sinema being elected to a second Senate term in 2024 are pretty poor. And that’s made me consider another question: does she just misread the politics of her situation that badly or is she not planning on running?

I know I’ve thrown out a few pretty dramatic claims. So let me walk you through my reasoning. Because I think it’s pretty solid.

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Armageddoning with the Democratic Coalition

Presidents usually get their first year big legislative initiatives. Maybe not in total. Maybe not entirely as they’d wished. But certainly most of the time. But there’s no question the President Fiscal/Infrastructure/Climate agenda is facing some serious headwinds. The establishment DC outlets are practically giddy with each new threat from the Senate and House “moderates” to torch the whole agenda. Joe Manchin is back to his demand for a “strategic pause” to delay consideration into a reconciliation package – a gambit that is basically guaranteed to bring the whole program down in flames. Kyrsten Sinema meanwhile, allegedly, threatened in a conversation with the President that she’ll vote against reconciliation if her bipartisan mini-bill doesn’t get a successful vote this month. So she has to get her bird in hand and then she’ll decide if anyone else gets hers.

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Is the Biden Administration Being Too Timid in Combatting Covid?

The main complaint lodged against Donald Trump’s response to the pandemic is that he didn’t “follow the science.” Joe Biden has promised repeatedly to do so. But when it comes to the pandemic, there is a catch: there are conflicting scientific opinions, and our main governmental institutions in charge are having trouble deciding among them. Faced in the last months with the Delta variant, the Biden administration has not performed so well.
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Responding to the Crumbling Firmament #3

From TPM Reader MV

I’m a regular reader, writing in from Australia. I really enjoy reading your analysis and thoughts at TPM. Most of the time I think it’s spot on. But on the topic of the Aukus deal, I think you are missing quite a bit of the picture. So, I thought I’d write in with a contrary view.

First off, this is not really just a choice of submarine propulsion technology. The French offer initially *was* for nuclear boats; the Australian government specifically requested a downgraded diesel/electric version, on the grounds that Australia did not (and still does not) have domestic nuclear capability to build or keep them operational. If our govt had simply decided we needed nuclear after all, they could have just upgraded to the nuclear version of the Barracuda (already in production, and I believe even an option in the contract).

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Responding to the Crumbling Firmament #2

From TPM Reader HP

I was surprised to read Josh’ last edblogs on the French dispute with US and Australia (note:as French foreign minister said, they did not spat with the UK as “they were already used of their duplicity”). Josh’s inputs are usually well balanced and offer interesting arguments and perspective. But these last two articles are instead showing contempt and lack of curiosity. They sound as if Josh was only paraphrasing what a prejudiced friend at the State Department just told him.

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Responding to the Crumbling Firmament #1

From TPM Reader AL

France is upset because it seems that Boris Johnson will be rewarded for his faithlessness by a Biden administration that turns out not to represent the return to sober, reliable allyship that France had expected. Instead it turns out that the international rifts signaled by Brexit and Trump are more permanent than they’d realized, as is the potential for Anglo-European conflict, an insight France gained in an instant — a coup de tonnerre. Of course they’re freaked.

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Crumbling Firmament #2

I’ve now read up a bit more on the particulars of the blow up between the US and France. It basically comports with my original understanding. Australia feels increasingly threatened by China. The Australians contracted with the French five years ago, in a significantly different and less threatening security environment. There were already significant delays and cost overruns with the French subs. But the key is that what the US could offer was demonstrably and critically better technology. A central attribute of attack submarines is that your adversary doesn’t know where they are. The French subs are louder. The Australians had good reason to believe they’d be obsolete on delivery.

To the Australians this must have seemed an open and shut case of critical national security interests against which the anger of the French was an unfortunate but inevitable and acceptable byproduct. A more capably armed Australia, meanwhile, fits neatly into what the Biden White House has made a central feature of its national security policy: countering Chinese ambitions to challenge or displace the US Navy as the dominant naval power in East Asia.

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Crumbling Firmament

France has recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia in what amounts to a tantrum over the newly announced strategic partnership uniting the US with Australia and the United Kingdom. Critically, it means scuttling a deal under which France would provide conventional submarines to Australia for one under which the US will provide nuclear submarines to Australia. As a Great Power the US can do and provide what France simply cannot. And as tensions rise in East Asia, Australia feels it needs the real thing.

This is partly over losing a weapons deal but it seems more a fit of pique over France facing the reality that it is in fact no longer or a Great Power or a Pacific power. Most people have realized this for decades. The whole dust up is at once deeply stupid and yet feels far more consequential and significant than the meagerness of the actual controversy. It seems like one of those moments where the whole global firmament shifts, even though the trigger is risible, the hurt pride of a country which hasn’t come to grips with the 1950s.

To Understand Milley’s Worries We Should Look at the Trump DOJ

Follow-on reporting about General Mark Milley’s crisis talks with his counterpart in the PLA just add more confirmation that these communications were entirely appropriate. We should be thankful they happened. We now know the calls were coordinated with the current and later the acting Secretaries of Defense. So it’s all very much by the book. As Tom Nichols explains here, the US military – and most professional militaries – invest great resources, often over decades, in military to military talks and liaison precisely for moments like this. If you need to make direct contact to defuse a potential crisis it helps a lot to have preexisting relationships in place. All of that investment is geared to moments like the ones described in the Woodward and Costa book.

There are reports that Trump, Mike Pompeo and the then-National Security Advisor didn’t know about Milley’s calls. If that’s true, then that is on the Secretaries of Defense, not Milley.

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Get Real, Folks

Especially since the withdrawal from Afghanistan the insider sheets have been relentlessly hostile to President Biden. Last night the Axios evening headline was “Biden’s China Fail”. Tonight it’s “Scoop: Biden Bombs”. Apparently Biden didn’t convince Joe Manchin to drop his opposition to a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package in their well-publicized-in-advance sit-down at the White House.

Axios’s gloss aside, this does not surprise me. At the most optimistic this is Manchin’s bargaining position going into a critical 6 weeks or so of negotiating within the Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate. Manchin’s just going to give way in advance because Biden asks him to? That makes no sense to me at all.

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‘Crisis Standards’ in Idaho

Facing a wave of COVID hospitalizations Idaho today activated its ‘crisis standards of care’ for the entire state. In effect this means a system of rationing care based on who is most likely to survive rather than who is in most immediate need of medical care.

“The situation is dire — we don’t have enough resources to adequately treat the patients in our hospitals, whether you are there for COVID-19 or a heart attack or because of a car accident,” state health director Dave Jeppesen said in an afternoon press release.

The California Recall and Mail-in Voting

From a distance, I hadn’t focused on the importance of mail-in voting for the result of Tuesday’s California recall election. I am not saying that Newsom owes his win to that. I think the more important factors are the ones we discussed yesterday. But it clearly played some role in sky-high turnout for an off-schedule election. Articles in the LA Times and NY Times illustrate some of the dynamics.

California has continued with a temporary, COVID-era mail-in voting regime. In the recall every registered voter who had voted in a recent election was mailed a ballot. You could also vote in person. But basically every regular voter could vote by dropping a ballot in the mail – a very easy choice and easy lift for anyone who wanted to.

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Where Things Stand: There Have Been 500,000 Child COVID Cases In Last 2 Weeks Prime Badge
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The American Academy of Pediatrics has new data on the number of COVID-19 infections among children in recent weeks. The statistics are stunning. While 5.3 million children total have contracted COVID since the pandemic hit the U.S. last year, August and September were particularly infectious months for children, according to the new report.

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California Said No

A new episode of The Josh Marshall Podcast is live! This week, Josh and Kate discuss the failed effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the President’s meetings with a certain couple of senators who are threatening his whole agenda.

Watch below and email us your questions for next week’s episode.

You can listen to the new episode of The Josh Marshall Podcast here.

The Urgency Gap
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: President Donald Trump is seen on a screen as his supporters cheer during a rally on the National Mall on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Trump supporters gathered in the nation's capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Donald Trump

It would seem that the Trumpian made-up threats to democracy — Deep State, mass election fraud, etc. — are taken much more seriously by Republicans than the actual threats to democracy — insurrection, Big Lie, political violence — are by Democrats.

As Cristina flagged in the Morning Memo, a new CNN poll shows Republicans are much more likely (75%) to say that democracy is under attack than Democrats (46%).

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Where Things Stand: Pastor Trades Vax Exemptions For Church Dues Prime Badge
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Jackson Lahmeyer is a Tulsa-based 29-year-old pastor, small business owner and GOP candidate challenging Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) in 2022. And he’ll get you out of getting the COVID-19 vaccine for religious reasons if you pay the right price.

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