Editors’ Blog

Where Things Stand: Fox News–GOP Megamerger Continues At CPAC Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JANUARY 17:  Fox Network logo is displayed during the 2005 Television Critics Winter Press Tour at the Hilton Universal Hotel on January 17, 2005 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Fox

Long gone are the excuses of yesteryear that a Fox News personality’s seemingly partisan appearance was merely a journalist performing his or her journalistic duties.

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Your COVID Moments #7 Prime Badge

From TPM Reader PI

I’m retired, and before Covid, I visited and cared for my mother every day in a nearby memory care facility. She’s in late-stage Alzheimer’s. I took her to nearby parks, manicurists, restaurants and of course doctor visits and hospital stays when she had seizures. I helped her shower and trimmed her hair, joined her in group activities, sat with her in her facility’s garden, or in her room, watching television. I also spent many a time helping her through the fears, delusions or violence that dementia can trigger, then working with her doctor, psychiatrist and neurologist to find the right meds balance to keep her seizure-free and calm.

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Your COVID Moments #6 Prime Badge

From TPM Reader BA

Last year I worked at a law firm, the type started by three guys in the later 80s who decided to never change how they did business. In February I was starting to get concerned about COVID and asked one of the partners what plans the firm had to adjust. The answer was more or less “nothing”. My wife’s company, like many others, instituted a company-wide work from home policy in early March, while the direction at my office was just “Everything’s fine, try to avoid in-person contact while in the office.” Keep in mind that this was an office which previous denied people the ability to work from home unless there was some family emergency.

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Notes on Your COVID Moments

In these COVID moments posts I’ve been doing, as you can see, I’ve been publishing some that aren’t so much moments as people’s descriptions of how their lives changes beginning in February and much. There’s a subset of those which touch on how their lives changed for the better, or if not better than some relief from what had come before. In some cases, it’s ‘I had a sucky job. I got laid off and now I have a much better job.’ In other cases they’re much more heart-rending and poignant. A few of those are on the way.

Please keep your notes coming.

All Cylinders Prime Badge

The Biden White House has brokered a deal between Johnson & Johnson and Merck that will have the latter company produce additional supplies of the recently approved J&J vaccines. The Post reports that the President will use the Defense Production Act to give Merck priority in purchasing equipment to ramp up for production.

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Your Covid Moments #5 Prime Badge

TPM Reader AA went back through his records and sent me a tick-tock of the lead up to lockdown in early March. He’s planning the trip of a lifetime to Japan for he and his wife’s 25th wedding anniversary. That’s in late March. Son is home from college. A stream of anecdotes, most of which are captured in this sentence of his: “We couldn’t decide if we were being smart or paranoid.”

And then he comes to this …
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Your COVID Moments #4 … “Our profession was gone in a night.” Prime Badge

From TPM Reader AM

My wife and I are both (or were) freelance musicians in Chicago. At this time last year, I was playing in the pit of a musical at a theatre in downtown Chicago. I had been following the news about the coronavirus with increasing dread throughout February—partly because there were early covid cases in Chicago in January, partly because I was playing in front of 500 people 8 performances a week, but most of all because it was easy to see that the federal response was currently and was going to continue to be maliciously incompetent. Our first panic grocery shop was the third week of February, by which point I had insisted that my octogenarian parents cancel all possible outside activities (including the choir they sang in) and skip the performance of the show that they were planning on attending on March 15.

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Your COVID Moments #3 … “Thus began the most difficult year of my professional life.” Prime Badge

From TPM Reader SW

I suppose, in retrospect, my “COVID moment” came a little late. I’m a union lawyer by trade, and at the moment I represent performing artists who work for non-profit arts organizations across the country. I was dealing with any number of quotidian crises in early 2020 and, as an long-suffering hypochondriac, I had more or less outsourced worrying about COVID to family and friends until it forced itself into my consciousness. So my reckoning came, along with a lot of the country, on March 11, though I think I probably had a few hours’ head start.

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Your COVID Moments #2 Prime Badge

From TPM Reader PL

I lived in Beijing for 5 years and had just left a job working for a Chinese company involved in international trade’s New York office. I saw all my friends in China reacting and realized that it was a big deal, and my wider social network of people who were from or had lived in China were all paying attention to it starting in January. I’d been in Beijing during the swine flu outbreak and knew the Chinese government didn’t fuck around with outbreaks. But when they locked down Wuhan and surrounding areas during Spring Festival, by far the largest travel holiday in the world, I knew it was going to be enormous. It’s not just that it’s an enormous metro-region, but it’s a huge rail transit hub and hundreds of millions of people travel by rail during the holiday. Imagine shutting Chicago O’hare Airport down during Thanksgiving times a thousand.

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Just F’ This Guy? Prime Badge

Even though I wasn’t the one covering it for TPM, I was waiting to hear ex-President Trump’s speech last night because he remains, even after the presidency, a looming presence in our national politics. I watched. I listened to him brag. I listened to his standard barrage of lies about immigration. And then I thought, “Fuck this guy. I don’t need to hear this.” I turned off the feed and went to work on a woodworking project.

This might be a normal response for some. But it’s not for me. When everyone else was treating Trump as a joke I said it was folly to ignore him. Within weeks of his getting into the race in 2015, I thought he’d win the Republican nomination. Indeed, long before Trump, in most everything written at TPM I’ve pressed a basic point. There is a breed of quaint liberal myopia that says that if we just ‘don’t give oxygen’ to awful people that will somehow make them go away, like a toddler who think covering his eyes means you can’t see him. We’re told we shouldn’t “amplify” the likes of Donald Trump. This is all congenial, well-intentioned nonsense – the sort of head in the sand thinking that lets you wake up one day and not now how we ended up with Donald Trump being President.

And yet here, nope.

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Where Things Stand: The Problem With Just Asking Questions Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) chose to use his time during a Senate hearing on the Capitol riot last week to read a Federalist column that made unsubstantiated claims about antifa being involved in the insurrection — giving a national megaphone to conspiracy theories about the deadly attack that have been floated by Republicans since Jan. 6.

But now he claims he’s just asking questions ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Your Stories Prime Badge

I’m reading through your descriptions of your ‘moment’ with COVID, as we hit the one year mark. They are fascinating to read and incredibly edifying for me in putting the story in context as news and history. Please keep them coming. I will be publishing many of them, as you can see below.

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Your Covid Moments #1 Prime Badge

From TPM Reader JT

For me, the day the stock market crashed—March 9th. I went to the grocery store (HEB in San Antonio) and found it in bedlam. I’m afraid I acted like a Karen–I sent a letter of apology to the manager later–but it was just like being slapped in the face seeing everyone scrambling for milk, eggs, and toilet paper. Sheer panic mode.

I went home and stayed inside. My sons brought groceries for the first month or so, but when we saw how long it was going to last, I began doing curbside pickup, and have continued that to this day.

A Preview of Reopening Prime Badge

There’s an interesting preview in Israel right now of what we might see over the summer months as vaccines allow the US to unwind the patchwork of restrictions and mitigation of the COVID epidemic. A stunning 82% of the over 50 population has already been vaccinated. Israel is far away moving the fastest to vaccinate their whole population. But in recent days they’re seeing an uptick in the spread coefficient of the disease. The “R” value is now at .99 and that’s before the impact of Purim, which may be seen as roughly equivalent of Thanksgiving or Christmas in terms of people congregating together.

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When Was Your Moment? Prime Badge

We are either coming up on or just now hitting the first anniversary of the COVID pandemic. We’ve been at this a year! Of course one year tolled in December or January if your point of reference is China. It moves next to Iran and Italy. But here I’m talking about the moment at which it became a stark and life-changing reality in the United States. I’m talking about the moment it became a stark and life-changing reality for you.

I’ll go first but I want to hear your story, your moment.

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About Ravnsborg and the “Deer” Prime Badge

From TPM Reader MM

I grew up across the road from 4096 acres of protected public woodland and watershed, a small residuum of the climax forest that greeted the first settlers to the area. Looking out the picture window of our living room and off to the left (west), White Oak Ridge Road did little dogleg. By ill-considered design, a utility pole had been planted right at the elbow of the dogleg, directly in line with the course of the road east of the dogleg. In icy conditions, caution was definitely necessary. Over my eighteen years in that house, several drivers hit that pole.

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Who To Be Mad At? Prime Badge

My exchange with TPM Reader ED

The most infuriating thing about this situation is that it’s all bullshit. I don’t mean that it doesn’t matter or that there aren’t real differences of opinion among Democrats on the minimum wage, but from the perspective of regular people it’s all typical inside the Beltway bullshit. The only thing that matters at the end of the day is passing simple, clear legislation that improves the lives of average Americans and then reminding everyone who did it.

While Democrats seem to recognize the failures of the early Obama years, when they endlessly compromised with themselves without attracting GOP support for literally anything, made all their legislation needlessly complex, and never took credit for their achievements, they obviously haven’t learned the lessons well enough.

If they had, the parliamentarian would already be gone or the VP wouldn’t hesitate to overrule her. Ask yourself a simple question: Would FDR have allowed the Senate parliamentarian to block his agenda for even ten seconds? Of course not. FDR understood that nobody but Washington insiders gives a shit about parliamentarians or reconciliation or anything else. They know who’s in power and if those people make a real difference in their lives.

Democrats need to get everyone vaccinated and end the COVID disaster. They need to get emergency cash into the hands of as many Americans as possible. They need to prop up state and local governments to prevent mass layoffs and budget cuts. They need to raise the minimum wage. They need to make healthcare cheaper and easier to navigate. And so on.

If they do those things, they might still lose in 2022. That’s just what happens in American politics. But at least they’ll have a fighting chance. Everything else is just bullshit.

Here’s how I replied …

I agree with you on the stakes and everything except one thing which is perhaps the central thing. This has nothing to do with the parliamentarian. It is only about Joe Manchin, and possibly Kirsten Sinema. Manchin didn’t want to include the wage hike in the relief bill because he doesn’t think it counts as budgetary and because he doesn’t support $15. The fact that the parliamentarian agreed with him on the procedural issue (which she’s likely right about narrowly speaking but who cares) gives him a bit more standing or leverage. But the real leverage is his vote. And he has the cards. You’re right to be super pissed and to see all the dangers. You’re just focusing the anger on the wrong people.

Take It To the People

From TPM Reader JB

For what it’s worth, my view as to how to get a minimum wage increase through Congress — really, through the Senate — has a lot in common with my view about getting people vaccinated against COVID19. Simpler is better.

We’re talking here, first of all, about procedure. I enjoy thinking and talking about legislative procedure, which makes me a member of one of the very smallest minorities in the United States. The overwhelming majority of Americans don’t track this subject at all.

This means that unless including a minimum wage increase in a so-called Reconciliation package can be definitely and quickly accomplished, it should not be attempted. That goes double for cutesy-poo maneuvers like the one Sen. Sanders is reported to be thinking about (tax credits for corporations that raise their starting wage. Or penalties for corporations that don’t. Whatever), because Sanders would add complexities of implementation to complexities of procedure.

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More Thoughts on the Dems Minimum Wage Puzzle Prime Badge

Here’s a brief update on this tussling over what to do about the minimum wage hike and the fact that the Senate parliamentarian has ruled that it shouldn’t be included in a reconciliation bill. Yesterday I wrote that it seemed like advocates were right when they claimed that Vice President Harris could reverse the decision in a way that required 60 senators to, in turn, overrule her. (It’s a bit convoluted; here’s the post from yesterday that walks through it.) Since I wrote that post I’ve found out some more information that suggests the 60 vote thing isn’t even real. Or rather that it would take 60 votes to overrule Harris and if that vote failed then they could vote again and on the second round would only need 51 votes, which would make the whole thing a mirage.

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The Politics of the Tug of War over the Minimum Wage Prime Badge

I want to take a moment to unpack the positioning, politics and parliamentary rules behind this confrontation over including the minimum wage hike in the COVID relief bill. It’s quite complicated. And at least some of the advocacy is significantly misleading.

The Senate parliamentarian has ruled that the minimum wage hike doesn’t qualify to include in a reconciliation bill – i.e., one that cannot be filibustered. Parliamentarians can be fired or overruled. But there’s a major hitch. At least two Senators – Manchin and Sinema – say they don’t support overruling the parliamentarian or including the minimum wage in the COVID relief bill. Indeed, neither currently supports hiking the minimum to $15 at all. (There’s some question about that with Sinema. But Manchin is clear and he’s enough.)

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Is This VP Harris Gambit Real?

I’ve been wrestling all day with this claim that Vice President Harris has the unique ability to overrule the Senate parliamentarian on this ruling about the whether the minimum wage hike can be included in the COVID relief bill. Critically, it’s claimed that while the Senate can overrule her it could only do so with 60 votes. That makes all the difference in the world since while all fifty Republicans and Manchin or Manchin and Sinema could overrule her with 52 votes there’s basically no way they get to 60 votes.

But is that 60 vote rule real? Is that what would be needed to overrule Harris?

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Where Things Stand: Hit-And-Run AG Was Reading A Right-Wing Website While Driving, Investigators Say Prime Badge

We’ve been following closely this week as new details have emerged about a hit-and-run by South Dakota’s attorney general. A Republican politician, who was charged with a mere misdemeanor after being involved in the fatal accident, is now facing a bipartisan impeachment push as it starts to look as if his “I thought I hit a deer” story might be Swiss cheese.

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Horrifying and Damning

There’s a big scattering of news these days. But I want to recommend that you check out Cristina Cabrera’s updates on the denouement of the Jason Ravnsburg story. Ravnsburg is the Attorney General of South Dakota. Back in September it was reported that he’d been in an auto accident in which there had been a fatality. It quickly emerged that this was, while technically true, a bit different than what the announcement suggested. Ravnsborg had struck and killed a 55 year old man named Joe Boever driving home from a political fundraiser. He left the scene, later claiming he thought he’d struck a deer.

Earlier this week Ravnsborg was charged with three misdemeanors. But the evidence that came out at the conclusion of the investigation makes it seem that Ravnsborg got incredibly lucky not being charged with negligent homicide or hit and run. A witness said Boever was walking with a flashlight, which deer seldom carry. Forensic evidence strongly suggests that Ravnsborg was browsing RCP reading up on some Biden hit pieces when he struck and killed Boever. And perhaps most damning and horrifying, Boever’s glasses were found inside Ravnsborg’s car. In other words, this means almost to a certainty that Boever’s face slammed, with the full impact of the collision, into and through Ravnsborg’s windshield.

Cristina has the details here.

Where Things Stand: The Value Of Playing The Antifa Card Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 18: Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) questions Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz during a Senate Committee On Homeland Security And Governmental Affairs hearing at the US Capitol on December 18, 2019 in Washington, DC. Last week the Inspector General released a report on the origins of the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign's possible ties with Russia during the 2016 Presidential elections. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Ron Johnson

The antifa card has been dealt repeatedly this week. And it’s only picking up more steam among the GOP as a vague but ready excuse for all manner of things.

Tucked into a recent Politico report on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to push back on the House’s bid to conduct a bipartisan review of the Jan. 6 insurrection was a clue as to the staying power the actually-it-was-antifa lie will have.

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The Law Is Coming

Manhattan DA obtains Trump tax records (not just the returns). Manhattan DA zeroes in on Don Jr. Don Jr. deposed by DC Attorney General in lawsuit alleging misuse of inaugural funds. Like snow melting with the warming spring the Trump family’s immunity from the law is disintegrating.

No Lucy Football with the Jan 6 Commission Prime Badge
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

I’ve mentioned a number of times that to avoid the errors of the Obama years Democrats must make a firm commitment not to engage with bad faith arguments or bad faith actors. “This to me is the greatest negative lesson of the Obama era: the willing engagement of good faith with bad faith in which bad faith is, by definition, always the winner.” This necessity has cropped up again with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan to create a commission to investigate the January 6th insurrection against the US capitol.

Congressional Republicans are doing everything they can to scuttle the idea. They’re opposing Pelosi’s plan to give Democrats a 7-4 majority on the panel (that’s not an unreasonable argument in the abstract) and more tellingly insisting that they can only support the idea if it also looks at violence during the summer protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. In other words, the Republican response is to whatabout the insurrection at the Capitol and the attempt to overturn the 2020 election by force. The latest gambit comes from Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who says he could agree to the whataboutist model – Capitol insurrection but also antifa and everything that happened last summer – or a much narrower commission focused solely on Capitol security procedures.

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Where Things Stand: Gory New Details About South Dakota AG Hit-And-Run Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

We’ve been following the story of South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s fatal hit-and-run incident for some time now. And new video footage of interviews between the state AG and investigators raises questions about what truly happened on that September night — and the extent to which Ravnsborg might have known that he hit a human being, not a deer.

Like, for instance, the fact that the victim’s reading glasses were allegedly found inside the vehicle that Ravnsborg was driving when he hit him.

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Who’s Gonna Tell’em?

Of the many lessons of the last decade, one of the most salient is that good policy does not make for good politics. Not automatically. That’s simply not how it works. It was one of the underlying premises – intertwined with much else – that led to the disappointments and failures of the Obama years. Ex-President Trump got grief when he wanted relief checks to go out with his name on them. That’s not at all legit. But he had the right idea. You need to tell people when you’re doing things for them. No one else is going to do that.

This belief that good policy will take care of itself is deeply rooted in the technocratic, meritocratic mentality that animates so many professional Democrats. There’s a lot to that worldview that is good and we should celebrate. This is one of its blindnesses. There is no good policy that isn’t conjoined to good politics. You just have to do the politics because there’s no good policy without building, nurturing and sustaining constituencies for good policy. That’s the only way good policy can be sustained over time, from election to election. Because the most ingenious and humane policy is a failure if it isn’t sustained, if voters don’t know that it happened, why it happened and what they need to do to make it keep happening.

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Half a Million People

Yesterday the United States passed the threshold of 500,000 fatalities from COVID19, right about one year after we started this. You’ve seen the number in many places. I wanted to be sure you saw it here too. This chart illustrates the per capita death toll by state. Unsurprisingly New York and New Jersey still lead the country. New Jersey is actually first at 258 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants. New York comes in at 239.

If you’re familiar with the geography this makes sense. New York’s epidemic was focused on New York City and the Greater New York City Region. And a greater percentage of New Jersey is in that region than is the case with New York state. Other nearby states are close – Connecticut (212), Massachusetts (230) and Rhode Island (233).

But outside the Northeast the next state is probably not one you’d think of: Mississippi. I struggle to think of a single national news story I’ve seen about the COVID pandemic specifically in Mississippi, where 220 people have died for every 100,000 inhabitants. That’s ahead of South Dakota at 211 and Arizona at 213 and neighboring Louisiana at 204. Those are all the states which have seen more than 200 inhabitants per 100,000 die of COVID in the last year.

Thoughts on the Broken Institution Prime Badge

From TPM Reader LF

I thought your appreciation of Mitch was good. I am nearing completion of the Years of LBJ by Robert Caro, and in the Passage of Power after the assassination, LBJ sees the legislative pickle JFK got himself into. I have left off right where Richard Russell says that they (the Southern bloc) could beat Kennedy, but that they won’t beat LBJ. I have not gotten to the part where LBJ figures the way out, but Caro makes a point here (and throughout the series in some ways): Congress was broken from the time FDR’s court packing scheme died all the way through the Kennedy Administration, and the only progress that was made was when LBJ pushed through measures as Majority Leader (limited as they were–geared to him becoming President). And Caro points out that the reason Congress was broken was that the old bulls of the Southern bloc controlled the Senate.

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