The Kids at the Insider Sheets

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October 8, 2021 8:00 a.m.

In recent months I’ve become paradoxically addicted to scanning the top insider sheets as they come out through the day – Politico, Punchbowl, Axios – because they’re like a direct injection of the DC establishment, insider zeitgeist. It’s not that you couldn’t find that before. I started TPM in many ways to critique that mindset and worldview. But it’s sort of like the way competition has made illicit drugs more concentrated and potent over the years. These sheets give it to you in a more concentrated form. They are each in competition with each other to refine and recut the giddiness, knowing expressions, punch phrases and conventional wisdom production into shorter and shorter bursts. In any case, not great for the country or journalism: but good for me inasmuch as I can observe it in one place so easily.

This morning I opened Punchbowl. And the story is: THE SPEECH. What’s the speech? Yesterday evening as Republicans were scrambling to overcome their own filibuster Chuck Schumer gave some short remarks in which he lambasted Republicans for their recklessness and fecklessness. They played chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States and thank God they lost. And now they were scrambling to put the genie of their own recklessness back in the bottle. So you suck, you lost and don’t suck next time.

Republicans were upset and told Schumer the moment called for tact and conciliation, not criticism. After all the GOP leadership was scrambling to get 10 votes to help. This captured the editorial point of view. McConnell decided to help Schumer get out of a jam. But after Schumer was mean he’s unlikely to help out again. Yes, that’s the take. Quote: “As we noted before, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his colleagues aren’t likely to give them the votes for another debt-limit extension, especially after what happened on the floor yesterday. Yes, it’s petty, but senators don’t easily forget personal slights. Like never.”

It’s not that the Democrats are in a great situation. After the speech theatrics last night Manchin reiterated his opposition to a debt ceiling filibuster carveout. So it’s not like that is a given. But Lindsey Graham of all people gave us the real story on this during last night’s theatrics. He said last night that Republicans were “folding” because leadership made clear “that this may be more pressure than two Democrat senators can stand regarding changing the filibuster rules.” As I’ve said repeatedly over the last few days, McConnell could see he was backing himself into a corner – one in which it really was, default, epic GOP climbdown or filibuster carveout. So he decided to make a tactical retreat to avoid that terrible set of choices. Give him credit. He could see three or four moves ahead and moved accordingly. Most of the rest didn’t see that.

He didn’t do anything to be nice or “help.” Unsentimental calculations drove this outcome and they are highly likely do so again, despite the attempts to soap opera it up. Imagine having watched everything we’ve seen over the last six years and thinking that when a political opponent stands down after a reckless maneuver that being nice and promising never to put them in a such a situation again makes sense.

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And yet here we are. The rot is deep.

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