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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.