It’s not exaggerating to say that the future of American democracy is at stake in what transpires this year in the Nation’s Capital. So far, the signs are deeply worrisome, if not frightening.
The resounding message to Democrats from Tuesday’s off-year elections—in Virginia, New Jersey, New York City, Minneapolis, Buffalo and Seattle is: left-wing wokeism—especially defunding police at a time of surging murder rates—brands the party as too far out from mainstream American opinion.
Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory in the Virginia governor’s race—running a “Trump-lite” campaign—plus a too-close-to-call result in Blue New Jersey’s governor’s race–are flashing red warning lights for Democrats: get significant things done for people—soon–and convince voters they’ve done them. Or else…
The “else” includes a GOP takeover of Congress in 2022—which would guarantee that President Biden is an unsuccessful president–and Donald Trump’s return to power (either by getting re-elected himself or picking a successor who’ll do his bidding), in which case American democracy will end and an authoritarian future, commence.
Trump has proved beyond doubt he’s a menace to democracy. He tried, by legal and illegal means, to reverse his 2020 election loss—going so far as to incite the deadly Jan 6 attack on the US Capitol and do nothing to stop it. As a riveting Washington Post investigation of Jan 6 showed, armed white supremacist groups organized for and participated in the attack—and said they felt called there by Trump.
He’s convinced two thirds of Republicans that the election was stolen from him—even though every authority (including his loyal Attorney General, William Barr) asserts that Biden’s election was a clean victory. With just a few endangered exceptions, Congressional Republicans are Trump’s slavish supporters, as are GOP state legislators.
Democrats are fitfully trying to pass two significant measures that (if sold properly) might forestall the deluge—a bipartisan $1.5 trillion physical infrastructure bill and a $1.75 trillion “human infrastructure” measure.
Two Washington State lawmakers—Reps. Pamilla Jayapal, leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Suzan DelBene, leader of the moderate New Democratic Caucus (NDC)—have been heavily involved in agonizingly protracted negotiations on President Biden’s ambitious two-bill “Build Back Better” agenda.
And two other Washingtonians, Reps. Derek Kilmer, past National Democratic Committee chairman, and NDC member Ron Kind, have been contributors to the effort to pass the package.
Jayapal, DelBene, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and practically every other Democratic player have been expressing confidence for weeks that an agreement was close on the two bills— under rules requiring just a simple majority in the Senate.
But a final deal has yet to be struck–now because of objections from moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (W.VA), whose vote is necessary if the bills are to pass. Sen. Kirstin Sinema (Ariz), a past holdout, reportedly has come to terms.
Manchin, declared Monday he wouldn’t vote for the reconciliation bill because he said its cost will exceed $1.75 trillion and demanded House Progressives “stop playing politics” and immediately pass the $1.5 trillion bill for roads, bridges, waterways and climate change mitigation.
Then, he changed his tune slightly Tuesday, saying a deal could be had if changes were made to proposed provisions on immigration, climate change and Medicare expansion—the last, a “red line” for Progressive. And Wednesday he said he was opposed to House Democrats” restoring four weeks of paid family leave to the bill.
Jayapal, who–politely but firmly–was sticking by an ultimatum that her Caucus would not vote for the first bill without the second being guaranteed Senate passage, now is going along with plans for a House votes on the measures, leaving Senate negotiations to President Biden.
Progressives fear—legitimately—that if physical infrastructure passes alone, “human” will be left by the wayside, depriving families of extended (for one year) per-child tax credits, universal pre-K education, expanded Obamacare premium support, expanded earned income tax credits, controls of prescription drug prices, low-income housing assistance, higher education and job training aid.
The bill’s largest piece, costing $555 billion over 10 years, would go toward combating climate change and developing more robust development of renewable energy sources, aid to corporations shifting to cleaner manufacturing methods, protections against wildfires, droughts and floods and establishment of a Civilian Conservation Corps.
Even finally passing all that may not be enough to forestall a GOP takeover of Congress in 2022 if other candidates adopt Youngkin’s campaign style—concentrate on divisive social issues like race, crime and “woke” education policy and keep a strategic distance from ex-President Donald Trump in states where his brand is toxic.
In states where Trump is popular—most GOP states—candidates will vie to be seen as Trumpist populist-conservatives deaf to his systematic undermining of trust in elections and his near-destruction of the idea of truth.
The top reason to worry about the future is that President Biden’s approval rating has sunk to 43 percent in the RealClear Politics polling average and 42 percent in the latest poll, that of NBC and the Wall Street Journal—down from the low 50s in April.
Passing and selling his infrastructure bills are not his only problem. Voters don’t approve of his handling of the economy (because of price inflation), the Southern border crisis, crime, or national security (because of the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle). And they don’t see him as a strong leader. It’s hard to see how he can turn those numbers around.
If Republicans take over Congress in 2022, he’ll get nothing new passed for the rest of his administration. Funding for what he did accomplish certainly will be cut and attempts will be made to eliminate much of it.
The RealClearPolitics average on the generic Congressional ballot—“which party would you like to see in control Congress?”—has Democrats up by just two points, hardly enough to overcome GOP partisan gerrymandering of House seats. Holding the Senate will be a challenge, too.
Moreover, 19 GOP state legislatures have enacted 33 laws designed to make it harder to vote—especially for poor and minorities. They justify their actions to “insure voter confidence in elections.” Eight states have empowered GOP legislatures to oversee—and even reverse—elections.
Democrats could be in for another 2010-style “shellacking” in 2022. Barack Obama survived that to get re-elected in 2012, but Republicans aren’t likely to do Democrats the favor of nominating a corporate stiff like Mitt Romney in 2024.
They’ll nominate Trump or a Trump-like populist for sure. And if Biden doesn’t seek re-election, it’s not clear which Democrat can bring back the coalition—especially white suburban women and Hispanics—who voted Republican in 2020 and 2012.
Biden ran and won as a moderate, but he put together an expensive infrastructure and social safety net program designed to reshape American life, much as Franklin Roosevelt did—but with a much bigger mandate.
Much of the program has been reduced in size and cost, but still contains most of the programs Congressional Progressives favored.
The moderate New Democratic Caucus led by DelBene intentionally proposed just a four-point agenda—“going big” on climate change and renewable fuel mechanisms, making the child allowance permanent, enlarging Obamacare toward universal health care access and enacting Kilmer’s proposal for robust economic development in poor communities.
DelBene&Co. said it was better to do a few things well, authorize and fund them for longer, making it harder for a Republican Congress to eliminate them. A sensible strategy, but Biden yielded to Progressives. DelBene’s spokesman said she is satisfied that the Reconciliation bill covers the four NDC priorities.
Both the Progressive Caucus and the NDC have 95 House members, but Jayapal has received vastly more media attention than DelBene. She probably deserved it, given the Progressives’ influence and ultimatum. DelBene’s spokesman said she preferred inside negotiating.
Jayapal comes across as a pleasant, conciliatory, almost moderate politician, but in the Seattle races she supported anti-police, anti-business left Progressives Lorena Gonzales for Mayor, Nikita Oliver for City Council and Nicole Thomas Kennedy for City Attorney. All three were clobbered by moderates Bruce Harrell for Mayor, Sara Nelson for Council and Ann Davison for Attorney.
It was a pattern Tuesday all over the country. Democrats should have learned a lesson from the 2020 Congressional races, in which they lost 13 House seats, largely because voters listened to GOP charges that Democrats were “radical socialists,” favored open borders and wanted to defund the police.
For democracy to be safe in America, Congress must not only pass Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda soon, but roll its items out quickly and successfully, so that voters appreciate what they’ve done. And they must nominate candidates who can appeal not just to the party’s liberal base and highly-educated elites, but the working class, moderates and Independents—candidates more apt to join the NDC, not the Progressive Caucus.