February 1, 2021
Today’s two big domestic stories are developments that will help to determine the future of our democracy: President Biden’s insistence on a major new coronavirus relief bill and Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection.
President Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion economic relief bill, called American Rescue Plan, to get the country over the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. This is a bold move that rests on the idea that the government must help to manage the economy. Republicans abandoned this idea in the 1980s and even today continue to insist that tax cuts and private enterprise are the keys to a secure economy.
But that theory took a beating even among previous adherents under the previous president, as corporate leaders invested money from tax cuts into stock buybacks, driving money upward, and as the administration refused to coordinate a coronavirus response and thus helped to create a disaster that has led more than 440,000 Americans to their deaths. Biden’s attempt to pass a big coronavirus bill that supports ordinary Americans, as well as cities and states, contradicts the Republican orthodoxy that has come to dominate the nation.
Republicans don’t like the plan, and even the Republicans willing to entertain the idea of another relief bill think Biden’s proposed number is far too high. For nearly two hours today, Biden met with ten Republican senators who offered a $618 billion counterproposal. This was Biden’s first meeting with lawmakers of either party, and giving that first meeting to Republicans was a sign that he is willing to entertain good-faith bipartisanship. After the meeting, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) expressed optimism that the two sides could continue to work together.
But the tide seems to be running away from Republicans toward the Democratic plan. On Friday, a bipartisan group of more than 400 mayors across the country begged Congress to provide aid to cities, aid that is in Biden’s package and not in the plan of the Republican senators. Mayors and governors actually have to make government work and thus are often more practical and less ideological than national lawmakers.
Explicitly calling for Congress to pass Biden’s plan, the mayors noted that “American cities and our essential workers have been serving at the frontlines of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic for nearly a year” without direct federal assistance. Because cities and states cannot borrow to cover budget shortfalls, they look to the federal government — which can — to tide them over in times of crisis. This time, though, that aid was not forthcoming. Left with no choice, local governments have cut nearly a million local government jobs. Direct, flexible aid to cities will help suffering families and fuel a recovery, the mayors say, as well as enabling cities to vaccinate people. “Your quick action on President Biden’s plan is a crucial step to making meaningful progress in one of the most challenging moments in our country’s history,” the mayors wrote to congressional leadership.
This morning, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, a Republican, also backed the larger coronavirus package. “I absolutely believe we need to go big…. We need to quit counting the egg-sucking legs on the cows and count the cows and just move. And move forward and move right now.” Justice’s interview on CNN puts pressure on West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, who has expressed concerns about a big relief package.
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders began the process of advancing the Senate process that will enable the Democrats to pass their own proposal without Republican votes. This process is known as “budget reconciliation,” and it requires only a simple majority to pass. When they were in power, the Republicans used it to advance policies like ending the Affordable Care Act, so the Democrats’ invoking of this rule is not unprecedented.
“Congress has a responsibility to quickly deliver immediate comprehensive relief to the American people hurting from covid-19,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a statement. “The cost of inaction is high and growing, and the time for decisive action is now.” Later Schumer tweeted: “Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen just told us: ‘The smartest thing we can do is act big.’ And that is just what this Senate is going to do: Act Big.”
Tonight, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement that gave generous credit to the ten Republican senators who offered the counterproposal for “a substantive and productive discussion” and a “shared… desire to get help to the American people, who are suffering through the worst health and economic crisis in a generation.”
But the statement also gave notice to the Republicans that the Democrats were willing to go it alone on a bold package. It noted that Biden had told them Congress must respond “boldly and urgently,” and that their proposal did not address major issues. He told them he is eager to find common ground and to strengthen the measure, but he is willing to pass it with Democratic votes alone if he must. “He reiterated… that he will not slow down work on this urgent crisis response, and will not settle for a package that fails to meet the moment.”
If Biden gets this bill passed and Americans feel that it relieves the economic crunch, it will go a long way toward erasing people’s distrust of government action to regulate the economy.
While the Biden administration moves forward with an aid package, a clearer picture is emerging of the events of January 6, as well as of the road to them. Yesterday, the New York Times published a long exploration of the relationship between the Trump campaign and the January 6 rally that led to the attack on the Capitol; today it published a shorter synopsis of that material. The shorter article, written by Matthew Rosenberg and Jim Rutenberg, began: “For 77 days between the election and the inauguration, President Donald J. Trump attempted to subvert American democracy with a lie about election fraud that he had been grooming for years.”
The picture they paint is of a man who insisted on a lie — that he really won an election he clearly lost — until he found enablers who would agree with him. Key lawmakers, including former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, indulged the former president because he wanted Trump’s help electing two Republicans to the Senate in the Georgia runoffs. As reality-based Republicans backed away from the challenge to the election outcome, more radical lawyers and financiers stepped in to support the former president.
A coalition put together by activists in a group called Women for America First, funded by Trump advisor Stephen Bannon and the founder of the MyPillow company, Mike Lindell, pressured key senators to contest the election outcome. Women for American First began to organize the January 6 rally, but Trump decided to take it over. Several former members of the Trump campaign and the administration — including the former president– began to work on the event. They were the ones who added a march from the rally to the Capitol.
The nonpartisan Coup D’état Project at the Cline Center of the University of Illinois, which analyzes and categorizes political violence, last week determined that the storming of the Capitol “was an attempted coup d’état: an organized, illegal attempt to intervene in the presidential transition by displacing the power of the Congress to certify the election.” Its statement about the coup warns that “coups and attempted coups are among the most politically consequential forms of destabilizing events tracked by the Cline Center.”