March 1, 2021: The Briefing, Vol. IX, Issue 9
- Democrats run up against their fragile majority
- If CPACers can’t have Trump, they want DeSantis
- Here come the Trump-backed primary challenges
Reconciliation: As expected, Democrats’ hopes of abusing power — of upending Senate rules and precedent using so-called “nuclear” tactics — have been disrupted by their failure to win a more decisive majority. This reality was put to its more important test last week as senators considered their budget package.
The results show that not only will they prove unable to eliminate the filibuster for regular legislation through the “nuclear option” itself, but they also cannot sneak unrelated legislation through the narrowly-divided Senate as part of a package purportedly dealing only with taxes and spending.
A perennially popular piece of legislation among Democrats is the more than doubling of the federal minimum wage to $15. Democrats tried to run this through on a simple majority vote in their budget reconciliation package. The Senate parliamentarian, as expected, ruled that the minimum wage is not germane to the budget package (it is not a tax or spending measure, even if it tangentially affects tax collections). At least two Senate Democrats refused to go along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s plans to ram this through on a simple majority vote overriding the parliamentarian’s ruling.
This means Democrats will need a 60-vote majority to raise the wage. It demonstrates how any Democrat — in this case, it was Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. who made their opposition public — can flex his muscles and force his entire caucus to adapt.
Some Democrats, including Bernie Sanders and Ron Wyden, tried to come up with a workaround for the minimum wage provision that involved penalizing companies that pay workers less than $15 per hour. They abandoned that effort over the weekend as impractical.
This illustrates the constraints that the Biden administration will face as it looks to implement a left-wing agenda. His majority in the House is slim; his majority in the Senate is only as strong as Joe Manchin wants to allow.
Biden proposals such as a 33% increase in the corporate income tax rate and an increase in the top individual income tax rate to pre-Trump levels will face similar challenges. Given the Republican Party’s broad shift rightward on fiscal issues since 2000, there are probably no Republicans in the Senate at all who can be counted on to cross the aisle and support such measures. This puts all the power in the hands of Manchin, Sinema, or any other Democrat who becomes skittish about raising taxes in such a way that might dampen the post-coronavirus recovery. Ironically, the nation’s sharp political divisions and increased rancor could thus force the very sort of consensus dealmaking and least-change governance that has proven elusive for so long.
CPAC: In his speech to the annual CPAC gathering in Orlando on Sunday, Donald Trump teased a 2024 bid for the GOP nomination. He made clear that he has no plans to start a third party — he would run as a Republican. Trump won the event’s 2024 straw poll. But a second question, which assumed Trump would not run, found Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with a commanding 43%, far ahead of the second-place finisher, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, R. Were Trump to decide against entering the race, and were DeSantis to win re-election in 2022, he would find himself in a very strong position as a Republican contender thanks to geography, ideology, relationship to Trump, and a proven track record of winning elections in a tough state.
Alaska: Gavin Newsom isn’t the only governor facing a potential recall. An apparently union-backed drive (its funding is shrouded in mystery) to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy has gathered 56,000 signatures in the last 12 months. Assuming those are all valid, they would need roughly another 15,000 signatures in order to force a recall election.
Still, don’t bet on it. The signature gatherers have obtained only about 10,000 new ones since June. Because Alaska’s rules are much more lax than California’s, there is no time limit for this effort, which so far does not evince any sort of genuine grassroots support beyond typical partisanship. Although signature-gathering has officially been going on for a year now, the push to recall Dunleavy basically began the month after he was inaugurated.
New York: Add Long Island Rep. Lee Zeldin, R, to the list of potential challengers to the increasingly embattled Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D. Reps. Tom Reed (of western New York) and Elise Stefanik (representing the northern tier) are also considered to be potential candidates.
Any Republican would have a historically unique opportunity against Cuomo, given how the media have suddenly turned against him over COVID, in addition to the new allegations of sexual harassment.
It must also be noted, however, that Cuomo is no lock for renomination in the current environment. It is hard to find a case of the media elevating a politician to such great heights, only to turn on a dime and disparage him so thoroughly overnight. This is, of course, entirely because the media were so gullibly willing to overlook any transgression as long as its perpetrator could trot out President Trump as the bogeyman. Cuomo has now lost his cover.
Georgia: Republicans in the Peach State, increasingly imperiled in the Trump era, need a Hail Mary. Why not have Dallas Cowboys all-time great Herschel Walker run for Senate next year against Sen. Raphael Warnock? Walker’s name appeared as what appears to be pure speculation in the middle of a local political column despite his current Texas residency. Walker testified last month before Congress against reparations for slavery.
But this rumor appears to be more about Republicans wanting Walker to run than it was about him wanting to run. Another possible candidate, also a black conservative, is retiring state Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton.
Former Sen. David Perdue ruled himself out of contention for a political comeback last week.
New Hampshire: Republicans will be limited in their takeover opportunities in 2022. New Hampshire, along with Georgia, presents one of their better possibilities. The fact that Gov. Chris Sununu, R, already leads incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan, D, by two points in an early survey is a very good sign. Throw in whatever backlash exists two years for now in time for Biden’s first midterm, and this one looks genuinely promising.
Now it’s up to NRSC Chairman Rick Scott and Senate Republicans to lure him in. In 2020, Sununu opted not to run against Sen. Jean Shaheen, D, but Hassan might be the easier opponent.
Ohio-16: This cycle, we will keep a close eye on potential and actual primaries where Republicans face a primary challenge because of Former President Donald Trump. In this race, Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, one of the ten Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January, now faces a primary challenge from former White House aide and Trump loyalist Max Miller. The 32-year-old Miller has Trump’s “complete and total” backing. Such contests as this one are likely to develop all over the country, and they will serve as a measurement of how much influence Trump retains in 2022.