Now comes the hard part
President Biden gave the speech voting rights activists have been waiting for. But time will tell if it influenced the lawmakers standing in the way of progress.
Uh-oh • The White House is bracing for a discouraging inflation report this morning.
Biden administration officials expect prices to begin dropping by the end of the year. But it goes against the previous expectation that high costs would be temporary.
The news also underscores how the traditional economic indicators like the stock market and the unemployment rate mean little to Americans who feel financially stressed in ways that are aggravated by a stubborn pandemic.
Look for the White House to use the report to pitch the Build Back Better Act as they defend the president against inevitable Republican attacks. But as you’ll read later on, there’s little reason to believe Biden will get his signature economic plan passed anytime soon.
Another day, another CDC rec • The CDC is expected to recommend N95 or KN95 professional-grade masks over cloth alternatives, Lena H. Sun and Rachel Roubein report for The Washington Post.
Here’s more: “The updated guidance is expected to say that the best mask is the one that is worn consistently and correctly. N95 masks, which were predominantly used in health-care and industrial settings before the pandemic, are supposed to be individually fitted and are sometimes hard to wear all day, physicians and other health-care personnel have said. The CDC guidance is expected to say that if people can ‘tolerate wearing a KN95 or N95 mask all day, you should.’”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Another day, another virus record • The US on Tuesday set a new record for COVID-19 hospitalizations, with more than 145,000 people in the hospital with the virus, Peter Sullivan reports for The Hill. The previous record was set in Jan. 2021 during a major winter surge before vaccines were widely available. President Joe Biden will speak tomorrow on his administration’s response to the surge.
Biden spoke to the people who were listening
As spirited as President Biden’s speech was on voting rights in Atlanta on Tuesday, I can’t help but ask what if he gave that same speech six months ago.
The White House bet it could pass most of Biden’s economic agenda last year, despite pleas from civil rights and voting rights activists to use his megaphone instead to mobilize public opinion toward protecting and expanding the right to vote.
And administration officials were close to proving them wrong.
The American Rescue Plan pulled the economy out of recession, reopened schools, vaccinated the majority of the country and sent people stimulus checks.
The bipartisan infrastructure deal, which will repair and upgrade our nation’s roads, bridges and transit systems, delivered on a campaign promise that Biden could work with Republicans to pass major legislation.
And the Build Back Better Act was supposed to unlock generational investments in child care, education, climate resilience and more.
But as we stand here today, Build Back Better is languishing in the Senate with no future in immediate sight while Republicans — and members of the president’s own party — double down on their efforts allow as spate of state anti-voter laws to take hold.
The White House says Biden has been forceful on voting rights since he took office. Much of the public-facing messaging we saw last year though was on the pandemic response and his economic agenda. In private, the administration believed it could influence lawmakers behind the scenes to pass the Freedom To Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act despite calls from critics to besmirch his opponents in the media instead.
He even seemed to admit as much himself. “I’ve been having these quiet conversations with the members of Congress for the last two months,” Biden said. “I’m tired of being quiet!”
The president was anything but quiet as he weaved a narrative that paralleled the civil rights movement with our current moment before endorsing a rules change that would enable Senate Democrats to pass voting rights legislation with a simple majority vote.
He spoke in language that grassroots organizers are familiar with. “Jim Crow 2.0 is about two insidious things: voter suppression and election subversion,” Biden said. “It’s no longer about who gets to vote; it’s about making it harder to vote. It’s about who gets to count the vote and whether your vote counts at all.”
And he finished with a Biden-esque flourish we’ve come to expect: “Let’s spread the faith and get this done.”
But Democrats are discordant about how to answer the president’s call to action.
Some want to eliminate the filibuster altogether, which enables the minority party to block most legislation unless it has 60 votes.
Others want to make an exception to the filibuster just for voting rights. (The Senate did this last month to increase the amount of money the government may borrow to pay its bills.)
And a handful want to restore the filibuster to a time when at least one senator in the minority would have to stand on the Senate floor and keep talking to keep a bill from advancing.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has promised action as soon as today to move forward on the two bills before the Senate, even though he doesn’t have the votes to change the rules quite yet.
“The job of Senators is to vote, and the more important and pressing an issue is, the more that plays,” Schumer said to CNN’s Manu Raju on Tuesday. “We are going to vote.”
If it’s not obvious yet, Biden and Schumer have their work cut out for them. But if the president’s speech did anything, it galvanized his party and threw his weight behind an issue that could make or break the next two elections and beyond. All things considered, that’s pretty much all you could expect.
Stacey Abrams skips Biden’s big moment
When Stacey Abrams narrowly lost her campaign for governor of Georgia in 2018, she turned lemons into lemonade by becoming one of the nation’s most visible voting rights advocates. So it seemed obvious that Abrams would attend Biden speech yesterday.
But she didn’t, due to what was characterized as a scheduling conflict.
I was unable to track down a spokesperson for Abrams, who is running for governor again this year, to ask for specifics on the her previous commitments. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki referred reporters to Abrams’ camp when asked to comment on what some have perceived as a snub. (Others interpret the move as a signal that Abrams plans to run against Biden or Harris in 2024 or 2028.)
President Biden told a reporter he was insulted by the question when asked if he was insulted by her skipping the speech. “I spoke with Stacey this morning,” he said. “We have a great relationship. We got our scheduling mixed up. I talked with her at length this morning. We’re all on the same page.”
Psaki followed her boss’s lead in downplaying the news during a briefing with reporters en route to Atlanta on Tuesday. “He is the first to say he understands scheduling conflicts and how they appear in your life,” she said of the president.
McConnell plans to remain Senate GOP leader
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell removed all doubt on Tuesday when he announced his intention to run for another term as leader.
There was speculation of a succession plan when Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said he would run for reelection again. Thune is one of “three Johns” — including Bassaro of Wyoming and Cornyn of Texas — who are thought to be next in line when McConnell does decide to call it quits.
While it’s no surprise, McConnell’s continued leadership could have major implications for the Biden administration if Republicans reclaim their Senate majority during this year’s midterms.
The president has promised to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court in the event of a vacancy. But McConnell has already said it’s likely he’ll block the nominee to be confirmed, as he did in 2016 with Attorney General Merrick Garland.
There’s still no movement on an extended Child Tax Credit
This Saturday will mark the first month since last summer that working families won’t receive a Child Tax Credit payment.
The benefit was funded for six months by the American Rescue Plan President Biden signed into law last March. And although a provision to extend it for another year was included in the Build Back Better Act that the House passed before Christmas, the legislation is stalled in the Senate.
The expanded CTC has been a sticking point for Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who cut off negotiations with the White House on Build Back Better last month and wants any future credit to include a work requirement, which is something progressive lawmakers view as a nonstarter.
House Democratic Chairman Hakeem Jeffries expressed optimism that the Build Back Better impasse could be cleared in the near future during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “Those conversations, as I understand it, are ongoing amongst the Senate colleagues and with the White House,” Jeffries said. “We of course are supportive of that. And it’s my expectation that we’re going to be able to get something done.”
But sources on Capitol Hill and at the White House speak of little progress on Build Back Better, leading some to call for a Child Tax Credit extension to be proposed as a standalone bill. This would require at least 10 Republican votes and GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said there’s been no progress on bipartisan talks either.
The Biden administration promotes the CTC as one of its notable economic policies and rightfully so: Data shows that the $250 to $300 checks slashed child poverty by 40 percent, while also enabling parents to pay for child care or put food on the table, maybe help cover the rent and give them the basic needs that they were struggling to meet, as Jennifer Flynn Walker, senior director of mobilization and advocacy at The Center for Popular Democracy, told me last month.
“We urge the Senate to come back to the table to work through this to ensure that those families receive benefits they need,” House Democratic Vice Chair Pete Aguilar said. “As the chairman mentioned, Build Back Better is about lowering prescription drug costs, lower costs to families, health care. All of those pieces are so instrumental to everyday Americans and it’s what the policy and proposal was built to do and we want it continued — especially [the Child Tax Credit].”
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Today in Politics
President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing this morning. Then he and First Lady Jill Biden will attend the funeral of Raymond Odierno, a former four-star Army general, in Virginia where the president is expected to speak.
The White House COVID-19 Response Team will brief reporters later this morning.
The House is in. Members will vote on legislation to expand eligibility for post-9/11 educational benefits to members of the National Guard and Reserves. The Congressional Black Caucus will hold a news conference this morning on voting rights.
The Senate is in. A vote to confirm the nominee for Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration is schedule this afternoon.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Leader Schumer and members of congressional leadership will participate this morning in a tribute for former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid. Vice President Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will also attend.
In The Know
Main Justice beefs up its domestic terrorism ranks • Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen announced at a Senate hearing on Tuesday that the Justice Department will establish a Domestic Terrorism Unit. The group will comprise attorneys who are focused on cases of homegrown extremism.
“The threat posed by domestic terrorism is on the rise. The number of FBI investigations of suspected domestic violent extremists has more than doubled since the spring of 2020,” Olsen said in his opening remarks. “The attacks in recent years underscore the threat that domestic terrorism continues to pose to our citizens, to law enforcement officers and elected officials, and to our democratic institutions.” Read the full remarks.
Omar to the WH: Close GITMO ASAP • Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota called on the White House in an op-ed in Teen Vogue to close Guantánamo Bay, the US military base in Cuba where alleged unlawful combatants captured in Afghanistan, Iraq and other locations during the War on Terror are imprisoned.
The military prison has allowed cases of torture and denied protections under the Geneva Convention, the international agreement governing how captured and wounded military personnel and civilians in wartime are treated.
“It pains me to say that, over the years, Congress has acted to frustrate rather than facilitate closing Guantánamo. Many of us are trying to do better, and we will continue to push our colleagues to join us,” Omar writes. “But the truth is that most, if not all, of the work necessary to close Guantánamo can, and should, be done by the president of the United States. I was pleased when President Biden announced, shortly after taking office, that his administration would do just that. But I’m dismayed that in the 11 months since that announcement, the Biden administration has transferred only one man out of Guantánamo Bay.”
Fed-up Fauci • Dr. Anthony Fauci called Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas “a moron” under his breath after a tense round of questioning during a hearing on the Omicron variant and the government’s response. Watch the clip.
Related: Fauci also got into another heated back-and-forth with Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, whom he accused of mischaracterizing his statements to fundraise for his reelection. See my tweet.
Mondaire to step on Sinema’s turf • Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones will travel to Arizona — the home of Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema — on Saturday with members of Martin Luther King Jr.’s family to campaign for voting rights. Watch the clip.
The hope is that voters pressure Sinema into backing a rules change that would enable Democrats to pass voting rights legislation with a simple majority.
A spokesperson for Jones did not respond to a request for more details on the visit. I’ll keep you posted if I learn more.
Weed forgiveness • Austin voters are set this May to vote on a ballot measure that would forbid city police officers in most cases from ticketing or arresting people on low-level pot charges like possessing small amounts of the drug or related paraphernalia unless the offenses are tied to more severe crimes, Joshua Fechter reports for Texas Tribune.
The City Council still must vote to put the measure, which also would formally ban “no-knock” warrants, on the ballot.
Book-reading is down • Americans are reading around two to three fewer books per year than they did between 2001 and 2016. US adults say they read an average of 12.6 books during the past year, which is the smallest number measured going back to 1990. Read the survey.
Spotify shuts down its podcast studio • 10 to 15 workers were reassigned or laid off, Ashley Carman at The Verge reports. They’ll receive two months’ worth of severance. “Though the studio didn’t have its own clear initiatives, its content covered music and artists as well as celebrity deals and influencer-hosted content.” It’s hard out here for a media creator, whether you’re independent or corporate.
To the window, to the paywall • Media experts are concerned that the rise of paywalled journalism will marginalize people who are uninterested in or unwilling to pay for premium journalism, Sara Fischer at Axios reports. “Literate and affluent people will be well served in the emerging economy for news," said Jay Rosen, journalism professor at New York University, said to Fischer. “We know this. Just as we know that the rulers of empires will be kept well informed. What we don’t know is whether democratic publics will have quality news and information that wins their attention and fits their budget.”
There’s such tension between journalism as a public service and business. I still haven’t figured out how to navigate this fine line.
The case against FB continues • A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that the Federal Trade Commission’s case that Facebook has a monopoly can proceed, Cat Zakrzewski at WaPo reports.
“Although the agency may well face a tall task down the road in proving its allegations, the Court believes that it has now cleared the pleading bar and may proceed to discovery,” US District Judge James Boasberg wrote in his ruling.
The agency’s first challenge against the tech company now known as Meta was thrown out last year.
Read All About It
Robin Givhan on Janet Jackson:
All these years later, how does she process being a talking point in today’s debate about systemic racism and entrenched gender bias? That past imbroglio, after all, wasn’t over indiscriminate violence, extreme profanity, or sexual assault. It was simply anger over a Black woman’s body thrust into the public’s jaundiced gaze. “Whether I want to be part of that conversation or not, I am part of that conversation,” Jackson continues with a certain amount of resignation. Yet she’s not disheartened by the renewed interest. “I think it’s important. Not just for me, but for women. So I think it’s important that conversation has been had. You know what I mean? And things have changed obviously since then for the better.”
Jeff Asher and Rob Arthur on increased gun sales as the driver of America’s murder spike:
Prior years looked quite different. Only about 13 percent of guns traced from 2015 to 2019 were recovered within six months of purchase. In 2020, 23 percent were. In total, the average time to crime fell from 8.3 years in 2019 to seven years in 2020, and just about half of the guns traced in 2020 crimes were purchased three or more years prior to recovery, compared with more than 70 percent a decade ago. Moreover, states with greater upticks in gun background checks—meaning more purchases of new guns—also saw greater increases in new guns recovered in and traced to crimes. All told, what this reveals is that guns used in crimes in 2020 were newer than in the past. Additionally, more guns were recovered in 2020 than in 2019 across a host of crimes. “You do see these guns ending up in risky situations more quickly than in the past,” says Aaron Chalfin, a criminology professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Emily Hopkins and Melissa Sanchez on Chicago’s “race-neutral” traffic cameras, which ticket Black and Latino drivers the most:
The consequences have been especially punishing in Black neighborhoods, which have been hit with more than half a billion dollars in penalties over the last 15 years, contributing to thousands of vehicle impoundments, driver’s license suspensions and bankruptcies, according to ProPublica’s analysis.
The coronavirus pandemic widened the ticketing disparities. Black and Latino workers have been far less likely than others to have jobs that allow them to work remotely, forcing them into their vehicles more often. In 2020, ProPublica found, the ticketing rate for households in majority-Black ZIP codes jumped to more than three times that of households in majority-white areas. For households in majority-Hispanic ZIP codes, there was an increase, but it was much smaller.
Although some cities have eliminated their camera programs, automated enforcement has been gaining support elsewhere in the aftermath of the nation’s racial reckoning following the death of George Floyd in 2020 at the hands of police. From California to Virginia, citizens groups, safety organizations, elected officials and others are pointing to cameras as a “race-neutral” alternative to potentially biased — and, for many Black men, fatal — police traffic stops.
John Ganz on the death of cool:
The Culture War — even “cancel culture” if you will — is not a war at all, or a culture of any kind, it’s a little industry, its own mode of production. It has ample jobs available, if you are willing to do them. It also provides industrially pre-manufactured words and phrases to make writing easier: “woke mob,” “moral panic,” “political correctness,” “problematic,” “trauma,” “censorship,” “soft totalitarianism,” “elites,” “identity politics,” etc. That’s not to say that people don’t get hurt or there aren’t real careers ruined or calumnies or absurd denunciations, but these things don’t destroy the really famous people unless there’s real criminality involved. They just shift to other markets. ... Only little and medium people get chewed up in the cogs: the big guys push ever upward, and exchange their tough-luck stories for princely sums on Substack that are equivalent to years of yeoman magazine work.
Bilge Ebiri on the tech-bro-as-villain archetype:
So why do movies and shows keep going back to this well? The tech bro is safer, certainly, for a Hollywood understandably wary of offending international audiences (or even worse, domestic audiences) or unintentionally wading into hot-button political debates. The tech bro is fair game because everybody despises him. The right hates him because he’s a cosmopolitan know-it-all, the left hates him because he’s a rich businessman know-it-all. The olds hate him. The youngs hate him. I assume even tech bros hate him because he reminds them of all the other assholes with whom they’re competing. He’s not othered in any way. If anything, he’s uncomfortably familiar. You probably know at least five people in your life who act like the archetypal tech bro even if they don’t necessarily possess his money, intelligence, or oily charm. By contrast, how many people do you know in your life who look and act like Auric Goldfinger? Or Darth Vader? Or Thanos?
Rani Molla on a new era of the American worker:
More than any other time in recent memory, the present moment offers many Americans a chance to make work better.
American employees in 2022 have more leverage over their employers than they have had since the 1970s, the result of a confluence of factors. The pandemic that began in 2020 has prompted a widespread reevaluation about what place work should have in the lives of many Americans, who are known for putting in more hours than people in most other industrialized nations. There’s also been a groundswell of labor organizing that began building momentum in the last decade, due to larger trends like an aging population and growing income inequality. This movement has accelerated in the past two years as the pandemic has brought labor issues to the fore.
Molly Osberg on Eric Adams, New York City’s new mayor:
Every mayor is to some extent a mascot, and never more so than during their first weeks in office. It remains to be seen what New York Adams will actually be interesting in governing, outside of the people who are afraid to ride the subway and the people who get paid overtime to patrol it: After all, only one-quarter of registered voters cast ballots in the election he won. But the Bronx fire, a disaster with material culprits that occurred barely his second week into the job, is a reminder that being mayor is about more than lobbing slogans around. It’s a skill set that may not come as easily to Adams. “If we take one message from this,” the mayor said in one of his many visits to the site of the Bronx fire over the last few days, it should be: “Close the door.” “We’re going to double down on that message,” he said. “Muscle memory is everything.”
Ryan Faughnder on HBO Max:
With the streaming landscape expected to consolidate into an industry dominated by three or four companies, HBO Max is in a strong position.
Yet as fun as it is to imagine Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Chapek, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos and Discovery boss David Zaslav in a corporate cage match for the streaming championship belt, the question of winners and losers may be the wrong one to ask.
The better line of discussion is the one that some analysts have been getting at for a while: Are we sure streaming is a good business?
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