Senate inaction on voting rights is expensive
The legal challenges to anti-voter laws and gerrymandered state maps come at a high cost to the taxpayers and civil rights organizations that foot the bill.
Before I started this newsletter, I was a fashion journalist at Condé Nast — the publisher of Vogue and Lucky, the magazine I worked at. I remember the first time I saw Mr. Talley outside an elevator. I told him how much he meant to me. He told me I had great legs, told me I belonged and wished me well.
There weren’t many people for me to look to as an example, but Mr. Talley was one of them. I live because he lived. I will miss him dearly.
Order your tests now ⟿ ICYMI, you can now order four free rapid tests from COVIDTests.gov to be shipped to you within seven to 12 days.
All you need is your name and residential mailing address to complete your order. The tests can detect the Omicron variant, according to the White House.
The government soft-launched the site yesterday and I ordered my tests. It was a fast and seamless experience. If all continues to go well, this could earn President Joe Biden some much-needed goodwill from the public.
Biden’s first 2022 presser ⟿ The president’s press conference later today is a big deal for a lot of reasons:
It’s the final day of his first year in office.
He’s done fewer formal press conferences than his immediate predecessors (Bush, Obama and Trump). Today gives reporters a chance to ask follow-up questions and dive deeper into the issues.
There’s a lot going on in the news. From the virus to inflation to the uncertainty with Russia and Ukraine, the President has a chance to calm the nation, remind voters of what his administration has achieved against challenging circumstances and reset his vision for how he’ll keep the promises he made on the campaign trail.
Biden didn’t have any public events on his schedule yesterday, an indication that aides spent the day prepping him for the occasion. Here’s to hoping he rises to it.
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President Biden said last week at his speech on voting rights that the Department of Justice has doubled its voting rights enforcement staff. And in addition to the growing number of anti-voter laws, states across the country are challenging maps that have been redrawn to give Republicans an electoral advantage for the next decade.
Prior to a controversial Supreme Court decision in 2013, jurisdictions that implemented any change affecting voting had to receive preapproval — known as “preclearance” — from the US attorney general or the US District Court for DC.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and Freedom To Vote Act, the two bills the Senate is expected to vote on today, would restore the preclearance requirement and nullify much of what’s known as gerrymandering, which is how state legislatures manipulate congressional districts in favor of a party or class. (Three in five state legislatures are currently controlled by Republicans.)
As I explained last year in this post, gerrymandering mainly works one of two ways.
The first is by “cracking,” which spreads voters from the opposing party across many districts to dilute their voting power.
Then there’s “packing,” which centralizes voters from the opposing party in one district to reduce their voting power in other districts.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said during a congressional hearing last August that the Justice Department blocked over 3,000 voting changes while the provision was in place, 60 percent of which were found to be intentionally discriminatory. “In addition to blocking discrimination, the deterrent effect of the preclearance requirement was undeniable.” A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not respond to a request for updated data.
All of this litigation comes at a high cost to the taxpayers and civil rights organizations that foot the bill.
“It’s expensive precisely because litigation is very expensive. It’s going to be a massive ongoing cost for the foreseeable future,” Aron Solomon, chief legal analyst for Esquire Digital, said in an email to Supercreator. “Absent a federal voting rights act, which was right there for the Democrats to achieve, this becomes not one mess, but many state-based nightmares of ill-drawn political creatures all working together to make the voting playing field less level than it has ever been.”
Solomon told me this is the most important political story in the nation today despite it receiving the mainstream attention he believes it deserves.
“People are so divided on the issue,” he said. “And there are states, cities, towns and communities in which people just don’t want to touch this story because these are the exact communities that the fights are happening.”
A former Democratic political strategist told me they agreed with Solomon.
“One of the major problems is that many aren’t educated on how districting works to begin with, let alone what gerrymandering even means,” they said.
This information gap requires the media to explain redistricting in everyday terms, which flies against the instincts of media organizations that rely on sensationalism to drive website traffic and TV viewership.
The strategist added that most voters are concerned about issues they believe affect their day-to-day like the economy, terrorism and taxes.
“Until they learn how gerrymandering affect them, it’s never going to be a cause for concern,” they said. “If [former President Barack] Obama, one of the greatest organizers of all time, can launch an issue-based grassroots campaign around gerrymandering, and still no one pays attention?”
The time and money spent litigating these GOP-friendly maps could be invested in an array of other social programs.
“These millions upon millions could be aimed at everything from aid to mothers and children, to education, to shelters, and even to voter education programs,” Solomon said. “The reason it isn't goes beyond the funds being spent here — it's a question of partisan politics and wildly misplaced priorities.”
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Thanks to some canny legislative maneuvering by the House last week, the Senate was finally able to debate the two voting rights bills for the first time.
“Senators were elected to debate and vote — especially on issues like voting rights,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday during a floor speech. “This is a step forward to put everyone on record. We’ll keep fighting until we win.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that the administration supports Schumer’s strategy.
“The President’s view is that the American people deserve to see where their leaders stand on protecting their fundamental rights,” Psaki said. “That is a reason to move forward with this debate and this vote this week.”
Senate Democrats proposed what’s known as a “talking filibuster,” which requires at least one senator in the minority would have to stand on the Senate floor and keep talking to keep a bill from advancing.
The legislation would still need 60 votes to end debate. Eventually though, the bill would advance and Democrats could pass voting rights with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker.
But Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is against this workaround because it bypasses the 60-vote threshold he, Sen Kyrsten Sinema, and Senate Republicans view as a non-negotiable.
“There's never been a simple majority vote to basically get off a debate,” Manchin told reporters on his way to a Democratic Caucus meeting. “I don’t know how you break a rule to make a rule.” (Sinema was not present at the meeting but did phone in.)
Manchin repeated a common critique from the right: Democrats have misplaced priorities. Inflation and the pandemic are top of mind for voters. “These are things we should be working on.” (The White House is likely to counter that the Build Back Better Act Manchin scuttled late last year would slow inflation.)
So we’re back where started with Manchin squashing every legislative scheme his party devises to pass a base priority.
“Long odds are no excuse for this chamber to avoid this important issue,” Schumer said. “Again, members of this chamber were elected to debate and to vote. We’re going to vote.”
Related: West Virginia sports legends support the FTVA ⟿ Five former legendary sports figures from West Virginia endorsed the Freedom to Vote Act in a letter to Manchin.
“We are all certain that democracy is best when voting is open to everyone on a level playing field; the referees are neutral; and at the end of the game the final score is respected and accepted,” NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West, Alabama head football coach Nick Saban, former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, former NFL linebacker Darryl Talley and former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue wrote.
For what it’s worth, Saban asked that the letter include the following footnote: “Coach Saban is not in favor of getting rid of the filibuster in the Senate. He believes this will destroy the checks and balances we must have in our [d]emocracy.” The other signatories took no position on the 60-vote threshold.
A spokesperson for Sen. Manchin did not respond to a request for comment on the letter. But Manchin seemed to take exception to the omission of Saban’s footnote during his brief chat with reporters earlier.
NARAL takes a stand ⟿ Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a nonprofit pro-abortion advocacy group, announced on Tuesday that it would not endorse or support any senator who refuses to find a path forward on voting rights.
“Without ensuring that voters have the freedom to participate in safe accessible elections, a minority with a regressive agenda and a hostility toward reproductive freedom will continue to block the will of the majority of Americans,” Timmaraju said.
The move follows Laphonza Butler — president of EMILY’s List, an organization that supports Democratic female pro-abortion candidates for office — who said the EMILY’s List would not endorse Sen. Sinema if she votes against a rules change to pass voting rights. Read NARAL’s statement ... Read EMILY’s List’s statement.
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The tension between the US and Ukraine is getting thicker by the minute.
“Let’s be clear: Our view is that this is an extremely dangerous situation,” Jen Psaki said on Tuesday. “We’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack in Ukraine.”
So Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Kyiv (the Ukrainian capital) and Berlin, Germany’s capital city this week to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba of Ukraine and discuss the readiness of American allies to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia if it invades Ukraine.
Blinken will also visit Geneva to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to continue diplomatic discussions and urge Russia to take immediate steps to deescalate its military build-up and continued aggression against Ukraine.
“The United States does not want conflict. We want peace,” a senior State Department official said on Tuesday during a press call with reporters. “President [Vladimir] Putin has it in his power to take steps to deescalate this crisis so the United States and Russia can pursue a relationship that is not based on hostility or crisis.”
Last Friday, Russia positioned a group of operatives for a false-flag operation in Eastern Ukraine, according to US intelligence.
The operation is an attempt to create a reason to invade its eastern neighbor. The American government supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and provides foreign and military assistance to the country. A Russian invasion would diverge from US interests.
The intelligence shows that the Russian operatives are trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to perform acts of sabotage against its own external forces in what a Ukrainian official calls an attempt to frame Ukraine.
Ukraine also thinks Putin was behind a cyberattack last week although the US government has not attributed the attack to Russia.
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Mitch Landrieu, the man President Biden picked to implement the infrastructure law he signed last November, stopped by the White House Briefing Room on Tuesday to set expectations for reporters on how execution will proceed in the months and years to come.
“The president asked me to help him build a better America,” Landrieu, who also served as mayor of New Orleans from 2010 to 2018. “I said yes. I hope the people of America agree too because it’s going to take all of us to get this done.”
Landrieu said his team has reached out to all 50 governors to discuss their specific state’s needs and the resources the law will provide to help meet them.
And even in our hyperpartisan political environment, Republican governors welcome the funds. “Even if they vote no, they want the dough,” Landrieu said.
There will be results as early as this spring and fall, but Landrieu said that it’s unrealistic to expect nationwide immediate results because different states have different capacities to construct and repair their roads, bridges and broadband networks. He added that getting right is as important as getting it fast.
There weren’t many specifics on how the administration would prevent wasteful spending, something that’s always of concern when the federal government is overseeing billions of dollars across several agencies. Landrieu said his mandate is to be “on time, on task and on budget.” We’ll eventually know if he met this mark.
What’s clear right now though is that Landrieu is an excellent surrogate for the administration. The White House would be smart to put him in front of the camera as often as his job will allow because I think his charisma can endear himself to voters in a way that the president can’t.
And as I wrote last Saturday, Landrieu is one of two people — the other, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg — whose star will rise the most if the implementation is executed with few to no hiccups. “Be unsurprised if you see both of them on the national stage in the years to come.”
👋🏾 Hi, hey, hello! Good Wednesday morning. Welcome to Supercreator, your daily guide to the politicians and power brokers shaping how you work and live in the new economy. Send me tips, comments, questions — or just say hi: email@example.com.
Today in Politics
⟿ President Biden will receive his daily intelligence this morning before holding a press conference later this afternoon.
⟿ Vice President Harris will ceremonially swear in the new Ambassador to Poland in her ceremonial office.
⟿ The House is in. Members will take votes on several bills and award Congressional Gold Medals to Willie O’Ree, the first Black National Hockey League player, and recognize the service of the “Ghost Army,” a tactical deception unit during World War II. Democratic and Republican leaders will hold news conferences after their weekly party meetings.
⟿ The Senate is in. Senators are expected to resume debate on voting rights legislation with a vote scheduled for this evening.
⟿ The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on a case about resentencing under the First Step Act and whether Sen. Ted Cruz‘s campaign can sue to challenge federal restrictions on repayment of personal loans.
In the Know
⟿ Jen Psaki said the White House has not put forward a specific proposal on a new version of Build Back Better that could earn Sen. Manchin’s support. There’s been a lot of reporting to the contrary, but Psaki told reporters during Tuesday’s briefing: “We are just engaged in a range of conversations with members of Congress about what to do next.”
⟿ President Biden thanked AT&T and Verizon for their delay in the expansion of the new 5G cellular service near some airports that, according to airlines, would interfere with safety equipment used to determine a plane’s altitude. The carriers will still allow more than 90 percent of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled, which will provide much faster access to the internet than current wireless technology.
⟿ President Biden announced Los Angeles will host the Ninth Summit of the Americas this June. The Summit convenes leaders from the countries of North, South and Central America and the Caribbean.
⟿ Vice President Harris will lead a presidential delegation next week to Honduras for the inauguration of President-elect Xiomara Castro. While in the Central American country, Harris will discuss with Castro how the two countries can advance economic growth, combat corruption, and address the root causes of migration.
⟿ The Department of Health and Human Services announced $13 million in funding for behavioral health care services in rural America. “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused behavioral health challenges for Americans of all ages and backgrounds,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said. “This investment is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to address the inequities that still exist surrounding behavioral health and advance care in rural America. It will support comprehensive behavioral health prevention, treatment, harm reduction and recovery interventions in rural communities — furthering the goals of our new overdose prevention strategy.”
⟿ The Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission announced a partnership to strengthen enforcement against illegal mergers. The agencies say that mergers can reduce choices for consumers, workers and other businesses because larger and more powerful firms buy even more power can dictate the terms of their deals.
⟿ Democratic Reps. Anna Eshoo of California, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey introduced The Banning Surveillance Advertising Act. The bill prohibits digital advertisers from targeting any ads to users, except for “broad” location-based targeting. Contextual advertising, like ads that are specifically matched to online content. [Makena Kelly / The Verge]
⟿ Rep.-Elect Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick was sworn into Congress today. She won a special election in Florida’s 20th District last week, which means House Democrats have 10 more members than Republicans. [The Associated Press]
⟿ Gary Chambers, a Democratic candidate for US Senate from Louisiana, lights up a blunt and inhales multiple puffs in a new campaign ad. Chambers lists several statistics about weed during the spot, including that Black people are four times as likely as white people to be arrested for its use. [John Wagner / WaPo]
⟿ Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul has raised $21.6 million for her election campaign for a full term as the state’s chief executive. Hochul has collected an average of $140,000 per day between her swearing-in last August and last week. [Nicholas Fando / NYT]
⟿ Related: Gov. Hochul leads her potential primary opponents by more than 30 points five months before the primary. This makes her the clear favorite among New York Democrats in 2022. [Sienna College Research Institute]
⟿ Democratic Reps. Jim Langevin of Rhode Island and Jerry McNerney of California will both retire in 2022.28 House Democrats will either retire or run for other office this year. [@haleytalbotnbc / Twitter]
⟿ Ohio state Rep. Emilia Sykes will run for the open seat in the 13th Congressional District. The district in the new Ohio map includes Akron, Medina and parts of suburban Cleveland — but it may be subject to change after the state’s Supreme Court struck down the map last week. [Haley BeMiller / The Akron Beacon Journal]
⟿ Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire said he reject pitches from Senate Republicans to challenge Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan because the GOP’s plan is they win the majority is to obstruct President Biden in hopes a Republican retakes the White House in 2024. “OK, so I’m just going to be a roadblock for two years. That’s not what I do,” Sununu said. “It bothered me that they were OK with that.” [David M. Drucker / The Washington Examiner]
⟿ Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is working remotely because Justice Neil Gorsuch refuses to wear a mask during in-person oral arguments. Sotomayor, who has diabetes and sits next to Gorsuch on the bench, has not attended the justices’ weekly conference in person due to his refusal to mask up. [Nina Totenberg / NPR]
⟿ Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey signed legislation decriminalizing sexual activity by people infected with HIV. Murphy said the new law plus advances in modern science and medicine will help end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in his state. [@GovMurphy / Twitter]
⟿ YouTube folded its original content group. The social video app will exclusively invest in programs that are part of its Black Voices and YouTube Kids funds. [Todd Spangler / Variety]
Read All About It
Andre Perry on student debt relief:
In the case of student debt cancellation, income-based evaluation ignores people's starting positions — the household resources that determine so much in life, including whether they can attend college debt-free. In the U.S., those starting positions differ radically, in large part due to a long and ignominious history of racism that has, generation after generation, prevented Black families from building wealth.
To be sure, forgiveness wouldn’t address the underlying inequities that created the debt in the first place — which is why it should be accompanied by reforms to make a quality public higher education free. While some relatively high income people may benefit from relief, in many cases these are lower wealth households that managed to join the middle class against the odds, and such “leakage” is an inadequate rationale to reject a policy that could help so many so quickly. Instead of perpetuating the myth that student debt cancellation is for the rich, politicians and the Biden administration should recognize how regressive the status quo is, and do what’s best for the nation and its people.
Jerry Brewer on the NFL’s expanded playoff format:
The NFL thinks it is invincible because our American football obsession is so strong, and the physical nature of the game dictates the demand for action will exceed what the sport is capable of producing. It’s the perfect situation: Short season, intense interest and a constant desire for more. And every so often, when the league and its players see an opportunity to make more money, they stretch the product a little, adding to the season and postseason, feeding the can’t-get-enough crowd and figuring fan passion will make up for any weakening of quality.
This season, the NFL added a 17th regular season game to go with its bigger playoff field. And more was less. More yawns, less fervor. More apathy, less momentum. The anticipation will return as this week progresses. Plenty will convince themselves that this past weekend was merely indicative of how great the remaining teams are. The regular season didn’t offer substantial evidence of this greatness, but plenty will ignore that. And perhaps the divisional-round slate will cure all. There are enough superstars and emerging franchise players to sell and enough story lines to captivate. A handful of underwhelming games can’t keep the NFL down.
Kate Lindsay on TikTok:
I’m in a handful of general and genre-specific group chats that, while not dedicated to sending TikToks, often involve sharing TikToks related to the thing we’re there to discuss, or simply TikToks that made us think of each other. But over the weekend, we all admitted something each of us had started noticing: For weeks now, more often than not, a TikTok that appeared in our group chat would be something at least one of us, often most of us, had already seen.
The individualized, hyper-specific For You Pages our egos had for so long believed we were scrolling were suddenly revealed as a homogenized collection of the same popular videos. It felt weirdly like a betrayal. I’ve been turning this over in my head all weekend trying to figure out what changed.
Aria Bracci on podcast librarians:
A librarian for podcasts does a lot of the things that a librarian for books would do — add new titles to a collection, organize them so people can find what they’re looking for — which, as the audio landscape gets more crowded, offers a systematic way to find shows. This helps overwhelmed listeners, and it also helps podcasters, for whom making money requires a show to be discoverable, both by audiences and potential advertisers.
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