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    Biden vetoes Republican effort to overturn socially conscious retirement rule

    Joe Biden issued the first veto of his presidency on Monday, rejecting legislation to overturn a labor department rule related to an investment strategy for Americans’ retirement plans that Republicans have derided as “woke capitalism”.“The legislation passed by the Congress would put at risk the retirement savings of individuals across the country. They couldn’t take into consideration investments that would be impacted by climate, impacted by overpaying executives,” Biden said in an Oval Office video released by the White House. “And that’s why I decided to veto it.”Republicans have railed against so-called “ESG” investing, an acronym that stands for “environmental, social and governance”, arguing that it prioritizes allocating money based on liberal political causes, such as efforts to combat climate change and divest from fossil fuels, instead of earning the best returns for retirement accounts.“In his first veto, Biden just sided with woke Wall Street over workers. Tells you exactly where his priorities lie,” the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, wrote in response. “Now – despite a bipartisan vote to block his ESG agenda – it’s clear Biden wants Wall Street to use your retirement savings to fund his far-left political causes.”Their willingness to challenge corporate America, long seen as a reliable Republican ally, is just one front in the right’s “war on wokeness” that they claim has affected schools, companies and government.The veto underscores Biden’s new, more confrontational relationship with Republicans in Congress after two years of working with Democratic majorities. Now the White House is readying for even more consequential battles in the months ahead over government spending and the nation’s debt limit. House Republicans, in turn, are using their control of the chamber to advance legislation they intend to use against Democrats in next year’s election.The White House has argued that the legislation would have made it illegal for pension fund managers to consider “risk factors Maga House Republicans don’t like” such as the climate crisis when making investment decisions.“Your plan manager should be able to protect your hard-earned savings — whether Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene likes it or not,” Biden said in a tweet, referring to the far-right Georgia congresswoman who has made opposition to progressive ideas her political brand.House Republicans advanced the bill after taking control of the chamber this year. And earlier this month, two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, voted with Republicans, sending the measure to Biden’s desk. Tester is running for re-election next year in states Donald Trump won handily.In a statement, Manchin called it “absolutely infuriating” that Biden had chosen to “put his administration’s progressive agenda above the wellbeing of the American people”. The coal country Democrat said the rule threatened the nation’s economic security as Americans contend with high inflation and Russia’s war in Ukraine upends energy markets.The veto, which was expected, sends the legislation back to Congress. House Republicans have scheduled a vote on Thursday in an attempt to override the veto, though to succeed would require support from at least two-thirds of each chamber, which appears unlikely.Biden’s veto effectively preserves the status quo, allowing – but not requiring – retirement fund managers to consider environmental, social and corporate governance factors when making investment decisions. The rule ​reversed restrictions imposed by the Trump administration that ​made it harder for ​​retirement fund managers to consider such factors.Though ESG is often framed as a socially-conscious way of investing, proponents say weighing a company’s working conditions​, pending lawsuits​ or its environmental record can help uncover more stable and​ crucially, they argue,​ more profitable savings opportunities. ​The popular investment strategy has become a target of conservatives, with several Republican-led state legislatures passing or proposing legislation that would limit or ban their state governments from considering social or environmental impacts when making investment choices.In a formal statement notifying Congress of his veto, Biden said that the labor department rule allowed “retirement plan fiduciaries to make fully informed investment decisions by considering all relevant factors that might impact a prospective investment”. By refusing to allow these considerations, Biden said, Republicans were “disregarding the principles of free markets and jeopardizing the life savings of working families and retirees”.In a statement, Chuck Schumer called Biden’s veto “totally appropriate” and that Republicans’ efforts to stop the practice were “counterproductive and un-American”.“Maga Republicans were ostrich-like in their actions, putting their heads in the sand, denying the realities of the changing world and trying to force American companies to do the same,” the Senate majority leader said. “This veto was the right thing for American companies and families alike.” More

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    ‘Let’s make these folks famous’: the leftwing push to raise 18 Republicans’ profiles

    Juan Ciscomani. Tom Kean Jr. Brian Fitzpatrick. Marc Molinaro. David Schweikert. Brandon Williams … Many Americans would struggle to identify who these people are or what they do.They are all, in fact, Republican members of Congress. And progressive activists argue that their fate is more crucial to the future of American democracy than more high-profile rightwing political figures such as Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene.Indivisible, a leftwing political umbrella movement founded in response to Donald Trump’s election as president in 2016, has launched a campaign to unseat 18 Republican members of the House of Representatives from districts that Joe Biden won in the election of 2020.The “Unrepresentatives” initiative is based on the premise that these 18 districts – not the safe, deep red ones of Gaetz and Greene – will determine if Republicans maintain control of the US lower chamber next year. They are the “Achilles heel” of the Maga (Make America great again) House.“These are folks who are not in the headlines,” said Ezra Levin, co-founder and co-executive director of Indivisible, acknowledging that the sole exception is Congressman George Santos because of his outlandish lies. “But the other 17, I would guess practically no Americans have ever heard of and are not hearing of right now because they have a different pathway to re-election. They understand this. They’re not dummies.”Although the 18 are in swing districts, they are not really moderates. They are under pressure to raise money for their next election campaign. That means they have to make commitments to donors about how they will vote in Congress – which is in line with Greene and the Maga wing of the party about 95% of the time.Speaking from Austin, Texas, Levin explained: “They are basically Marjorie Taylor Greenes in how they vote. But then that gets to the third step: they’ve got to convince the constituents in their own districts that, while Congress is messed up and there’s a lot of dysfunction there, they’re normal, everyday folks who just want the best for their constituents.”“It’s tricky to do that when you have a voting record that looks like Marjorie Taylor Greene. But that is the strategy. The way you accomplish that is by keeping your head down, by not making a lot of headlines, by not advertising every vote you take that looks like Marjorie Taylor Greene’s vote.”These Republicans work hard to cultivate a low profile away from the bright lights of Fox News or other rightwing media, steering clear of hot button topics such as abortion or Maga circuses such as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).But now Levin, a former congressional staffer, intends to shine a light on them and ensure they have no hiding place.“We have a clear goal and that is: let’s make these folks famous – famous locally, specifically. Let’s make it as clear as possible to their constituents that they are in fact backing up the Maga majority.”Indivisible is coordinating groups in the battleground districts across eight states and supporting them with training, media training and public relations help, and funding for billboards and ads, props and costumes.The effort includes rapid response-style protests calling attention to Republicans’ votes and pressuring them to publicly condemn their fellow Republicans’ worst positions, highlighting such instances in local media.Levin hopes that this might sometimes persuade the 18 Republicans to flip their votes, for example on lifting the debt ceiling: six would be enough to stave off a default.“The second possible outcome is that you don’t flip their vote but everybody knows then in the district that they voted with the Magas. If you accomplish that, then they’re more easy to defeat next year because they’ll have a harder time accomplishing that last step in their re-election strategy, which is trying to convince their constituents that they are not indeed part of the Maga problem.”Democrats fared much better than widely expected in last year’s midterm elections, maintaining control of the Senate and only narrowly losing the House – even that outcome might have been avoided if only the party had not underperformed badly in New York. A third of Indivisible’s targets are in the Empire state, traditionally a Democratic stronghold.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotion“In New York many folks on the Democratic side played up an artificial rise in crime,” Levin recalled. “The dominant story was not how extreme these Republicans are and how they’re coming after your freedoms, your abortion rights, your schools, your community, your democracy. It was fought on an entirely different field. We fought on the field that the Republicans chose and I do think that was a mistake. That is a shame because had we taken all those Biden-won seats, there would be a Democratic trifecta right now.”Even so, Levin found plenty of grounds for optimism in the midterms as Republicans fell short of expectations and Trump-endorsed extremists were wiped out in Arizona, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. He did not approve of Democrats’ efforts to boost election deniers in Republican primaries – “playing with fire, a dangerous strategy” – but believes the 2024 landscape is propitious.“I see these 18 Democratic districts currently represented by Republicans, eminently winnable. I see a presidential contest in which the Republican party is tearing itself apart with [Florida Governor Ron] DeSantis or Trump or folks who are trying to take both of them on.“And I see a Senate map that is indisputably tougher than the presidential and the House map but one that is quite winnable. You look at the polling that we’re seeing now in Montana, in Ohio, in West Virginia, in Arizona, some of these tough seats that we’d better hold, and they look pretty darn good for us, which is why for Indivisible’s political work, our north star is retake the House, hold the Senate, hold the presidency.”Levin argues that, should Democrats replace the Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema, now an independent who has defended a Senate procedural rule known as the filibuster, with challenger Ruben Gallego, they have a shot at reforming the filibuster and working towards the codification of Roe v Wade, the recently overturned supreme court ruling that enshrined a woman’s right to abortion.Biden is an important part of that equation. Levin notes that the president was widely criticised for focusing on abortion rights and democracy in his last two speeches of the midterms campaign. “He got a ton of flak for that. There were folks even on our side calling it a strategic blunder. And yet he did indeed double down on that strategy and the proof is in the pudding. It was the best midterm margins arguably in modern American history.”There is no sign of the Republican fever breaking for now. Greene has risen to prominence in the House and appears to wield influence over the speaker, Kevin McCarthy. Trump and DeSantis are racing to the right ahead of the Republican presidential primary.But Levin keeps faith in the survival of US democracy. “I do believe that the Republican party can be saved. It’s got to be drilled into their heads that as long as the Marjorie Taylor Greenes are wielding the gavel, they’re going to have at best a tenuous grip on power. That is doable.“The vast majority of Republicans were privately and publicly predicting a massive red wave in 2022. They are not dummies. The folks who look at the same numbers I look at know the reason why they lost is because, when the folks got into the voting booth, they looked at the names on the list and they thought, well, the Republicans are being driven by folks who are coming after my schools, my communities, my freedoms, abortion rights, my family, I can’t empower them.”Levin added: “Their brand is in the gutter because they’re empowering the Marjorie Taylor Greenes. They don’t currently have the latitude to kick folks like them out of the party. There’s a reason why George Santos is still a member of the House of Representatives. But if they suffer enough electoral defeats they will be forced into moderation and the dream: to have two pro-democracy parties in the Congress. We’re not there right now but I do think it’s an achievable outcome.” More

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    Trump deregulated railways and banks. He blames Biden for the fallout

    When a fiery train derailment took place on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border last month, Donald Trump saw an opportunity. The former US president visited East Palestine, accused Joe Biden of ignoring the community – “Get over here!” – and distributed self-branded water before dropping in at a local McDonald’s.Then, when the Silicon Valley Bank last week became the second biggest bank to fail in US history, Trump again lost no time in making political capital. He predicted that Biden would go down as “the Herbert Hoover of the modrrn [sic] age” and predicted a worse economic crash than the Great Depression.Yet it was Trump himself who, as US president, rolled back regulations intended to make railways safer and banks more secure. Critics said his attacks on the Biden administration offered a preview of a disingenuous presidential election campaign to come and, not for the first time in Trump’s career, displayed a shameless double standard.“Hypocrisy, thy name is Donald Trump and he sets new standards in a whole bunch of regrettable ways,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “For his true believers, they’re going to take Trump’s word for it and, even if they don’t, it doesn’t affect their support of him.”The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank on 10 March and of New York’s Signature Bank two days later sent shockwaves through the global banking industry and revived bitter memories of the financial crisis that plunged the US into recession about 15 years ago.Fearing contagion in the banking sector, the government moved to protect all the banks’ deposits, even those that exceeded the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation $250,000 limit for each individual account. The cost ran into hundreds of billions of dollars.The drama reverberated in Washington, where Trump’s criticism was followed by that of Republicans and conservative media, seeking to blame Biden-driven inflation or, improbably, to Silicon Valley Bank’s socially aware “woke” agenda. Opponents saw this as a crude attempt to deflect from the bank’s risky investments in the bond market and more systemic problems in the sector.The 2008 financial crisis, triggered by reckless lending in the housing market, led to tough bank regulations during Barack Obama’s presidency. The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act aimed to ensure that Americans’ money was safe, in part by setting up annual “stress tests” that examine how banks would perform under future economic downturns.But when Trump won election in 2016, the writing was on the wall. Biden, then outgoing vice-president, warned against efforts to undo banking regulations, telling an audience at Georgetown University: “We can’t go back to the days when financial companies take massive risks with the knowledge that a taxpayer bailout is around the corner when they fail.”But in 2018, with Trump in the White House, Congress slashed some of those protections. Republicans – and some Democrats – voted to raise the minimum threshold for banks subject to the stress tests: those with less than $250bn in assets were no longer required to take part. Many big lenders, including Silicon Valley Bank, were freed from the tightest regulatory scrutiny.Sabato commented: “The worst example is the bank situation because that is directly tied to Trump and his administration and changes made in bank regulations in 2018. Yes, some Democrats voted for it, but it was overwhelmingly supported by Republicans and by Trump who heralded it as the real solution to future bank woes.”The minority of Democrats who supported the 2018 law have denied that it can be directly tied to this month’s bank failures, although Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, was adamant: “Let’s be clear. The failure of Silicon Valley Bank is a direct result of an absurd 2018 bank deregulation bill signed by Donald Trump that I strongly opposed.”Sherrod Brown, a Democratic senator for Ohio who introduced bipartisan legislation to improve rail safety protocols, drew a parallel between the banks’ collapse to rail industry deregulation lobbying that contributed to the East Palestine train disaster. “We see aggressive lobbying like this from banks as well,” he said.Trump repealed several Barack Obama-era US Department of Transportation rules meant to improve rail safety, including one that required high-hazard cargo trains to use electronically controlled pneumatic brake technology by 2023. This rule would not have applied to the Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine – where roughly 5,000 residents had to evacuate for days – as it was not classified as a high-hazard cargo train.But the debate around the railway accident and bank failures points to a perennial divide between Democrats, who insist that some regulation is vital to a functioning capitalism, and Republicans, who have long claimed to believe in small government. Steve Bannon, an influential far-right podcaster and former White House chief strategist, framed the Trump agenda as “the deconstruction of the administrative state”.Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist, said: “The Republican party has gotten by for many years on this idea that less is better. However, we’re now learning in this country that, as America continues to mature, in some cases more is better, and more has to be how we get to better. Otherwise the mistakes can spin out of control and cause generations of people long-term damage.”Biden called on Congress to allow regulators to impose tougher penalties on the executives of failed banks while Warren and other Democrats introduced legislation to undo the 2018 law and restore the Dodd-Frank regulations. It is likely to meet stiff opposition from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and even some moderate Democrats.Biden has also insisted that no taxpayer money will be used to resolve the current crisis, keen to avoid any perception that average Americans are “bailing out” the two banks in a way similar to the unpopular bailouts of the biggest financial firms in 2008.But Republicans running for the 2024 presidential nomination are already contending that customers will ultimately bear the costs of the government’s actions even if taxpayer funds were not directly used. Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, said: “Joe Biden is pretending this isn’t a bailout. It is.”Another potential 2024 contender, Senator Tim Scott, the top Republican on the Senate banking committee, also criticised what he called a “culture of government intervention”, arguing that it incentivises banks to continue risky behavior if they know federal agencies will ultimately rescue them.Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, said: “This is familiar ideological territory. The battle lines between liberalism and a fake conservatism appear to be playing out here. But the tragedy of the situation is that the liberals are right.“You do need government to regulate finance and, when you don’t, you get mischief making and bank failures but that point cannot be made if you’ve got Donald Trump inventing reality. He’s demonstrated that facts and position taking don’t matter. It’s an extraordinary political strategy but it’s even more devastating to our whole political system and our media that this could be allowed.”This poses a huge messaging challenge for Democrats, who after the 2008 financial crisis came up against the Tea Party, a populist movement feeding off economic and racial resentments. Long and winding explanations about the negative impacts of Trump era deregulation are a hard sell compared to the former president’s sloganeering in East Palestine.Wendy Schiller, a political science professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, said: “Once again we see that Trump is taking advantage of the Achilles’ heel of the Democratic party by telling voters that the Democrats like big government because it bails out industries and it never provides a bailout for the little guy.”Democrats’ efforts to point out that Trump was responsible for deregulation are unlikely to cut through, Schiller added.“Any time it takes more than 10 seconds to explain something, you’re done in politics. This is why Trump has catchy phrases, sound bytes. He understands that all voters see is that rich people made a bad investment and then more rich people are making sure that their money’s available to them within three days, coming off the heels of all the closures during Covid, lost business, lost income, people struggling, inflation.“Democrats don’t want to call it a bailout but it is a bailout. The high visibility of this bailout smothers anything else the Democrats are doing for the average voter. It’s a perfect issue for the Republicans. It’s not new that the Republicans will deregulate an industry and then it collapses and the Democrats have to save it. Look at American political and economic history of the last 50 years: this is exactly what happens.” More