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    ‘Finally doing right’: Democrats’ big bill offers Sanders chance to deliver

    Bernie Sanders‘Finally doing right’: Democrats’ big bill offers Sanders chance to deliver The progressive senator is close to realizing many of his policy goals – but can he unite the party behind Biden’s plan?Lauren Gambino in Washington@laurenegambinoSun 24 Oct 2021 03.00 EDTLast modified on Sun 24 Oct 2021 03.01 EDTWhen making the case for progressive policy, the veteran leftwing senator Bernie Sanders often cites public opinion. “Poll after poll,” he’ll say, before running through a list of ambitious initiatives that the “vast majority of the American people want”, from lowering the cost of prescription drug prices to expanding Medicare, establishing paid family and medical leave and confronting the climate crisis.Versions of these programs – initiatives once considered nothing more than liberal pipe dreams – are at the heart of Joe Biden’s sprawling domestic policy bill pending before Congress. But despite the popularity of the specific proposals, the legislation has a polling problem. Poll after poll shows that most Americans have no idea what’s actually in the bill.Furious, Sanders livestreamed a panel discussion on Wednesday titled What’s in the Damn Bill?. To the thousands of viewers who joined the broadcast, Sanders said the Democrats’ multitrillion-dollar spending package was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild the American economy in fairer and more equitable way.“This is not radical stuff,” he said. “This is finally doing right by the American working class and having the courage to stand up to big-money interests.”After decades of furious speech-making from the political fringe, followed by two popular but ultimately unsuccessful bids for the presidency, the democratic socialist from Vermont is – against all the odds – the closest he’s ever been to delivering on the policy ideas that have defined his political career.Whether Sanders succeeds in his quest for a legislative legacy could determine the fate of Democrats in next year’s midterm elections – and of Biden’s presidency.“He has the most power and influence that he’s had at any point in his political career,” said Faiz Shakir, his chief political adviser. “He’s at the apex here. But as he’s acquired more power, so, too, has he acquired more responsibility.”Shakir said Sanders’ approach had changed because the environment had changed. Whereas before Sanders was pushing against the system, now he is at the center of the policy decisions, working within a Democratic party that has embraced much of his expansive platform.As chair of the powerful Senate budget committee and a member of the Democratic leadership, Sanders has been deeply involved in negotiations over the size and scope of the spending package. If and when an agreement is reached, he will play a lead role in drafting the legislation, which Democrats plan to steer through Congress over the unified opposition of Republicans.“In many ways he’s the author of this,” Shakir said. “And that’s one of the many reasons I think you see him rising to the occasion, rolling up his sleeves and making sure he is putting in all of his legislative efforts to get this across the finish line.”Initially Sanders proposed a $6tn budget blueprint, then settled for a framework that was nearly half that. Now he is working closely with Democrats in Congress and at the White House to reach a deal even smaller in scope that will satisfy the objections of the party’s centrists without sacrificing progressive priorities.Sanders knew his opening bid was unrealistic, given the dynamics of the Senate. But he hoped it would widen the parameters of the debate and ultimately what was possible. Progressives have repeatedly cited their willingness to accept a $3.5tn plan, and continue to negotiate downward, as proof of their commitment to dealing in good faith, compared with the centrists in their party, who they argue have not been forthcoming.As Democrats scramble to cobble together a deal, it’s the holdout senators Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, who hold effective veto power over which policies will survive and which must be dropped. Their objections have potentially imperiled plans for free community college, raising taxes on the wealthy and a climate program that would help the US meet its ambitious emissions goal.But every concession made to accommodate them moves the bill further and further from Sanders’ initial vision, leaving progressives deeply worried that Democrats will squander what they view as their best chance in decades to transform the American economy and confront the climate crisis.The California congressman Ro Khanna, who was among a group of progressives summoned to the White House for an Oval Office meeting this week, was optimistic that Democrats were close to a deal that progressives could accept, if not celebrate.“We’ve finally broken through,” he said. “And we will take the win because it establishes the principle that investments in people are needed in a democracy.”Republicans, however, view the imprimatur of a self-described socialist as a political gift.Progressives are now heavy-weights in the Democratic party | Gary GerstleRead moreUnified in their opposition to the spending bill, they have warned that the legislation is an attempt to fundamentally remake the American government in the image of a European-style social democracy while claiming the additional spending will stoke inflation and hurt economic dynamics.“This bill represents Bernie Sanders’ socialist dream,” the Republican senator John Barrasso said during a press conference, raising a 2,000-page draft of the Democrats’ spending package. “It is a nightmare for American taxpayers.”With no room for error, the stakes couldn’t be higher for Democrats. To pass, the bill will require the support of every Democrat in the Senate, a caucus that ranges the ideological spectrum from the democratic socialist Sanders to the conservative centrist Manchin.The senators have competing world views. Whereas Sanders believes the bill has the potential to be “one of the most important pieces of legislation since the New Deal”, Manchin has warned that the scale of it risks “changing our whole society to an entitlement mentality”.Sanders has publicly and privately sought to persuade Manchin and Sinema to support Biden’s agenda. It hasn’t always been diplomatic.Tensions escalated dramatically last week, when Sanders placed an op-ed in Manchin’s home state newspaper detailing how an expansion of the social safety net would help the people of West Virginia, which has one of the highest rates of poverty in the country. In a statement, Manchin fired back that “no op-ed from a self-declared independent socialist” would sway him.Behind closed doors, Manchin and Sanders continued to tangle, with the West Virginian reportedly making clear that he was comfortable passing nothing.Publicly, the senators have signaled that they are making progress. When they ran into each other outside the Capitol last week, Manchin threw his arm around Sanders and asked reporters to take a picture of them.As they returned to their cars to leave, Manchin shouted: “Never give up, Bernie.”Sanders hardly needed the encouragement.Sanders has become a ubiquitous presence on the Sunday political talkshows. He traveled to Indiana and Iowa in an effort to drum up support for the bill, intentionally visiting parts of the country that voted for Donald Trump. When he’s not selling the budget bill, he’s working to craft it, aides say.The planet is in peril. We’re building Congress’s strongest-ever climate bill | Bernie SandersRead moreSanders successfully lobbied the White House to back a plan to extend new dental, vision and hearing benefits to the tens of millions of American seniors on Medicare, a measure initially left out of the proposal. The senator’s healthcare push put him at odds with House leadership, who would prefer to permanently strengthen the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, or to expand Medicaid services to poor adults in mostly Republican-led states that refused to do so under the healthcare law.Biden said on Thursday that including all three benefits would be a “reach” but suggested a voucher program for dental coverage was possible. Though greatly pared back, it would nevertheless be a victory for Sanders, who has long sought to make Medicare the foundation for a national health insurance program, which he calls Medicare for all.As part of negotiations, Sanders has worked closely with the leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, especially the chairwoman, Pramila Jayapal, the Washington congresswoman who has emerged as a leader in negotiations over the president’s agenda.In a showdown last month, House progressives threatened to derail a vote on a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill championed by centrists as a way to maintain leverage over the much larger spending bill.The Senate had already passed the public works bill, with the support of all 50 Democrats and 19 Republicans, so it fell to House progressives to, in their parlance, “hold the line”. Sanders offered his vocal support for the blockade, which Khanna, a deputy whip of the progressive caucus, said was “critical” to keeping progressives unified.On the day of the promised vote, Biden ventured to Capitol Hill to meet with the bitterly divided House Democrats. But instead of rallying support for an immediate vote, the president effectively agreed with progressives that the two pillars of his agenda were inextricably linked. The vote was delayed and the infrastructure bill remains stalled, bound up in the bigger battle over the spending package.The maneuver was hailed as a major tactical victory by progressive activists, who have long lamented the tendency of liberal lawmakers to cave to pressure from Democratic leaders during heated policy fights.But Biden’s position frustrated a number of centrist Democrats, particularly those from swing districts who had hoped the president would sign the infrastructure bill into law, allowing them to start campaigning on new funding for roads, bridges and expanded broadband.Progressives, meanwhile, argue that a failure to deliver on their campaign promises would also be politically perilous.Anna Bahr, who served as Sanders’ national deputy campaign secretary in 2020 and is the co-founder of the new consultancy firm Left Flank Strategies, said the debate over Biden’s agenda had helped elevate new progressive leaders. The effect has been a show of force by progressives that she believes will motivate voters and candidates next year.“There’s a family in Congress of like-minded people – there’s a voting bloc,” she said. “The possibility – the likelihood – of moving on some of the issues that Sanders had for so many years been the lonely voice on is absolutely inspiring for a lot of people, especially young people.”On Wednesday night, Sanders was joined by a panel of progressives to help lay out the proposals in the Democrats’ bill. It was a messaging mission, but the forum also provided an occasion to celebrate the ascendancy of the progressive movement in American politics.Introducing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders hailed the New York congresswoman as “one of the outstanding, in my view, political leaders in this country”.Beaming on screen, Ocasio-Cortez thanked him for the introduction. “That’s very kind coming from the OG leader.”TopicsBernie SandersUS politicsJoe BidenDemocratsUS CongressUS SenateUS domestic policyfeaturesReuse this content More

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    ‘Don’t sit this one out’: Obama stumps for Virginia governor candidate Terry McAuliffe

    Barack Obama‘Don’t sit this one out’: Obama stumps for Virginia governor candidate Terry McAuliffeFormer president warns against complacency in ‘blue’ state amid race seen as indicator of Democrats’ congressional hopes Josephine Walker and Safia Abdulahi in Richmond, VirginiaSat 23 Oct 2021 19.41 EDTLast modified on Sat 23 Oct 2021 23.21 EDTBarack Obama vehemently warned Virginia voters on Saturday against any complacency that what was now a “blue” state would stay that way, as he spoke at a rally to support Terry McAuliffe in the tightening race for governor.The former president urged supporters to turn out, despite this being an off-year election, in order to keep Democrats in control of not just the state but ultimately the nation.“For the direction of Virginia and the direction of this country for generations to come,” Obama said, “don’t sit this one out – vote.”Obama and Trump wade into key battle over Virginia’s governor seat Read moreVirginia’s governor’s race is the first big chance voters get to express their approval of Joe Biden’s administration and is widely viewed as an indicator of whether the Democrats will keep control of Congress in next year’s midterm elections.The former president’s appearance in Richmond on Saturday followed several other high-profile visits to the state by Democrats this month, including Vice-President Kamala Harris and two of Georgia’s big names, the activist and former candidate for governor Stacey Abrams and the Atlanta mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms.About 2,000 people were admitted to the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond on Saturday afternoon to attend the rally for McAuliffe, who has previously served as Virginia governor.Mackenzie LaBar, acting president of VCU’s Young Democrats, said Obama’s presence was bound to propel voters to the polls.“This is a pretty blue area so, unfortunately, a lot of ‘blue’ people, blue voters tend to get complacent,” he said.As further encouragement, Obama recounted meeting a 106-year-old Black woman who had lived through the terror of opposition to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and survived to see the election of the first US Black president, himself, in 2008, and never once missed a chance to vote.“Born in the shadows of slavery, deep in the midst of Jim Crow,” Obama said, “She has witnessed all that. And I thought, ‘If she’s not tired, I can’t be tired.’”Almost every speaker alongside Obama at the rally emphasized that the right to vote had never been fully guaranteed in America.Andre Hayes is one of over 200,000 Virginians, many people of color, whose right to vote had been lost but was restored by McAuliffe when he was previously governor.“I’ll tell you, when I got that letter in the mail and it was stamped, sealed and approved, and had his signature on it,” Hayes paused to look at the sky. “I was a happy man.”Virginia is one of three states whose constitution permanently bars those convicted of a felony from voting.The clause was seen as racially motivated when it was added to Virginia’s constitution in 1902, shortly after Black political power propelled 85 Black politicians to office during Reconstruction.Speaking at the rally, McAuliffe touted his expansion of voting rights in Virginia and he and Obama commented on increased voter restrictions, which have hit states such as Texas and Florida in particular.Obama also noted that Senate Republicans once again blocked federal voting rights legislation last week.“Republicans are trying to rig elections because the truth is people disagree with your ideas,” Obama said. “And when that doesn’t work, you start fabricating lies and conspiracy theories about the last election, the one you didn’t win. That’s not how democracy is supposed to work.”While the purpose of Saturday’s rally was to energize Democratic voters, many children attended as well. Saturday was the first time Tamer and Brandy Mokshah’s two elementary-aged children would get to see Obama in person.“These two were born into a world where we had a Black president, right? So that was deeply emotional, really important. And then we’ve seen sort of the extreme opposite of that in the previous five years,” Tamer told the Guardian.“So we have taken them with us to vote since before they could speak. They go with us all the time. We want to make sure that we’re able to leave something behind in terms of this process and what democracy actually means.”Education policy and school curriculum have been thrust to the center of the governor’s race, with a focus on Covid-19 protocols, critical race theory, and school choice. Critical race theory is an academic discipline that examines the ways in which racism operates in US laws and society. It is not taught in US secondary schools.Obama said simply: “We should be making it easier for teachers in schools to give our kids a world class education.”Disinformation and conspiracy theories have plagued the gubernatorial election, with Democrats protesting that Republicans are touting misleading Covid-19 guidance and focusing on inflammatory campaigning.TopicsBarack ObamaVirginiaDemocratsUS politicsnewsReuse this content More

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    ‘We need him to deliver’: Biden faces wrath of disappointed supporters

    Joe Biden‘We need him to deliver’: Biden faces wrath of disappointed supporters The US president hopes to be a transformational figure like FDR but inaction on voting rights, the climate crisis and social policy has fuelled frustrationDavid Smith in Washington@smithinamericaSat 23 Oct 2021 02.00 EDTLast modified on Sat 23 Oct 2021 02.07 EDTWhen Joe Biden huddled with a group of historians in March, the conversation revolved around thinking big like one of his predecessors, Franklin Roosevelt, architect of the New Deal. Biden, it seemed, wanted to join him in the first rank of transformational US presidents.Six months later, a very different gathering took place this week outside the White House gates. Five young climate activists, holding signs and sitting on folding chairs, began an indefinite hunger strike. It was a visceral expression of disgust at what they see as Biden’s willingness to think small and break his promises.Biden gives strongest signal he’s ready to move to end Senate filibusterRead more“Young people turned out in record numbers to elect him on his climate commitments,” said Nikayla Jefferson, 24, an activist helping the quietly determined hunger strikers on the edge of Lafayette Park. “But over this past month he’s almost given up. He’s not being a leader in this moment in the way that we need him to deliver.”A growing sense of betrayal is shared by campaigners for everything from gun rights to immigration reform, from racial justice to voting rights, who saw Democrats’ governing majority as a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Instead party infighting has put Biden’s agenda in jeopardy and could result in voter disillusionment in next year’s midterm elections.The 46th president came into office promising to attack four crises – coronavirus, climate, economy and racial justice – but has seen his approval rating sink to 42% after colliding with some harsh political and economic realities.These include tepid jobs growth, labour strikes, rising inflation and petrol prices, logjams in the global supply chain, a record number of arrests at the US-Mexico border and a botched withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan that raised unexpected questions about his competence.Even routine business, such as appointing an ambassador to Japan, appears to have become jinxed: Biden’s choice for Tokyo, Rahm Emanuel, provoked a backlash from liberals because of his record on racial justice as mayor of Chicago.Worries that Biden has lost his way have been intensified by his failure to hold an open-to-all press conference since taking office in January. In that time he has done only 10 one-on-one interviews – far fewer than Barack Obama or Donald Trump at the same stage.But the biggest sense of a stalled presidency derives from seemingly interminable wrangling among congressional Democrats over Biden’s $1tn physical infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion social and environmental package.Two senators in particular, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have demanded cuts to the reconciliation package, prompting public acrimony with Senator Bernie Sanders and other progressives that has come to dominate Washington and crowd out other urgent causes.Biden’s proud march into the history books appears to have descended into internal party mudslinging.Jeff Merkley, a Democratic senator for Oregon, told the Meet the Press Daily programme on the MSNBC network: “It’s completely taking the air out of the balloon for the Biden presidency. It’s hurting Biden. It’s hurting the Democrats. It’s undermining the vision of all the accomplishments we will have as being highly significant.”With his legislative agenda in limbo if not peril, Biden was this week forced to step in, host both factions at the White House and take a more aggressive role. This gave some Democrats fresh hope of a breakthrough but indicated that he will pare down the $3.5tn package in favor of a more modest proposal, threatening a clean electricity programme that was the centerpiece of his climate strategy.It also underlined concerns that Biden is yielding to corporate interests on fossil fuels, prescription drug prices and tax increases. Critics say he has become so consumed with the grind of policy sausage-making that he has lost sight of big picture issues dear to his supporters.Among them is the fate of democracy itself.Last week Senate Republicans deployed a procedural rule known as the filibuster to block, for the second time, debate on sweeping reforms that would protect the right to vote. Activists who knocked on doors and raised funds for Biden warn that his failure to prioritize the issue above all others could prove his biggest regret.LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said: “Do I believe that he’s against voter suppression? Absolutely. Do I think that he supports voting rights? Absolutely. Do I believe that he is willing to use the full power of his office and his administration to ensure that voters that voted for him are not punished for voting for him? That’s yet to be seen.”In a CNN town hall on Thursday night, Biden signaled support for filibuster reform. But he should have pushed the cause earlier and more forcefully, Brown argues.“When you fight for those that fight for you, you go in the midterms with an advantage. I think they squandered that with choosing the wrong strategy. They miscalculated. Black folks may not have another real, viable party option but we always have options,” she said.Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, a leading civil organization, described the White House’s passivity about safeguarding democracy as “appalling”. He told the Washington Post: “I have heard from many of my colleagues and members that the lack of priority around voting rights will be the undoing of the legacy for this presidency.”Disenchantment was evident again last weekend when dozens of advocates for immigration reform staged a virtual walkout on administration officials during a video meeting. They are critical of Biden’s continuation of Trump-era border policies such as forcing migrants to wait in Mexico pending asylum hearings and deploying a public health order known as Title 42 to expel migrants at the border over concerns about Covid-19.Ariana Saludares, an advocate from the New Mexico-based community organization Colores United, who took part in the walkout, said: “Title 42 is a sham. Politicians, including the current administration, use it to explain that those coming across the borders have higher rates of infection. We have the numbers from our shelters along the borders to show that that is absolutely false.”Speaking by phone from Puerto Palomas, a small border town in Mexico suffering water shortages, Saludares asked: “Where is Joe Biden? Where is Kamala Harris? Where are all of these things they said that they would be able to provide us with after such a ‘horrible period’. And now what? It leaves a lot of people wondering what actually are they doing?”The disappointment of grassroots activists spells trouble for Democrats ahead of midterm elections for the House of Representatives and Senate that historically tend to favour the party that does not hold the White House. Ominously seven House Democrats have announced they will retire rather than run for re-election, with another five seeking other elected office.Democrats fear a replay of 2010, when the tortuous but ultimately successful passage of Obama’s Affordable Care Act did not prevent a crushing defeat in the midterms. And looming in the distance is Trump, who seems likely to run for president again in 2024, a prospect that fills many observers with dread for the future of American democracy.Bill Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution thinktank in Washington and former policy adviser to President Bill Clinton, said: “This is obviously a delicate moment in the Biden presidency. Right now the Biden agenda is the equivalent of airplanes in a kind of a crush, circling above an airport that doesn’t have enough runways to accommodate all of them simultaneously.“Things will look different once some of the planes begin to land and I do expect that the infrastructure bill and a pared-down reconciliation bill will in fact be enacted into law well before the end of the year. That will change the mood to some extent. The situation is not quite as bad as it looks – but it’s bad enough.”But not everyone is doom and gloom. Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist based in Columbia, South Carolina, was more upbeat. “I feel cautiously optimistic,” he said. “Joe Biden has demonstrated over time his ability to take a licking and keep on ticking. He’s also demonstrated that when people count him out, he always teaches them that they do not know how to count.“When the ink dries about the story of this piece of history, you’re going to see that as the continued theme when it comes to Joe Biden. I believe we’re right where we need to be. Mike Tyson has a quote, ‘The key to being successful is peaking at the right time,’ and I think Joe Biden will in the end do just that.”TopicsJoe BidenUS politicsDemocratsUS domestic policyUS voting rightsUS midterm elections 2022featuresReuse this content More

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    Are lobbyists trying to gut Biden’s budget? No one knows – and that’s the problem | David Litt

    OpinionUS politicsAre lobbyists trying to gut Biden’s budget? No one knows – and that’s the problemDavid LittOur campaign finance system makes it nearly impossible to track money in politics or hold our representatives accountable Fri 22 Oct 2021 06.27 EDTLast modified on Fri 22 Oct 2021 06.32 EDTJoe Biden’s Build Back Better reconciliation bill has been stuck in limbo – and conservative Democrats are in fundraising heaven.West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, who raised more than $400,000 from the oil and gas industry while the bill was being negotiated, is now poised to gut Biden’s clean-energy plan. Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema spent the summer and fall collecting checks from corporate groups and Trump donors who oppose the Biden agenda, then helped cut the size of the reconciliation package by approximately half.Biden’s budget could transform life for working women. Don’t let Manchin gut it | Moira DoneganRead morePolitical horse-trading is nothing new, and the version of Build Back Better that seems likely to pass would improve tens of millions of American lives. But there’s still something unseemly about the way this bill has been negotiated. Were the Senate’s holdouts demanding a principled compromise? Acting out of genuine concern for their constituents’ interests? Or were they trading favors for campaign cash?It’s impossible to know for certain which provisions, if any, were cut because of wealthy campaign donors. But that’s precisely the problem, and it goes far beyond one bill and two senators. Our campaign finance system – one that has existed for barely more than a decade – makes it nearly impossible to distinguish between politics-as-usual, influence peddling and outright bribery. That’s not just a threat to individual policies or pieces of legislation. It’s a threat to public trust in our system of government, and by extension, to democracy itself.For most of the last half-century, it was widely understood that democracy depends upon voters’ trust that their representatives will represent them. That’s why, in 1976, the supreme court ruled that the public interest was served not just by preventing corruption, but by preventing “the appearance of corruption”. The court’s decision made both legal and intuitive sense: if voters decide that the political process is corrupt, they’ll stop engaging with the political process, thus reducing public accountability and opening the door to more corruption.But in 2010, a new, far more conservative supreme court took a completely different view. “We now conclude,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in Citizens United, “that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” In a series of follow-on decisions, the court’s rightwing majority expanded on this idea: not that the appearance of corruption was good, but that no amount of money in politics could possibly appear corrupt.In the real world, the court’s assertion was almost immediately proven false. In a divided country, one thing Americans can agree on is that rich people and corporations have way too much political power. According to the Pew Research Center, for example, 90% of Americans think it’s important for society that wealthy donors have no more influence than other people – but just 26% of people think that is now the case. A handful of justices chose to ignore the “appearance of corruption”, but it hasn’t gone away just because a conservative supreme court closed its eyes.Fortunately, even in the Citizens United era, there are ways to reduce the political influence of corporate donors and wealthy individuals – and to restore Americans’ faith that government can work for the people.First, we can make it more difficult for lawmakers and wealthy interests to engage in outright, quid-pro-quo corruption. Just this week, a grand jury indicted Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, a Nebraska Republican, for allegedly lying to federal investigators about $180,000 in illegal campaign contributions. This development was remarkable precisely because it was so rare. It’s an open secret that even the campaign finance laws that remain post-Citizens United are broken with impunity. (Two years into his presidency, Donald Trump himself tweeted that campaign finance violations “are not a crime”.) If law enforcement investigated and prosecuted corruption more aggressively, lawmakers might become more careful about crossing, or merely approaching, legal lines.Second, we can do what election law expert Rick Hasen calls “leveling up”. Rather than limiting the amount of corporate money in politics – an impossibility so long as conservatives control the court – we can give ordinary Americans more influence. So-called “democracy vouchers” could give voters tax credits for small-dollar donations to causes they believe in. We could also increase the amount of public funds available for candidates who agree not to take private donations. (Lest anyone try to paint this as some kind of socialist plot, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and George W Bush all accepted taxpayer dollars to fund their campaigns.)Finally, we can limit the influence of the other side of the influence-peddling equation: lobbying. In the Citizens United era, corporations and wealthy individuals can spend unlimited sums of money on politicians’ campaigns, then spend unlimited sums of money on lobbyists who ask those same politicians for highly specific favors. It’s hard to imagine a system better suited to erode Americans’ trust in their elected officials. But imagine a sliding-scale tax on registered lobbying, far stricter disclosure requirements on corporate political spending, or perhaps even an Office of Public Lobbying to advocate for groups well-represented in America but poorly funded on Capitol Hill.These changes won’t undo all the damage caused by conservative justices’ Citizen United ruling. But they will help stem the tide. They would give candidates without access to deep-pocketed donors a more level playing field. They would give lawmakers like Manchin and Sinema an alternative to funding their campaigns via wealthy interests – and no excuse not to take it. Most of all, they would give Americans more confidence that the legislative process, while never straightforward or without compromise, is designed to benefit all the people, and not just a privileged few.Democracy is not just under attack from insurrectionists who would commit political violence or would-be autocrats who would overturn an election. It’s under attack from those who seek to undermine its central promise – that representative government can make a positive difference in people’s lives.Ultimately, reducing the influence of corporate and megadonor money isn’t about smoothing the next reconciliation bill’s passage, or even fixing a broken campaign-finance system. It’s about bolstering the American republic as it faces its toughest test in decades.
    David Litt is an American political speechwriter and New York Times bestselling author of Thanks Obama, and Democracy in One Book or Less. He edits How Democracy Lives, a newsletter on democracy reform
    TopicsUS politicsOpinionDemocratsJoe BidenUS SenateUS CongressBiden administrationcommentReuse this content More

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    Climate advocates who backed Sinema exasperated by blocking of Biden bill

    DemocratsClimate advocates who backed Sinema exasperated by blocking of Biden billArizona senator – who once led the state Green party – has refused to specify which parts of the $3.5tn budget bill she objects to Maanvi Singh@maanvissinghFri 22 Oct 2021 06.05 EDTLast modified on Fri 22 Oct 2021 06.06 EDTWildfires, deadly heat, drought and flooding show how climate change has “already arrived” in Arizona and action is desperately needed, according to climate and progressive advocates who helped elect Kyrsten Sinema to represent the state in the Senate.Many of them are wondering why their senator seems to have “turned her back” on her background in environmental politics and is now blocking Democrats’ multitrillion-dollar legislation to address climate change.“The climate crisis is here – it has already arrived in Arizona,” said Vianey Olivarria, a director of Chispa Arizona, the state branch of the League of Conservation Voters, which had endorsed Sinema for senator. “We don’t have a lot of time to waste.”Sinema is one of two centrist senators – with Joe Manchin of West Virginia – who have opposed the Biden administration’s $3.5tn budget bill that contains the bulk of the Democrats’ climate change agenda.This summer, the earth in parts of Arizona cracked – desiccated by decades of megadrought. But some communities also flooded. Ferocious wildfires have eaten through half a million acres this year. And a prolonged, record-breaking heatwave – supercharged by human-caused climate change – killed dozens in Phoenix and surrounding suburbs.This week Sinema was back at the White House for private talks with Joe Biden on the legislation, which would need the votes of all 50 Democratic senators to pass. It would enact dramatic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, boost renewable energy programs and fund climate resiliency programs.Sinema’s office has emphatically contested New York Times reporting earlier this month that Sinema demanded $100bn in cuts specifically to climate programs. But she has said little in public on her position and her obstruction of the reconciliation package overall has confused, disappointed and angered progressive voters and climate activists in her home state.Indeed, Sinema began her political career leading the Arizona Green party. Over the years, her politics shifted – and she positioned herself as a moderate Democrat willing and able to work with Republicans that dominated state politics – but even then, she said she modeled herself after the late John McCain, the Republican senator of Arizona who pushed for bipartisan climate action throughout his career.“When Senator Sinema ran for office, she promised to fight for climate change and invest in our communities,” said Casey Clowes, an organizer with the Sunrise Movement in Tempe, Arizona. In 2018, Clowes said she voted for Sinema, and volunteered for more than 250 hours to help send Sinema – the first Arizona Democrat in 30 years – to the Senate. “Now she’s been unaccountable and inaccessible,” Clowes said. “I think a lot of us are fed up.”On Thursday, a group of veterans advising Sinema resigned, and accused her of hanging her constituents “out to dry”.Unlike Manchin, Sinema has not publicly voiced her concerns with the reconciliation bill – aside from rejecting its overall price tag.Manchin, a conservative Democrat who has received more in political donations from the oil and gas industry than any other senator, has made clear that he objects to provisions that would slash planet-heating emissions. But Sinema – who has become infamous for evading questions from constituents and journalists – recently told the Arizona Republic that she had “an interest in policies addressing climate change”, without offering much detail on which policies she was interested in. The senator has resisted raises to individual income and corporate tax rates to fund climate change and social safety net programs but hasn’t made clear what alternative funding schemes she would support.“Since she’s been in office, it’s been nearly impossible for community members to connect with her,” said Columba Sainz, a consultant with Moms Clean Air Force in Arizona. “We don’t know whether Sinema will protect us.”Sainz, whose youngest daughter has wheezing episodes and respiratory problems triggered by poor air quality, said: “In my family, heat is our enemy. It interacts with stagnant air to create and trap ozone pollution.” She works with other families who cannot afford air conditioning during punishing heatwaves. The state recorded more than 500 heat-related deaths in 2020, which public health experts say is probably an undercount. In Maricopa county alone, officials tallied at least 113 heat-related deaths this year so far.Who is Kyrsten Sinema? Friends and foes ponder an Arizona Senate enigmaRead more“We need funding for adapting to climate change,“ said Gregg Garfin, a climatologist at the University of Arizona. Several cities in Arizona, including Phoenix and Flagstaff, have already made climate change a priority, starting community programs to harvest rainwater amid drought or plant trees to shield poor, urban neighborhoods from the punishing summer heat. “But addressing the crisis has been an unfunded mandate,” he said. “They need more investment.”The budget bill endorsed by the majority of Democrats in Congress would finance a Green Bank to help communities install solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations, and create a Civilian Climate Corps of young Americans to build climate-resilient infrastructure.Clowes, who has a chronic illness that makes her especially vulnerable to heatstroke, said Sinema’s resistance to legislation that could help fund cooling centers and heat-defying infrastructure, and bring down the emissions fueling extreme heat in the region, has left her angry. Along with other members of the Sunrise Movement, Clowes camped outside Sinema’s office in Phoenix this week. “It’s really painful to watch my home become uninhabitable,” she said. “And see Senator Sinema turn her back.”TopicsDemocratsUS SenateUS politicsClimate crisisnewsReuse this content More

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    Black candidates for US Senate smash fundraising records for 2022 midterms

    US midterm elections 2022Black candidates for US Senate smash fundraising records for 2022 midtermsThird-quarter hauls raise hopes of transforming a body in which only 11 African American senators have ever sat David Smith in Washington@smithinamericaFri 22 Oct 2021 05.00 EDTLast modified on Fri 22 Oct 2021 05.01 EDTAfrican American candidates running for the US Senate smashed campaign fundraising records over the past three months, raising hopes of transforming a body that remains overwhelmingly white.There have only been 11 Black senators since the chamber first convened in 1789 and only two were women. Senator Kamala Harris’s ascent to the vice-presidency means there are currently no female members who are Black.Biden vowed to make racial justice the heart of his agenda – is it still beating?Read moreBut in the most recent Federal Election Commission reporting period, African Americans posted huge sums from donors, especially in the south, suggesting the potential to build a pipeline of Black politicians who can excite the grassroots and reshape the government.Democrat Raphael Warnock, a pastor who won a crucial runoff in January to become Georgia’s first Black senator, took in a staggering $9.5m over three months for his re-election bid. Val Demings, a congresswoman and former police chief challenging the Republican senator Marco Rubio in Florida, was close behind with $8.5m.Notably, both Warnock and Demings raised more money than any other Senate candidate of any racial demographic.Another Democrat, Charles Booker, running for Senate in Kentucky against the Republican Rand Paul, raised $1.7m in the third quarter, which ran from July to the end of September. Cheri Beasley, a judge running for Senate in North Carolina as a Democrat, netted $1.5m.Republicans have also capitalised on the trend. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina took a haul of $8.4m, fuelling speculation that he could mount a bid for the White House. Herschel Walker, a former football player taking on Warnock in Georgia, raised $3.8m in the first five weeks of his Donald Trump-endorsed campaign.The historic tallies – more than a year before the midterm elections – signal a potential turning point after decades in which Black candidates, especially women, struggled to raise funds to rival their white counterparts, feeding a vicious circle in which they were seen as unelectable by party establishments.“When we allow the narrative that Black women and Black candidates are not electable and viable to seep into an election cycle early, that is why money slows down,” said Glynda Carr, co-founder and president of Higher Heights, an organisation that supports Black women running for elected office.“So why the third-quarter report is so powerful is that it’s a proof of concept that Black women are electable and viable. Frankly, many of the Black women that are currently boldly serving across this country in Congress and in statehouses ran races with no early institutional support, party support or money and still ran winning campaigns.“You now add in early money, it is just going to position more Black women to run in competitive seats and be seeing what we already know are viable candidates that were given the additional resources early will succeed on election day.”The internet has enabled Black candidates to bypass the old networks by reaping small donations online. Elections such as Warnock’s in Georgia also proved the centrality of Black voters in the Democratic coalition. And last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests following the police murder of George Floyd could have a lasting political legacy.Antjuan Seawright, a senior adviser to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said: “The net worth of African American voters has proven over time its value. Therefore, the Black candidates are reaping the benefits not just at the ballot box, but also when it comes to fundraising and other key ingredients it takes to be successful in this business. That is part of the reason you can see this explosion happening.”Seawright, based in Columbia, South Carolina, added: “The African American network has demonstrated over time that without us you cannot win up and down the ballot and so I think all that matters in terms of the conversation and the benefits.“And then you add that to the fact that the country’s changing. There’s not a race in this country that you can be successful at the ballot box without having a strong, deep and wide support amongst what I believe to be the most loyal and consistent voting bloc in the country.”Not all Black candidates swept the board. In Pennsylvania Malcolm Kenyatta, a state representative, was outraised by both the lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, and congressman Conor Lamb.And deep pockets alone cannot buy success. Jaime Harrison, an African American man who is the current chair of the Democratic National Committee, raised more than $100m last year but could not unseat the Republican Trump ally Lindsey Graham in South Carolina.Drexel Heard, a Democratic strategist based in Los Angeles, California, said: “Raising money does not always translate well to a candidate’s viability when it comes to voters. What it does show is that donors and voters can be enthusiastic about a candidate that is Black. I think that’s the difference.”But Heard noted: “The party has always known that Black voters are the most loyal voters to the Democratic party, and that’s been indisputable. The party also recognises that we have to build a bench that is reflective of the voting base and I think you’re seeing that in in those candidates that are popping up.”TopicsUS midterm elections 2022US SenateRaceDemocratsRepublicansUS politicsnewsReuse this content More

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    House holds Trump ally Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress

    House of RepresentativesHouse holds Trump ally Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of CongressContempt citation for Bannon approved by 229 votes to 202Strategist refused to comply with Capitol attack subpoena Hugo Lowell in WashingtonThu 21 Oct 2021 16.32 EDTLast modified on Thu 21 Oct 2021 17.05 EDTThe House voted on Thursday to hold Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress, over his refusal to comply with a subpoena issued by the House select committee investigating the 6 January Capitol attack.House votes to hold Bannon in contempt for defying Capitol attack subpoena – liveRead moreThe approval of the contempt citation, by 229 votes to 202 against, escalates the select committee’s efforts to punish Bannon for his non-compliance as they intensify their inquiry into whether then-president Trump helped plan or had advance knowledge of the insurrection.The House select committee chair, Bennie Thompson, the Democratic congressman from Mississippi, said the authorization of the criminal referral against Bannon signalled their determination to deploy their most aggressive measures to take action both against Bannon and any other Trump aides who might ultimately defy subpoenas.“We need to make it clear that no person is above the law, we need to take a stand for the committee’s investigation, and for the integrity of this body,” Thompson said on the House floor.“What sort of precedent would it set for the House of Representatives if we allow a witness to ignore us, flat out, without facing any kind of consequences? What message would it send to other witnesses in our investigation? I’m not willing to find out,” he added.The move to request the justice department to prosecute Trump’s former chief strategist also marks a stinging personal rebuke to Bannon, and opens a new legal front in the select committee’s efforts to pursue information from inside the White House and Trump circles before 6 January.Members on the select committee recommended that the House hold Bannon in criminal contempt after they unanimously rejected the notion that Trump’s former chief strategist could claim absolute immunity from congressional oversight on grounds of executive privilege.The select committee had issued subpoenas last month to Bannon and top Trump administration officials – including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, his deputy Dan Scavino, and former defense department aide Kash Patel – under the threat of prosecution.But directed by Trump and his attorney to defy the orders, Bannon ignored his subpoena in its entirety, infuriating the select committee that then moved immediately to vote to recommend that the House find him in contempt of Congress.The referral now heads to the justice department, where the attorney general, Merrick Garland, the US attorney for the District of Columbia and the Office of Legal Counsel are required by law to weigh a prosecution and present the matter before a grand jury.Should the justice department secure a conviction against Bannon, the consequences could mean up to a year in federal prison, $100,000 in fines, or both – though it would still not force his compliance and pursuing the misdemeanor charge could take years.The select committee views Bannon’s testimony as crucial to their investigation, since he was in constant contact with Trump in the days and weeks leading up to the Capitol attack.Bannon was one of the key architects – alongside Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and lawyer John Eastman – of the plan to stop the certification of Joe Biden election’s win and attempt the extraordinary move of returning Trump to the Oval Office, according to a source familiar with the matter.That meant Bannon was involved in meetings with the Trump campaign – and potentially even Trump himself – at the Trump International hotel and the Willard hotel in Washington the night before the Capitol attack.Bannon also appeared to predict the Capitol attack itself, saying on his War Room podcast the day before the insurrection that left five dead and 140 injured, including dozens of police officers, and lawmakers and staff in fear for their lives: “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”In opening remarks before the vote to recommend Bannon’s prosecution, the Republican vice-chair of the select committee, Liz Cheney, suggested the reason for his non-compliance might be because he was fearful of compromising Trump.“Mr Bannon’s and Mr Trump’s privilege arguments do appear to reveal one thing, however: they suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6th. And we will get to the bottom of that,” Cheney said.But despite the high stakes, Bannon informed the select committee he would not cooperate with his 23 September subpoena, and claimed the materials and testimony requested by the panel were protected by executive privilege and could not be turned over to Congress.The select committee rejected that argument on Tuesday.Bannon’s legal argument also faces a steep uphill struggle, with the Biden justice department appearing inclined to adopt a narrow interpretation on executive privilege, previously allowing top Trump justice department officials to testify to Congress about 6 January.In the contempt report for Bannon, the select committee noted that they had requested documents and testimony regarding his contacts with members of Congress and the Trump campaign, which could not conceivably be covered by a White House secrecy protection.The contempt report noted that even if the select committee accepted his executive privilege claim, it would still not have allowed him to ignore the subpoena since the protection exists for White House officials – and Bannon was fired by Trump in 2017.TopicsHouse of RepresentativesUS politicsSteve BannonDemocratsRepublicansDonald TrumpUS CongressnewsReuse this content More