In Year Two, no more Mr. Nice Biden, please

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the omicron surge and COVID-19 relief efforts during a speech at the White House on Dec. 21, 2021. (Screenshot)

Republicans would roll over Democrats if they were in charge. Why the constant olive branches?

About halfway through his marathon news conference last week, President Joe Biden finally asked the only question in Washington that’s worth asking. With congressional Republicans standing in the way of the Democrats’ every initiative, including voting rights (which should be as bipartisan as it gets), what do they actually support?

“What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they’re for,” Biden fumed.

The short answer, according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell? Not much of anything really.

“That is a very good question,” McConnell told reporters when he was asked about the GOP’s priorities if it retakes control of Congress after this fall’s midterm elections. “And I’ll let you know when we take it back.”

It’s bad enough that Biden already has to deal with such double-agents as U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. Trying to play nice with a congressional GOP, where a preponderance of its members don’t recognize his legitimacy and still bend the knee to the authoritarian-in-exile in Florida, is just compounding the torture.

So after 12 months of getting batted from one side of Capitol Hill to the other by McConnell (who did exactly the same thing to Biden’s old boss, Barack Obama), the 46th president appears, at long last, to have realized that there’s no point in trying to do his old job or negotiate with people who refuse to negotiate.

“And one of the things that I do think that has been made clear to me — speaking of polling — is the public doesn’t want me to be the ‘president senator.’ They want me to be the president and let senators be senators,” Biden said, according to the Washington Post, when he was asked about reaching out to Republicans to fix the Electoral Count Act.

“And so, if I’ve made — and I’ve made many mistakes, I’m sure. If I made a mistake, I’m used to negotiating to get things done, and I’ve been, in the past, relatively successful at it in the United States Senate, even as vice president. But I think that role as president is — is a different role,” he said.

Okay, so it’s not exactly, “We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” but it’s a start. Read more

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: I trust airline pilots more than telecom execs

If the stress of booking a flight when there are 1,800 pandemic related cancellations a day isn’t enough, how about the news that even though pilots—PILOTS!—have warned new 5G tech near airports could “harm aviation” …AT&T and Verizon are completing their airport adjacent installations.

“Harm aviation” sounds like a super nice way of saying “will potentially make the planes fall outta the sky.”

Call me crazy but why would I take the word of AT&T and Verizon, who stand to make a fortune once this 5G stuff rolls out, over real-life aviators who have spent their careers keeping us safe in the sky?

That would be like not trusting scientists on the effectiveness of a Covid vaccine, instead believing “angry neighbor man” who claims the virus is “no worse than eating a bowl of bad potato salad.”

AT&T and Verizon are unhappy with the FAA and aviation industry experts who claim the new tech could interfere with onboard equipment like radio altimeters and disrupt flights. Right into a cornfield.

Both companies counter 5G technology is already installed around airports in France, snarkily adding: “The laws of physics are the same in the U.S. and France.”

Untrue. The laws of physics in France waste most of the day smoking in cafes with their free-range poodles, who also smoke. Duh.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete (“Pete”) Buttigieg is leading the fight to delay the 5G until more safety studies are done.

“I’ve got newborn twins, so I haven’t slept in, like, 120 days. Will this make planes fall from the sky? I dunno. Hey! Does anybody else see that moose on the ceiling?”

AT&T head John Stankey (seriously; that’s his name) is now pinky swearing not to deploy 5G around airports for six months.

“We hope that by then, Secretary Buttigieg will be in a better mood. Maybe somebody could get him one of those sleep machine gizmos…” Stankey never said but probably thought.

AT&T and Verizon are only expert at devising fun new ways to jack up your bill. Universal Service Fund? Gross Receipts Recovery Fee? C’mon.

It’s interesting to note the telecommunications giants are only able to use this new tech because they won the C-Band spectrum that makes 5G possible for $80 billion at a government auction. Which really makes that Depression-era glass butter dish I got for a buck fifty that time seem like even more of a bargain.

In general, airlines don’t seem to get much respect for safety protocols. I always feel bad nobody else watches the seat belt demonstration and I always give the stink eye to passengers who have to be told repeatedly—like toddlers—to STOW YOUR DEVICE FOR TAKEOFF. Announced repeatedly, I half expect it to be followed by a stern: “Don’t make me pull this jet over.” Flight attendants can’t buckle up in their weird half seat thing down front if Heather in 18F insists on binging “Virgin River” on her laptop.

So, I lean over and whisper: “Doc Mullins has an incurable disease and Mel is going to secretly get pregnant via AI at the end of Season 3, but she still believes the baby could be Jack’s.” Hahahahahaha.

I’m a rule-follower, particularly where matters of life and death are concerned so I always remember to put my phone in “airplane mode.” Once, I asked Duh Hubby two hours into a flight if he had done so and he said “Huh. I forgot.” Just like it was no big deal to have endangered all 140 souls aboard.

I love that term, “souls.” I never heard it until watching the fabulous plane crash movie “Sully,” the first time. It’s such a sweet way of framing passengers as something more noble. Not Heather, of course, but the rest of us.

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].

From the battle to preserve American democracy to charter school chaos: The week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Experts say Black lawmakers are sure to lose seats under new NC legislative maps

2. Former Three Rivers principal describes chaos at charter school, which state plans to close

7. The inflation blame game: Five important facts to keep in mind

The subject of inflation has been on many tongues in the public policy world of late – especially as Republican politicians comb every nook and cranny of the news cycle for topics with which to launch broadsides at the Biden administration.

In November, North Carolina Congressman Ted Budd – a candidate for Richard Burr’s soon-to-be-available U.S. Senate seat – introduced a snarky bill that would “require all personnel in the Biden White House to complete a financial literacy course focused on inflation.”

More recently, Sen. Thom Tillis has echoed this familiar conservative refrain by issuing a statement blaming the surge in prices over the past year on the Biden administration’s “out-of-control spending.”

Not surprisingly, both attacks are, in the immortal words of the iconic baseball commentator Bob Uecker in the film “Major League,” “just a bit outside.” [Read more…]

8. MLK Day numbers: The battle to preserve American democracy

9. Weekly Radio Interviews and Daily Commentaries:

Click here for the latest podcasts from PW Director Rob Schofield.

10. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

 

E.R. physician: Vaccine mandates have always faced resistance…and saved lives

An 1806 work from English physician Robert John Thornton included an illustration of the theory that cowpox injections might lead women to have sex with bulls and produce half-cow offspring. Image courtesy of Wellcome Collection.

Health care professionals had high hopes that rapid vaccination of our entire U.S. population would slow COVID-19 transmission and stem the disproportionately high death count in the United States. We also hoped to avoid more concerning mutations that are inevitable when viruses multiply unchecked.

I lost my mother to COVID-19 in November of 2020, less than two months before the vaccine became available. Last spring, I checked in with my mother’s youngest brother in Oregon. He had questions about the new vaccines which had kept him from getting vaccinated. I tried to reassure him about the history, safety, and effectiveness of each of the vaccines. I described my own positive experience getting a two-shot vaccination as part of the early rollout to healthcare workers. However, he preferred to do some more investigating before committing to vaccination.

Despite impressive data on the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccinations, only 63% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated and a smaller percentage has been boosted. A year after the vaccine rollout we find ourselves in the midst of the highest COVID-19 transmission rates and hospitalization numbers since the start of the pandemic. Vaccine hesitancy rates are still as high as 25% in certain regions of the country.

This past September, I got a 6 a.m. call from Oregon and was numb as my uncle informed me that he and my aunt had contracted COVID and had just transferred to hospital beds from the Emergency Department.

He apologized for his muffled voice as he talked to me through a breathing machine and reported his oxygen saturation was just 45% when he arrived in the ED. He joked and asked if I might be willing to come to Oregon for a house call. My aunt was able to return home on oxygen after a few days in the hospital, but four days after that phone call my uncle was gone.

I wept when my aunt called me with the news.

A cowpox vaccine certificate issued to Ole Olsen, the great-great-grandfather of the author, in Sweden in 1832.

Vaccine hesitancy is not new. It has been around for as long as there have been vaccines. It is born out of the most basic and rational thought one can have about life and health: “Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Will this vaccine help me or my loved ones survive?”

However, we know that decisions we make about our health aren’t purely rational. We smoke and drink too much. We eat too much and spend too much time idle, all the while knowing these decisions are at odds with good sense and our health.

We are easy prey to fear and emotional arguments that distract us from data, and smear the character or personality of vaccines as if they were persons to be debated or despised instead of a 225 year-old proven tool of survival.

The first vaccine was found through observation of a natural process. In the late 1700s in England where smallpox was the greatest cause of untimely death, Dr. Edward Jenner saw that milkmaids previously infected with cowpox were immune to smallpox.

Trading the discomfort of a mild illness and a few cowpox on an arm proved much safer than getting smallpox. Before that first vaccination existed, about a quarter of all children died before their first birthdays, many from infectious diseases that are now preventable. No country had a life expectancy of more than 40 years old. Since then, the average human lifespan has doubled, largely thanks to vaccines.

In 1796 as Jenner distributed his cowpox vaccination the rational question of improved survival was answered, but distractions from this answer had just begun. Some argued political and religious calamities would ensue; others proclaimed that half-cow babies would be the inevitable result. Amid all the loud angry distractions and emotional outrage expressed against smallpox vaccination, the reality was that it saved lives and kept infected people from easily causing new outbreaks.

We continue to live in such a world where emotion and fear distract our rational inclination to survive. Read more

The U.S. Senate is broken. Missouri’s talking filibuster could fix it

How can you keep the filibuster, which Manchin sand Sinema see as a vehicle for compromise, but also pass a voting rights bill whose main components have broad support? The answer is to adopt Missouri’s talking filibuster. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Willard Duncan Vandiver coined Missouri’s motto during an 1899 Philadelphia speech. “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats,” he said, “and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”

As a former state senator who still haunts the Capitol, I know how infrequently Missouri is the first state to adopt any policy. In the tradition of Congressman Vandiver, we want other states to “show us” that a policy can work before we embrace it.

But given the present preoccupation of national politicos — can U.S. Senate Democrats find a procedural adjustment enabling them to pass meaningful election reform? — it is, ironically, Missouri with something worth showing the nation: The efficacy of a talking filibuster.

Since January 2021, 19 states have passed 34 laws to: reduce voting days, hours or drop boxes; limit absentee ballot requests; add identification requirements; restrict provisional ballots from incorrect voting places; or criminalize offers of water to voters in line.

In other instances, Republicans have neutered nonpartisan election officials (or specific officials overseeing elections, such as Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger).

Separately, 15 current Republican Secretary of State candidates — at least five of whom were at the Capitol last January 6 — have suggested that the 2020 election was stolen. Trump has already endorsed several in key swing states like Georgia, Arizona and Michigan.

And of course, President Trump tried to overturn 2020 election results in those states, not just through dozens of failed lawsuits but also by 1) summoning Michigan legislative leaders to the White House to suggest that they refuse certify the state’s presidential election results, 2) pushing the Arizona Senate to commission an elaborate election audit (which ultimately found no fraud) and, most famously, 3) telling Raffensperger that Georgia’s count was “off by hundreds of thousands of votes” and badgering him to “find 11,780 votes,” the precise number Trump needed to win.

In response to the aforementioned new laws, congressional Democrats have filed election reform legislation setting national standards to ease the registration and voting process.

In response to former President Trump’s alarming efforts, Democrats propose reforming the 1887 Electoral Count Act to ensure that a vice president cannot override a state’s election results as Trump exhorted Vice President Mike Pence to do.

Unfortunately for U.S. Senate Democrats, 60 votes are necessary for cloture (the parliamentary move to end debate and call a vote), and so far, only one Republican has announced support for Democratic electoral reform legislation, leaving Democrats nine votes short.

Those accustomed to the Missouri Senate may reply: “Why are you worried about how to end debate when the U.S Senate hasn’t even started debating any of this?”

Great question. The reason the U.S. Senate has yet to start debate on voting rights is that 60 votes are necessary to overcome a filibuster on the motion to proceed with debate.

That’s because U.S. senators do not actually have to filibuster — that is, talk for hours on end, as Missouri senators have long had to do — in the way they once did.

Until 1970, U.S. senators had to actually speak to hold the floor and prevent a vote, so filibusters were rare spectacles reserved for the most polarizing legislation (i.e., civil rights), paralyzing the Senate and grinding the nation’s business to a halt.

Senate leaders tried to solve this by adopting a two-track system allowing bills threatened by filibuster to be temporarily set aside so that others could be debated on the floor.

But the cure proved worse than the disease: Now that anyone could derail a bill by merely threatening a filibuster, it became routine for any minority party member to seamlessly kill bills without consequence.

So what does this have to do with the current voting rights debate?

Despite Democrats’ persistent effort to nuke the filibuster to move legislation with 50 senators plus Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have consistently killed any hope of that happening.

Thus the conundrum: How can you keep the filibuster, which Manchin and Sinema see as a vehicle for compromise, but also pass a voting rights bill whose main components have broad support?

The answer is to adopt Missouri’s talking filibuster.

Presently, all U.S. Senate Republicans have to do to start and maintain a filibuster is draft a one-sentence letter informing leadership of their objection.

That’s insane. Read more