Finally Getting Lucky

Joe Biden got lucky. It won’t happen again. That’s the word in Washington. That’s what the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker and Marianna Sotomayor report here:

President Biden and Democrats hailed the massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that passed the Senate this weekend as a triumph of Democratic ideals, with Biden calling the legislation “significant” and “historic.”

But the bill’s passage – on a tissue-thin party-line vote, after more than 24 hours of Senate debate – belied the broader challenges facing Biden as he tries to navigate intraparty divisions to push through an ambitious agenda on voting rights, climate change, immigration and other issues.

Those challenges come from his own party:

The relief act’s narrow slog through the 50-50 Senate revealed real disagreements between the Democratic Party’s liberal and centrist wings, as well as Biden’s instincts for procedure and bipartisanship. These and other disputes over the past week on issues ranging from the minimum wage to a new budget director also provided fresh warning signs for the rest of Biden’s priorities, which will require a unified Democratic Party and little room for error against Republican opposition.

The progressives want action. They held their noses and voted for this old-fashioned pleasant but far too careful old man, to edge out Trump. Without their votes, Trump would have won it all. Biden owes them. Republicans smiled:

Even as his party appeared headed for defeat, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took to the Senate floor in the middle of the overnight debate to mock the Democratic drama.

“Well, my goodness, that’s been quite a start – quite a start – to this fast-track process,” McConnell said, unable to suppress a smile. “A little tougher than they thought it was going to be, isn’t it? Turned out to be a little bit tougher.”

Stuff it, Mitch:

Biden and his allies, however, were exultant at the outcome, noting that the president had proposed an ambitious package to help combat the deadly coronavirus pandemic and offer Americans economic relief, and ultimately succeeded.

And there was next to nothing in there for big corporations and nothing at all for the two hundred richest families in America. Democrats aren’t Republicans. The Washington Post’s Heather Long shows why:

President Biden’s stimulus package, which passed the Senate on Saturday, represents one of the most generous expansions of aid to the poor in recent history, while also showering thousands or, in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars on Americans families navigating the coronavirus pandemic.

The roughly $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which only Democrats supported, spends most of the money on low-income and middle-class Americans and state and local governments, with very little funding going toward companies. The plan is one of the largest federal responses to a downturn Congress has enacted and economists estimate it will boost growth this year to the highest level in decades and reduce the number of Americans living in poverty by a third.

Nothing is trickling down here. There’s nothing indirect here. Those in dire need get what they need, not doubletalk, and they know it:

This round of aid enjoys wide support across the country, polls show, and it is likely to be felt quickly by low- and moderate-income Americans who stand to receive not just larger checks than before, but money from expanded tax credits, particularly geared toward parents; enhanced unemployment; rental assistance; food aid and health insurance subsidies.

But some do worry still:

The bill, which the House is expected to pass and send to Biden within days, injects the economy with so much money that some economists from both parties are warning that growth could overheat, leading to a bout of hard-to-contain inflation. Meanwhile, some businesses are saying that government aid has been so generous that they’re already having trouble getting unemployed workers to return to work – a problem that could be exacerbated by the legislation.

That first thing – sudden awful inflation – never seems to happen anymore. Obama goosed the economy, big time. No inflation. And that second thing – people staying home and not working ever again, and living the good life on three hundred dollars a week, is an absurd notion. One can imagine any number of reasons a few might not want to go back to work just yet – fear of Covid for one. Nothing is simple. But this rescue package is fairly straightforward, and quite temporary:

Unlike many other significant anti-poverty measures passed by Congress in history, this one has a short time horizon, with almost all the relief for families going away over the coming year. That could be an abrupt awakening for Americans who have grown accustomed to financial support since Congress moved swiftly to create a stronger safety net at the start of the pandemic a year ago. It also lacks the bipartisan imprint of former President Trump’s bills, which directed money in larger measure to companies as well as individuals.

But it does what’s necessary:

“This legislative package likely represents the most effective set of policies for reducing child poverty ever in one bill, especially among Black and Latinx children,” said Indivar Dutta-Gupta, co-executive director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality. “The Biden administration is seeing this more like a wartime mobilization. They’ll deal with any downside risks later on.”

The upside is more important now:

Many economists say the package is far from perfect, but they broadly agree that this crisis has been an unprecedented hit on low-income workers and their children and the aid should be targeted most toward them.

Recent history has shown that giving money to poorer families delivers the greatest boost to the economy, because those Americans are the most likely to spend the money right away.

“History and a strong body of research would tell us the only way to avoid more lasting scars on households and the economy is by not doing too little,” said Ellen Zentner, chief economist at Morgan Stanley. She pointed out that giving money to low-income households “is much more stimulative than past policies in a downturn.”

So just do it:

The mantra of the White House and the Federal Reserve has been that it’s better to err on the side of doing too much than too little. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has made the case that it’s not just the jobless who are struggling. Many people have taken a pay cut or are working fewer hours and many families have had to juggle jobs with child-care and elder-care responsibilities, which brings more costs.

“Any time you try to design a targeted system in the scale of the U.S. economy, you end up missing people,” Neel Kashkari, president and chief executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, said in a Friday interview. This bill “really, in my mind, is not meant to be stimulus, it’s meant to be relief for those families who’ve lost jobs.”

Kashkari led the bank bailout, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis. Back then, he said, the government was so concerned about targeting aid to deserving families that a lot of struggling homeowners didn’t get money fast enough and the nation ended up with a massive foreclosure problem. He doesn’t want to see that repeated.

Democrats say the American Rescue Plan corrects the flaws…

Republicans most know this. NBC’s Sahil Kapur and Allan Smith confirm that:

The Republican Party is showing signs of softening its trademark fiscal conservative brand in favor of a new populist approach, a potentially seminal shift as the party becomes more reliant on blue-collar white voters after Donald Trump’s presidency.

The last time Republicans were thrown out of power, in 2009, they embraced an unabashed tax-cutting and spending-cutting vision to find their way out of the wilderness. Now, the party is taking a different path as ambitious figures seek to curry favor with voters by pushing a larger government safety net that includes cash for families and a minimum wage increase.

Ah, it was now time to act like Democrats:

The new approach comes at a time of deep economic hardship – rising income inequality and escalating costs of health care and college tuition – made worse by the coronavirus pandemic. The trend, if it continues, will test the long-standing alliance between the GOP and big business, and it has the potential to reshape the future of American policymaking.

“I hope there’s support for getting working people a fair shot. Most Americans – they don’t want to be taken care of. They would like a fair shot, though – to be able to get a job, be able to raise their family,” said Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.

Hawley’s rhetoric echoes that of progressives who say the government has a larger role in providing equal economic opportunity. He has been a vocal supporter of direct cash payments to Americans, even teaming up with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a democratic socialist, recently.

What? But then there’s Mitt:

Perhaps no Republican embodies the change quite like Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah. Romney ran for president in 2012 on a platform of slashing taxes, raising the Social Security retirement age and cutting Medicare spending. He picked as his running mate Paul Ryan, the vanguard of traditional fiscal conservatism.

Now, Romney is leading efforts in his party to expand the safety net with a substantial child allowance and a minimum wage hike to $10 an hour, which would be tied to stricter enforcement of immigration laws. And he was an early proponent of direct payments during the pandemic.

“With regards to each of those plans, the effort is to make our safety net more effective,” Romney said, while emphasizing that his plans would be paid for.

But he still wants a safety net, this time for that forty-seven percent he once despised, and he’s not alone now:

While Romney is hardly a favorite among conservative grassroots activists because of his extensive criticism of Trump, some were enthusiastic about by the proposals, particularly his child care plan, which would provide households up to $4,200 annually per child while cutting some entitlement programs.

The idea of using federal power to promote the nuclear family is at the center of the change in GOP policymaking, and a number of other lawmakers are seeking to lead in the area.

Marco Rubio is one of those, and Jeff Stein, the White House economics reporter for the Washington Post, notes bigger changes:

A new Democratic administration facing down a massive economic crisis pushes an $800 billion stimulus package. A bloc of centrist Democrats balk at the price tag, and Republicans are thrown into a frenzy warning about the impact to the federal deficit.

A little more than a decade later, another new Democratic administration takes office facing a different economic crisis. This time, it proposes spending an additional $1.9 trillion, even though the federal deficit last year was $3.1 trillion – much larger than during the last crisis. Centrist Democrats unify behind passing the measure, and the GOP rejects it but in a more muted fashion.

The disparity between the reception to President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan and President Biden’s is the result of several seismic shifts in American politics – the most dramatic of which may be the apparent impact of the pandemic on attitudes about the role of government in helping the economy.

“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.” Nope. Ronald Reagan is dead now:

Since the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, polling has found substantial support among Americans for providing more government aid for those in need. That is partially due to the nature of the current crisis, which for a time opened a deeper economic hole than even the Great Recession. But the shift is also the result of a reorientation on economic policy – on the left and on the right – that has transformed the political landscape.

On the right, congressional Republicans may still fret about higher deficits – but the most popular politician among their voters does not. As a candidate and as president, Donald Trump blew past Republican concerns about the deficit, pushing for trillions in additional spending and tax cuts and running unprecedented peacetime debt levels.

And on the left, Democratic lawmakers have increasingly learned to ignore fears about spending too much. Party leaders have said they suffered crippling political defeats in the 2010s precisely because they did not deliver enough meaningful economic relief under Obama – a mistake that they see an opportunity to correct under Biden.

Something happened:

“It’s been a major shift. People have gone from being anti-government, to beyond being even neutral on it, to thinking: ‘We need the government; it has to help us,’” said former congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who helped craft Congress’s response to the last financial crisis and Great Recession.

“You have a new consensus in America – that the government has an important role, and that Ronald Reagan was wrong. For the first time in my lifetime, people are saying that the government has done too little rather than doing too much.”

And that changes everything:

An analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which argues for lower deficits, found the package could ultimately cost $4 trillion if key provisions are extended.

Democrats are blowing past these concerns. Democratic lawmakers and aides say they have heard very few complaints from constituents about concerns the relief plan will drive up the deficit. Even senators representing states that Trump won by huge margins, such as Jon Tester (D-Mont.), have gone along with the bill’s price tag.

The White House has pointed to a range of economic analyses showing that without dramatic federal intervention, it could take as long as two years for employment to fully recover. Economists have also pointed to low interest rates as enabling historic borrowing at relatively low costs. The U.S. jobs report showed the economy added close to 400,000 jobs in February, but the number of Americans out of work is still over 9 million more than it was pre-pandemic.

Just do it. And be glad Joe is still around:

Biden is in some ways the ideal messenger for their spending blitz. A septuagenarian who spent four decades in Congress, the president is hard to portray as a socialist or radical leftist – even as he advances some ambitious expansions of government spending, including a major new child tax benefit.

“Biden’s style and his persona have allowed him to be heard as pragmatic on policies that if articulated by other people would sound ideological,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who advised Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. “Just by temperament and culture and background, Joe Biden seems less ideological and more pragmatic.”

That has also appeared to contribute to a more muted reaction to Biden’s spending plans than Obama’s. Reports from the Conservative Political Action Conference, held this year in Florida, indicated that the debt and deficits were not major themes energizing the conservative base.

They don’t want to talk about that anymore:

Dave Hopkins, a professor of political science at Boston College who studies the Democratic Party, said the Republican base is no longer “stoked” by criticisms of overspending.

“Moderate vulnerable Democrats feel a lot more freedom to vote for a big spending bill in the current moment – because the polls suggest it’s popular, and because the case against Democrats is being made on Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head, not the debt,” Hopkins said.

Is that all they’ve got? E. J. Dionne sees that:

Republicans and conservatives have used culture wars as a way of encouraging working-class voters to cast their ballots on the basis of social, religious and racial issues rather than on economic questions.

Ever since the 1960s, the GOP has chipped away at the New Deal coalition by insisting that when the word “elitist” is used, it is a reference to cultural trendsetters and professors, not corporate titans.

And when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Princeton, Harvard Law School) claimed that Republicans are now the party of “working class men and women” in an interview on Fox News he spoke of how their wages were being “pulled down” because they were competing with “people coming illegally.”

That’s rich, literally rich:

A member of the party that has done everything it could for the past four decades to destroy organized labor, Cruz even had the temerity to say that Democrats “don’t represent unions anymore.”

His words came a day after Biden offered one of the most pro-union speeches ever given by a president. “Unions put power in the hands of workers. They level the playing field, they give you a stronger voice for your health, your safety, higher wages, protections from racial discrimination and sexual harassment,” Biden said. “Unions lift up workers, both union and nonunion, and especially Black and brown workers.”

Of particular note here is how Biden linked the inequalities of class and race. Here again, he’s fighting against wedge politics aimed at dividing middle- and working-class voters along racial and ethnic lines – and immigration status.

That’s by design:

The president and his team have exercised enormous discipline in keeping the national conversation focused on bread-and-butter assistance to the vast majority of Americans. It’s one reason his $1.9 trillion aid package that cleared the House and then passed the Senate on Saturday with only Democratic votes polls so well.

Biden simply stays focused:

Whenever he could, Biden has tried to shift the conversation about the pandemic away from cultural conflict and toward the practical work of ending the scourge.

Former president Donald Trump, and now his allies, keep trying to turn mask-wearing into a cultural question linked to personal liberty. Biden calmly but pointedly speaks for the roughly three-quarters of the American public that sees mask-wearing not as some esoteric form of compulsory virtue signaling but as part of everyone’s responsibility to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The right wing tried to make a new flash point out of Biden’s rebuke to “Neanderthal thinking” after Republican governors in Texas and Mississippi lifted mask-wearing requirements. “You know, this is Mr. Unity,” sniffed Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Stanford, Yale University Law School). “And yet, if you disagree with him, you’re a Neanderthal.”

But it hasn’t stuck, and Biden cares more about getting people to wear masks than in pushing the fight further. In any event, most Americans know how deadly it was to politicize mask-wearing in the first place, and it’s excruciatingly hard to turn Biden (D-University of Delaware, Syracuse University College of Law) into an elitist peddler of cultural radicalism.

And, yes, since racism and sexism are often blended into culturally divisive appeals, a 78-year-old White guy is harder for the radical right to demonize than, say, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi.

There’s another way to explain this. Megan McArdle sees this:

Arguments and indignation are starting to define the limits of conservative ideas – and defiant gestures are increasingly what the party has in place of policy.

There are legitimate arguments about where and when to open up now that vaccination is helping us protect the vulnerable. I’d prefer it if Texas and Mississippi – and Connecticut – had stayed closed a little longer, so that the vaccination campaign has a chance to really hammer transmission into submission before summer (hopefully) finishes the job. But I do not own a small business that’s suffering, and many of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) constituents do, and I’m willing to listen respectfully to arguments from the other side.

Well, forget that:

Complain all you want that the COVID-19 relief bill has been packed with all sorts of unrelated stuff from the Democratic wish list – at least the Democrats have a wish list. What’s the Republican equivalent? Often it seems to be literally a bunch of wishes – that the media wouldn’t be so liberal or so mean, that corporations wouldn’t go Full Woke in their diversity trainings, that social media platforms would stop wielding the ban-hammer so enthusiastically against conservatives.

The closest thing this has produced to a real, live governing agenda is “Repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act,” which wouldn’t really fix the problems with social media that Republicans want to address and might do a bunch of things they don’t want, and at any rate is not, by itself, enough to run a country.

That’s the problem:

I share many of their complaints, and their fears about where all this is heading. I talk about it a lot, too. But that can’t be all we talk about. There’s a lot of important stuff going on in the world, and I’m worried we’re missing it by becoming literally reactionary – not so much for anything as against whatever the left is doing. A once-proud movement risks turning into one perpetual, primal scream: “I’m not gonna, and you can’t make me.”

That is not a movement; it is a second adolescence. And whatever the merits of masks or reopening, that reflexively oppositional impulse is unhealthy – for conservatives, and for America.

So really, Joe Biden didn’t get lucky. He got his massive rescue plan. He did what he could. The rest of us got lucky.

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Potato Head Politics

Normal is no fun. Bloggers know that now. Donald Trump is gone. No, not gone from the presidency. That doesn’t matter. There are no more tweetstorms of rage or sneering insults or fantastic miracle cures for this or that, and sometimes a sudden surprise firing of this cabinet member or that. That’s gone. Twitter has banned him for life. So have Facebook and YouTube. That’s all gone, and Joe Biden is so damned normal, and so damned quiet. Trump was outrageous. Biden is boring.

That’s by design, as least that’s what Ezra Klein argues here:

American politics feels quieter with Joe Biden in the White House. The president’s Twitter feed hasn’t gone dark, but it’s gone dull. Biden doesn’t pick needless fights or insert himself into cultural conflicts. It’s easy to go days without hearing anything the president has said, unless you go looking.

But the relative quiet is deceptive: Policy is moving at a breakneck pace.

No one was ready for that, policy wasn’t Trump’s thing, but Klein notes this:

The first weeks of the Biden administration were consumed by a flurry of far-reaching executive orders that reopened America to refugees, rejoined the Paris climate accords and killed the Keystone XL oil pipeline, to name just a few. Now the House has passed, and the Senate is considering, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, a truly sweeping piece of legislation that includes more than a half-dozen policies – like a child tax credit expansion that could cut child poverty by 50 percent – that would be presidency-defining accomplishments on their own.

It goes on. The White House just sent Congress the most ambitious immigration reform bill in years. It midwifed a deal to get Merck to mobilize some of its factories to produce Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, and now Biden is saying there should be enough of a supply for every American adult to get vaccinated by the end of May. Imagine! The administration is also working on an infrastructure package that, if early reports bear out, will be the most transformational piece of climate policy – and perhaps economic policy – in our lifetime.

Biden has been busy. Klein argues that the last guy only looked busy:

Trump combined an always-on, say-anything, fight-anyone communications strategy with a curious void of legislative ambition. He backed congressional Republicans’ unimaginative and ultimately doomed Obamacare repeal effort, and then signed a package of tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy. It was bog-standard, Paul Ryan-conservatism – nothing like the populist revolution Trump promised on the campaign trail. Trump signed plenty of executive orders, but when it came to the hard work of persuading others to do what he wanted, he typically checked out, or turned to Twitter.

Even so, Trump convinced many that he was a political genius whose shamelessness had allowed him to see what others had missed: You didn’t win by being liked, you won by being all anyone ever talked about, even if they were cursing your name. “Very often my readers tried to persuade me there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and Trump had proven that,” Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at NYU, told me. “All that mattered was you were occupying space in the spectacle – not what was actually happening to you in that glare.”

But of course that’s just not so:

One rebuttal to that theory was always obvious. “Trump never got over 50 percent approval,” Rosen says. “He’s a widely hated man, a one-term president.” For all the talk of Teflon Don, Trump paid a price for his antics and affronts and scandals. Bad publicity actually is bad publicity.

Biden has other ideas:

Another way of looking at it is that Trump’s communication strategy was successful in getting Trump what he actually wanted: Attention, not legislation. Biden wants legislation, not attention… and so far, Biden’s quieter strategy appears to be working. He gets far less media attention than Trump – even after Election Day, the share of news stories with Biden’s name in the headline was less than half of what Trump got – and Google records far less search interest in his administration. But Biden is polling at about 54 percent, around 10 points higher than Trump at this stage of his presidency (or any stage of his presidency). More tellingly, the American Rescue Plan is polling between 10 and 20 points ahead of Biden, making it one of the most popular major pieces of legislation in recent decades. In one recent poll, Republicans were asked whether Biden’s plan should be abandoned for a bipartisan alternative, and they split down the middle, with as many Republicans saying the plan should be passed as abandoned.

And that is odd:

The American Rescue Plan is a bolder, more progressive, economic package than anything a Democratic president has proposed since LBJ. But it is not, for now, a polarizing package. It’s less polarizing even than Biden, who only polls at 12 percent among Republicans. You could chalk that up to its popular component parts, but the Affordable Care Act’s individual policies were popular, too, and the bill polled at around 40 percent. You could say it’s the coronavirus crisis, but coronavirus policy is sharply polarized.

I suspect Biden’s calmer approach to political communication is opening space for a bolder agenda.

That would mean that you get your way by shutting up and listening. Don’t expect that from Trump. But expect this:

There’s the book “Stealth Democracy,” by the political scientists John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse. They marshal a mountain of survey data to show that Americans have weak and changeable views on policy, but strong views on how politics should look and feel. Many, if not most, Americans believe “political conflict is unnecessary and an indication that something is wrong with governmental procedures,” they write. The more partisan fighting there is around a bill, in other words, the more Americans begin to believe something must be wrong with the legislation – otherwise, why would everyone be so upset?

Mitch McConnell understood all of this, and he ginned up political bickering to undermine Obama’s agenda. But Biden seems to understand it, too.

He gets it. No tweets. No angry arguing. Nothing personal. Give the opposition nothing to work with:

Biden isn’t taking the usual Washington strategy toward that goal, which is to retreat to modest bills and quarter-measures. Instead, his theory seems to be that if you can dial down the conflict, you can dial up the policy.

And then you can get things done:

Biden’s central insight in the campaign was that negative polarization – the degree to which we loathe the other side, even if we don’t much like our side – is now the most powerful force in American politics. Biden often refused to do things that would endear him to his base, because those same things would drive Republicans wild. That strategy is carrying over to his presidency. And in part because of it, the reaction to his signature legislative package, which really is a collection of policies progressives have dreamed of for years, isn’t cleaving along normal red-blue lines.

And that leads to madness. Slate’s Jim Newell starts that tale:

Shortly after 3 p.m. on Thursday, Vice President Kamala Harris cast a tie-breaking vote to kick off Senate debate on Democrats’ $1.9 trillion relief bill. After the clerk began to read the 628-page legislation, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made a customary request to waive the reading of the bill. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson rose to object… Republicans think the full recitation could chew up 10 hours. Senate clerks think they can do it in five.

The objection was the first salvo in a wave of dilatory stunts that Johnson and his Republicans have planned over the next few days as they try to do something that they’ve been wholly unsuccessful at so far: turning public opinion against Democrats’ popular legislation, which Republicans wish to frame as less a COVID relief bill than a raid on the Treasury for unrelated Democratic priorities.

Really? The New York Times’ Emily Cochrane continues this tale:

The maneuver by Mr. Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, was unlikely to change any minds about the sweeping pandemic aid plan, which would deliver hundreds of billions of dollars for vaccine distribution, schools, jobless aid, direct payments to Americans and small business relief, and has broad bipartisan support among voters. Republicans signaled that they would be unified against it, and Democrats were ready to push it through on their own, using a special fast-track process to blow past the opposition.

But in the Senate, where even the most mundane tasks are subject to arcane rules, any senator can exploit them to cause havoc. The exercise was Republicans’ latest effort to score political points against a measure they were powerless to stop and to punish Democrats with a time-consuming, boredom-inducing chore.

“Is he allowed?” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, muttered quietly when Mr. Johnson tried to explain after demanding the reading.

He was allowed, allowed to be a jerk:

Mr. Johnson did not perform the task himself, though. Instead, it fell to John Merlino, the Senate legislative clerk whose high tenor is known to avid watchers of C-SPAN 2, and a small team of his colleagues who took turns reading to lighten the load.

“It will accomplish little more than a few sore throats for the Senate clerks, who work very hard, day in, day out, to help the Senate function,” Mr. Schumer said in the morning, before the reading began. “And I want to thank our clerks, profoundly, for the work they do every day, including the arduous task ahead of them.”

But they didn’t matter:

Mr. Johnson, who alternated between pacing the chamber and lounging at his desk for the early duration, was sympathetic but unrepentant. His request was allowed because under Senate rules, every senator has to agree to skip the reading of legislative text and move on. Instead, Mr. Johnson objected.

“I feel bad for the clerks who are going to have to read it, but it’s important,” he told reporters, later detailing his plans to prolong debate on the bill, once the reading was over, by forcing votes on a series of amendments. “At a minimum, somebody ought to read it.”

Yeah, well, whatever:

His colleagues, who normally maintain a strict routine of four-day work weeks that end with a 1:45 p.m. vote on Thursdays, said they respected Mr. Johnson’s right to manipulate the rules, even if it did not appear to accomplish anything.

“I’m kind of hard pressed to believe that too many people are going to be glued to their TVs to listen to the Senate clerk read page by page,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska.

That was a shrug, but CNN’s Manu Raju and Alex Rogers dive deeper:

Sen. Ron Johnson seems to be relishing his place at the center of the controversies dominating Washington.

For two months, the Wisconsin Republican has taken on everyone who blamed former President Donald Trump for inciting the deadly riot at the Capitol: Democrats, the mainstream media, even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He’s raised questions about whether Trump supporters were in fact culpable for the violence, earning him the scorn of his colleagues for advancing dangerous conspiracies even as he says he’s just seeking the truth.

Now, he is leading the Republican effort against President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill, employing extreme tactics by forcing Senate clerks to read its every word and offering a flood of amendments to highlight its astronomical cost.

But he has his reasons:

Johnson’s wars to reshape history and policy come at a crucial personal moment, as he chooses whether to run again in 2022, a decision that will alter the fight for the future control of the Senate.

“I think it’s obvious that I’m target number one here,” Johnson told CNN. “People are out to destroy me.”

But that might get him reelected:

Johnson is the only Republican to hold statewide office in Wisconsin, a state that chose Biden over Trump by less than one point, and could be the only senator to campaign in a state carried by the opposite party’s 2020 presidential candidate.

But Johnson is proudly pro-Trump, pushing further than many of his Republican colleagues to rewrite the narrative of January 6. Last month, Johnson said that McConnell needed “to be a little careful” after he blamed the former President for the Capitol riot, and claimed the Senate Republican leader did not speak for the Senate GOP conference. Johnson revealed to CNN that he couldn’t support McConnell for leader again.

Voters might like that, but he does tend to step too far out there:

During a recent high-profile hearing, Johnson inserted into the record a first-person account that tried to shift the responsibility from Trump to a small group of provocateurs, suggesting they turned a largely peaceful protest of the 2020 election into a rampage that left nearly 140 officers injured and five dead. Johnson then repeatedly pushed back on those who said the riot was an “armed” insurrection, saying the FBI is unaware of any arms being confiscated or any shots fired besides from law enforcement.

And that proved what, exactly? Biden will get his legislation. Things will get better. And as Politico reports, the other guys will get attention:

Over the past few weeks, Republicans have simmered over the “cancellation” of seemingly innocent family favorites, including the venerated Mr. Potato Head toy and Dr. Seuss books. Glenn Beck has likened it to fascism. Fox News has covered it obsessively. In recent days, conservative legislators have made speeches at confabs and in the halls of Congress, warning about what they describe as out of control PC culture.

And yet, even as it becomes all-consuming on the right, White House advisers and Biden aides insist they’re unbothered by the culture-wars-du-jour.

They’re more into policy:

“I don’t think there is any danger in ignoring a debate on Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss,” said John Anzalone, a Biden adviser and campaign pollster.

Anzalone contends there’s no benefit to engaging in “meaningless” topics, and that there may indeed be an upside in disregarding them as the Biden administration and Democrats close in on a massive Covid-relief package, amid more than 500,000 deaths from the pandemic. “The Republicans are in danger of ignoring getting Covid vaccine distribution money to states, funding to schools to reopen and checks in the pockets of struggling Americans,” he added.

Yeah, but that’s boring. They are fighting a different battle here:

The divide over what the right sees as “cancel culture” and what the left considers “concern trolling” is somehow growing larger in the post-Trump political landscape. And neither side is showing signs of retreating. While Biden World may find it all a tiresome distraction, Republicans see a salve. Lacking power and a unifying political message, a relentless focus on “cancel culture” has proven to be a galvanizing force for their base.

“At the end of the day I think it unifies the party but expands it into the area we need to – the suburban moms, the college educated men that we struggled with in 2020, there’s common ground with these constituencies” said Mercedes Schlapp, senior fellow American Conservative Union Foundation and a former Trump White House aide. “We’re the party of common sense and we’re not going to be the party of continuously policing what our children are reading and not for this cancel culture mob to decide.”

She gets it. They’ll ride Dr. Seuss back to the White House:

The fights metastasize so swiftly that it becomes, at times, hard to recall how they started. In the case of Dr. Seuss, the Biden administration omitted the famed children’s book author in a proclamation for Read Across America Day, which was intentionally founded on the good doctor’s birthday. Then the estate of Dr. Seuss decided not to publish six of his children’s books because they included illustrations that the estate itself considered “hurtful” and “wrong.”

The topic quickly became a fixation of GOP lawmakers and conservative cable programming. On Tuesday, it was the primary focus on Fox News even as FBI Director Christopher Wray sat in the hot seat for a hearing on the Jan. 6 riots on Capitol Hill. All told, the network talked about it 60 times, according to a Washington Post tally.

Hey, they’re good at this, so, with adjustments, perhaps this will work:

The culture war playbook is a well-worn one for the GOP, especially when they are outnumbered in Washington. But the recent examples have taken a different form than those in the past. That was especially true in the Trump era when rather than being tied to a specific policy or politician, they often take the form of backlash to the perceived social pressure for political correctness.

During Barack Obama’s presidency, aides saw many of these “scandals” as being motivated by their dislike for him personally, or having to do with his race, or often a combination both. Incidents included photos of Obama not wearing a jacket in the Oval office (after no such pictures were snapped of George W. Bush over eight years) and the Obamas inviting the hip hop artist and actor Common to the White House as part of a poetry reading, which drew the scorn of Karl Rove and Sarah Palin. “Oh lovely, White House…” she said.

There was also the so-called Starbucks salute, when Obama informally saluted Marines while holding a cup of coffee in his raised hand.

This is just more of the same:

Last month, toymaker Hasbro announced that it was dropping the “Mr.” from its logo and branding in an effort to promote gender equality and inclusion. After an initial firestorm over the decision, the company clarified that both Mr. Potato Head and Mrs. Potato Head would continue to be sold under the names. Hasbro acknowledged the initial confusion. But by then the story had taken off. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), speaking at CPAC last weekend, mockingly referred to the Potato Head toy as “America’s first transgender doll.”

So forget policy. They choose grievance over policy once again:

Republicans, split by warring factions, have found common ground in pushing back against “cancel culture.” “America Uncanceled” was the dominant theme of Conservative Political Action Conference this year, with Donald Trump and 2024 hopefuls like Sen. Ted Cruz, (R-Texas) elevating the issue along with topics like immigration, China, and climate change.

That’s okay. Biden and his Democrats will slowly fix what’s broken. That will make things better for everyone, except for Mr. Potato Head. Let the Republicans weep for him – or her – or it. Everyone else will move on.

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