The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Chuck Schumer Was Misleading the World All Along

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., September 21, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Welcome to October. On the menu today: A scoop from Politico reveals that Chuck Schumer has been misleading the world about the spending negotiations in Congress for weeks; the Biden administration forgets about another one of its promises that seemed really urgent at the time; and some fantastic news about the treatment of COVID-19.

In Congress’ Spending Negotiations, Chuck Schumer Has Been Dishonest for Months

The ongoing debate about the infrastructure bill is opaque, confusing, and Byzantine, and consists mostly of progressive Democrats losing their minds with rage that a West Virginia Democrat wants to spend “only” $1.5 trillion on “Building Back Better,” separate from the $1.2 trillion “Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework.” All of this is complicated, boring, and easy to tune out.

But something fascinating did occur yesterday. For several weeks, we’ve been hearing from both progressive lawmakers in Congress and Democratic leaders that the problem was that West Virginia senator Joe Manchin and Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema wouldn’t make a counteroffer with a specific number:

Yet there are very few in the Capitol who know where Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema actually stands, as she — along with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin – hold the key to her party’s agenda and potentially the fate of her party’s chances in next year’s midterm elections.

In interviews with a range of Democrats — including with House liberals, top leaders and key committee chairmen — patience is clearly wearing thin and anxiety is growing that the party could see the entirety of the agenda collapse amid deepening disputes between their warring moderate and progressive wings. There is nearly universal consensus: They want to hear Sinema and Manchin publicly detail their demands — and the price tag they’d accept for the bill.

“We just need to get a number, right?” said Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California and member of the House’s progressive caucus. “The House is going to be unified. We need to get one number from one senator, and I think we got to make it very clear that that’s holding everything back.”

But apparently all of that was a lie. Joe Manchin had already laid out a number to Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer back in July, and Schumer had apparently signed off on it, or at least indicated to Manchin he was going to try to make Manchin’s proposal work:

Joe Manchin proposed a deal to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer this summer to limit the total cost of Democrats’ sweeping spending bill to $1.5 trillion, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by POLITICO.

Manchin also suggested beginning debate no earlier than Oct. 1.

Both Manchin and Schumer signed the document. Schumer wrote a note saying that he “will try to dissuade Joe on many of these.”

Politico summarizes that, “The document shows that Manchin has provided Schumer with more information than many rank-and-file Democrats.”

For weeks, the entire narrative of “Manchin won’t give a number” has been a lie. Chuck Schumer knew it was a lie. At any moment, Schumer could have said to the press, on or off the record, that Manchin had given him a detailed and specific catalogue of what he could accept and what he couldn’t accept. Schumer chose not to do that. Schumer apparently preferred for people to believe that the reason the negotiations were going slowly was because Manchin and Sinema were being vague and noncommittal about what they actually wanted.

I suspect Schumer liked having Manchin as a scapegoat, to divert attention from the fact that he’s not capable of squaring the circle — that the Joe Manchin wing and the Bernie Sanders wing of Senate Democrats are too far apart to reach an agreement that is acceptable to both of them. (There are quite a few indicators that other Senate Democrats, such as Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, would prefer a smaller bill, but don’t want the grief that Manchin and Sinema are getting. We know Senate Democrats don’t yet have 50 votes; the real question might be whether they have 45.)

In ordinary circumstances, Manchin would have every reason to be really irked with Schumer. But Manchin does not seem like a man who’s all that angry at anyone. (That said, it is possible that Manchin got tired of being the party’s scapegoat and he or his staff leaked the document to Politico.) Manchin clearly enjoys being in the spotlight, as the most conservative or least progressive Democrat in the Senate, and the voters of West Virginia are never going to reject Manchin for not agreeing with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez more.

No matter how furious progressive Democrats get, no matter how much they call Manchin “right wing” or a “coal profiteer” or a “corporate Democrat,” and no matter how much they get in canoes and protest outside his houseboat, they cannot change two things. The first is that Joe Manchin is accountable to the voters of West Virginia, not to them. The second is that the Senate currently only has 50 Democrats. A handful of Republican senators were willing to sign on to the $1.2 trillion “Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework,” but so far, there are no indications of Republicans signing on to the mega-spending in the “Building Back Better” legislation.

The progressive Left is a fundamentally immature political movement that refuses to recognize the hard fact that when they have 50 seats, the only proposals that will pass are ones that completely unify the party. (Robert Reich more or less proposed having legislation passed by 48 votes yesterday.) Maybe occasionally, a Susan Collins or a Lisa Murkowski will cross party lines, but Democrats would be foolish to count on that scenario occurring often. (There is a decent chance that Republicans will win back the chamber in 2022, and then the situation will be reversed: The only conservative proposals that will pass the Senate are the ones acceptable to the least-conservative GOP senators.)

When progressives cannot get their way, they insist the rules are unfair. They conclude that the Supreme Court must be expanded. They conclude that high-population states should have more senators than low-population states — completely ignoring that the bicameral legislature established under our Constitution was deliberately designed to set up one chamber where high-population states had a large advantage, and another chamber where low-population states were on an equal footing. They loved using the filibuster to block parts of Trump’s agenda, but denounce it as a “Jim Crow relic” when Republicans use it against them. They fundamentally reject the idea that one set of rules should be in place and applied consistently, no matter which party is in power.

It is no skin off conservatives’ noses, but it is now glaringly obvious that Chuck Schumer is a pretty lousy leader of the Democrats in the Senate, despite publications such as The Economist raving about him. A wiser leader would have spent much of 2021 lowering the expectations of the progressive wing. A common observation this week is that Joe Biden cannot pass Franklin Roosevelt- or Lyndon Johnson-scale legislation without first having Franklin Roosevelt- or Lyndon Johnson-scale Congressional majorities. Back in January, anybody with eyes could see that Manchin and Collins would be the kingmakers on Capitol Hill, the ones who could truly decide if a bill would become law. Sometime over the course of this year, progressives chose to forget or ignore that hard fact.

Leading a majority is difficult. Leading a “majority” with just 50 votes is really difficult. A key, and perhaps irreplaceable, component of leadership is trust. Now that we know Schumer has been sitting on a specific proposal from Manchin all this time, and he’s let Manchin get considerable grief for not offering those specifics . . . why would any Senate Democrat trust Schumer in the future?

The No-Follow-Up Administration

Yesterday, I noted that three weeks after the president’s announcement of a vaccine mandate for employers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was still several weeks away from issuing the specific regulations for the mandate — and apparently not listening to any suggestions from businesses about how the regulations could be best implemented.

Today, there’s a similar incongruency on another presidential pledge, this one about those border-patrol officers who were photographed holding their reins, and who progressives insisted were “whipping” Haitian migrants.

President Biden, September 24: “It was horrible what — to see, as you saw — to see people treated like they did: horses nearly running them over and people being strapped. It’s outrageous. I promise you, those people will pay. They will be — an investigation is underway now, and there will be consequences. There will be consequences. It’s an embarrassment. But beyond an embarrassment, it’s dangerous; it’s wrong. It sends the wrong message around the world.”

On September 21, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas appeared on Joy Reid’s program on MSNBC and declared that, “We need this resolved swiftly. I anticipate that the results of the investigation will be available by the end of next week and I’ve committed to making the results public.”

Yesterday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the White House had no information on the status of that investigation, saying only that, “It’s still on track” and referring reporters to DHS.

A Big Breakthrough in Treating COVID-19

Let’s close out the week with some fantastic news: “Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP said their experimental Covid-19 pill helped prevent high-risk people early in the course of the disease in a pivotal study from becoming seriously ill and dying, a big step toward providing the pandemic’s first easy-to-use, at-home treatment. The pill cut the risk of hospitalization or death in study subjects with mild to moderate Covid-19 by about 50 percent, the companies said Friday.”

ADDENDUM: A bold theory from Allahpundit at Hot Air about the vaccine mandate: “The mandate probably will be codified by OSHA in the weeks ahead, if only to prove that Biden wasn’t lying brazenly when he said a mandate was coming. But since the regulation is headed for all sorts of legal and practical trouble, I stand by my belief that the White House sees its value mainly in terms of the political cover it provides to pro-mandate business owners, not in terms of it being a workable federal policy that’ll be meaningfully enforced by OSHA.”

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