The battle to save Biden’s agenda

It’s been three days since Joe Manchin delivered his “no” on Build Back Better. Since then, the White House, as well as Democrats on the Hill, have reiterated their determination to pass something resembling the package that Manchin gave the thumbs down on Sunday. Will they manage it?

Oddly enough, the case for Democratic optimism rests on an admission of Democratic incompetence. Before walking away from negotiations, Manchin had agreed to $1.75 trillion in spending, including ten years of universal pre-K, almost all of the climate spending the White House wanted and an expansion in the Affordable Care Act. And yet, Biden said no. In a 50-50 Senate, that seems like political self-sabotage. But the president may get away with this mistake, bring Manchin back to the table and reach a deal on a large package of public spending.

“I want to get things done. I think there’s a possibility of getting Build Back Better done,” said Biden yesterday.

The Washington Post reports that after a call with Manchin yesterday, Congressional Progressive Caucus leader Pramila Jayapal “did seem to open the door to a way forward, though it’s a twisted and murky path.”

A twisted and murky path. Better than nothing, a cheerier Democrat might tell you. But still not great. Given all the focus on the West Virginia senator, it’s easy to forget that Biden isn’t just dealing with Manchin. The rest of the party have their wishlists too. Even if the progressives scale back their expectations, there are other moderates besides Manchin with their own complaints. Then add to that the factions insisting on immigration provision and the ongoing battle over SALT. Biden’s refusal of Manchin’s generous offer is perhaps an indicator that the White House knows these other groups aren’t about to back down on their demands.

This is the reality of legislating in Washington when you have a five-seat majority in the House and a deadlocked Senate. It should have been obvious to Democrats before Manchin’s Sunday surprise. It certainly is now.

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A pandemic parable

You know that the bureaucratic impediments that have held back America’s pandemic response for two years are bad when ProPublica, hardly a bunch of hardline libertarians, are publishing devastating investigations into the sluggishness of federal agencies.

Reporter Lydia DePillis tells the story of Irene Bosch, a Harvard-trained scientist who developed a quick, inexpensive Covid test just a few weeks into the pandemic. As early as March 2020, she had the backing of the National Institutes of Health and a group of investors, as well as a factory ready to produce 100,000 tests a week.

And then she submitted her test for FDA approval. No prizes for guessing what happened next.

The need for speed is a central component to any pandemic response — but far too few regulators and policymakers seem willing to act on that insight. In an Axios story on how the Biden White House was caught off guard by the latest wave of cases, a senior administration official is quoted as saying: “There are regulatory processes in which we have to work within this country. That’s just the reality.”

Exactly. Maybe we should do something about that.

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A Hispanic hit job — or just unhappy voters?

If an absurd story in Politico yesterday is anything to go by, there’s little to suggest that the Democrats are seriously grappling with their increasingly obvious problem with Latino voters. Christopher Cadelago and Eugene Daniels report that “Florida Democrats are sounding alarms over what they believe is a sustained and coordinated campaign rapidly unfolding across Spanish-language media to tarnish the image of Vice President Kamala Harris.”

The events at the heart of the story are a series of calls to South Florida radio stations in which Hispanic voters — gasp! — are critical of the vice president. Democratic strategists have convinced themselves that this is not straightforward dissatisfaction with Harris but an astroturfed Republican campaign. However, as Politico concedes, “there is no definitive proof of a coordinated campaign attacking Harris… as opposed to organic criticism of her conveyed by regular callers.” So what’s the story? The damning evidence they come up with includes “a male caller” who “can be heard describing Harris as ‘inefficient’ and ‘disappointing’, adding that she ‘doesn’t do nothing at all.’”

Maybe this is all part of a sinister plot. Or maybe — hear me out on this one — actual voters are expressing genuine frustration at a historically unpopular vice president. We may never know which version of events is correct.

What you should be reading today

Glibert T. Sewall: The unicorns of crime-wave California
Amber Athey: Mean Girls of the White House
Addison Del Mastro: The Christmas carol canon that could have been
Therese Shaheen, National Review: Ignore Xi Jinping’s deceptions, China is struggling
Tara Copp, Defense One: US Army creates single vaccine against all Covid and Sars variants, researchers say
Nate Raymond, Reuters: Harvard professor convicted of lying about China ties 

Poll watch

President Biden Job Approval
Approve: 44.1 percent
Disapprove: 52.0 percent
Net approval: -7.9 (RCP Average)

US Net Economic Confidence
April 2020: -33
December 2021: -33 (Gallup)

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