Congress has been on break since March 29, and tomorrow members will go back to Washington, D.C., to resume work. The next weeks are going to be busy for the lawmakers, not least because the political ground in America appears to be shifting.
In the two weeks the lawmakers have been back in their districts, a lot has happened. The Biden administration released the American Jobs Plan on March 31, calling for a $2 trillion investment in infrastructure. The plan includes traditional items like railroads and bridges and roads; it also uses a modern, expansive definition of infrastructure, including support for our electrical grid, green energy, and clean water delivery, as well as the construction of high-speed broadband to all Americans. The plan also defines childcare and eldercare as infrastructure issues, an important redefinition that will not only help more women regain a foothold in the economy, but will also help to replace manufacturing jobs as a key stabilizer of middle-class America. The administration is selling the infrastructure plan, in part, by emphasizing that it will create jobs (hence “American Jobs Plan” rather than something like “American Infrastructure Act”).
President Biden has proposed paying for the plan by raising the corporate tax from 21% to 28% (it was 35% before Trump’s 2017 tax cut) and by increasing the global minimum tax from 13% to 21% (so that companies cannot stash profits in low-tax countries). He has also proposed saving money by ending the federal tax breaks for fossil fuel companies and by putting teeth in the enforcement of tax laws against corporations who have skated without paying taxes in the past.
The president also put together a blue-ribbon, bipartisan commission to look at the question of adjusting the Supreme Court to the modern era. While people are focusing on the question of whether the number of justices on the Supreme Court should be increased—it has held at 9 since 1869, even as three more circuits have been added—the commission is also looking at “the length of service and turnover of justices on the Court.” It is only very recently that justices grimly held onto a Supreme Court appointment until death; the positions used to turn over with some frequency. The commission is an astonishingly distinguished group of scholars, lawyers, and judges.
Nonetheless, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) claimed the establishment of the commission displayed “open disdain for judicial independence.” And yet, the Supreme Court itself undermined his position in favor of a nonpartisan judiciary late Friday night. It issued an unsigned opinion in which the court decided, by a vote of 5-4, that state restrictions on private religious gatherings during the pandemic infringed on people’s First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the minority.
Biden has also asked Congress to take on the issue of gun control, after yet more mass shootings in the country. And overshadowing all is the Democrat’s demand for the passage of voting rights legislation that would protect voting, end gerrymandering, and curb the influence of big money in U.S. elections.
While the legislative world has been rocking, so has the world of the Republicans. The party is torn between the Trump wing and the business wing, and in the course of the past few weeks, that rift has widened and destabilized.
On March 25, Georgia passed a sweeping new voting restriction law. Legislators argued that they were simply trying to combat voter fraud, but the law, in fact, significantly restricts voting hours and mail-in voting, as well as turning over the mechanics of elections to partisan committees. The Georgia law came after a similar set of restrictions in Iowa; other states, including Texas, are following suit.
But this attack on voting rights is not playing well with the corporate leaders who, in the past, tended to stand with the Republicans. Leaders from more than 170 corporations condemned the new Georgia law, saying, “We stand in solidarity with voters 一 and with the Black executives and leaders at the helm of this movement 一 in our nonpartisan commitment to equality and democracy. If our government is going to work for all of us, each of us must have equal freedom to vote and elections must reflect the will of voters.” Major League Baseball grabbed headlines when it decided to move this summer’s All-Star game out of the state.
Following the corporate pushback over the Georgia law, the leader of the business Republican faction, Mitch McConnell, said that it was “stupid” for corporations to weigh in on divisive political issues, although he specified he was “not talking about political contributions.” Republican lawmakers have said that corporations should not take political stances, a position that sits uneasily with the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which said that corporate donations to political candidates were a form of political speech and could not be limited by the government. The so-called “Citizens United” decision opened up a flood of corporate money into our political system.
Yesterday, more than 100 corporate executives met over Zoom to figure out how to deal with the voter suppression measures coming out of Republican legislatures. They discussed that political unrest is bad for business (this is very true-- one of the key reasons the American South had insufficient capital investment after the Civil War was that investors could not be sure their money wouldn’t disappear during social unrest) and are calling for corporations to continue to take a stand against voter restrictions, including by withholding money from Republican candidates.
This puts the Republicans in a bad spot. The insistence of state Republican legislators that they must protect against voter fraud reflects their determination to cling—without evidence—to the argument Trump lost the election only because the Democrats cheated. This is not true and has been thoroughly debunked. But, having sold their voters this Big Lie, they now need to follow through.
And yet, backing Trump right now is a dicey proposition. Since the lawmakers have been in Washington, D.C., more and more information has come out about key Trump supporter Republican Matthew Gaetz (R-FL), who is alleged to be involved in a number of shady deals in Florida, including—allegedly—being party to moving underaged girls across state lines for sex. While Gaetz insists he is a victim of “leaks and… lies,” it is notable that only Trump Republican Representatives Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) have come to his defense. Others are remaining gingerly silent, which has only permitted the story to snowball.
Trump himself continues to make trouble for the party. He continues to raise money for his own coffers and last month demanded that the Republican National Committee stop using his name or picture on fundraising materials. It appeared he was reconciling with the party when he agreed to give a speech at the end of the RNC’s donor summit.
Instead, on Saturday night, at an invitation-only meeting of top donors at Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s Florida resort, Trump abandoned his scheduled calls for unity and instead used a speech to the attendees to reiterate that the 2020 election was stolen from him and to attack party members whom he considers insufficiently loyal, including Mitch McConnell.
Meanwhile, there were “White Lives Matter” rallies planned by neo-Nazis and Proud Boys for today in cities across the country to promote white nationalism and, as one organizer said, make “the whole world tremble.” But, in the end, virtually no one showed up. With the Justice Department indicting the January 6 insurrectionists and popular voices turning against the forces Trump encouraged, the angry Trump base appears to be going underground.
So, in the face of remarkably popular Democratic proposals to rebuild the country-- proposals that will kill the central principle of the Republican Party since the time of President Ronald Reagan that the government must get out of the economy—Republicans are split between their voting base, which wants Trumpian voter restrictions, and their donor base, which recognizes that those restrictions will destabilize the country.
The spring is going to see a remarkable game of political chess.