Discover more from Letters from an American
November 15, 2023
Extremist Republicans today shut down House business by refusing to pass a procedural vote to take up a spending bill, as they had threatened to do in retaliation for the passage yesterday of the continuing resolution to fund the government into the new year. This is the fourth time the extremists have defeated special rules in the House this year, and as deputy chief of staff for Representative Don Beyer (D-VA) Aaron Fritschner pointed out, their doing so is highly unusual. In the previous 20 years the House voted down no such measures at all.
Although they were in the middle of a 17-vote series, the Republicans then recessed the House until after Thanksgiving.
Members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus made it clear they are angry that their own demands are not being met. “We’re sending a shot across the bow,” caucus chair Scott Perry (R-PA) told reporters. “[W]e are done with the failure theater here.”
Representative Chip Roy (R-TX) angrily said to his colleagues: “One thing. I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing. One. That I can go campaign on and say we did. One! Anybody sitting in the complex, if you want to come down to the floor and come explain to me, one material, meaningful, significant thing the Republican majority has done besides, ‘Well, I guess it’s not as bad as the Democrats.’”
In contrast, the Democrats with the same slim majority in the last Congress passed a series of sweeping bills that are already changing the country. Today marks the second anniversary of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act that invested $1.2 trillion—$550 billion of it new spending—in roads, water systems, electrical grids, broadband, bridges, and so on.
So far, that act has seen the start of more than 37,000 projects across the country. Bridges, airports, and supply chain projects are underway, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. The Democrats today emphasized that they are delivering on the things that make people’s lives easier, and the White House listed a number of Republicans who voted against the measure only to boast of the benefits of the infrastructure investments to their constituents.
“And,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a video in which he echoed the tagline of the administration: “the great news is, we’re just getting started.”
The investment in infrastructure is part of what has created a booming U.S. economy. Growth is far better in the U.S. than in Europe or China, where a property bubble and local government debts have led to deflation.
That economic strength is standing behind President Joe Biden in San Francisco, where he traveled yesterday for a summit of the 21 member economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum (APEC groups economies, not nations). APEC economies make up almost half of world trade and about 62% of global gross domestic product.
Today, Biden met with Chinese president Xi Jinping in a much anticipated second meeting since Biden took office. But even before today’s discussion, the two leaders announced a new climate agreement. The U.S. and China are the world’s two largest climate polluters, accounting for 38% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
China did not agree to phase out coal, which is the dirtiest fossil fuel, but both countries agreed to ramp up renewable energy capacity around the world and to reduce emissions in their power sectors overall. This is the first time China has agreed to cut emissions. In two weeks the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference will take place in Dubai. Observers hope the willingness of China and the U.S. to make this announcement, even with its limitations, will jump-start negotiations there.
Remarks by Biden and Xi before their meeting were cordial but tense. Biden emphasized that their “meetings have always been candid, straightforward, and useful,” telling Xi: “I value our conversation because I think it’s paramount that you and I understand each other clearly, leader to leader, with no misconceptions or miscommunication. We have to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict. And we also have to manage it responsibly—that competition.”
Xi responded that the China-U.S. relationship “is the most important bilateral relationship in the world,” and while it “has never been smooth sailing over the past 50 years and more…, it has kept moving forward amid twists and turns. For two large countries like China and the United States, turning their back on each other is not an option. It is unrealistic for one side to remodel the other, and conflict and confrontation has unbearable consequences for both sides.”
In their four-hour meeting, the two leaders agreed to recommence military communications more than a year after China broke them off when then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. The two countries also agreed to strengthen cooperation on stopping the flow of what are known as precursor chemicals—the chemicals needed to make street fentanyl—which are produced in China and shipped to drug operations primarily in Latin America. The U.S. has cracked down hard on that trade; additional Chinese cooperation will be welcome.
They agreed to continue to work together to address climate change, as well as to address the risks of artificial intelligence.
On the rest of their discussions, concerning Taiwan, human rights, the Middle East, and Ukraine, the two leaders “exchanged views,” according to the White House readout. Later in the day, meeting with business leaders who have grown nervous about investing in China, Xi assured them that China wants to be friends with the U.S., and “does not seek spheres of influence, and will not fight a cold or hot war with any country.”
In his remarks welcoming APEC leaders this evening, in the city of the famous Golden Gate Bridge, Biden emphasized the power of building bridges to span space and time, the past and the future. He spoke of connecting diverse communities: “All across the traditions, cultures, and languages, we find the common dreams we share for ourselves and for our children.”
Biden urged his audience to “take full advantage of this summit to make new connections and spark new partnerships, because every step we take to deepen our cooperation, to launch a new venture, to tackle the challenges that impact on all of us is a step toward realization of the enormous potential of our Asian Pacific future…, a future where our economics are strong, vibrant, and sustainable because our workers are empowered and protected; women and girls are full and equal participants in every aspect of our society; young people…can envision for themselves the lives and hope for unlimited possibilities.”
The strongest tools we have to meet this era’s challenges, he said, are “connection, cooperation, collective action, and common purpose. That’s why we’re all here.”
Late tonight, by a vote of 87 to 11, the Senate passed the continuing resolution to fund the government into the new year. One Democrat and ten Republicans voted no.