“Joe Biden’s Magic” -or- What Can We Expect From the New President?

Image courtesy of creazilla.com

Well, it’s all over but the pouting, louting, shouting, and lying. Despite the chaos and continuing norm-smashing, President-elect Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. will be inaugurated on January 20, 2021. I assume there’ll be some continuing, even progressing awfulness between now and then, but we’ll get through it.

Then the focus will zero in on the contentiousness between the moderate Democrats who blame the left for the loss of House and Senate seats—and the left who refute those claims and point to the energized young voters casting ballots for the first time. 

I’m going to let this important matter sit for a while except to stress that I think both sides have to realize they/we need each other and must find some modus operandi to face the larger forces readying to bring down the entire party, the President-elect’s opportunity to govern, and our democracy.

How We Can Actually Get Things Done Together

My inspiration comes from writer Anand Giridharadas (his name is so difficult to pronounce that there’s actually a video of people introducing him as a guide), whose very long and interesting piece appeared in The New York Times Sunday Review.

He is best known for his book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. It’s a provocative work that awaits me on my Kindle.

The Times article was written just before the election had been called for Biden and the Senate losses had been reported. The Times editors replaced the title “Joe Biden’s Magic” with an interesting, if more prosaic, update: “Biden Can’t Be F.D.R. He Could Still Be L.B.J.” I prefer the original, and the final quotation below explains why.

After citing a fury-inducing summary of Trumpian chaos, Giridharadas issues a call to action to us all.

“Given the collective frenzy of these years, President-elect Joe Biden intuited that legions of Americans wanted a return to normal — a restoration, a reversion. The earnest hope in his promise ‘to restore the soul of America’ was that the same country that uplifted Donald Trump and let itself be consumed by internet-fueled culture wars could heed its better angels again, as it did when it elected the nation’s first Black president on a hope-and-change mandate not so long ago.

“But if this election is to have lasting meaning, we cannot see a Biden campaign victory as license to cast away politics as a presence in our daily lives. We cannot succumb to the liberal temptation parodied by the comedian Kylie Brakeman to ‘vote for Biden so we can all get back to brunch.’

“However effective it might have been at closing this race, this restorationist fantasy would be a terrible governing philosophy. Because the pre-Trump world — in which voting rights were being gutted and 40 percent of Americans couldn’t afford a $400 emergency bill — is no kind of place to go back to.

“Mr. Biden himself seemed to concede this point by tempering his restoration message with the slogan ‘Build Back Better.’”

Giridharadas observes that he’d spoken to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who—though a devotee like Biden of the institutions of government—negated the idea that the new administration should strive for “restoration versus transformation.”

Schumer emphatically came down on the side of “bold change,” stressing his concern that otherwise, we might end up with someone even worse than Trump in four years.

Changing the Way People View the Government

At heart, the difficulty the Democrats face is that since the Reagan years, Republicans have persuaded lots of Americans that the federal government is a force for evil, rather than a force for good.

There’s a serious disconnect between the way many people view government—and the reality of what good governance can do for them. Remember during the fight over Obamacare, which now is highly popular despite the need for substantial fixes, one man cried out: “Take your government hands off my Medicare”?

Giridharadas’s main point is that it’s essential for Biden to show Americans that government can, indeed, be an invaluable force for good. This is something I’ve felt even more strongly since we’ve been hit by the COVID pandemic and its associated economic devastation. If ever there was a time for a vast government effort, organizing in partnership with local governance to improve people’s lives, it’s now. 

To my mind, the Republicans’ blocking the Democrats’ Heroes Act–which would provide much-needed support to individuals, small businesses, Coronavirus relief, and to state and local governments overwhelmed by the pandemic’s impact–borders on the criminal. (I view their refusal to acknowledge Biden’s win the same way…)

Scenario One: The Democrats Have a Senate Majority

A huge issue is whether the Democrats can win the two Senate races in Georgia. With a 50-50 split, Vice President Harris breaks the tie vote. Chuck Schumer then becomes the Majority Leader. 

That could mean the Democrats get rid of the filibuster, which many believe is an essential act if anything significant is to be accomplished with Mitch McConnell still controlling the Republicans.

Giridharadas’s key question is whether Biden, a center-left persona with a penchant for compromise, will take that critical step. It would be hard for him, essentially foreclosing any chance for the collaborative efforts that he ran on and deeply believes in. 

But ending the filibuster, says Giridharadas,

“could still be a risk worth taking. If Democrats win the two presumed Georgia runoffs, Senate Democrats will represent roughly 41 million more people than the Republican half of the chamber. If Mr. Biden is to meet this moment, he can’t let his cautious temperament and deep hankering for civic comity stop him from making the policy changes families need.”

Will he see himself as a Dream Big, consequential President who will do what’s needed to accomplish major things for Americans right now–when there are so many whose plight is desperate?

Biden doesn’t hold grudges, but he also knows how destructive McConnell was to the Obama presidency. And now that his old friend Mitch has refused to recognize his electoral win, he may be willing to see—or be convinced by others to acknowledge—that his entire administration can be stymied by McConnell.

Writes Giridharadas:

“…if Democrats do win the Senate? Senator Schumer told me he envisions a first 100 days filled with a raft of measures on the virus and economic relief, mixed in with policies that address inequality, climate change, student debt, immigration and more. A Biden administration’s early days ‘ought to look like F.D.R.’s,’ he said. ‘We need big, bold change. America demands it, and we’re going to fight for it.’”

So maybe there’s far more that the moderates and progressives can agree upon—in sync with most Americans—than the rhetoric to date suggests. 

One question is whether Biden will be deterred by the cries for fiscal conservatism and the calls from the Republicans who sided with him, who seem only to worry about the deficit when Democrats are in control. “Who will have more of a voice in Washington?,” Giridharadas asks.

A positive note may be found in today’s (11/14) New York Times: Biden’s Selections Suggest Tougher Wall Street Rules.”

Scenario Two: McConnell’s Still in Charge

If the Georgia races go to the Republicans (who both have lots of shady stuff in their pasts) and McConnell remains the Senate Majority leader, Giridharadas still thinks Biden could make substantial changes in people’s lives by bypassing Congress.

“The growing sense, among both the party’s technocrats and its populists, is that their midterm fate lies in whether voters give Democrats credit for improving their lives — not on the processes used or norms violated to do so.”

He quotes Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington:

“A public health and economic crisis is not the time for incremental steps, small ideas or meekness…Joe Biden can deliver on this from Day 1 with executive orders and administrative actions that cancel student debt, lower drug prices, strengthen workers’ rights and cut emissions.”

I can see a Democratic Congressional consensus around such issues.

Newly appointed Chief of Staff Ron Klain (who receives rave reviews for his previous work in government) has already said there will be a raft of executive orders awaiting President Biden on January 20. They’ll include securing the status of the DACA recipients, reentering the Paris Climate Accords, and rolling back a number of anti-environmental regulations.

Giridharadas notes that The American Prospect recently published “277 Policies for Which Biden Need Not Ask Permission,” based on the results of the Biden-Sanders unity task force. 

In a Twitter talk linked to his article (worth watching if you have access to Twitter), Giridharadas said he’d interviewed American historian Jill Lepore, who observed that FDR used small things that bought him space for bigger things. 

Giridharadas says Biden could “bring people together to build locally powered community projects with local problem-solving.”

But he also points out that there are now policies that appeal to both parties “thanks to the heterodoxy of Trumpism.” (Interesting to find something positive linked to that guy, isn’t it?) One of them is a wealth tax a la Elizabeth Warren, which polls well with Republican voters, though not with their elected officials. 

A tax on those with $400,000 income may not resonate with people making $100,000, who like to think they may reach that threshold.

But a tax on billionaires? Well, since most people see such status beyond their reach, they could go along with that—especially if it were called “The Patriot’s Tax,” or something similar.

Giridharadas suggests, quite wisely, that a lot has to do with using appropriate verbiage in naming such initiatives.

Other possible efforts:

“Using the Department of Justice to crack down on monopolies and threats from China has some bipartisan support. As does actual infrastructure investment and, to a limited extent, raising the minimum wage.”

Another critically important move is to “build a down-ballot pipeline” through a 50-state strategy. Lack of attention to this party-building necessity is something for which Obama has been faulted. It must be done starting now.

“To the extent that, for the next two years, divided government severely limits the sort of public action that progressives dreamed about in their 2020 primaries, Mr. Biden could use his office to create task forces that normalize and build a public consensus for more significant small-d democratic changes to American politics achievable only down the road.”

How Will the President Employ His Skills?

“Despite our divisions, Mr. Biden could use the bully pulpit to bring the country together. He could promote local projects of dialogue and reconciliation, and continue to hold genuinely bipartisan town halls throughout his term.”

Giridharadas then talks of what he calls Biden’s tendency to “elevate personal kindness over systemic justice” and asks what will matter to him more: “the radiation of personal decency or the pursuit of structural fairness?”

He believes the President-elect has shown his adaptability to the circumstances he’s facing. He compares Biden to Lyndon Johnson, “a longtime senator and a vice president less charismatic than the president he served and succeeded who, nevertheless, became more consequential…,” stressing Biden’s personal “folksy, median-voter-friendly patois, that ‘C’mon, man’ Americana vibe.”

Giridharadas gives the last word to former Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang, and because I think it’s both astute and encouraging, I will too.

“Joe Biden’s magic is that everything he does becomes the new reasonable. He has shown the ability to move the mainstream of the Democratic Party on issues before. As president, whatever he does, he will bring the whole center with him.”

Your thoughts?

Annie

PS: We must do everything we can to win those two Senate seats. If you can donate even a small amount to Jon Ossoff (electjon.com) and Raphael Warnock (warnockforgeorgia.com), please do. And if you can do work such as phone calls (and donate), contact fairfight.com, the organization the amazing Stacey Abrams formed that has powered the changes that enabled Joe Biden to win Georgia in this election.

27 thoughts on ““Joe Biden’s Magic” -or- What Can We Expect From the New President?

  1. I think you are right that there will be some finger-pointing between moderate Dems and the left about who weakened Dems electorally, but Ron Klain’s remarks seem set to blunt the bickering by putting the first focus on issues that moderates and left can most easily agree on (“DACA recipients, reentering the Paris Climate Accords, and rolling back a number of anti-environmental regulations”). Let’s hope that the result is unifying not just for the Dems but for a larger swath of Americans, most of whom (despite portrayals in the clickbait media) are not die-hard “us vs. them” activists on one side or the other.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gary, of course the ultimate goal is to enlarge the coalition with people from various quarters, but I don’t expect Biden will get any help from McConnell and Republicans in making the case for important government programs that can persuade people their lives have been improved. If their goal were governing, they would have put up some kind of healthcare plan by now. They’ve given no indication that anything matters other than packing the courts, deregulating as much as possible, and cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans. So while the public may not be decisively us v them (and I don’t believe they are), the Republicans certainly have acted that way and reinforced that image for decades.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Definitely with you on McConnell (and the political class in general), though — being from the South — I do know some street-level Republicans who don’t come at every issue in the zero-sum manner of McConnell.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Biden is close to an ideal figure for reconciling people of opposite views. Unfortunately the Trumpanzees are just not in the mood to be susceptible to that. Remember, they believe we’re Satanic baby-eating commie election-stealers or dupes of same. Their blogs and sites right now are full of lurid fantasies of slaughtering us. At best Biden may be able to win over the middle-of-the-road types, but I doubt there are a lot of those any more.

    Abolishing the filibuster, at least, isn’t a decision for Biden to make. The Senate sets its own rules, and the president has no role in that. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure the rules have to be set at the beginning of each term, and can’t be changed in mid-term. That means that abolishing the filibuster can’t be put off on a wait-and-see basis. It needs to be abolished right at the start, or we’re stuck with it for two years.

    Even if we win the Georgia runoffs, things won’t be easy. Manchin may not support the more radical — but most essential — parts of the agenda such as Supreme Court expansion or DC and Puerto Rico statehood. It would be difficult to put much pressure on him since his constituents in West Virginia probably don’t support those things.

    One thing that might help is focusing on health insurance, which is a major issue now, with the pandemic and high unemployment. Not abolition of private insurance (that would give the Republicans landslide wins in 2022 and 2024), but making Medicare available to all who want it instead of just those over 65. This would directly benefit millions of people, and it would be easier to get conservative Democrats like Manchin and maybe even a couple of Republicans to go along with it. And it would be the best way to, as you say, show voters who don’t currently accept it that government can be a force for good to them.

    Another such early priority would be national legislation to ban gerrymandering and other forms of vote suppression. Again, even conservative Democrats should be on board with that. The goal would be to build up a comfortable margin of superior numbers in the electorate so that we could consistently defeat the Republicans — hopefully, a big enough margin to win without being dependent on the votes of the radical ideological left, so that we would no longer be held hostage by them.

    I agree about a wealth tax. It’s popular, and we do need to do something about the deficit, which has been vastly inflated by decades of Republican tax cuts for the rich.

    If we lose the Georgia runoffs, real reform is probably on hold until 2022 (the Senate election map that year favors our side), though Biden could do a fair bit via executive orders, as Obama did. The emphasis for now needs to be on winning in Georgia. Fair Fight also takes donations, by the way, not only volunteers. Money donated there will support voter registration, voter contact, legal action to defend voting rights, etc. Abrams knows Georgia and knows how to work the situation on the ground. She’s a huge asset.

    I agree with you that we are probably stuck with paying attention to politics for the foreseeable future (retch). This election revealed that the wingnuts, while a minority, are a bigger minority that we thought. We’ll need to maximize turnout at every election to prevent them from dragging the country back into another period of madness.

    One thing that will help is that the Republicans are probably headed for a time of severe internal division and infighting as Trumpists and anti-Trumpists battle for the future of the party, and accuse each other of things. Wingnuts by nature are paranoid, suspicious, and aggressive. Such people easily turn on each other under stress.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I don’t think, in the hope that a decision about the filibuster is possible, that Schumer would raise it if he knew that Biden is dead set against it. And I agree things won’t be easy even with the Senate wins. By the way, I did mention donations to FairFight.

      Like it or not, the far left will be a force, and they’ll have to be part of the action. Important to minimize primaries from the left in 2022.

      I have great confidence in the teams Biden’s been assembling, and I’m as optimistic as I can be post-trump. It’s such a relief to have knowledgeable, reasonable people at the helm. Ron Klain is pure gold.

      I’m sure there will be a major focus on health care—and voter suppression. And a lot can be put in the pipeline for 2022 via thoughtfully assembled commissions.

      Manchin may be surprising. If there’s movement to help retrain coal miners and real healthcare reform, he may have leverage on other matters with his constituents.

      I am struck by the fact that almost nobody had confidence that Biden was the person to lead us at this perilous time—except Biden. The calm he’s exuding in the face of the blatant obstruction he’s facing is the measure of the man, and we are damn lucky he’s where he is.

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      1. I’m no expert, but I think any suggestion of the president having any input into an internal Congressional rules question like abolishing the filibuster would be unprecedented. It would certainly be an alarming violation of the separation of powers. Biden used to be a senator and I’m sure he understands that.

        The Democratic party isn’t a cult centered on an individual in which actions are judged by whether they serve the purposes of that individual, the way the Republican party has become. It’s centered on its agenda, and every individual, including the president, needs to be judged by how well their actions serve the cause of getting that agenda passed. If we win in Georgia and get a 50-50-plus-Harris Senate and then don’t abolish the filibuster, regardless of the reason, that’s throwing away the whole ball game voluntarily. Nothing that requires legislation (as opposed to just executive orders) will get done, and in 2022 and 2024 our rightly-disgusted voters will have no reason to turn out, and the Republicans will sweep everything and the country will go down for probably the last time.

        Biden is a good man, but if he turns out to be wrong or too timid on one or another point of the agenda, then Congress must stand ready to force the issue (and in the final analysis, we the voters must be ready to pressure both Congress and the president to act). I mentioned this earlier with Supreme Court enlargement, for example — Biden doesn’t seem enthused about the idea, but if the House and Senate pass enlargement legislation, I don’t believe he would refuse to sign it.

        The Democrats need to get this stuff done. I don’t care how, or who objects to this or that point, or whose ego and prerogatives need to be trampled in the process. They just need to get it done. Getting the agenda passed is the only point of winning elections in the first place.

        The far left has a right to a seat at the table, but not to a bigger role than their numbers justify. And their endless threats to vote third-party or not vote at all — thus handing elections to the Republicans — if they don’t get their own way are toddlerish and destructive. We need to reach the point were we can comfortably win elections without the votes of people who behave like that. We need to be able to appeal to swayable voters in the center, because that’s where the numbers are, not on the fringe.

        Good point about Manchin. He may be willing to vote for things that aren’t popular in his state if he can get other things his voters do want. I suspect his heart is basically in the right place. He has, after all, remained a Democrat despite representing a very red state.

        I was leaning toward Biden pretty early in the primaries, even though my overwhelming feeling was that the party needed to unify behind whichever candidate got the nomination — I was always far more concerned that the next president be a Democrat than about which Democrat it would be. Biden was my kind of Democrat — you can count on him to generally be on the right side of issues like gay rights, the social safety net, science vs dogma, separation of church and state, etc., without saying a bunch of crazy radical stuff that would stampede the suburbs into voting for the Republicans. As we’ve now seen, he was the right choice, because the election was closer than we expected. A more radical candidate would probably have lost.

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      2. Well, I’m certainly no expert, but I kinda doubt—human nature being what it is, that when Biden speaks with Pelosi and Schumer—all three painfully aware that McConnell has stopped and will continue to stop any legislation—and even Cabinet appointees, the subject of the filibuster wouldn’t come up. Sorry, but I just don’t see that as an alarming abuse of power. We have so many ways that these folks will have to shore up our institutions post-trump that I can’t envision such possible discussions on a par with, say, Biden interfering with the Justice Dept.

        The idea of Biden as aspiring to or becoming the center of a “cult of personality” seems antithetical to any reality I can envision. I think we’ll just have to bide(n) our time (sorry; my affinity for bad puns slipped out) on the filibuster issue and hope for the best.

        My hope for Manchin rests on the indelible image of him meeting with the Sandy Hook parents, deeply moved, and promising he’ll work for gun safety legislation—which would go against his constituents’ demands. The damage to the courts is so obvious and blatant—and the implications so far-reaching—that he might be approachable.

        I give you credit for seeing Biden’s validity early on. It took me longer ( and the bike-riding and jogging to the podium have allayed my concerns about his age), but I’ve been wholeheartedly with him for quite some time and through multiple posts, including a strong early defense against Tara Reade’s charges, which I felt were bogus immediately.

        I pretty much agree with everything else you’ve said—and I thank you for mentioning this piece in your weekly roundup.

        FYI: Your blog has decided I no longer exist. I tried to respond to your piece about the Georgia election and it wouldn’t let me. My comment was that I’d been worrying how Georgia’s governor would “allow” a Biden victory, but that was before I knew about Sec of State Raffensperger, who manages to be both a dedicated Republican and a person of integrity. His early announcement that there’d been no fraud enraged trump, which led Perdue and Loeffler to demand his resignation. He emphatically refused. This Op-Ed by another Republican is reassuring—if you dismiss the last sentence.

        https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/12/opinion/2020-election-raffensperger-georgia.amp.html

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  3. Biden should reach out to Trump supporters, but only so far. The vast majority of them are “true believers” — it would be naive to think they would be open to putting the interests of the country as a whole ahead of their own.interests or ideology. Biden’s basic human decency and empathy may eventually win over a minority, but in any case, “elections have consequences” (as politicians themselves have proclaimed), and Biden/Harris must take that dictum and run with it.

    P.S. I agree that winning the two Georgia Senate seats is ALL-IMPORTANT — without them, McConnell will obstruct and derail progress at every turn.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trouble is, Neil, he’s a lot smarter than trump and knows all the ins and outs of the system. And he’s the king of the obstructionists—with way too many members of his party (nearly all) comfortable with that situation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, it’s astonishing how many people voted for trump, that’s for sure. But I have hopes that with more efforts to end voter suppression and gerrymandering, and more education re: how governmental actions improve lives, we can enlarge the coalition for change.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I think that Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say. I loved Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but their views were further to the left than would likely have been accepted by the center and the right. Biden is a moderate and if anybody can find compromises, he will do it. Small steps, but leading to hopefully bigger steps. He is also very familiar with the machinations of both Congress and the executive branch so there won’t be much, if any, of a learning curve. However, I would caution that the populist movement has a lot of energy behind it and they seem not to be in the mood to find compromises, but want it all or nothing at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am concerned about the all-or-nothing folks, Jill—even as I hope for some big things right away. Of course, the pandemic and the economy/stimulus must come first—and they must be big. Mitch simply must be weakened; gotta win GA! I start my post cards to Georgia this week! (a small thing, but it can’t hurt).

      Thanks for your visit and comment. I sent the Dionne column to a Republican dear relative who actually voted for Biden. So thanks for that too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think there will be some very important things right away, such as re-joining the Paris Climate Accords and World Health Organization. Other things, though, are going to be slow-going, especially if we don’t win both of those Georgia runoffs. Fingers crossed! You’re right … you never know when one of those postcards might just remind somebody to get out there and vote!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks again, Annie! I agree that much of the possible success of the new Biden administration hinges on the Democrats those two Georgia Senate seats, but, even if that doesn’t happen, the whole tone, and the language, of the incoming people, from the top down, will be such a big change from the boorish and unprofessional stuff we’ve gotten from Trump and his cronies over the past 4 years, that things have to improve. I think President Biden will be able to accomplish a lot of good undoing of harms caused by Trump by Executive Action, very quickly. From the caliber of people he’s chosen for his Pandemic Task Force, it’s clear that he’ll ask very competent people to serve under him, which’ll be a major change from Trump’s four years. I’m still very hopeful.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This really lays it out and is encouraging. I had so hoped we could move warp speed away from the toxicity and, well, downright dangerous stupidity of the Trump administration, but we still have a long two months to wait! What’s with that lame-duck period, anyway? Why so long? What’s the point? But yes, appreciate your reporting of a possible blueprint moving forward. Gives me hope. As always, thank you for your work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure about this, but I think in normal circumstances, this lengthy transition period makes sense in moving the massive governmental gears smoothly from one administration to the next. That’s why this final trumpian norm-smash is so dangerous.

      I’m finding the time easier now that I’m thinking of it in terms of weeks, rather than months. Moving right along! And thanks, as always, for your encouragement and support!

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  7. I was frustrated that there was no dancing in the street in my neighborhood, but this post–in stressing all the positives that Joe Biden offers–will do. Thanks, Annie.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Absolutely, Jill. As I note in the piece, Ron Klain has already said an EO to rejoin the Paris Accords will be awaiting the President’s signature on Day One, as will other environmental changes. and DACA. He’s getting a raft of them ready.

    I forgot about WHO, so thank you for that. Despite some missteps, it’s especially important in terms of coordination as COVID rampages and vaccines and therapeutics are being developed.

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  9. That 41 million people statistic is just astonishing. I hope that Biden’s reputation as someone who can work across the spectrum of government holds true in the office of the President. There will certainly be a lot of animosity, particularly re the two Georgia seats.

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  10. Matthew, I had to go reread the post to recall the 41 million—we’re used to talking about the growing differential between votes for Biden vs trump. But you’re quite right: the fact that Democrats in Congress represent 41 million more people than Republicans and still have to worry about what urgent legislation they may be able to push through is astonishing. Though it’s not what trump had in mind when he used the words: the system is rigged—by the Electoral College, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and other concerns.
    Biden will need to use all his skills and the best ideas to try to govern well when facing Mitch McConnell and his naysayers—who love to ignore that shocking figure you highlighted and the needs of all those people—as well as many of those who voted for the Republicans, whose interests they don’t serve either.

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