COMPASS: A 50-50 Senate sets record for confirming Biden judges

January 3rd, 2022

Good afternoon from Capitol Hill, and a new year! (And an election year, to boot.)

The Senate is back in session this week, while the House remains out of session for one more week. When we last left off, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) had all but stuck a fork in Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, also known as Democrats’ reconciliation legislation.

But it’s clear Democrats are intent on embracing the legislation regardless, at least rhetorically. And Manchin has signaled his willingness to negotiate if the White House either removes the enhanced child tax credit or lowers the income cap for eligible families – which, currently, is seeing families making up to $400,000 receive the benefit. So we trudge on.

In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will again press the Senate on passage of a major election reform bill, though the details remain unclear. The House has passed two election bills, HR 1 and HR 4, both of which would impose sweeping overhauls of American elections by federalizing many of the responsibilities currently held by states. See here and here for more details.

The bill is unlikely to reach the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster, but Schumer intends to use the legislation to press his conference on so-called filibuster “reform,” – that is, initiating a similar, 51-vote carve out for election legislation, similar to what Senate Republicans recently devised to pass the debt ceiling. Sens Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) reportedly remain opposed to such a maneuver, though this vote is designed to put the pressure on them.

The Senate will also return this week to confirm another circuit court judge. In a tied, 50-50 Senate, Senate Democrats have still managed to knock the socks off judicial confirmations. In 2021, the Senate confirmed 40 Biden judges at the circuit and district court levels, the most in an administration’s first year since Ronald Regan’s term began in 1981.

While the House is out of session this week, that hasn’t stopped House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from announcing a slate of activities to commemorate the events of January 6th, including a “historic perspective” discussion led by historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham, member testimonials, and a prayer vigil.

While all of this may seem performative (House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called Democrats’ actions “a partisan political weapon” in a letter to his conference), the work of House Democrats as well as Republicans Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger on the January 6th Select Committee has been anything but. The committee, under the guise of investigating an event which the FBI has already investigated and concluded wasn’t centrally planned or organized, has sent three criminal referrals to DOJ for Steve Bannon, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and former Trump DOJ official Jeffrey Clark. (The DOJ has, at this point, only acted on the criminal referral of Steve Bannon.)

The select committee has also breached every single precedent of House decorum and protocol by now demanding testimony from their own colleagues – starting with Republican Rep. Scott Perry – and issuing records preservation requests for their telephone and text records.

For more on this, see a monologue I did in September warning about how bad this could get. Conservative leaders have already demanded that Reps. Cheney and Kinzinger be ousted from the Republican conference, and are preparing to demand a more forceful response to the actions of this partisan committee this week.

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One More Thing…

Just before Christmas, YouTube banned an episode of Cleta Mitchell’s Who’s Counting podcast. If YouTube is scared of it, that is all the better reason to listen! Check it out here.