Maine Rep. Jared Golden And The Centrists' Murky 'Victory' Over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
In this week’s newsletter: Measuring the fallout from Golden’s standoff with Pelosi; religious group sues Gov. Mills over vax mandates; the proliferation of offensive Holocaust comparisons; another whack at curbing foreign influence in Maine elections.
The “what they’re saying” press release has become a favorite tool in political communications. It’s essentially a list of testimonials from officials, luminaries, opinion influencers and press headlines that affirm that an elected official’s decision is correct, popular or yielding some sort of victory.
It’s a handy device in a triumphant moment. It’s also useful when the outcome is a bit murky.
On Wednesday, the press office for U.S. Rep. Jared Golden sent a “what they’re saying” email containing several press accounts and quotes declaring that, after bruising negotiations, he and nine other centrist Democrats had successfully managed to extract a procedural win from iron-fisted — and renowned legislative tactician — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
This concession, as some described it, was weeks in the making as the band of centrists vowed to vote against advancing the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act unless the House first passes the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that cleared the U.S. Senate two weeks ago.
Pelosi had originally planned to run the two bills in tandem, a strategy developed to hold her own caucus of disparate factions together in the narrowly divided House, thus ensuring passage of both — in theory, anyway.
Golden and the centrist rebels, however, did not approve of the plan. They wanted a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and right away.
“This bipartisan bill was good enough to get votes from both (Vermont Sen.) Bernie Sanders and (Republican minority leader) Mitch McConnell, and it is a disservice to the American people to hold it hostage for political games,” he said in a statement released Aug. 13.
“Political games” is a catchall phrase for many activities, but in the minds of more mainstream Democrats and aligned interest groups, the endgame here is passing a good chunk of the Democratic agenda before the 2022 midterm election, and a potential GOP resurgence, buries it.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, has called the Build Back Better Act the most consequential legislation since President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, a sweeping agenda of domestic programs that addressed civil rights and created the safety net for low-income Americans, Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and other initiatives.
Build Back Better, or BBB, initiatives include paid family leave, subsidized child care, an expansion of the child tax credit, expanded subsidies to buy health plans through the Affordable Care Act and climate change programs. To pay for all of that, the Biden administration has proposed hiking the corporate tax rate and the capital gains tax.
Golden, a Democrat in one of the Trumpiest districts in the country, has previously expressed support for some, but not all, BBB initiatives. His 2018 victory over Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin was arguably aided by his embrace of expanding health care coverage.
However, he’s since tacked right and taken several positions or votes at odds with most of his caucus. He was the only Democrat to vote against the American Rescue Plan, which provided billions of dollars in pandemic relief to Maine, and he’s sounding uneasy about the size and scope of BBB.
This has riled some Democrats and liberal activists, who view the second-term Golden as making an electoral calculation in anticipation of a difficult reelection bid next year, and as a result, potentially torpedoing Biden’s agenda for his own political survival. Liberal columnists piled on, calling Golden and the rebels everything from the Sabotage Squad to the Suicide Squad.
But on Tuesday, the centrist rebels claimed victory. Pelosi agreed to decouple the infrastructure bill from BBB by setting a firm date to vote on the former while continuing to develop the latter through a lengthy process known as reconciliation.
The centrists’ detractors have claimed that this is a pyrrhic victory (or not really a victory at all) and one that will only encourage a future rebellion from the Progressive Caucus, which has already said it won’t vote to pass the infrastructure bill until BBB is done.
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reaffirmed that position after the decoupling deal was announced Tuesday.
Our position remains unchanged. We'll only vote for the infrastructure bill when the House passes a reconciliation package that delivers on overdue promises - like lowering drug prices, fighting climate change, supporting childcare & providing vision & dental care to seniors. https://t.co/OOTATToqpA— Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@RepAOC) August 24, 2021
Golden, for his part, was unmoved by the progressives’ threat and didn’t seem to take it too seriously.
He also panned the wisdom of the original strategy that linked the two bills in the first place.
"It was a bogus strategy and I think one that might have led to them both failing," he said.
Golden reasoned that the new agreement with Pelosi will give centrists in both the House and Senate more leverage in the BBB negotiations and, therefore, enhance its chances of passage in the evenly divided Senate and the House. (He’s making no commitments to support it himself, however). He also questioned the accuracy of some reports suggesting Pelosi had received BBB vote assurances from some centrists as part of Tuesday’s deal.
From a constituent standpoint, all of this Beltway wrangling and deal-making might seem irrelevant. But it could be consequential. If the BBB fails, then Golden and the centrists could take the brunt of the blame from their left flank. They could also be blamed for halting Biden’s agenda after less than a year in office (McConnell seems to think so; he wished the centrists luck during their standoff with Pelosi).
The same goes for the infrastructure bill if progressives tank it over a BBB standoff.
Golden might be right that infrastructure is safe from a progressive hostage taking. After all, it has broad bipartisan support and polls well.
But why was it so important that the bill be separated from BBB?
The Sept. 27 deadline for final passage of the infrastructure bill might be meaningful because existing federal transportation funding ends Sept. 30. There’s also a potential political benefit to Golden and his centrist colleagues because decoupling ostensibly creates distance between bipartisan infrastructure spending and a BBB plan that Republicans are already describing as a socialist wishlist.
Those backing the centrists argue that a clean vote on bipartisan infrastructure is better for endangered centrists than a package deal that could fuel GOP attacks in vulnerable Democratic House districts like Golden’s.
Those attacks are coming anyway. The subject line on a Maine GOP email to supporters this week: “Pelosi's Golden Boy Caves Again.”
But Golden and his band of centrists might also have some cover now. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, once considered an arm of the GOP, has been backing the centrists with paid ads, which might prove useful in countering Republican attacks down the road.
Religious group sues Mills over vax mandate
Liberty Counsel, a national Christian organization, has filed a lawsuit against Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and several of the state’s largest health care organizations over the state’s requirement that health care workers get vaccinated against COVID-19. The group also represented an Orrington Church in its lawsuit against the governor’s pandemic restrictions last year.
The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the Liberty Counsel as a hate group because of its anti-LGBTQ stances.
Lawsuits against pandemic restrictions and vaccine mandates have proliferated but have a mixed track record of success.
More often than not, the courts have struck down challenges to vaccine and pandemic policies. In early August, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett declined to halt Indiana University’s vaccine requirement for students and employees.
Don’t hold your breath
Last week’s comments by Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, comparing Gov. Janet Mills and her sister Dora Anne Mills to Nazi doctors drew swift condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League, as well as the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine.
Both organizations have demanded an apology.
It hasn’t happened, and it would be a surprise if it does.
The Nazi-vaccine, Nazi-masking comparisons might be deeply offensive to Jews, or anyone with a passing knowledge of the actual horrors of the Holocaust, but it has become a central part of Republican pandemic rhetoric.
In July, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., compared the Biden administration’s door-knocking vaccine effort to “medical brown shirts” showing up at their door ordering vaccinations. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., called the door-to-door vaccinators “needle Nazis.”
That kind of talk has filtered down to GOP state legislators and, more recently, the union chief for the Chicago Police Department, John Catanzara, who unloaded a profanity-laced tirade in response to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate for city employees, including cops.
“We’re in America, G-ddamn it. We don’t want to be forced to do anything. Period. This ain’t Nazi (expletive) Germany, [where they say], ‘Step into the (expletive) showers. The pills won’t hurt you.’ What the (expletive)?” he told the Chicago Sun-Times.
The Anti-Defamation League once again condemned the comparison and requested an apology.
It’s been doing that a lot lately.
Backers of foreign-influence ban eye ballot initiative
A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is launching a ballot initiative for 2022 that aims to curb foreign influence in Maine ballot campaigns.
The proposal is similar to the bill that the Legislature enacted this year, but ultimately vetoed by Mills.
That bill would have barred corporations owned by foreign governments from electioneering in state campaigns, including advertising or canvassing of voters, and closed a loophole exposed by Maine Public in 2019 that allows foreign governments and companies to influence ballot campaigns even though they are prohibited by state and federal law from spending to influence candidate elections.
The proposal had bipartisan support, in part because it could have affected this year’s referendum aimed at scuttling the highly controversial transmission project by Central Maine Power.
CMP would not have been directly affected by the bill, but Hydro-Quebec, its partner in the corridor project, would have been. Hydro-Quebec is solely owned by the government of Quebec. Its ballot question committee has spent nearly $10 million backing the corridor project and it continues to spend money in an attempt to convince Maine voters that the project is in their interests.
“We will eliminate foreign government interference and corruption in our elections with passage of this initiative by the Maine people,” said state Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, in a written statement.
Bennett was the lead sponsor of the bill that the governor vetoed this year. State Rep. Kyle Bailey, D-Gorham, submitted a separate, but similar bill. The proposed ballot initiative will include some provisions in his bill, including increased disclosure requirements for foreign-owned companies and compelling media organizations to pull advertising that violate those rules.
“Maine elections belong to Mainers, and not to wealthy foreign interests,” Bailey said in a statement.
Organizers will have to collect more than 63,000 signatures from registered Maine voters by January of 2022 to put the bill on that year’s November ballot.
A Republican state lawmaker who recently attended an anti-vaccine-mandate rally at the Maine State House says his wife, who reportedly died after a long battle with COVID-19, was reluctant to get vaccinated because of “conflicting information.”
Chris Johansen’s attendance has drawn a combination of contempt and bewilderment, yet is consistent with the couples’ outspoken resistance to public health precautions throughout the pandemic, including the COVID-19 vaccines that health officials say are highly effective in preventing hospitalizations and death.
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