Schumer Shows Some Spine: The Senate Vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act 

Yesterday, head Democrat in the Senate and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called up the Women’s Health Protective Act for a vote and the vote failed by a margin of 49-51 with Joe Manchin and the two pro-choice Republicans voting against the measure.

But I see the vote as a step forward for the Democrats.

The Women’s Health Protective Act was originally passed by the House in 2021 and contains the following items according to Congress.Gov:

This bill prohibits governmental restrictions on the provision of, and access to, abortion services. Specifically, governments may not limit a provider’s ability to

  • prescribe certain drugs,
  • offer abortion services via telemedicine, or
  • immediately provide abortion services when the provider determines a delay risks the patient’s health.
  • perform unnecessary medical procedures,
  • provide medically inaccurate information,
  • comply with credentialing or other conditions that do not apply to providers whose services are medically comparable to abortions, or
  • carry out all services connected to an abortion.

In addition, governments may not (1) require patients to make medically unnecessary in-person visits before receiving abortion services or disclose their reasons for obtaining such services, or (2) prohibit abortion services before fetal viability or after fetal viability when a provider determines the pregnancy risks the patient’s life or health.

In other words, the Women’s Health Protective Act reaffirms the fundamental right to terminate pregnancies before a fetus is viable, identifies a woman and her doctor as the primary agents of decision making in relation to abortion health care, and bans all the impediments conservative states like Texas and Kentucky have been putting in place to make abortions more difficult and costly.

In addition, the Women’s Health Protective Act did not provide for any religious-based exceptions to its provisions.

Thus, the Women’s Health Protective Act affirmed women’s rights to abortion procedures as normal medical practice and provided no exceptions for state’s rights, Catholic hospitals, or the tender sensitivities of the religious right.

It’s an excellent bill and that’s why GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell was outraged.

Leader Schumer wants the Senate to vote again on a Democrat bill that would effectively legalize abortion on demand through all nine months. Their bill is written to protect abortionists rather than mothers. It would roll back health regulations. It would attack Americans’ conscience rights and religious freedoms. It would overturn modest and overwhelmingly popular safeguards like waiting periods, informed consent laws, and possibly even parental notification. And it is written so that in practice, it would allow elective abortion until birth. Democrats’ extreme position is radical on a global scale and it is wildly unpopular with the American people.”

A lot of what McConnell says is laughable regurgitation of things that the forced birth movement has been making up about abortion for decades.

However, one of the main points about the Women’s Health Protective Act is that the House authors did not care about anti-abortion opinion.

And neither did Chuck Schumer in bringing up the bill for a vote.

Failing to understand Roe v Wade, Sen. Joe Manchin called the Women’s Health Protective Act an “expansion” of Roe v Wade and voted “no.”

Make no mistake, it is not Roe v. Wade codification,” he said of the Women’s Health Protection Act. “It is an expansion. It wipes 500 state laws off the books, it expands abortion, and with that, that’s not where we are today.

I’m sure Manchin’s Republican friends provided him with that number but the bill would have codified Roe v Wade rather than all the slices Republicans have taken out of abortion rights since 1973

But Chuck Schumer didn’t care what Manchin said and neither should I.

“Pro-life” Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski also voted against the bill because it didn’t provide any religious exemptions.

However, given that Collins jerked the Democrats around on Obamacare and voted attempted rapist Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court, the Democrats have stopped viewing her as an honest person with whom they could negotiate.

So Chuck Schumer didn’t care what Collins and Murkowski had to say either.

The Never Trumper journal The Bulwark accuses Schumer of “once again playing to the activist base rather than to his gettable colleagues.” That’s exactly right. Schumer and Congressional Democrats needed to stop listening to Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell, moderate conservatives like Susan Collins, and GOP leaning Democrats like Joe Manchin.

And they have.

Schumer still needs to get better at legislative strategy and all Democratic leaders in Congress and the Biden administration desperately need to improve their partisan messaging, find ways to get their message amplified, and stick their rhetorical landings.

But the mainstream Democratic leadership has crossed the Rubicon of giving up on the Republicans and the fact that Chuck Schumer now has a spine is a big step forward.

The Joy Reid Model for Democratic Communication

Like many activist Democrats, I’m chronically dissatisfied with the messaging of the Biden administration, the Democratic National Committee, and the lib/left media more generally. Much of the communication reads like public service announcements, there’s not enough anti-GOP partisanship, what partisanship exists (“And no Republicans voted for this”) has little bite, and none of the more effective messages get amplified.

Both the Biden administration and the DNC have improved over the last month but recent tweeting by MSNBC broadcaster Joy Reid provides an excellent model for what official Democratic communication should look like:

@JoyAnnReid, twitter

1. An Aggressive Attack. My guess is that Joy Reid did not mean this as “Democratic messaging” but it’s excellent Democratic messaging all the same. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida used three black kids as props for his most recent anti-CRT announcement and Reid aggressively called him out for child abuse barely qualifying the statement as “tantamount to child abuse.” The anti-CRT announcement was another high point of DeSantis going after teachers and corporate training but Reid saw an element of racial abuse in the staging of the event and called him out.

2. Creates Controversy. When I accessed twitter this morning, Joy Reid was trending and there was an article about Reid’s accusation on the Fox News web site. As has often been the case with controversies pushed by Trump and the GOP, the Fox News headline served to spread Reid’s message:

MSNBC’s Joy Reid calls photos of Black kids at DeSantis event as ‘child abuse’

Yeah, the headline was that big!

In other words, Reid’s attack on DeSantis “made news.” One could say that Reid’s tweet would be even more effective if the “controversy” was reported by the New York Times and Washington Post or taken up by CNN, other MSNBC shows, and network news.

But one of the benchmarks for Democratic communication should be that it needs to “make news.”

3. Forcing A Response. Another benchmark for successful Democratic messaging is forcing a defensive response from the propagandists of the right and this is another area where Joy Reid’s attack was successful. In answer to Reid, DeSantis flak and superstar homophobic bigot Christina Pushaw tweeted:

“I was working at this event and helped with the set up. My colleague talked to all the kids beforehand & told them what the issue was & what bills @GovRonDeSantis was signing. Hundreds of people attended this event; those ~50 who ended up on stage freely chose to stand on stage,” Pushaw wrote.

4. Follow-up. Because the mainstream media views the right-wing as having a monopoly on controversy, the Democrats have a hard time getting their message amplified, such a hard time that the Biden White House needs to focus much more of their time on amplifying Democratic messages. It will be interesting to see if Joy Reid will address the controversy on The ReidOut tonight. But she did follow up with another post in the thread:

Joy-Ann (Pro-Democracy) Reid, @JoyAnnReid

That sure looks like T. Willard Fair in the background. But I’ve been told by a trusted source that these were not Miami Urban League kids, standing there looking like they were at the dentist. Any Florida journalists have insight into this?

That prompted more discussion in the thread which brought out more facts.

4. Audiences. This kind of messaging doesn’t just serve to attack the Republicans. It gets Democratic messages to independent and moderate voters and also provides encouragement and support for Democrats. Democratic elites often get hung up on the idea of identity politics and campaign against the idea of politics as “teams.” But white conservative identity is the main thing driving GOP support for Trump, ideas of violent insurrection, opposition to Covid relief measures, etc. The Democrats need more identity politics, not less.

Mysteries of the Democrats

Jonathan Chait on the Israel debate and left-wing antisemitism
Getty Images

“Joe Biden’s Big Squeeze” represents a big effort by @jonathanchait and I sincerely appreciate the thought and work that went into the article even though I disagree with much of Chait’s perspective. I especially value Chait’s detailed discussion of the Democratic Party and the minimum stereotyping in which Chait discusses Democratic voters. Chait’s article reminds me of the thorough work by @Edsall on Biden and public opinion and perhaps represents a trend toward more diligence and realism in covering the Biden administration and Democratic voters.

My main issue with “Joe Biden’s Big Squeeze” is framing analysis of the Democrats in terms of moderates vs progressives. There are a number of basic questions concerning the mod v prog dichotomy and the answers to all of them suggest a need to at least adjust the frame. To what extent do “progressive” and “moderate” mean the same things over time, to what extent do they apply across the multicultural Democratic spectrum, and to what extent are those who identify or are identified as moderates or progressives wield decisive influence in the Democratic Party?

Starting first with influence of progressives. Chait identifies progressivism with the Sanders and Warren campaigns, donors to activist organizations, and a variety of prison reform, anti-police, immigration, and climate activists. However, Sanders lost to a lackluster and flagging Biden campaign when Biden was rescued first by Jim Clyburn’s endorsement and then by black Democratic voters in South Carolina. Black voters rejected progressivism but were not “moderate” in the sense that Manchin and Sinema are moderate. This seems to be a mystery to Chait and other journalists who view black voters as “more moderate” because they did not accept “defund the police,” “abolish ice,” “billionaire tears” or other progressive slogans. Black voters are civil rights oriented, supported Biden because of his long involvement with the Black community, and believed Biden had the best chance of beating Trump. But this combination of motivations is neither moderate or progressive according to current understandings of the terms.

The problems of viewing Black voters in terms of the mod/prog dichotomy can be seen further with Minneapolis and police reform. Interestingly, Chait mentions that the “Defund the Police” slogan that emerged among progressives was a compromise between activists who wanted to reduce police budgets and those who wanted to abolish police departments altogether. But the activist campaign in Minnesota mirrored the Sanders campaign in being a dismal failure that never received more than 25% support among Minneapolis Democrats.

But does this mean that the other 75% of Minneapolis Democrats had any relation to “moderation” in the sense of supporting “stop and frisk,” “listening to both sides,” or believing justifications of police shootings as reasonable responses to threats?

Not at all as can be seen from Chait’s further comment.

Black voters have consistently registered support both for reforming police to crack down on racism and abuse and increasing the level of protection for residents of high-crime areas. As longtime Minneapolis police-reform activist Nekima Levy Armstrong lamented, most Black Minneapolis residents wanted serious police reform: “Instead, what we got was progressive posturing of a kind seen throughout the country and a missed opportunity to bring about real change and racial justice.”

That’s not quite the same as Elizabeth Warren’s demand for “big structural change” but “serious police reform,” a “crackdown on racism and abuse,” and “real change and racial justice” would all be large-scale reforms. Black voter wanted big change in the sense of BOTH eliminating police racial abuse AND “increasing the level of protection for residents of high-crime areas.” In this sense, black voters rejected “progressive posturing” while pretty much forgetting about “moderation” altogether which raises the question of the extent to which moderates are a relevant force in Democratic politics. One question is the extent to which white Democratic voters agreed more with black voters than progressives. White voters were certainly among the 75% of Minneapolis Democrats who rejected “Defund the Police” but it’s impossible to tell about the extent to which they were thinking about reform in the same way as black people.

At this point, the possibility arises that most Democrats reject what they view as the overblown sloganeering and posturing of progressives. As the progressive standard bearer, Bernie Sanders received 26% of the vote in the 2020 Democratic primaries and that might be the ceiling for progressive Democrats. Otherwise, progressive policies (MM4A, decriminalize border crossing, reduce police funding, etc..) and rhetoric (“billionaire tears,” “Defund,” “Abolish Ice,” “Pack the Courts, etc.) are a turn off to Democratic voters. Progressive activists may have energy, passion and funding, but they also had a long record of failure during the 2020 electoral campaigns and beyond.

And the Biden people seem to be highly aware of progressive failure. Chait has an interesting formulation concerning Biden’s “Build Back Better Program.”

Biden has tried to keep the political conversation framed as closely as possible around issues in which he and his party have an advantage: handling the pandemic and rebuilding the economy. His economic program has carefully avoided any controversial social debates and focused on a highly popular combination of raising taxes on the ultra-wealthy and redistributing the proceeds to the working and middle class through programs like universal access to child care, community college, and a child tax credit.

But Chait misses the fact that the Biden Administration was still proposing a big change in American domestic policy. “Raising taxes on the ultra-wealthy and redistributing the proceeds to the working and middle class” is a “big bleeping deal” in American politics. The same is the case with the investment in a green economy infrastructure which speeds up the transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. It’s almost exactly the kind of “big structural change” Elizabeth Warren was advocating without the inflammatory attacks on the wealthy that are common among progressives and activists. In fact, Chait’s own comments on the ultra-wealthy are more provocative than anything coming out of the Biden administration.

Much of the nation’s elite resides within a bubble nearly as remote from the perspective of the average American as the hothouse atmosphere of any left-wing Twitter feed. Within this bubble, the equation of the perspective of the wealthy with that of the country as a whole is simply a casual background assumption. Much of the news from Washington is unintelligible, or even absurd, unless it is understood as a transmutation of the C-suite vantage point into the vox populi.

A pertinent observation. But Chait also misses the many ways in which the Biden administration’s approach to Build Back Better has been genius in the sense that Build Back Better is big change legislation whose support reaches far beyond the confines of the progressive wing. In fact, many of the main items in Build Back Better have more than 80% support among Democrats and the only question about Democratic support for the legislation has been whether voting Democrats are maintaining enthusiasm as the bill is whittled down to gain support from “centrist” senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

If progressives are about 25% of the Democratic Party voting base, Build Back Better is big change legislation whose support is more than 50% higher than would be the case if its support than just progressives. Like black voters in Minneapolis, Democratic voters as a whole seem to be a big change constituency whether they’re progressives or not. How and why most Democrats support big change but not big change rhetoric is one of the mysteries of the Democratic Party and a mystery that won’t be addressed until journalists like Jonathan Chait give up on the moderate vs progressive dichotomy.

Why give up on the moderate side?–mostly because Democratic moderates are sliding into irrelevance just like their Republican counterparts. Sinema and Manchin are the only two committed moderates or centrists in the Senate Democratic caucus and they only have influence because of the razor thin 50-50 split between the parties. Likewise, the Blue Dog caucus in the House has been shrinking and shrinking since the 2008 election with membership sliding from 59 in 2009 to 14 in the current Congress Chait chastises Democratic Party centrists in both the Senate and House for being so open to the corporate lobbying campaign to cut back the most popular provisions of the bill. But I’m not sure that Democratic moderates have much of their own base outside corporate money. If one assumes that Democratic voters opposed to the original Build Back Better legislation would be concerned about “big government,” the dangers of higher taxes, expanding welfare, and other centrist priorities, the polling on Build Back Better poses problems for centrists. If less than 20% of Democratic voters are in tune with centrist priorities, then most Centrists are walking targets for primary challenges by more mainstream Democrats.

Going back to the beginning of this post, this is a very good article by Jonathan Chait. However the Democratic Party will remain a mystery as long as journalists frame their writing about Democrats in terms of the opposition between moderates and progressives.