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Opinion | With No Votes to Spare, Biden Gets a Win Obama and Clinton Would Have Envied

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Opinion | With No Votes to Spare, Biden Gets a Win Obama and Clinton Would Have Envied

Before you join the chorus, you might want to check in with the last two Democratic presidents. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both landed in office with much bigger majorities, and ended up taking it on the chin anyway. Despite the narrowest of majorities to get anything done, Biden, in fact, may be in a much better position.

When Clinton came to power in 1993, he had wide majorities in both houses: 57 Democrats in the Senate, and 258 Democrats in the House. But the resistance to his key economic package was so intense within his own party that his plan passed by just a single vote in both the House and the Senate, and only after important elements of that plan—like a gasoline tax—were thrown over the side to win the votes of suburban Democrats.

When Obama was inaugurated in 2009, Democrats and their independent allies held 59 seats in the Senate, and when Al Franken finally claimed his seat months later, they had a supermajority of 60—enough to overcome a filibuster. But in order to hold those votes, the Obama Administration had to keep the cost of its Great Recession stimulus package under $1 trillion—an amount, his team later conceded, was too small to trigger a robust recovery. Similarly, in order to get reluctant Democrats like Joe Lieberman to vote for the Affordable Care Act, the White House had to kill the public health-insurance option, which left progressive Democrats disheartened. (As Obama accounts in his memoir, “A Promised Land,” the handwringing from members of his own party took much of the shine off his signature achievement as president, the biggest expansion of health care since Medicare.)

The two ex-presidents also share a common, painful experience with the political consequences of their battles. Clinton’s tax and budget initiatives were aimed at reducing the then-unacceptable budget deficit of some $250 billion—a deficit that helped propel independent candidate Ross Perot to 19 percent of the vote in 1992. (I hope you realize we’ve become Eisenhower Republicans, Clinton groused to his staff.) The policy ultimately worked—Washington was running a huge surplus by the end of the Clinton years—but in the short term it was a political liability, leading to the loss of both houses of Congress in 1994.

For Obama, the slow pace of the recovery and the Republicans’ relentless political attacks on Obamacare led to massive midterm losses in 2010 at every level. The House turned Republican, the Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and 18 state legislatures turned red—a political upheaval that is still tormenting Democrats as they watch those legislatures push through voter suppression laws that will shape American elections for years to come.

But this time, Democrats may be able to provide a more upbeat answer to a question the approach of Passover inspires: “Why is this one-vote victory different from the other one-vote victories?”

This time, the benefits to tens of millions of Americans will be clear: $1,400 in bank accounts; extended jobless benefits; expanded childcare help. Donald Trump understood the impact of such assistance when he insisted his name be on the checks sent to American households. Joe Biden won’t be as blatant, but the direct aid will be a sharp contrast to what happened under Obama’s stimulus, when most Americans didn’t even realize they were getting a tax cut. It’s a sharp departure as well from the impact of Obamacare, where the benefits did not begin until long after the bill was passed, and after the midterm elections as well.

And this time, the bill that was passed was backed by enormous majorities of the citizenry—polls suggest that as many as 75 percent support the Covid plan, including clear majorities of Republicans. This suggests that the unanimous opposition to the plan by Congressional Republicans may leave the party with a political posture at a polar extreme from where they were in 1994 and 2009. The GOP was able to (inaccurately) pin Clinton with the “largest tax increase in history”; they were able to characterize the Obama stimulus and the Affordable Care Act as a giveaway to “those people.” But if the polls are right, Republican efforts to paint the Covid relief as a “blue state bailout” or a “Pelosi payoff” aren’t working.

More significant, if the impact of $1,400 payments, the vaccination assistance and the other elements of the plan are really felt back home—by voters, who notice the difference in their bank accounts and their health—it is actually conceivable that the line “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” could become something other than the punchline of a joke.

It is, of course, possible that all those proposals that fell by the wayside—the $15 minimum wage, higher income limits on the stimulus checks, bigger jobless benefit—will trigger so much grousing from progressives that Biden has trouble keeping his own side of the aisle in line. If they’re thinking about 2022, they should be careful how much complaining they do. With the slimmest possible of majorities, Biden managed to push through something whose potential political payoff his two Democratic predecessors would have envied.

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‘A nicer version of Trump’: GOP donors flock to DeSantis

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'A nicer version of Trump': GOP donors flock to DeSantis

POLITICO’s Holly Otterbein reports on how Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s Senate run has become an inflection point in the Democratic party. Plus, Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she won’t bring progressive “court packing” legislation to the floor. And House Minority Leader McCarthy meets with scandal-ridden Rep. Matt Gaetz.

The enthusiasm was on full display during DeSantis’ appearance at last weekend’s Republican National Committee donor gala in Palm Beach, Fla., where he drew wild applause for declaring the party needed figures who withstood public pressure and weren’t afraid to confront what he called the “elite, New York corporate media.”

The governor was mobbed over the course of the weekend. Joanne Zervos, a New York City donor who spoke with DeSantis during the conference, said many contributors saw him as “a nicer version of Trump,” someone who had embraced the former president’s policies but lacked his rough edges. Zervos said she was drawn to the governor because of his approach to dealing with the coronavirus.

DeSantis last week also made a surprise appearance at a donor retreat convened by the Conservative Partnership Institute, an organization overseen by Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). The event was held at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach. During his appearances last week, some attendees approached him and encouraged him to run in 2024.

Whether DeSantis’ popularity among donors is lasting or fleeting remains an open question. The 2024 nominating contest is a long way off, and other would-be candidates have also developed close relationships with contributors. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was also well-received at the RNC retreat, according to attendees. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has previously drawn financial support from hedge fund manager Paul Singer, one of the party’s most sought-after givers. Pence spent years cultivating big contributors, many of whom were uncomfortable with Trump but saw the then-vice president as an ally within the administration.

For now, DeSantis aides insist that the 42-year-old governor is focused squarely on running for reelection and hasn’t begun thinking about the presidential contest, something they have been trying to remind donors. The governor faces a potentially challenging 2022 contest against Democratic state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is expected to enter the race soon.

But DeSantis’ aggressive courtship of national givers bears striking similarities to the approach then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush used in his 1998 reelection race, which preceded his presidential bid two years later. Bush spent the 1998 campaign traveling the country and introducing himself to the Republican Party’s biggest donors, many of whom contributed to his reelection effort and later became key to his 2000 national campaign.

As he embarks on his fundraising blitz, DeSantis has begun building a team with national experience. He has tapped veteran Republican strategist Phil Cox to help oversee his 2022 campaign. Cox, who has developed deep ties to the donor class through his past leadership of the Republican Governors Association, accompanied the governor to last week’s retreats.

But DeSantis’ most potent fundraising weapon may be his home state, which has long been home to some of the GOP’s biggest bankrollers. The governor has tapped into upscale areas like Miami Beach, where during a multistop March swing he appeared at a fundraising lunch at the La Gorce Country Club that was hosted by real estate developer Jimmy Tate. Others present included investor Jimmy Resnick.

Florida’s list of major Republican Party donors is getting longer. While the state has long attracted the wealthy through its promise of low taxes and warm weather, the pandemic has supercharged the migration. Financial leaders say they’ve been drawn to DeSantis’ reluctance to embrace the stringent mitigation policies implemented by blue-state governors that have taken a toll on businesses.

The roster includes venture capitalist David Blumberg, who in November moved to the Miami Beach area from San Francisco. Blumberg, who contributed more than $100,000 to Trump’s reelection effort, has met with DeSantis around a half-dozen times since arriving to the state.

“I have admired Gov. DeSantis from afar,” Blumberg said. “Since I’ve moved to Florida with my family, I’ve gotten to know him reasonably well and have a very good impression of what I’ve seen.”

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The GOP-Big Business Divorce Goes Deeper Than You Think

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The GOP-Big Business Divorce Goes Deeper Than You Think

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a legendary business professor and associate dean at the Yale School of Management, has watched this split grow in recent years, and has heard it from CEOs he knows and works with. What the GOP cares about and what major businesses care about is, increasingly incompatible, he says.

“The political desire to use wedge issues to divide — which used to be fringe in the GOP — has become mainstream,” Sonnenfeld says. “That is 100 percent at variance with what the business community wants. And that is a million times more important to them than how many dollars of taxes are paid here or there.”

Over the weekend, Sonnenfeld hastily organized a Zoom conference with roughly 100 major corporate executives to talk through the voter restrictions being considered by state legislatures throughout the country, and about the way top Republicans like McConnell and Ted Cruz are responding with attacks on businesses that speak up in opposition.

Most of the CEOs on the call were Republicans; Sonnenfeld himself has been an informal adviser to both Republican and Democratic presidents, but he has a longstanding relationship with McConnell, and spoke at the senator’s wedding to Elaine Chao. The CEOs “ranged from amused to outraged” in their reaction to the GOP attacks on businesses, says Sonnenfeld. “Their comments ranged from talk about ‘taxation without representation’ to the paradox of ‘cancel culture’: It’s OK if they speak out, but only as long as they stay on script?”

As the GOP tries to position itself as the home of “working-class values,” capturing loyalty with a steady campaign against the perceived excesses of progressive culture, it’s running afoul of a business community that can’t simply silo off “culture war” topics. In the eyes of major corporations, issues like voting rights, immigration and transgender-inclusive restrooms have economic impact, too. The millions of people alienated by those fights aren’t just their future customers, many of whom expect to support brands they believe in, they’re the companies’ employees.

“The bad news for Republicans is that they seem to have a 1920s view of who big business’s workforce is,” says Sonnenfeld. “That workforce is, at a minimum, highly diverse — and they get along. Trying to stir that up is misguided.”

The new Republican penchant for mocking corporations for being too socially aware — for instance, Sen. Ted Cruz’s Twitter threat to use the power of the state to harm Major League Baseball’s business, signing the message off with “go woke, go broke” — fundamentally misunderstands what matters to business in the 21st century, says Sonnenfeld. “Basically, business leaders believe that it’s in the interest of society to have social harmony… Divisiveness in society is not in their interest, short term or long term.”

If the marriage between the Republican Party and the business community is on the rocks, what does that mean for politics? What do we misunderstand about what really matters to CEOs? And why aren’t business executives more afraid of boycott threats from the right?

For answers to all of that and more, POLITICO Magazine spoke with Sonnenfeld this week. A condensed transcript of that conversation follows, edited for length and clarity.

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Pence has pacemaker implanted – POLITICO

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Pence has pacemaker implanted - POLITICO

Former Vice President Mike Pence had a pacemaker implanted on Wednesday, his office announced in a release Thursday.

After being named to Donald Trump’s ticket in 2016, Pence disclosed that he had been diagnosed with an asymptomatic left bundle branch block, he said. In the past two weeks, Pence’s office said he had begun to have symptoms related to a “slow heart rate.”

Pence then had the pacemaker inserted in a successful “routine surgery” at Inova Fairfax Medical Campus in Falls Church, Va., his office said in the statement. Pence is “expected to fully recover and return to normal activity in the coming days,” the statement said.

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