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We asked governors what they want from Biden. Here’s what they told us.

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey

In his inaugural address, Biden issued an appeal for “unity” and a revival of functional government. The weeks since — with an impeachment trial and gaping differences over the size of a pandemic relief package — have made clear the low probability in the near-term of changing the relentless partisanship of the nation’s capital.

But a POLITICO survey of select governors, which collectively represents a quasi-symposium, suggests the revival of the practical-minded center Biden extols might be attainable for his administration. Its path likely would run though places like Montgomery and Trenton, as well as Montpelier and Salt Lake City and Olympia, before finally arriving (if at all) in Washington, D.C.

It is not that polarization and grievance don’t exist in the states. No one following the way that Republican state parties in multiple locations have been taken over by Trump acolytes — who have passed resolutions denouncing Republican lawmakers who show insufficient fealty to the former president and his bogus claims that he won the election — could harbor that illusion.

But the survey respondents did illuminate a kind of steady, practical-minded focus that crossed both partisan and geographic divides.

Democrats, not surprisingly, are more eager than Republicans for the new administration to robustly expand government’s role in fighting the pandemic and its economic and social consequences. Several Democrats wish for a national mask mandate from Washington, for instance, while no Republicans do.

More striking, however, is the relative blurring of ideology in the answers. All seven governors who participated in POLITICO’s queries expressed concern about the condition of their state’s economy. Most said assistance from the federal government is necessary for their state governments to meet the demands of the moment, though a couple said they would make do without it.

The survey had two parts. In the first, governors answered multiple choice questions with the understanding that answers would be described cumulatively but the answers of individual governors would not be shared by name. The second part of the survey invited governors to expand on their views and experiences with on-the-record answers.

Both sections highlighted a sense of urgency — and in some cases, a sense of precariousness — that governors perceive about the condition of a pandemic-stricken country as Biden begins.

Their concerns were in every instance about what might be called material politics — that is, problems and remedies which have a tangible manifestation, from job rates to infection rates to energy supply and transition to low-carbon alternatives. In no case did the answers gravitate to the cultural issues — from concern about race relations, or “cancel culture,” or even the all-consuming debates about Trump — that have animated so much of national politics over the past 12 months or the past four years.

Almost certainly, this reflects the nature of a governor’s job, rather than that these particular politicians are somehow wired differently in their interests. But the answers do suggest a way that Biden might transcend a style of politics that often defaults toward remorseless personal and ideological conflict and away from problem-solving. It is by organizing his own administration — as by most appearances he seems to be doing — around material politics. These types of issues by nature tend to reward concrete results rather than rhetorical appeals, and allow for a degree of practical difference-splitting on the way to those results.

What follows are excerpts of the on-the-record portion of the survey results.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, Republican

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

Striking a balance between protecting people’s personal health and their livelihood has been the primary goal of mine throughout the pandemic. Alabama went from a pre-pandemic record low unemployment rate to now being in recovery mode. I look forward to regaining that momentum, while helping distribute a successful vaccine to people in all 67 counties.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

Continually investing in our infrastructure is important to Alabama. Throughout the Trump Administration, we have put Alabama and America first, which has launched business and industry forward. Alabama is a great example of the rebuilding and strengthening of the manufacturing sector. When you prioritize business, you are prioritizing middle America.

Maine Gov. Janet T. Mills, Democrat

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

Making life and death decisions and decisions that affect the economy, schools and people’s livelihoods; making sure people have confidence in the decisions our public policy and public health officials are making. What disturbs me most about recent events, including the election and the effect of the pandemic, is the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, the learnings gap in our schools and the earnings gap in our working communities, things that the vaccine alone will not cure.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

Taking measures to combat and mitigate the effects of climate change — rejoining the Paris Climate Accord; enforcing CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards, mercury and ozone emission regulations and appliance efficiency standards; providing incentives for energy efficient and safe homes and buildings, renewable energy sources, electric vehicles and home heating apparatuses such as heat pumps.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Democrat

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

As we navigate the second wave, what worries me is the many hard decisions that are ahead if the pandemic continues to worsen. This pandemic has left Governors with options that can only be described as bad and worse. [Last] March, I made the immensely difficult decision to shut down our state, a decision many other Governors around the country made as well. While this was the right choice, it had a massive economic impact on our state, and the struggles that New Jerseyans, whether they are essential workers, small business owners, students, or anyone else, are going through are always at the top of my mind.

We must also continue to serve low-income residents and our communities of color. These residents have been amongst the hardest-hit by this pandemic, not only in terms of the death toll, but also in terms of the economic impact. Food insecurity and demand for essential social services are at all-time highs and we need as much federal aid as we can get to protect the most vulnerable among us.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

New Jersey serves as a gateway to New York City and Philadelphia, the first and sixth largest cities in the United States. As such, infrastructure is critical to our state. Hundreds of thousands of our residents are employed in New York and Philadelphia, and rely on mass transit to get to their jobs. We have made meaningful progress on portions of the Gateway Program, but we must complete this project in order to avoid economic catastrophe, not just for our region, but our nation. The area covered by the Northeast Corridor rail line is responsible for 20 percent of the GDP of the United States.

The North River Tunnel [that runs under the Hudson River] is in need of imminent repair, and if shut down without a replacement tunnel, will cause immense damage to the state, regional, and national economies, something that the country could not afford before the pandemic, but certainly won’t be able to after. It is of immense importance that the … administration and Congress fund the Gateway Program. We are fortunate to have a [president] that understands more than almost anyone else in government, the importance of a functioning Northeast corridor, and I am more hopeful than I have ever been before that we … have a true partner in the White House.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, Republican

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

There are many things that have kept governors up at night these past nine months, but one of the most serious challenges we face is the amount of COVID-related misinformation and denial we see, fueled by online conspiracy theories and fact-free ideological websites.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

There is no shortage of problems the Federal government must address: COVID-19, the cost of healthcare, infrastructure, the debt, the economy, restoring global alliances, etc. But one of the most impactful initiatives they should pursue is a major federal effort to expand rural broadband across the country. States have worked hard and struggled for years to expand coverage with some success, but we simply cannot get to the last mile without federal help. The digital divide between urban and rural parts of our country has seriously hampered rural economic development in a 21st Century economy increasingly dependent on reliable connectivity. And the pandemic has demonstrated just how critical this need is for rural states.

We have faced a similar problem before and must pursue a similar solution. In the early 20th Century, the urban-rural divide was electricity. Recognizing the importance of electrification to the economy and quality of life in rural America, Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act (REA), which helped states like Vermont get to the last mile. Our country needs an REA-type approach to broadband to help grow our economy, which will help states raise revenue organically to invest in other critical areas.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Democrat

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

Answering in December, before cases began falling: The growth of COVID-19 cases throughout my state and the ability of our health care system to serve all who need care. We must slow the spread of new cases, hospitalizations and death. I remain deeply concerned about the economic impact of the virus on workers and businesses.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

Congress: Financial assistance to help individuals, workers and businesses who have been impacted by the virus.

Next president: Stronger direction and coordination from the federal government, the states have been left to their own devices for the past year and strong federal leadership would have saved lives and protected health.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, Republican

Gordon chose not to answer most of the on-the-record portion, but he did respond to this question:

For the sake of your state’s economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis, what’s the most urgent unsolved problem to address?

Supporting businesses so that they are able to survive through the winter months, particularly given the uncertainty surrounding [an] additional relief package.

Former Utah Gov. Gary Richard Herbert, Republican

Herbert left office shortly after completing this survey.

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

Economic development in rural Utah.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

They should focus on balancing the budget.

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Politics

‘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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Politics

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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