Reprinted with permission from PressRun
For the second day running, the New York Times on Tuesday ran a front-page piece about Sen. Joe Manchin’s announcement that he would vote against the landmark, $2 trillion education, healthcare and climate package known as Build Back Better, thereby sinking chances of the legislation passing through an evenly divided, 50-50 U.S. Senate.
Leaning heavily into the Dems in Disarray narrative, the Times depicted a Democratic Party beset by public disputes and a president whose domestic agenda was in tatters. But like virtually all of the coverage this week, the Times ignored the role that radical GOP obstruction has played in the Build Back Better story.
For the print edition, the Times headline read, “Biden Seeks to Save his Domestic Policy Agenda from a Defection.” Note the “a” in the headline, and how Manchin’s single ‘no’ meant “Democrats engaged in new bouts of infighting.” CNN also piled on the doom this week: “It's hard to dream up a worse scenario for Democrats.”
What’s been erased is the big picture — why did losing a single Democratic senator become tantamount to imploding the $2 trillion deal? Why in the U.S. Senate, which compared to the House is known for deal-making and at least occasionally working across the aisle, did one defection kill the sprawling bill, especially when the pending legislation is so popular with the public? In more normal times, if Biden lost Manchin’s support he’d be able to pick up one or two Republicans who would support Build Back Better.
He cannot though, because of the GOP’s unprecedented obstruction, in which the party stands united against Biden — no matter what.
The press in recent years has completely normalized the Republicans’ unheard-of worldview, to the point where virtually all of the Build Back Better coverage ignores the fact it’s 50 Republicans who are dooming legislation that would create a universal prekindergarten program, subsidize child care costs, lower prescription-drug costs, and offer tax credits for reducing carbon emissions.
For news consumers today awash in Manchin and Build Back Better coverage, Republicans simply do not exist. They’re depicted — if at all — as innocent bystanders whose actions play no role in any of this.
The Times gently noted in passing that, “With Republicans united in opposing the legislation, Democrats needed the votes of all 50 senators who caucus with their party for the measure to pass in an evenly divided Senate.”Talk about whitewashing radical GOP behavior. Refusing to portray Republicans for the hardcore extremists they are, news outlets also fail to connect the dots between the entire GOP opposing Build Back Better after the entire GOP opposed Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill that sent $1,400 checks to most Americans and hundreds of billions more to help open schools, which Republicans then tried to take credit for.
Inside the Beltway last winter, the Covid bill was depicted as being divisive because no Republican members of Congress supported it, even though the legislation enjoyed massive public support, even among Republican voters. As is custom with the D.C. media, the entire onus of bipartisanship is placed on Democrats, who are responsible for breaking the Capitol fever. The fact that the Republican Party acts in a way that defies all historic norms is politely set aside.
We saw that on display this spring when the country was rocked yet again by a wave of uniquely American mass gun shootings. The plague continues because of Republicans and their blind allegiance to the NRA. They exacerbate the crisis by blocking gun reform laws while simultaneously loosening ownership restrictions and helping to flood the country with firearms. Yet how many headlines did we see that read "Republicans Still Oppose All Gun Reform In Wake of Mass Murders"? Instead, there was lots of coverage about how "Congress" can't pass gun laws, and how there's "gridlock.” In one CNN article from the spring about why gun laws don't get passed, the word "Republican" was never even mentioned.
By downplaying that fanatic obstruction, the press continues to give Republicans a pass. That’s why the strategy has worked so well for them since at least the Obama years — block everything in sight and then watch the press blame the Democratic president for Congressional “dysfunction.”
Again, we saw it with guns. When the Obama administration made a major push to pass a background check bill after 20 first graders were massacred at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in late 2012, the GOP refused to pass the bill that garnered 90 percent public support. Incredibly, the pundit class then blamed Obama: If only he had acted sooner, or proposed other legislation, or talked more often to Republicans, or not held so many public events in support of new gun laws.
Biden continues to struggle to find the 50th vote needed for the Build Back Better bill. Extremist Republican behavior plays a key role in that, but it gets waved off by the press.