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As Democrats Pursue Biden Agenda, Republicans Are Sabotaging The Economy

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

"What are the Republicans doing?" MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace asked one of the outlet's reporters as President Joe Biden huddled with House Democrats on Capitol Hill on Friday. "Are they just sitting in their offices playing Yahtzee?"

I chuckled. But frankly, Wallace sold them short. In between their rounds of Tiddlywinks, Republicans managed to shoot down a bill to protect global markets, the national economy, and the full faith and credit of the United States not once, but twice.

The GOP's conduct is beyond cynical—it's full blown political terrorism.

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As Sinema Thwarts Biden Agenda, Democrats Plot Challenge To Her

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia isn't exactly helping the White House forge a compromise between the liberal and centrist wings of the Democratic party. But let's be real, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is almost single-handedly blowing up the entire Democratic agenda along with any chances of the party keeping its congressional majorities next year.

So after Sinema made several trips to the White House to meet with President Joe Biden in recent days, White House staffers were headed to her office on Wednesday.

Why? Because exactly no one can figure out what she wants or how to get her to say what she wants.

"Literally, one senator—one Senator—Kyrsten Sinema, is holding up the will of the entire Democratic party," Rep. Ro Khanna of California told CNN's John Berman Tuesday night.

"The president keeps begging her—tell us what you want, put a proposal forward," added Khanna.

Khanna, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, noted that progressives have been open to compromise all along the way—coming down from a $6 trillion budget bill to a $3.5 trillion budget bill, offering to front-load the benefits and shorten their life in order to get the measure within reach of Democratic moderates. But how do you compromise, Khanna wondered, when Sinema won't lay down a marker?

"What's mind-boggling is you have unanimity in the House — tomorrow the Speaker could get a deal in the House on a number," Khanna said, adding that he believed at least 48 Democratic senators could also back that deal, and probably Manchin too.

"This is not progressive versus moderates," he said, "this is the entire Democratic Party and Joe Biden versus Kyrsten Sinema."

Khanna went on to say that no one appears to know what Sinema wants—not her colleagues, not the president, not even House moderates.

Strong words, but they also appear to be totally on target.

As Politico reported, Sinema has refused to go into detail on the budget bill until the bipartisan infrastructure plan she helped negotiate clears the House.

"During a private meeting with the president, Sinema made clear she's still not on board with the party's $3.5 trillion social spending plan and is hesitant to engage on some specifics until the bipartisan infrastructure package passes the House," wrote Politico.

Meanwhile, House progressives are committed to downing that infrastructure bill unless a firm agreement can be reached between the House, the Senate, and the White House on the Democrats-only budget bill.

"They need to come up with their counteroffer and then we sit down and negotiate from there," Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington State told NBC News' Sahil Kapur Wednesday afternoon.

As TPM's Josh Marshal points out, it's entirely possible that Sinema simply isn't enough of a policy savant to articulate what she wants done to the $3.5 trillion budget bill and why.

But armed with just enough talking points from powerful corporate lobbyists, Sinema could easily tank everything.

Whatever Sinema thinks she's doing, she appears to have already secured a primary challenge in her state. A group of Democratic Arizona organizers launched an effort on Wednesday to fund a would-be primary challenger to Sinema in 2024.

"Either Sinema votes to end the filibuster, or we fund a primary challenger," warned a fundraising page set up by a group called the "Future Primary Challenger of Kyrsten Sinema."

"If the existential stakes for working families, our democracy , and our planet don't move her, maybe existential political stakes will," tweeted Kai Newkirk, founder of the progressive grassroots organization For All.

Why Arizona Democrats Are Learning To Despise Kyrsten Sinema

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has committed two political sins this year that have decimated her standing with Arizona's Democratic voters. One—a vote against including a $15 minimum-wage hike in Democrats' pandemic relief package—left the indelible image of Sinema flashing her thumbs down on the Senate floor, punctuated by a sickly ironic curtsy as she denied several million Americans the chance to lift themselves out of poverty. Sinema was one of eight senators who caucus with Democrats to vote against inclusion of the minimum wage increase the pandemic bill.

In the Civiqs tracking poll, Sinema started out the minimum wage battle earlier this year with a 60-plus favorability among Arizona Democrats until around mid-February, when she began making known her intention to vote against its inclusion in the American Rescue Plan. By the time the Arizona senator came out the other side of that vote, her favorables among the state's Democratic voters had been cut nearly in half to about 33 percent.

But the less infamous point of ignominy that tanked Sinema's approvals among her state's Democratic voters was a function of her absence rather than her presence. After calling a vote for a bipartisan commission to investigate January 6 "critical," Sinema decided to just skip it anyway. The May 28 vote on the bipartisan commission, which had already cleared the House, failed in the Senate 54 - 35. The Senate vote required 60 "yeas" to beat a GOP filibuster and would have failed even if Sinema had decided to show up.

But to add insult to injury, a Sinema spokesperson offered that the Senator "would've voted yes" if she had been there.

Not surprisingly, that response failed to quell the controversy. The following week, Sinema gave it another unconvincing try while standing side-by-side with Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas after touring migrant facilities in Tucson.

"I had a personal family matter," Sinema offered curtly, without elaborating further.

In the same press conference, Sinema re-upped her defense of the Senate filibuster rule, saying it "protects the democracy of our nation," despite the fact that the 60-vote threshold had just doomed a commission she declared "critical" and would have otherwise cleared the upper chamber with a simple majority.

In Civiqs tracking, Sinema emerged from the January 6 commission flap with a disastrous 18% favorability rating among Democrats. Her favorables with Republicans, however, ticked up nearly 10 points while also gaining a handful of points with independents, virtually offsetting her drop among Democratic voters.

The long and the short of it is, Democratic voters appear to have concluded that Sinema doesn't share their values, presently leaving her with a catastrophic 17 percent favorable to 65 percent unfavorable rating among them, according to Civiqs tracking.

Sinema may ultimately earn some good will among Arizona Democrats if both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Democrats-only jobs bill manage to reach President Joe Biden's desk. But depending on how those bills land with the public, Sinema's clear objections to several of the bill's most popular provisions might also chafe Democratic voters. Not only has Sinema opposed the popular prescription drug pricing provision, she is also reportedly lobbying against certain corporate and individual tax rate increases Democrats hope to use to fund their $3.5 trillion budget bill.

The New York Times writes Sinema "has privately told Senate Democratic colleagues that she is averse to the corporate and individual tax rate increases that both the House and Senate tax-writing committees had planned to use to help pay for the measure." At the same time, Sinema is holding high-dollar fundraisers with business groups that oppose having to pay those taxes, according to the Times. It's worth noting here that, for months, poll after poll has shown the idea of raising taxes on the nation's wealthiest corporations and individuals to fund Biden's jobs bills to be extremely popular. Simply put, it's what the American people want and it makes the investments even more popular than they already are.

At this point, Sinema's polling deficits with Democrats may be too dismal to overcome in a 2024 Democratic primary, no matter what she does. But so far, that doesn't appear to be keeping her up at night, either.

Why Renegade Democrats Are Choosing Big Pharma Over Biden

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

When news broke Wednesday that three Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee had voted with Republicans to torpedo a wildly popular provision to lower prescription drug pricing, one could be forgiven for thinking those members anticipate a bruising reelection campaign in 2022.

Instead, Reps. Scott Peters of California, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, and Kathleen Rice of New York are nowhere to be found on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's (DCCC) list of Democrats' most at-risk front-line members. Fortunately, the drug pricing provision remains viable after enough Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee approved it as part of the panel's overall measure. The only Democrat who voted against it on Ways and Means was Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida, who doesn't appear on the DCCC's frontline list of vulnerable members either.

In fact, the drug pricing provision—which would allow Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices—turns out to be wildly popular among a number House Democrats who are actually facing stiff reelection odds, as the HuffPost reporter Kevin Robillard wrote in July.

"The number one issue I hear about in my district is the cost of prescription drugs," said Rep. Susan Wild of Pennsylvania, who spearheaded a letter over the summer urging Democratic leadership to adopt the drug pricing measure.

Altogether, 15 Democrats signed onto Wild's letter—all of them part of the DCCC's front-line program.

So while Democratic members in states like Kansas, Iowa, and Georgia are trying to do right by their constituents in a battle for their political lives, those who hail from safe seats in states like New York and California are trying to doom one of the centerpieces of President Joe Biden's agenda.

Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices polls better than perhaps any other single provision in Democrats' $3.5 trillion budget bill. A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll in May found that "nearly nine in ten (88 percent) favor allowing the federal government to negotiate for lower prices on medications, including three-fourths (77 percent) of Republicans, nine in ten independents (89%) and 96% of Democrats." The measure is also expected to save the federal government some $500 billion (give or take) over the course of a decade—savings that will then be used to expand the umbrella of Medicare coverage to include dental, vision, and hearing benefits.

So what gives with these conserva-Dems? Money. Big Pharma is dishing out big money to Democrats who voted against the provision. As HuffPost's Daniel Marans notes:

  • Murphy is the second-highest recipient of Big Pharma PAC money in Congress so far this cycle at $54,000 and received $117,500from those PACs in the 2020 cycle.
  • Peters, the third-highest recipient of Big Pharma PAC money in Congress this cycle at $55,800, received $209,300 from those PACs in the 2020 cycle.
  • Schrader, the 21st-highest recipient of Big Pharma PAC money this cycle at $24,000, received $142,000 from those PACs in the 2020 cycle.

Rice's Big Pharma PAC haul isn't nearly as eye-popping at $3,000 so far this cycle and $5,500 last cycle. But Rep. Lou Correa of California, who has also made noise about opposing the measure, has taken in $14,500 from Big Pharma PACs this cycle and banked $75,000 last cycle.

The office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was quick to respond to the initiative's failure to gain approval in the Energy and Commerce Committee.

"Polling consistently shows immense bipartisan support for Democrats' drug price negotiation legislation, including overwhelming majorities of Republicans and independents who are fed up with Big Pharma charging Americans so much more than they charge for the same medicines overseas," said spokesperson Henry Connelly, promising that the initiative would "remain a cornerstone" of the Build Back Better Act.

Shortly after that statement, the Ways and Means panel approved almost identical drug pricing language.

The major hurdle, however, is that Pelosi can't afford to lose more than three Democrats on the $3.5 trillion budget bill overall. Murphy reportedly expressed optimism about still supporting the broader package, but "no" votes from Peters, Schafer, and Rice would imperil the entire bill.

Those members have also announced themselves as people who may invite a primary one day, particularly if they vote against overall passage.

"There's a lot of Democrats in deep blue seats who never get seriously challenged about how such large sums of corporate donations may influence their policy positions," said Waleed Shahid, a spokesperson for Justice Democrats, which works to unseat conserva-Dems in safe seats.

Arizona’s Fake Audit Is Spreading Like Cancer

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Donald Trump is succeeding in mainstreaming his fringe politics at the state level just like he did at the federal level.

Originally, the Arizona sham audit was an outlier—replicated in no other state and only gaining prominence among Trumpy bit players at the state level. Now, however, GOP leaders in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have put the full weight of their legislative bodies behind the Arizona-style investigations, giving them a veneer of import despite the fact that they are nothing more than exploratory boondoggles.

These so-called "audits" won't overturn the election results, and they are coming on the heels of multiple recounts in both states. So the likelihood that the reviews will reveal anything approaching a significant finding is sheer fantasy. But at the end of the day, they needed to be on Trump's good side, and putting the full force of government behind the effort was the surest way to do that.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, who had been dragging his feet on opening an investigation, finally bowed to Trump's pressure campaign in late August.

"I am 100 percent behind it," Corman told a pro-Trump media personality after Trump loyalists began calling for primary challenges to any GOP lawmakers standing in the way of a review. Corman ultimately sidelined one of the state's chief proponents of the audit, Sen. Doug Mastriano, and put a loyalist in charge of the effort—Sen. Cris Dush.

In Wisconsin, GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos made a similar calculation. In June, Vos tapped former conservative Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to lead a state audit after Trump had attacked Vos and several other GOP lawmakers as "working hard to cover up election corruption."

Late last month, Wisconsin Republicans on a key Assembly committee voted along party lines to pump nearly $680,000 in taxpayer funding into the effort. Vos later bragged to a conservative radio host that Trump was "comfortable" with "where we're heading."

Ultimately, GOP lawmakers like Vos and Corman have mainstreamed Trump's corruption to save their own hides.

"It's disappointing, because part of the burden of leadership is killing bad ideas that might be popular with the base," Trey Grayson, former Kentucky GOP secretary of state, told Politico. "When they put their imprimatur on it, it's a signal to everybody that they think that this is important."

In the meantime, the Arizona fraudit has produced exactly nothing—no results—and no one has any idea when it will.

Corman said that he hoped the Arizona results would "give us momentum, make it harder for courts to shoot us down, if results have happened in other states that have seen this." Corman has also indicated subpoenas are in the offing if they become necessary. Hearings on the matter are set to begin later this week.

Poll: Mandates Push Vaccine Resistance To New Low

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

A new Axios-Ipsos survey suggests that making it significantly more onerous to function in public as an unvaccinated person might actually be chipping away at stubborn vaccine hesitancy. The poll found that opposition to getting the vaccine had dropped to its lowest levels yet.

  • Only one in five (20 percent) Americans say they are not likely to get the coronavirus vaccine, the lowest level since we started tracking. Hard opposition, those not at all likely, has dropped to 14 percent of adults.
  • The number of parents who say they are likely to get their kids vaccinated has surged over the last week, now two-thirds (68 percent) report they are likely to vaccinate their kids or they already have. Opposition to vaccinating their kids has dropped to less than a third (31 percent) of parents.

The 20 percent of respondents who still say they're unlikely to get the vaccine has dropped from 34 percent in March and 23 percent two weeks ago.

Cliff Young, the president of Ipsos U.S. Public Affairs, believes the drop in hesitancy is less about vaccine conversion and more about the simple realities of living in a world that is compelling people to grapple with the greater issue of public health.

"Schools, organizations, companies, governments implementing mandates are forcing people to deal with them," Young said. "That's what going on."

New Florida Poll Shows DeSantis Approval Tanking

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The net approval of Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis has fallen 14 points in a little less than two months, according to a Morning Consult poll released this week.

DeSantis' approval rating in a survey taken June 22 - July 1 registered at 54 percent, with 40 percent disapproving of his performance. But in the outlet's Aug. 21 - 30 poll, the Florida governor's approval had leveled off considerably, 48 percent to 48 percent.

Apparently, it isn't proving broadly popular for DeSantis to cater to the "individual liberties" crowd while treating the rest of his constituents like collateral damage on his way to winning the 2024 GOP nomination.

The fallout has largely come from independents, where DeSantis suffered a double-digit slip, falling from 50 percent to 40 percent approval in the roughly two-month window. He's now 11 points underwater with independents, 40 percent -- 51 percent.

DeSantis also slipped a few points with Democrats (from 24 percent to 21 percent approval) and with Republicans (from 87 percent to 83 percent approval). Still, a little over four in five Republican voters in the Sunshine State think DeSantis is doing just swell.

Don't expect DeSantis to go changin', though. On Friday, he was back in court to appeal a ruling that undercut his statewide ban on in-school mask mandates. At least 13 of the the state's 67 school districts have implemented masking requirements because children are dying and universal masking is the best way to keep students safe, especially those who aren't eligible to get vaccinated.

DeSantis also offered up some gems Friday on vaccines and public health. Asked about vaccine passport penalties, DeSantis said vaccines are only a personal choice, not a matter of public health.

"It's about your health and whether you want that protection or not, it really doesn't impact me or anyone else," he said. "My philosophy is, as a governor, my job is to protect your individual freedom. My job is not to protect corporate freedom. That is not what I'm here for."

Resolute Biden Vows To Avenge US Troops Killed In Kabul Airport Terror Attack

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

When President Joe Biden addressed the nation Thursday in the wake of a deadly terrorist attack in Kabul, he sought to soothe, center, and steel Americans for what had been, what is, and what is yet to be.

"Tough day," Biden said from the East Room of the White House before even beginning his prepared remarks. The president's first order of business was consoling the nation over the service members who died in the attack—whom Biden repeatedly called "heroes."

"They're a part of the bravest, most capable, and most selfless military on the face of the earth," Biden said. "The best the country has to offer," he added, noting that they had given their lives in the service of liberty and the service of others.

Thirteen U.S. troops died and 15 more were injured Thursday in an explosion outside the Kabul airport that also caused dozens of civilian casualties. ISIS, a sworn enemy of the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack by a suicide bomber.

Biden promised to use "every measure" of his command to avenge the deaths of the service members, pledging that they would not be forgotten.

"We will hunt you down and make you pay," he promised the terrorists. But he also said that response would be carried out with "precision" at "the moment of our choosing" and "without large-scale military operations."

Biden also promised that the U.S. would remain steadfast in its ongoing operations to rescue Americans and extract as many Afghan allies and others seeking to leave as possible.

"America will not be intimidated," he said, adding that there's "complete unanimity" among the military commanders on the original objective of getting as many Americans out of Afghanistan as possible. "We will complete our mission," he pledged. Though he did not give a specific date for full withdrawal, Biden also committed to helping anyone who is unable to evacuate to get out even after U.S. troops leave.

Biden named several different groups of people who remain in the country and have "expressly indicated" they hope to get out, including American citizens, green card holders, special immigrant visa (SIV) holders, Afghans who helped the U.S.,and members of women's groups and nongovernmental organizations.

"To the extent that we can do that—knowing the threat—the military has concluded that's what we should do," he said, "I think they're correct." But he also said he believed there would "numerous opportunities" to extract more people down the road.

Biden once again indicated that there was no perfect way to end the war and that he does not regret making the decision to do so. He said he knew of no conflict in history where a war ended and "every person who wanted to get out could get out."

He also said he accepted responsibility for everything that has happened on his watch, while noting that he was hemmed in to an agreement negotiated by his predecessor.

"I bear responsibility for, fundamentally, all that's happened of late," Biden said. But, he added, "you know as well as I do, that the former president made a deal with the Taliban."

Poll: Floridians In Revolt Against DeSantis Pandemic Failure

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' crusade against masking and other pandemic mitigation efforts isn't playing well for him among Floridians, according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University.

The fact that 60 percent of Floridians support in-school masking, according to the poll, is nothing short of an indictment of DeSantis' failing leadership as his state suffers its most deadly period in the pandemic.

  • By 61 percent to 33 percent, Floridians say the recent spike in COVID-19 cases was preventable
  • 73 percent of Floridians currently view the surge as a serious problem
  • 59 percent say the pandemic's spread is out of control in the state

The public also broadly disagrees with the policies DeSantis has been pushing for months—policies that endanger their lives, including those of their children.

  • 68 percent say local officials should be able to require masks in indoor public spaces
  • 69 percent say it's a bad idea to withhold pay for school officials who vote to require masking (which the DeSantis administration is currently in the process of doing), while just 25 percent support it
  • 59 percent support requiring everyone to wear masks while in indoor public spaces
  • 63 percent say masking is primarily a public health issue, with just 33 percent saying it's more about personal freedom
  • 62 percent say health care workers should be required to get vaccinated, just 33 percent oppose it
  • 60 percent favor vaccine mandates for teachers, just 36 percent oppose them

The poll also found that DeSantis was underwater regarding whether residents think he is helping the situation or making it worse.

While 41 percent say that Governor Ron DeSantis is helping efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Florida, 46 percent say he is hurting efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. Twelve percent did not offer an opinion.

DeSantis picked a fight on masking—choosing to champion the fringe 'personal freedom' crowd over the lives of children. He is now facing a massive revolt among Florida schools and, the polling suggests, a loss of confidence among the electorate.

DeSantis Following Trump’s Failed Pandemic Playbook

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

In May 2020, just a couple months into the nation's explosion of coronavirus cases, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis traveled to the White House to brag about beating COVID-19 in his state.

"We've succeeded," DeSantis said, accusing the media of spinning a "typical partisan narrative" about what the trajectory of the virus would be in his state.

"You've got a lot of people in your profession who wax poetically for weeks and weeks about how Florida was going to be just like New York," he told reporters. "Hell, we're eight weeks away from that, and it hasn't happened," he continued.

One month later, reality caught up with DeSantis when cases spiked and he quickly ordered bar closures across the state.

A little over a year later, DeSantis is making COVID-19 headlines again, but not for his efforts to contain a virus he had prematurely declared victory over. Rather, the Florida governor is demonstrating a remarkably callous disregard for human life as his state is swamped by the pandemic.

As of Friday, Florida hospitals were treating some 17,000 COVID-19 patients, including more than 3,550 in intensive care, according to tallies by the Washington Post. The need for oxygen to treat patients has become so dire in some regions that Orlando officials implored residents Friday to conserve water in order to preserve the liquid oxygen used in water treatment.

At the same time, heated disputes over masking in schools are erupting as children return to school andthousands of students and staff have already been forced to either isolate or quarantine. DeSantis himself helped stoke the mask fury by banning school districts from requiring universal masking—the only available line of defense for kids under 12 and too young to get the vaccine.

When some school districts revolted by issuing mask mandates anyway, DeSantis threatened to dock the pay of school officials who implemented mandates. At least five of Florida's 67 school districts have now defied DeSantis' ban, including the state's largest and second largest districts, Miami-Dade and Broward.

While his state convulses with chaos, anxiety, illness, and death, DeSantis is happily preening and punishing for the cameras.

On Friday, DeSantis' handpicked Board of Education announced school officials in Broward and Alachua counties—two of the first to implement mask mandates—would lose their salaries unless they reversed their masking policy in the next couple days. The threat very well may not shake their resolve, as both President Biden and citizen activists have pledged to make up for any shortfall in funding.

Politically, taking punitive action against school districts that mandate masks is an abysmal move, with just 22% of Americans supporting the idea. But what's a GOP 2024 hopeful to care when Fox News is salivating to give him primetime slots even as he ensures COVID-19 will inflict maximal damage on his constituents.

In fact, a lengthy investigative report by the Tampa Bay Times found that DeSantis had scheduled more meetings with Fox's Sean Hannity in the first half of 2021 than with his own lieutenant governor. Meanwhile, the governor has failed to schedule even a single one-on-one meeting this year with Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, the state's top public health official, according to the Tampa Bay Times piece.

DeSantis clearly has the Fox sweepstakes tied up and therefore nothing else matters to him, not even anguish and death in his state. It's a dodgy political bet for a guy who beat his Democratic challenger in 2018 by less than half a point, 49.6% - 49.2%, and Democrats are eager to capitalize on it.

Two Democratic candidates for governor, Rep. Charlie Crist (who's also the state's former governor) and Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, have been ripping DeSantis' handling of the surge. This week, Crist launched a "five figure" statewide ad buy including two counties that implemented mask mandates.

"Florida leads the nation in new Covid cases, jammed hospitals and deaths," Crist says in the ad. "And now Ron DeSantis wants to defund schools where they're asking kids to wear a mask."

This week, political journalists spent an inordinate amount of time flogging President Biden for the chaotic and tragic scenes streaming out of Afghanistan. The quickly evolving humanitarian crisis there and massive U.S. evacuation effort is an important story, no doubt. But among reporters favorite things to do was to play a clip of Biden claiming several weeks ago there was "no circumstance" in which people would be airlifted off a U.S. embassy as they were in Saigon at the end of Vietnam. "It is not at all comparable," Biden insistedin an early July press conference. Then journalists would immediately cut to the anguished crowds in Kabul at the Hamid Karzai International Airport.

At the beginning of this week, I argued the next several weeks of news out of Afghanistan could be brutal for Biden politically but that Democrats should stay focused on the president's domestic agenda as it could likely be among the most consequential issues in 2022.

The story in Afghanistan is far from over and it's impossible to know at this point how it will end and what narratives will ultimately prevail in voters' minds. The issue will almost certainly be litigated in the 2024 presidential race, but more than likely next year's midterms will be dominated by the pandemic and economic-related matters.

In important swing states like Arizona and Florida—where governors' deliberately put kids in harm's way to score political points—their abysmal pandemic policies will get top billing. Floridians can get ready to see a lot of ads with DeSantis declaring, "We've succeeded" and celebrating victories for "freedom" against a backdrop of raucous school board meetings, rising coronavirus infections, and kids engulfed in a maze of tubes in Florida ICUs.

A quick review of the digital front pages of news outlets in South Florida, Tampa, Orlando, and Jacksonville reveals not a single story about Afghanistan. All but one of them led with a pandemic related story (tropical storm Henri got top billing in the Orlando Sentinel), and they all included at least one story impugning DeSantis, such as, "Ron DeSantis' colossal COVID-19 gamble: schools, vaccinations, masks—and his political future" or "Florida's COVID deaths climb as children lead state in positivity rate."

DeSantis isn't only a depraved narcissist, he seems to have forgotten the pandemic sunk Donald Trump, who also got so hopped up on Fox News bluster that he assumed he was politically invincible.

Republicans Frantically Erasing Trump’s ‘Historic’ Deal With Taliban

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

As Taliban forces entered Kabul—Afghanistan's capital and largest city—and Afghans rushed to Hamid Karzai International Airport in a last-ditch effort to flee the regime, the Republican National Committee (RNC) decided it no longer wanted to claim credit for the "historic peace agreement" the Trump administration brokered with the Taliban.

As recently as June, the RNC website boasted that Trump had "continued to take the lead in peace talks as he signed a historic peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan, which would end America's longest war." The RNC page linked to articles calling the deal a "decisive move" toward peace and "the best path" forward for the U.S.

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Children Suffer In Delta Surge As Hospitalizations Hit Record

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

The number of pediatric hospitalizations related to COVID-19 hit a record high Saturday of 1,902, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported by Reuters.

"This is not last year's COVID. This one is worse and our children are the ones that are going to be affected by it the most," Sally Goza, former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told CNN.

A record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is also hitting other age groups, including those aged 18-29, 30-39, and 40-49, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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Why Senate Republicans Have A Raging DeSantis Problem

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

The politics of Florida's raging COVID-19 outbreak under the bankrupt stewardship of GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis are proving to be particularly challenging for Senate Republicans.

Not only has DeSantis become the poster boy for dooming his constituents in service of political gain, but the southern swing state is also home to a dissonant mix of political interests as next year's midterms approach.

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Biden Hails ‘Heroes’ Standing For Safety Against GOP Governors

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

President Joe Biden hailed the efforts Thursday of health care workers, educators, and local officials who have been valiantly trying to ensure the safety of school-aged children amid the delta surge, particularly in GOP-led states.

Speaking at a White House press conference, Biden said many people have been trying to turn the issue of mask-wearing—a public safety measure—into a "political dispute."

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Finally Vaccinated, Scalise Falsely Blames Democrats For Red-State Hesitancy

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

In case you missed it, the political race is suddenly on to point fingers over the latest coronavirus surge ripping through red states and highlighting the severely lagging vaccination rates among Republican voters in particular.

According to the White House, seven states have accounted for half of all new U.S. COVID-19 cases over the past week: Florida, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. Among that group, Florida and Texas have led the charge, contributing one-third of all new cases. The obvious trend is that nearly every one of those states is run entirely by Republicans. Louisiana is the only outlier, seating a Democratic governor while both state legislative chambers are controlled by Republicans.

Senate Republicans and some governors are now making a sudden push to rewrite history about their own party's malignant disinformation campaign on the vaccines. But some House Republicans are attempting something even more preposterous—blaming Democrats for the vaccine hesitancy and rejection that has flourished in red America.

Chief among them is GOP House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who spent months putting off getting vaccinated before having an abrupt change of heart in late July. As the delta variant started ravaging his state, Scalise was photographed getting the jab. At a press conference several days later, he told reporters, "I would encourage people to get the vaccine. I have high confidence in it. I got it myself."

But quickly adopting a pro-vaccine posture wasn't enough for Scalise. On July 26, he posted a disinformation video claiming, "Democrats have a history of vaccine misinformation and not trusting the science."

Using sound bites from last fall—before the vaccines had even been developed—the video features then-candidate Joe Biden, his running mate, then-Sen. Kamala Harris, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressing doubts about the Trump administration's push to develop the vaccine before the November election.

At the time, Trump had become obsessed with the idea of announcing a vaccine prior to Election Day, viewing it as a cure-all for his reckless mismanagement of the pandemic.

In September, with roughly 200,000 Americans already succumbing to COVID-19, Trump started publicly pressuring the Food and Drug Administration to approve a vaccine forthwith. As the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler recounts, on Sept. 23, Trump said the White House might even overrule the FDA if it moved too slowly on approval. Simultaneously, FDA leadership was pushing back in an effort to maintain public confidence in any vaccines that did eventually emerge. "FDA will not authorize or approve a vaccine that we would not feel comfortable giving to our families," said FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn.

Crucially, for the sake of his reelection, Trump was actively warring with the scientists charged with keeping the American public safe. It's in that context that some Democrats began to express concerns about the integrity of the approval process under Trump. But Scalise's video plucks comments made in that early fall timeframe devoid of all context.

"The first question is: Is the vaccine safe? Frankly, I'm not going to trust the federal government's opinion," Gov. Cuomo said at a Sept. 24 press conference.

When a vaccine finally is approved, Biden worried on Sept. 2, "Who's going to take the shot? Who's going to take the shot? Are you going to be the first one to say sign me up? They now say it's okay."

Harris, asked on Sept. 6 if she would take the shot, responded, "Well, I think that's going to be an issue for all of us. I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump."

In her vice presidential debate on Oct. 8, Harris offered, "But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I'm not taking it." What wasn't included in Scalise's disinformation montage was her preceding sentence, "If the public health professionals, if Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I'll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely."

Republicans have clearly looked at their polling and realized their staunch anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-mitigation posture is a political liability. They have good reason to worry—Trump's epic mishandling of the pandemic sealed his fate in 2020. Consequently, many Republicans are pulling a complete 180 on messaging and hoping the American public will forget which party stoked doubt, fear, and even animosity toward the Biden administration's all-hands-on-deck effort to get shots in arms and restore some sense of normalcy to both the U.S. economy and American life.

Whether the GOP gaslighting works remains to be seen. But for now, most Americans know exactly which party stymied the vaccination effort, and it sure as heck wasn't Democrats.

Trump Lawyers Make Desperate Bid To Conceal Tax Returns

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Attorneys for Donald Trump are making a last-ditch effort to prevent Congress from getting Trump's tax returns, a week after the Justice Department cleared them for release.

On Wednesday, Trump's lawyers urged a federal judge to block release of the tax returns from the Treasury Department to the House Ways and Means Committee, according to NBC News.

The lawyers argued that the committee's stated purposed of using Trump's returns in order to refine how the IRS audits presidents was just a pretext for alternative motives.

"While House Democrats had offered countless justifications for obtaining the president's tax returns, no one at the time had ever mentioned a desire to find out how the IRS audits presidents," they wrote. The committee, they said, had only sought returns for one commander in chief and failed to ask the IRS for the "most relevant information—namely, how it audits presidents."

Democrats on the panel have been seeking tax returns for Trump and his businesses since 2019 and made a renewed push this year with the incoming Democratic administration.

While former Attorney General Bill Barr had inserted the Justice Department into the process in order to reject the committee's request, last week the department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) ordered Treasury to comply with the committee's request.

"We cannot know where receipt of the requested tax information will take the Committee, any more than the Committee itself can predict what it will find or determine," wrote OLC. "After reviewing and analyzing the information, it will be squarely within the Committee's responsibility to decide whether or not to include some of that information in a report to the full House that might be available to the public."

Presidents always get audited by the IRS, but the audit is supposed to be done expeditiously. Trump's perennially specious claim that he couldn't publicly release his tax returns because they were under audit was part of what motivated the House Ways and Means Committee to seek review of the audit process.

Spooked By Negative Polls, Republican Politicians Now Push Vaccination

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Vaccinated Americans are pretty damn upset about the lagging vaccination rates—mainly among white GOP voters—that have led to a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases, particularly in red states.

Now Senate Republicans want Americans to know who to blame for the low vaccination rates of GOP voters: Democrats.

In case you missed it, Republicans are now pro-vaccine, and the sudden surge of the Delta variant is all President Joe Biden's fault. At least, that's the bridge Senate Republicans and some GOP governors are selling.

Before we go any further, let's be clear about what the GOP's latest gaslighting effort represents: an all-hands-on-deck clean-up on aisle COVID-19.

"When it comes to COVID, there should only be one message to the American people and that should be: Vaccines work," Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming told reporters Tuesday in the ultimate Johnny-come-lately of pandemic statements. Barrasso then went on to accuse the White House and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of "medical malpractice" for having chaotic messages on masking, lockdowns, and other coronavirus mitigation efforts. Never mind the fact that the red-state surge is what has landed the country back in masking territory.

Now that Republicans have driven the country back into a COVID-19 ditch, they're planting the keys on President Joe Biden. Indeed, anti-masker and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is pinning the Sunshine State's deadly outbreak on Biden's border policies. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is suddenly a huge promoter of "VACCINATIONS!" And Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—who's 'perplexed' by the vaccine hesitancy mostly coursing through red America—is now funding radio ads urging residents of Kentucky to get vaccinated. Just eight of the state's more than 120 counties have reported vaccination rates above 50 percent, according to recent CDC data.

Here's one thing we can all be assured of: Mitch McConnell doesn't lavish campaign funds on public health for the sake of public health. His campaign expenditure is a sure sign that Republicans—particularly those in swing states and swing districts—don't like what they are seeing in the polling.

In fact, a newly released Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index is offering a window into the motivations behind the GOP's latest blame-shifting campaign. Of the roughly 70 percent of vaccinated Americans, nearly eight in 10 blame unvaccinated Americans for the latest wave of infections. Beyond faulting the unvaccinated, 36 percent of those who are vaccinated blame Donald Trump, 33 percent blame conservative media, and 30 percent blame people from other countries traveling to the United States. In other words, the vaccinated among us overwhelmingly blame Republicans, Trump, and right-wing media for erasing the gains made by the Biden administration's speedy vaccination program. That's exactly why Republicans are so desperate to recast Biden as responsible for the delta uptick.

Congressional Democrats are reportedly seeing something similar in their own polling, according to Washington Post's Greg Sargent. Internal polling by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has shown that "56 percent of likely voters in four dozen battleground districts have serious doubts about Republicans after hearing that they are spreading lies about vaccines to further conspiracy theories." The DCCC is now pushing its candidates to emphasize Republican disinformation on both the vaccine and the January 6 insurrection at their campaign events. In fact, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been offering a master class in how to highlight the radicalization of the Republican Party.

The vaccine message is also a natural for Democrats since the public widely trusts Democrats over Republicans on health care issues. The fact that Republicans are now trying flip public perception of GOP extremism on a public health issue is also telling—they simply cannot afford to chart a new course on the Jan. 6 insurrection, since many of their voters now support the terrorist siege and most adamantly believe the election was stolen from Trump.

But Republicans will have to stage a massive cover-up in order to retroactively recast themselves as part of the solution on taming COVID-19 spread. Rewriting history would be a cinch among Trump cultists and avid Fox News watchers. But the people Republicans need to convince of their rationality are actually rational people—those who still believe in facts and science and might be willing to vote Republican if the party wasn't overrun by extremists.

That's going to be a much tougher sell after congressional Republicans led the charge in sowing doubt and confusion about the vaccines. Republicans comparing the White House vaccination campaign to tactics used by the Nazis wasn't exactly helpful. Neither was Republicans smearing localized vaccination campaigns as "door-to-door" spying. Some Republicans hyped the idea that President Biden's vaccination effort was really a ploy to raid people's homes for their Bibles and guns.

As of mid-May, 100 percent of congressional Democrats reported being vaccinated while a meager 45 percent of House Republicans said they had gotten the shot. And last week, House Republicans spent much of the week railing against mask mandates in the lower chamber—even as their own caucus poses a primary threat to the health of everyone else in the Capitol.

Whatever whopper congressional Republicans and GOP governors are trying to sell now, they carried the mantle on hamstringing Biden's extraordinary vaccination push. Based on the polling, vaccinated Americans seem to both know that and resent it.