WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives will take up by Wednesday the Senate version of the sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package backed by President Joe Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Monday. Closing in on final approval of one of the biggest U.S. anti-poverty measures since the 1960s, Democrats aim to enact the massive legislation by Sunday, when enhanced federal unemployment benefits are set to expire. The Senate passed its version of the bill after a marathon overnight vote on Saturday. The Senate version eliminated or pared back some provisions included i...
On Monday, the Associated Press released the results of its latest polling on the new president. Joe Biden enjoys an approval rating of 63 percent over four months. When it comes to his response to the covid, it's even better. Seventy-one percent of Americans give him a thumbs-up, including nearly half of Republicans (47 percent). The survey also "shows an uptick in Americans' overall optimism about the state of the country. Fifty-four percent say the country is on the right track, higher than at any point in AP-NORC polls conducted since 2017; 44 percent think the nation is on the wrong track."
This is one of two polling stories I want to share. The other poll was leaked to the Post over the weekend. A survey of battleground districts, it was conducted by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). Its results were reported during a recent gathering of GOP leadership, but a key part was suppressed. Why? Because it showed support for the former president is much softer than generally believed. "Trump's unfavorable ratings were 15 points higher than his favorable ones in the core districts, according to the full polling results … Nearly twice as many voters had a strongly unfavorable view of the former president as had a strongly favorable one."
It gets worse: "The internal NRCC poll partially shared with lawmakers in April found that President Biden was perilously popular in core battleground districts, with 54 percent favorability. Vice President Harris was also more popular than Trump, the poll showed. Biden's $1.9 trillion covid stimulus plan and his $2.3 trillion jobs and infrastructure package both polled higher than the former president's favorability, which was at 41 percent, compared to 42 percent in February" (my enthusiastic italics).
I'm the first to tell you to take any individual poll on anything with a healthy grain of salt. These polls in concert, however, suggest something fundamental about our politics. Two things. One, that Donald Trump's grip on the Republican Party may be getting tighter, but not where it's needed most. Two, and more importantly for our collective sanity, that Americans like it when elected officials tell them the whole truth. The former president told tens of thousands of lies. His approval rating never exceeded 50 percent. Biden mostly tells the truth.1 A majority of Americans now believes the country is headed in the right direction for the first time in four years.
Remember that lying is not just a matter of deceit. It's an injury. I mean this literally. Lies are intended to loosen our perception of reality. They make us feel crazy. Many Americans experienced a great sense of relief after Donald Trump left the White House. There's a very good reason for that. After being punched in the face every day, often many times a day, for four years, it felt fantastic after the punching stopped. I think the Washington press corps underestimates what swing voters2 are feeling right now and how they will respond to a political party waging war against the truth.
Not all lies are the same, of course. Most are small. Most, I'd say, are harmless. But the Republicans are not into small and harmless. They are embracing the big one—that Donald Trump is the legitimate president of the United States. That lie casts a shadow over everything, even those rare moments when the Republicans speak truthfully. Make no mistake. This is not about fear or cowardice. The big one is a conscious and rational choice. With the Democrats' razor-thin majorities in both chambers of Congress, the Republican leaders believe they have the advantage in the coming midterms. But they may not have considered a major risk. Going all-in on Donald Trump's Big Lie means injuring swing voters who already know the whole truth.
Congressional elections, or midterms, are usually referendums on the person sitting in the White House. When Trump was president, the House went to the Democrats in 2018. Now that Biden is president, the Republicans expect 2022 to be their year. But this dynamic depends on the incredibly short memories of voters. It depends on voters not comparing presidents but instead judging them in isolation. The Republicans, by going all-in on Trump, are threatening that dynamic entirely. They are threatening the historical advantage they have when voters forget. Instead, they're pushing Trump to the forefront of their minds. They're literally injuring them by repeating the biggest Big Lie. No one alive today has seen anything like this. No one has seen a major political party yoking its short- and long-term fate to the fate of a losing president.
Training of the crew for the first entirely private trip to the International Space Station (ISS) is to begin soon, Axiom Space, the company behind the flight, said Monday at a joint press conference with NASA.
Four astronauts are to be launched to the ISS in late January aboard a rocket built by another space company, Elon Musk's SpaceX.
Only one of the four -- NASA veteran Michael Lopez-Alegria -- has been in space before.
The other three are businessmen -- Larry Conner, an American, Mark Pathy, a Canadian, and Eytan Stibbe, an Israeli.
The mission dubbed Ax-1 is to last around 10 days, said Axiom Space president and CEO Michael Suffredini.
The astronauts will work and live in the American section of the space station and plan to conduct a number of scientific experiments while in orbit.
"We'll be starting what I would call serious training next week," said Lopez-Alegria, the Ax-1 commander.
"From there the pace will pick up, and we'll all be immersed essentially full time in ISS systems and Crew Dragon training starting in the fall."
He said the four men had only been together a "handful of times" because of the Covid-19 pandemic but would take a "bonding" camping trip in Alaska in July.
Lopez-Alegria said he will start full-time training in August and Connor, the mission pilot, will begin in September.
Starting in October, all four will begin Houston-based training on the ISS systems and SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule.
Axiom Space considers the mission a first step in its plan to build the first commercial space station.
Asked about the cost of Ax-1, Suffredini said we "generally don't talk about specific pricing."
"It's been widely reported -- numbers in the tens of millions -- which I wouldn't argue with," he said.
Phil McAlister, director of NASA's commercial spaceflight development, said the mission is a "renaissance in US human spaceflight."
"This is a real inflection point," he said.
The US space agency is aiming for two such private missions a year.
"We are seeing a lot of interest in private astronaut missions," said Angela Hart, NASA's manager of commercial low-Earth orbit development.
"At this point the demand exceeds what we actually believe the opportunities on station will be," Hart said.
Seven "space tourists" flew to the ISS between 2001 and 2009 aboard Russian Soyuz rockets.
It's increasingly certain that Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., is going to get the big ol' boot from her leadership positions in the House by a Republican caucus increasingly furious with her for refusing to cosign to Donald Trump's Big Lie, that he is the "real" winner of the election and that the insurrection was a good thing. No one should cry for Cheney, who is sleeping in a bed she carefully made for herself, but the whole situation is nonetheless extremely concerning. It's a sign that Republicans are going on all-in on Trump and the Big Lie, to the point where anyone who even shows signs of even feeling pangs of dissent is being subject to vicious smears and other tactics to bring them into line. To add to the concerns for democracy, the unspooling fake "audit" of votes in Arizona is continuing to feed a steady stream of pro-insurrection propaganda to the GOP base, continuing to reinforce the idea that they're entitled to steal elections because imaginary Democrats in outlandish conspiracy theories did it first.
But it's not just liberals who are worried for our democracy who are expressing concerns.
According to Allan Smith and Sahil Kapur of NBC News, many Republican political strategists are worried, too, because they see these pro-insurrection antics as alienating to some segments of voters.
"Removing Liz Cheney from leadership will give a boatload of ammunition to the GOP's critics," Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, told NBC News. Ayers' worry, Smith and Kapur wrote, is that such actions "could further antagonize suburban voters, particularly college-educated women, who ditched the party because of their opposition to Trump."
Similarly, some Republicans in Arizona are having second thoughts about the clown show that is the Maricopa County vote "audit" being conducted to please Trump and bolster right-wing conspiracy theories.
"It makes us look like idiots," Republican state Sen. Paul Boyer, who represents the kind of suburban district Ayres is afraid of losing, told the New York Times. "Looking back, I didn't think it would be this ridiculous. It's embarrassing to be a state senator at this point."
Trump and the Big Lie are both, to be clear, quite popular with the GOP base. Polling shows that 70% of Republican voters still refuse to accept that Joe Biden won the 2020 election and the majority of Republican voters cling to one kind of conspiracy theory or another to justify the insurrection Trump incited on January 6.
But there's good reason to believe those voters could be persuaded to move on to some other shiny object of white grievance, if the leadership just quietly cut Trump loose to rave by himself on his fake "social media" site. These folks are addicted to grievance more than they are to Trump, and if Republicans just gave them something else to focus on — Disneyland getting rid of rape jokes or the term "birthing people" are some recent Fox News-generated contenders — they would move on surprisingly quickly.
So it's the roughly quarter of Republicans who admit Biden won the election that Republican strategists are worried about. And those are just the ones who still admit they are Republican. As post-election analysis shows, in addition to suburban women, independent voters and even some male voters are getting fed up with the Trump circus. For those people, the insurrection was another inflection point proving Trump has gone too far. Republicans increasingly siding with the insurrection yahoos over ordinary Americans is not going to improve their standing with such voters.
So why are House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and the rest of GOP leadership going along with a plan to fully rebrand themselves as the party of wild-eyed conspiracy theorists?
It's not just fear of Tucker Carlson making gay jokes. It's that the GOP's strategy for "winning" elections is no longer the traditional democratic one of trying to attract and retain voters. Instead, the focus is shifting, quite rapidly, to making sure that Republicans "win" even when they lose. Voter suppression gets the lion's share of the attention, but as Heather "Digby" Parton noted at Salon on Monday, outright theft is now on the table for most Republicans.
"Trump made a serious run at getting the election overturned," she writes, noting that he was stopped, in part, because "local officials and judges around the country refused to cooperate." But now those folks are getting purged and Cheney is merely the most prominent example. As Parton notes, Republican leadership has set aside "misgivings" about openly trying to steal elections and next time it happens, they're fully on board.
Law professor Joshua A. Douglas concurs in a piece in the Washington Post, noting that a combination of harassment and new laws that make it easier to threaten election officials with prison are being leveraged to squeeze out those who still defend the integrity of elections on a local and state level. Next time Trump — or other Republicans running for any office — makes a run at stealing an election, they'll find a whole new cast of officials who think illegally throwing out votes or otherwise helping a fascist insurrectionist is very much to their liking.
That's why Republicans are way more focused on serving the MAGA faithful than they are serving more moderate voters who think democracy is a good thing. As the Capitol riot showed, while the red hats are a minority of Americans, they are one that's prepared to use whatever means necessary — including violence — to force their will on the rest of the country. That's a bad thing for democracy, but, as Trump believed, a good thing to have on your side if your desire is to take power by force instead of winning elections.
Which isn't to say things are hopeless.
What Republicans forget about Trump's coup is that it didn't just fail because Trump hit a firewall of election officials who still had integrity. It failed because progressives saw the coup coming, took it seriously, and fought back. After witnessing a mob literally storm the Capitol, even more moderates and liberals are ready to admit that we're in danger of a fascist takeover and will step up again to stop it.
The bad news, however, is pro-democracy forces are not finding the support they need in the Democratic Party. To be certain, both President Biden and the majority of congressional Democrats whole-heartedly support bills that would reform our electoral systems to shield them against the kinds of theft Republicans are gearing up to perform. Unfortunately, those Democrats are still stymied by a couple of blinkered, obstructionist Democrats in the Senate — namely, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — who would rather keep the filibuster in place than pass bills necessary to keep Republicans from outright stealing elections. Without that support, even the best efforts of ordinary progressives on the ground to save our democracy could very likely fail next time.
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