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'Bad politics for them': GOP sneers at Dem Covid bill – POLITICO

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Republicans are making a risky but calculated bet: that voters won’t punish them for opposing a popular $1.9 trillion coronavirus bill.

With President Joe Biden and Democrats barely even seeking their input, Republicans are now gambling that there will be more backlash over schools staying closed, the Covid bill’s massive price tag and a partisan process. And with the GOP closing ranks to oppose the aid package, it could become the first pandemic relief plan that garners zero support from Republicans — following a year with five bipartisan bills and more than $3 trillion spent on fighting the virus.

“If it’s in its current contours, it’s hard to see many, if any, Republicans being for it,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.).

Instead, Republicans are comfortable foisting blame on Biden for shutting them out of the legislative process and hammering Democrats over the slow pace of school reopenings across the country — an issue they think will become a potent political weapon, particularly in key suburban battlegrounds. If there’s any risk of political blowback for lining up against Covid aid that polls well with the public, most Republicans aren’t seeing it.

On Tuesday, Senate GOP leaders devoted most of their weekly press conference to the school reopening debate. Thune said Democrats seem more interested in money for Planned Parenthood “than they are about getting kids back into class,” while Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said Biden “has surrendered to the teachers’ union.”

And House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) recently hosted a conference call with struggling and exhausted parents and has offered them an online forum to share their stories.

“It’s total bullshit, this package we’re getting,” said freshman Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who flipped her House seat in November. “I’m a single working mom who is working her tail off, desperate to get her kids educated.”

“And I see the Biden administration is opening up the border, but not opening up our schools,” she added. “How is this putting our kids first?”

Still, Republicans know the stakes are high. Coronavirus deaths in the United States have now surpassed 500,000, a grim new milestone. And the relief package is loaded with provisions that have broad bipartisan support, from vaccine money to another round of stimulus checks.

Some of the House GOP’s freshmen — who haven’t had the opportunity to vote for any Covid relief measures yet — initially wrestled with whether to back the bill. But GOP leaders in both chambers have been firing up their messaging and whip operations against the package, which is expected to get a floor vote in the House later this week. Few, if any, House Republicans are expected to cross party lines and support it.

“As more people find out what’s in this bill — and what’s not in this bill — they get more furious,” said Scalise, referring to things like a $15 hourly minimum wage, billions of dollars for pension funds and money for public transit and art. “Sunshine is the best disinfectant for liberal policies.”

In the Senate, 10 Republicans sought a deal directly with Biden, but the president and Democratic leaders took an approach that can pass without GOP votes. To say those senators are annoyed is an understatement.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), among the most amenable to working with Biden on aid, said she isn’t 100 percent opposed yet but is not enthused by the bill’s $1.9 trillion price tag. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) criticized the plan’s “extraordinary wastefulness” and said it was “just nuts” to send $350 billion to states and cities.

The relief plan is a key unity test for the GOP following weeks of bitter infighting sparked by the deadly pro-Trump riots at the Capitol last month. Biden and several moderate Democrats are eager to attract just a single Republican vote to give the bill a bipartisan passage.

Yet many Republicans are rallying against the Biden agenda, hoping to shift away from uncomfortable questions about the party’s identity in the post-Trump world.

Now they are marketing the relief bill as a pork-laden offering to progressives who helped push Biden into office. And very few Republicans say they have any qualms about opposing it.

“What’s in it is not going to be popular,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “It’s bad politics for them. Because the narrative is that they’re liberal, they just spend money like there’s no tomorrow, that every time there’s a crisis they load it up with spending.”

Democrats are agog that Republicans don’t see the downside in opposing a bill that polls better than most politicians do. Moreover, the GOP just lost two Senate seats in Georgia to a unified Democratic campaign in favor of big stimulus checks — and a big pandemic rescue plan.

“The people are with us,” said Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), one of last month’s two Democratic victors. Unanimous GOP opposition, he added, “would be an example of an inside-the-Beltway partisan perspective clouding the judgment of politicians who should be working together.”

Yet for a GOP that cut its teeth in the modern era on steadfast opposition to former President Barack Obama’s hopes of sweeping legislation on health care and energy policy, there’s something unifying about bludgeoning the Democrats over policy rather than talking about Trump and their brutal party schism.

Asked whether he should have done more to constrain the more radical elements of his party on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell replied: “What you need to focus on is how unified we are today in opposition to what the Biden administration is trying to do.”

“It’s not a hard no vote when only 10 percent of the dollars go to a vaccine and vaccine distribution,” added Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who tried to seek a bipartisan deal with Biden.

Republicans have zeroed in on the school reopening debate, framing it as a dire academic and mental health issue for both children and parents. And while the Covid relief package includes $128 billion for schools to deal with the virus, Republicans note that most of the money won’t be spent until 2022 or later, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, while pots of money from previous bills remain unspent.

“That really has to be fine-tuned,” said Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), co-chair of the GOP Doctors Caucus. “If we’re spending this kind of money, what is it actually going for, right now, to reopen schools?”

The White House, meanwhile, has sent mixed messages about whether vaccinations for teachers are necessary to safely resume in-person learning, though Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated this week that it is not a “prerequisite.” And Republicans have also accused Biden of moving the goalposts after he clarified he wants most, not all, K-8 schools to reopen within his first 100 days in office.

Freshman GOP Rep. Ashley Hinson — a mother of two who represents a key swing district in Iowa — has been front and center on the issue. During Monday’s House Budget Committee markup, she tried to attach language to the relief bill to ensure schools have a reopening plan before they receive additional funding, but it was rejected.

“I don’t like that I have to vote against this bill,” Hinson said. But, she added: “It’s very clear Democrats didn’t want to come to the table on any of the issues. … Americans need to know what’s going on here.”

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Jason Kenney's longing for Alberta's pre-COVID politics – iPolitics.ca

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Pandemic? What pandemic?

In Premier Jason Kenney’s Alberta, the pandemic isn’t just retreating, it has been defeated.

“Such a joy to connect with Albertans during Canada’s first major event after the pandemic,” said a jubilant social media post last week from Kenney after he visited the Calgary Stampede.

Saying “after the pandemic” was no slip of the keyboard. Kenney chose his words carefully, including being sure to point out the Stampede was the “Canada’s first major event.”

Alberta was the first province to lift virtually all pandemic restrictions on July 1; the first to get more than 70 percent of eligible citizens vaccinated with one dose; and, now, the first province to declare we’re in a post-pandemic world.

This is Alberta exceptionalism, Kenney style.

And, boy, does Kenney need to be seen as exceptional these days. His popularity plummeted during the pandemic – from a high of about 60 per cent in support in 2019 to around 30 per cent now, according to the most recent polls.

The pandemic, of course, is not over – as health experts are quick to point out.

The number of cases and hospitalizations have fallen dramatically in Alberta (and other jurisdictions) thanks to vaccinations, but the pandemic is still with us, even if it is a shadow of its former self.

At the same time, countries including France are re-imposing restrictions as the number of Delta-variant cases surge and experts talk ominously of a fourth wave among the unvaccinated.

Ironically, Kenney’s optimistically misleading view of Alberta being in an “after the pandemic state” might actually put the province at risk of enduring more variant cases. The province’s vaccine rollout, doing so well just weeks ago, has stalled. After hitting 70 per cent of Albertans with their first dose a month ago, the rate has increased by a trickle to just under 75 per cent despite the government announcing a vaccine lottery with cash prizes and exotic vacations.

There are a multitude of reasons for the slower uptake including lack of access to clinics in rural areas and suspicion of the vaccines — but you have to think that Kenney talking about the pandemic in the past tense has some people wondering why they’d bother to get a shot now.

Therein lies a Catch-22 for Kenney among his Conservative supporters who have rankled at pandemic restrictions from the beginning.

Tell them the pandemic is over and they’ll see no reason to get vaccinated. Tell them the pandemic is not over and he’d have to maintain pandemic restrictions, further aggravating his conservative base.

For the base, the big issue is politics, not pandemics.

Right-wing voters are disappointed in Kenney, not just because he imposed what they considered draconian COVID-19 measures, but because he backed off on his war with the federal Liberal government during the pandemic.

Well, that war is back on.

Kenney is holding a referendum vote this October, in conjunction with Alberta’s municipal elections, asking Albertans if they want the federal equalization program scrapped. Never mind that it’s a federal program paid for by federal tax dollars, Kenney is arguing that equalization is unfair to Alberta (even though Kenney himself was part of the Harper federal cabinet that amended the equalization formula a decade ago).

Kenney has dusted off the anti-Trudeau rhetoric, once again accusing the prime minister of “openly campaigning against Alberta” in the last federal election, even though the federal government bought the Trans Mountain pipeline and has committed to twinning the pipe so Alberta can get more energy products to the West Coast for shipment internationally.

But Kenney is loath to give his political nemesis any pats on the back. This reluctance reached petty heights, or lows, on July 7 when the prime minister held a news conference in Calgary with Mayor Naheed Nenshi to formally announce the city’s $5.5-billion Green Line LRT project. Neither Kenney nor anybody from the Alberta government attended the news conference even though the province is kicking in $1.5 billion.

Kenney’s office said the announcement was just a rehash of previous announcements. That’s true – but when has a politician ever shied away from re-announcing projects when there are headlines to grab?

Kenney apparently didn’t want to be seen helping boost Trudeau’s profile on the eve of a possible federal election.

On a more practical front, Kenney’s anti-Trudeau feelings could prove costly to Alberta’s parents, particularly those in the large urban centres, who are keen on the federal government’s $30-billion plan for a $10-a-day daycare system.

Both British Columbia and Nova Scotia have signed on to plans tailored to their provinces and Alberta insists it is in negotiations, but Kenney’s initial response in April was to dismiss the federal plan as a “nine-to-five, government-run, union-operated, largely-urban-care” system. Predictably, the Alberta government is also upset with the federal government’s plan announced this week to begin consultations on a “Just Transition” plan to help Canadian workers energy workers get ready for a future less dependent on fossil fuels.

“The federal government’s intention to hastily phase out Canada’s world-class oil and gas industry is extremely harmful to the hundreds of thousands who directly and indirectly work in the sector, and will be detrimental to Canada’s economic recovery,” said Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage Tuesday in a deliberate misreading of Ottawa’s intent.

But that’s the tone of the Alberta government in 2021 when it comes to dealing with the federal Liberals: partisan, pugilistic and plain ornery.

It’s a throwback to 2019 before the pandemic hit.

In that respect, Kenney is right. Politically speaking, Alberta is indeed in a post-pandemic world.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.

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South America Politics Are Bullish for Copper, Freeport Says – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — Policy uncertainty in Peru and Chile, which account for about 40% of global copper production, is supportive of future prices of the metal as producers balk on pulling the trigger on investments, according to Freeport-McMoRan Inc.

Speaking to analysts Thursday, Chief Executive Officer Richard Adkerson said the shifting political winds in the two South American copper giants are part of the challenges that mining faces to meet growing demand as the world transitions away from fossil fuels.

Adkerson, a 74-year-old mining veteran, plans to work with the industry in Peru to engage with the incoming government of left-winger Pedro Castillo, who has vowed to take a bigger share of the mineral windfall to fight poverty. In Chile, Freeport is holding off on a major expansion as the country debates tax hikes, drafts a new constitution and heads into a presidential election at a time when voters are pushing for more social spending to address inequalities.

“We really don’t know what the outcome is, bottom line,” Adkerson said. “This is going to be supportive of future copper prices.”

Copper hit a record earlier this year as economies emerged from Covid lockdowns at a time of disrupted supplies and an acceleration of a clean-energy shift that will require much more of the metal used in wiring. The prospect of surging demand comes after years of exploration and development cutbacks when prices were low and as the supply side grapples with rising social and environmental expectations and falling ore quality.

Still, Adkerson offered some hope that the industry will be able to avoid drastic policy changes in Peru, pointing to stability agreements and examples of other candidates moderating their approaches once in office.

On a seperate call Thursday, Newmont Corp. CEO Tom Palmer said the company expects to make a decision by December on a proposed investment at the Yanacocha mine in Peru. Newmont would likely start engaging with the new cabinet over the next six months, and is optimistic of being well received, he said.

(Adds comment from Newmont CEO in last paragraph)

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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The Supreme Court Injects Partisan Politics Into Independent Agencies – NPR

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Erin Schaff/AP

If you think that government experts should be free from political influence, then think again.

Twice this June the Supreme Court ruled that the president could exert more control over regulatory agencies, the government institutions that are as important as they sound boring.

While Congress may write laws, agencies are needed to interpret them, apply them, and fill in their gaps. Take the government’s efforts to address lead poisoning. Congress passed a statute in 1971, and since then, a suite of agencies has issued regulations that keep up with the latest science on the problem. Such updating is especially needed in an era of political gridlock. Most climate policy, for example, builds on a 1963 statute that hasn’t been amended in nearly 30 years.

Congress initially designed many of these agencies—including the two at issue this term—to stand above the whims of politics. But the court may be on the verge of undoing almost a century’s worth of precedent and legal understandings protecting that independence.

More Presidential Control Over Hiring

In one case, the court ruled that administrative judges hired to hear challenges to existing patents were too independent and had to be supervised by a presidential appointee with the power to overturn their decisions.

The judges sit on the Patent Trial and Appeal Board at the United States Patent and Trademark Office–known as the “death squad” because it frequently invalidates patents. Smaller businesses say giants like Apple and Google use the board to squash legitimate competition, while larger companies argue these so-called competitors are infringing on existing patents, and the board is needed to root them out. Often, millions, if not billions, of dollars are at stake.

So, in 2015, when the board’s administrative judges declared that the medical device company Arthrex held an invalid patent, Arthrex took aim at not just the board’s decision but the board itself.

The company argued that the patent judges held too much power and were too insulated from the president’s political influence. This arrangement, the company said, ran afoul of the power the Constitution grants to the president. Either the president should appoint the judges himself or a presidential appointee should supervise them more directly.

The high court agreed. In an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court ruled that the president did need more control of the judges. That, the court held, would ensure a direct chain of political accountability between the president and the administrative officials beneath him.

But the court didn’t give Arthrex everything the company had asked for. Arthrex hoped the court would see a constitutional defect with the patent judges and scrap the whole patent board as a result. Instead, the court preserved the board but reined in the patent judges’ independence, granting the presidential appointee who directs the patent office the power to reverse their decisions.

Most administrative judges are already heavily supervised by political appointees, so June’s decision may just bring the patent office in line with the status quo. Still, the justices have injected politics into an agency Congress wanted to be nonpartisan. What’s more, they have tightened the reins on Congress, limiting its ability to create independent agencies in the future.

More Presidential Control Over Firing

In a second case, the justices again ruled that the president should hold more sway, this time over firing.

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Congress set up a new agency to oversee Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the quasi-public companies meant to stabilize the mortgage market. Fannie’s and Freddie’s shareholders alleged that the agency, in its attempts to recoup bail-out money, illegally appropriated billions of dollars from the companies. All this was illegal, they said, because the agency was overly protected from presidential control.

Specifically, the agency had only a single director—as opposed to a committee of directors—and the single director had a term longer than the president’s. What’s more, the president could only remove the director for cause—meaning corruption, malfeasance, or neglect of duty. But, the shareholders claimed, the president should be able to fire the director for any reason, without cause.

Like Arthrex, the shareholders said this problem infected the agency’s decisions—particularly its decision to recoup billions in government money given to Fannie and Freddie to prevent a complete meltdown in the mortgage market during the financial crisis and thereafter.

The justices again agreed only in part. With an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, a fractured court held the president should be able to remove the director without cause. But the court declined to set aside the director’s decisions because he had been appointed constitutionally, namely by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

An Attack on Agencies

The same day the court said the president could fire the agency’s director, President Biden did exactly that. And three weeks later, Biden axed the head of the Social Security Administration, also headed by a single director whom President Trump had appointed.

More lawsuits and more firings may lie ahead at other agencies run by a single director, like the Government Accountability Office.

Even more prominent agencies may also be at risk, among them the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve Board, and the Federal Communications Commission. Though these agencies are led by multi-member commissions, not single directors, those commissions have a single chairman who is difficult to replace. Now those chairmen may be in the crosshairs.

June’s decision is the latest attack on a New Deal era precedent that protects agency independence. In 1935, a unanimous court held that President Franklin Roosevelt had acted unconstitutionally when he fired William Humphrey, a Federal Trade Commissioner, for political reasons. Humphrey was a conservative holdover from the prior administration who disagreed with Roosevelt’s progressive policies. And the court said that under the statute that created the FTC, he could only be fired for cause, meaning misconduct.

The current court has narrowed the scope of this 86-year-old precedent. On top of that, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas have called for overturning the 1935 decision altogether, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh criticized the decision while a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A Scalpel or a Sledgehammer?

Both of June’s decisions also raised a question that reaches beyond regulatory agencies. When one provision of a law is unconstitutional, can the court remove the issue with a scalpel and then patch up the problem? Or does the court need to strike down whole portions of the law with a sledgehammer and then undo the government’s decisions?

Arthrex corporation, for example, argued that because of a problem with how patent judges are appointed, the court should not just reverse their ruling against Arthrex, but also eliminate the whole board of patent judges. And Fannie’s and Freddie’s shareholders wanted the court to unwind billions of dollars’ worth of agency decisions for want of a single removal provision.

But the court for nearly a century has used a more surgical approach. The justices have presumed that unconstitutionality in one provision does not infect the rest of the law or an agency’s decisions. In these two cases, a majority of the court reaffirmed that presumption.

In both cases Justice Neil Gorsuch bucked the trend. He would have reversed the decisions of the patent judges and undone $124 billion worth of bailout decisions aimed at stemming the financial crisis. In other recent cases, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito have signed on to Gorsuch’s idea. When the court this term upheld the Affordable Care Act, Justice Alito dissented, calling for the court to strike down the law’s key provisions because of a problem with just one of them. These three justices may fall short of a majority, but they have planted the seeds for future cases.

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