In what Politico describes as part of a “broader Democratic effort to conduct oversight over the Trump administration amid the pandemic,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced this week that he wanted to make it illegal for the president to be any better at politics than the Democrats are.
In a Sunday statement, Schumer introduced the “No PR Act,” which (per Politico) “would prohibit the use of federal dollars toward any material that promotes the names or signatures of Trump or Vice President Mike Pence.”
The measure is an attempt to prevent President Trump from doing things like ordering the Treasury Department to put his name on each check mailed to Americans as part of last month’s economic aid package. (The president had wanted to sign the checks himself, but current law made that impossible, and he settled for attaching his signature to letters mailed to people informing them that their aid money had been direct deposited.)
Various Democrats and their allies in the press found this shocking, bordering on scandalous. As Schumer’s statement puts it: “The No PR Act puts an end to the president’s exploitation of taxpayer money for promotional material that only benefits his re-election campaign.”
The law would, in effect, force the president to operate under the same constraints that Democrats impose on themselves. As last year came to an end, I recalled the story of Barack Obama’s invisible tax cut. Early in his first term, Democrats passed one of the broadest tax cuts in years, cutting payroll taxes for the overwhelming majority of working Americans. They also intentionally kept this a secret, because the administration’s economists told them that would be better—savvier—than simply cutting everyone a check, as George W. Bush had already done a few years earlier.
The end result was that most people who received a tax cut didn’t know they had received one and didn’t credit Barack Obama and the Democratic Party for giving it to them. In October 2010, TheNew York Timesreported that “fewer than one in 10 respondents knew that the Obama administration had lowered taxes for most Americans.” This was, strictly from an economic policy perspective, an overwhelming success. And we all remember how much that success was rewarded the following month, when the Democrats were handed a crushing defeat in the 2010 midterms.
That brings us to Senator Schumer’s proposal. Its underlying logic seems to be that since it’s not fair that Republicans get to ignore the terrible advice of behavioral economists,the very act of taking credit for good things should be outlawed.
Democrats like Schumer believe that attempting to make political hay out of doing something that benefits a lot of people is a form of cheating. It’s a violation of the unwritten rules of the game to do beneficial and popular things and then attach your name to those things. But politicians only come to see this as “playing dirty” if they spend a lot of time explaining why they can’t do things their base actually wants.
When politicians pass bills that build bridges, they make sure their names are on those bridges. (It’s unclear whether Schumer’s bill would ban this practice—if it would, he’ll find himself yet again at odds with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.) It only makes sense to penalize this behavior if you are fundamentally uncomfortable with trying to win elections by giving tangible things to your constituents. Doing things people like and taking credit for it isn’t a cheat code; it used to be called politics.
Donald Trump signed the stimulus bill. His administration mailed the checks. He has every right to attach his name to them. If Democrats object, they can either follow the Republican playbook of sabotaging attempts at economic aid because it would be politically expedient, or they can try to make the case that they’d give the people even more.
If one of the ultimate purposes of protest is to push politicians, Biden has shown that he is willing to be pushed.
When Joe Biden entered this presidential race, he was flayed as an ally of segregation. Kamala Harris chided him for his defense of busing. His opponents roundly portrayed him as an architect of mass incarceration and an apologist for Strom Thurmond—as a clubbable senator not particularly bothered about the moral character of the backs he slapped.
These attacks were leveled not to suggest that Biden was a racial revanchist, but to reinforce a widely shared criticism of the man: He is not a visionary, but a malleable politician, with a barometrically attuned sense of the good.
But in Philadelphia yesterday, Biden delivered perhaps the most thorough-going and hard-hitting critique of American racial inequities ever uttered by a major presidential nominee. Certainly, no nominee has ever proposed such a robust agenda for curbing the abusiveness of police, and with such little rhetorical hedging.
In the face of upheaval, he’s given reason to hope that the traits that were his supposed weaknesses could prove to be his great strengths. If one of the ultimate purposes of protest is to push politicians, he’s shown himself a politician willing to be pushed. His tendency to channel the zeitgeist has supplied him with the potential to meet a very difficult moment.
One of the alleged truisms about older people is that they are cemented into ideological place. Their minds are said to have limited ability to switch political lanes. But in the past few months, Biden has altered his worldview. At the beginning of his candidacy, he announced himself as the tribune of normalcy. Donald Trump was a pathogen that had attacked the American host—and Biden would provide the cleansing presence that would permit a reversion to a pre-Charlottesville status quo.
What was so striking about his speech in Philadelphia was that it acknowledged that he had gotten it wrong. The country couldn’t return to a prelapsarian state of tolerance, because one didn’t exist. “I wish I could say that hate began with Donald Trump and will end with him. It didn’t and it won’t. American history isn’t a fairy tale with a guaranteed happy ending.” Faith in progress is the nostrum of liberal politics, yet Biden broke with that faith in Philadelphia, and by so doing, he seemed to concede his own failure to appreciate the depths of American racism.
Since the beginning of quarantine, Biden has been chided for disappearing from view—and he receives strangely little media attention when he does rear his head. Over the past few days, for example, he’s treated the protests with deference, something cable news has largely ignored. When he met with activists who berated the Obama administration’s record on race, he didn’t react defensively. Instead, he studiously took notes. The relatively few images that circulate show him engaged in the empathetic poses that so often seem overwrought, but that also project openness and respect. In a church in Wilmington, Delaware, he dropped to his knee, a position obviously reminiscent of Colin Kaepernick but also a stance of self-abasement in the face of awe-inspiring anger.
So much American history has transpired since early February, it’s easy to forget that Biden’s candidacy was salvaged in the South Carolina primary. In the aftermath of that victory, he spoke about the debt he owed to black voters. There’s a chance that this was, to borrow a phrase, malarky. But in the former vice president’s antiquated style, where one’s word is supposed to be stronger than oak, this debt has already guided him to stake his candidacy on a clear statement of solidarity with the protests.
More than other figures in the Democratic Party, Biden can speak warmly about the protesters without risking political backlash. With his gaffes, which sometimes veer toward the politically incorrect, he’s hardly an easily caricatured avatar of wokeness. His penchant for cringeworthy remarks, and his old-time mannerisms, help cushion whatever anxiety some white voters might have about his tough criticisms of police and blunt condemnations of systemic racism.
On Monday, George Floyd’s brother spontaneously addressed a crowd at the site of his brother’s killing, clutching a bullhorn. Through his mourning, he tried to guide the shape of the protest movement that had risen in his brother’s name. He pleaded, “Educate yourself and know who you vote for. That’s how you’re going to get it. It’s a lot of us. Do this peacefully.”
It was as if he were distilling a body of political-science research that has shown why so many protest movements around the globe have fizzled out these past decades. Social media permit the quick gathering of crowds, but without the organizational infrastructure or robust agenda that can sustain a true movement. Terrence Floyd was urging something different: He wanted the crowds in the streets to think politically.
The challenge for the Biden candidacy is to bridge an alliance with a resurgent left. Biden, a creature of the Senate, has to convince young people rushing to the barricades that he’s worth a trip to the polls. And the challenge for the left is to accept that Biden is its greatest chance of achieving its long-held dreams. What he’s demonstrated over the past week is a willingness to play the role of tribune, to let the moment carry him to a new place.
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UK politicians on Wednesday condemned the killing of George Floyd, whose death at the hands of US police sparked protests across the country and the world, but the government was also grilled on taking a firm stand against police brutality.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, a weekly British parliamentary tradition where the prime minister takes questions from the leader of the opposition and MPs as a whole, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer opened his line of questioning with the situation in America.
Starmer said that he was “shocked” by the death of George Floyd. In response, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he condemned what happened to George Floyd, but that people should protest peacefully.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner tweeted: “Absolutely correct that @Keir_Starmer opens up #PMQs about the death of #GeorgeFloyd asking the PM what his position was on that horrendous event and the subsequent demonstrations #BlackLivesMattter”.
Ian Blackford, the leader at Westminster of the Scottish National Party (SNP), asked Johnson what he told President Donald Trump about the killing. He also asked Johnson if he could say “black lives matter.”
Johnson said: “Of course black lives matter”, but added that protests must be peaceful.
Blackford noted that Johnson did not disclose what he told Trump, and then pressed the prime minister on whether the UK will review the export of riot gear to the US.
Johnson said he was happy to look into the matter but that British exports are covered by the most scrupulous guidance in the world.
On Wednesday, Emily Thornberry, the shadow international trade secretary, called on the UK to suspend the sale of riot equipment to the US, and review whether British-made riot gear was being used against protesters in America.
The Labour MP wrote a letter to International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, which said: “If this were any other leader, in any other country in the world, the suspension of any such exports is the least we could expect from the British government in response to their actions, and our historic alliance with the US is no reason to shirk that responsibility now.”
“The British public deserve to know how arms exported by this country are being used across the world and the American public deserve the right to protest peacefully without the threat of violent repression,” she added.
Last Sunday, British Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrators filled Trafalgar Square in protests at the killing of George Floyd.
BLM protesters have called for further demonstrations in London: Hyde Park on June 3, Parliament Square on June 6, and the US Embassy on June 7.
The US has seen protests since last week when a video went viral showing Floyd being pinned down by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as he was being arrested.
Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Shortly after, Floyd appeared to lose consciousness, but Chauvin maintained his position on the victim.
He died shortly after being taken to a hospital.
His last words were “I can’t breathe,” which became the slogan of the nationwide protests.
Floyd was killed by “asphyxiation from sustained pressure,” an independent autopsy found Monday.
The Green Party missed out on a golden opportunity in the 2019 federal election. The COVID-19 pandemic might rob it of another opportunity in 2020.
Poised for a historic breakthrough — at times running third in national polling, ahead of the New Democrats — the Greens made only modest gains in the last election. The party won just one more seat than it had going into the vote and increased its share of ballots cast to just 6.5 per cent, still lower than its best result in the 2008 election.
Now, with support for the federal Greens and their provincial cousins either stagnating or dropping as Canadians shift their concerns away from climate change toward the novel coronavirus pandemic and the economy it is gutting, the party faces significant challenges ahead.
Wednesday at 9 PM ET marks the deadline for nominations for the Green leadership race. As of Wednesday morning, there are six candidates officially in the running: Amita Kuttner, Dimitri Lascaris, David Merner, Glen Murray, Annamie Paul and Dylan Perceval-Maxwell.
Murray, a former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister, is the only candidate with elected experience, though all of the others have run for office under the Green Party banner at least once.
The candidates have until September to meet all eligibility requirements. The race is scheduled to conclude in October.
At the outset, the contest provided the Greens with an opportunity for renewal. Elizabeth May, who announced her resignation as leader in November, had been at the head of the party since 2006. But the pandemic has made it more difficult for the campaign to gain any traction.
It also has taken a toll on support for Green parties at both the federal and provincial levels.
Polls by the Angus Reid Institute and Léger published this week recorded national Green support at between five and seven per cent, virtually unchanged from where it was on election night. In British Columbia and Atlantic Canada, where the party holds its three seats, support was lower than it was in October.
The B.C. Green Party — which became the first Green Party in Canada to win multiple seats in an election when it took three in 2017 — had to postpone its own leadership race due to the pandemic. While polls suggest the party’s support is no higher than it was three years ago, the B.C. New Democrats under Premier John Horgan have opened up a wide lead over the B.C. Liberals; Horgan’s handling of the pandemic is getting high marks from British Columbians.
As partisanship drops, so does Maritime Green support
He’s not the only premier to experience a boost in support in recent weeks. Most premiers have — in part because the crisis has encouraged many of them to put partisanship aside and work collaboratively with other parties.
The desire for that kind of politics helped the Greens in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island make their big breakthroughs in the 2018 and 2019 elections in these provinces. But the pandemic seems to be sapping one source of the Greens’ political appeal by encouraging the governing parties to take a more cooperative, less partisan approach.
In New Brunswick, the latest Narrative Research poll found Blaine Higgs’s Progressive Conservatives leading with 48 per cent support, while the Greens trailed in third with 15 per cent. That is a drop of five percentage points for the New Brunswick Greens since February — and those are the kind of numbers that would give Higgs the majority government he was unable to win in 2018.
The poll found 41 per cent of New Brunswickers choosing Higgs as their preferred premier, an increase of 15 points since February. Green Leader David Coon fell four points to 14 per cent over that time.
In Prince Edward Island, where Peter Bevan-Baker’s Greens form the Official Opposition in a minority legislature, Dennis King’s governing PCs have surged nine points since February to 54 per cent support. The Greens dropped six points to 22 per cent, putting them in a tie with the Liberals.
While King jumped 15 points to 53 per cent as Islanders’ preferred premier, Bevan-Baker fell 10 points to 21 per cent.
Though it could be a momentary blip for the governing Tories in these two provinces (crisis-induced spikes in support don’t always last), it should worry the Greens that they appear to have taken a step back in two provinces that once showed great promise for them.
COVID-19 dwarfing climate change as an issue
But the real existential issue for the Greens might be the impact the pandemic has on Canadians’ concerns about climate change.
At the beginning of the year, Nanos Research found that the environment was being cited by 21 per cent of Canadians as the most important issue of national concern. The economy trailed in second with 15 per cent.
COVID-19 has completely dwarfed these issues; 50 per cent of those polled by Nanos in April cited the pandemic as the most pressing issue facing the country. It has since dropped down to 33 per cent, though that still makes it the top issue of concern.
The pandemic’s surge as a political issue has come at the expense of the environment, which is now listed by eight per cent of Canadians as the most important issue facing the country. But while the environment has lagged, concerns about the economy have increased — it is now cited by 23 per cent as the top issue.
It is possible that as concern over COVID-19 recedes (which may not happen soon, given the threat of a second wave in the fall), the environment will rise again as an issue. But the damage the pandemic has done to the economy makes it more likely that most Canadians will be focused on economic matters in the short- to medium-term.
The longer-term picture is harder to forecast. The last time the environment was the top issue in polling was in the mid-2000s, before the financial crash in 2008 pushed it to the back burner again. It took another decade for the environment to re-emerge as the top issue of concern for Canadians.
A survey by Abacus Data for Clean Energy Canada offered little clarity about the likely longer-term impact of the pandemic on public opinion. The poll found that 32 per cent of respondents agreed that the pandemic had led them to believe that the focus should be on the economy and health care rather than climate change. But an equal number said it made them feel that Canadians can and should make changes to how we live and work to fight climate change.
It all leaves the Greens and the six leadership candidates in a difficult spot. The progress the Greens have made over the last few years has been built primarily on two pillars: growing concern about climate change and fatigue with the old way of doing politics.
But the pandemic has shifted people’s priorities and demonstrated that traditional parties can put partisanship aside. Suddenly, those pillars look a lot less sturdy.
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