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FIRST READING: China is now openly meddling with our municipal politics – National Post

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The Quebec town now governed by a WWE wrestler

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First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent direct to your inbox every Monday to Thursday at 6 p.m. ET (and 9 a.m. on Sundays), sign up here.

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A week ago, Beijing was telling Canada not to sail through the Taiwan Strait anymore (even though it’s international waters). Now, the People’s Republic of China even has a problem with the idea of Vancouver selecting a Taiwanese municipality as one of its sister cities. In a sternly worded Tuesday statement, the PRC’s Vancouver consulate said it will “firmly oppose any official tie” between Vancouver and Kaohsiung, a Taiwanese port city of roughly equivalent population . “There is only one China in the world,” it read , adding, “We hope that the government of Vancouver city will handle Taiwan-related issues prudently and properly.”

There are few political alliances more meaningless than sister city status; Vancouver’s relationship with its five existing sister cities (one of which is in Mainland China) amounts to little more than the occasional phone call or student field trip. But here’s where the story gets really odd: Vancouver hasn’t said anything about becoming the sister city of Kaohsiung (and, in fact, the official Vancouver website says they are “not entering into any new international partnerships”). The statement appears to be premised entirely on the fact that Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart recently met some members of the city’s Taiwanese community , who pitched the idea to him.

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IN OTHER NEWS

The CEO of SNC-Lavalin – the Quebec engineering firm best known for having its own eponymous political scandal – has decided to lay low for a while until nobody notices he can’t speak French . Quebec executives have been under a kind of “witch hunt” after Montreal-based Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau attracted official censure from both Quebec Premier François Legault and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland after revealing that he did not speak French. SNC-Lavalin CEO Ian Edwards was scheduled this week to give an English-language address to the Canadian Club of Montreal.

As COP26 wrapped up Friday in Glasgow, Scotland, it had the dubious distinction of being by far the most carbon-intensive UN climate change conference since the first one was convened in 1995. According to an accounting by the U.K. government, emissions at Glasgow were almost double those of the last UN climate change conference at Madrid in 2019. Canada was disproportionately responsible for this dubious milestone: Ottawa flew more delegates to Glasgow than any other participant country , including the host nation.

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Private jets pile up at Prestwick Airport in preparation for COP26.
Private jets pile up at Prestwick Airport in preparation for COP26. Photo by REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

It turns out that when the government suddenly starts handing out billions of dollars with minimal oversight, it tends to attract the attention of organized crime . Criminal organizations “knowingly and actively” defrauded COVID-19 programs such as the $71.3 billion Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, according to internal financial intelligence reports acquired by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin. The precise quantity of money stolen is not known, but a former intelligence analyst interviewed by CBC last week said it was “unlikely, highly unlikely” that a single person would ever be punished for CERB fraud.

The people of Rawdon, Que. can now rest easy knowing that their community is in the capable hands of a former WWE wrestler . Raymond Rougeau had a 19-year professional wrestling career that culminated in a WWE run in the late 1980s as one half of The Fabulous Rougeaus along with his brother Jacques. In Monday’s Quebec municipal elections, the 66-year-old Rougeau claimed the Rawdon mayor’s seat with more than 60 per cent of the vote . Fun fact: The Fabulous Rougeaus ended their career as heels (wrestling talk meaning that they played the villain in bouts), and were best known for ginning up outrage in Quebec crowds by waving tiny American flags.

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The Fabulous Rougeaus pictured in 1988. That’s Jacques on the left.
The Fabulous Rougeaus pictured in 1988. That’s Jacques on the left. Photo by World Wrestling Entertainment

Thousands of poppy-wearing Canadians gathered at cenotaphs on Thursday for the first in-person Remembrance Day services since 2019. But in B.C., the day would not be over without at least three noted instances of disruptive nonsense . Anti-vax activists grabbed the microphone at an unofficial Kelowna remembrance event – after the official event had already been canceled due to fears that it would be hijacked by anti-vaxxers. A Remembrance Day event near Kelowna had to be moved at the last minute after it received a threat that someone at the event would be “killed” if the colour party flew the United Nations flag . And somebody desecrated the Cranbrook, B.C. cenotaph with graffiti reading “the real heroes are the vaccinated.”

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CULTURE WARS

The Toronto District School Board has pulled students out of a book club event that was to be hosted by star criminal attorney Marie Henein. The reason given was that Henein successfully defended former CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi from sex assault charges. At the same time, the board also withdrew from a book event with author and former Islamic State prisoner Nadia Murad on the grounds that it would promote “Islamophobia.” How did Henein react to all this? As she told The Globe, “There are words for this. Misunderstanding is not one of them.”

It’s been two weeks since a CBC Investigation alleged that prominent Indigenous health scholar Carrie Bourassa wasn’t actually all that Indigenous at all . Lest anyone think that Bourassa had simply gotten a little carried away with stories about her family history, Colby Cosh writes that Bourassa’s academic career took a number of dark, deliberative turns in which her increasingly expansive claims of Indigenous identity were used to obtain power and influence . “Her confabulations about her personal history wouldn’t be consistent with the standards of a newspaper, let alone those of a university,” wrote Cosh.

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Carrie Bourassa in 2016.
Carrie Bourassa in 2016. Photo by John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

Ontario Premier Doug Ford reportedly became personally invested in easing the regulations that allowed a suspected pit bull named Blu (or Dwaeji) to be returned to his owners. While pit bulls remain banned in Ontario, the just-passed reforms allow suspected pit bulls such as Dwaeji to walk free until their breed can be confirmed. After Dwaeji attacked a 13-year-old boy in the face four days after release, however, Ford says that he’s staying the course . “Nothing is going to change right at this point,” he said .

An Ontario teenager, Megan Breeze, was denied a co-op placement at a Hamilton hospital because health administrators saw a photo on social media in which Breeze was flashing the “ok” sign – an expression of assent in which the index finger and thumb are touching to form a circle. Why was this disqualifying? Because a few years ago, some internet trolls decided to start branding innocuous gestures as white power symbols on the (apparently very prescient) assumption that even their most absurd contentions would trickle down to mainstream society within months. As Breeze told the Hamilton Spectator , “I wasn’t given much information except I was being kicked out of my co-op.”

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SOLID TAKES

John Ivison noticed something interesting in his analysis of the new Conservative shadow cabinet: It’s mainly a room full of MPs who did not support Erin O’Toole’s run for the leadership. It’s also heavy on rookie MPs (of the 17 new Conservative MPs entering the House of Commons, nine made shadow cabinet). All-in-all, Ivison is a fan , and characterized O’Toole’s “canny critic shuffle” as being one of the few things the Tory leader has done right since Election Day.    

Ottawa’s latest plan to increase housing affordability (you know, aside from raising interest rates or incentivizing new construction) includes a proposed ban on “blind bidding.” Instead, properties would be subjected to something more akin to an open auction, with the idea that prices would go down if buyers had a more transparent view of what others were offering. Economist Mike Moffatt has actually studied blind-bidding bans in practices, however, and he writes in The Line that it will actually just make everything worse.

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The young man on the right likes Quebec Premier François Legault so much that he got a portrait of the CAQ leader on his shoulder framed by two syringes. The reference to the popular construction toy is a play on how Legault’s last name in pronounced in French. Legault reportedly declared it “incredible.”
The young man on the right likes Quebec Premier François Legault so much that he got a portrait of the CAQ leader on his shoulder framed by two syringes. The reference to the popular construction toy is a play on how Legault’s last name in pronounced in French. Legault reportedly declared it “incredible.” Photo by François Legault / Facebook.com

There’s one overarching problem with climate change policy that nobody seems to address: Many of the countries and organizations tasked with fixing it are corrupt as hell . Sabrina Maddeaux’s many cited examples include rampant embezzlement of climate funds in Bangladesh, as well as carbon credits being funnelled to political cronies in Eastern Europe. “You can throw all the money in the world at green initiatives, but if that money goes missing into the coffers of kleptocrats and their friends, we’ve actually made the problem worse,” she writes .

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Politics This Morning: Conversations about conversion therapy – The Hill Times

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Conservative Sen. Don Plett declined to say why Sen. Denise Batters remains a member of the Conservative Senate caucus despite her expulsion from the national caucus.
With the American Senate’s even-split among party lines, U.S. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is ‘a decent bet to upset the vote,’ says Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association president Flavio Volpe.

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Duterte, Marcos and political dynasties in the Philippine presidential election – NPR

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his daughter Sara Duterte arrive for the opening of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2018.

AFP via Getty Images

AFP via Getty Images

A foiled succession plan, sensational allegations, and a family feud at the pinnacle of power — these are the ingredients in what promises to be a riveting race to succeed outgoing Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

The no-holds-barred contest scheduled for May 2022 has already produced what some observers see as an unsettling alliance: the offspring of two presidents pairing off in an unprecedented bid to run the country.

Taking full advantage of their prominence, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., has teamed up with Sara Duterte, daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte in the national election.

He is running for president in this dynastic duo, while she vies for vice president.

Are dynasties and celebrities narrowing democracy?

Political dynasties in the Philippines are nothing new.

Richard Heydarian, an expert on Philippine politics, says they are such a dominant feature in the country that between 70% and 90% of elected offices have been controlled by influential families.

But even by those standards, this Marcos-Duterte coupling takes powerful clan politics to a new level, says Philippine University political science professor Aries Arugay.

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is surrounded by supporters after attending the recount of votes in the 2016 vice presidential race at the Supreme Court. Marcos narrowly lost that contest to Leni Robredo, the current vice president.

Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images

Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images

Speaking at a recent online forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Arugay says second generation dynasts are behaving like a “cartel”.

He says their calculus is as damaging as it is simple: “Why can’t we just share power, limit competition, and make sure that the next winners of the presidential and national elections come from us?”

Then there is the celebrity factor.

Heydarian notes a narrowing of democracy in the pairing of dynasties with the celebrity class, which includes former film stars, television personalities and sports figures. He says the two elite groups monopolize national office, putting elected office beyond the reach of a lot of ordinary Filipinos who he says may have the merit and passion to serve, but are effectively blocked from fully participating.

It makes a “mockery” of democracy, Heydarian says, but it’s also a trend that could be difficult to reverse.

“After all, in politics you need a certain degree of messaging, communications machinery and charisma,” he said. And, he added, especially in the age of social media, “It’s not for dull people.”

Running on a name, not a track record

Consider Manny Pacquiao.

His stardom as one of the legends of the boxing world has catapulted him into the race for president next year. He is currently a sitting senator and is in the running for the highest office not on the power of his record in the upper chamber marked by absenteeism, but on the strength of his career as the country’s most acclaimed athlete.

So prized have name recognition and celebrity status become in winning Philippine elections that observers worry it’s turning democracy into the preserve of the rich and well-connected.

Marcos is part and parcel of the phenomenon, according to Manila-based analyst Bob Herrera-Lim, who notes that his undistinguished career as a senator and congressman has been no barrier to his ambition for the presidency.

“[Marcos] is running on entitlement. He is running on the weaknesses of the system,” Herrera-Lim said.

Sara Duterte poses for a selfie with city hall employees in Davao city, on the southern island of Mindanao.

Manman Dejeto/AFP via Getty Images

Manman Dejeto/AFP via Getty Images

Marcos’ vice presidential partner Sara Duterte is an accomplished politician, occupying the post her father held for decades as the mayor of Davao City, the third largest in the country. But the fact the 43-year-old First Daughter, whose work is little known outside Davao, led in a presidential opinion poll this past summer can only be put down to the power of a famous family name.

Revisionism, a PR campaign of distortion — and fond memories of the Marcos era

Bongbong Marcos is now making waves, rewriting the past and embellishing his family’s legacy.

It’s been 35 years since his father was ousted by a popular uprising, exiled, and exposed for rights abuses and kleptocracy.

Marcos Sr. is believed to have amassed up to $10 billion while in office, and now his son has been resuscitating the family’s image with a sophisticated social media campaign.

Marcos Jr. narrates seamlessly scored videos that cast his parents, Ferdinand and Imelda, as generous philanthropists, and his father as a great innovator who made possible new strains of rice and united the archipelago with infrastructure heralded as the “Golden Age” of the Philippines.

Critics decry what they call the revisionist history and systematic airbrushing of the sins of the father’s 20-year rule that turned the country into his personal fiefdom.

Marcos Sr. engaged in land-grabbing, bank-grabbing, and using dummies to hide acquisitions from public view, according to Professor Paul Hutchcroft of the Australian National University, who has written extensively on the political economy of the Philippines.

The late dictator dispensed special privileges to relatives, friends, and cronies, writes Ronald Mendoza, Dean of the School of Government at Ateno de Manila University, providing them access to the booty of the state, “even as the country failed to industrialize and was eventually plunged into debt and economic crises in the mid-1980s.”

Activists wear masks with anti-Marcos slogans during a rally in front of the Supreme court in Manila in 2016 as they await the high court’s decision on whether to allow the burial of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the “Cemetery of Heroes”.

Ted Aljibe/AFP via Getty Images

Ted Aljibe/AFP via Getty Images

Yet, despite all of it, the Marcos family is not without its loyalists among both the elites and ordinary Filipinos.

At a small community market in central Manila, where fishmongers congregate amid aquariums and chopping blocks, vendors and shoppers talk about the Marcos era with a sense of nostalgia.

Chereelyn Dayondon, 49, says she likes how Marcos Sr. ran the country before and she wants that to come back. The single mother earns $80 a month directing traffic and worries that the cost of living is getting too high.

“It’s not going to be enough,” she says. “You never know, maybe Bongbong can change the Philippines. Let’s try him out.”

Meanwhile, fish seller Teodora Sibug-Nelval, 57, reminisces about the old Marcos era and memories of cheap food and law and order.

“I had a good life. I was able to send my sibling to school … I was able to buy a house,” she says.

In the pandemic, however, Sibug-Nelval lost her home and her vending stall. And now she wants her life back. She says she believes that if Marcos wins the election, “our lives will be better.”

Herrera-Lim also says that many Filipinos see a confusing, chaotic political situation: “There is no clear delineations, political parties don’t work for our benefit, we are looking for order.”

And that, he says, is what Marcos is offering.

“Bongbong Marcos is saying that during his father’s time, there was this order. There was peace in the country, which again, is a myth,” he says.

The challenger to the dynasty

Leni Robredo is the current vice president of the Philippines and a liberal progressive.

A lawyer by training, Robredo co-authored an anti-dynasty bill when she served as a member of the Philippine House of Representatives.

In the Philippines, the vice president and president are elected separately and Robredo is on the opposite end of the political spectrum from President Duterte, with whom she has repeatedly sparred over human rights, the handling of the pandemic and Duterte’s close ties with China.

Among the many candidates for president, including a former police chief, the mayor of Manila and Duterte’s closest aide, Robredo appears to represent the greatest challenge to Bongbong Marcos.

Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo gestures to a crowd of supporters in Manila on October 7, 2021, the day she filed her candidacy for the 2022 presidential race.

Jam Sta Rosa/AFP via Getty Images

Jam Sta Rosa/AFP via Getty Images

Robredo defeated Marcos Jr. for vice president in 2016, and now she has pledged that if she wins the top office, she will recover the Marcos family’s plundered riches.

Alluding to Marcos’ perceived popularity, Robredo told a news conference last weekend that it was “sad that the people allow themselves to be fooled” into believing Marcos would save the country when the family’s ill-gotten wealth “was the reason they are poor.”

Yet Robredo may need more than tough rhetoric and moral rectitude.

Marites Vitug, the editor-at-large for the online news site Rappler, whose CEO won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, said the country was witnessing the “rehabilitation of the Marcos dynasty.” Young people were especially susceptible to the Marcos rebranding, she said, because there were no standard history textbooks in the Philippines that explained the Marcos martial law years.

“I was shocked to hear from some millennials that this was never discussed in class,” she said.

Vitug said the odd teacher or professor may present it, but it was not systematic.

“It should have been required reading,” she said.

Political economist Calixto Chikiamco adds that the revived Marcos family fortunes represent a counter-revolution to the one that ousted Marcos Sr. in 1986. That so-called Yellow Revolution was a model that Chikiamco says has failed to deliver genuine change.

“Because our politics remain dysfunctional, our economy is still not doing so well, a quarter of the workforce is unemployed … still a large number of people go abroad to seek better opportunities. So it is a revolt against their present situation,” he said.

“That’s the reason the Marcoses are making a comeback.”

The Duterte dynasty is a house divided

The campaign promises to be one of the Philippines’ most bitterly fought contests in years, not least because the Marcos-Duterte tie-up has not won the blessing of Sara Duterte’s father.

Rodrigo Duterte did make the controversial decision to allow the late dictator’s remains to be moved to the “Cemetery of Heroes,” a decision confirmed by the Supreme Court. But the once-friendly relations between Rodrigo Duterte and Bongbong Marcos have frayed, possibly beyond repair.

Duterte had wanted his daughter to seek the presidency, not play second fiddle, to provide him protection from the International Criminal Court investigating his violent anti-drug war. The probe has been suspended for a procedural review, but court watchers expect the case of alleged crimes against humanity to resume. Meanwhile, Chikiamco says while Sara may talk of continuing her father’s policies, by declining to run for the top job, she has gone her own way.

“The daughter is fiercely independent and didn’t want to be under the thumb of President Duterte. And also she could not perhaps tolerate the president’s men,” Chikiamco said.

A grandmother and her grandchild light a candle beside mock chalk figure representing an extra judicial killing victim during a prayer rally condemning the government’s war on drugs in Manila in 2017.

Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images

Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images

Herrera-Lim adds that daughter and father apparently “did not see eye to eye on many things related to the family or on the governance of Davao.”

Fundamentally, though, Herrera-Lim says President Duterte doesn’t trust Bongbong Marcos to shield him from ICC prosecutors.

“On these matters, family is very important,” he said.

And even if there were such a bargain between the two men, Herrera says Duterte would worry it might not hold.

In what analysts regard as a means to protect himself, Duterte is making a bid for a seat in the Senate in the 2022 election.

One authoritative poll shows Marcos the early frontrunner to succeed him. But not, it seems, if President Duterte has anything to say about it.

He ignited a stir earlier this month by declaring in a televised address that an unnamed candidate for president uses cocaine.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

AFP/AFP via Getty Images

AFP/AFP via Getty Images

Without identifying who, he said the offender was a “very weak leader” and that “he might win hands down.”

Marcos took a drug test this past week, saying he was clean. Other candidates hurriedly lined up to clear their name.

Marcos is also under attack by groups eager to have him disqualified from running at all. The Election Commission is reviewing four separate petitions challenging his candidacy. At least one charges that Marcos misrepresented his eligibility to seek the presidency by stating he had no criminal conviction that would bar him from office. Petitioners argue that his 1995 conviction for failing to pay taxes for several years in the 1980s ends his bid for the presidency.

The Election Commission announced no ballots will be printed until the petitions are decided.

The campaign that officially begins in February is already generating drama enough for some to lament that the race for president is fast becoming a “political circus.”

But Richard Heydarian says circuses are not always the worst thing. “Sometimes,” he says, “they can produce a magical outcome. Let’s see.”

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Politics chat: U.S. bans travelers from 8 African countries to slow COVID-19 variant – NPR

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With the emergence of the Omicron variant, the U.S. limits travel from eight African nations. Congress has a big to-do list next month, and Democrats are pushing to pass the “Build Back Better” bill.



KELSEY SNELL, HOST:

Most travelers from eight countries in southern Africa will be barred from entering the U.S. starting tomorrow. The Biden administration announced the new restrictions shortly after the World Health Organization’s designation of omicron as a variant of concern. Joining me now is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Kelsey.

SNELL: As a candidate in March 2020, Joe Biden was very critical of then-President Trump’s China travel ban. Why move so quickly to put this new one in place?

LIASSON: Well, the rule on travel bans is you got to do them sooner rather than later. I think Joe Biden understands that getting the coronavirus under control is his job No. 1. It was the most important campaign promise that he made. And without getting the virus under control, he can’t get the economy back and a whole lot of other things that he wants to do. But as you just heard about the omicron virus, it’s not clear how easily it spreads. It’s not clear yet whether the vaccines are effective against it – effective in terms of stopping people from getting really sick from it, not necessarily from just testing positive. But the administration has continued to push vaccinations. And as you just heard, the U.S. still has a very low vaccination rate compared to other developing countries. And they need to get that vaccination rate up. I should say that the U.K., European countries are doing the same kind of travel ban as the president announced. And Israel actually has banned travel from everywhere for the next two weeks, not just from those African countries.

SNELL: So the White House is trying to be seen as doing something here. And the president also announced that the U.S. would release 50 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to address inflation – which, by the way, has about 605 million barrels in it. Some energy analysts say this won’t affect the cost of gas that much, maybe 5 to 15 cents. So why are they doing this right now?

LIASSON: The president is doing this in the hopes that putting more oil on the market will cause the price to go down. But most economists will tell you that there’s really not much a president can do to affect the price of gas. And gas prices are kind of the leading indicator of inflation. They’re the thing that hits people every day when they go to the pump. And inflation is a very powerful weapon in the hands of the opposition party, and the president is getting blamed for the economy. The buck stops at the White House. And he has both houses of Congress. And the Republicans have been very organized at – and it’s been easy to send the message that inflation is here and that it’s Joe Biden’s fault. You see those little stickers on gas pumps all over the country with pictures of Biden pointing to the price saying, I did that.

SNELL: Yeah.

LIASSON: So it’s important that the president be seen as understanding how inflation affects people’s daily lives and trying to do something about it.

SNELL: Well, it’s almost December. And in Washington, that means it’s time for Congress to rush to clean up all of the loose ends they left hanging all year long. And it’s going to be a really busy month. Remind us of what needs to get done before the end of the year.

LIASSON: Yeah, a really busy month. First, you’ve got to pass temporary funding for the government because funding for the government expires on Friday. They have to do that in order to avoid a government shutdown. Congress also will need to raise the debt ceiling, so the U.S. doesn’t default on its debts. The Republican minority leader in the Senate has made it very clear that Democrats will have to do that by themselves. Republicans will not vote to avoid default. Then there’s the National Defense Authorization Act. That’s a must-pass bill. In the past, it’s gotten bipartisan support. They – that usually gets done by the end of the year. One big incentive for lawmakers to get all of this stuff done is that they really want to go home for the holidays.

SNELL: They often do want to go home for the holidays.

LIASSON: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

SNELL: That’s right. But there’s also the Build Back Better bill. Senate Democrats say they want to get that done by the – by Christmas. They say that getting it done is part of making sure that the party has a real political strategy for survival. So what are the prospects of them actually meeting their deadline?

LIASSON: Well, who knows? But what we do know is that it passed the House, but progressive Democrats in the House didn’t get what they wanted when the House voted on this measure. They were hoping to get some kind of an ironclad assurance from Senator Joe Manchin that he would vote for it. Instead, all they got was this vague framework that Manchin didn’t really commit to. And he has said recently again that he’s in no rush. He wants to wait. He thinks it’s better to pass the bill next year. He wants to see whether inflation gets better or for worse – or worse. So the – we know that the bill will probably change in the Senate. Maybe it’ll get smaller. Certain things will drop out of it to satisfy Manchin and get his vote. What we don’t know is how long that will take.

SNELL: That’s NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Kelsey.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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