Amy Walter: It's Politics with Amy Walter on The Takeaway. A new day, a new administration, a new chapter for American politics began this week.
Audio clip Joe Biden: We shall write an American story of hope not fear, of unity not division, of light, not darkness. A story of decency and dignity, love and healing, greatness and goodness.
Amy: Now, I came to Washington in 1991 and I've been lucky to witness eight inaugurations in my adopted hometown. Inauguration day here is like the 4th of July, just in January. There are American flags and bunting everywhere. Anyone who lives or works in a building near the Capitol plans viewing parties from their rooftops. The streets are bustling with visitors full of nervous energy and excitement and of course, there are fireworks. There's always fireworks. This year, of course, most of that was missing.
The outgoing president, who still never acknowledged the new president by name, flew to Florida. Fear of violence which had been unleashed just two weeks earlier by Trump's false claims of a stolen election meant that the streets were filled with razor wire, soldiers, and military vehicles. Instead of cheering on the National Mall, all one could hear was the sound of the wind whipping through the flags placed there as stand-ins for the throngs of people who'd normally be crowded there.
I appreciate the criticism of all this pomp and circumstance, that it oversells the role and responsibilities of the executive who is, of course, just one part of our system of divided government, but I also believe that rituals are there to help keep us grounded. To give us structure, and in times of great turmoil like we're in right now, that can be healing, but we know it's not a cure-all.
We know that millions watched that day with relief and hope for the future, but for millions of others, the day was marked by anxiety and maybe even anger. There are many challenges that lie ahead for the new administration. A raging pandemic that's killed more than 400,000 Americans. An economic crisis that has left nearly 16 million unemployed, climate change, social unrest, and a much needed racial reckoning. The new president chose to spend much of his inaugural dress focused on unity and optimism.
Audio clip Joe Biden: Bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation, and I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the foes we face. Anger, resentment and hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness, and hopelessness. With unity, we can do great things, important things.
Amy: He also knows the challenges that lie ahead, not the least of which, a political and media culture that prizes clicks and confrontation over all else.
Audio clip Joe Biden: There is truth and there are lies. Lies told for power and for profit.
Amy Walter: And of course a Congress that his party just barely controls will make getting his agenda passed very challenging.
Audio clip: Question because the Senate has not officially passed a power-sharing agreement.
Audio clip: The start of former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial.
Audio clip: Republicans still control key Senate committees.
Audio clip: GOP leaders Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy say the Biden administration apparently decided its first priority was to hurt American workers.
Audio clip: The cabinet nominees could be stalled for some time unless Republicans and Democrats agree to move them quickly.
Amy: After four years of norm busting, President Biden and his team are focused on a return to normal, but just how likely is that? Joining me to discuss all of this and where we go from here, Nick Fandos, congressional correspondent for The New York Times, Toluse Olorunnipa, national political reporter at The Washington Post, and Claire Malone, a freelance writer formerly of FiveThirtyEight. Hey guys.
Claire Malone: Hey Amy.
Nick Fandos: Hey Amy.
Amy: I'm so happy that you all joined me. Let's start with where we ended and that is four years of Donald Trump's presidency. Claire, I want to start with you, by having you reflect on what you learned for the last four years. What it told us about America, what it told us, and you about politics.
Claire: Yes, I think this is my reflection. It's a mixture of politics and being a journalist but I think we witnessed a pretty alarming acceleration of a trend, which is the politicization of facts and I think that's probably the biggest structural civic wound that we're going to have to deal with going forward and it will take a long time to fix.
Trump basically amplified a Fox media ecosystem, a conservative media ecosystem that had been pretty insidious for a while. I think that's a big problem to deal with. I will say, it's not quite a silver lining, but I think a lot of Americans have become more attuned to maybe our failings as the media or the country's failings narratively to convey the nuances of racism in America.
I think as the media and as the country, we've become more reflective about accepting the massive influence that we have on politics and people's actions, by the way, we frame stories and convey facts. To me that those are the big things that I'm left with after four years of Trump in office and five years of him frankly dominating the national conversation.
Amy: Right. You wrote a lot too in a recent story actually, about the way in which personality has trumped policy. I think we've known that for a while, but it seems that Trump made this complete. That the attachment to the Republican Party, we in journalism have always attached to certain policies, and yet when you see people flying Trump flags, it's pretty clear that it's no longer just about taxes and regulation. Right?
Claire: Very much so. Trump, his great insight politically was he realized that people didn't really care all that much about the tax policies of Paul Ryan. They cared about, what I think of as this anti-- this contrarian strain that a lot of Republican Party voters were embracing. Because frankly, the GOP is a pretty white, non-college educated party, in a country that's getting more and more diverse.
I think that there are inherent fears among that population of, what's my place in American society going forward? Trump's innovation was playing to those fears, playing to a contrarian, everyone is against you theme, and it worked really well. He had a big personality and he had an outsize place in the American mind for decades and it was kind of a magic formula. I think we're going to see that idea propagate even without Trump. The idea that people don't care all that much about policy, that there's a lot you can do by just playing to race-baiting or just contrarian, against the American mainstream in order to win primary elections in particular in the Republican Party.
Amy: I had one Republican strategist say to me not long ago, that the issues mattered less, and your successes, what you've been able to accomplish as someone either in office or in your life, your career, mattered so much less than whether you were attached to Donald Trump.
Toluse I want you to reflect on this era as well, especially as somebody who covered him in the White House and covered his campaign, and whether you think that this was just a one-off. This is a unique person at this unique moment in time. Obviously, people are going to try to mimic him, but is that possible?
Toluse Olorunnipa: Well, there's no one else like Donald Trump. There's no one else who will be able to really capture the Republican Party the way he did in such a short time with his force of personality, with his willingness to be controversial, with in many cases, his willingness to embrace racism and the extreme fringes of his party and welcome them into this big tent that he was able to create between traditional Republicans who do care about things like judges and tax cuts, and more fringe level people who maybe have not been attached to the Republican Party, but who voted in large numbers in 2016 and in 2020.
Everything ranging from the QAnon conspiracy theorists to the extreme right-wing militia members, to white supremacists. He was able to cobble together a coalition that was relatively large and it helped them to win in 2016, and helped him to get even more votes in 2020. There's no other politician at this point who is able to bring together that coalition. Now, President Trump also split the coalition of the Republican Party in the final days of his presidency by inspiring this insurrection.
It remains to be seen where the party is going to go from here, but he was able to do something that it's going to be very difficult to replicate for any other Republican that does not have his background, his history in media, his wealth and his personal story that he's been able to fashion over the course of several decades. It'll be very difficult for anyone to replicate that, but I do think that several Republicans are now trying to do that. Trying to build their own kind of Trump [unintelligible 00:09:56] to see if they can repeat what he did in 2016.
Amy: Nick, talk to us about what Toluse talked about. The sort of splitting of the party after January 6, and the events up on Capitol Hill, because it is clear that so many Republican members were shaken by what happened, really upset with the President. We know that he left on inauguration day without elected officials or high-ranking officials showing him off at Andrews Air Force Base as he had hoped.
Then I listened most recently to Lindsey Graham who warned the other day that the party's going to be adrift without him. They can't leave him. He said the best way for the Republican Party to crack up is to try to move forward without Donald Trump. What are Republicans on the Hill going to do?
Nick: It's a heck of a dilemma and I've got to say, for all the predictions about Republicans having to face these kind of cross currents and contradictions for the last five years, it seems to actually be happening now, where you have lawmakers in Congress who are Republicans only foothold now in Washington, perhaps personified best by Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the house and Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, seem to be, if they're not adopting it, they're kind of flirting with different schools of thought on this.
McCarthy, whose conference in the house is much Trumpier. It's a lot of politicians who are in very conservative districts, who mimic the President's politics that have come into office during his four-year tenure, seems much more interested, like Lindsey Graham, sticking with the president, and saying, he's the guy who's brought all these new voters into our party, he's the guy who got us into the White House. He's the guy who 74 million people or at least a significant portion of those voters were really animated by, and without him we're in real trouble.
On the other side of the Senate, you have Mitch McConnell who's become the prototypical Republican tactician who seems to be ready to break with Trump if he needs to. Who sees that the party's lost the White House, the House and the Senate under his leadership, and perhaps they won't be able to move on without him.
Amy: Nick, I want to pick up on where you left off talking about Mitch McConnell. He's now the Minority Leader, but he still has a lot of power, specifically holding up the so-called organizing principles, getting a 50/50 power-sharing arrangement in place for running the Senate, over issues like the filibuster and questions about where the impeachment trial goes. Can you help us understand what's going on and what this really means going forward for Biden and for his agenda?
Nick: As you started out by saying, there's a new White House, there's a new president, but it's the same old Congress and I think Mitch McConnell is pretty intent on gumming up the works as best he can for this new administration, particularly as it pertains to democratic or liberal policies that he doesn't like. Here on the first full day of Democratic control in the Senate, he has held up what would normally be a pretty mundane organizing resolution, just the rules of the road for the coming Congress, with a demand that Democrats promise him they won't get rid of the filibuster in the next couple of years.
Obviously, this is a pretty complicated issue for Democrats. A lot of them seem to be in favor of getting rid of the filibuster on account of the last vestiges of minority rights in the Senate, because they say they can't give Republicans the opportunity to hold up an urgent Biden agenda on climate, on health, the Coronavirus, et cetera. Now there are Democrats opposed to it too, but McConnell seems to be trying to force a big, messy democratic debate over this on day one, not only to prevent the senate from getting going but to drive some cracks into the Democratic Party as he's dealing with his own in his party.
The practical effect has been, basically, the Senate has not been able to do a whole lot of anything or get going on on Biden's agenda. In fact, Republicans are still chairing the committees that are kind of the waystations of legislation and nominations right now, until these agreements in place.
Amy: I know. I think people don't realize that. This agreement has to get in place in order for Democrats to get their committee assignments and for things to get going.
Nick: Exactly, it's pretty wild. Dick Durbin, who is in line to be the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee was joking he didn't know who was in charge of this committee. He said it could have been one of three people; him or Lindsey Graham, the old Chairman, or Chuck Grassley, who's going to be the new top Republican. It's kind of a state of suspended animation up there and at the same time, the Senate is preparing for the second impeachment trial of now-former President Trump in basically just a year.
A proceeding that's going to slow everything to a halt. Its going to turn attention back to the last presidency and all the divisions that it sowed, and to the conversation, we were just having, is going to be a very rare and very real way for Republicans to contemplate what role they want President Trump to play in their party going forward because they'll have an opportunity if they decide to convict him, which is a pretty high bar, to disqualify him from ever holding federal office again. Which means no attempt to run for the presidency again in 2024 or anything else like that.
Amy: Toluse, let's talk about the challenge ahead then for Democrats on this issue of the filibuster, and it's one of those things that normally most people don't pay attention to Senate procedure, but in this case, it would be a very big deal, because it would allow the Senate to basically move like the house.
You pass something in the house and it's going to make it through the Senate, for the most part, which would mean a lot more legislation coming to the President's desk, but once you're out of power, which Democrats could be in the next two years after the midterms, then they lose their ability to do much, especially if they see a new president 2024 who's a Republican. Talk through this with us and where you think Democrats end up.
Toluse: There's a reason this is called the nuclear option, in part because it's so much of a shift in how the Congress would work if it were to happen and why there's much resistance to it among the minority parties once the majority party is in power. Because as Nick said, this is really the strongest power that the minority party has to slow things down or just stop things from happening in the Senate, which they don't have in the house, and according to Senate historians, they said this is what makes the Senate more of a deliberative body than the house. You have to try to build consensus, you have to try to bring people across the aisle and win them over.
I haven't seen much of that in recent years and that's part of the reason why there's so much angst about getting rid of the filibuster, because it has not been used to create deliberation and bipartisanship. Instead it's been used to block anything from happening and we've seen most legislation that has come to the Senate, especially over the past couple of years and divided Congress, die in the Senate, in part because Senate Majority Leader now seem to be the Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, had the final say and if he did not want something that had passed through the house, even if it had passed with bipartisan support in the house, if he did not want it to go to the Senate, or even get a hearing in the Senate, it died there.
I think that's why a large number of Democrats, especially progressive Democrats, are pushing on the Biden administration and pushing on Democrats in the Senate to get rid of the filibuster, because they say if they don't do that, Biden can really kiss the idea of having a consequential presidency, goodbye, because he's not going to be able to convince Mitch McConnell and Republicans to get on board with his agenda. They're going to be trying to block the things just as they did during the Obama administration.
If they don't get rid of the filibuster, then it's going to be very hard for them to do the kind of legislation that Biden ran on, and then then it'll be very hard for him to get reelected, or for Democrats to get reelected by saying that we did what we promised, because they won't be able to do a lot of the things they promised if they keep this filibuster in place which allows a minority of Republicans to block legislation from going forward.
Now, Biden has not said that he's in favor of getting rid of the filibuster. He's talked about unity. He's talked about working across the aisle. He worked in the Senate for 36 years while there was a filibuster in place and he's trying to get back to that kind of bipartisan horse-trading, where you're able to convince some people within the opposite party to get on board with your agenda and then you can pass something with 60 votes. That's what he's hoping to do. It really remains to be seen whether or not that's going to be possible in the 21st century.
Amy: Clare, we've come off of four years of norm busting. We had a candidate running, basically saying, I'm going to bring back normal, and he's going to go back to the times of bipartisanship, and we're going go back to the old rules, and we're still having fights over whether the filibuster should exist. It seems to me that while voters may have said in 2020 that they didn't want another four years of Donald Trump and the style and the way he pursued the presidency, but that they also aren't wedded to going back to normal and maybe we're still stuck. It does feel like Washington is still stuck and either you got to go back to the way things have always been, or you got to go the Trump way, instead of saying, why can't we be a little more creative than that. Where do you think things go?
Clare: It's such an interesting question because we've all been so cranked up, ratcheted up, during the Trump years. Politics became pop culture, certainly because of Trump, but also I would say, Bernie Sanders caught a wave of popular interest in 2016. Elizabeth Warren did in 2020, by talking about these big, to [unintelligible 00:20:34] the Warren phrase, big structural changes. I think that because a lot of people-- I think there are people who do want to not have to open the paper and have a heart attack over what was happening. There's certainly a comfort in people finding politics to be a little bit dull.
On the other hand, I think we've also seen over the past four years, it's a bit of a moment for these 'let's change the institutions, let's change the structures' kind of proposals. Particularly from the Democratic side, if you talk to progressive activists, they will say, "Glad Biden won, but we have two years where we basically have control over Washington, and we should get some big changes done." You hear people talk about statehood for DC and Puerto Rico. You hear people talking-- I don't think court-packing at the Supreme Court level will happen, but there are interest groups that are pushing reforms of the federal judiciary that would be less headline-grabbing, but certainly would plump up the feeder system for Democrats.
I think it's a really interesting question to see play out over the next six months. I do have this sense that you've certainly activated a large segment of the American population to care about politics, and also to be incredibly cynical about politics. How can we go back to four years ago, even if that's what Biden ran his entire campaign on?
Amy: Right, and this idea that just because you're making a change means that you are disrespecting norms. There has to be some balance between making structural change but-- I mean, it's going to be disruptive, but we've come to see now disruption as being only bad, right?
Clare: Exactly. I think what we will see is a tone change. There will be a huge effort to change the tone, certainly from the Biden White House. Frankly, even from potentially someone like Mitch McConnell being a little bit more-- he doesn't have to go along with President Trump's rhetoric, right? He can return to a little bit more of this, and this might be for worse, right? Where politicians can hide behind mealy-mouthed things and at least with Trump you often knew exactly what he was thinking. Yes, I think we will see a different tone change, but I don't know. It's a really interesting question about where the psychology of the American electorate will be and their capacity for dramatic politics over the next couple of years.
Amy: Nick Fandos, congressional correspondent for The New York Times. Toluse Olorunnipa is a national political reporter at The Washington Post. Clare Malone is a freelance writer. I thank you all for coming on. I really appreciate it.
Nick: Thank you.
Clare: Thank you.
Toluse: Thanks, Amy.
Amy: Getting the economy back on track, of course is a top priority for the Biden administration. Entire sectors of the US economy remain closed because of the pandemic. Women, especially women of color have borne the brunt of this downturn. Just before his inauguration, President Biden introduced a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that would, among other things, give $1,400 direct payments to Americans, increase unemployment insurance payments, and provide more funding for child care.
I spoke with Heather Long economics correspondent for The Washington Post and Derek Thompson, a staff writer at The Atlantic about the economic challenges facing Biden, and whether this stimulus package is the right approach.
Derek Thompson: Joe Biden is inheriting the weirdest economy, possibly in American history. On the one hand, you look at the unemployment rate, you look at the leisure, hospitality industries, you look at retail, and you'd think this is the worst depression in American history by far. You have essentially something like a mandated shutdown of the leisure and hospitality industry, and it's resulted in catastrophic job losses across industries that are disproportionately female and disproportionately low income.
It is an immense crisis that includes not only lost income among these sectors but also a housing crisis, evictions and in many cases, people are having a harder time making ends meet and feeding their family. On the other hand, you look at the stock market, which is at an all-time high. You look at personal income, which somehow grew in 2020 because of the CARES Act, because of these stimulus bills.
The way I think about it is not that the horror of the economy is somehow illusory, but rather that it is disproportionately centered in the parts of the economy that rely on people getting out of their house and doing stuff. When we can get out of our house and do stuff, as I think we will be able to do in 2021, I think we are in a decent position if we get things right, to create say a quarter or two of growth in this country that we haven't seen in 100 years, or maybe ever.
Amy: Heather, I want you to talk about that piece that Derek raised about, okay, this vaccine rolls out, people feel confident, they've got all this money to spend, they start spending it. Isn't that going to be great for all the people who've been laid off from their jobs in the hospitality industry and travel industry? You've written about this before, that those jobs aren't necessarily coming back. Some have already been automated and some of these folks have moved on.
Heather Long: There's pretty widespread agreement that 2021 is going to be, to use a Trump word, a rocketship year for GDP growth, for the economy, and probably for stocks. The big question mark is how quickly are all of these jobs going to come back? How many of those 10 million people who lost that job in April or March of last year and still haven't gotten it back are going to get it back in 2021? There's a huge range of beliefs about how fast those jobs are going to come back, but most of it is going to come down to two things.
One that Derek was just talking about, how comfortable, how quickly and comfortable do people feel to go out again even after they get a vaccine. I was talking to a bartender in Miami and he said, "Florida's open. I go to my bar every day." He said, "Let me tell you, on New Year's Eve last year, I made $800." On New Year's Eve 2021, he only served two people the whole night. So even in this context where things are open again, how quickly are people going to come back? The other one as you rightly point out, is the automation.
We've seen companies like Chewy that does the dog food and the various pet supplies online. That company has been having a great year and the online sales boom, but they just opened their first fully automated warehouse. That's a lot of jobs that are never going to happen at that company. That kind of thing is repeating across the economy and so we just don't know how many of those jobs will actually return in 2021, and that's a huge onus on the Biden administration.
Amy: Before we get to the big stuff that the Biden administration is talking about, trying to push through Congress this $1.9 trillion stimulus. Let's talk about first, Heather, the executive orders that President Biden is now signing on to or is expected to sign on to; an eviction and foreclosure moratorium, extending a pause on student loans. How much can that help and for how long can that work?
Heather: This is really a band aid. This is something that they're trying to do to just give a little bit more protection until hopefully, their next stimulus package passes. In my mind what they're signaling here with these executive orders is the deadline to take action is basically March. If you don't act by March, we're going to try to do something through reconciliation, or we're going to try to do more executive orders.
Amy: Derek, let's get to the heart of this issue which is this stimulus bill, this $1.9 trillion. So much of the conversation in Washington now is about not making the mistakes of the 2009/2010 era on stimulus, where there seems to be a consensus that the Obama administration went too small. They didn't go big enough, fast enough. You, in your most recent article say, instead of trying to seek change in American's behavior with subtle technocratic nudges, as Barack Obama's team did, Biden should aim to make his signature policies as stupidly straightforward as possible.
Where the Obama administration approach was too often clever and [unintelligible 00:29:53] with budgetary wonkiness, the Biden formula should embrace the opposite; big, fast, and simple.
That sounds great, Derek, big, fast and simple, but can that really work in a Congress that's divided 50/50?
Derek: Let's look at some places where we can go big and fast and simple. Let's look at, for example, income distribution. In the Obama stimulus plan of 2009, they wanted to go about this in a very subtle and nudgy way. Their idea was, okay, if we give people a bunch of money in one check, it's going to be really obvious that we're giving them money and they might save that money because we're in the middle of a recession.
What we should do instead is use this sneaky, nudgy policy, making work pay, where we modestly reduce payroll taxes, so Americans are going to look at their bank account and see a little more money than they expected and they'll spend that immediately. The problem with that policy, and it's really important to be clear about what was wrong with that policy. It's not that it didn't work.
It worked and no one knew that it worked. It made people richer, but almost by hypnosis. People had no idea they were getting richer and so Obama didn't get credit for the policy and he lost catastrophically in the 2010 midterms. Politics isn't just about doing good. You have to do good in a way that people give you credit for. What did Donald Trump propose when it was too late to save his presidential bid? $2,000 checks. It's an extremely popular policy.
It might've been partially responsible for helping Democrats sweep the Georgia Senate runoffs and Biden has been warm to it. I think that $2,000 checks, or more likely $1,400 checks, that top off the $600 people have already gotten, does a couple of things very effectively. First, it gets people money in a universal way, so you can't talk about means testing and you can't talk about deservedness.
Everyone is getting the money in the middle of a recession, but also it does so in a way that's really obvious. People are going to self-consciously and fist-pumpingly be elated when they realize that Biden has made them $2,000 richer. He'll get credit for that policy and people will be more likely to be behind him as he continues to check off the boxes of his budget rundown or of his policy priorities.
I think that if you're looking to go big, fast and simple, a really good way to do that is to focus on these checks. As I wrote, it's maximally awesome, and awesomeness is really important in politics. Popularity is important in politics. Joe Biden needs the country behind them if he's going to start to do things like climate policy or immigration policy. He needs to do those with a lot of political capital. Can't think of a better, simpler, faster way to buy that political capital than just giving us all thousands of dollars.
Amy: It's funny, Derek, because I had a conversation the other day with a Democratic strategist that I've known for a long time, and we were talking through some of this and he said part of the challenge Democrats have is they don't recognize the role, he said, sheer confidence plays in leading and governing. I think back to the Obama era and even going into the 2012 re-election campaign, there was this sense that they couldn't boast too much about how good the economy was, because they were worried that doing so would not appropriately honor the people who weren't doing well.
Even when the economy is going gangbusters, there are still people who are struggling. It seems to be this challenge almost unique to Democrats that by tooting their horn, what they're also doing is glossing over the problems that are still there. Do you see that as being part of the challenge too, for Democrats, is just like coming out and saying, we're awesome and yes, there's still some things to fix, but let's just keep going big and fix it for everybody eventually?
Derek: Yes, I agree with your political consultant friend. I think that Democrats over-thought this in 2009, I think they over-thought the deficit problem and I think they over-thought the subtlety problem. Making work pay was too clever as a policy. It was akin to political hypnosis. The idea was that if people get richer and they don't even know they get richer, they will respond to that surprise of sneaky wealth by spending a little bit more money on socks, but that doesn't do anything for you if you're running for re-election in 23 months. The goal of politics isn't just to do good, brainy stuff. It's to do good, brainy, popular stuff that keeps you in power so you can do more good stuff.
I think that as stupidly straightforward as just giving people checks of $1,000, $600, $2,000 is, it's so much simpler than making work pay, than a subtle tax credit. Some people might associate simplicity with stupidness, but I associate simplicity with forward-thinking. If people know that you're helping them, then they will give you credit for helping them, and they will reward you for the credit they are giving you for helping them by reelecting you.
Amy: Heather, let's talk about this because this stimulus package has a lot of other stuff in there other than just a stimulus check. There's this proposal for a raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, there are tax credit for children, there's money for state and local budgets that was not included in the final deal that passed Congress before the election.
Is the Biden administration though, kind of falling into the challenge that we saw for Obama in 2009. This idea that you could wrap all of this other stuff into a big package, rather than just saying, let's just give out more checks. Yes, try to do as much as we can to make sure that the state and local budget money is there too, but mostly we got to focus on getting people money and getting the vaccine distribution and testing in order. When we bring in other issues, it's going to make it easier for Republicans to say no.
Heather: You're exactly right. Amy, I thought one of the most consequential things that happened in recent days was when Mitt Romney just came out and called Biden's proposal for the $1.9 trillion not well-timed. He said we had just passed $900 billion package over the holidays, let's give that time and see what happens, and that's one of the swing votes. That's one of the Republican votes that's more centrist, that they're trying to lure, and you're right.
In recent days there's been chatter on the Hill, exactly what you said, that if Biden wants to go and have a truly bipartisan package, it would probably, the easiest solution would just be those checks. Those confetti cannon checks that everyone seems to like, plus some more money for vaccine distribution. Something like that probably could pass easily with the 60 votes. But the more they add on, there's obviously huge resistance to state and local aid, how much would they give to daycares or public transit systems, or the $15 minimum wage proposal has certainly made a lot of Republicans green, and not in a good way.
I think that's really the biggest - this is really your realm, Amy, the political side - but this is really the biggest decision Biden is going to have to make early on. Does he try to do this in a bipartisan way, in which case this bill is going to get a lot smaller, or does he say, no, we need to go big? As Derek was arguing, we don't want to make the same mistake we did before, and so we're going to do as close to the $1.9 trillion as we can get, which means we're probably only going to use Democrats to do it, which means we're going to use one of our reconciliation chances that we have in 2021, which means he probably won't get other stuff on his agenda done this year. That's a tough, tough call.
Amy: It is a tough call. So Derek, where do you think he should go? Because it does seem as if, and again this changes every minute, but Democrats seem to be accepting the fact that they're not going to get 10 Republican votes on a package this big. You've got Biden saying at his inaugural address, unity, he's been pledging bipartisanship, reaching out to the other side, and he's also getting pressure from Democrats and others making a similar case for yours, which is, you've got this one chance.
You've got a Democratic control of the house and the Senate. Yes, it's narrow, but we have a vehicle to do this called reconciliation. Let's get everything we can now because you know what? Given history, we're probably going to lose. Democrats are probably going to lose at least one of those bodies of Congress next year anyway. So if you want anything big, and you also propose doing more on child poverty, do it now.
Derek: I don't think that the Biden administration should try to do it all at once. I think you go big, fast, and simple on each policy priority, but you don't do every big, fast and simple thing at the same time because then you can't go fast.
We're in the middle of a plague. There are 4,000 people, 3,000 people dying every single day. This is an emergency and you handle emergencies immediately. You don't try to sneak in minimum wage hikes, which I happen to be in favor of, when you're trying to save the economy and human lives from a plague. You don't try to sneak in immigration reform, which I am also in favor of, in emergency bill where you're trying to save people from a plague.
I think it's procedurally wrong to try to shoe-horn every single liberal policy priority that exists into an emergency COVID bill. I think it seems clever. I think it seems strategic, but I think where it ends up is that you end up getting lost in mansion land for weeks. You end up pissing off the conservative Democrats and the, I suppose the Republicans that you might need, although maybe not for reconciliation. You get lost in mansion land for weeks and meanwhile, people are dying in hospitals of a plague, and you're losing the very popularity that you're trying to buy. What I would tell Biden if I were his advisor, is I would say first things first. The same way that FDR didn't sign the Social Security Act in his third week of office. He waited until 1935, years after he saved the economy from the worst parts of the depression. Save the economy and save the country from the worst parts of the plague first. Do the COVID bill. Give money for vaccines, give money to the hospitals, give people checks. Then we will talk about doing a reconciliation bill [unintelligible 00:40:31] say a grab bag of Democratic policy priorities.
Amy: Heather, I want to have you address a topic that you've spent so much time covering and doing such good work on shining a light on this, and that's the number of women, and the disproportionate number of women, especially women of color, who have lost their jobs during this time. I was just really struck by the fact that 100% of the jobs lost in December were jobs held by women. What is this going to mean for women's place in the workforce, not just in 2021, but thinking out through the next few years here? Have women lost so much of the gains they made over the last 20, 30 years?
Heather: Well, the short answer is yes. I'll never forget a year ago, sitting at the World Economic Forum listening to the prime minister of Japan at the time lecturing about how Japan had just surpassed the United States in women's labor force participation. For years Japan was the country you never wanted to be on women's labor force participation.
They notoriously had really bad and poor laws around getting women into the workforce and keeping women there, and so even before the pandemic hit, even before this devastating year we've just lived through, the United States was already falling behind most of the other advanced countries. Canada is leagues ahead of us, many parts of Europe and even Japan.
A lot of people are starting to call on Biden to do some sort of Marshall plan for women, if you will, and I think he would like to do various parts of that in terms of things like expanding paid sick leave, expanding parental leave. Finding more of these ways to keep women in the workforce going forward but the big challenge right away, of course, is what we've just been talking about, which is so many women, particularly women of color, are employed in the service sector, and this big question mark about will these jobs come back, and even more importantly, I don't think this gets enough attention, what wage will the jobs come back at?
That, I think, has been a real eye-opener to me as I speak to unemployed people almost every day, as I think about a woman who cleans homes in New Orleans, Allie, and she told me she finally got clients back in the summer and into the fall, but she used to clean a big home for maybe $200, and now she does it for $75. That's less than half of what she was earning before.
Is she going to be able to creep those prices up a little bit this year? Maybe, but back to $200? That could take years. That's the real loss that's very hard to see in the data right away, but that's the real loss we're combating, not just we have to get the women back, but we have to get them back on a career track and on a wage track that is so monumental a task.
Amy: Derek and Heather, I really appreciate you all coming in. This has been a great conversation.
Derek: Thank you.
Heather: Thanks, Amy.
Audio clip Judge: That I will well and faithfully discharge.
Audio clip Kamala Harris: That I will well and faithfully discharge.
Audio clip Judge: The duties of the office on which I am about to enter.
Audio clip Kamala Harris: The duties of the office upon which I am about to enter.
Audio clip Judge: So help me God.
Audio clip Kamala Harris: So help me God.
Audio clip Stephanie Schriock: Vice President. Even just saying it gives me goosebumps.
Amy: That's Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY's list. She's also the author of Run to Win: Lessons in Leadership for Women Changing the World. Stephanie has spent her professional life in politics, and the last decade at EMILY's list working to get pro-choice democratic women elected to office. While much has changed for women in politics since the early '90s, this week's swearing-in of Kamala Harris as Vice President was a moment to take stock of.
Stephanie Schriock: Through my tears and they were many tears of joy. I just really thought through all of the work I had been part of at EMILY's list and what EMILY's list has done to get to this moment, and knowing Vice President Harris and what that moment and what her leadership is going to mean for little girls and little boys all across this country. It's almost overwhelming to me and it's just such an honor to even have a little part of this journey of hers and of this country's.
Amy: I think the expectation was in 2015 and 2016, Hillary Clinton, first woman on the ballot as a presidential candidate in her own right. That was going to be the year we'd see record numbers of women running, and there were, but it wasn't until Donald Trump took office that you saw the explosion of women. I want you to talk a little bit about that and what it may tell us about the incentive structure here. That having a woman on the ballot may have inspired some women to run, to get involved, but it really was having Donald Trump in office that seemed to be the bigger catalyst.
Stephanie Schriok: I always say the one thing we don't know because it didn't happen, is what would have been if Hillary Clinton had become president of the United States, and how that would have inspired women to step up and rise up and to have a president Hillary Clinton calling upon women to rise up and step up to run for office.
I'm always a little careful about this question because we don't actually know what would have happened, but clearly, the election of Trump was a catalyst that happened immediately, where women of all backgrounds and all geographies and all professions said, "I got to get involved now in a way that I have never thought about it before, and if that guy gets to be president and ruin my community, then I sure could be the person who runs for office and steps up and fights against that."
The numbers, Amy, and you've seen that, we're over 60,000 women now who have contacted EMILY's list through a variety of ways, looking to run for office. Some have run, some are planning to run, some are looking down the road, but this isn't a moment and it's not going away, and I do not believe it's slowing down.
Amy: Thinking about women who don't want to run for office, but want to be involved in politics. Your book talks a lot about what it takes to be a candidate, but I want to talk to you about the women who are actually involved in these campaigns. Traditionally, you'd see women in finance or organizing in the field, but not so many in those top front-facing jobs. Obviously, we know a woman ran Joe Biden's campaign, so things are changing, but is that enough? What about getting more women of color into those more high profile jobs?
Stephanie Schriok: I have definitely seen over the last few decades an increase of women leading as campaign managers, comms directors, slowly breaking into the digital front, but that's starting to happen now too. That was a slow go to start with. We are now being much more intentional also of getting women of color in these positions as well, because that, we're really far behind. I can see that as campaign managers, little tiny bit better on comms. Fundraising is, I hate to say, a very white profession.
We've got to stop that. We got to break that, and slowly but surely I think we will, but we've got to be intentional about it. All of this just doesn't happen naturally. If it did, we wouldn't be talking about it. I remember when I-- because I started in finance, so I was a fundraiser. That was my specialty. My first paid gig for a candidate was finance director for the now late Mary [unintelligible 00:49:24] in Minnesota's first congressional district back in 1996. That was what women did.
I hardly knew anybody who had crossed over, and I moved to the committees and worked at the Democratic Senatorial campaign committee. If you took a snapshot of us in 1999, it was like almost all, not all, but almost all of the finance people were women and almost all of the political folks were men. It was stunning and almost all white and it is just so, so shocking. When I made the transition from finance to campaign management, because frankly, J.B. Poersch who is running the Democratic Senatorial campaign committee at the time was willing to give me a shot. In fact, two years before that, Jim Jordan, who was executive director a couple of years before that, also gave me a shot.
So two white guys did give me in fact a shot and J.B. though, really did invest some time to getting me on John Tester's race as the campaign manager, and John was fine with it. I didn't even think about the gender component of it until some of my girlfriends in finance went, "How did you do that? You crossed over."
It was like I walked on water and came out on the other side. Part of it is, it's what I wanted. I always thought of myself as a generalist in a lot of other ways because of my master's in political management from George Washington University, even though I was a specialist in finance. I have some folks who believed in me at the right time. Now I feel very committed to getting more women, and particularly women of color, moved up these ranks because I think it really, really matters how things are managed.
Amy: The other thing you talk about in your book is the importance for candidates to be able to tell their story. I think about this a lot as I interview candidates, men and women. I'm always surprised maybe, that they aren't more connected to telling their stories of what got them into politics, and just that politics is narrative as much as anything else. You talk in the book about your own story and your own health challenges and the challenge of telling that. I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about that. About how getting women to tell their stories is part of the challenge of getting them to be successful candidates, and how you go about changing that.
Stephanie Schriok: I think for so long our culture and our society have told women or educated women or stewed them in the misogyny of the culture, to be perfect, and to fit in that box, and that their stories don't matter as much, and so when you're going out though-- In hindsight, it's ridiculous because when you were trying to get people to invest their vote in you because that's what you're asking people to do. You're asking for their investment of vote, the one very personal thing that we all have as American citizens. The way to do that is by connecting, and by connecting with your authentic self. Being who you are and not trying to be what they told you you're supposed to be.
For the generations of women who I am so grateful to, who broke through all those doors so, frankly, so you and I could walk through them, they had to really fit in that box and sort of be a masculine version of themselves because nobody was ready for the feminine strength that we bring to the system. Finally, really breaking through, and getting women candidates to say I instead of [inaudible 00:54:13] to tell their families stories and without fear that you are going to be punished because you were a mom, or to tell your health story and be punished because you weren't perfectly healthy.
I went through that. I had a debate in the book. I do, as you referenced, talk about the stroke I had in September of '19, in fact, while writing this book and we had a huge-- I don't want to say huge but, I had a huge debate in my head. I'm not sure, my staff [unintelligible 00:54:55] about transparency, and we knew quickly the most important thing was to be transparent with what was going on with our staff and the board. A friend of mine called and said, "Are you sure you want to tell folks this?" I thought to myself, "Once you hide something like that, you lose trust, and that's what this is all about." If I'm going to be better which thankfully I am, I need everybody's support and help on top of it, and I need understanding.
Honestly, it has made me closer to my staff. It has helped me connect with so many more people in a very different way, particularly in the pandemic, where folks are getting very sick and I can hear their fears and understand where they're coming from. This is how you not just lead, but be part of the community to make change, and that's where the story and the narrative is so powerful. It's what we've been doing as humans since the very beginning. Why wouldn't we continue doing it?
Amy: Was your worry that people would think that you were weak? Like how could a person-- You're obviously not strong enough to run an organization, or was it that people would think that EMILY's List now was going to suffer? What were the things going through your mind as you said you were worried about revealing this?
Stephanie Schriok: I think the first was she wasn't going to be able to do the job as well, and so that was a little frightening, and then how was that going to reflect on the organization? Then you start thinking, well, does that mean the vultures are going to come around and try to pick off parts of your programs? That's not what happened. It's sad that I even went through that thought process. Not that that stuff doesn't happen, let's not pretend that politics is all rainbows and sunshine, because it's not.
This is a tough game that we're in, but when you build long-term relationships with your colleagues, with your counterparts, and ultimately when you're serving an elected office with your voters and your constituents, there's a lot of willingness to support in the bad times. That's the power of this and that's what I've had. I've had unbelievable support from our elected officials, from my counterparts at other organizations, from my own staff, and I share that with a lot of our folks, particularly potential candidates who've got very powerful stories. I was like, "Your story is going to relate to tens if not hundreds of thousands of people in your district. It just will, because we have so many shared experiences.
Amy: Stephanie Schriock, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me.
Stephanie Schriok: Anytime. I just thank you, Amy, for everything that you do and have always done for American politics. It's been fun to grow up in our political careers together. [laughs]
Amy: Here's one more thing from me today. We're going to hear a lot of talk about unity, bipartisanship, and healing in these next few weeks. Let's face it, we need it, but let's not mistake unity for agreement, compromise for charity, or speed for success. We've become so addicted to political strategy by Twitter that we lack the patience and purpose that is required to actually do politics.
I know a lot of folks have been heartened by a return to a pre-Trumpian type of politics where we have predictability and order and tradition, but the challenge for politicians in this time is to find that sweet spot between respecting the system and shaking it up. Many Americans want politics to be less combative, but they also want it to be competent. If that means throwing out some of the long-held traditions or rules, well, so be it. For example, getting rid of the Senate filibuster is going to open a political Pandora's box. No one really knows what its long-term implications will be, but is that a good enough reason to keep it in place, especially when it's clear that the status quo isn't working?
Donald Trump assaulted our institutions by undermining and degrading them, but we can't protect them by covering them in bubble wrap and filing them away. To preserve our institutions, we have to be willing to adopt them.
Our senior producer is Amber Hall, Patricia Yacob is our associate producer, Polly Irungu is our digital editor, David Gebel is our executive assistant. Jay Cowit and Vince Fairchild were our directors and sound designers. [unintelligible 01:00:12] was our board op this week. Our executive producer is Lee Hill. Thanks so much for listening. It's Politics with Amy Walter on The Takeaway.
[01:00:57] [END OF AUDIO]
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. 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 New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.