Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm Melissa Harris-Perry and thanks for wrapping up your week with us here on The Takeaway.
It's been a big week. On Tuesday, the world welcomed our eighth billionth person.
Speaker 1: Whoa.
Melissa Harris-Perry: The next day, Republicans won their 118th seat in the Congress, which meant they flipped control of the House of Representatives even while several races remain uncalled. Then on Thursday, speaker Nancy Pelosi announced her plans to step down as house speaker. She's led Democrats for two decades and she is going to remain in Congress as a representative from California.
Nancy Pelosi: For me, the hour's come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect and I'm grateful that so many are ready and willing to shoulder this awesome responsibility.
Melissa Harris-Perry: As for their part, house Republicans nominated current minority leader, Kevin McCarthy to become the new speaker, pending a vote on the house floor in January. Here's Representative McCarthy at a press conference earlier this week.
Kevin McCarthy: I'm proud to announce the era of one party Democrat rule in Washington is over. Washington now has a check and balance. The American people have a say in their government and this new Republican leadership team is ready to get to work to put America back on the right track.
Melissa Harris-Perry: President Joe Biden now has a clearer picture of the legislative landscape for the remaining two years of his first term. If you felt the earth moving under your feet a bit this week don't fret, that's just the power shifting and unsettling in Washington DC. Before the 118th Congress takes its seats just after the new year, there's still a narrow window for some legislative action by the one 17th, the remainder of 2022, this period between election and the instalment of the successors known as, come on y'all know this one, A lame duck session.
This could be the last chance for Democrats to use their majority in both chambers of Congress to pass some big legislation. In fact, they've already started that work. On Wednesday, the Senate voted to advance a bipartisan same-sex marriage bill which would protect marriage equality under federal law. Congress just set up its first federal cannabis bill designed to expand medical marijuana research. Lawmakers, they still need to pass a budget to avoid a looming government shutdown by December 16th. I thought I had a lot to do, with hosting Thanksgiving dinner and getting ready for the holidays.
With me now is co-president of Community Change, co-chair of the Economic Security Project and my co-host for Takeaway Deep Dives, Dorian Warren. Dorian, glad to have you with us.
Dorian Warren: Great to be back with you, Melissa.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm going to start by asking you to put your scholarly political science hat on for a second here and help us understand why is it that lame duck Sessions offer an opportunity to take some legislative action that might not otherwise exist?
Dorian Warren: Well, as you already said, a lame duck session is that period, that interim period between a sitting Congress or a set of legislatures and the newly elected legislators who will be sworn in in early January. Especially in times of unified government, and as you know we've been living through the last couple of years a unified presidency in terms of the Democratic President Joe Biden with the Democratic House and Senate. We now know because the House will turn to Republican rule, that this is the last opportunity for Democrats to try to pass their agenda without a lot of strife and turmoil, although it'll be much in the lame duck session.
Melissa Harris-Perry: It was so funny for me to hear Kevin McCarthy saying, "Now we'll go away from this one party Democratic majority." I guess it's surprising to me, maybe that's his positionality in the house, but honestly given that the Senate is operating on this super majority reality, it hasn't particularly felt like Democrats can just do whatever they want.
Dorian Warren: That's exactly right. The threshold, if you think about the role in the Senate of the filibuster or the threat of the filibuster, for most legislation in Congress to pass, you need 60 votes, not just a majority of 50 votes, with the exception of budgetary related items through a process called reconciliation where Democrats, or frankly Republicans if they controlled the chamber, only need 50 plus one votes. Most of the things that will be on the agenda in the lame duck, actually Melissa, will require 60 votes except for budgetary matters. Think about budget appropriations, either a full appropriations bill or what's called a continuing resolution which is a temporary spending effort.
Then there is something that's going to be on the lame duck agenda, I think this session, this next month or so. That's the debt ceiling, that's the ability of the federal government to borrow money to pay its bills and not default on its debts. We know already and we've been hearing that Democrats want to try to use the reconciliation process where they only need 50 plus one votes to raise the debt ceiling before it expires next year in '23 because they worry that Republicans will use it as a weapon to prevent democratic priorities and particularly to usher in cuts in social programs like Social Security or Medicare.
Again, be thinking about this in two tracks. Budgetary matters that only need a majority, but most everything else needs 60 votes. In fact, we already know this week that in terms of marriage equality, the respect for Marriage Act, that got more than 60 votes in the Senate to pass.
Melissa Harris-Perry: That is super helpful. I will say, Congress is not going to be alone in seeking to get a little more credit. In December around the holidays, a lot of folks are going to be looking to raise their debt ceiling in their individual households. I get that. I'm interested in the ways that, since you make this point about the budget, the budget isn't just what we would think of as a budget in our household. This much on groceries, this much on the rent, this much on childcare. It is actually has all these other pieces in it. Let's go to that childcare piece. I understand there's a possibility that in this budget, which is operating on the track you pointed out as the simple majority track, that we might be looking at a lame duck possibility of expansion of that child tax credit. What's going on with that?
Dorian Warren: This goes back to, frankly, the previous president's tax cuts primarily benefiting the wealthy that are some aspects of it are set to expire. In this case, there are something called tax extenders. These are essentially tax breaks for corporations around research and development. They have expired. Most big businesses want these extended because who doesn't like free money? The idea is that if you remember from last year the American Rescue Plan, there was a temporary expansion of the child tax credit. Why it's important and I'm glad you raised this, the child tax credit over just six months last year reduced child poverty by 46%.
It ushered in the lowest levels of child poverty for Black, Latino, and Indigenous kids on record in this country and just six months. It was temporary and it expired. One of the issues being talked about is can you use the tax extenders debate in legislation in terms of what big business wants to essentially make a trade and say, if corporations want tax breaks, how about giving tax cuts to working families and to parents of children in exchange? The idea is to try to extend the child tax credit as a trade for extending corporate tax breaks. You've seen a lot of positioning already by Democrats essentially agenda setting, saying they're going to raise this and they're going to try to win some kind of a permanent expansion of the child tax credit in exchange for an extension of corporate tax breaks.
Melissa Harris-Perry: This is fascinating to me. It may be just because we're political scientists, but it really does go to this question of shifting incentives for the lawmakers. How is it that a child tax credit which had that impact lifting so many children out of poverty so swiftly, how was it ever even allowed to expire before a midterm election? You would think that would be kind off the thing that, especially for all of those families that we're saying the economy was at the top of their agenda, that they would've also been saying, "Hey, where's that money that was coming into my bank account automatically?" That went away right as folks needed it.
Dorian Warren: It's bewildering in a sense, Melissa, because the child tax credit, and I would add in here a companion policy that earned income tax credit. Two of this country's best poverty fighting policies to be honest in terms of the empirical data, they used to be bipartisan issues. In this growing period of really stark political polarization where you basically have both parties in fact being unified in terms of their policy agendas and just opposing issues and particularly we know it's asymmetric polarization. The Republican party has essentially opposed anything that the Democratic Party has put on the table, even if they supported it previously. In political science terms, this asymmetric polarization has been a defining feature of our governance over the last two decades. That is one explanation for why the child tax credit was allowed to expire. As you said, you would imagine that politicians across the aisle would be running on this issue, and that's just not the case. This is the next best attempt by Democrats, and frankly the White House, to try to get across the finish line one of their priority issues over the last two years.
Melissa Harris-Perry: If we're thinking about the other pieces of a broad agenda that might start moving through this lame duck. It's really interesting to see yesterday, The Washington Post published from civil rights organization The Color of Change a report card about tech, and the ways that lawmakers have failed or succeeded around tech. Given the news that will not stop out of Elon Musk's Twitter, I'm wondering if there's also an opportunity in the lame duck session to maybe move on some of these questions around equity, around justice, on tech concerns that, again, organizations like Color of Change and others have been putting on the table.
Dorian Warren: I think there's more of an opportunity now with Twitter in particular under Elon Musk's control than there was before he took control, to be honest, because the chaos that has been seated over the last couple of weeks, it has really elevated this issue. In some ways, you can think of it this way. Elon Musk, as one of the richest people in the world, what you might call, this is a political science term, an oligarch, has set the agenda around tech issues because he's created a crisis that needs to be solved. There was already a slow burning crisis for many years in terms of misinformation, disinformation, the spewing of hate on various tech platforms, but now this issue is more on the front of the agenda.
I think this is an interesting and rare opportunity for movement on tech equity issues in a way that wasn't there just, say, a month ago. There's a range of other equity issues, Melissa. You've already mentioned marriage equality. There's also, I want to bring up, in terms of a issue of democracy, the Electoral Count Act, which is also going to be in the lame duck agenda, as a way to prevent the next January 6th Insurrection. It just codifies and clarifies the process of how we count our electoral votes, including saying that the vice president's position is purely symbolic and ceremonial, which we thought it was before last January 6th, 2021.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Hold on because there's one more that I want us to talk about. Dorian, don't go away because another core issue sitting here on the lame duck Congress wish list is immigration. I want to talk about immigration and immigration reform when we come back. Don't go away. We're going to keep talking about what's on the agenda for the lame duck session. It's The Takeaway.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We're back. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry and still with me is Dorian Warren. Thanks for sticking around, Dorian.
Dorian Warren: Thanks for having me, Melissa.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, Dorian and I are continuing our conversation about the remaining weeks of the 117th Congress. That's the window we call the lame duck session. It does potentially offer opportunities for some swift progress on some big issues. Let's turn to one of the most critical on the agenda, potential immigration reform. Is this the moment when meaningful and perhaps even comprehensive reform can happen? Joining Dorian and me now is Bruna Sollod. She is senior communications and political director of United We Dream, the largest nonprofit immigrant youth-led community in the country who have for a long time been fighting for immigration reform. Bruna, welcome to The Takeaway.
Bruna Sollod: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let me just start with DACA. It was established by executive order. It has been fiercely litigated in the courts, basically, ever since, putting dreamers in legal limbo. Is there a possibility of legislative instantiation in the lame duck?
Bruna Sollod: I'm a DACA recipient myself. I was born in Brazil and I grew up in Florida. I've had DACA since 2012. I remember applying for DACA the day they opened up applications. My sister and I both have it. I think for me and for many people who have DACA, we've been on this roller coaster for a very long time of like, "What is going to happen, when are we finally going to have something permanent?" Every window of opportunity, we want to push that through. We want to make sure that we take advantage of every opportunity. We have six weeks for Congress to get something done, so I'm hopeful.
I think we have momentum on our side after coming out of the election just last week. Great results in Nevada, Arizona, being able to secure such important seats. I'm excited for the next six weeks because I think it's important to talk about what could potentially happen if DACA goes away next year, which is a very real threat. I really think Congress needs to realize it's now or you're going to have chaos in your hands once DACA ends.
Dorian Warren: Bruna, can you say a bit more about the threats? We know that starting in 2017, the former president tried to eliminate DACA, and I know there's a looming threat next year in terms of the Supreme Court. Can you talk to us about what that threat is?
Bruna Sollod: Yes. I think a lot of people probably remember that in 2020, we had a case at the Supreme Court while Trump was president because Trump and his administration were trying to kill the program, and we won. We were victorious at the Supreme Court. A lot of people didn't think we were going to win, but we did. We were able to, I will say, change the hearts and minds of the Supreme Court justices and get a 5-4 decision because we made it very clear that the Trump administration would deport immigrant young people if he was able to get rid of DACA. That was what we were fighting to make clear was the threat.
However, Republicans have not let up. Even though immigrant young people won that case on the Supreme Court in 2020, the case we're fighting against now is a case about is DACA legal or not. Unfortunately, because of the way that the Republicans have been able to control the courts and put in their judges, we've gotten a judge, Judge Hainan, which a lot of people know him. Historically, he's been very anti-immigrant. He's out of Texas and he, last year, ruled against DACA. His rule meant that DACA renewals could continue for current DACA recipients like myself, like my sister, but anyone aging into DACA for the first time, so when you turn 15 and 16, you're able to apply for the first time, those young people cannot apply for it anymore.
There's 80,000 applications sitting at USCIS that haven't been able to be accepted. There's estimated over 400,000 young people that are aging into the program over the last few years who are living without not only deportation protections, but a work permit, which both of you know is so important when you need to provide for your family, when you need to have health care, those basic necessities of human life. That's where we are right now. We received that decision from Judge Hainan last year, and it's going through the Fifth Circuit and all of that, and potentially go back to the Supreme Court as early as next year.
We know that the makeup of the Supreme Court is even harder than it was in 2020, and nothing pro-immigrant is going to come out of that makeup of the Supreme Court. I think if the Roe v. Wade decision showed us anything is that nothing is sacred or protected at the Supreme Court, and we can't wait for chaos. You all know this. There's so many women out there suffering right now because of this decision of the Supreme Court, and we can't wait for that to happen with DACA. We have to do it now. Let's pass citizenship now, so however this plays out in the court, you don't have 600,000 DACA recipients losing their DACA, but millions of American families--
I have a nine-month-old son. He's a US citizen. There's 300,000 US citizen children with a parent that has DACA. My son doesn't understand what's going on, but his health care is tied to my DACA, to my work permit. I think what's really clear to me that this is not just about DACA, this program, this is about millions of American families that would just face chaos if DACA was to go away.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Bruna, as you make that point about the chaos that would be faced if DACA goes away because, as you're pointing out, you're the mom of a US citizen child. Many DACA recipients have parents, elders, often siblings who are not DACA recipients or are ineligible for it. In these mixed status families, as we're looking at the need for immigration reform, what else would be on that list to keep this chaos from affecting mixed status families?
Bruna Sollod: Melissa, you're exactly right. This is not just about DACA. It's about millions of families that are impacted by this. This week on Wednesday, there was a press conference in front of Congress with Senator Schumer, Senator Durbin, Senator Cortez Masto, Senator Padilla, where they made it very clear that they see this as a priority, that they see citizenship for immigrant young people as a priority during this lame duck. I think what I'll say is I want to be realistic about what we need to get this passed. We need 10 Republicans, and as you both know to get 10 Republicans on a bill is very challenging no matter what the issue is.
I'm from the State of Florida. I remember when Senator Rubio was someone who would be pro an immigration bill, a citizenship bill. That's is no longer the case. The Republican Party has gone to the extreme right in terms of being anti-immigrant, and lying about immigrants, and I think just completely forgetting the states they represent. Someone like Marco Rubio. A state like Florida has millions of undocumented immigrants who contribute to the state's economy, to communities in the state and he's gone completely silent.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Dorian Warren is co-president of Community Change and co-chair of the Economic Security Project. Bruna Sollod is the senior communications and political director of United We Dream. Bruna, Dorian, thank you both for joining us.
Bruna Sollod: Thank you.
Dorian Warren: Thank you, Melissa.
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