Melissa Harris-Perry: This is The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. It's the first week of 2022, which in our current timeline equals roughly a thousand years. That said, many of us are solely settling into the routine of the new year. We're making sure we write 22 rather than 21, and the dateline. Even as we're making those transitions, politics is still big work and it never stops. Take a listen.
Reporter: Party leaders butted heads over the future of the filibuster in the even lead US Senate. Democratic majority leader, Chuck Schumer vowed again to schedule a vote on a rules change.
Speaker: We're going to see, as you all have been hearing, continued rise in cases.
Speaker: Only a small number of perpetrators were arrested in the tomo of January 6th itself. Every day, since we have worked to identify, investigate, and apprehend defendants from across the country.
Reporter: Devin Nunes is no longer a member of the US Congress representing California.
Speaker: You called this a terror attack to lie. You told that lie on purpose, and I'm wondering why you did.
Speaker: The way I phrased things yesterday, it was sloppy and it was, frankly, dumb.
Speaker: I don't buy that. Whoa, I don't buy that.
Speaker: The Republican Party has to make a choice. We can either be loyal to our Constitution or loyal to Donald Trump, but we cannot be both.
[end of audio playback]
Melissa Harris-Perry: Democrats are facing both the substantive question of whether they can move a critical policy agenda and the structural challenge of whether they can repair filibuster. Of course, at the root of everything, this week was an even more foundational question of whether our system of democratic self-governance can survive in the nation so divided. A question prompted by the one-year anniversary of the capital riots. Although, some of those reflections were, well, maybe a bit off key.
Speaker: We're privileged to have a contribution from one of the great creative talents of our time. Lin-Manuel Miranda, may his beautiful words be an inspiration to us.
Lin-Manuel Miranda: "Someday, someday. Yes, you'll blow us all away".
[end of audio playback]
Melissa Harris-Perry: Oh, boy. Let's get to the round table. Sahil Kapur is a Senior National Reporter at NBC news. Welcome, Sahil.
Sahil Kapur: Great to be with you.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Maya King is a National Politics Reporter at Politico. It's always great to have you, Maya.
Maya King: Hi, Melissa. Thanks for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's start in, I think, what was the lead story and maybe the main thing churning our stomachs much of the week, which was reflecting on and marking January 6th. Sahil, let me start with you, as you look at how Republicans were talking about and marking this somber anniversary on Thursday, what politics did you see playing out?
Sahil Kapur: We saw two different worlds playing out on Capitol hill where I was through most of the day on January 6th, the only two Republicans that I saw were named Cheney, Liz Cheney and her father, Dick Cheney. They came to commemorate the events of January 6th, but most Republicans were absent. In the Senate side, many of them were at the funeral of the late Georgia Senator, Johnny Isakson.
That includes the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, who was very critical of the events of January 6th, called it a failed insurrection on that night by an unhinged crowd that tried to disrupt American democracy and failed. In the weeks and months, since then, he has gone quiet about that day. He talks less about it today. He is more reluctant to criticize former President Trump as he did shortly after that, holding him personally and morally responsible.
The politics, the needle has shifted dramatically in terms of the politics where many Republicans who were horrified on that day, have seen that the former president has fed conspiracy theories and, in many cases, lies to their base about a stolen election. Many voters believe those lies. As a result, lawmakers on the Republican side have gone reluctant to fully embrace the reality of the 2020 election, which is that it was fair. It was legitimate. Joe Biden won.
On the Democratic side, there is real dread that January 6th is not the end, that it was just the beginning of what could be a continued attempt, another attempt down the road to try to steal an election, Melissa.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Maya, clearly at least one way to counter a narrative is to offer a different narrative. Let me just ask this, how far along is the January 6th commission in not only prosecuting insurrectionists but really developing a clear narrative that provides a different storyline for the American people?
Maya King: I think what the commission is doing now is, essentially, trying to, as you said, create a more complete picture of exactly what happened that day. What you're seeing is now them not only trying to create more or bring out more details of the day, but also more of the power players and more of the folks who were involved in not only planning the events, but also encouraging the president to stand down.
I think that's really, what's going to play a large role, especially in the minds of voters and also in Democrats crafting messaging around January 6th, hoping that that's something that will stick heading into the November election. I think one thing that I've heard from a number of people, particularly on the ground is January 6th as an anniversary this year. Something that has wide-ranging impacts, particularly though only in Washington.
I think now what you see the commission doing is, one, facing against the clock, being able to get all of this work done to actually paint a full picture of what happened that day ahead of the November elections. Again, also be able to name names and have a clear picture to paint, to bring to voters before that ominous election deadline.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You have brought us, Maya, to where we're sitting at this moment, first week of January 2022 means yes, ding, ding, ding. We are in a midterm year, which means everything, every calculation, maybe this is always true, particularly for members of the House, but every calculation is about November, is about how it's going to play, and what it's going to mean.
Let me just walk through some of that here. Sahil, let me just start with you about the economy and the question of whether or not, the economy, the various different kinds of measures we have going on. Is this an economy likely to play well for Democrats come November? Or are we facing some challenges as a nation that will really, pretend poorly for them at the polls?
Sahil Kapur: If the economy looks like it does today and the political landscape looks like it does today, Democrats are in big, big trouble, likely to lose control of the House of Representatives, and probably also the Senate, but we don't know what the political landscape is going to look like. Of course, the has a lot to do with it.
One of the big concerns over the last five or six months or so has been the issue of inflation. That is a real pocketbook concern for many Americans, The White House that initially downplayed it at has transitory and has since recognized that is not the case, that this is certainly real, much of it has to do with disrupted supply chains, but it is also an issue that could change dramatically between now and the midterm elections.
As a result, people could be feeling differently about a gas prices was an issue, that reared its head several months ago when they went up pretty dramatically, it is certainly plausible that they'll come down again by the midterm elections. Of course, COVID has everything with the economy as well because the Delta variant and now the Omicron variant have created economic disruptions to people's jobs, to schools, which obviously affect parents in innumerable ways.
All of those things have created a frustration with the state of the economy, even though by some metrics, it has booming, jobs are being added, opportunities are there. The big question is what things look like in the months of August, September, October when people fully make up their minds about the economy? If it improves, then Democrats have a much better shot.
They do, I should say, have a better shot at holden the Senate than they do the House. The House tends to be more subject to the whims of political moments and political backlashes to the president in power. The Senate's a bit more of a complicated story.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Absolutely. Just as a reminder, not that everyone listening to this show doesn't already know, but right, partly that's because everybody in the House is up for either election or re-election, whereas only one-third of the Senate in each of these every two years.
Maya, let me come to Sahil's point though that you can't talk economy without talking COVID-19 and the continuing pandemic crisis. I want to turn it just a little bit. On the one hand, there are the realities of the pandemic, the realities of illness, death, the impact that has on public policy and the economy, but there's also simply a perception about whether or not the Biden administration is managing and handling this well. Maya, I'm asking when you're looking at the Biden approval numbers right now around COVID-19, what is your crystal ball telling you about the fall?
Maya King: I wish I had a crystal ball because--
Melissa Harris-Perry: You were like, "Wait, I have a crystal ball tell you, where is this?"
Maya King: It's the perception of this administration's handling COVID-19. The president was elected in large part because of his messaging on COVID saying that he would be the president who would get the country out of COVID and now a year later, that isn't quite the case. This is not only how voters are perceiving this administration, but I think it's how this administration is messaging to its voters, and the calm or even chaos that it is putting forth to constituents.
One thing that I believe would overshadow this, hopefully, we're out of COVID by November because I think that could be another issue for this administration and for Democrats at large, is testing shortages and how that also factors in to the supply chain. There's a number of different things, I think, that COVID, to Sahil's point, is a bigger part of a lot of the other issues taking place in the country right now. As Biden and his allies aim to message and project calm, to say that they have these crises under control, I think as long as COVID is raging it's a lot harder for voters to understand that and to believe that. That also plays a direct-- has a direct role in voter enthusiasm, which is something that they're absolutely going to need heading into November.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right sorry. Sahil, let me come to you on this point. I think I'll probably circle back around to you as well on this one. Which is I think we have-- maybe all of us who are optimist in the American project would like to believe that at their core, voters show up and make a choice based on policy. Based on decisions that have been made in their legislatures, both at the state and national level that impact their lives. Now, research does seem to show us that may not exactly be what happens right in those voting booths, but presumably either passing or failing to pass build back better and the public policies associated with it, could have an impact come fall.
Sahil, let me start with you. Is there any possibility that Build Back Better is going to emerge again at least in some form and make a difference come November.
Sahil Kapur: Well, not as it passed the House of Representatives that version is not coming back, but there is an opening for Senate Democrats to pass a different version. I think their path is pretty clear to me based on multiple conversations I've had with Senator Joe Manchin who is the holdout among the 50 Democrats. They have 49 other votes, and they need his.
The path to winning his vote seems fairly clear to me. It's to do fewer programs, to do them well, to make them last over a 10 year period and make sure they're funded. Manchin's problem with the House Bill is that it includes a lot of programs, many many programs, some of which are set to expire in a year or two or three, but are paid for over a with taxes, revenues, and savings that last for a decade. Manchin views that as gimmicky. His attitude is that every program is likely going to be extended anyway, and as a result, it needs to be paid for over of the long haul.
What will it require it means making painful sacrifices. Do they keep the enhanced child tax credit? Or do they keep universal pre-K? Do they keep the climate change provisions or maybe make some changes or limits to the healthcare subsidies. This is a huge huge piece of president Biden's domestic agenda. This is his one chance to create new programs that will outlast him far down the road, which is something that of course his predecessor, his democratic predecessor Barack Obama did with the Affordable Care Act.
This is something that he has aspired to and the Build Back Better act is a [unintelligible 00:13:56] of policies that Democrats have been poll testing writing for many years. They know these are popular. This bill has remained popular. That's such an irony about this, Melissa. This bill has remained popular even as the president's rating has fallen quite a bit. The country likes what's in this bill, the new safety net programs, the taxes on the wealthy and corporations, the prescription drug savings. The White House faces a a challenging time ask of of putting it back together but they have a path to doing it.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Maya, let me ask if there's a way that legislators might be thinking about, lawmakers might be thinking about threading that needle. They're the ones after all that will be on the ballot in the midterms. Where do you see maybe some of these painful choice cuts happening? Where are they going to make the push to pass the policies that will have a real impact not only in the country, but on their own reelection chances.
Maya King: I'm thinking less about where they might make these cuts in terms of how they might figure out different policies that could be put on the chopping block, though I know that's a huge part of this. I think, though, at the same time, what they're really looking at and what legislators are looking at is how voters are going to respond to this, and what pressure they need to apply to their colleagues accordingly.
My colleagues out on Friday with this really interesting story about how now related more to filibuster reform, you see folks like Bill Clinton and even Oprah Winfrey trying to pressure Joe Manchin to reform the filibuster. The question in my mind now is, is this the route that other Democrats are going to take to be able to push this legislation through? Focusing on what voters want, obviously the big thing here is the popularity of this legislation. I don't think that can be discounted. My question now is what route are Democrats willing to take to push this through and to be able to apply pressure to their colleagues to make this happen?
I think the thing that's overshadowing all of this that we're talking about this morning, of course, are the midterm elections in November. The next 10 to 11 months are going to go by extremely fast. With all of these issues bearing down on voters in front of mind, especially in the minds of these more vulnerable Democrats, we're going to have to see the party Democrats get a little bit more creative in how they plan to realistically make their agenda viable and passable in this short period of time.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Maya, I need an all stop from you for one second because I need to back up just to one point. If Oprah Winfrey is able to convince Joe Manchin to get on board with filibuster reform, does she become immediately president, emperor? What happens if she's able to do that?
Maya King: I think she's still Oprah ig she's able to do it, quite frankly, but it would be just another weird quirk in this whole political machine. Now, I have very little knowledge of what role she's played here, but my colleague [unintelligible 00:16:55] who is just mass or full Senate reporter was able to confirm that detail that she's also alongside Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and several other democratic heavyweights on the phone with Joe Manchin to try to to break him down on this. Which goes to show you just how important voting rights and voting rights legislation is to Democrats, not just for the party, but for small [unintelligible 00:17:18] democracy as well.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Sahil, let me come to you on that. I may never get over the Oprah thing in my head, but I want to talk to you about voting rights and this pivot. Part of what's happened around Build Back Better here is there's been a our top priority pivot. Is the language out of the Democratic Party. Is this pivot one that actually might work for them right. In other words is it possible that they can get the structural change in the Senate necessary, in order to move a meaningful package of voting rights reform through the US house, and then also through the Senate there
Sahil Kapur: There are two things to keep in mind about this. There are two major pieces of legislation that have a path to getting a majority in the Senate and can likely also pass the house in a very similar form. It's called the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. They have the support of all 50 democratic senators, including Joe Manchin. If they can do that, if they can pass those bills it would be a dramatic shift in voting rights across the national level. It would create a voting access guarantee such universal access to mail-in voting, early voting. It would make election day a federal holiday. It would insulate state officials from undue partisan influence.
Of course, the John Lewis Bill would raise the bar for states with a rolling history over 25 years of racial discrimination. They'd have to pre-clear changes to voting laws with the federal government. If Democrats can do that, it would be a transformative shift but of course as you mentioned they need to change the filibuster in order to do that. Currently, the Senate requires 60 votes to cut off debate, to call an up or down vote on a bill and that's where this entire conversation is right now. It's going to be enormously challenging to convince Senator Joe Manchin to make a change to the filibuster using a partisan vote that would enable passage of voting rights legislation.
He has told me and a few other reporters over the last few days that he is open to specific changes in the filibuster such as requiring a talking filibuster, the minority has to hold the floor and speak. He doesn't see the need to have this 60 vote threshold on the front end just to debate a bill, but he's reluctant to cut it off on the back end.
There's also Senator Kirsten Sinema who has an objection to making changes to the 60 vote rule. She's also going to be a problem for Democrats who I don't think she's getting enough attention. People shouldn't assume she will be on board even if Manchin is. Her view is that eliminating or making stark changes to the filibuster could boomerang against Democrats in a few years if Republicans state control, for instance, if there's a carve-out for election-related legislation then she worries that Republicans will use it to enact nationwide voter ID or something like that.
Those two are the big puzzle pieces for Democrats to find some way around that 60 Vote hurdle, but of course, the reason Democrats aren't giving up, the reason you see Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and all these figures getting in is that Democrats genuinely believe that there is an existential threat to democracy at play, that the American way of life is under siege as a result of the big lie in all these election conspiracy theories. That's why they aren't willing to throw in the towel on this just yet.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We have Democrats who are leading on the Democratic side, choosing not to seek reelection, and then we have this news about Devin Nunes and his new role as CEO of Trump's new media company. Help me to understand in this context of high stakes, both Democrats and Republicans are thinking a bit about the best ways to make impact.
Maya King: Sure, I think in Nunes's case, the way that I've interpreted it's this consolidation of power around the former presiden. Donald Trump still is very much the standard-bearer, the leader of the Republican Party, and still has a number of folks who would want to be in that orbit depending on what he does. One, what influence he wields over 2022 and what he does, whether he ultimately runs in 2024. I imagine Nunes thought that he would be very well positioned, I guess, to take advantage of some of that.
At the same time, I think he's a bit of an outlier in terms of the folks who have announced their retirement or stepped down from their roles in the house. The profile of a legislator who has announced their retirement, I think you see a lot of folks, a lot of moderates, a lot of people who are used to having more collegial relationships with folks across the aisle, who have just looked around and observed the political climate, not only in the country, but particularly in Congress and thrown their hands up to say, "There are other things I can do here to help, but I'm not sure if this is really where I want to be anymore".
I think that it's very telling. It reveals something about, one, where we are as a country and just how polarized our politics have become, and the fact that it's leaked up to the higher levels of power here is one side of things, I think that numbers, particularly of the folks who have decided to retire are saying that we'd like to see change. I think it'll be incumbent upon one the folks who fill those roles and fill those seats and, two, the outcome of this next election to see just whether or not this is something that is here to stay, this environment is the new norm for American politics and especially the folks on the Hill.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Maya King is a National Politics reporter at Politico, and Sahil Kapur is a Senior National Political reporter at NBCNews. Thank you both for joining us.
Sahil Kapur: Great to join you.
Maya King: Thank you.
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