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For Piper Perabo, a film and television actor perhaps best known for her role as a CIA agent in the drama “Covert Affairs,” a push into political activism has come with a lot to learn.
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Like when a woman in the immigration movement asked her if she wanted to get trained on how to get arrested.
“Who goes to how-to-get-arrested training?” Perabo recalled at the Women Rule Summit in Washington, D.C., this month.
But she put the knowledge to use in September, when she decided to interrupt the Senate confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, because of his views on abortion rights.
Ever since Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made a “Green New Deal” a cornerstone of her legislative agenda earlier this month, liberals have been buzzing about its transformative potential to fight climate change. Some even view the comprehensive package of federal planning and jobs programs designed to tackle emissions, pollution and environmental decayas a progressive panacea: a strategy to rollback President Donald Trump’s climate policies (or lack thereof), end economic inequality and win elections in 2020 and beyond. “This is going to be the New Deal, the Great Society, the Moonshot, the Civil Rights Movement of our generation,” Ocasio-Cortez said alongside Senator Bernie Sanders recently. Over the last month, a number of lawmakers, including presidential aspirants like Cory Booker, have been pressured by activists to endorse the program.
The Green New Deal, while ambitious, is smart politics. By branding proposals for carbon emission caps, infrastructure investments to adapt to the already changing climate, and federal job creation to satisfy those and other environmental objectives all as a Green New Deal, Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders and other proponents have made the unprecedented seem familiar, wedding the party’s successes of the 20th century to its future in the 21st. Indeed, they have aligned their agenda by name with a time when outsized aspirations for reform were commonplace in the Democratic Party.
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Like so many of the left’s big policy ideas today—from a federal job guarantee to Medicare for All—the Green New Deal is not new. In fact, Democrats first attempted a jobs program focused on the environment in the early 1960s. It failed due to the same kinds of issues that plague Democrats now: intraparty rivalries, ideological divisions and deep-rooted corporate interests in the party. If today’s progressives seek to capture both public and congressional support for environmental reform, they should heed this history.
The initial effort to realize what’s now stylized as a Green New Deal was proposed in the early 1960s by the Democratic senator from South Dakota and future presidential candidate George McGovern. McGovern was first elected to the Senate in 1962 with grand designs to remake America’s role at home and abroad. Captivated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s warning of the “military-industrial complex” in 1961, McGovern argued that the nation’s federal defense budget was akin to a New Deal program run amok. He described the Pentagon as a “gigantic WPA” that spent exorbitant government funds on a needless arms race and distracted Americans from domestic concerns, among them, the environment.
In 1964, McGovern sponsored legislation for the creation of a National Economic Conversion Commission (NECC) to transfer jobs in defense to peacetime work, for example, civil engineering and commercial manufacturing. On the surface, the NECC’s purpose was rather simple: to help unemployed defense workers find jobs. But McGovern’s ulterior motive for the commission was to reallocate military spending to fight environmental problems, to give defense workers “green jobs,” to use an anachronistic term.
Influenced by the research of Columbia University economist Seymour Melman, a critic of the “permanent war economy,” McGovern believed employees of the defense industry would better serve their country by working on “water pollution, air pollution” and other environmental fields, which McGovern felt were more “exciting and hopeful alternatives where those resources and that manpower can be used.” “I think we ought to stress,” McGovern said in 1964, “that reductions in defense spending can provide a very hopeful opportunity for the people of the United States.”
History was on McGovern’s side in 1964. Just two years earlier, the marine biologist Rachel Carson had published her groundbreaking work, Silent Spring. Carson’s account of the insecticide DDT’s impact on the environment appalled many Americans, including congressional Democrats, who called upon Carson to testify before Congress in the months before McGovern proposed the NECC. Silent Spring’s moving descriptions of pesticides’ deleterious on the environment—and Carson’s warning that the 1960s was Americans’ “only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the Earth”—proved the United States had no real policy to alleviate the degradation of the environment, jarring Democrats like McGovern into action and propelling the environmental movement forward, years before a federal agency dedicated to environmental protection (EPA) was established in 1970.
Changes to the Cold War also helped McGovern’s cause. After the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation in October 1962, President John F. Kennedy reexamined the arms race and the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. In an effort to cool tensions between the two superpowers,Kennedy signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963, which prohibited atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in both the Soviet Union and the United States. Its ratification was also spurred by new scientific evidence on the environmental effects of high levels of radiation in the atmosphere. That same year, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, supposing that maintaining a preponderance of American power amidst a thaw in the Cold War was superfluous, began to close military bases throughout the country with the goal of “obtaining the maximum defense at the lowest possible cost.”
None of this meant passing his environmental project would be easy. McGovern knew that if the NECC had any chance of surviving in Congress, it needed an unlikely coalition behind it. Whenever he had a colleague or a camera in front of him, McGovern argued that the NECC had something for everyone. Defense contractors needn’t worry about converting jobs to peacetime purposes, since the process would still be coordinated by “the wisdom of our private contractors” and “our private businessmen.” Scientists and engineers, he maintained, should be excited that their “skill and brainpower” would be funneled into solving the world’s problems, rather than weapons production. And the American military, now free of unnecessary defense programs, could more effectively concentrate on “the dangers of the times” (at that time, the Cold War).
At first,McGovern’s message had some appeal in Washington, D.C. Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus Vance liked the prospect of saving on defense while continuing to provide long-term support to the industry’s employees, and Cold Warriors like Democrat Hubert Humphrey—while adamant that the United States did not have a “war economy”—thought the commission a vital first step in providing government funds to “meet broad public needs: air and water pollution, urban transport, providing adequate water supply and other conservation of natural resources for a growing population.”
But then came Vietnam. President Lyndon Johnson’s decision to escalate the war in Southeast Asia derailed McGovern’s vision. Whereas in 1963 the world seemed at the precipice of a new era in the Cold War, Vietnam revived ideological tensions between Democratic proponents and opponents of Cold War foreign policy. Hawkish Democrats became enemies to the NECC, afraid of diverting monies away from the war. The stiffest opposition to the plan came from the Johnson administration, which criticized McGovern’s idea for a 10 percent cut to a $300 billion-dollar defense budget as “radical.” Moreover, defense contractors failed to see the utility of McGovern’s commission as they were now awash in new, albeit temporary, defense contracts to fight the war. When the NECC would be revived over two decades later as the Cold War was finally coming to an end, it would be a smaller, private endeavor focused on public education about economic conversion and disarmament and stripped of its earlier environmentalist goals.
The collapse of this earlier Green New Deal has important lessons for Democrats today. Its failure was not due to a lack of imagination but to the Democratic Party’s lackluster and divided response to that imagination. McGovern’s prospects for solving environmental problems in the 1960s were bound up in his party’s politics of the time, as the Cold War forced Democrats to reconcile their global fight against communism with their liberal designs for domestic reform. Without party-wide agreement on foreign policy priorities, or environmental ones, McGovern’s proposal was doomed.
Democrats today need to make sure their priorities align before they tackle a Green New Deal again. But even though the climate has become an increasingly partisan issue over the past few decades, mustering a progressive coalition might actually prove easier than it was 50 years ago. Democrats now universally embrace climate change as science and as existential threat; and a coalition of business interests, activists, scientists and politicians see the urgency of the issue and are looking for ways to collaborate.
It might even be possible to reallocate defense spending for the new project, as McGovern attempted half a century ago. After all, it is not the 1960s anymore, and the funding for a massive social program would need to come from somewhere. However, should this be the strategy once again, the Democratic Party would be better off this time presenting a Green New Deal as compatible with and integral to their foreign policy agenda—one that, for example, de-emphasizes militarism and redirects excessive defense spending—rather than separate from or opposed to it.
Above all, if a Green New Deal is to ever happen—and it likely couldn’t until at least post-2020 because of the extent of modern partisanship—Democrats would need to be united this time and firm in their commitment to its bold agenda and its place in their broader platform.
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Gordon Hartogensis may soon be in charge of a big government agency facing down a $54 billion pension crisis. But nobody has ever heard of him and he has little experience in the field.
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He is, however, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s brother-in-law. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is his sister-in-law.
In the latest POLITICO Money podcast, POLITICO’s Ian Kullgren discusses his new piece looking into Hartogensis, a little-known and retired multi-millionaire, and how he came to be the Trump administration‘s nominee to head the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
If confirmed by the end of the year, as widely expected, Hartogensis, who spends most of his time now managing his family’s money, will be charged with managing a troubled agency responsible for back-stopping retirees whose pension plans have become insolvent. It’s an important and politically challenging job that will require Hartogensis to work with Congress on a potential bailout plan to address a shortfall of tens of billions of dollars in the PBGC’s cash reserves.
His connections to McConnell may help. But experts in the field and some Democrats wonder whether a politically connected novice will really have the skills to fix the agency’s problems. And Hartogensis’s cousin told Kullgren that while he’s proud of his relative, he also believes that Hartogensis is going to work for a “band of criminals.“
Millions of middle-class Americans who get health coverage through work have been getting Obamacare benefits for years — whether they know it or not.
And millions of older Americans who rack up big drug costs under Medicare get more financial help through Obamacare — whether they know it or not.
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Now a Texas federal judge who just invalidated the entire health care law has put them at risk — whether they know it or not.
The sweeping court ruling shows how hard it is to relitigate parts of Obamacare without harming measures that benefit virtually every American, including people who don’t even buy insurance from the Obamacare markets.
“The Affordable Care Act has a lot of provisions people are very familiar with, but also a lot of things critical to some populations that are not as well-known,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who just won reelection with a campaign heavily focused on defending popular patient protections. “With the sweeping ruling … all of those are placed in jeopardy, and people face real uncertainty.”
Since U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s surprise decision Friday night, most of the attention has focused on the immediate threat to pre-existing condition protections and health insurance for 20 million people covered through Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and subsidized insurance markets. If the ruling is ultimately upheld after appeals, that would all be wiped away.
But the 2010 health law has numerous other benefits that millions more have been getting for years now and have come to take for granted. Features like letting young adults stay on their parents’ plan, eliminating caps on insurance benefits, free preventive care and helping seniors pay their drug bills are popular among Democrats and Republicans alike — though polling shows people don’t always know they were part of Obamacare.
“A lot of this has flown under the radar; people can’t identify that the Affordable Care Act gave them these things,” said Mollyann Brodie, who runs Kaiser Family Foundation’s polling. “But once you give people something, they get concerned when you take it away.”
“Obamacare had all the bad stuff — the Affordable Care Act is different,” said Tom Miller, a health care expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, gently mocking the American public’s confusion about one law known by two names.
Pro-ACA advocates plan on reminding them of those protections.
Brad Woodhouse, executive director of Protect Our Care, told POLITICO the organization is about to launch an effort to highlight these benefits, using them to try to get Republicans to join a Democratic effort to kill the Obamacare lawsuit brought by 20 conservative states — and to broaden the public constituency for preserving the law.
“All these things that are at stake — it’s a litany that we sort of got away from,” Woodhouse said. “Beginning today, we’re going to start talking aggressively about those things.”
Republicans don’t have a unified stance on these benefits. Some would favor legislation to protect certain provisions, as part of a larger post-Obamacare bipartisan deal. If people really lost their insurance, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said, it would be a long-awaited catalyst for bipartisan solutions.
“If everyone around here took their meds that day, we would all get together and pass something,” he said.
Others would prefer to leave it to free markets and the states.
“Obviously, voters will demand certain benefits, and state lawmakers will provide them,” said conservative activist Dean Clancy, who now leads an organization promoting health savings accounts.
But as much as he detests Obamacare, Clancy thinks it will survive the court challenge “entirely or mostly intact” but with enough structural problems that Congress will have to revisit it, again and again.
“Obamacare will never be out of the woods, not for a really long time,” he said. “So it’s always going to be part of our politics, I guess.” And right now, in his view, the threat to benefits favors the Democrats.
The next phase of the political fight — activating public opinion during the appeal of the Texas ruling, which could spill into the 2020 election season — may well focus on protections like coverage of young adults, or no-charge preventive services like mammograms and childhood vaccines. That could put Republicans on defense again, much like pre-existing conditions protections did during the failed repeal efforts that set the stage for Democratic gains in the 2018 elections.
Kaiser’s most recent tracking poll, in November, found most of these middle-class coverage provisions had around 80 percent approval among the public — much higher than the health law overall. While Democrats tended to have more favorable views, a majority of Republicans also liked them.
AEI’s Miller also thinkssome of the animus toward Obamacare has dissipated after the GOP eliminated the individual mandate penalty — the law’s most unpopular provision — in its tax cut last year. Getting rid of the penalty, Miller said, also made it harder for Republicans to keep up their decadelong war on a health law that contains many things people like.
Obamacare’s political constituency turned out in a big way for the midterms, becoming one of the major forces in returning Democrats to power in the House of Representatives, flipping seven governorships and recapturing more than 300 seats in state legislatures.
Exit polls found voters cited health care more than any other single issue as the most important factor in their vote, and they overwhelmingly trust Democrats more than Republicans on health policy.Obamacare has also become more popular than ever, and strong majorities say it’s important to keep barring insurers from turning away people with pre-existing conditions or charging them higher insurance premiums.
O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, ruled last week that Obamacare could not stand without the individual mandate Congress had scrapped. The Trump administration, which broke from tradition of defending laws the federal government enforces, had urged the judge only to strike the law’s protections for pre-existing conditions.
Republican lawmakers, including many who just campaigned on saving pre-existing conditions, have beenscrambling to distance themselves from the judge’s ruling.
“The judge’s ruling was far too sweeping,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who faces reelection in 2020 and was one of the three GOP senators who blocked the party’s repeal efforts in 2017. “He could have taken a much more surgical approach and just struck down the individual mandate and kept the rest of the law intact.”
“There are many good provisions of the law,” Collins added. “Those should be retained.”
Joe Manchin has a choice as he enters what is likely his last term in the Senate: Be a MAGA conservative Democrat or embrace his party’s ascendant left wing.
Or maybe in his own way, he’ll try to do both.
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The West Virginia moderate just won reelection in the most Trumpy state in the country and is already trying to re-establish a frayed relationship with President Donald Trump, who went all-in against him during the midterms. At the same time, he’s trying to beat back criticism from progressives, who argue he’s too friendly to the coal industry to lead Democrats on the Energy Committee.
It’s classic Manchin: Committing to work with everyone, no matter how much they might be at odds.
“I have a constituency group in my state and I have a constituency group within my caucus,” Manchin explains in an interview. “I want to make sure I’m attentive to all.”
Manchin has a reputation for finding himself in the thick of things, and that will only increase next year when he becomes one of the few moderates in either party left in the Senate. The president is eager for bipartisan accomplishments ahead of his 2020 reelection bid and Manchin will be seen as a prime target for cooperation.
Yet the former governor has said he doesn’t want to run again for his Senate seat and so will no longer have to worry about backing Trump’s agenda to boost his reelection chances. And as ranking member on the energy panel starting next year, Manchin has a prime opportunity to shape big-ticket legislation, particularly if his party takes back the majority in 2020 and makes him chairman.
“Sen. Manchin, by his very nature, wants to be in the middle of where the action is,” said GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a fellow West Virginian. “He’s going to continue to do that very aggressively whether it’s through the committee, whether it’s through the president. I think he’s agnostic: However he can get into the middle of things, he’s going to be in the mix.”
Manchin had lunch with the president earlier this month and pledged to work with him going forward. He also pushed Trump to help resolve a pension crisis facing miners and seek a bipartisan deal on immigration. Yet since winning reelection, Manchin has also helped Democrats block one of Trump’s judicial nominees, reversed himself on a Trump federal energy pick over his climate views and voted to spike a Treasury Department rule. He’s also not so sure about backing Trump’s $5 billion in border wall funding that he endorsed during the campaign.
Occupying the Senate’s middle also means that no matter what Manchin does, he’s going to get lit up by critics. The senator was popular enough to outperform Hillary Clinton by 23 percentage points in November, but also elicits strong feelings among skeptics on both the left and right that somehow think he’s always conspiring against them.
Though Manchin’s Democratic colleagues argue he’s vastly superior to a Republican, progressive groups bash Manchin’s continued presence in the Democratic Caucus as an embarrassment and cite his vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as a reason they’ll never embrace him. The vote might have helped seal his reelection, but it did little to rebut his reputation as the chamber’s least loyal Democrat.
“He has a ‘D’ next to his name, but he’s a conservative politician,” said Josh Nelson, co-director of CREDO Action. “We do think the rare circumstances where Manchin does vote the right way are offset by the damage he does to the party brand and, frankly to the media narratives, where he’s providing bipartisan cover.”
Conservatives acknowledge Manchin’s the best Democrat they could hope for atop the Energy Committee but wonder whether he’ll be pulled leftward now that he doesn’t have to face the voters again.
“[Democrats] gained seats that they cannot hold if they go full tilt the way the progressives want. But the progressives are the money, the organization and responsible for delivering the House back,” said Tom Pyle, president of the libertarian-leaning American Energy Alliance.
On energy policy, Pyle wonders: “Who are we going to get: West Virginia Manchin or Beltway Manchin?”
Manchin says they are one and the same — and embraces his critics, who he says wouldn’t trash him if they knew him better: “My door’s open.”
Manchin says he’s going to work to protect the environment, but he’s sure not going to turn his back on coal either.
“I don’t know a person in West Virginia that wants to drink dirty water and breathe dirty air. Not one,” Manchin says. “I want to make sure that we have all the technology in place to use all of our energy the cleanest humanly way possible, period.”
Manchin finds himself with advancing seniority in his party because of a disastrous election for moderate Senate Democrats. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana eked out a win, but three lost: Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
The fourth Democratic incumbent to lose, Bill Nelson of Florida, left a void at the top of the Commerce Committee. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) chose to take that post, leaving the Energy slot open for Manchin to grab after other more senior Democratic Caucus members, including Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), stayed on other committees.
“He should have that position. He’s worked hard, he’s earned it,” Donnelly said. “Our party should have a big tent; we’re more successful when we are. And when we don’t act that way is when we struggle.”
Sanders wasn’t quite as effusive when asked about Manchin: “Thank you for your interest in the Yemen vote.”
To win over skeptics on both sides, Manchin is meeting with Cantwell to go over the transition and to make sure her priorities don’t get dropped. He’s also met one-on-one with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) about the miner pensions.
And Manchin says he hopes his time with Trump leads to some nice tweets after the president said last month that Manchin’s vote on Kavanaugh came so late it “doesn’t count.” Manchin said he personally asked Trump to lean on McConnell to come up with a long-term fix for the pensions, or at least tweet about it.
“I just told him: ‘You gave it all you had and that election’s behind us, it happened a couple Tuesday’s ago. So let’s go forward,’” Manchin recounted telling the president this month. “I found out people in West Virginia like Donald Trump and they like Joe Manchin. So they’re telling us to work together.”