And so we arrive at the entirely predictable outcome of perhaps the dumbest political strategy seen in many years in Washington … and that’s really saying something. After leading his caucus off a cliff on Joe Biden’s radical election federalizing bill, senior staffers of Senate Democrats have begun targeting Chuck Schumer over his failed leadership. It might be the only point of consensus among them, Politico Playbook reports:
We talked to a half-dozen senior Democratic staffers in both chambers Monday night and heard a variation of the same complaint from each of them: that Schumer’s ploy to isolate Sens. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) and KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-Ariz.) on Build Back Better and then voting rights has only set the party back in achieving its goals.
Manchin remains furious at how he’s been treated and has yet to return to the negotiating table on BBB. Sinema, meanwhile, was censured by her state party over the weekend, and there’s growing talk of her facing a primary in 2024 — in the type of state Democrats have to win to have any hope of controlling the Senate.
One aide pointed out that Schumer is majority leader only because both senators ran centrist campaigns and won. Another argued that it’s the job of any majority leader to protect every member of the caucus. All were particularly stunned by Schumer’s refusal last week to say that Manchin and Sinema should not be primaried. The comment, they said, effectively gave progressives permission to start talking about mounting Democratic campaigns to defeat them. …
“Leadership 101 is even if you don’t get someone today, you’re going to need them tomorrow,” said a senior House Democratic aide. “The level of malpractice is stunning. BBB is a once-in-a-10-year opportunity, and we fucked it up.”
The problem is even more basic than that, they argue. Taking a page from Nancy Pelosi’s long-declared policy on floor votes, they’re now wondering why Schumer forced his caucus into a position where Democrats got split while Republicans united:
ANOTHER SOURCE OF FRUSTRATION: Schumer’s willingness to hold floor votes that he knew would fail — exposing party divisions — as he did last week during the debate on voting rights and the filibuster. The strategy resulted in a slew of negative headlines reminding the base that the party hasn’t delivered on a core promise.
Republicans, meanwhile, skirted any pressure over their opposition, another senior Democratic Senate staffer noted, as Democrats zeroed in on Sinema and Manchin instead: “The Republicans had a fine week last week … There was no contrast with Republicans. And it was a result of the fact that our party leader chose not to be the leader of the entire caucus.”
Schumer has defended himself with the argument that voting rights are essentially a good hill on which to die. His own caucus “overwhelmingly” wanted the vote, one anonymous Schumer aide told Politico, but “overwhelmingly” is not “unanimously.” And in a vote in which Schumer needed all 50 of his caucus to succeed, recognizing that difference and its implications should be both basic and critical to leadership.
And when staking out a political hill on which one feels comfortable dying, don’t be surprised to find your leadership dead in the water after predictably losing the battle.
Most of us understood this already, which is why Schumer’s ploy generated so much head-scratching. The real news here is that Joe Manchin has apparently refused to continue negotiations now on the Build Back Better plan at all, preferring to instead focus on areas of collaboration with moderate Republicans. Manchin has taken care not to cast that decision as a result of personal animosity, but the staffers talking to Politico make it sound as though Manchin’s had it with Schumer and won’t work with him. They’re “praying that Manchin cools down” and gets back to negotiating the BBB project, but after having his party leadership at least tacitly encourage protests and primary challenges against himself and Sinema, that window may well have closed for the rest of the fiscal year — and with it this reconciliation vehicle.
Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.
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