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The Morning Dispatch: Manchin in the Middle
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The Morning Dispatch: Manchin in the Middle

Plus: China further loosens its restrictions on childbearing, which are coming back to bite it as its population ages.

Happy Tuesday! Jeff Bezos announced yesterday he is going to space next month, and Mark Zuckerberg posted a video of himself training to throw spears. What do the billionaires know that we don’t?

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Food and Drug Administration approved a new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease on Monday for the first time in more than 15 years. Many scientists sharply criticized the agency’s decision, saying there is not enough evidence that the new drug, Aduhelm—which was rejected by a panel of independent experts convened by the FDA in November—is actually effective at slowing the progression of disease.

  • The Justice Department announced Monday that it had recovered a majority ($2.3 million) of the $4.4 million in cryptocurrency that Colonial Pipeline paid to its ransomware attackers last month. “Today’s announcement demonstrates that the United States will use all available tools to make these attacks more costly and less profitable for criminal enterprises,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said yesterday.

  • There is now more carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere than at any point in human history, according to scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Last year’s shutdowns had “no discernible impact” on the rate of increase, according to the report.

  • Vice President Kamala Harris is visiting Guatemala and Mexico this week as part of the Biden administration’s diplomatic efforts to curb migration to the U.S. from Central and South America. “I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come,” Harris said. “The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border.”

  • Axios reported yesterday, however, that preliminary Customs and Border Protection data show “the number of migrants illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border this fiscal year is already the most since 2006—with four months left to go.”

  • The United States confirmed 15,161 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 2.6 percent of the 573,310 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 319 deaths were attributed to the virus on Monday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 597,946. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 16,585 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Meanwhile, 1,213,339 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, with 171,310,738 Americans having now received at least one dose.

Progressives Learning That No Means No

Democrats can’t say Sen. Joe Manchin didn’t warn them.

On November 9—just days after the 2020 election was called for Joe Biden and it had become clear that control of the Senate would come down to two runoff elections in Georgia—the West Virginia Democrat joined Bret Baier on Fox News. “When they talk about packing the courts or ending the filibuster, I will not vote to do that,” Manchin said. “I want to lay those fears to rest, that that won’t happen, because I won’t be the 50th Democrat voting to end the filibuster or to basically stack the court.”

Democratic leaders didn’t mind the comments much at the time—at least not publicly. The party needed to win a decent chunk of Republicans to flip the Peach State, and in turn the Senate, blue, and Manchin’s promises of moderation might well have made the prospect of a Democratic majority less threatening to Georgia voters.

But Manchin didn’t change his mind once Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won their races. And he didn’t change his mind once they were sworn in. “If I haven’t said it very plain,” he told Politico on January 25, “I want to basically say it for you. That I will not vote in this Congress, that’s two years, right? I will not vote [to change the filibuster].”

Reporters have asked him—conservatively—eleventy gazillion times in the five months since if and when he plans on changing his mind. The answer has always been no, sometimes emphatically. “JESUS CHRIST!” he shouted back in March. “What don’t you understand about NEVER?!”

Still unable to put the issue to rest, Manchin took to the pages of the Washington Post a few weeks later. “[I] will say it again to remove any shred of doubt,” he wrote. “There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster.”

Congress was able to pass President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan back in March through the budget reconciliation process, which only requires a simple majority to advance legislation to the Oval Office. Manchin was the deciding vote. But as Punchbowl News reported a few days ago, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough issued a restrictive ruling earlier this month limiting Democrats’ ability to use reconciliation. What does that mean? Without a change to the filibuster—the procedural Senate rule that grants a minority of senators the power to block or hold up votes—Biden’s incredibly ambitious legislative agenda is all but toast.

Progressives are getting antsy. “Joe Manchin has become the new Mitch McConnell,” Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York told CNN yesterday, adding that the West Virginian is “doing everything in his power to stop democracy and to stop our work for the people.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accused him of standing up for “voter suppression.” Rep. Cori Bush told him to “join us in saving lives or get out of our way.” The press secretary for Sen. Dick Durbin—the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Senate—tweeted (and subsequently deleted) a not-so-veiled shot at Manchin on Sunday: “I don’t think our founding fathers anticipated he survival of this democratic experiment to rest in the hands of a man who lives in a house boat.”

This latest round of anger was sparked by Manchin’s professed opposition over the weekend to the For the People Act—Democrats’ omnibus federal election reform bill—but it had been bubbling beneath the surface for some time. Even Biden—who campaigned as a moderate with an ability to work alongside Congress—chided Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema at an event in Tulsa, Oklahoma last week.

“I hear all the folks on TV saying, ‘Why doesn’t Biden get this done?’” the president said, referring to himself in the third person. “Well, because Biden only has a majority of effectively four votes in the House and a tie in the Senate, with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends.” (Manchin and Sinema have expressed rhetorical opposition to some of Biden’s initiatives, but have actually voted in line with the president’s position 100 percent of the time.)

“I will say the President considers Sen. Manchin a friend,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday. “He knows that they may disagree on some issues, as they do on this particular piece of legislation. He’s going to continue to work with him, reach out to him, engage with him directly and through his staff on how we can work together moving forward.”

Manchin—and Sinema, to a lesser degree—is more than happy to take the heat. The 73-year-old is a lifelong Democrat representing a state that went for Trump over Biden in the 2020 election 69 percent to 30 percent. Any iteration of the “Manchin bucks Democratic Party” headline in a local West Virginia newspaper is more valuable to him than even the largest campaign contribution. As Jonah pointed out yesterday, Sen. John McCain played a similar “maverick” role within Republican politics throughout his lengthy career.

But the focus on Manchin obscures the fact that he is not alone in his squeamishness on some of the Democrats’ more progressive proposals. When the Senate voted on a $15-per-hour federal minimum wage back in March, it wasn’t just Manchin and Sinema who opposed it: Sens. Jon Tester, Jeanne Shaheen, Maggie Hassan, Chris Coons, Tom Carper, and Angus King did as well. And they don’t go around shouting it from the rooftops, but Hassan and Shaheen oppose eliminating the filibuster too, as does Tester. By blotting out the sun with his own commentary, Manchin allows for some of his colleagues to fly under the radar.

That might be why, at least in Congress’ upper chamber, lawmakers have thus far been hesitant to go after Manchin personally. “I think Sen. Manchin has a powerful fidelity and allegiance to the voters of West Virginia,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal—who favors abolishing the filibuster—told The Dispatch yesterday. “He’s doing what he thinks is right in representing them, but I’m hoping he will also see a national responsibility that all of us have.”

“There’s near unanimity in the Democratic caucus that something radical like abolishing the filibuster has to be done, because they’ve seen the Republicans abuse, misuse, overuse the filibuster,” he continued. “And for each of them there’s been kind of a straw that broke the camel’s back. … So I’m still hoping that Sen. Manchin will reach the same straw that broke the camel’s back.”

For all Blumenthal’s comments about “abuse, misuse, and overuse,” Republicans have only actually filibustered one piece of legislation this Congress—but it left Manchin displeased. 

“Choosing to put politics and political elections above the health of our Democracy is unconscionable,” he said after Senate Republicans blocked a bipartisan commission to investigate the events leading up to January 6. “To the brave Capitol police officers who risk their lives every single day to keep us safe … You deserve better and I am sorry that my Republican colleagues and friends let political fear prevent them from doing what they know in their hearts to be right.”

But asked once again if Republicans’ vote would change his mind on the filibuster, Manchin played the hits. “I’m not willing to destroy our government, no.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer isn’t planning to shy away from the divide within his conference. “[We have] seen the limits of bipartisanship and the resurgence of Republican obstructionism,” the New York Democrat wrote to his colleagues at the end of May, outlining his plans to bring judicial nominees, gun control and LGBTQ equality legislation, and the For The People Act up for a vote in June.

“I think we’re rapidly approaching the time to just take action,” Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz told reporters last night. “We were elected to take action and that’s what we need to do.”

China’s New Three-Child Policy

As we mentioned last week, the Chinese Communist Party recently decided to scrap its two-child policy for married couples and replace it with a three-child policy. In a piece for the website, Harvest Prude dives into the context surrounding the switch—and what the CCP hopes to accomplish with it.

When and why did the Chinese government start restricting birth rates in the first place?

The CCP instituted a “one-child” policy in 1980 to dampen population growth and facilitate an economic boom. In part, this was due to concerns that the burgeoning population would overtake the food supply. In the 1950s, Mao Zedong ushered in his “Great Leap Forward,” a centrally executed government plan to rapidly industrialize China’s largely agrarian economy. A devastating famine resulted, killing tens of millions of the country’s citizens between 1959 and 1961. After that, the government began promoting birth control and later marriages. In 1980, the one-child policy, which primarily applied to members of China’s ethnic Han majority, took things further.

For nearly three decades, the bureau tasked with enforcing the government’s family planning policies would carry out its mission in ways that often violated human rights and sparked international criticism. In addition to steep fines and social pressure, officials forced women to get abortions and sterilized those who broke the rules. The policy also resulted in a gender imbalance: A preference for male babies resulted in about 119 boys being born for every 100 girls.

And why is the CCP relaxing their efforts now?

In a tacit recognition of emerging demographic challenges, the CCP began relaxing its family planning policies. In 2020, the number of Chinese aged 60 and older was 18.7 percent of the population, up from 13.3 percent in the 2010 census. This growing share is placing pressure on the country’s pension system. China’s retirement age is only 60 for men, 55 for female white collar workers, and 50 for female blue collar workers. 

In 2013, Chinese officials allowed couples to have two children if one of the parents was an only child. In 2015, the city of Beijing allowed all couples to have two children. In 2016, the government formally raised the one-child limit to two. But a hoped-for baby boom fell short of expectations. Births rose only mildly in 2016 and have fallen in the years since.

“Birth totals as reported ticked up slightly the year after the suspension of the one-child campaign,” American Enterprise Institute demographer Nicholas Eberstadt said. “But since then it’s plunged—gone down year after year after year.”

The 2021 census confirmed that trend. The once-in-a-decade count reported 12 million babies born in China over the last year, a drop in births for the fourth consecutive year. In 2016, there were 17.86 million births reported.

Is the move expected to work?

Experts predicted that the CCP’s May 31 announcement of the end of its two-child policy would likely have only muted effects on the country’s demography. Part of the challenge is that larger families are now incongruous with China’s culture. The one-child policy gave rise to a cultural expectation in China that parents would heavily invest their resources in their only child’s education and extracurricular opportunities.

“[People] don’t want to have three or four kids,” Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Professor Stuart Gietel-Basten told The Dispatch. “They want their kids to have a better future than they did, [they] want to invest what limited resources they have in order to give their kids the best opportunities.”

Demographer Lyman Stone noted that long work weeks, inflexible work culture, and the high cost of childcare also dampen fertility rates.

“A widespread perception in Chinese society that life is too cutthroat, too demanding, and especially that childhood and young adulthood are too dominated by the stressful and precarious experience of competitive schooling is a key barrier to any increase in fertility,” he said.

Worth Your Time

  • In a piece for The Atlantic, Katherine J. Wu explores the dangers mutations pose to the precision of coronavirus tests. Wu gives readers a rundown on how tests detect RNA, the rejiggering of coronavirus’ genes, and the dangers of false negatives. “With the virus mutating into new and concerning variants, a few of the tests designed to recognize its original iteration are now getting duped,” Wu writes. “What was once a singular target has split itself off into many, many bull’s-eyes, each a little different from the next, and we’re having trouble taking aim. … It’s hard to ignore the game of whack-a-mole we’ve locked ourselves into. No test can be completely impervious to evolution’s hijinks.”

  • In his work as president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Greg Lukianoff has had plenty of experience dealing with the dangers of academic cultures that stifle individual thought and squelch dissent. Over at Persuasion, he’s written a sort of manifesto for “what K-12 education could look like in a free and small-‘l’ liberal society, based on insights taken from U.S. jurisprudence, ancient wisdom, and modern psychology.” From “no compelled speech, thought, or belief” to “foster the broadest possible curiosity, critical thinking skills, and discomfort with certainty” to “don’t reduce complex students to limiting labels,” it’s a rallying cry for anyone uncomfortable with the current trend of U.S. primary education.

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • On Monday’s Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah walk listeners through last week’s ruling from a federal judge striking down California’s assault weapons ban. They then dive into a bit of Supreme Court drama involving Sonia Sotomayor, a decision that includes references to COVID vaccines, and whether civic education can reduce negative partisanship in America.

  • New reporting intern Tripp Grebe has a standalone piece up on the site today, and it’s a good one: What’s the latest on the 2021—née 2020—Tokyo Olympics? The U.S. Olympic Committee is confident the games will go on as scheduled, despite a recent coronavirus surge in Japan. “We are fully intending to take two delegations this summer,” a senior U.S. Olympic official told Tripp. “We have very serious safety protocols in place domestically, and we’re confident in the mitigation policies put in place by the Tokyo Organizing Committee.”

Let Us Know

Do you think Sen. Joe Manchin’s position on the filibuster will hold steady throughout the remainder of this Congress? If he does change his mind, what do you think will be the precipitating factor?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), Tripp Grebe (@tripper_grebe), Emma Rogers (@emw_96), Price St. Clair (@PriceStClair1), Jonathan Chew, and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).