The Morning Dispatch: The Riveting Interpersonal Drama of Infrastructure Talks

Plus: A likely outcome to the New York mayor's race, and Donald Trump's quest to crush his GOP enemies in 2022.

Happy Monday! The TMD crew is getting a little smaller for a few weeks—but for very good reason!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The official death toll in the Surfside, Florida condominium collapse has risen to nine by Sunday evening, and will likely grow much larger as hundreds of emergency workers and first responders continue searching for more than 150 residents who remain unaccounted for. The Washington Post reported Saturday that an engineer warned in 2018 of “major structural damage” to the building, but another engineer hired by Surfside to investigate the cause of the collapse said the reaction to that initial report was overblown, and that its findings were fairly typical.

  • The Pentagon announced last night that U.S. military forces had carried out “defensive precision airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region.” The administration said Iran-backed militias had used the facilities to launch UAV attacks on American personnel in Iraq, and President Joe Biden had ordered the strikes “pursuant to his Article II authority to protect U.S. personnel in Iraq.”

  • President Biden issued a statement on Saturday walking back his threat from earlier in the week to veto bipartisan infrastructure legislation if it was not paired with a larger reconciliation bill. Biden said his comments “created the impression that I was issuing a veto threat on the very plan I had just agreed to, which was certainly not my intent.”

  • The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state of Georgia on Friday, alleging several provisions of its recently passed election law “were adopted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race,” particularly black voters. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger accused the DOJ of “spread[ing] more lies” about the law, and “operationaliz[ing] their lies with the full force of the federal government.”

  • A judge sentenced former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin to 22.5 years in prison on Friday, justifying the prison term—which exceeded Minnesota state guidelines for unintentional second-degree murder while committing a felony, the most serious crime of which Chauvin was convicted—by citing his “abuse of a position of trust and authority,” as well as his “particular cruelty.”

  • The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released its highly anticipated UFO report on Friday, claiming there have been 144 U.S. government reports of unidentified aerial phenomena between 2004 and 2021. Only one of those objects—a large deflating weather balloon—was identified with high confidence.

  • Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson (J&J) reached a $230 million settlement with New York Attorney General Letitia James on Friday, resolving James’ opioid-related lawsuit against the company. As part of the settlement, J&J confirmed its exit from the opioid business nationwide.

  • The United States confirmed 3,428 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 0.7 percent of the 482,104 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 80 deaths were attributed to the virus on Sunday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 603,966. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 11,839 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Meanwhile, 1,204,225 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, with 179,261,269 Americans having now received at least one dose.

Infrastructure, on the Rocks

As we discussed on Friday, President Biden announced last week that he and a bipartisan group of senators had finally reached a deal on an infrastructure package after weeks of negotiation. The bill would shore up the nation’s roads, bridges, railways, electrical grids, public transit systems, and more. But within hours of its unveiling, the deal was on life support. Why? The president’s own comments.

In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Biden made clear that he would not sign the plan he had just agreed to into law unless Congress also used the budget reconciliation process to pass his multi-trillion-dollar American Families Plan, a bill chock-full of progressive entitlement priorities from funding universal pre-school and community college to extending the temporary increase to the Child Tax Credit created by Biden’s stimulus bill earlier this year.

“If this [bipartisan agreement] is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” Biden said. “It’s in tandem.”

The president’s remarks were likely intended to ease concerns from progressive Democrats, who were wary of Biden sacrificing too many of their wish-list items in negotiations with Republicans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had already said both bills must move in tandem, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer labeled them a package deal.

But several Republican lawmakers had gone out on a limb to engage in good-faith talks with the White House, and they felt betrayed by Biden’s comments. The GOP group met virtually on Friday to regroup. Shortly thereafter, Politico reported that Sen. Bill Cassidy felt “blindsided,” Sen. Rob Portman was “pissed and disappointed,” and Sens. Mitt Romney and Susan Collins were “particularly incensed.” They had not come away from their meetings with the president thinking he would explicitly tie the two pieces of legislation together.

On Friday, the White House scrambled to control the fallout, deputizing top administration officials to patch things up with Republicans on the Hill. When that proved insufficient, Biden himself began working the phones.

Finally, the White House issued a rare Saturday afternoon statement in which the president admitted that he messed up. “At a press conference after announcing the bipartisan agreement, I indicated that I would refuse to sign the infrastructure bill if it was sent to me without my Families Plan and other priorities, including clean energy,” it read. “That statement understandably upset some Republicans, who do not see the two plans as linked; they are hoping to defeat my Families Plan—and do not want their support for the infrastructure plan to be seen as aiding passage of the Families Plan. My comments also created the impression that I was issuing a veto threat on the very plan I had just agreed to, which was certainly not my intent.”

“So to be clear,” the statement continued, “Our bipartisan agreement does not preclude Republicans from attempting to defeat my Families Plan; likewise, they should have no objections to my devoted efforts to pass that Families Plan and other proposals in tandem. We will let the American people—and the Congress—decide.”

The statement seems to have done its job, with Republicans taking to the Sunday shows yesterday to make clear Biden’s comments were water under the bridge. 

“I was very glad to see the president clarify his remarks, because it was inconsistent with everything that we had been told all along the way,” Sen. Portman told ABC News. “I’m glad [the bills have] now been de-linked and it’s very clear that we can move forward with a bipartisan bill that’s broadly popular, not just among members of Congress, but the American people.”

Sen. Cassidy told Meet the Press that he’ll “continue to work for the bill,” adding that he thinks Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will also “be for it if it continues to come together as it is.”

“I certainly can understand why, not only myself, but a lot of my colleagues were very concerned about what the president was saying on Friday,” Sen. Mitt Romney told CNN. “But I think the waters have been calmed by what he said on Saturday. … I do take the president at his word.”

With Republican negotiators appearing once again to be firmly in favor of the bipartisan deal, Democratic leaders will now embark on a balancing act of their own, convincing progressives to vote for an infrastructure bill that’s much smaller than they’d like and moderates to vote for a reconciliation bill that’s much bigger than they’d like. 

Sen. Joe Manchin charted out his characteristic middle ground on ABC News yesterday. “If Republicans don’t want to make adjustments to a tax code which I think is weighted and unfair, then I’m willing to go reconciliation,” he said. “But if they think in reconciliation I’m going to throw caution to the wind and go to $5 trillion or $6 trillion when we can only afford $1 trillion or $1.5 trillion or maybe $2 trillion and what we can pay for, then I can’t be there.”

Adams’ Apple?

The last ballots have yet to trickle in in the Democratic primary for New York City’s mayoral race. But all early indications are that Eric Adams—the former police captain, New York state senator, and Brooklyn borough president—will likely become the next mayor of New York City.

Adams, a black man and former cop, built his campaign around a promise to balance the concerns of racial justice and public safety, casting himself as someone who would work to improve New York policing, but not to hobble it. On the trail, he explicitly distanced himself from the “defund the police” movement which sprung up among progressives last year following the death of George Floyd—a compelling message given the spike in crime rates that has occurred across the U.S. during the pandemic. 

Adams’ direct blue-collar appeal and support from several key labor unions have led some commentators to speculate that his win would herald the return of some version of the “machine politics” that defined politics in the city for decades. Writing for the Slow Boring newsletter last week, Yale law professor David Schleicher described Adams as “a throwback to an earlier era when mayors represented a political party and coalition of interests rather than an ideological vision or an individualistic style of leadership.”

Daniel DiSalvo, a political science professor at the City College of New York and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, is skeptical that Adams will bring back machine politics—true political machines don’t hold primary elections, after all—but told The Dispatch the results so far show that Adams was able to put together an electorate with “a curious resemblance to an older … more moderate coalition.” In contrast, Adams’ rivals Kathryn Garcia and Maya Wiley did well among a wealthier and relatively less diverse crowd in Manhattan and the adjacent inner part of Brooklyn.

“Look at me, and you’re seeing the future of the Democratic Party,” a confident Adams said at a press conference Thursday. “If the Democratic Party fails to recognize what we did here in New York, they’re going to have a problem in the midterm elections and they’re going to have a problem in the presidential election. … America is saying, we want to have justice and safety and end inequalities, and we don’t want fancy candidates.”

The remark was an obvious allusion to the ongoing conflict among Democrats over how to best talk about—and make policy to address—crime and policing. Democrats are beginning to recognize their vulnerabilities on those issues, and Republicans are making clear their plans to exploit them. As we wrote in last Thursday’s TMD, President Biden is talking more about the fact that his policy initiatives would increase funding for police departments and put more officers on the streets. 

Still, it’s important to keep in mind that last week’s primaries were, as expected, low-turnout affairs. If Adams wins, “he won on the basis of 250,000 people who ranked him first on their ballot, in a city of 8.5 million residents,” DiSalvo said. Any attempt to extrapolate these primaries to national politics should be undertaken with caution.

First in The Dispatch: Rep. Anthony Gonzalez Responds to Trump

While you were (we hope) enjoying a relaxing Saturday night with friends and family, Declan was … watching former President Donald Trump’s first political rally since January 6, held at the Lorain County Fairgrounds in Ohio. Why Lorain County? Because it’s just outside GOP Rep. Anthony Gonzalez’ district, and Trump wants him gone.

Declan spoke to Gonzalez over the weekend for a piece that’s up on the site this morning. Gonzalez was one of ten House Republicans to vote in favor of impeaching Trump for his election lies and his role in the January 6 assault on the Capitol. He was blunt about Trump’s continuing attempts to flip the 2020 presidential election and the willingness of Republicans to support him in those efforts. Here’s an excerpt: 

“A guy named Anthony Gonzalez, who is bad news,” Trump said, referring to the two-term congressman whom he labeled a “tough cookie” and a “friend” in 2019. Gonzalez is a hometown hero—an all-state high school football player who excelled at Ohio State and was drafted in the first round by the Indianapolis Colts in 2007—but the crowd instinctively knew to boo. “He’s a grandstanding RINO, not respected in D.C., who voted for the unhinged, unconstitutional, illegal impeachment witch hunt. … He’s a sellout, and a fake Republican, and a disgrace to your state.”

I called Gonzalez to get his reaction. The most powerful Republican in the country had flown to the congressman’s backyard, branded him a traitor, and endorsed his primary challenger, a former Trump administration staffer named Max Miller.

That was news to Gonzalez. “Took my wife on a date,” he told me a couple minutes after 9 p.m., just as Trump was finishing up. “Didn’t pay any attention.” 

When I filled him in on all the insults that he’d missed, there was a pause—and then a chuckle: “That’s actually not so bad!”

But upon being informed Trump spent what seemed like 45 minutes relitigating the 2020 election—and that MyPillow CEO and prominent election fraud truther Mike Lindell received an enormous standing ovation during the rally—Gonzalez grew more somber. “I couldn’t care less about what the former President says about me. I really couldn’t,” he said. “What I do care about is the fact that he continues to double and triple down on the election lies that led to insurrection on January 6 and very likely could lead to more violence in the future.”

“The most important thing that all elected Republicans can do right now is tell the truth to the country and our voters about the fact that we had a legitimate election and President Trump lost,” he continued. “Anything short of that is an abdication of duty.”

Worth Your Time

  • In an excerpt of his forthcoming book published in The Atlantic yesterday, Jonathan Karl details the falling out between Donald Trump and his then-attorney general, William Barr, in the final months of his administration. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pleaded with Barr for weeks to shoot down Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud, arguing he couldn’t do it himself because Senate Republicans needed Trump’s help to win the runoff elections in Georgia. When Barr did so publicly, the president was infuriated. “‘Did you say that?’ ‘Yes,’ Barr responded. ‘How the f--- could you do this to me? Why did you say it?’ ‘Because it’s true.’ The president, livid, responded by referring to himself in the third person: ‘You must hate Trump. You must hate Trump.’” Barr and McConnell both confirmed the accounts in the story.

  • As of this writing, nine people have been confirmed dead following a condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida, and more than 150 remain unaccounted for. Over the weekend, NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro spoke with Susana Alvarez, a woman who lived on the 10th floor of the building. “I was in bed, and I heard a tremor,” she remembered. “I went around the corner, and that’s when I saw that the building was missing. There was nothing there, and people were screaming. I could hear them screaming. At that point, I turned around. And there was maybe two apartments left in my floor, and I banged on their doors. They came out, and then I said, ‘We got to get out of here.’ And the fire escape door wouldn’t open, but I saw people on the other side, and I banged. And they opened it, and I just ran.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Friday’s Vital Interests (🔒) provides readers with an in-depth look at the situation in Afghanistan, which Thomas Joscelyn argues is “much worse than you realize.” Virtually everyone anticipated that the Taliban would use violence to consolidate power when U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan this fall. They’re not waiting for withdrawal.

  • Jonah’s Friday G-File covered “everything going on right now.” He didn’t mean to oppress you with his words, but he does work to hold “the people responsible for this linguistic oppression” accountable, contending that the “war on ‘oppressive language’ is itself oppressive.”

  • Sarah and Chris Stirewalt were joined by RealClearPolitics’ A.B. Stoddard on Friday’s Dispatch Podcast to discuss all things infrastructure, the politics of the border, and 2024 rumblings.

  • The Office of the Director of National Intelligence finally released their UFO report over the weekend, and in his French Press yesterday, David explored what the theological ramifications of extraterrestrial life would be. “While there are atheists who proclaim that the discovery of aliens would pose insurmountable challenges to faith in Jesus and confidence in scripture,” he writes, “many Christians proclaim exactly the opposite.”

Let Us Know

We’re not 100 percent sure she’s even reading this, but if you’ve got any congratulations or advice for Haley, we’ll be sure to send them her way!

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), Tripp Grebe (@tripper_grebe), Emma Rogers (@emw_96), Price St. Clair (@PriceStClair1), Jonathan Chew (@JonathanChew19), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).