The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Trailer: What Biden and the left are demanding of each other

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In this edition: The campaign to shape Biden's agenda, the next (and even stranger) stage of election contests, and Donald Trump Jr. goes on the air in Georgia

The attorney general has seen no evidence of typos in The Trailer.

A few days before Thanksgiving, leaders and allies of the Sunrise Movement gathered outside the Democratic National Committee to make their demands of Joe Biden. They wanted a “corporate-free Cabinet,” with “personnel committed to addressing the climate threat.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who’d joined that sit-in, urged Biden to deliver on his $2 trillion climate plan. When reporters asked about Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.) joining the administration — a move Sunrise had condemned — Ocasio-Cortez brought the conversation back to the activists.

“If you're only looking at electoral politics, you will get cynical and upset and turn away,” said Ocasio-Cortez, flanked by other left-wing members of Congress. “My advice to you is to not rely on electoral politics. That's why we operate with an inside-outside strategy. That's why you all send us up there, to have all of these very frustrating struggles, while you keep doing the hopeful work of organizing.”

The president-elect has announced more members of his Cabinet and economic team since then, and with each pick, the left is figuring out how much of its work will be pushed “outside.” Since 2008, the last time a Democratic president grabbed the reins from a Republican, the party has shifted to the left. Activists have made more demands on the party, warning that a too-moderate administration would put Republicans — possibly even Donald Trump himself — back in power. 

“If we really want to torpedo our effort to do anything meaningful, let's spend our energy on the intraparty battle,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, one of the most left-leaning members of the Democratic caucus that will vote on Biden's nominees. “It would be much better for all of us if we really reach out and work together to focus on the issues before the American people; health care, and housing, and education. Good-paying jobs, equality, climate change, infrastructure. Let's focus on the path to get those things.”

So far, the party's left has been more organized and more adept at grabbing attention than it was after any recent Democratic win. Years of planning went into this. The Sunrise Movement, for example, was founded in the shadow of the Obama-era failure to pass comprehensive climate legislation. Compromising with Republicans didn't work; maybe constant mobilization and sit-ins directed at Democrats would. Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-Vt.) two campaigns for president spawned a few new organizations, granted fresh credibility to others and elevated the voices of socialists who were sidelined in the old party.

“You need to create political space for bolder action,” said Waleed Shahid, the spokesman for Justice Democrats, which was created by former Sanders staffers and helped left-wing candidates such as Ocasio-Cortez win their primaries. “You’re in a narrow window, and if you don't create pressure, nothing gets done. That was what happened with Obama. For several months he said there was nothing they could do with executive orders to protect undocumented immigrants. And then it turned out that he could, and you had DACA.”

The idea wasn't just that Democrats, in power, would squander it if they weren't pressured. The idea was that the left was advancing popular ideas that would convince voters their government was actually acting on their behalf. In this view, failure to do that in 2009 created space for the tea party movement; failure to do it in 1993 let Newt Gingrich lead the “Republican Revolution”; failure to do it in 1977 fueled the growth of the New Right.

“It will be up to the Biden Administration to use the full power of the executive branch to deliver immediate and tangible results to the working people of this country,” leaders of Sunrise, Data for Progress and other left-wing groups wrote in a Nov. 29 memo. “In Congress, Democrats face an enormous challenge in holding the House in 2022, and must enter 2021 with a clear strategy. The status quo is a glide path to the minority, and a Republican Congress will doom any chance of progress for working people.”

Biden's campaign, which essentially wrapped up the nomination in March, mollified much of the left by bringing it into negotiations on the Democratic platform. When he distanced himself from some of the ideas floated in those negotiations, or when he (repeatedly) emphasized that he had defeated Sanders and thus couldn't be credibly called “socialist,” the left held its fire. There would be time, organizers argued, to pressure Biden if he won.

The first arguments over Biden's appointments have revealed a left that's both monumentally better organized than it was 12 years ago and one that's divided over what are and are not nominee dealbreakers. The Richmond dispute, over political donations he took from the fossil fuel industry, was the first test: Sunrise officially condemned the pick but didn't organize to stop it. Biden then rolled out his key national security team and his economic team with buy-in from some, but not all, factions of the left. 

On Monday, both Rep. Barbara Lee of California and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts praised the pick of Neera Tanden to run the Office of Management and Budget, and on Tuesday, Biden touted the Massachusetts liberal's support for Wally Adeyemo, her former chief of staff and his pick for deputy treasury secretary.

“I tell you what, Senator Warren really likes you!” Biden said.

The Tanden pick is the biggest ask Biden has made of the left so far. By elevating a longtime Hillary Clinton ally, the president of a think tank that has welcomed big donations from the finance industry, Biden infuriated some supporters of Sanders, who viewed the nomination as a personal insult. Their complaints range from the superficial, such as Tanden's Twitter battles with Sanders allies, to the substantial, like her willingness to put entitlements such as Social Security “on the table” during the GOP's 2011-2012 effort to force Democrats to agree to spending cuts.

“This is a complete embarrassment — and a perfect encapsulation of the flaccid, obsequious culture of the Beltway liberalism that helped create this horrific era,” wrote former Sanders strategist David Sirota.

But there is no organized left-wing effort to stop Tanden. Efforts built to prevent corporate lobbyists from joining the administration,  such as the Revolving Door Project, have highlighted the time that nominees such as Adeyemo and incoming National Economic Council head Brian Deese spent in the private sector. (Both men worked for BlackRock, an asset management firm.) Yet they have not called on Biden to withdraw any nominees, and some on the left have judged the nominees by a different, easier-to-meet standard: Are they more liberal than people President Barack Obama picked for these roles, or other people Biden could have chosen?

“If you would have been quieter on Twitter if Jeff Zeints was picked than Neera Tanden, that’s pretty telling,” said Data for Progress co-founder Sean McElwee, referring to an Obama veteran who Biden intends to put in charge of pandemic response. “Your first instinct should be: Thank God, it’s not Bruce Reed.”

Reed, a centrist deficit hawk who'd worked for Biden in the past, was exactly the sort of nominee the left might have risen up against. Tanden, who has said that a return to deficit panic in 2021 would be ludicrous, is not. The left isn't getting the administration it dreamed of, but it's dominating the conversation about who is and isn't acceptable. That's already happening with regard to other potential Biden nominees; the Intercept, which didn't exist when Obama took office, got the Transport Workers Union of America to preemptively condemn Rahm Emanuel as he's floated to take over the Department of Transportation.

Until and unless there's a nominee opposed by the organized left, activists might find themselves defending Biden picks whom they consider, grudgingly, better than the alternatives. That could play out with Tanden, whose stiffest criticism in Congress came from conservatives angry at her partisanship and deleted tweets about Republicans. Asked whether they could rally behind Tanden if Republicans attacked her, organizers sometimes just laughed.

That would show you how much of a force negative partisanship is in our politics, said Justice Democrats' Shahid. It would be pretty hilarious to hear Bernie Sanders say, 'No, I haven’t seen those tweets she wrote about me.'

Reading list

Trump raises more than $150 million appealing to false election claims, by Josh Dawsey and Michelle Ye Hee Lee

The rewards of refusing to concede an election.

“The mastermind behind Biden’s no-drama approach to Trump,” by Edward-Isaac Dovere

Anita Dunn's survival tactics.

“Trump’s campaign sent nearly as many emails in the three weeks after the election as the three weeks before,” by Philip Bump

The campaign after the campaign.

“Faith takes the forefront as Georgia Senate runoffs heat up,” by Elana Schor and Ben Nadler

How one candidate's life at the pulpit has shaped the races.

“Wisconsin and Arizona make it official as Trump fails to stop vote certification in all six states where he contested his defeat,” by Amy Gardner, Emma Brown, and Rosalind S. Helderman

End the election contests, restart the lawsuits.

“The House members already facing the redistricting chopping block,” by Ally Mutnik

Looking ahead to mass murder by map.

“2020 lessons, Democratic divisions define race for DCCC chair,” by Bridget Bowman and Kate Ackley

The Democrats who want to save the House majority make their pitches.

On the trail

On Monday morning, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and election officials certified the results of the 2020 election, handing 11 electoral votes to President-elect Joe Biden. As cameras rolled, Ducey heard his cellphone ring with “Hail to the Chief,” the song he'd reportedly assigned to the outgoing president and vice president. The Republican governor picked up the phone, muted it, and put it to his side.

Hours later, President Trump found Arizonans who would take his calls: dozens of Republicans, gathered in a Hyatt Regency two miles from the Capitol, holding a marathon hearing on why the election should be overturned. “We're gonna win this thing,” Trump said. “Arizona will not forget what Ducey just did. We will not forget the people of Arizona.”

The Trump campaign had no way to challenge the certification. It hadn't even bothered to try, after a lawsuit dealing with fewer than 1,000 state ballots was dismissed. By the time night fell yesterday, the results in every state the Trump campaign had gone to court over — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — had become official, with nothing preventing the seating of electors for Biden on Dec. 8. (They'll vote six days later.)

Still, the president and his allies — from Congress to state legislatures to friendly media — are condemning the vote counts and talking about potential punishment for officials of either party who certified them. On Tuesday, gadfly attorney Lin Wood, who unsuccessfully sued to stop the certification of Georgia's votes, shared an open letter urging Trump to “declare a limited form of Martial Law, and temporarily suspend the Constitution and civilian control of these federal elections, for the sole purpose of having the military oversee a national re-vote.” One day earlier. Trump attorney Joe DiGenova told Newsmax that the fired head of election cybersecurity should be “taken out at dawn and shot,” a comment he had to retract.

The president hasn't gone as far as DiGenova, even jokingly. But he has not rejected any baseless theory to explain how he got fewer votes than Biden. On Twitter, he's boosted the idea that electronic voting machines were rigged against him — a major topic of the Arizona event — and in a call to radio host Eric Metaxas on Monday, he repeated the myth that “massive dumps” of large cities reporting their votes late on election night were fraudulent. The election was still winnable, he said, and the host agreed.

“Jesus is with us in this fight for liberty,” Metaxas said. “I'd be happy to die in this fight.”

In that short call, and in Sunday's longer conservation with Fox host Maria Bartiromo, Trump sometimes sounded less passionate about overturning the election results than his interviewer. It was Bartiromo, not Trump, who brought up whether there'd be civil unrest if the Supreme Court negated Biden's win, and Bartiromo who explained the theory Trump wanted the court to use.

“Is the thinking here that, because of the various ballot issues, that the Supreme Court will rule that the vote is tainted, and that will mean that they have to take votes away from Biden and not certify?” Bartiromo asked. “Is that the thinking?”

“That's right,” said the president.

In the next seven days, before the “safe harbor” date by which states must announce their electors, the Trump apparatus is exploring two strategies to overturn the certifications in key states. The first is to fight the results in court, as they've done in each of the six states, losing every time. The Trump legal team has argued that the losses were necessary to get a case before the Supreme Court; a Pennsylvania lawsuit, supported by Trump but not brought by the campaign, is already being appealed.

The second strategy is persuading state legislators to reverse the results. Rudy Giuliani spent a good deal of the Arizona hearing arguing for legislators to do so, fast; later, after Ducey tweeted a defense of the election system, Giuliani suggested that legislators could call a special session to investigate it. 

Neither strategy can succeed unless courts behave in a manner they have resisted all year, as even Trump-appointed judges reject the idea of throwing out ballots after they've been counted. The Supreme Court intervened in the 2000 election when only a single, pivotal state was at an impasse about which ballots to accept in a recount and George W. Bush's campaign sued for relief; the idea of the court accepting some eventual, “perfect” lawsuit (as Trump describes the case he wants to bring) that could void results in multiple states is fanciful. 

While plenty of pro-Trump state legislators want to overturn the election, they don't have the votes to try. In Pennsylvania, for example, Trump celebrated a nonbinding resolution introduced by two dozen Republican legislators, challenging the result; passing the resolution would take 102 votes, and the legislature is adjourning for the year anyway. Giuliani's rambling appearances at unofficial, Republican-led hearings, which will continue with a Wednesday trip to Michigan, have taken the claims that are being thrown out by courts into the public sphere — a roundabout way of getting the media to cover old allegations.

Yet the reward system of Trump-era Republican politics offers nothing to the politicians who say Biden won and plenty to the politicians who insist the election's not over. Trump has now repeatedly condemned Ducey, who is term-limited but could run for Senate in 2022; Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who is seeking a second term in 2022; and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who won his office narrowly two years ago and has fended off threats and harassment after confirming Biden's win. 

“There are those who are exploiting the emotions of many Trump supporters with fantastic claims, half-truths, misinformation, Raffensperger said. And frankly, they are misleading the president as well, apparently.

Trump allies have ignored or demeaned Raffensperger, and the election lawsuits continued after his certification. By Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania had asked Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. to hear his case against accepting the state's results; the Trump campaign had appealed a previous defeat in Michigan, baselessly insisting that the results from heavily Democratic Wayne County couldn't be verified; and sued in Wisconsin, arguing that valid votes cast in two Democratic counties by people who had taken advantage of looser absentee ballots rules should be thrown out.

Ad watch

U.S. Chamber Action, “This Holiday Season. After losing some of its political team after the 2020 election, when the Chamber endorsed several House Democrats for reelection, the pro-business powerhouse is throwing in to keep the GOP's Senate majority. This positive spot thanks Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue for backing the initial round of coronavirus relief, then urges viewers to thank them and tell them to “keep fighting for pandemic relief.” It's unclear whether another relief bill can pass before the Jan. 5 election.

Jon Ossoff, “Family Business.” Perdue's opponent has attacked him relentlessly over stock trades he made after an early 2020 briefing on the potential effects of covid-19; that issue defined the last, and probably final, debate between Perdue and Ossoff. Here, a Black business owner, Marilyn Grimes, looks at the camera to compare her experience in the pandemic with Perdue's. “Instead of him being concerned about us, he's off selling stock,” Grimes says. “We had no idea we'd have to close our businesses off.”

Poll watch

Favorable reading of presidential candidates (Gallup, 1,018 adults)

Joe Biden: 55% (+6) 
Donald Trump: 42% (-3)

Weeks of conspiracy-minded challenges to the election results have denied the president Gallup's usual consolation prize: He's the first modern candidate to become viewed less favorably after Election Day. In 20 years of asking voters to assess the candidates, with all advertising (negative and otherwise) off the air, Gallup has found them either holding steady, like Hillary Clinton four years ago, or surging in popularity, like John McCain after 2008. The president's support has dipped thanks to marginal reductions in Republican and independent support; Biden's favorable rating is nearly as it high as it was before he began his campaign, thanks to a nine-point boost with independents and a six-point gain with Republicans.

Money watch

The presidential campaign ended four weeks ago — unless you're a donor to Donald Trump's campaign. As first reported by The Post's Josh Dawsey and Michelle Ye Hee Lee, the president's post-election fundraising appeals have brought in more than $150 million, an unprecedented amount of money for a defeated candidate. 

Emails and texts that asked donors to fill an election recount fund have largely gone toward the Republican National Committee and Save America, the leadership PAC Trump created last month. The fine print, for anyone who clicks through to help “defend the election from the radical left,” sends 75 percent of each contribution (up to $5,000) to Save America, and 25 percent to the RNC, after which “any additional funds go to the RNC’s Legal Proceedings account or Headquarters account.”

The disclaimer is one thing; the donor pitch is something else. Texts and emails in November asked for donations to “our end-of-month Election Defense Deadline,” though rarely with specifics about what's being funded. (The campaign plowed $3 million into Wisconsin's two-county recount, which ended with Biden gaining votes.) Just yesterday, the Trump campaign sent four texts to any supporter who'd signed up for them, one of them saying “we can't let Biden & Kamala try to STEAL the election.” It has been offering a “count all legal votes” T-shirt for donations of $30 or more. And it has continued to take automatic weekly donations from people who gave in October but did not check a box opting out of potential giving after the election was over.

The money could obviate a problem that faces many candidates after losing an election: piles of campaign debt. But Save America hasn't made an expenditure yet, and we don't really know how much it has raised. The Federal Election Commission's rules require quick disclosure of money coming in right before an election; it doesn't require that for money coming in the weeks after it's over.

Meet a PAC

What it is: Save the U.S. Senate PAC

What's it doing: Targeting lower-propensity Georgia voters with pro-Trump messaging ahead of the Jan. 5 Senate runoffs. As first reported by Politico, the PAC will run ads featuring Donald Trump Jr. on conservative media, urging supporters of the president to vote for Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

Its first radio spot, recorded last week, starts with Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer's comment that winning Georgia's runoffs will help his party “change America.” Then comes Trump, who says that “my father's accomplishments are on the ballot," sharing a dark vision of the future that doesn't mention Democratic nominees Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock by name.

“The radical left wants to tear down everything we've accomplished," Trump says. "Defunding the police, destroying private health insurance, and dismantling the Supreme Court.”

Who's behind it: Andy Surabian and Taylor Budowich, two aides to the president's son, who became one of his most sought-after surrogates during his presidency.

In the states

House Republicans celebrated the reelection of Rep. Mike Garcia of California yesterday, and with it, a rare prize: Not a single member of their conference lost in 2020. That performance, coming two years after Democrats escaped the midterms without a single incumbent losing reelection, was remarkable. And it was close: Democrat Christy Smith conceded to Garcia only after the pile of uncounted ballots was too small to overwhelm Garcia's margin of less than 400 votes.

That concession leaves two contested races on the board. In Iowa, the state has certified the victory of Republican candidate Marianette Miller-Meeks in the 2nd Congressional District; Democrat Rita Hart is considering legal options, on the theory that there are uncounted votes that would eliminate the Republicans's six-vote lead. In New York's 22nd Congressional District, Republican Claudia Tenney leads by 12 votes, with Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi also leaving the door open to more challenges. It has been decades since a House race was decided by fewer than 15 votes; this year, two races could be decided by less than that.

Later today, before a resolution in either of those races, Georgia voters are going to fill the last vacancy of the 116th Congress. The safely Democratic, Atlanta-based 5th Congressional District, represented by John Lewis until his death this summer, will pick either former city councilman Kwanza Hall or former Morehouse College president Robert Franklin to take the seat through the end of December. The special election is a quirk of timing. Lewis's death came too late to bundle this election with the Nov. 3 vote; Rep.-elect Nikema Williams, who was selected by Democrats to hold the seat in the next Congress, declined to run in the special. Both of the runoff candidates are Democrats.


… four days until runoffs in Louisiana 
… seven days until the “safe harbor” date for states to choose electors
… 13 days until the electoral college votes 
… 35 days until runoffs in Georgia 
… 50 days until the inauguration