with Tobi Raji

Good Monday morning. Half a million people in the U.S. have died from the coronavirus; millions are still without drinkable water in Texas; and we might still be wearing masks in 2022. This is the Power Up newsletter – thanks for waking up with us. 

The campaign

SCOOP FROM THE LONE STAR STATE: We got our hands on the Texas Democratic Party's post-election review – an autopsy on what went wrong and what it thinks it needs to turn the state blue by 2024. 

State Democrats, whose entreaties for more spending in the state by the Biden campaign were denied in the final stretch of the election, are optimistic they can do better next time – if they can beef up their voter registration program to register 100,000 to 150,0000 more Democrats than Republicans per cycle. 

The “2020 Retrospective” attributes the across-the-board losses to three things: limited spending in the state, sub-par outreach to and mobilization of Latino voters, and the suspension of in-person voter contact due to the coronavirus that hindered efforts to turn out low propensity voters. 

  • “We need to massively expand our voter registration ambitions,” according to the review conducted and authored by Hudson Cavanagh, the Texas Democrats’ director of data science. “From 2018 to 2020, we lost ground in terms of voter registration, losing about 26,000 net votes. However, there are more than enough potential registrants to flip the state if we invest in and execute effective programs at scale.” Read our full piece here.

Short of high expectations: Democrats thought they could not only beat Trump, but be competitive in the Senate race to topple GOP Sen. John Cornyn, flip the state house and several U.S. House seats. But Cornyn handily won reelection against MJ Hegar, and Texas Republicans largely held Democrats off. 

  • “Republicans did better in activating their base in Texas among high-propensity voters, low-propensity voters and everyone in between. Republicans had a better turnout operation than we did,” the report states.
  • Still: President Biden came closest to flipping the Lone Star state than any other Democrat in the last 25 years – losing the state to Donald Trump by 631,221 votes. (The last Democratic presidential candidate to win the state was Jimmy Carter in 1976.) 

And demographic changes since the 2016 election bode well for the left. At least 2 million people moved to the state from California, New York and Florida – many of them Democrats – and an estimated 800,000 young Latino Americans turned 18.

  • The report cites modeling projecting over 2 million “solidly Democratic unregistered voters in Texas," based on figures from the 2010 census. In turn, Texas Democrats want the national party to make major investments to turn the state “sustainably blue,” according to the report.

Coronavirus effect: Democrats' “inefficient targeting” of low-to-moderate propensity voters, wrote Cavanaugh, was “partially a symptom of our inability to do in-person canvassing because we were not able to effectively reach large portions of our base for whom we lacked quality contact information."

  • “The pandemic prevented us from getting the most out of our most powerful competitive advantage: our volunteers. We struggled to reach voters for whom we did not have phone numbers, who were disproportionately young, rural and folks of color,” the report concludes.
  • Abhi Rahman, Texas Democratic Party spokesman, told me that “unwilling to put staff and volunteers at risk" by undertaking contact operations – but going forward, they’ve devised “safe ways to do things in person.”

The report also zoomed in on the party’s failure to turn out Latinos in rural Texas. The report found a significant increase in Latino support in rural counties and concludes there was a “pronounced differential turnout effect among Latino voters in Texas that hurt Democratic candidates up and down the ballot,” Cavanagh writes.

  • “Many have interpreted this as ‘Latinos voted for Trump', but it’s more accurate to say, ‘Latinos who were already Republicans turned out more than Latino Democrats,’” Cavanagh said. “Roughly two-thirds of Latinos continue to support Democrats, but Republicans Latino voters turned out at a higher rate than Democratic Latino voters in the 2020 cycle, relative to expectations.”

On the Hill

STIMULUS WEEK: “House Democrats will face their biggest test of unity yet as they prepare to get President Biden’s $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief package closer to the finish line,” The Hill’s Cristina Marcos reports

  • Today, the House Budget Committee will vote to advance the bill. It includes “a third round of stimulus checks of up to $1,400, a minimum-wage increase [from $7.25 to $15 per hour], $130 billion to help K-12 schools reopen for in-person learning and renewed [$400] unemployment insurance benefits.” Read the text.
  • On Friday: The House plans to vote on the stimulus package, setting up a Senate vote as soon as next week.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “has previously said that she expects the covid-19 relief package to be on Biden's desk by March 14, when some jobless benefits expire,” CNN’s Lauren Fox and Daniella Diaz report.

The full $1.9 trillion stimulus bill faces an uphill battle. “Senate Democrats are preparing to move the legislation through a budget reconciliation process that requires only a simple majority,” CNN’s Jeremy Herb reports. But “the reconciliation process also requires that Democrats adhere to a strict set of rules.”

  • Democrats must show that every item in their bill has a real budgetary impact that isn't just an ‘incidental’ effect of a bigger policy changewhich is why some have doubted that the minimum wage increase could make it through the process,” he writes.
  • Once Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough “sets the parameters of what could be allowed in the bill, it will be up to Democrats to decide what provisions to include in the Senate version,” Bloomberg's Erik Wasson and Laura Davison report. “Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) have all expressed doubts about the minimum wage increase.”
  • Democrats also face roadblocks from Republicans. “With no Republicans expected to cross party lines to support the package, Democrats have little room for error to ensure it satisfies the centrist and progressive wings of the caucus that make up their razor-thin majorities,” The Hill reports.

Worth noting: “More than 7 in 10 Americans back Biden’s aid package,” the New York Times’s Emily Cochrane and Jim Tankersley report. “That includes support from three-quarters of independent voters, 2 in 5 Republicans and nearly all Democrats.”

TANDEN NOMINATION IN JEOPARDY: Biden's pick to lead the White House budget office may be doomed now that Manchin has announced his opposition – and so has Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) a moderate typically considered among the most likely Republicans to break ranks. 

  • Collins told Politico this morning that “Congress has to be able to trust the [Office of Management and Budget] director to make countless decisions in an impartial manner, carrying out the letter of the law and congressional intent. Neera Tanden has neither the experience nor the temperament to lead this critical agency. Her past actions have demonstrated exactly the kind of animosity that President Biden has pledged to transcend.”
  • Manchin says: “I believe her overtly partisan statements will have a toxic and detrimental impact on the important working relationship between members of Congress and the next [OMB] director." Manchin’s announcement “underscored the outsize power that any one senator holds over the success of Biden’s administration and agenda,” the New York Times’s Emily Cochrane reports.
  • Tanden's tweets have come back to haunt her. Per Jeff Stein and Colby Itkowitz: “At her contentious confirmation hearings this month, Senate Republicans repeatedly brought up Tanden’s prior attacks on GOP lawmakers, particularly on Twitter. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) cited tweets from Tanden calling Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) ‘the worst’ and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) a ‘fraud.’ He also cited a Tanden tweet that said, ‘Vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz,’ referring to the Republican senator from Texas. Tanden has also compared Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to ‘Voldemort.’"

GARLAND ON THE HILL TODAY: Merrick Garland will appear before the Judiciary Committee today and tomorrow as Biden's pick to lead the Justice Department. 

  • “Garland plans to tell the Senate that if confirmed, he will strive to lead an agency committed to battling discrimination in American life and extremist attacks on democracy,” our colleague Devlin Barrett reports.

Also appearing before the Senate this week: 

  • Tuesday: Health and Human Services nominee Xavier Becerra.
  • Wednesday: CIA director nominee William J. Burns.

The people

Our colleagues Artur Galocha and Bonnie Berkowitz explain the enormity of the coronavirus death toll in the U.S.

Special report: The number of children killed by coronavirus in the U.S. remains small but "each death represents a shattered family and a trauma deepened, parents say, by the rampant belief that kids can’t get covid, or that it doesn’t much harm them when they do," our colleagues report.

  • "Although relatively few children die of covid-19, 'it’s not fair to say it’s a benign disease among children,' said Sean O’Leary, an immunization researcher at Children’s Hospital Colorado and vice chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on infectious diseases. 'For every one of these deaths, quite a few kids spend a long time in ICUs and suffer lingering effects.'"
  • "The children who have died of covid-19 are, even more than among adults, disproportionately children of color — about three-quarters of those who’ve succumbed to covid so far, according to CDC data."

Outside the Beltway

ABBOTT UNDER SCRUTINY: Critics have charged that [Texas Governor Greg Abbott's] response to the storm has at times resembled the government failures after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005," our colleagues Annie Gowen, Tim Craig, and Arelis R. Hernández report. Over 50 Texans have died since the storm hit last week. 

  • "As of Sunday, more than 14 million Texans were under orders to boil their water before drinking it or did not have water. Across the state, neighbors lined up at municipal spigots for water, melted snow to flush their toilets, and lined up for food at poorly stocked grocery stores.”
  • The anger was palpable, with petitions circulating online demanding the resignations of Abbott (R) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who briefly escaped the cold by flying to Cancún. Citizens across the state posted angry memes on social media about the governor, crafting basketball-sized snowballs they wanted to aim at him and superimposing ‘Where is Greg Abbott?’ over a hellscape.” (Abbott remained out of sight at the start of the crisis – before combative performances on TV news, including blaming the Green New Deal.)
  • “Short term, I am absolutely certain that the governor’s popularity will suffer as a result of this,” Bill Hammond, a Republican lobbyist and former head of the Texas Association of Business told our colleagues. “He is the head of state government at this time . . . and it’s just like the quarterback, the blame and the credit go to the quarterback.”

BIDEN ‘EAGER’ TO VISIT: White House officials said the president could head there as soon as this week, per Paulina Firozi, Amy B Wang and Peter Whoriskey

Volunteer groups are scrambling to deliver food, water and generators to Houston residents, many of whom still lack power in the midst of a crippling storm. (Lindsey Sitz, Spike Johnson/The Washington Post)

From the courts

Democrats are working hard to shape Biden’s first Supreme Court pick. 

  • Although there isn’t a Supreme Court vacancy yet, Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) is “already maneuvering to champion candidates that might come as soon as this summer, when Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who is 82, [is expected to] retire,” the New York Times’s Jonathan Martin reports.
  • His pick? District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs. Childs, 54, “did not attend an Ivy League university [but] won a scholarship to the University of South Florida. She later graduated from the University of South Carolina’s law school and became the first Black woman to make partner at one of the state’s major law firms.”
  • Why it matters: “The early jockeying illustrates how eager Democratic officials are to leave their mark on Biden’s effort to elevate historically underrepresented contenders for a landmark Supreme Court nomination.”


WATCH LIST: CNN'S ‘HISTORY REFOCUSED.’ It's a new series about the untold stories of America’s past.

  • The first episode spotlights Claudette Colvin, a “15-year-old [girl who] was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, [nearly 10 months before Rosa Parks did],” CNN’s Brandon Tensley and Skylar Mitchell report.
  • “People said I was crazy because I was 15 years old and defiant and shouting, ‘It's my constitutional right!’” Colvin told CNN's Abby Phillip on the show.
  • “Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton took center stage in the mid-century Black freedom struggle. Meanwhile, others, including women, were rendered relatively invisible, despite their sizable contributions,” CNN reports.