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Power Up: Amazon union election wakes up Washington, even some Republicans

with Tobi Raji

Good Thursday morning. Passing along a GoFundMe for U.S. Capitol Police Officer Billy Evans, who lost his life in the line of duty last week when a vehicle rammed into him outside the Capitol. This is the Power Up newsletter – thanks for waking up with us. 

Outside the Beltway

WOKE WASHINGTON: The fight to unionize an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. is scrambling politics here in Washington.

The union election in the red state — in which votes are still being tallied — comes as Republicans declare war on Big Tech and are now threatening to divorce corporate America, lashing out at big business this week for wading into political debates. Republicans are now tossing around the term “corporate wokeness” as something to fight against as they seek to redefine themselves as the “Working Class Party.” (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post).

  • “What does this mean for folks especially those right of center? It's a real opportunity to recognize that pro-market is not the same as pro-business,” Oren Cass, the founder of   American Compass and a former adviser to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), told us.
  • “If you have an organized group of people like the 6,000 Amazon workers that will only expand across a region, you'll have a lot more political power as a pro-labor candidate, Grace Reckers, Office and Professional Employees International Union's lead organizer, told Power Up.

Biden lent his support to the Amazon workers pushing to unionize, posting a video on Twitter warning against anti-union efforts. “There should be no intimidation,” Biden says in the video, “no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda.”

So far, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is the lone Republican to throw his weight behind the Bessemer union drive, writing in an op-ed last month that “the days of conservatives being taken for granted by the business community are over." 

  • When the conflict is between working Americans and a company whose leadership has decided to wage culture war against working-class values, the choice is easy — I support the workers. And that’s why I stand with those at Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse today,” he wrote.
  • Meanwhile, the House passed a sweeping pro-worker legislation known as the PRO Act with five Republicans supporting it. The legislation would give workers more power during disputes, weaken "right-to-work laws" in 27 states, and further penalize companies that retaliate against workers for organizing.

Not so fast: Rubio's position should be viewed as an “anomaly” still, William Gould, a professor at Stanford law school and the former National Labor Relations Board  chairman told us, adding Republicans are “fairly alienated from organized labor.” Former president Donald Trump's popular appeals to the working class, Gould added, were based on the “politics of resentment” and issues “unrelated to union representation and more related to job security and cultural issues.” 

  • The labor leaders in Washington seemed to see Republican support as welcome but mostly ornamentallike if a distant relative had sent, for Christmas, a very large painting of a duck,” the New Yorker's Benjamin Wallace-Wells writes.  
  • “They found the Democrats’ reaction more significant. In Biden’s message of support earlier this month, he warned employers not to interfere with union elections: ‘You should all remember that the National Labor Relations Act didn’t just say that unions are allowed to exist. It said that we should encourage unions.’” 
  • “We used to talk about how even those Democratic Presidents who we like would barely talk about unions. Biden is different,” Damon Silvers, the AFL-CIO's  director of policy and special counsel, told Wallace-Wells. 

Cass explained the internal conflict facing Republicans when it comes to embracing union drives like the one in Bessemer.

  • “When we look at this Amazon fight, what right-of-center feels is tension on the idea of focusing more on interests of workers, and on the other hand, being very hesitant of giving more power to the current set of big labor organizations we have in this country,” Cass added. “It's really important to distinguished unions as they operate today in America from the idea of a healthy labor movement.”

Public opinion: Unions have enjoyed an increase in public support during the pandemic, though union membership has steadily declined since the 1980s. 

A Gallup poll released at the end of last year estimates  support for labor unions is the highest since 2003 with 65 percent of all Americans approve of labor unions including 83 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of independents and 45 percent of Republicans. Labor organizers are hoping to capitalize even further on pro-labor sentiment with Biden in office and the union fight in Bessemer: 

  • the pandemic has cast a harsh light on the experiences faced by essential workers, and labor advocates hope that the right policies and messaging could see the reversal of the downward trend in unionizing, especially with what is shaping up to be the most pro-union presidency in recent history,” our colleague Eli Rosenberg reports. 
  • “This is probably the most important union election in many years,” Joseph A. McCartin, a historian of labor at Georgetown University, told Rosenberg. “To be able to have a breakthrough at Amazon would really ripple through the economy.”

The policies

BIDEN’S GOES IT ALONE ON GUNS: “President Biden will unveil a package of executive actions to curb gun violence [today] — a step that is likely to be cheered by increasingly impatient advocates despite being relatively modest in scope,” Politico’s Anita Kumar reports

  • Details: “Biden will direct the Department of Justice to begin the process of requiring buyers of ghost guns — homemade or makeshift firearms that lack serial numbers — to undergo background checks and regulate concealed assault-style firearms.”
  • Biden will also nominate “David Chipman, a longtime former ATF agent, to be the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Chipman is a senior policy adviser at Giffords, a group advocating for firearms restrictions.”

“Biden’s announcement comes as gun sales have skyrocketed amid a year of pandemic quarantines, a summer of racial unrest, and the president’s victory in the 2020 election, during which he promised an aggressive push to reduce gun violence. The year 2020 saw a record number of gun homicides in the United States,” per Kumar.

  • But is it enough? “Advocates who are pushing for gun restrictions had suggested dozens of other actions, including prohibitions on firearm purchases for those convicted of domestic violence against their partners; alerts to law enforcement agencies when a potential buyer fails a background check; and federal safety storage guidelines.”

TAXING BATTLES: “On Wednesday, the Treasury Department released the details of Biden’s tax plan, which aims to raise as much as $2.5 trillion over 15 years to help finance the infrastructure proposal. That includes bumping the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent, imposing a strict new minimum tax on global profits and cracking down on companies that try to move profits offshore,” the New York Times’s Jim Tankersley and Alan Rappeport report.

  • And corporate America isn’t happy. “Executives at some of America’s largest companies argue that raising the top corporate rate to 28 percent from 21 percent — without restoring deductions eliminated in then-President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cut bill — would damage hiring and the economy,” Politico’s Ben White reports.
  • “The tax — aimed at companies that report large profits to investors but low tax payments — would apply only to companies with income exceeding $2 billion,” the Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin and Kate Davidson report. “The result is that just 180 companies would meet the income threshold and just 45 would pay the tax.”
  • Compromise? “Biden on Wednesday said he was open to compromise with Republicans on how to pay for his approximately $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure package,” our colleagues Jeff Stein and Tony Romm report. “He said, for example, he was willing to agree to a lower corporate tax rate than his proposal of 28 percent.”

On the Hill

MANCHIN RAINS ON FILIBUSTER PARADE: In an op-ed published in The Post Wednesday, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) dashed any hope Democrats had of eliminating the Senate filibuster. “There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster. The time has come to end these political games.”

  • “We will not solve our nation’s problems in one Congress if we seek only partisan solutions. Instead of fixating on eliminating the filibuster or shortcutting the legislative process through budget reconciliation, it is time we do our jobs.”
  • Bottom line: The procedural maneuver effectively requires 60 votes to pass legislation in the 50-50 Senate. Manchin's move means Biden will likely have to seek to approve big-ticket items via partisan moves like budget reconciliation, which requires only 50 votes.

At the White House

BIDEN’S FIRST REAL VIRUS SURGE: “For the first two months, all the coronavirus numbers broke in the Biden administration’s favor. More than 100 million Americans have gotten at least one shot of vaccine and more than 200 million doses have been sent to states … But [now] the Biden White House is seeing new infections climb — a potential crisis that could erase many of the hard-won gains of the president’s first 75 days,” our colleagues Dan Diamond and Fenit Nirappil report.

  • “The Washington Post’s rolling seven-day national average of coronavirus cases is more than 65,000 new cases per day, an 19 percent uptick since the middle of last month.”

The campaign

A TALE OF TWO ANDREWS: “Andrew Giuliani, a former top aide to Trump is ‘heavily considering’ a bid for governor of New York in 2022, potentially setting up an epic clash between the two biggest political families in recent New York history,” the Washington Examiner's Paul Bedard reports.

  • “Outside of anybody named Trump, I think I have the best chance to win and take the state back, and I think there's an opportunity in 2022 with a wounded Democratic candidate,” Giuliani said.
  • “Cuomo’s swarm of recent scandals, including multiple accusations of sexual harassment, as well as a federal investigation into his handling of the state’s nursing homes … has resulted in double-digit declines in approval ratings in several polls, with support for a fourth term seeming particularly precarious,” the New York Times’s Jesse McKinley reports.
  • But “Giuliani would face a steep climb. He has never been elected to public office, and his most prominent government job was as a public liaison assistant and special assistant to the president for the Trump White House.”

FYI: “Republicans haven’t won a statewide election [in New York] since 2002.”

IN HER OWN WORDS: The woman who accused Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) of groping her in the Executive Mansion told the Times Union’s Brendan J. Lyons “what happened when she reached the office on the second floor: The governor came out from behind his desk, and began groping her in a sexually aggressive manner.”

  • “I said to him, I said, ‘You're going to get us in trouble,’” the woman told Lyons. “He said, ‘I don't care.’”
  • “For roughly two years, [the woman said] she believes Cuomo had been grooming her in a pattern of inappropriate behavior that began with tight hugs and kisses on the cheek.”
  • “By early last year, the governor's hugs had grown tighter … [and] the conversations evolved into Cuomo asking probing and inappropriate questions. She recounted one of those conversations that took place about a year ago: ‘He looked at me one time and said, ‘Oh, if you were single, the things that I would do to you.’”

NRCC THREATENS DONORS AGAINST DEFECTING: “The political arm of House Republicans is deploying a prechecked box to enroll donors into repeating monthly donations — and using ominous language to warn them of the consequences if they opt out: ‘If you UNCHECK this box, we will have to tell Trump you’re a DEFECTOR,’” the New York Times’s Shane Goldmacher reports

  • “The language appears to be an effort by the National Republican Congressional Committee to increase its volume of recurring donations, which are highly lucrative, while invoking Trump’s popularity with the conservative base.”
  • Yikes: But “last month, Trump sent a cease-and-desist letter to the N.R.C.C. and other Republican Party committees warning them not to use his name or likeness to raise money.”

In the agencies

DEB HAALAND MULLS PROTECTIONS FOR NATIVE AMERICAN GROUNDS: “Deb Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history, is reviewing what to do with the Bears Ears National Monument and the nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument” on her first trip, our colleague Joshua Partlow reports.

  • Background: “Trump slashed the size of the Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent, undoing protections established by [former president] Obama.”
  • “Without protection, the remains of thousands of Native American settlements and cultural sites are in ‘grave jeopardy,’” Pat Gonzales-Rodgers, executive director of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, told our colleague.
  • “After her visit, Haaland is widely expected to recommend that Biden restore the Bears Ears boundaries to at least the 1.35 million acres established by Obama near the end of his term in 2016.”

The people

GAETZ-GATE CONTINUES: Federal investigators are looking into a Bahamas trip Matt Gaetz allegedly took in late 2018 or early 2019 as part of an inquiry into whether the Florida representative violated sex trafficking laws, multiple sources told CBS News,” CBS News Major Garrett, Michael Kaplan, Clare Hymes, and Jessica Kegu report. 

  • “Gaetz was on that trip with a marijuana entrepreneur and hand surgeon named Jason Pirozzolo, who allegedly paid for the travel expenses, accommodations, and female escorts, the sources said. Investigators are trying to determine if the escorts were illegally trafficked across state or international lines for the purpose of sex with the congressman."

In the media

PENCE INKS SEVEN-FIGURE BOOK DEAL: Former Vice President Pence “has signed a multimillion-dollar, two-book deal with publisher Simon & Schuster, making him one of the first alums of Trump's inner circle to ink such a lucrative contract,” CNN’s Jamie Gangel, Brian Stelter and Michael Warren report

  • “Pence’s life and work, his journey as a Christian, the challenges and triumphs he has faced, and the lessons he has learned, tells an American story of extraordinary public service during a time of unrivaled public interest in our government and politics,” Simon & Schuster Vice President and Publisher Dana Canedy told Hillel Italie. 
  • “His autobiography, currently untitled, is scheduled to come out in 2023.”