If you've never heard of these people, that's okay. If this is the first you've heard of the March for M4A, that's understandable, too; coverage of these events has been largely confined to left-wing YouTube channels and podcasts. Six months into Joe Biden's presidency, six months into Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-Vt.) term atop the Senate Budget Committee, the movement to replace American health care with a cheaper single-payer system has vanished from daily political debate.
Sanders, who denounced “incremental” change as a presidential candidate, is now selling the Democrats' proposed budget package as “the most consequential piece of legislation for working families since the 1930s.” Not everyone who backed Sanders for president has come along. The March for M4A's organizers include Green Party affiliates and other groups that advocate for a break from the “corporate” Democrats; they don't include some of the best-known advocates for the policy, like Sanders himself.
“I agree that incremental change is insufficient,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the lead author of the House's Medicare-for-all bill, who recorded a message for the Saturday rally in Seattle. “I feel that urgency they feel. Part of the challenge here is that, as amazingly progressive as Biden has been in office on many issues, he’s said he doesn’t believe in Medicare-for-all. It's difficult to move on any issue if the president says he doesn't agree with it.”
Medicare-for-all campaigners don't agree on one strategy for passing Jayapal's bill. They generally agree that Plan A was electing Sanders to the presidency, and that the 2020 primary was their last chance at doing so. (Sanders, who turns 80 in September, has said that he probably won't run again.)
“Honestly, the conversation took a step back in 2020,” said Ricky Dunlop, a 35-year old writer and activist who helped conceive of the March for M4A rallies, which began as a single march in Washington. “Medicare-for-all was very popular in 2016. Bernie Sanders kicked off the conversation. Now, I think some people are deflated. People are saying to us: Hey, maybe it’s not as popular as you think. Look who’s president now.”
The 2016 Sanders campaign inarguably pushed single-payer health care into the Democratic Party mainstream. Four years ago, when he released a legislative version of the plan, most of the senators who would run for president in 2020 endorsed it. To the exhaustion of other candidates — and of the non-Sanders candidates who released their own, altered versions of Medicare-for-all — the idea of replacing the country's combination of private and public health insurance with one universal program dominated months of primary debates. None was as compelling to liberal voters as Sanders's proposal, to put the full power of the White House behind a filibuster-proof single-payer plan.
“A vice president in a Bernie Sanders administration will determine that Medicare-for-all can pass through the Senate under reconciliation and is not in violation of the rules,” Sanders told Politico in April 2019, as he launched his campaign.
After the primaries, Sanders adjusted, putting Medicare-for-all advocates like Jayapal on a special committee that helped brainstorm policies for the 2020 Democratic platform. Sanders has endorsed Jayapal's legislation, though not reintroduced his own bill in the Senate. They and other liberals in the party have worked to expand existing government health-care programs in the upcoming budget — lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60, as well as adding dental, hearing and vision insurance to the Great Society-era government plan.
But many on the left liked the first plan — single payer or bust. At the start of 2021, left-wing media voices like “Bad Faith” podcast host Briahna Joy Gray and YouTube commentator Jimmy Dore argued that left-wing House Democrats needed to “force the vote” on Medicare-for-all, and refuse to back House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a new term without it. When that didn't happen, Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) got friendly fire, denounced as “sellouts” who were abandoning the great liberal cause of their era.
This weekend's march grew out of that disappointment. The run-up has revealed how difficult it is to organize around an idea this big without the driving force of a presidential campaign. Some of the highest-profile Medicare-for-all advocates on the left, like National Nurses United, never got involved. The rally's announced headliners are frequently obscure, or worse, as organizers learned when a white nationalist named Matthew Heimbach was submitted as a speaker in Indiana under the name “Matthew Bach.” That event was canceled, and Dunlop explained that the submitter had taken advantage of an overworked graphics team, which mistakenly created an image confirming “Bach's” appearance.
A majority of House Democrats have co-sponsored Jayapal's bill, but none are slated to speak in person at the weekend rallies. Tara Reade, a former staffer for Biden's Senate office who accused him last year of sexual assault, will be speaking in Los Angeles; according to Dunlop, “she's not allowed to talk about Biden” and will focus on the health-care needs of sexual assault survivors. (Biden denied Reade's allegations, which were not corroborated after reporters dug into them.) While some speakers are health-care experts, like Michigan Democrat and physician Abdul El-Sayed, many are insurgent candidates who argue that the Democratic Party is abandoning a winning issue.
“Even the co-sponsors aren’t putting it on the floor,” said Terrell Anderson, 31, a Democrat running for Congress in Alabama's deep-red 2nd Congressional District. “I feel like a lot of people co-sponsoring the bill are signaling that they’re on our side, but they’re not serious about it.”
Other Democrats have ignored the rallies, to organizers' dismay. Ohio congressional candidate Nina Turner, the co-chair of Sanders's 2020 campaign, will be campaigning alongside Ocasio-Cortez on Saturday; she will not be attending the closest rally, in Columbus, a two-hour drive from the district in which she is running. While Turner is running on Medicare-for-all, she said in an interview last week that voters were more interested in what the government could deliver on than on projects that might not have the votes to pass right now.
“I'm hoping that we don't have too many moments where we've just got to play games,” Turner said. “What I hear from people is, ‘My life has not changed. Politicians have just lied to us to get our votes.’ So we do need Democrats to deliver.”
Michael Lighty, a longtime single-payer activist and 2020 Sanders campaigner, argued that the long-term strategy for passing Medicare-for-all had changed after the primaries, but not every organizer had changed with it.
“As long as there was a prospect of a real Medicare-for-all president, incrementalism undermined that demand,” Lighty explained. “When you've got a real chance to get it all, that’s the wrong time to talk about settling for less.”
This weekend's rallies, said Lighty, represented one faction of a broader movement. To grow, and to win, he saw promise in building alliances with racial justice movements. Rallies for Medicare-for-all that didn't attract the same mass organizing were less promising. But after 2020, no one was quite sure what to try.
“Our movement has a hard time acting strategically, and we’ve got to get much more serious about that,” Lighty said. “We also know that the establishment still views Medicare-for-all as a threat. That is telling.”
“Bipartisan House probe of Jan. 6 insurrection falls apart after Pelosi blocks two GOP members,” by Marianna Sotomayor, Jacqueline Alemany and Karoun Demirjian
Why Republicans pulled back their committee picks.
“Gerrymandering potency raises the stakes for the 2020s,” by Kyle Kondik
A comprehensive look at the new (and somewhat census-delayed) mapping process.
The longtime fundraisers vs. the first-time (partial) self-funder.
“‘A little wiggle room’: GOP candidate winks at base as he tries to win Dems,” by Matt Friedman and Katherine Landergan
How a New Jersey Republican pitches voters who don't like his party.
“Trump’s PAC collected $75 million this year, but so far the group has not put money into pushing for the 2020 ballot reviews he touts,” by Josh Dawsey and Rosalind S. Helderman
Not every campaign text message to donors is telling the truth.
The conservative push for more audits of the 2020 election isn't over, though the messaging has begun to change.
On Saturday, Donald Trump will join the conservative youth group Turning Point USA for a “protect our elections” rally in Phoenix, pegged to the state's Republican-backed election law changes and to the ongoing, but nearly finished, audit of Maricopa County's 2020 vote. He'll be joined by most of the state's House GOP delegation (three of the four Republicans, minus Scottsdale-area Rep. David Schweikert), the GOP candidates for governor and all of the candidates for secretary of state. Like Trump, and like TPUSA's president Charlie Kirk, most of the listed attendees have suggested that the 2020 election was stolen, and that the audit will expose this.
“House Democrats are now saying, ‘We’ve got to audit the audit in Arizona,'" Kirk told listeners of his radio show last week. “You know why? Because they're now very nervous that what is coming to light in Arizona and Georgia exposes what could be systemic interference in our election system.”
Kirk was referring to the latest in a series of analytical errors by audit backers; Doug Logan, whose Cyber Ninjas firm was contracted to run the audit, suggested that tens of thousands of ballots cast in person were actually “mail-in ballots where there is no clear record of them being sent.” At the same time, audit supporters have begun suggesting that critics of the process, rather than criticizing it, should prove a negative: that substantial fraud did not occur last year. Mark Finchem, one of the GOP secretary of state candidates, began selling #ProveIt merchandise this week. In an email to donors, Finchem rattled off a series of allegations that had been debunked, some as long ago as late last year, and insisted that the fact that anyone still asked about them showed that the election's defenders needed to prove him wrong.
“Prove that the machines can't access the internet,” Finchem wrote. “Prove that the ballots are all there. Prove that the votes weren't changed. Prove that the 3 am November 4th vote dump was legitimate. Prove that sharpies weren't given to Trump voters on election day. Prove that our elections weren't hacked. Prove it!” In another fundraising appeal, Finchem suggested that election watchers should canvass for voters whose ballots have been challenged by Republicans to prove that “these people actually exist.”
The idea of a person-by-person canvass of Arizona's vote was abandoned in May after questions about its logistics and pressure from the Justice Department. Since then, Arizona Senate President Karen Fann has suggested that it's worth revisiting the canvass idea.
Other election critics have echoed Finchem's demand that the election's defenders prove that the critics are wrong. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has suggested that evidence of election misconduct could restore Trump to the presidency next month, has floated a $5 million prize to anyone who can disprove the fraud allegations he's been compiling, provided that they attend his “cyber security summit” in South Dakota.
“Mike will reveal the cyber data and the packet captures from the November 2020 election,” reads ad copy for the Aug. 10-12 summit. “A $5,000,000 prize will be offered to any attendee who can prove that this cyber data is not valid data from the November 2020 election.”
In the weeks after the 2020 election, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced a $1 million prize for evidence of voter fraud. No one claimed it, but Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton has continued to pursue allegations of fraud, and lent his support to an effort to audit only the counties with 415,000 or more residents. Those are places where Biden won, and where Trump's win margin declined from 2016.
“We need a forensic audit to uncover all the voter fraud,” state U.S. Rep. Steve Toth wrote in a statement this week, as he introduced legislation to allow county-by-county audits. “Texans want to know more about the claims of voter fraud and deserve to have confidence in their elections.”
On Wednesday, Paxton appeared on One America News, suggesting that critics of an audit idea might have something to hide.
“Look, I think it’s a great idea. We should never be afraid of the truth. We can find out what actually happened, even in Texas, and find out if our elections have some issues,” Paxton said. “We should do the audit and find out what the actual results were.” Trump carried Texas, albeit by the smallest margin of any Republican candidate since 1996, while dramatically improving on recent GOP nominees in the majority-Latino counties that border Mexico.
Nina Turner for Us, “Self Serving.” The last stretch of the Democratic primary in Ohio's 11th Congressional District has been bitter, with Turner running her first negative ads after a barrage of PAC spots against her from Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI). First came Turner, on camera, responding to attacks. This is the second volley, 30 seconds of graft accusations against Democrat Shontel Brown, who's become her strongest rival in the Aug. 3 election. Wads of cash pile up on-screen as Brown's accused of steering money to her friends, family and romantic partner. “A slap in the face to working people,” mutters a narrator.
Democratic Action PAC, “Lying.” After DMFI moved into northeast Ohio to help Brown, two liberal groups organized to help Turner. The Working Families Party threw six figures into some last-minute organizing and canvassing, while other Turner allies formed this PAC, which comes out hot here, saying that Brown's allies are “straight-up attacking a Black woman who's only ever helped working people.” Both candidates are Black women, and Turner, too, has said that there appears to be a racialized and gendered component to the attacks on her and her political style.
Club for Growth Action, “Unsolved.” As we wrote on Tuesday, the D.C.-based Club has effectively acted as Susan Wright's air cover, running ad after ad against Texas state Rep. Jake Ellzey, while Wright's campaign has been able to save its resources. (Ellzey has raised nearly three times as much money as Wright, despite her endorsement by former president Trump.) Ellzey just got to Austin in January, and the ad hits him for that, shaming him for votes he missed while campaigning, then ending with the Club's current standby: Loyalty to the most recent president. “Wrong about Trump, wrong for Congress.”
Ken Welch for Mayor, “Safe for Everyone.” St. Petersburg, Fla. has not seen the crime surge of cities like Minneapolis or Portland, but its mayoral election this year is also turning on public safety. Welch, one of the Democrats in the technically nonpartisan race, spends this entire spot talking about the threat of higher crime and how it could undo the city's progress. “I won't be afraid to address the violence that especially affects the Black community,” says Welch, who is Black.
“Thinking about the people who forced their way into the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, would you describe their actions as trying to overthrow the U.S. government?” (CBS News/YouGov, 2238 adults)
The semantic debate over what to call the events of Jan. 6 began before the Capitol was cleared. For President Biden, it was “the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.” For some Republicans, it was an act of “peaceful protest,” even though it led to five deaths. (There's some irony implied, with conservatives accusing the media of double standards in how it covered last summer's civil rights protests and riots.) CBS News asked adults about a few ways to describe the insurrection, and this was the most divisive, with most Republicans, and a slight majority of White voters without college degrees, rejecting it. Calling it an “insurrection” is nearly as divisive, though a majority of all White voters (with and without advanced degrees) are comfortable with it.
What descriptions are more unifying? Seventy-one percent of adults say the insurrectionists were not “patriotic,” including a bare 51 percent majority of Republicans. Sixty-seven percent of adults say that the storming of the Capitol was an attempt to “overturn the election,” though 60 percent of Republicans now disagree. Seventy-six percent say the insurrection was a “protest that went too far,” while just 31 percent say the rioters were there “defending freedom.”
2022 New Hampshire U.S. Senate (UNH, 1,794 adults)
Chris Sununu (R): 49% (+1 since February)
Maggie Hassan (D): 48% (+2)
Maggie Hassan (D): 49% (+1)
Kelly Ayotte (R): 45% (+2)
Maggie Hassan (D): 51% (-1)
Don Bolduc (R): 41% (+2)
Freshman Sen. Maggie Hassan is the only Democrat up for reelection next year who's trailed a potential opponent in public polls, albeit not by a statistically significant gap. (No Democratic senator on the 2022 ballot represents a state carried by Donald Trump.) The GOP's strategy in New Hampshire is heavily dependent on Sununu, who won his first statewide race the same day that Hassan got elected to the Senate, but who's been far more popular than the Democrat, thanks in part to voter satisfaction with his handling of the pandemic. Hassan's favorable rating is slightly underwater, but she's tied with Sununu and leads against other candidates, at the same time that other UNH polling has found a bare majority of voters approving of Biden.
In the states
California. Two more candidates were added to the Sept. 14 recall ballot, with conservative commentator Larry Elder convincing a judge that the state's tax disclosure requirement for candidates shouldn't apply to the election to remove Gov. Gavin Newsom. Elder, who currently hosts a Web series published by the Epoch Times, called it “a victory for the people of California,” posting a photo of himself giving a Trump-style thumb's-up with both hands.
Elder's entry surprised California Republicans, though the 69-year old “sage of South Central” is better known among conservative voters than the experienced politicians already in the recall. On Wednesday, as he prevailed in court, Elder welcomed an Emerson/Nextar poll that had him ahead of former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, 2018 gubernatorial nominee John Cox, state Assemblyman Kevin Kiley and Caitlyn Jenner. (The poll does not meet some industry standards, and Emerson has showed lower opposition to the recall than California-based pollsters.)
Elder, who announced his candidacy on the July 16 filing deadline, has not laid out many policy specifics yet. He's continued to publish segments of the Epoch Times show, devoting some of Wednesday's episode to the story of hearing a man say “you want a banana” as he filled his car at a gas station. The man, he explained, was offering the fruit to a homeless man; “I was about to accuse you of systemic racism!” Elder told him.
The candidate denounces the “systemic racism concept” again on his campaign's website, which hosts an essay about his decision to run, and a promise to lay out policies in the coming days. He labels Newsom a “complete disaster,” and attacks the stimulus programs the governor has approved since the start of the year. “If California were a corporation, the Securities and Exchange Commission would go after Newsom for fraud.”
Faulconer was dealt a setback in court, and won't appear on the ballot as the “retired San Diego mayor,” as he hoped. (The state's statute prevents people who've left elected office to run with their former title.) Kevin Paffrath, an investment advice YouTuber who has the largest social media following of any Democrat on the recall ballot, lost his bid to get “Meet Kevin,” his online nickname, to appear on the ballot.
“Branding is not outlawed. The law does not say, you cannot have a brand in here,” Paffrath said in a seven-minute video critiquing the decision with a four-letter epithet. “A big warning shot to all influencers out there.”
Ohio. As we wrote on Tuesday, Nina Turner will welcome both Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders to Ohio's 11th Congressional District before the Aug. 3 election. We have more details now: Ocasio-Cortez will make four stops with Turner on Saturday, while Sanders will head to the district on July 31, one of the final days of early voting, to personally walk voters to the polls. Turner's chief opponent, Shontel Brown, got the endorsement of New York Rep. Gregory Meeks on Thursday, as critics of the left inside the Congressional Black Caucus mobilize to oppose Turner.
Michigan. Former Detroit sheriff James Craig released a video on Wednesday to promote a potential campaign for governor.
Iowa. Former Rep. Abby Finkenauer, a Democrat who narrowly lost reelection last year, will run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Chuck Grassley. The Republican, who turns 89 before next year's election, has not said whether he'll run again.
On the trail
Members of Congress have returned to holding in-person town hall meetings, but the raucousness that defined those events in 2009 and 2017 hasn't really re-emerged yet. In the two weeks between July 4 and Congress's return, just a few House Democrats faced loud opposition. That's notable, as conservative activists have mobilized in school board meetings, and around school board elections, to challenge what they say are academic theories that stoke racism by teaching about systemic racism and privilege.
Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democrats' campaign committee, faced one critic in Dutchess County last week, entirely on the topic of “critical race theory.” A video of the exchange published by a Republican campaign committee shows Maloney going back and forth with a critic largely by saying that he's getting wrong, divisive information from conservative media.
“I think what’s happening in our country right now is that there’s an effort for political reasons to get you mad about these things,” Maloney said.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who's leaving an increasingly red district to run for Senate, was also questioned about CRT at a meeting with Democrats on Friday. According to recording of the exchange, provided by Ryan's campaign, the questioner was not personally angry about CRT, but worried about how Republicans were running against it.
“Critical race theory is not taught in the schools — this is an advanced law-school class,” Ryan said. “Local school boards need to decide what’s taught and states need to refrain from restricting local communities’ options.”
It's not yet clear if the Democrats' busy Hill schedule will allow them to hold the normal, month-long August recess. But unlike his predecessors, Biden in his first summer as president hasn't seen activists filing into congressional events to oppose specific legislation. Keep an eye on this.
… five days until the special election in Texas’s 6th Congressional District
… 12 days until primaries in Ohio’s 11th and 15th Congressional Districts
… 54 days until California's recall election
… 103 days until elections in New Jersey and Virginia, and primaries in Florida’s 20th Congressional District