E.J. Dionne Jr.

Washington, D.C.

E.J. Dionne writes about politics in a twice-weekly column for The Washington Post. He is also a government professor at Georgetown University, a visiting professor at Harvard University, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and a frequent commentator on politics for National Public Radio and MSNBC. His book “Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country” was published by St. Martin’s Press in February. Before joining The Post in 1990 as a political reporter, Dionne spent 14 years at the New York Times, where he covered politics and reported from Albany, Washington, Paris, Rome and Beirut. His coverage of the Vatican was described by the Los Angeles Times as the best in two decades. In 2014-2015, Dionne was the vice president of the American Political Science Association. He is the author of seven books. His most recent are “One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported” (co-authored with Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, 2017) and "Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism – From Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond" (2016). Dionne is the editor of seven additional volumes, including “We Are the Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama” (2017), co-edited with MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid, and “What’s God Got to Do with the American Experiment” (2000), co-edited with John J. DiIulio. He grew up in Fall River, Mass., attended Harvard College and was a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford. He lives in Bethesda, Md., with his wife, Mary Boyle. They have three children, James, Julia and Margot. Honors & Awards:
  • Named among the 25 most influential Washington journalists by the National Journal
  • Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • American Political Science Association’s Carey McWilliams Award, 1996
  • Empathy Award from the Volunteers of America, 2002
  • National Human Services Assembly’s Award for Excellence by a Member of the Media, 2004
  • Hillman Award for Career Achievement from the Sidney Hillman Foundation, 2011
  • Books by E.J. Dionne Jr.:
  • One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported (co-authored with Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann)
  • Buy on Amazon
  • Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism – From Goldwater to Trump and Beyond
  • Buy on Amazon
  • Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent
  • Buy on Amazon
  • Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith & Politics After the Religious Right
  • Buy on Amazon
  • Stand Up Fight Back: Republican Toughs, Democratic Wimps, and the Politics of Revenge
  • Buy on Amazon
  • They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate The Next Political Era
  • Buy on Amazon
  • Why Americans Hate Politics
  • Buy on Amazon
  • We Are the Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama (co-editor)
  • Buy on Amazon
  • One Electorate Under God?: A Dialogue on Religion & American Politics (co-editor)
  • Buy on Amazon
  • United We Serve: National Service and the Future of Citizenship (co-editor)
  • Buy on Amazon
  • Sacred Places, Civic Purposes: Should Government Help Faith-Based Charity? (co-editor)
  • Buy on Amazon
  • Bush v. Gore: The Court Cases and the Commentary (co-editor)
  • Buy on Amazon
  • What’s God Got To Do With the American Experiment? (co-editor)
  • Buy on Amazon
  • Community Works: The Revival of Civil Society in America (co-editor)
  • Buy on Amazon
  • Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country
  • Buy on Amazon
Recent Articles

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

Advance for release Monday, April 19, 2021, and thereafter

(For Dionne clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

WASHINGTON - The verb "to posture" is not widely used by normal human beings, but it was invoked all the time when I covered the New York state legislature, back when politics wasn't nearly as polarized as it is now.

There was an admirable, if peculiar, honesty to admitting that what was being said wasn't actually what was meant. Typical off-the record comments ran "We're taking this posture now to try to get us to X," X being the real goal; or "He's posturing so he looks tough to his caucus before he tells them they have to cave."

The problem with Washington in 2021 might be described as posturing without a purpose - beyond scoring points against the White House. The Republican dance around President Joe Biden's infrastructure proposal almost makes me nostalgic for the sincerity of cynicism.

We know several things about the politics surrounding Biden's big investment plan. First, he wants to do far more than congressional Republicans will support. Second, the GOP doesn't want to pay for any plan with a corporate tax increase. Third, Republicans will say that whatever is passed should happen only on a bipartisan basis.

Which comes down to this: Do a whole lot less; pay for it our way, or not at all; and maybe we'll produce 10 GOP votes in the Senate to pass the bill in a normal way, rather than through the more cumbersome "reconciliation" process. That would require only the 50 votes Democratic senators can deliver on their own, plus Vice President Kamala Harris' tiebreaker.

Now, I'd concede that there are a few Republican senators, bless them, who really would like to vote for a reasonably substantial infrastructure bill. A larger group is fully aware that opposing popular and needed projects in their own states doesn't make their party look good.

Biden certainly has the upside of the issue. A New York Times/Survey Monkey poll released last week showed that 64 percent of Americans (including nearly three in 10 Republicans) approve his American Jobs Plan. Support for many of its particulars - improvements to roads and bridges, ports and transit, and universal broadband - ran even higher.

But the history of the Obama years has taught Democrats that Republicans aren't, well, posturing in good faith. They are not staking out one position today to lay the groundwork for reaching a mutually agreeable compromise tomorrow. Rather, many Democrats figure their opponents will string them along, and then, at the end, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., will still have to get the bill done with only Democratic votes.

The real question before Senate Democrats is whether it's worth seeing if enough Republicans would allow some significant share of infrastructure spending to pass in a bipartisan way. A leading advocate of what you might call the Big Test is Sen. Christopher A. Coons, D-Del. He says it might be worth dividing Biden's plan into two, with one winning GOP votes and the other passing through reconciliation. But he doesn't want to give the GOP forever.

"Over the next month, I believe we can and should work on a two-track path to address our nation's crumbling infrastructure, as well as President Biden's broader plan to make our economy work for all Americans," Coons told me.

"If my Republican colleagues are serious about a bipartisan bill, we should work with them to see if we can reach a deal by Memorial Day," he continued. "We should at the same time continue work on a larger legislative package so that Democrats can pass a bill by July if we can't make bipartisan progress."

The alternative Democratic view is that it's just not worth breaking up the plan, especially since there is virtually no chance Republicans will ever approve of any corporate tax increases to finance the package.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, calls himself "mostly agnostic on process" questions. But he argues that Democrats have already passed one big bill, the $1.9 trillion relief package, and that getting through one more large piece of legislation could be far easier than offering up bite-size chunks in a quest for GOP votes that might never materialize.

"I saw how hard the first one was," he said in an interview. "I know this is going to be hard. . . . Why not get as much in one package as we can so we don't have to do it a third time?"

Brown is right to be skeptical: Wagers on GOP goodwill have lately been suckers' bets. But Coons is also right that there are worse things than being caught trying bipartisanship - with a deadline. Better to know quickly how serious Republicans are about infrastructure. Let the burden be on them to show what brand of posturing they're engaged in.

- - -

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

Advance for release Thursday, April 15, 2021, and thereafter

(For Dionne clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

WASHINGTON -- Tax Day, traditionally April 15, has been postponed by the pandemic, but government's need for revenue is eternal. Also eternal: Voters like government benefits more than footing the bill.

In the 1980s, when Americans sent anti-tax Ronald Reagan to the White House but kept Democrats in control of the House of Representatives, the puckish journalist Charles McDowell observed that the electorate knew what it was doing. "We elect Democrats to Congress to give us stuff,"he said. "We elect Republicans to the White House so we won't have to pay for it."

But, eventually, the bill comes due. With the Biden administration proposing a significant increase in public spending for long-unmet needs -- as varied as roads and bridges to caregiving for kids and seniors -- a reckoning with what is euphemistically called "the revenue side" is inevitable.

Unpopular as it might be to say so, especially at this time of year, the least painful way for the government to raise money is to give the Internal Revenue Service a bigger budget. Least painful, that is, for law-abiding taxpayers.

At a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig reported that as much as $1 trillion a year in federal taxes were not being collected because of error and fraud -- and because the IRS lacks the staff to go after the money.

This problem is not just lost revenue. "Compared with other countries, the United States has high rates of tax compliance and high rates of tax morale -- the idea that you should pay your taxes," said Vanessa S. Williamson, the author of "Read My Lips: Why Americans Are Proud to Pay Taxes" and my Brookings Institution colleague. In taxes, as in other areas of life, cheating begets more cheating. None of us should want to undercut our citizenry's honorable inclination toward honesty when it comes to paying taxes.

Just this once, we might see a spurt of bipartisanship, since tax cheats aren't popular. Not only did Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., call Rettig's figure "jaw-dropping," the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Mike Crapo (Idaho), endorsed addressing the "large tax gap."

Alas, cross-party cooperation isn't likely on much else when it comes to raising revenue. Our political polarization is one reason why President Joe Biden is wise to stick with his campaign pledge not to raise taxes on families earning less than $400,000 a year. He doesn't want to give Republicans any openings to cast the tax increases he's proposing on corporations and the very wealthy as levies on the middle class.

Will broader tax increases be necessary at some point? Almost certainly. Health-care costs alone will put a bigger burden on government. Our population is aging, more Americans are likely to need higher subsidies to afford insurance, and more will have to rely directly on government for coverage.

But given how much money has flowed to those at the top of the economy, it makes sense to turn first to the very privileged -- in part as a middle-class confidence-building measure.

And, after the corporate tax-cutting extravaganza in the Trump years, there is a lot of room to raise rates on companies and still keep them below their historical levels.

Just how much have corporations shucked off their responsibility for sharing the load? As Steve Rattner, the economic commentator and chartmaker on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" pointed out, corporate taxes accounted for 23% of federal revenue in 1966 but just 7% in 2019.The previous year, 91 of the Fortune 500 companies paid an effective rate of zero -- or less. That wasn't a typo. Burdening middle-income taxpayers before asking more of corporations would be political and policy malpractice.

The downward trend Rattner describes is a product of what Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called a "30-year race to the bottom" as globalization and the proliferation of tax havens made it ever easier for corporations to escape taxes. This is why one of the Biden administration's most important long-term initiatives is its proposal for a uniform minimum corporate tax across national boundaries.

In a speech this month advancing the idea, Yellen spoke of every democracy's need for "stable tax systems that raise sufficient revenue to invest in essential public goods."

Democracies will always debate which public goods are "essential," but Yellen's formulation reminds us that citizens can grumble about government and still place a high value on many of the things government does. They will be more willing to pay the bill if they think everyone else who can afford to is doing the same.

- - -

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

Advance for release Monday, April 12, 2021, and thereafter

(For Dionne clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

WASHINGTON -- Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is an engaging, intellectually serious advocate of judicial modesty and compromise. Some years ago, he put forward an admirable concept he called "active liberty." It asked judges to recognize "the principle of participatory self-government" as the heart of the Constitution's purposes.

If I believed that today's judicial conservatives shared Breyer's approach and restraint, I might agree with his warnings last week against the movement to enlarge the Supreme Court.

Unfortunately, most right-wing judges are not who Breyer wants them to be, and the court on which he serves is not as apolitical as he wishes it were.

The Supreme Court faces a legitimacy crisis not because progressives are complaining but because of what they are complaining about: a reckless, right-wing, anti-democratic court majority, and a conservative court-packing campaign marked by the disgraceful Republican blockade against President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016 and the unseemly rush to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett just before President Trump's defeat last November.

So I respectfully dissent from the skepticism Breyer expressed about court enlargement in a lecture at Harvard Law School last week precisely because I share his underlying principles.

For the same reason, I applaud President Biden for creating a commission on Friday to examine reforms to the courts, including the possibility of adding Supreme Court justices. Even if the commission doesn't endorse enlargement (though I hope it will), it underscores the nature of the crisis we confront.

Breyer's Harvard lecture offered a thoughtful historical argument for why protecting the court's legitimacy is vital to protecting liberty.

"If the public sees judges as politicians in robes," he said, "its confidence in the courts and in the rule of law itself can only diminish, diminishing the court's power, including its power to act as a check on other branches."

What Breyer declined to point out is that conservative justices are the ones who have turned themselves into party bosses through decisions such as Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the Voting Rights Act, and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the floodgates to big money in politics.

"The rule of law depends on trust, a trust that the court is guided by legal principle, not politics."

Right. But then he added: "Structural alteration motivated by the perception of political influence can only feed that latter perception, further eroding that trust."

"What I'm trying to do," he said at another point, "is to make those whose initial instincts may favor important structural change or other similar institutional changes, such as forms of court-packing, to think long and hard before they embody those changes in law."

Alas, the good justice has the causation arrow pointing in the wrong direction.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Trump were the court-packers. There would be far less talk of court enlargement if McConnell and Trump had not abused their power. Nor would enlargement be on the table if conservative justices had not substituted their own political preferences for Congress' decisions, notably on voting rights and campaign finance reform, 5-4 rulings on which Breyer, rightly, joined the dissenters.

Breyer also seemed unhappy that in reporting on a jurist's decision, media outlets are more inclined than in the past to mention "the name or the political party of the president who nominated the judge to office." But there's a reason for this. Particularly in cases affecting participation in elections, a judge's partisan provenance is hugely predictive of how he or she will decide them.

In fact, supporters of court enlargement have already thought "long and hard" before we got here. We're not the radicals. We're not the judicial activists. We're not the ones trying to overthrow decades of precedent.

In my ideal world, we would not have to worry about a thoughtful justice such as Breyer spending the rest of his days on the court. But that world no longer exists.

This is why many liberals are calling on the 82-year-old justice to resign. They want a Democratic president, backed by a Democratic Senate, to install his replacement. After Garland, only a fool would believe that a Republican Senate would give a Democratic president's appointee, no matter how moderate or qualified, a hearing.

The irony for Breyer is that he must quit to give his own principles a fighting chance in the future. I'd be sad to see him go, but not nearly as sad as I would be if Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor were the only liberals left on the court.

In his speech, Breyer declared that "the Constitution itself seeks to establish a workable democracy and to protect basic human rights." That's a bracing vision, and it's what advocates of court enlargement are trying to protect.

- - -

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

About
E.J. Dionne writes about politics in a twice-weekly column for The Washington Post. He is also a government professor at Georgetown University, a visiting professor at Harvard University, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and a frequent commentator on politics for National Public Radio and MSNBC. His book “Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country” was published by St. Martin’s Press in February. Before joining The Post in 1990 as a political reporter, Dionne spent 14 years at the New York Times, where he covered politics and reported from Albany, Washington, Paris, Rome and Beirut. His coverage of the Vatican was described by the Los Angeles Times as the best in two decades. In 2014-2015, Dionne was the vice president of the American Political Science Association. He is the author of seven books. His most recent are “One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported” (co-authored with Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, 2017) and "Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism – From Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond" (2016). Dionne is the editor of seven additional volumes, including “We Are the Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama” (2017), co-edited with MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid, and “What’s God Got to Do with the American Experiment” (2000), co-edited with John J. DiIulio. He grew up in Fall River, Mass., attended Harvard College and was a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford. He lives in Bethesda, Md., with his wife, Mary Boyle. They have three children, James, Julia and Margot.
Books
  • One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported (co-authored with Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann)
  • Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism – From Goldwater to Trump and Beyond
  • Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent
  • Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith & Politics After the Religious Right
  • Stand Up Fight Back: Republican Toughs, Democratic Wimps, and the Politics of Revenge
  • They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate The Next Political Era
  • Why Americans Hate Politics
  • We Are the Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama (co-editor)
  • One Electorate Under God?: A Dialogue on Religion & American Politics (co-editor)
  • United We Serve: National Service and the Future of Citizenship (co-editor)
  • Sacred Places, Civic Purposes: Should Government Help Faith-Based Charity? (co-editor)
  • Bush v. Gore: The Court Cases and the Commentary (co-editor)
  • What’s God Got To Do With the American Experiment? (co-editor)
  • Community Works: The Revival of Civil Society in America (co-editor)
  • Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country
Awards
  • Named among the 25 most influential Washington journalists by the National Journal
  • Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • American Political Science Association’s Carey McWilliams Award, 1996
  • Empathy Award from the Volunteers of America, 2002
  • National Human Services Assembly’s Award for Excellence by a Member of the Media, 2004
  • Hillman Award for Career Achievement from the Sidney Hillman Foundation, 2011
Reviews
“We honor Mr. Dionne as one of Washington’s finest journalistic thinkers and for his insightful daily contributions to the political discourse of our nation. ... His tireless efforts uplift the public ... in a time that cries for reasoned debate, not more negative ads, rumor or simplistic sound bites.” --American Political Science Association when presenting the Carey McWilliams Award to honor a major journalistic contribution to the understanding of politics
Links