Here is a summary of the top 5 political issues making headlines this week.
1. Trump Heading Towards Second Acquittal
In the history of the United States, only three presidents have ever been impeached. In recent weeks, former President Donald Trump made history as the first president to be impeached twice, with the House of Representatives adopting articles of impeachment in January of 2020 and 2021. Despite the well warranted shame that should come with this degradation, in all likelihood Donald Trump will also be the only president twice acquitted of his alleged crimes.
After the infamous insurrection that Trump stoked on January 6th, Democrats were confident that they would finally be able to impeach the president in the House and then convict him in the Senate. This was founded in the belief that Donald Trump, by creating a riot that threatened the lives of legislators, had finally crossed a line that Republicans would no longer stomach. If convicted in the Senate, Trump would be barred from running for federal office again and lose other protections and stipends awarded to former presidents.
Despite Democratic hopes of a bipartisan conviction, Donald Trump showed on Tuesday how strong of a grip he still has over the Republican Party. After articles of impeachment were delivered from the House to the Senate on Monday, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) announced he would be forcing a vote on the constitutionality of the impeachment trial held against Donald Trump. His argument is that with Trump out of office there is no constitutional basis to vote to convict the man that is no longer in power.
After the vote was held, all but five Republican senators voted against proceeding with the impeachment trial.
This is momentous for several reasons. The first of which is that the second impeachment trial against Donald Trump is likely over before it even began. Democrats would have needed seventeen Republicans to break rank and vote to convict Trump of crimes against the republic. With all but five Republicans refusing to agree to the constitutionality of the impeachment, it is highly unlikely that Democrats will find those other twelve Republicans needed for conviction.
What is also so startling about this development is that this shows how strong a sway Donald Trump still has over the Republican Party at large. This writer thought that after the incited insurrection that his political power was virtually finished, but I was wrong.
When Trump inevitably escapes conviction for the second time he will be emboldened and also still viable to run for another term in 2024. With that avenue of reelection not being closed off he can continue to be the most dominating voice in Republican politics for several more years.
Despite pundits announcing his political obituary at the beginning of the month, the “Party of Lincoln” will continue to firmly be the “Party of Trump”.
2. Biden’s $15 Minimum Wage Plan to be the Death of the Hospitality Industry
It would be an understatement to say that of all the industries that have been hobbled by the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospitality industry has undoubtedly been hit the hardest. For nearly a year, restaurants and bars have been operating under significantly diminished capacity, if operating at all. Countless small businesses owners have been forced to shutter their stores while the few who have survived are barely keeping their heads above water.
Now the Democrats in Congress believe the best solution to the current economic crisis is to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, effectively throwing an anvil to these nearly downing businesses.
In the service and hospitality industry, the majority of workers receive a national minimum wage of $7.25 (higher in states with higher minimum wages). This is a reflection of the low skilled workers (part time workers and university students) that typically find work in the industry. While the practice of tipping is abundant to compliment these wages, the current minimum wage is a reflection of the market and keeps costs to consumers affordable. It also allows business owners the ability to hire as many workers as possible.
Any effort to increase the minimum wage would ultimately lead to layoffs, business closures and industry collapse; not to mention that with the pandemic businesses are struggling to keep their doors open as is.
Noting the costs that would be put upon business owners by more than doubling the minimum wage, business interest groups are already lining up to combat the coming legislation.
“Far too many restaurants will respond by laying off even more workers or closing their doors for good. As the pandemic has highlighted, the economic realities of each state are very different,” said Sean Kennedy, National Restaurant Association executive vice president of public affairs.
The legislation, currently being spearheaded by the incoming Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, is expected to be one of the first fights of the Biden administration between Republicans and Democrats. In a normal year, a compromise between $7.25 and $15 could probably be expected. However, as a “COVID winter” has overtaken the United States and businesses struggle to hang on, expect a messy fight as both sides dig in their heels over this legislation.
3. Besieged CA Governor Gavin Newsom Wisely Drops Stay at Home Order
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Not for California Governor Gavin Newsom (D), who just ten months ago at the start of the pandemic was being hailed for his deft handling of the novel Coronavirus in his state. Newsom, who telegenically looks like someone straight out of central casting to play a politician, was going to ride his newfound popularity into a second term as Governor and then perhaps higher office. The presidency was not out of his sights.
However, now just nearly a year after the start of the pandemic, Newsom is reviled by countless Californians for perceived missteps and blatant hypocrisy by him and his administration. It all started in the summer when Newsom was spotted with lobbyists and donors at a restaurant despite his administration’s stringent policies toward forced foreclosures on most of the restaurant industry.
Then a series of unpopular “stay at home” orders created significant pushback amongst the population. In recent months, Republicans and Independents have been circling a (surprisingly popular) petition to recall Newsom and remove him from office.
In the light of the growing recall effort and shaky public sentiment, Newsom announced this week that he would be lifting his previous “stay at home” order, giving more freedom to Californians. His administration announced that the decision to lift the order came after data showed that COVID-19 hospitalization rates were falling throughout the state.
While many conservatives commended Newsom’s decision, they felt that the decision was not guided by science but guided by politics.
Newsom, a politician’s politician if there ever was one, likely saw the writing on the wall that his stringent restrictions were becoming unpopular with the public. In an effort to ward off a recall challenge and to bolster future potential political opportunities, he decided to lift the restrictions.
It remains to be seen if Governor Newsom was actually “following the science” with his decision or following his own political interests.
b. Newsom cancels California’s COVID-19 stay-at-home orders – Los Angeles Times
4. GOP Senator’s Retirement Leaves Republicans Scrambling for 2022
Republicans were shocked earlier this month when Democrats cemented their majority in the Senate by picking up two Senate seats in the Georgia runoff elections. Since 2014, Mitch McConnell and his Republican caucus had dominated the upper legislative chamber but by losing the two (winnable) Georgia seats the Senate GOP has been relegated to minority status.
To add insult to injury, Senate Republicans are facing a daunting election map in 2022 if they want to take back the chamber. With GOP senators retiring in purple states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina, Mitch McConnell’s caucus was already going to be playing more defense than offense.
And then came Senator Rob Portman’s (R) news.
On Monday, Junior Ohio Senator Rob Portman shocked Washington when he announced that he would not be running for reelection in 2022. Citing the growing inhospitable partisan nature of the Senate, Portman noted that he would be stepping down at the end of his term.
Seen as a practical moderate Republican that is more interested in accomplishing goals than throwing bombastic rhetoric, Portman’s decision to retire is absolutely brutal for Republican’s hopes to retake the Senate in 2022. Before his decision, the senator was expected to win reelection handedly. Now, Republicans must devote time and resources to a state that they had thought was in the bag.
Soon after the announcement, Republicans and Democrats vying for the office began making plans for a Senate campaign. Congressman Tim Ryan (D), who ran for president in 2020, already has begun fundraising and is seen as the de facto nominee. Republicans on the other hand are sure to have a messier primary with moderates to Trump loyalist Congressman Jim Jordan expected to jump into the race.
Despite the bad news for Republicans, it is still important to note that any Republican nominee would be the presumed front runner as Ohio has become a much redder state in recent years. Once considered a swing state, Ohio voted for Donald Trump both times by significant margins. Now, whether or not a generic Republican can recreate Trump’s appeal in the Buckeye State remains to be seen.
5. The Filibuster Lives, For Now
Ever since Democrats took control of the Senate there has been significant talk in Washington over whether or not the Democrats should abolish the filibuster, an arcane Senate rule that allows any senator to obstruct a piece of legislation. By “filibustering” a senator(s) can hold up the vote on a bill by speaking for as long as they like. To end a filibuster (cloture) and continue with voting takes 60 senators to agree to proceed.
Historically, the filibuster has been used by the minority party to hold up the legislative agenda of the majority party and the Democrats want to do away with it so they can enact their agenda unimpeded. To abolish the filibuster, Democrats would only need 51 Democrat Senators to sign on, which they currently have in their ranks. However, two moderate Democrats are not so keen to play along.
While many Democrats were in favor of abolishing the rule, fearing that it would allow Mitch McConnell and Republicans to obstruct their agena at every turn, Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) indicated that they would not be voting to abolish the filibuster. Both of these members are regarded as centrist Democrats that believe that the filibuster could be a tool to produce greater compromise amongst legislation.
While it appears that the filibuster will live on for now, should McConnell and his Republican caucus obstruct the Democrats agenda at every turn, expect for even the moderates to come around and support abolition. Regardless, the survival of the filibuster will force both parties to work together toward greater compromise legislation during this Congress.