Members of Congress want to get home for Christmas, but it’s going to be a long sleigh ride.
While they shocked themselves and many critics by approving two essential measures – keeping the US government funded and raising the US debt limit– there is still a huge December agenda that may yet find America’s lawmakers in session and voting on Christmas Eve – and beyond.
This is what has to get done
- Passage of President Biden’s $2 trillion mega legislative program – known as Build Back Better – that would provide support to families across the county for children, pre-k programs, lower prescription drug costs, more access to less expensive health insurance, senior housing subsidies, financial aid for college – and the largest funding program to accelerate the move to renewable energy.
To pass this bill, the culmination Biden’s first-year agenda, all 50 Democrats in the Senate must vote for it.
You have heard the name “Joe Manchin” ad nauseum in accounts of where the Senator will land and either make or break the legislation – and you will hear much more from Manchin and Biden before December is done.
What is crucial is this: if this bill dies, if the Democrats do not unite and pass it, the president’s legislative program is effectively over in this Congress, and the tectonic plates will be aligning for Republican sweep of the House and Senate next November.
So it is all on the line for President Biden, what he wants to achieve, and what his legacy will be.
Biden will insist that Congress stay in session, no matter if it is Christmas or New Year’s, to get this bill passed.
Here is what is up in the air at home
- The House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack that is investigating the Trump mob insurrection on the Capitol in an effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
The committee is determined to find out definitively what happened that day and in the days leading up to the attack, who in the White House knew what was unfolding and how they participated in the events, and how the police and military authorities responded and what they failed to do.
There are multiple subpoenas for key players to testify, including Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff and Jeffrey Clark, a Justice Department official involved in attempts to steer the Justice Department to support the goals of the insurrection.
But the most important issue right now is whether the committee will have access to all the relevant White House records that document those events.
Two courts have ruled with no equivocation that Trump does not have and cannot exercise “executive privilege” over those documents and withhold them from the committee.
Only President Biden can do that, and he wants the materials released in the public interest. The case is headed to the Supreme Court, and how it rules will seal the fate of this unique exercise of congressional oversight. This is a moment of supreme accountability for the proper functioning of America’s democracy.
- Abortion. The Supreme Court last week allowed Texas’ massively restrictive abortion law to remain in effect.
This was a bitter disappointment to supporters of abortion rights.
Yes, the Supreme Court lets the law’s opponents challenge it further in lower courts, but it did not suspend this law – which makes abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy illegal – which is so blatantly contrary to the constitutional right to abortion services established by Roe v Wade in 1973.
Even the Chief Justice wrote that his court had now enabled a law whose “clear purpose and actual effect has been to nullify this Court’s rulings” to stay on the books!
This is a further sign that in 2022 the Supreme Court will overturn Roe and leave an issue so fundamental to the health and welfare of tens of millions of women to the 50 state legislatures across the country.
If Roe is thrown out, two dozen states will likely move immediately outlaw abortion altogether within their boundaries.
Here is what is up in the air abroad
- Ukraine. Will Putin invade or not? Will Biden’s very clear threats of massive sanctions and economic isolation of Russia, coupled with the prospects of massive weapons deliveries to Ukraine and more US troops rotating through the NATO partners in Eastern Europe, cause Putin to stand down or not?
If Russia invades, Biden will be seen to have failed to stop Russia and to have “lost” Ukraine.
A new Cold War will sweep over Europe in 2022. And in Beijing, President Xi and his military chiefs will be asking themselves, “Well, if Putin could take Ukraine without a war with the US, why can’t we take Taiwan at the same cheap price? And what are we waiting for?”
- Iran. The talks over the US and Iran reviving the agreement to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons are stalled, with no visible progress on Iran’s returning to the deal and the US lifting sanctions on the country.
If the talks fail, there will be immense pressure from Israel for a military solution – an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities – to end the nuclear threat that Iran poses. Will – can – the US veto an Israeli strike? And if Israel does strike, what does Iran do in response? Is there war throughout the Middle East?
There is more at stake than an Iran nuclear breakout in 2022. In Pyongyang, President Kim Jong-un will be asking himself, “If Iran can get away with it, I can continue my program too.”
What will we get for Christmas?
A president who is strong and successful at home, and a resolute leader who can solve crucial foreign policy issues abroad? Or a presidency plagued by Grinches who sap his political power at home and let America’s adversaries play deadly games in Europe, the Middle East and Asia?
Oh yes: and happy new year.