Kyrsten Sinema Is Confounding Her Own Party. But … Why?

“Most Democrats in Congress are united around the Democratic agenda, but a small number of senators and representatives have so far been able to hold up its passage. “I need 50 votes in the Senate. I have 48,” President Biden said last week, regarding his social spending bill. As for who is standing in the way, his blame was clear: “Two. Two people.”

Those two people are Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. The two moderates have forced Democrats to water down several priorities (such as election reform and the $3.5 trillion budget bill) and are blocking more ambitious reforms entirely (such as abolishing the filibuster). But while congressional observers — from the commander-in-chief on down — usually mention Manchin and Sinema in the same sentence, it’s a mistake to lump together their resistance to their party’s priorities. Manchin’s centrism is unsurprising: He has been a conservative Democrat his entire career, and his home state of West Virginia is so red that it might be politically impossible for him to move left, even if he wanted to.

But neither is true of Sinema. Once a staunch progressive, Arizona’s senior senator has taken a hard turn to the right. On the surface, that appears to have been an effort to make her more electable by courting moderate and conservative voters. If so, she may have overcompensated: Arizona is no West Virginia, and no other swing-state senator has vexed Democratic leadership so thoroughly. In fact, Sinema’s established such a firm anti-progressive reputation that she may have lost the support of enough Democrats to endanger her reelection just the same.”

“Democrats are lucky that Manchin is in the Senate at all. Because of how red West Virginia is, a typical senator from the state would almost certainly be a Republican.2 Indeed, based on Trump’s margin in West Virginia in 2016, we’d expect that a generic replacement for Manchin would have voted in line with Trump’s position 89.3 percent of the time during his presidency. Manchin, though, voted with Trump just 50.4 percent of the time — a lot for a Democrat, but not a lot considering the partisanship of his home state.

Using the same methodology, we’d have expected a generic replacement for Sinema to vote with Trump just 39.8 percent of the time — a reflection of the purpler partisanship of her state and her congressional district at the time. Yet Sinema voted with him 50.4 percent of the time too, as much as Manchin. That made her the only Democratic senator who voted with Trump significantly3 more often than expected based on the politics of senators’ states. Her voting record during the Trump years looked more like Manchin’s, Sen. Joe Donnelly’s, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s or Sen. Claire McCaskill’s — all Democrats from substantially redder states.”

“If Sinema is acting moderate for electoral reasons, she clearly disagrees with the conventional wisdom about how moderate a swing-state senator needs to be. On one hand, maybe she has a point: Donnelly, Heitkamp and McCaskill all lost reelection in 2018, as did Sen. Bill Nelson, whose home state of Florida is about as purple as Arizona but who voted with Trump less often than Sinema did. All four voted with Trump significantly less often than we’d have expected given the partisanship of their state, suggesting that Sinema’s strategy of hewing closer to expectations might have been smarter. (Although this doesn’t justify her approach of voting with Trump more often than expected.) On the other hand, political science research has found that candidates and congressional aides are really bad at assessing where voters stand on the issues. One 2013 study found that politicians overestimated by several percentage points how conservative their constituents were, in direct contradiction of Sinema’s entire theory of the case.”

“Sinema is presumably betting that Democrats who dislike her will vote for her regardless, and that at least some Republicans who like her will vote for her, too.”

“If Democratic opinion of Sinema sinks low enough, she could even be in danger of losing in a primary.”

“It may be her donors. In a September report, liberal group Accountable.US found that Sinema raised at least $923,065 from business interests that opposed Biden’s budget reconciliation plan, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a longtime Sinema ally. She’s also been the recipient of large donations from the pharmaceutical industry, which critics have blamed for her opposition to letting Medicare negotiate down drug costs. Of course, it’s possible that the causation is reversed — that such interest groups are donating to her because they like her positions on these issues.”

“Another explanation for Sinema’s centrism could be that she genuinely believes in it. In her 2009 book “Unite and Conquer,” Sinema described how she was initially frustrated at her inability to get things done in the state legislature — so she decided to stop being a “bomb-thrower” and start working with Republicans. Perhaps now, after so many years of embedding with the GOP to get things done (this is the first time she has ever served in a legislative chamber controlled by Democrats), she has internalized the conservatism of her peers — and even embraced bipartisanship as a policy goal unto itself. (That would explain her fierce opposition to ending the filibuster and her dogged negotiation of a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill earlier this year.)”

Americans Have Never Forgotten 9/11

“Americans have remained convinced that a terrorist attack is likely. A series of polls from The Economist/YouGov conducted from 2013 to 20211 asked what Americans think are the chances of a terrorist attack in the U.S. in the next 12 months. Those who thought an attack was “very” or “somewhat” likely rarely dipped below 50 percent and often spiked following major terrorist attacks in the U.S. or Europe. (Any time the responses rose about 70 percent, it was following a major attack.)

Similarly, Pew’s annual survey of policy priorities has found Americans rank terrorism at or near the top of the list year over year. As recently as 2020, 74 percent of Americans said defending against terrorism should be a top priority for the president and Congress, making it the number-one policy issue. Even in 2021, as the pandemic altered priorities, 63 percent of Americans still rated terrorism as their top issue, making it fourth overall, behind the pandemic, the economy and jobs.

Americans also consistently say that 9/11 has had a lasting impact on this country. In Washington Post/ABC News polls from 2001, 2002, 2011 and 2021, the proportion of Americans who said the attacks “changed this country in a lasting way” has never fallen below 83 percent, with 86 percent saying so in a survey conducted within the past month. Notably, though, the feelings on whether this is a change for the better or worse has shifted: In 2002, 67 percent of Americans said that the 9/11 attacks changed America for the better. That number has declined since, with only 33 percent saying so in 2021.”

No, Police Officers Aren’t Resigning in Droves

“In an attempt to push back at the anger over violent police conduct and efforts to reform policing in America, we’ve been warned that all this outrage is damaging police morale, causing officers to quit and recruiting to plunge, possibly contributing to 2020’s spike in homicides and gun violence.

A survey released in July by the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) found what they called a “widespread staffing crisis,” declaring a dramatic 45 percent increase in retirements between 2019 and 2020 and an 18 percent increase in resignations.”

“The survey actually presents it as a more complex matter. Some of the quotes from the departments they’ve surveyed suggest that officers were retiring as soon as they could because they didn’t want to deal with the policing conflicts, but other quotes indicated other reasons and one mentioned “pandemic fatigue.” Some departments insisted that everything was fine, while others indicated that the problem was not with who they were losing, but with difficulty recruiting new officers.

A lot of people quit, retired, or lost their jobs during the pandemic. So this doesn’t really tell us much about increases in police resignations and retirements compared to other fields; we don’t have enough evidence to indicate that it’s a morale issue connected to demands for policing reform.

Once we actually do put the losses in the context of all other industries, the reality becomes clear: We actually have not seen a massive decline in the number of police compared to drops in employment in other fields. Over at The Marshall Project, reporters looked at the actual numbers coming out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In reality, police employment has been fairly stable, losing less than 1 percent—4,000 jobs—during 2020.

The losses actually followed several years of expanded police job growth, essentially returning it back to numbers from just a couple of years ago.”

India seizes $2.7 billion Afghan heroin haul amid Kabul takeover chaos

“Indian officials said..they had seized nearly three tonnes of heroin originating from Afghanistan worth an estimated 200 billion rupees ($2.72 billion) amid the chaos following last month’s takeover of the country by the Taliban.”

Medicare Is About To Run Out of Money. Democrats Want To Make the Program Cost Even More.

“Medicare’s board of trustees produced their annual report on the program’s fiscal health. That report contained some expected yet nonetheless alarming news: Medicare’s hospital insurance (HI) trust fund, itself a kind of accounting fiction, will be insolvent in just five years. Starting in 2026, the HI fund, which covers inpatient hospital services, will be depleted.

The program will have to rely on the HI fund’s incoming revenues, essentially operating on a cash flow basis—and there won’t be enough cash. In 2026, the HI fund will only cover about 91 percent of its bills. In the years that follow, that gap will only grow larger. So without changes to the program’s financing, doctors, hospitals, and other medical providers will face rapidly reduced payments from the program, with ensuing ripple effects on both the wider economy, roughly a sixth of which revolves around health care services, and on the provision and availability of health care.

If anything, the program’s fiscal problems may be even worse than that: The new report assumes that an array of cost-reduction measures, including a series of technical tweaks the physician payments and bonuses, will persist. But they also note that Medicare’s “long-range costs could be substantially higher than shown throughout much of the report if the cost-reduction measures prove problematic and new legislation scales them back.

As anyone who has even a passing familiarity with attempts to control the cost of federal health care programs through doctor payment tweaks knows, those sorts of measures often prove problematic—which is to say, doctors don’t like them, and thus, for political reasons, Congress overrides those payment changes.”

Trolls Will Be Trolls, Online and Offline, Reports New Study

“If you’re a troll online, you are most likely also a troll offline, at least with respect to political discussions, reports new research published in the American Political Science Review. In their study, Aarhus University researchers Alexander Bor and Michael Bang Petersen investigate what they call the “mismatch hypothesis.” Do mismatches between human psychology, evolved to navigate life in small social groups, and novel features of online environments, such as anonymity, rapid text-based responses, combined with the absence of moderating face-to-face social cues, change behavior for the worse in impersonal online political discussions?

No, conclude the authors. “Instead, hostile political discussions are the result of status-driven individuals who are drawn to politics and are equally hostile both online and offline,” they report. However, they also find that online political discussions may tend to feel more hostile because the greater connectivity and permanence of various Internet discussion platforms make trolls much more visible online than offline.”

LC: The article and study seem to use a broader definition for “trolling” than I use.