Progressives' cri de coeur: "Where is the President?" on HR1

Ah, politics. Where else but in America can the GOP’s “Where is Joe Biden?” campaign before the election get embraced by progressives after it? The Democrats’ tendentious and partisan voting-reform act will get shredded in the Senate this afternoon, which everyone has known for weeks, but progressives want to know why Biden hasn’t lifted a finger to fight for it.

Politico reports that progressive ire might shift from Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin to the White House in the aftermath:

Progressives are steaming that President JOE BIDEN didn’t use his bully pulpit to try to move the needle on the bill — or strike a deal allowing Congress to block GOP legislatures from curbing access to voting. They want to know how Democratic leaders can claim in one breath that democracy is in jeopardy — and in the next let this legislation crash and burn.

Indivisible founder EZRA LEVIN went on a tear about this Monday, declaring in a Twitter thread: “I have reached my WTF moment with Biden on this.” The progressive grassroots leader said BARACK OBAMA “did a live debate with House GOP on the ACA,” BILL CLINTON “gave 18 speeches on NAFTA and deputized [AL] GORE to debate ROSS PEROT on it,” and DONALD TRUMP and GEORGE W. BUSH “were all tax cuts all the time.”

“Where is the president?” he asked. “Is saving democracy a priority for this Administration or not? I don’t want to see some tepid public statement. We need to see the President and VP using the full force of their bully pulpit to lead.”

Ahem. Did progressives even notice how Biden and Kamala Harris campaigned for their jobs last year? Biden restricted himself to tightly controlled appearances with very few people in attendance, and Harris didn’t get out much more than that. At the time, we assumed this was a political version of Mohammed Ali’s “Rope-a-Dope,” forcing the media to cover Trump rather than Biden. Strategy or not, it succeeded.

Since inauguration, however, Biden has barely changed this strategy — hiding from the media until forced into the open. It took more than two months for Biden to hold his first open press conference, and then didn’t do another until his G-7 trip and summit with Putin last week. He’s back in the White House now and hasn’t popped out to test his shadow since. It’s not that Biden and Harris aren’t using their bully pulpits to lead on the progressive agenda — it’s that they’re not leading at all.

To the extent that Biden’s doing anything, he’s focused on infrastructure, which makes sense. Republicans have some interest in cooperating on that issue, and he’s presently trying to work with various configurations of bipartisan “gangs” on a reasonable compromise (about which more later). Biden’s not going to antagonize them by escalating rhetoric over a bill that never had a prayer of passing in the first place, as everyone but progressive activists knew all along:

Expect the typical rhetorical posturing from both sides as the chamber takes a procedural vote to consider bringing up the bill. Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER will blast Republicans for refusing to allow a simple debate, without mentioning, of course, the many times Democrats used the filibuster to do the same to GOP bills while in the minority. Minority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL will decry the bill as a Democratic “power grab,” as he’s been doing for months.

The only real drama is whether Manchin votes to allow debate on the bill or not. And that only matters for the after-loss spin, Politico’s team points out:

SO WHY ARE LEADERS BOTHERING with Manchin’s vote if the bill is toast? It’s all about 2022, as Burgess Everett reports today: If Democrats are unified, the party can paint a more vivid contrast with Republicans on elections. A “no” from Manchin would complicate that messaging.

This is all performative politics. Progressives seem late to realize this and to realize they’re being manipulated over it. They’re also late to realize that Biden and Harris aren’t even up to the “performing” part of performative politics, let alone substantive politics.