What is Joe Biden thinking?

We saw a version of this with the Build Back Better negotiations, where it was always clear that Manchin would get to name his price, and by the end his official ask — a smaller bill that did a few things completely, rather than a lot of temporary spending — was entirely reasonable (even if his preference for pre-K spending over the child tax credit was disappointing). Yet the White House seemed so committed to taking the progressive side and pushing the West Virginia moderate as hard as possible that it missed the obvious moment to make a deal — when he literally wrote a $1.8 trillion offer — and instead managed to shove him into truculent opposition.

Now with election reform, the same pattern is repeating. The big voting rights proposals that Biden spent recent days championing began their life as a partisan messaging bill written to satisfy activists rather than designed to pass. Their core provisions were always unlikely to substantially affect turnout or election outcomes — and they were also mostly orthogonal to the weak spots in the electoral system that Trump’s knavery attempted to exploit. So their foreordained failure should have been the prelude to negotiations on much narrower terrain — a focused attempt to prevent election subversion, via a rewrite of the Electoral Count Act that some Republican senators seem willing to consider.

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