Sherrod Brown thinks things are going to get better.
"Thanks for not bringing up ... Sinema or Manchin"
I experienced a nagging lure this week to write about the political implications of Russia’s war on Ukraine, which will obviously stand as the most fateful story on the globe for the foreseeable future.
But that would’ve been a mistake.
Pondering the invasion’s impact on the makeup of a 50-50 Senate while innocent Ukrainian families are hunkering in subway stations to evade Russia bombs seems crass and borderline immoral.
It’s also an exercise in foolishness,.
No one has any idea how a foreign war featuring a known autocrat that is threatening sovereignty and democracy will impact voters who have no appetite for sending over their own to take up arms. Foreign affairs rarely drive midterm congressional elections — but they did in 2002 after 9/11/01.
Back at home, there’s President Biden’s Supreme Court nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black female to be picked for a high court seat in its 232-year history. The politics on what should be a high point in a dreary winter for Democrats will become clearer in a few weeks after Jackson completes her courtesy meetings with senators on Capitol Hill and Judiciary Committee hearings get underway.
There will be much ado about whether a Republican — any Republican — can get to AYE on the historic selection. But the bottom line is that Biden doesn’t need them if he keeps all 50 Democrats aboard (and yes, both Manchin & Sinema have voted to confirm Jackson as a lower level judge before.)
Brett Kavanaugh got 50 votes; Amy Coney Barrett secured 52. The days of “consensus” picks are likely over, with George W. Bush’s choice of John Roberts — who received 78 Senate votes — being perhaps the last in its class. If Jackson pulled any more than 52, it’d be a feat.
So it makes absolute sense Biden went with a verified progressive for the pick, rather than a centrist who occasionally strays from liberal dogma. With a 6-3 conservative majority and a stream of consequential cases piling onto the docket, a Democratic president can’t risk his 3 core members sliding to 2.5.
Does a 67% conservative high court reflect our current country? No — not even close. Only if Biden gets a second pick, will the ideological calculation become a bit tougher.
So March is primed to be consumed with ideological warfare in the U.S. Senate and the tragic human price of an unnecessary war abroad.
But before Russia’s bombardment and Jackson’s selection, I spoke with Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio about the dreadful history his party is up against this November, which remains even if Biden successfully elevates a historic #SCOTUS justice and somehow procures a resolution in Ukraine.
Brown’s Ohio is host to an open seat Senate race of which, frankly, the competitiveness I’m still analyzing. (Trump carried Ohio by 8% in 2020, after the Ohio Democratic Party chair made a hullabaloo on how the state would be competitive.)
But Brown is singing optimistic tunes about Ohio and Rep. Tim Ryan’s Senate prospects, well, because there’s no other option.
The conversation is edited for length & clarity, and again, was conducted before the two big news events of the week:
Dave: Give me the scenario where you think Tim Ryan can win a statewide federal race as a Democrat in a state Trump carried twice in an environment that looks like it’s going to be pretty rough for Democrats.
Sen. Brown: It’s not going to be as rough. This is certainly a low point for Biden’s rating numbers. I don’t pay a lot of attention to them because its months out. We spent the year doing things. We’ve accomplished more this year than the first year of any presidency in decades. But each time we accomplish something, we move to the next thing and haven’t talked about it ,while Republicans continue to just lie about what’s happening. I think Biden’s going to get the coronavirus better under control, I think people are going to realize what we’ve accomplished, because we’re going to be talking about infrastructure, we’re going to be talking about all the kinds of things we’ve done.
Dave: I went back and looked, it’s still very tough to find a non-incumbent winning a Senate seat and an open seat in a bad year for their own party. How much does the actual candidacy matter when there aren’t many examples of you swimming against your own party’s stream, even if he’s the superior candidate?
Sen. Brown: Of course the national mood matters. But it ultimately does come down to the candidates. They’re going to look at Ryan and they’re going to see a guy that grew up like most voters did. He’s worked hard, he’s built a reputation that’s fighting for workers in an area that’s been hit hard by bad trade policies, bad economic policies, bad tax policies and he’s fought back and he’s helped to lead those efforts. Yeah, 70-80% of voters vote the way the national trends are and the way their party … I know when I run there are 40% of the voters I will not get because it’s Ohio and there are always Republicans, but there a whole lot of voters I do get and he could get.
Dave: You won by 12 points in 2006, which was a huge wave for Democrats, an anti-Bush year. But then it was a 5 point win against Josh Mandel in 2012, which was as tougher re-election for Obama. Even there…
Sen. Brown: It was actually 6. The Election Night number was 5. The official count being 6.
Dave: Alright. But a 6-point difference nonetheless.
Sen. Brown: But I ran ahead of Obama by several points. I ran ahead of Obama. And so will Ryan. Ryan will run ahead of the congressional candidates, Ryan will run ahead of national polls because he knows how to talk to workers and these other candidates are indifferent to that. They’re just putting out nasty comments about each other, talking about masks and doing all that but not speaking to people about their day-to-day concerns. And Ryan’s going to be able to talk about tax cuts and talk about infrastructure and talk about the Stages Act to the Patterson Bridge in Dayton. He’ll be talking about that all the time because he’s a disciplined candidate and that’s who he is and that’s what his career has been.
Dave: You think the environment will get better for Democrats and Biden’s popularity will tick up. Paint the scenario that that happens. That this environment that we’re looking at right now is not already baked in.
Sen. Brown: We pass Build Back Better. People begin again to get their tax cut. Ninety-two percent of Ohio families were getting a minimum $3,000 a year tax cut from the child tax credit. Fifty Democratic senators and the vice president voted for it twice. Fifty Republican senators voted against it twice. October, the child tax credit’s been renewed. October, Tim Ryan, on a debate stage, says, ‘Who do you trust more? Do you trust us or them to keep this child tax credit?’ … Who’s kept the Cleveland Playhouse open? Who is responsible for building this bridge in Akron over the Cuyahoga River? Which elected officials are doing this? And you even say, in Ohio, Sen. Portman supported this. He helped to write it and Sen. Brown did and nobody on their side is for it anymore. We are and look what we’ve done. I win because I keep a worker-focused message and I win because I make the contrast between, not between me and them personally, but between what we’re doing and what they will do or have done. That’s how you win elections in states that look to the national media as pretty Republican states now, but that’s how you win.
… We’ve achieved more this year. I mean, you guys aren’t going to write about it because, and I don’t blame you. My wife’s a journalist, as you may or may not know.
Dave: I do.
Sen. Brown: Ok, but you’re going to write about Manchin and Sinema blocking 48 other Democrats. You’re going to ask me those questions. You didn’t today.
Dave: I haven’t. I haven’t asked you about Joe Manchin, incredibly.
Sen. Brown: I know you haven’t. But anyway, that’s what we all talk about and what you cover and frankly what we talk about sometimes in caucus. But look at what we’ve done in the year we’ve had. We will have made people’s lives significantly better especially when the coronavirus is in the rear view mirror as it likely will be mostly by the fall … We’re going to replace 600,000 lead pipes that go from main water lines to people’s homes in Ohio. Ohio has more contaminated lead pipes than any place in the country, except Illinois. We’ve kept open all kinds of playhouses, those are thousands of jobs that make our communities richer. I was talking to Bob Casey right before this call. It’s hard to choose which things to talk about. That’s what we’re going to be doing.
Dave: The counter from Republicans. It’s in my inbox everyday. Costs are up. Inflation’s up. Everyone’s paying higher prices. So you can have a rise in wages, you can have a growing economy, but if people are paying more for rental cars and hotels and groceries and steak, it doesn’t matter. It’s not the economy that the macro numbers show.
Sen. Brown: Well it does matter. I can see why it’s a real priority to combat it. I don’t think it’s going to be this high in six months but I also know that the economy’s growing. It matters to people. Republicans are going to talk about inflation all the time. It’s kind of all they got, because they haven’t accomplished anything or helped us accomplish anything. They opposed the child tax credit, opposed money for transit and opposed most of what we’ve done. The Federal Reserve needs to step up, and my job in part as Banking Chair, is to make sure they do.
Dave: Thanks senator, thanks for your time.
Sen. Brown: Thanks for not bringing up – you didn’t bring up Sinema or Manchin!
Dave: I didn’t bring them up. Gold star!
Sen. Brown: I appreciate that.