America spent the weekend commemorating the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, the Pentagon in Washington DC and at Shanksville, Pennsylvania where the fourth terrorist-commandeered aircraft crashed.
President Joe Biden led proceedings along with former presidents George W Bush, Barak Obama and Bill Clinton. Donald Trump was conspicuous by his absence – intentional on the part of the White House.
The public mood appears pessimistic, reflecting the cost of 9/11, the loss of some 7000 US servicemen and women in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the resurrection of the Taliban, aligned with a perception that the US has lost both respect and its way in the world.
Trump continues to tease supporters and opponents alike over whether he will run in 2024. Most analysts and pollsters feel his decision won’t be made until after the mid-term elections in November 2022 – and how Biden and the Democrats rate in the polling.
Biden has had an awful August and early September. Even his own advisers agree the withdrawal from Afghanistan was botched, leaving many behind and unnerving allies around the world.
The South of the US suffered a hurricane which caused billions of dollars of damage from New Orleans to New York and caused several deaths.
California’s wildfires rage unchecked and the state is rapidly running out of electricity thanks to low hydro lake storage in neighbouring states and the state government’s decision to shut down nuclear, coal and gas-fired power stations.
Worst of all has been the staggeringly fast spread of the Delta variant of Covid 19. Biden has used all his powers of persuasion to persuade Americans to vaccinate. The exhortations have been in vain so far. By the weekend the US had 41 million cases and more than 660,000 deaths – compared, say, with the 2996 killed in the 9/11 attacks.
Biden’s challenges will grow only larger in the coming weeks as he tries to push through a mammoth $US 3 trillion spending package, the centre piece of his economic policies. This includes some of the party’s biggest priorities, including expanding Medicare, combating climate change and immigration reform.
Progressive Democrats want the bipartisan $US1.5 trillion infrastructure bill passed at the same time of the $US3.5 trillion bill. Centrist Democrats are holding put, with concerns the impact the latter would have on the economy along with the impact of tax rises to pay for the deal. They are led by Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from the strong Republican state of West Virginia.
“If the country is facing what we’re facing now. … I would ask my colleagues and all of the Senate to hit the pause button on the $3.5 [trillion],” he said in a recent speech.
“Let’s sit back. Let’s see what happens. We have so much on our plate. We really have an awful lot. I think that would be the prudent, wise thing to do.
“I, for one, won’t support a $3.5 trillion bill, or anywhere near that level of additional spending, without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programmes.”
House Democrats have set September 27 as a target deadline for when they will vote on the infrastructure bill, but progressives are warning that they won’t support it unless it moves with the $3.5 trillion package.
Both House and Senate Democrats approved a budget last month, passing the larger bill without GOP support in the Senate. But they need total unity from the 50-member Senate Democratic caucus to pass the larger package.
While the Democrats battle it out on the Hill, the Republican Party has commenced its search for a 2024 candidate. This was launched at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, a traditional launch pad for presidential aspirants.
The first speaker in a series the organisation is hosting focusing on the future of the Republican Party was former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
He’s a robust character, much respected by Democrats and Republicans alike in New Jersey for his deliberate policy of “telling it what it is like” when he toured cities and towns explaining the state’s finances. He was also an early high-profile supporter of Donald Trump.
But in his speech he didn’t mention Trump’s name, although there was no question about who he was referring to as he described the Republican Party being dragged into a moment of “peril.”
He directly confronted Trump’s insistence that he somehow won the 2020 election — a baseless conspiracy theory the former president and his allies have been promulgating since he lost to Joe Biden in November.
“Pretending we won when we lost is a waste of time, energy and credibility. We have to clear out the brush, on our own side and on theirs, before the fresh planting can begin,” he said.
The former governor, who ran for president in 2016, is thought to be mulling another run in 2024. And his Thursday speech was his first major attack on Trump and the former president’s influence on the GOP, which he described as pernicious and detrimental to conservative goals.
“We do not have to change our policies to win again,” he said.
“Repeatedly, though, he returned to the themes of truth-telling and lies, implying that under Trump, the Republican Party had lost its way. All the lying has done harm to our nation, to our party and to ourselves, he said.
“If the requirement in today’s politics for getting your support is to say a bunch of things that aren’t true — no, thank you. If it requires bending to the will of any one person rather than advocating ideas for the good of all people, then count me out.
“No man, no woman, no matter what office they’ve held or wealth they’ve acquired, are worthy of blind faith or obedience. That’s not who I am, and that’s not who we are as Republicans, no matter who is demanding that we tie our futures to a pile of lies. We deserve much better than to be misled by those trying to acquire or hold on to power.
“We have to reject those who try to lure us down rabbit holes, into alliances with bad actors, and over to the grip of authoritarianism. Authoritarian dictators are not strong leaders to be admired. They are bullies hoping to fool the crowd just one more time,” he said.
Christie also revived the Republican Party’s struggle with the John Birch Society, a far-right movement in the 1950s that promoted conspiracy theories and labeled President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a communist sympathiser. Mainstream Republicans fought back against the John Birch Society and other radicals and successfully purged them from the GOP, which helped pave the way for more palatable conservatives like Ronald Reagan to win the presidency.
Christie said this is another time when Republicans must “combat extremism” in their ranks.
So, will he challenge Trump or is he simply sounding a warning to a Republican Party still cowed by Trump with few notable exceptions?