American people win, The GOP loses and the media fails

President Joe Biden stands poised to sign one of the most substantial and popular pieces of spending legislation in half-a-century, following the Senate’s passage of the $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill. The American Rescue Plan will not only provide $1,400 checks for most American families and extend jobless aid, the bill provides money for vaccine distribution and financial relief for cities, schools, and small businesses hit hard by the pandemic.

The sprawling legislation also represents the largest increase in safety net spending in a generation. It includes huge assistance for day care, broadens eligibility for Obamacare, helps renters, and will likely cut the U.S. poverty rate by one third this year.

Reporting on the six most important “takeaways” from the bill’s Senate passage this weekend, guess what USA Today ranked as the most significant detail about the American Rescue Plan? Answer: The fact that Biden wasn’t able to win over Republican backing for the wildly popular bill, which has 83 percent public support.

Chalking that up as a White House failure, USA Today stressed, “Biden campaigned on bipartisanship following four divisive years under Donald Trump. Yet he was not able to win over a single Senate Republican.” The paper made sure to penalize Biden: “The lack of bipartisan support shows that breaking through the gridlock isn’t as easy as Biden predicted as a candidate.”

Detailing the GOP’s deeply radical and dangerous tendencies is not a story the press wants to dwell on. That’s a key reason the media screwed up Covid relief coverage for the last twelves months, constantly presenting a false picture of legislative negotiations, told through the prism of the GOP.

USA Today didn’t include one sentence about how bizarre it was that every Republican member of the House and Senate stands opposed to a bill that 70 percent of Republican voters’ support. Instead, the press continues to depict the GOP’s obstruction as being normal and understandable. That way they can ding Biden for failing to make the bill “bipartisan.” (Beltway media Golden Rule: Democrats alone are responsible for creating bipartisanship.) 

Republican behavior over Covid relief last weekend at times bordered on madness, as they tried to drown the process with sure-to-fail amendments. At one point, they even tried to strip out funds specifically targeted for poor women and children. But that was definitely not the dominant media narrative in recent days. The New York Times insisted it was Democrats who faced an “awkward episode” on late Friday when details over extending unemployment payments had to be ironed out after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) raised objections. The event “threatened to defect and derail” passage, the paper reported excitedly.

Like USA Today, the Times was oblivious to the idea that Republicans faced any awkwardness for unanimously objecting to an emergency spending bill that the vast majority of Americans support, and doing everything in the party’s power to slow down its passage, including the demand that the massive bill be read out loud in its entirety in the Senate, a move that wasted hours.

The Times waved off the GOP’s extreme behavior as nothing more than, “a minority united in opposition.” (i.e. Nothing to see here!)

Over the last twelve months, Republicans sabotaged all Covid relief negotiations, including Trump who routinely, and publicly, gave wildly contradictory statements about the need for assistance. Yet since last April, the press tagged Both Sides for failing to pass a relief package that was universally seen as crucial to the country’s economic survival. (“Capitol Hill’s failure to compromise” is hurting America, CNN emphasized.)

Fact: House Democrats in May passed a massive $3 trillion Covid relief package. To win over Republican support in the Senate, they then agreed to pass a smaller $2 trillion version. They were then ready to sign off on a further reduced $908 billion proposal. Republican leaders wouldn’t even agree to that, yet the press consistently blamed “Congress” for not being able to meet halfway and pass much-needed assistance.

CBS News wondered, “Why hasn’t Congress done more at this point?” The Congressional Covid failure represented “an institution gripped with paralysis,” the Times stressed, while the Washington Post claimed the lack of legislation was due to “bickering.”

Last summer, journalists claimed “Congress” was to blame for weekly $600 relief checks being cut off. Wrong — the payments were ended because Republicans forced them to end. In October, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer launched into a heated argument with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, demanding to know why she wouldn’t accept a White House relief proposal, even though Senate Republicans didn’t support it, which meant the White House proposal would never be voted on.

Twelve months ago, the Beltway press echoed GOP talking points by loudly claiming Democrats were “blocking” the first Covid relief bill, which was eventually signed into law under Trump. The Times stressed that Democrats “risked a political backlash,” by lobbying hard for additional unemployment aid, as well as more money for hospitals, healthcare workers, and local governments. (Democrats won, and improved the bill.) Today, there’s very little media coverage of Republicans “blocking” the recent Covid bill, or facing “political backlash.”

Republicans never supported a second Covid relief bill, yet the press spent the last year pretending otherwise — insisting that of course GOP leaders urgently wanted to aid struggling Americans, where there was little evidence that they did.

The country will be well served by the American Rescue Plan, but the slow-motion train wreck of Covid relief coverage represented a distressing failure of journalism.

Press Run by Eric Boehlert

Biden has a 98% approval rating with Democrats

— So where’s the avalanche of media coverage?

President Joe Biden is posting the best inner-party approval numbers for any new U.S. president in the history of modern polling. Gallup last week pegged Biden’s approval among Democratic voters at a staggering 98 percent. Clearly overjoyed that Trump has left office, Democrats are giving Biden nearly universal, unblinking support at the start of his presidency, and rallying around his larger agenda in unprecedented numbers: 

• 99 percent of Democrats support Biden’s executive order for wearing masks in federal buildings.

• 97 percent of “liberals” support the Covid relief bill that Biden is championing.

• 96 percent of Democrats support his response to the pandemic.

Biden’s approval is also sky-high among independent voters, with 61 percent supporting him. Just 29 percent of independents backed Trump as he left office last month. He never received more than 47 percent of their support during his four years in office.

In terms of historical perspective, Biden’s stunning 98 percent approval from his own party today has only been matched once before in American polling. That was when President George W. Bush received 98 and 99 percent support among Republicans in the days immediately following the terror attack of Sept. 11, 2001, eight months into his first term.

The reason Biden’s stratospheric support is so amazing, and why it has clear media implications, is that the Beltway press just spent four years inundating news consumers with Trump Voter stories based on the fact that Trump’s hold on the party was so strong, and his base was so loyal that the phenomena demanded nonstop attention. Trump’s approval rating among Republicans was a sign of a political superstar in the making, the press insisted.

Today, Biden’s approval rating from his own party is even higher than Trump’s was. When the Republican was inaugurated in January 2017, his GOP approval rating stood at 90 percent, eight points lower that Biden’s backing today among Democrats. So if the press used Trump’s 90 percent GOP approval rating as reason to marvel at his superstar status — his “iron grip” on the base — why isn’t there an avalanche of media coverage now about the historically popular Democrat? Why aren’t reporters fanning out through blue state diners collecting quotes from Biden fans, discussing how enthralled they are by the new president?

Months into Trump’s presidency a platoon of reporters regularly traveled to red state strongholds, eagerly collecting quotes (“I think he’s doing a great job”) from people who voted for Trump and who wanted to confirm how much they still support him. (“Hitting it out of the ballpark.”) The New York Times in particular typed up hosannas from Trump fans and presented their praise and vociferous defense of the president as news.

In the winter of 2017, the Times published a long profile on women who voted for Trump (explaining their support “in their own words”), a piece on Trump fans who traveled to the inauguration, and an adoring profile of a Trump fan who lied about Hillary Clinton during the campaign and profited from his fake news business. That approach set the tone for four years as journalists remained committed to telling, and retelling, the same tale: Republicans love Trump. That’s it. That was the whole story, but it was treated as breaking news for his entire term in office.

“Inside the Mystery of Donald Trump’s Stubbornly Loyal Political Base,” read a McClatchy Newspaper headline, from 2018. The piece marveled at his “uncanny connections with supporters.” Axios recently gushed, “No president in our lifetime has enjoyed a more mesmerizing, seemingly unbendable hold on his political base than Donald Trump.” And from U.S. News: “Trump’s Core Supporters Remain Loyal.”

The press is still writing about how popular Trump is with Republicans. “Trump’s Loyal Fans Pose Challenges for Republicans, Biden,” read a recent Associated Press headline.

As for the wildly popular Biden? He’s often treated as a sidebar by the press. Biden just became the first candidate in U.S. history to win 80 million votes. He did it during a pandemic, yet some states saw an astronomical voter turnout rate hovering at 80 percent. Biden received 34 million (!) more votes than Bill Clinton did in 1996, and 16 million more than Barack Obama received in 2012. Shouldn’t that, along with the unprecedented 98 percent party support he currently enjoys, make Biden a political phenomenon in the eyes of the press? Shouldn’t his “iron grip” on the Democratic Party, in the form of his stratospheric approval rating, be the topic of endless reporting and analysis?

Instead, the news has been shrugged off, as if it’s common for a president to have universal support from his party members. The press seems completely uninterested in the fact that Biden’s base is more excited about its presidency than Trump’s base ever was about his.

From Press Run, Eric Boehlert