Brutal week stalls out Democrats' agenda: The Note

Biden drew a line in the sand on voting rights and saw two Democrats cross it.

January 14, 2022, 5:55 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

If this week goes down as the kind of "turning point in this nation's history" that President Joe Biden said it would be, Biden and his party might not be comfortable with how any defining moments are being cemented.

Biden drew a line in the sand on voting rights and then saw two Democrats cross it and cross him, just like it appeared would happen all along. Add in rough new inflation numbers, brutal new polling, COVID uncertainties and a fresh Supreme Court rebuke on mandates and the result is a politically weakened president and an apparently paralyzed party, all as a midterm election year gets underway.

On Tuesday, when asked about whether he had the votes to get voting rights bills through the Senate, Biden told reporters, "Keep the faith."

On Thursday, asked by ABC News' Mary Bruce on Capitol Hill whether the bills could pass, the president responded, "The honest to God answer is, I don't know whether we can get this done."

A generalized critique from a range of White House allies has been around a lack of sustained focus on major priorities. That point of view often ignored the stubborn math of a 50-50 Senate, a razor-thin majority in the House and the considerable political capital expended to address a range of challenges.

Democrats still have the majority and the presidency and will have both for at least the rest of the year. But part of their mission now will be in acting like that's the case -- particularly given the urgency the president outlined around the moment this week.

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

More than two years before the 2024 presidential election, the Republican National Committee is threatening to shatter a norm -- participation in presidential debates.

In a letter, the RNC said it plans to "prohibit" future Republican nominees from participating in debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonpartisan group that has hosted debates since the late 1980s. The letter, penned by chair Ronna McDaniel, accuses the group of "failing to maintain the organization's strict non-partisanship."

PHOTO: Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Annual Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas, Nov. 6, 2021.
Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Annual Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas, Nov. 6, 2021.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

"For years, the Commission on Presidential Debates has shown bias against Republicans," tweeted McDaniel. "Since they continue to stonewall commonsense reforms, the RNC is leveling the playing field to make debates fair for future nominees."

The CPD issued a statement saying the group would base its plan for 2024 on "fairness, neutrality and a firm commitment to help the American public learn about the candidates and the issues." Commission Chair Frank Fahrenkopf told ABC News that the group doesn't negotiate with political parties.

"We have nothing to do with the Republican, Democratic party or any other political party," Fahrenkopf said. "We work only with those candidates for president and vice president who meet the requirements that we put out a year or so ahead of time."

It's unclear what the RNC's alternative debate plan would be if it forces candidates to ditch CPD debates. When asked, Fahrenkopf said, "the ball's in [the RNC's] court."

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

Republican lawmakers across the country are celebrating Thursday's Supreme Court Ruling that blocked the Biden administration's vaccine-or-test requirement on private businesses of 100 or more workers.

As reported by ABC News' Devin Dwyer, the conservative majority on the court argued the Occupational Safety and Health Administration lacks the power to impose such a rule, while also adding their assessment that Congress never authorized this type of sweeping power. The dissenting liberal justices argued that the "unparalleled threat" of COVID-19 calls for extraordinary measures.

PHOTO: The Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., Dec. 4, 2021.
The Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., Dec. 4, 2021.
Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

In the scope of the midterm elections, the Supreme Court's ruling amid the ongoing pandemic bolsters existing political divisions over lawmakers' handling of COVID. In particular, the ruling potentially gives Republican candidates who oppose federal mandates the confidence to continue airing allegations about Democrats creating policies that would negatively impact businesses.

However, two conservative justices joined liberals to uphold another federal mandate policy that requires many of the nation's health care workers to be vaccinated. More than 10.4 million health care workers at 76,000 federally-funded facilities will now be covered by that vaccine mandate, according to the administration.


ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Start Here leads Friday with analysis from ABC's Kate Shaw on the Supreme Court blocking the Biden administration's vaccine mandate for businesses. Then, ABC's Mike Levine reports on the arrest of the leader of the Oath Keepers in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection. And Josh Mitchell, the author of The Debt Trap, explains who's now debt free after a student loan company agreed to cancel nearly $2 billion in debt.


  • President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the new infrastructure law and its impact on America's bridges at 12:30 p.m.
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki holds a briefing at 11:45 a.m.
  • First lady Jill Biden and Deputy FEMA Administrator Erik Hooks travel to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to survey recovery efforts following the devastation from the recent tornados. Biden, Hooks, Gov. Andy Beshear and his wife, Britainy, survey storm damage in the Creekwood neighborhood at 2 p.m. and then at 1:30 p.m visit a FEMA State Disaster Recovery Center, where the first lady volunteers and delivers remarks.
  • On Saturday, Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin will be sworn in on the State Capitol steps at noon.
  • Sunday on ABC's "This Week": The Powerhouse Roundtable discusses all the week's politics with ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega, ABC News Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott, ABC News Senior Foreign Correspondent Ian Pannell and host of NPR's "Morning Edition" and "Up First" Steve Inskeep.
  • Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.

    The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the day's top stories in politics. Please check back Tuesday for the latest.

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