State House News 7.5.2024

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Weekly Roundup: D.C. Fireworks Steal The Show
as of July 5, 2024

Sam Drysdale​

JULY 5, 2024…..When the once-named “next big Democratic star” ties her political rise to an aging president trying to maintain a foothold with an increasingly skeptical American public, you better believe all eyes will be on said up-and-comer as that president’s reelection campaign spirals into uncertainty.

Gov. Maura Healey jetted off to Washington D.C. this week following a debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump that left Democrats scrambling to control the narrative of whether the 81-year-old Democrat is fit to run the country for four more years and, importantly, whether he can beat Trump to do so.

She also joined a call of fellow Democratic governors Monday, when the New York Times reports Healey said “she had told Jeff Zients, the White House chief of staff, that the president’s political position was ‘irretrievable’ after his disastrous debate performance, according to two people who were on that call.”

If Healey believes the Biden campaign can’t bounce back from the dismal debate showing, it signals a departure from her steadfast stance beating the Biden drum, and is one of the most noteworthy pessimistic comments from a prominent Democrat governor in the week since the debate.

Following Wednesday’s meeting at the White House, the Biden camp put out a press release with statements from governors under the bold-text headline “We’re Going To Have His Back.” That release included statements of support from Tim Walz of Minnesota, Kathy Hochul of New York, Wes Moore of Maryland and seven other Dem executives. Missing from that list? Healey.

In fact, Healey’s team has not responded to questions about her opinion on the Biden campaign following her trip to the White House.

During that meeting, Healey undoubtedly saw governors Gavin Newsom of California, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Andy Beshear of Kentucky, who have all been floated as potential replacement nominees if Biden were to step aside.

Whitmer, especially, appears to be a close political ally of the Bay State governor. Whitmer quietly visited Beacon Hill in February, when she dropped into a House Democrats caucus and connected with Healey while visiting Massachusetts on a personal trip with her family. Last summer, Healey traveled to Mackinac Island in Michigan at Whitmer’s invite along with other female governors — a group that are reportedly “actual friends” who frequently call and text each other about topics both professional and personal, according to the 19th.

Last week, Healey called the president’s debate performance against Trump “tough to watch,” but walked away when a reporter asked whether the party should rethink Biden’s nomination for the 2024 election.

It feels like a real change in tune — or at least a break in the melody — of the song Healey has been singing for the last year encouraging people to go to the polls for Biden.

Usually, we at the News Service have to sort through dozens of PR emails immediately following important developments in the 2024 presidential election. Supreme Court ruling on presidential immunity? Nine emails from Democrats and progressive-leaning organizations. Anniversary of the Dobbs decision? Sixteen press releases. Trump’s conviction? Twenty-two.

But our inboxes were eerily empty on the day after the Biden-Trump debate, and we have to wonder if the press releases with subject lines “Congressman X Congratulates President Biden On His Debate Performance” remained in the drafts.

And it’s not just a matter of her rising political star for Healey. The governor has made a point of her harsh rebukes of Trump (she sued the former president nearly 100 times as attorney general), but has also made the attraction of federal dollars for Massachusetts infrastructure needs a key piece of her platform. What would a Trump presidency would look like for a Healey-led Massachusetts?

A recent press release from Healey’s team: “The Administration has successfully won more than $2 billion in discretionary grants for transportation projects, including: $67 million to advance accessibility at Green Line stations, $335 million to reconnect communities and increase mobility through the Allston I-90 Multimodal Project, $372 million for the replacement of the Cape Cod Canal bridges, $108 million for West-East Rail, $75 million for schools to electrify their bus fleets, and $24 million to rehabilitate Leonard’s Wharf in New Bedford.”

Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll also boasted last November that a total $6 billion has come to the Bay State in the two years since Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Life could get a lot harder for Director of Federal Funds and Infrastructure Quentin Palfrey if Trump is president.

Healey also isn’t the only elected with a stake in the game this presidential election season. Two lawmakers have called for Biden to step aside to make way for another candidate who they say could have a better chance at beating Trump.

Sen. Jason Lewis made waves when he released a statement the day after the Biden-Trump debate encouraging the aged incumbent to step aside for a fresh-faced candidate.

He released a longer statement a few days later, clarifying that if Biden were the nominee, he’d support the president. But he doubled down again on Wednesday with the following statement:

“Rather than reassuring Americans of President Biden’s ability to campaign vigorously and lead the Democratic Party to victory over Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans, the words and actions of the Biden campaign over the past week have led to further erosion of confidence and support among voters. After President Biden’s dismal debate performance (and even if he had performed well), he should be doing multiple, energetic campaign events across the battleground states along with media appearances. The fact that he is not is itself evidence that his candidacy is deeply hobbled,” before again praising his “lifetime of distinguished public service,” and asking him to “make the difficult decision to step aside.”

On the other side of the building, Rep. Mike Connolly also made a plea to the president.

“It’s sad to see a person in decline — but it’s time for President Biden to end his campaign for re-election and for top Democrats to stop gaslighting the American people. Trump is now closer than ever to retaking the White House, and we need to do everything we can to stop him,” Connolly tweeted Tuesday.

Secretary of State William Galvin this week said he’s noticed voters repelling from the two major political parties, as well as a rise in “citizens who are distrustful of the process [and] we have anxiety about the accuracy of the process — none of which are factually justified.”

The longtime secretary told WBZ-TV’s Jon Keller that he’s “very concerned” about the “unease in our democracy.”

Galvin also talked about the slate of questions that appear on track to go before voters on the Nov. 5 statewide ballot, including measures related to the auditor’s ability to audit the Legislature, union rights of gig economy drivers, the role of the MCAS exam and more.

“My concern is that it increasingly has become simply a money pit for all of the various interests, and these cases or these questions are decided by the amount of money being spent — and there’s a remarkable amount of money being spent every election in Massachusetts on ballot questions,” he said. Ballot question campaigns are well known to spend millions of dollars, sometimes tens of millions, to sway voters.

Though the question of what will appear on November’s ballot has taken up plenty of ink and airtime, the lawmakers who could have been negotiating to find a solution to any of those questions — and keep them off the ballot — appeared to be mostly on vacation this week.

Wednesday’s deadline for ballot question campaigns to submit their final signature petitions to put the topics before voters came and went without any legislative solutions. Lawmakers seemed uninterested in touching the controversial topics with a 10-foot pole.

Leading up to the deadline, when legislators could have been working for a deal, Beacon Hill’s halls were largely empty. The House and Senate both held constitutionally-obligated informal sessions and left the growing list of bills to take action on for another week.

(Here, we point you to the MASSterList bill tracker, for a sense of all that lawmakers hope to accomplish by July 31.)

The three biggest things we could have seen this week (though no one was exactly expecting them) was the House to tackle their version of a climate bill, the Senate to move on a Healey-priority economic development bill, and, of course, the overdue budget.

We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for those next week, or the week after, when folks return to Beacon Hill’s halls with tans from their time at the beach.

It all comes down to the next three weeks — the last month of a two-year session for a full-time Legislature. And in the first week of July, no one was here. Maybe they were distracted turning their heads to D.C.

ODDS & ENDS: The House last week quietly passed a bill to expand protections for patients who are sexually assaulted by medical professionals and clergy members … A proposed offshore wind installation that could help power Massachusetts and its neighbors received full federal approval of the construction and operations plan … The Biden administration extended a legal immigration status for Haitians fleeing conflict in their country … Senate Elder Affairs Chair Pat Jehlen is optimistic about a long-term care billmaking it to the governor’s desk before July 31.