The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, December 7, 2020

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Monday, December 7, 2020.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Worldview Clash as Biden Transition Team Continues to Announce Nominees for Cabinet Positions

A perspective Biden administration is coming more clearly into focus and there are some huge issues here that now demand our attention. The sub-story begins last week with the announcement that the former vice-president intended to appoint Neera Tanden, a veteran policy expert from the left in the Democratic party as Head of the Office of Management and Budget. Now that’s a position in the federal government with extraordinary influence over the entire budget and for that matter, overrunning the entire administration. The OMB is the most important budgetary unit of the administration itself.

And there was enormous controversy, almost immediately, even as the Biden campaign had announced, the prospective appointment of Neera Tanden. If she were to serve in this role, she would be a prominent Southeast Asian by her family tradition, but that’s not the controversy. The controversy is over the fact that for the last several years, she has been head of a very liberal think tank known as the Center for American Progress. Now, if you’ve been following kind of the universe of the political institutions on the left, the Center for American Progress is extremely well-funded. We’re talking about a budget of something like $50 million a year. We’re also talking about what should be described as the left wing of the Clinton administration, as it has continued, into the future of the Democratic party, suggesting policy. John Podesta, for example, of the Clinton administration, was the founder of the think tank.

But the point to be made right now is that Neera Tanden is an extremely liberal nominee to the left of who you might have expected, a Biden administration, to include in that kind of position because after all, as you’re talking about the budget, you are talking about the entire system of the economy and the conception of the government itself. This is a huge signal of a significant move to the left. There’s been no one like a Neera Tanden as Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and any reason, to administration, Democrat or Republican.

Even years ago, Matthew Iglesias talking about her, identified her as one of the more liberal members of Clinton land. But this isn’t Clinton land anymore, this is going to be Biden land, and Biden land is considerably to the left of where Clinton land was, and still moving left, but that’s not even the biggest news. The Republicans in the Senate indicated that they would do their very best to kill the nomination of Neera Tanden, and it’s going to be a very interesting test of Democratic resolve because after all, Neera Tanden is probably going to be opposed by at least some Democrats because she is considerably to their left as well. But we’ll see. It’s become increasingly difficult to suggest that any senator of a particular will ever vote against the momentum of that party.

But we’re also looking at the fact that last night, even bigger news was made, and this is news that demands very close Christian attention. The news came in the evening last night that the Biden campaign would announce this week Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. This is really big. It’s of enormous concern. It’s hard to imagine anyone that will be more dangerous in the position as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services than Xavier Becerra. He is currently the Attorney General of the state of California. We’ll be talking a good deal about what that means. He also served for several years in the United States Congress, representing a downtown Los Angeles Democratic district.

But when you think about Xavier Becerra and you think about the role as the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services recognize that at the very epicenter of so many of the issues of the most controversial nature in this country, Joe Biden is evidently going to nominate, and that means put his personal administrative reputation upon a man who is far to the left. And we need to consider exactly what we’re talking about here.

If you’ve been listening to The Briefing for a number of years, you have heard the name Xavier Becerra over and over again. Why? Because that name has ricocheted all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where he lost, by the way, when the issue was crisis pregnancy centers. It would be hard to create, even in imagination, a nominee for this kind of position who would be of deeper concern, for anyone who’s pro-life or pro-marriage or pro-religious liberty, than Xavier Becerra. He has turned his office as Attorney General of California into an industrial machine and pushing the agenda of planned parenthood and the culture of death through the abortion rights movement.

Xavier Becerra is an enthusiastic supporter of the Equality Act that would be a steam roller at the expense of religious liberty and the furtherance of the LGBTQ revolution. Back earlier this year, he indicated that if Roe v. Wade were to be reversed by the Supreme Court, as Attorney General of California, he would not even prosecute any cases that would then be criminalized because of his own support for abortion rights. He would place himself even over against the law.

Pro-lifers also know him because of the Supreme Court case, National Institute of Family Life Advocates versus Becerra, that was decided by the Supreme Court in the year 2018, and this had to do with the fact that Becerra was pushing a policy that would have required all pro-life women’s clinics in the state of California to post information about how any woman entering the clinic would be able to get an abortion paid for by the government of California. And of course, that would put those women’s health clinics, those pro-life clinics, in the position of articulating to the public the opposite of their own deepest religious convictions. The Supreme Court, by a 5-4 decision, upheld the right of these women’s clinics not to be forced by attorney general Becerra to use that language.

But you see exactly why we had better be deeply concerned here, because we don’t have to wonder what a Xavier Becerra would do as the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. There was already plenty of evidence, even as he has conducted the Office of the Attorney General in the state of California, even as he has used the power, and I would argue, even abused his power, and the Supreme Court agrees with us there, when it comes to trying to shut down the freedom of crisis pregnancy centers to operate.

This is the kind of man, who, in Congress, had a 100% rating from the pro-abortion entities, and you can count on the fact that he would push that agenda in the extremely influential role as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. That is the federal department that deals with so many of those issues. It was the Department of Health and Human Services, known as HHS, that during the Obama administration, actually formalized the now infamous contraception mandate. It’s the Department of Health and Human Services that decides, in many cases, what is and is not covered, what is and is not government policy, and whether or not the government is going to respect the religious liberty of American citizens.

One of the things that has taken place over the past four years is that President Trump created in every federal department, but strategically within HHS, an office that protected religious liberty and conscience rights. You can see virtually everything that was gained in the last four years, almost immediately reversed by a Department of Health and Human Services under Xavier Becerra. There’s more to this in terms of the politics. Becerra had expected to be a front runner for the position of Attorney General, Head of the Justice department and a Biden administration. And it is almost certain that he wanted that position and wanted it badly. So why did he not get it?

Well, here, we have to look at another very important issue of worldview consequence in the news of these announcements and appointments being made. For one thing, you’re looking at the collision between a perspective Biden administration and the political realities of identity politics. Identity politics is the politics that drives just about every decision by hallmarks of distinctive identity. This is a part of everything from critical theory to the political left’s attempt to make identity. And remember, that includes LGBTQ identity, gender identity, you go down the entire list, ethnic and racial identity, the determinative factors. And that means you have to keep a list. And that explains an article that appeared just last week in The Wall Street Journal is by Sabrina Siddiqui and Natalie Andrews, the headline, “Democrats pressure Biden on cabinet.”

The reporters tell us, “President-elect Joe Biden is under pressure from several groups within the Democratic party as he weighs more cabinet picks with Black and Latino lawmakers discussing coordinating efforts to try to sway his selection for top jobs.” We are then told, “Members of the Congressional Black caucus and Congressional Hispanic caucus had been in touch with Mr. Biden’s transition team to encourage him to increase diversity at the highest levels of the government. Some of those members are now discussing tactics to elevate their preferred contenders, including possibly aligning their endorsements. They haven’t reached an agreement on their strategy, but one approach would be to choose one Black or Latino candidate to recommend for a handful of top remaining positions.”

Now here’s another interesting thing to note. At this point in the nomination process, it would be expected that someone functioning as president-elect would have made clear the administration’s choices for the roles of secretary of defense and attorney general of the United States. There has to be a reason why the Biden campaign has not announced those top picks, and it almost assuredly has to do with the fact that identity politics has now reached a fever pitch. After all, with every appointment, there are fewer future appointments, and those who are watching and keeping score, well, they’re keeping score with increasing fervor and increasing pressure upon a Biden administration, right now, a transition team. And thus, it is very interesting that Biden hasn’t announced an attorney general or a secretary of defense.

Other issues are connected there. For one thing, when it comes to the secretary of defense, most of the people that the Biden administration has acknowledged considering have very deep ties to lobbying organizations or other institutional connections that would make them somewhat radioactive to the parties left. Now we can just point out, for example, that when you’re talking about the secretary of defense, you are talking about someone who would be in charge of the entire defense program of the United States of America, that is, at least as the cabinet officer with that designation. It is hard in most conditions in the United States to consider someone who would be genuinely of the left in that kind of position. But it’s also clear that the left is now increasing pressure and making demands that the Biden transition team and Biden himself are going to find difficult to resist.

As we think about worldview issues, we need to understand that when you’re looking at the Department of Health and Human Services, that really is ground zero for so many policies. It’s not just a matter of direct issues, such as the Affordable Care Act and the policies that will go with that funding, it’s not only when it comes to the future of the United States as we think about healthcare coverage or healthcare services for Americans, it’s not only about that, as if you could even say only, it’s also about so many of the most crucial issues that have to do with the sanctity of human life, that have to do with the sanctity of human life, not only on the question of abortion, but with everything, from human research on embryos, all the way to eventual questions related to euthanasia. It has to do with whether or not medical care practitioners and hospitals are going to be respected because of their religious convictions. It has a great deal to do with pharmacists and doctors and nurses and whether or not conscience rights are going to be trampled upon.

Given what we know right now of Xavier Becerra, there is no reason whatsoever, not one shred of evidence or hope, that he would not do everything within his power to try to advance the abortion rights agenda and the LGBTQ movement, and at absolute cost to religious liberty rights, because that’s exactly how he is functioned as Attorney General of California.

Now that news was leaked last night. What does it mean that it was leaked? According to mainstream media, at least three sources close to the Biden transition team confirmed the news. Well, that’s how it works in Washington, or that’s how it works in American politics. This is not a leak. The transition team did not want leaked. It’s a leak that they want to have at least considered in the mainstream media before the transition team and Biden make any public comment themselves. This is just the way the world works. But here’s what you need to note. If indeed this were not the case, well, the Biden transition team has had plenty of time to say that’s not true, but it didn’t, instead suggesting that this news will be formalized by midpoint this coming week.

But of course, this also underlined something else we’re going to be talking about this week, and that is that special election on January the 5th for those two Senate seats in Georgia, an extremely unusual circumstance that now has outsize importance. Voters in the state of Georgia have through today, only today, by online voter registration or by postmarked voter registration in order to be eligible for the January 5th special election. Just the conversation about Neera Tanden and particularly, about Xavier Becerra should underline just how important that special election is, just how important it is to have a break in the United States Senate with a Republican majority to stop, or at least to slow down this lurch to the left when it comes to the American government.

The Senate really matters. That election, January the 5th, really matters. And that race has fascinating dimensions that we will be considering as this week unfolds.

Part II

Joe Biden, the Moderate? No ...  and Some “Conservatives” Are All For Getting Along with the Program, Just a Little More Slowly

But one of the thing I just have to address, and I keep a file of these things because I want them for ready reference, and unfortunately, this one was quite ready for reference. It’s an article written by David Brooks, opinion columnist for The New York Times, on September the 17th, that is to say just a little less than two months before the election. One of the things that we need to watch is how many people, who, 10 years ago, were clearly identified as conservative that really cannot be considered conservative in any real sense now.

One of the things we’re also going to be looking at on The Briefing and weeks and months ahead is the fact that there are different kinds of conservatism, and one of them actually isn’t conservative at all. There is an entire wing of what used to be called American conservatism that isn’t conservative in the sense of trying to conserve truths, institutions, structures for human flourishing. Instead it is simply trying to be somewhat, if only slightly, less liberal than the moral revolutionaries are trying to drive us. In other words, they’re basically willing to get where the moral revolutionaries want to go. They just want to go a little bit more slowly, and they might say, with a little more consideration. But let’s be clear, the end goal was the same.

David Brooks is one of those. Several years ago, he was often referred to as the conservative columnist at The New York Times. It’s questionable as to how conservative he ever was. But especially, as you consider who he is now, it really is not fair to call him a conservative of any sort. He is a supporter of same-sex marriage and has been for a long time. He has not upheld conservative values at the most basic level of understanding even the structures of creation.

But in this article, he penned for The New York times that was dated September the 17th of 2020, the headline was, “No, the Democrats haven’t gone over the edge.” He actually says this about Joe Biden, whom he supported in the campaign, “Biden was arguably the most moderate of the nearly 30 Democrats who ran for president in the past year. The team around him, the folks who would presumably lead his administration are Clinton Obama veterans and not exactly a bunch of left wing woke activists.” Now remember, the aim of David Brooks in writing this article was to try to assure prospective voters in the November 3rd election that Joe Biden wasn’t a liberal, he’s no culture warrior. He’s just a moderate. But the very idea, which was never plausible in its face of Joe Biden, the moderate, dies and excruciating death with the nomination of someone like Xavier Becerra.

In this article, David Brooks wrote, “To the extent that Biden’s gone left, left was put in quotation marks, is mostly in areas where the moderates agree, quadrupling federal spending, a low-income housing assistance, making community college free.” He goes on to say, “A Biden administration would not be further left than the Democratic voters out in the country or the representatives in Congress. Those voters are not mostly the urban gentrifiers who propel the left, they’re mostly the somewhat liberal suburbanites and Black moderates who gave Biden the nomination.” He goes on to say, “If you ask whether the Democrats shifted too far left, my answer is the party has gotten more ideologically diverse, but there is a large, strong center that will keep it in the political mainstream.”

Later in that same article, he writes, “Biden is a man who doesn’t do culture war, who will separate the cultural left from the political left, reduce politics back to its natural size and calm an increasingly apocalyptic and hysterical nation.” Then again, maybe not. The nomination of someone like Xavier Becerra to be the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services is indeed a major act in the culture war.

It is absolutely fascinating to see how many people who used to be conservatives are now willing to sacrifice just about everything that is authentically conservative in order to get along with the program, albeit just a little more slowly.

Part III

It’s All Cats and Cannabis in the Final Days of the 216th Congress: House of Representatives Passes Bill Decriminalizing Marijuana

Next, in other news, over the weekend, the news came that on Friday, the democratically controlled House of Representatives had approved a bill to decriminalize and tax marijuana or cannabis at the national level. Now, there are some words here that are really important. Why decriminalize rather than legalize? Well, because the bill and most efforts that would be considered at the federal level would not legalize anything. It would simply decriminalize it. What’s the difference? Well, decriminalizing means there is no criminal statute that would be violated. There is no criminal penalty at the national level. Now, what makes that so important is because even as so many states have moved to legalize, either more states for what they call medical marijuana, or fewer states for what is called recreational marijuana.

The fact is that the federal government still lists marijuana, all forms of actual cannabis, as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it comes under the strongest legal force of the federal government. It is against the law to possess or to sell, or even to establish a bank account for the sale of cannabis, or marijuana, that is, nationwide. And that puts the federal government and the state government in, well, contradictory positions.

But the Democrats in the House have been saying for a long time, and now they’re in the majority, that they wanted to move forward with decriminalizing marijuana. But the bill that passed on Friday by a vote of 228 to 164, it doesn’t have much of a future at all in the United States Senate. But don’t make any mistake about this. It’s going to come back and it’s going to come back with a lot of force, and this is a pretty significant vote, 228 to 164. But there’s something else here that’s really fascinating.

This bill would not merely decriminalize marijuana, it would also set up a federal tax over the sale of marijuana, which would put our federal government basically in the position of profiting by the sale and use of marijuana. But it’s not just that, but as Brian Contreras of the Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend, the bill would, “Also eliminate federal criminal penalties for individuals who manufacture, distribute, or possess marijuana and impose a tax on cannabis products, revenue from which would fund loans to small businesses in the marijuana industry owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, as well as a program to minimize barriers to entering the industry for individuals with criminal records.”

Seriously, you can’t make this up. As a matter of fact, Contreras went on to say that this kind of reform effort overlaps with the Black Lives Matter movement. This effort to decriminalize marijuana also comes with an effort to expunge the criminal records of those who had been convicted of crimes related to marijuana. And statistically, that is a disproportionately African American, and as it’s true to here, people of color pattern. But that’s explainable by many reasons, including reasons that were fully supported by Joe Biden when he was a part of legislating these criminal penalties, understanding the war on drugs and supporting it when he was in the United States Senate.

But the fascinating thing here is that a marijuana fund would basically be established with this 5% federal tax and it would be directed towards subsidizing people, particularly minority business people, to get in the marijuana business. It would not only decriminalize marijuana, take it off of the schedule 1 list, it would actually put the federal government in the position of encouraging people with money to get into the cannabis marijuana business.

You think who’s sitting in Congress, both in the House and in the Senate, who’s sitting in the White House, who’s sitting on the court, makes a difference? Just think about it. We’re talking about a complete revolution in American society related to marijuana that could happen just with the stroke of a pen after the House and the Senate would vote on this kind of legislation. As I said, right now, this kind of legislation is dead on arrival in the Senate, but you have to wonder, for how long?

It’s worth noting that the Republican minority leader in the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, said, “With all the challenges America has right now, Republicans think COVID relief should be on the floor, but instead, the Democrats put cats and cannabis on the house floor. They’re picking weed over the workers, they’re picking marijuana over providing the much needed money we need to go forward to arrest the pandemic.” Well, you expect to the opposing party had to make that kind of comment, but why cats and cannabis? Well, it turns out that minority leader McCarthy really does have a very important point to make here.

Even as Speaker Pelosi and others in her party’s leadership has said that their number one priority is a relief bill in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Leader McCarthy was absolutely right that instead, the Democratic House has decided to go forward with the decriminalization of marijuana, but that’s the cannabis. What are the cats? Well, it turns out that the House also moved to ban private ownership of big cats, such as lions and tigers. As Matthew Daly of the Associated Press tells us, this was a measure “boosted by the Netflix series Tiger King. That bill, we’re told, approved by the House on Thursday, would allow most private zoos to keep their tigers and other species, but would prohibit most public contact with the animals.”

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s cannabis and cats in the 216th Congress as it comes to an end, and the 217th is coming very fast on its heels.

The Christian worldview dimensions of the cannabis far outweigh the Christian worldview significance of the cats, but the tigers and the lions might disagree with me. Cannabis is not the most important moral issue facing the nation, but we need to recognize, as we’ve discussed on The Briefing, it is a big issue because it’s not just about cannabis, it’s about our understanding of everything from mind altering drugs to the liberalization of the entire culture because what we tax, we actually encourage to be consumed.

You can’t have this kind of measure in the House of Representatives without a massive change in American society, and that’s going to give us all a lot to think about.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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