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From Zoom to COVID vaccines to Biden and (gulp) Trump, a liberal's Thanksgiving thanks

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 5 days ago Jill Lawrence, USA TODAY
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Thanksgiving is the one sacrosanct holiday in my extended, spiritually diverse family – and if there’s one week to focus on the positive instead of all that’s painfully wrong in our world, this is it. 

Don’t worry, there will be politics. (It is my nature.) But we are on a brief break to commemorate the 1621 harvest celebration that cemented a temporary peace between the English Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe. This is a holiday about unity and friendship.

Jill Lawrence © Family photo Jill Lawrence

In that spirit, my goal is to give credit where it is due. And some surprising people turn out to deserve it.

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Exiting the pandemic

The No. 1 reason to be thankful is, without question, all the ways life is slowly and fitfully returning to some semblance of normal. That starts with the miraculous COVID-19 vaccine and every single scientist, corporation and politician who helped make it possible to develop and distribute. Yes, that includes you, former President Donald Trump, as well as President Joe Biden. It includes every American who has gotten vaccinated, every person who willingly wears a mask when it’s requested or required, every worker who has taken risks to help and serve others, every parent who struggled with school, child care and job chaos, and everyone who helped bring us the new antiviral pills that could make COVID a manageable disease. 

Boxes containing vials of the Moderna vaccines stored at a health center in Los Angeles. © Patrick T. Fallon, AFP via Getty Images Boxes containing vials of the Moderna vaccines stored at a health center in Los Angeles.

And (don’t @ me for expressing my unpopular opinion) it includes Zoom, without which I might not recognize my kids by now. One of them I’ve seen only once in real life since Christmas 2019. But a Christmas 2021 reunion is, hopefully, on the horizon.

No. 2: Fact-based Republicans and former Republicans who tell truths and work across the aisle. I’m grateful to Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for adding muscle and credibility to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack investigation; to them and the eight other House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over the attack and the seven who voted to convict him at his Senate trial; and to the Republicans who helped negotiate the new bipartisan infrastructure law and the 32 Republicans who voted for it in Congress. 

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., at an Oct. 19, 2021, meeting of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. © J. Scott Applewhite, AP Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., at an Oct. 19, 2021, meeting of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

No. 3: Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. I have plenty of issues with these two often-exasperating Democrats, but this is not the week to elaborate. I am grateful to Sinema for her painstaking persistence on the infrastructure deal, which validated Biden’s faith in comity and America’s ability to get things done. I’m grateful to Manchin for proposing a compromise on voting and election protection that advocates rated surprisingly strong, and for at least trying to win Republican support for it. 

USA TODAY's Jill Lawrence: Infrastructure was once a crashing bore. Now it symbolizes our sick, violent politics.

No. 4: President Biden, for countless reasons. Among them: He has put qualified people in positions that matter. His administration has already lifted millions of children out of poverty with an expanded child tax credit, and lifted tens of thousands out of debt by fixing a broken student loan program. He knows when to rock the boat and when not to, as he showed Monday by renominating Republican Trump appointee Jerome Powell to a second term as Federal Reserve chair.

Also, he is not insulting foreign countries, calling people names, threatening states he didn’t win, extorting foreign leaders for political dirt on rivals or inflaming his supporters to violence. And he embraces diversity and American values. (I know, I know, sorry, and now back to accentuating the positive.)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats cheer after passage of the Build Back Better Act on Nov. 19, 2021, in Washington. © Anna Moneymaker, Getty Images House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats cheer after passage of the Build Back Better Act on Nov. 19, 2021, in Washington.

No. 5: The determination of Biden and Democrats to pass the Build Back Better bill and former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers' assist at a crucial time. Summers, who has been warning Biden about inflation risks for months, says the infrastructure and Build Back Better packages are fully paid for and noninflationary, and a lot of what's in them is “vitally needed investments in the future of the country.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rightly calls Build Back Better “the most historic and transformative agenda in a century.” Democrats have a chance to offer a fraction of the family and education support – more affordable child care, college, health care, housing and prescriptions; universal prekindergarten; paid family leave; expanded home caregiving – that bolsters the workforces and productivity of other industrialized nations, and to start us toward a healthier planet. Why shouldn’t they grab that chance?

Seizing the Build Back Better moment

The answer in some quarters is that American democracy will collapse if Republicans win Congress in 2022 and the presidency in 2024. Democrats should be laser focused on protecting elections and their majorities, they argue, because Republicans are not fit to govern.

I agree with them on the looming threats and I understand their concern. It’s clear from Biden's approval ratings that the public either doesn’t know what is in Build Back Better or doesn’t care. But Democrats don’t have many choices right now.

A suburban mom to fellow Democrats: We're good teammates. Take us seriously.

They need 60 of 100 senators to break a filibuster and proceed to a vote on a bill, and counting Vice President Kamala Harris, they have 51. Republicans recently blocked three voting and election protection bills, including one based on Manchin's. Sinema, Manchin and other reluctant Democrats could agree at some point to change the filibuster rule, but the odds are long.

So what legislation can Democrats pass with just 51 votes?  Budget reconciliation bills that involve saving, spending and raising money. Bills like Build Back Better, which the House passed Friday and sent to the Senate. 

I truly hope that with or without Republicans, Congress will be able to protect the integrity of voting, elections, democracy and the office of the presidency in 2022. Right now, I am tremendously grateful to the splintered and stressed Democrats for seizing this moment to strengthen America for the Thanksgivings to come.

Jill Lawrence is a columnist for USA TODAY and author of "The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock." Follow her on Twitter: @JillDLawrence

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: From Zoom to COVID vaccines to Biden and (gulp) Trump, a liberal's Thanksgiving thanks

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