The sketch featured several “SNL” cast members as the congressional leaders who are locked in a battle over the proposed $3.5 trillion social benefits bill, and it was the ending in particular that Democrats should note. The last lines of the sketch offer the hard truth of what’s to come for them in the 2022 midterm elections if they don’t find a way to compromise: They are all “screwed.”
Saturday night’s skewering began with new cast member James Austin Johnson playing President Joe Biden recapping the highs and lows of his summer — Broadway shows are back again after the long Covid-related shutdown but “so is the Taliban,” Johnson quipped. “So, win some, lose some.”
From there it was a political brawl as “SNL’s” version of moderate Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, played by Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong, sparred with progressive members of the party over the hotly debated spending bill.
For example, “SNL’s” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (played by Melissa Villaseñor) declared she wanted “at least $300 billion in clean energy tax credits,” to which Manchin countered, “And I’m saying zero.” Biden, as the moderator-in-chief, triumphantly responded, “See? Same page!”
While Manchin was portrayed as consistently countering the progressives’ demands, the real comedic villain of the sketch was Strong’s Sinema, whose character was summed up with this funny and poignant line: “What do I want from this bill? I’ll never tell, ’cause I didn’t come to Congress to make friends — and so far, mission accomplished.”
There was even a moment when the progressives, including Ego Nwodim as Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, did reach an agreement with Manchin on funding to improve our nation’s roads. (They had Manchin’s support because that’s where the “trucks live.”) But “SNL’s” Sinema objected, saying “I want no roads.” When a baffled Biden asked why, Sinema defiantly responded with a single word: “Chaos.”
Does Sinema truly want “chaos”? Unlikely, but I can tell you as someone who hosts a daily progressive radio show that there’s much more anger directed at Sinema than Manchin. In the eyes of the public, Manchin has at least shared the broad strokes of the deal he would accept, while Sinema has not publicly expressed her bottom line (although her office released a statement Thursday explaining that she has “detailed her views” to President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer).
While we can debate what any of these Democrats actually want, the truth about the risky outcome that awaits their bickering is exactly as we heard it at the end of Saturday’s cold open.
“Us Democrats have had each other’s backs no matter what,” said Pete Davidson as former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who then urged the bill to be passed because “just like me, it deserves a second chance. And a third chance. And up to at least 11 chances.”
When “SNL’s” Chuck Schumer appeared, declaring that “us Democrats are all in this together,” Biden echoed that sentiment with the line, “fundamentally, we’re all the same.” To which Davidson’s Cuomo dropped the punchline: “Screwed!”
It was at that point that we heard the iconic opening line, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!” But if Democrats don’t pass some version of the sweeping “human infrastructure” bill, after the 2022 midterms they will likely be screaming, “Dead from Washington, DC, it’s the Democratic Party!”
The reality is that the President’s political party traditionally loses seats in the midterm elections. Look at what happened to Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump. In Obama’s first midterm in 2010, Democrats lost a whopping 63 House seats and six in the Senate. In 2018 under Trump, the GOP lost 40 House seats — although the GOP picked up two Senate seats.
Democrats don’t have many seats to lose given their less than 10-seat majority in the House and the 50-50 tie in the Senate. If they don’t pass this social spending overhaul, what is their argument for reelection in 2022? Telling constituents to give them control of the House and Senate again, and this time they just might be able pass something? That’s not the type of argument that animates voters.
One of the few exceptions that’s potentially instructive for the Democrats is what happened in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first midterm in 1934. In that election, Democrats picked up 18 seats — nine each in the House and Senate. That was because FDR delivered sweeping programs starting in 1933 as part of his “New Deal” to help Americans suffering during the Great Depression. True, FDR had a much larger majority in Congress than today’s Democrats, but the point is that delivering for the American people is the Democrats’ best bet in 2022.
Here’s the bitingly cold truth for Democrats, as told to them by “SNL”: Make a deal on the spending bill, or you are all “screwed.” What’s it going to be?