Walkback? Biden never told MLB to boycott Georgia, says Psaki

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A tasty leftover from yesterday via Breitbart. It caught Politico’s attention last night too. It’s strange that on the very day MLB was preparing to move the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver that the White House would strain to minimize Biden’s role in that process.

Is Team Joe rethinking the politics here?

Watch what Biden said last week when he was asked whether baseball should pull the game out of Atlanta. I’d “strongly support” them doing that, he affirmed, a rare if not unprecedented instance of a sitting president endorsing a boycott of a U.S. state over politics — and something the last Democratic president, Barack Obama, expressly eschewed while in office.

Without that cover from Biden, would MLB have finally pulled the plunger on Atlanta? Remember, Stacey Abrams and Jon Ossoff both opposed the boycott after the idea began gaining traction, not wanting to alienate Georgia voters by siding with activists seeking to drive business out of the state. If America’s most powerful Democrat had opposed it too, maybe that would have been enough for baseball to say, “We’re troubled by the voting law but think there are more productive ways to lobby for voting rights than a boycott.”

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So, no, Biden didn’t “dictate” MLB’s decision, as Psaki pointed out yesterday, but no one accused him of having done so. Of course a politician can’t “dictate” how a corporate behaves. He did, however, powerfully incentivize MLB to yank the game by aligning his party with the boycotters. And the White House suddenly seems antsy enough about his role in that to try to scrub his fingerprints off of Rob Manfred’s decision:

“He was not dictating for what Major League Baseball should do, that they should — dictating they should move the All-Star game,” she said. “That was their decision, they made that decision, and as he stated earlier he certainly supports that.”

She said Biden’s remarks should be considered in “context.”…

“He supports them being able to make the decision, and respond to what their players, you know, asks are given many of them are impacted of course by these laws,” she said.

When asked if she was trying to walk back Biden’s comments, Psaki replied, “I’m trying to articulate clearly to everyone what he said.”

“He supports them being able to make the decision” is a meaningless statement, tantamount to saying, “He supports business owners being able to run their businesses.” He created the political space for MLB to make this move and now, rather than take ownership of that, his press shop is inching away from it. How come?

My guess is they’ve watched Abrams and Ossoff react to the boycott and come around to the view that maaaaaaybe having Democrats associated with a movement to squelch business in Georgia isn’t the shrewdest politics in a 50/50 swing state. Having Biden now back away from baseball’s decision is a way to signal to other corporations that they shouldn’t feel obliged to follow suit. It may also be that the White House has realized that this issue isn’t the home run for them that they hoped it would be:

Independents break 38/29 on Georgia’s statute. Shouting “Jim Crow” ad nauseam can only do so much to influence voters who aren’t already predisposed for partisan reasons to assume the rock-bottom worst about their opponents’ intentions.

Meanwhile, the White House may be uncomfortable with the contrast Republicans are drawing between Georgia’s supposedly draconian new law and the less forgiving rules favored by certain blue states, including Biden’s own. Righties are already having fun pointing out how Colorado, where the All-Star Game will now be held, has voting laws that are less liberal in certain ways than Georgia’s. Attention is also shifting today to the comparative racial demographics of Denver and Atlanta:

Not a great talking point for Democrats, especially with Abrams and Ossoff on the other side. Plus, from a broader perspective, it’s a bad look for a president who got elected running on “healing” and bringing Americans together to align himself with something as divisive as an economic boycott. It’s one thing to criticize Georgia’s law, it’s another to criticize it falsely and demagogically, and it’s another thing still to condone economic pain for the residents of the state where it passed to punish them for the actions of their legislature. Biden was supposed to be the guy who, contra Trump, was going to hang back from culture wars while in office, right?

As for MLB and other boycott-minded companies, Republicans have few options to make them rethink political gambits like this one except to boycott them right back. Although that could be tricky in baseball’s case since, frankly, Americans are sort of boycotting baseball already:

Via the IJR, here’s Rand Paul calling for a counter-boycott this morning on Fox. That’s the most efficient way to stop other companies from following MLB’s lead. Give baseball a whiff of economic grapeshot, pour encourager les autres.

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