Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
December 14, 2021
The big story today continues to be the insurrection and the many people now seemingly swept up in the investigation of it.
The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol took to the House Rules Committee its resolution to hold Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress. This afternoon, the House Rules Committee voted along party lines by a vote of 8 to 4 to advance the contempt resolution to the House itself.
In the full House, where Republican leadership urged members to vote against the contempt charge, debate continued into the night. Shortly after 11:00, the House voted to refer Meadows to the Department of Justice for criminal contempt of Congress. The vote was 222 to 208, with only two Republicans—Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois—voting with the Democrats. Both Cheney and Kinzinger sit on the January 6 committee.
In the course of the debate, to make their case that Meadows’s ttimony is vital to understand what happened on January 6, members of the committee continued to reveal pieces of the material they received from Meadows before he decided to stop cooperating.
One text in particular jumped out. A Republican member of the House texted Meadows on November 4, the day after the election, saying: “HERE’S an AGRESSIVE [sic] STRATEGY: Why can t [sic] the states of GA NC PENN and other R controlled state houses declare this is BS (where conflicts and election not called that night) and just send their own electors to vote and have it go to the SCOTUS[?]”
That is, a Republican member of Congress wanted Republican-dominated state legislatures not even to wait to see who had won the election—none of those states had been called by November 4—but simply to ignore the will of the voters, choose their own electors, and hope that the Supreme Court would hand the election to Trump as he had been saying for weeks it would.
Since the election, with the help and urging of some of Trump’s former lawyers, 19 of those Republican-dominated legislatures have passed laws making it harder for Democrats to vote and, in some cases, gotten rid of the nonpartisan election mechanisms to count votes and replaced them with partisan operatives. They have put in place a system that looks much like what this text called for.
In Georgia, for example, Republicans in the legislature changed the law to enable them to purge Black voters from county election boards, arguing that such reforms are necessary to restore faith in the system after the 2020 election. And today, a handful of lawmakers from Georgia’s legislature launched the Georgia Freedom Caucus with the goal of moving Georgia’s Republican Party further to the right.
Our democracy is at stake. In the Declaration of Independence, this nation’s Founders declared it “self-evident” that governments are legitimate only if those they govern consent to them. If lawmakers take it upon themselves to ignore the will of the voters and themselves decide who will hold power, we will have lost the ability to consent to our government. And that government will be far more extremist than polls suggest the vast majority of us want.
A number of voting rights bills have passed the House and are waiting for Senate action. But Republicans there do not want to pass them, and Democrats cannot do it with their razor-thin majority because the Senate filibuster means that Republicans can demand 60 votes even to take up a bill.
So right now, Democrats like Georgia’s Senator Raphael Warnock are pressing the Senate to reform the filibuster in order to pass voting rights protections with a simple majority. Democrats like Warnock are determined to pass voting rights legislation not least because they know that before the 1965 Voting Rights Act there were majority-Black counties in the South in which not a single Black person voted. In 1946, for example, 14,394 white people and 38,970 Black people lived in Leflore County, Mississippi. Of those folks, 4,345 white people were registered to vote, and they carried elections, since the 26 Black people registered to vote did not risk their safety by casting a ballot.
It is highly unlikely the Senate will agree to get rid of the filibuster altogether, but the argument for creating a carve-out for voting rights is an easy one to make, especially since the Senate voted today to approve a higher debt ceiling increase to $2.5 trillion on a simple majority vote of 50 to 49.
The torrent of news from the January 6 committee might give at least a few Republican lawmakers pause about continuing to shore up those who set out to undermine democracy, if not for their own principles, then for the reality that this will not play well during televised hearings next year. “We are all watching what is unfolding on the House side,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said today, “and it will be interesting to reveal all of the participants that were involved.”
Meanwhile, Meadows continues to talk to friendly media while saying he cannot talk to the January 6 committee, and after a day of ignoring the story about their texts altogether, tonight the Fox News Channel personalities identified yesterday in texts defended those texts, although they sounded nervous.
They are apparently not the only ones with reason to be nervous. In a lawsuit parallel to that of Meadows, lawyer John Eastman, author of the Eastman memo outlining a strategy for overturning the election, today sued members of the January 6 committee, the committee itself, and Verizon to try to keep his records secret.
Also today, a federal judge ruled that the House Ways and Means Committee has a legitimate reason to review Trump’s tax returns and that he must hand them over. Congress has been trying to get them since 2019. Federal law says that when the congressional committees that oversee taxation ask for an individual’s tax return, the Treasury Department and the IRS must turn it over, but Trump has fought the law on the grounds that the committee has no legitimate reason to look at his taxes and is only seeking to embarrass him. The judge gave Trump 14 days to appeal.
And finally, Karl A. Racine, the attorney general for the District of Columbia, sued the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, as well as many of their leaders, for their roles in the January 6 insurrection. The suit charges that the defendants kept U.S. officials from doing their duties surrounding an election—in violation of a law written to stop the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction—and seeks monetary damages to bankrupt the organizations.