GASLIT NATION WITH ANDREA CHALUPA AND SARAH KENDZIOR
In this eye-opening discussion to kick off the Gaslit Nation Summer Reading Series: Essential Conversations with Leading Experts on How to Protect Our Democracy, running mid-July to mid-August, Bill Browder discusses the ongoing threat of Putin’s aggression and what to do about it. We ran an excerpt of our interview with Browder in May. This is the full interview.
The ripples of the explosive testimony of the four police officers Tuesday before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol continue to spread. Committee members are meeting this week to decide how they will proceed. Congress goes on recess during August, but committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) suggested the committee would, in fact, continue to meet during that break.
Committee members are considering subpoenas to compel the testimony of certain lawmakers, especially since the Department of Justice on Tuesday announced that it would not assert executive privilege to stop members of the Trump administration from testifying to Congress about Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection. This is a change from the Trump years, when the Department of Justice refused to acknowledge Congress’s authority to investigate the executive branch. This new directive reasserts the traditional boundaries between the two branches, saying that Congress can require testimony and administration officials can give it.
Further, the Department of Justice yesterday rejected the idea that it should defend Congress members involved in the January 6 insurrection. Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) sued Alabama Representative Mo Brooks, as well as the former president and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, for lying about the election, inciting a mob, and inflicting pain and distress.
Famously, Brooks participated in the rally before the insurrection, telling the audience: “[W]e are not going to let the Socialists rip the heart out of our country. We are not going to let them continue to corrupt our elections, and steal from us our God-given right to control our nation’s destiny.” “Today,” he said, “Republican Senators and Congressmen will either vote to turn America into a godless, amoral, dictatorial, oppressed, and socialist nation on the decline or they will join us and they will fight and vote against voter fraud and election theft, and vote for keeping America great.”
“[T]oday is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass!” he said. He asked them if they were willing to give their lives to preserve “an America that is the greatest nation in world history.” “Will you fight for America?” he asked.
To evade the lawsuit, Brooks gave an affidavit in which he and his lawyers insisted that this language was solely a campaign speech, urging voters to support Republican lawmakers in 2022 and 2024. But he also argued that the Department of Justice had to represent him in the lawsuit because he was acting in his role as a congress member that day, representing his constituents.
Yesterday, the Department of Justice declined to take over the case, pointing out that campaign and electioneering activities fall outside the scope of official employment. It goes on to undercut the idea of protecting any lawmaker who participated in the insurrection, saying that “alleged action to attack Congress and disrupt its official functions is not conduct a Member of Congress is employed to perform.” This means Brooks is on his own to defend himself from the Swalwell lawsuit. It also means that lawmakers intending to fight subpoenas are going to be paying for their own legal representation.
If the committee does, in fact, start demanding that lawmakers talk, Brooks is likely on the list of those from whom they will want to hear. Trying to bolster the new Republican talking point that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) should have been better prepared for the insurrection (this is a diversion: she has no say over the Capitol Police, and she did, in fact, call for law enforcement on January 6), Brooks told Slate political reporter Jim Newell that he, Brooks, knew something was up. He had been warned “on Monday that there might be risks associated with the next few days,” he said. “And as a consequence of those warnings, I did not go to my condo. Instead, I slept on the floor of my office. And when I gave my speech at the Ellipse, I was wearing body armor.” “That’s why I was wearing that nice little windbreaker,” he told Newell. “To cover up the body armor.”
Brooks is not the only one in danger of receiving a subpoena. Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) admitted on the Fox News Channel that he spoke to the former president on January 6, although he claimed not to remember whether it was before, during, or after the insurrection. He tried to suggest that chatting with Trump on January 6 was no different than chatting with him at any other time, but that is unlikely to fly. Jordan also repeatedly referred to Trump as “the president,” rather than the former president, a dog whistle to those who continue to insist that Trump did not, in fact, lose the 2020 election.
Meanwhile, it looks more and more like Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), are eager to change the subject. McCarthy today tried to walk back his previous blaming of Trump for the events of January 6, trying instead to tie Pelosi to the riot. He told reporters that when he said on January 6 that “[t]he President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters” and that Trump “should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding,” he made the comment without “the information we have today.” Then he tried to blame Pelosi for the Capitol Police response.
McCarthy seems unable to figure out how to handle the changing political dynamic and is continuing to shove the octopus of his different caucus interests into the string bag he’s holding only by promising that the Republicans will win in 2022. To that end, he is essentially walking away from governance and focusing only on the culture wars.
In addition to pulling the Trump Republicans off the select committee on the insurrection, he also pulled all six of the Republicans off a key committee on the economy, the Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth. At a time when voters in all parties are concerned with the huge divergence in income and wealth in this country, a divergence that rivals that of the 1850s, 1890s, and 1920s, members of this committee could make names for themselves.
Ohio Republican Warren Davidson was one of those removed from the committee; he told Cleveland media he had been “looking forward” to participating and would “gladly rejoin” the committee if McCarthy relented, but it was Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur, still on the committee, who got the headline and the approving story.
Instead of this productive sort of headline, Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) staged an event in which they tried to visit the accused January 6 rioters at a Washington, D.C., jail. Refused entry, Gohmert told the press: “We’re in totalitarian, Marxist territory here. This is the way third-world people get treated.”
McCarthy and fellow Trump supporters are trying to get their own headlines by opposing new mask mandates as the Delta variant of coronavirus is gathering momentum across the country. On Tuesday, the attending physician for the United States Congress, Dr. Brian Monahan, reinstated the use of masks in the House of Representatives and recommended it in the smaller Senate. On Wednesday, Pelosi required the use of masks in the House, and reminded members that they would be fined for refusing to wear them. All of the Democrats in the House are vaccinated; it appears that only about half of House Republicans are.
Today, House Republicans launched a revolt against mask use. They are trying to adjourn the House rather than gather with masks. Chip Roy (R-TX), said “This institution is a sham. And we should adjourn and shut this place down.” Representatives Greene, Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and Andy Biggs (R-AZ), all maskless, gave Roy a standing ovation. Today, a group of House Republicans without masks posed for cameras as they tried to gain entrance to the Senate.
Consolidating around Trump after his November loss was always a gamble, but increasingly it looks like a precarious one. Just this week, the former president tried to sabotage the infrastructure deal, and 17 senators ignored him. In Texas, on Tuesday, Trump’s ability to swing races was tested and failed when the candidate he backed—even pumping a last-minute $100,000 into the race—lost.
McCarthy has promised to win in 2022 with culture wars rather than governing, and that looks like an increasingly weak bet. But make no mistake: the ace in his vest remains the voter suppression laws currently being enacted across the country.
Both Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia and Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio told television hosts today that they expect an infrastructure deal on the $579 billion bill this week. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said that he will delay the Senate’s upcoming recess until this bipartisan bill and another, larger bill that focuses on human infrastructure are passed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she will not hold a vote on the smaller infrastructure bill until the larger bill, which is a priority for Democrats, passes the Senate.
There are a lot of moving pieces in this infrastructure bill that have more to do with politics than with infrastructure.
First, what is holding up the bill in the Senate is a disagreement about the proper ratio of funding for roads and public transportation. When Congress passed the Federal-Aid Highway Act in 1956, starting the creation of 41,000 miles of interstate highways, lawmakers thought that gasoline taxes would pay for the construction and upkeep of the highways. Congress raised the gas tax four times, in 1959, 1983, 1990, and 1993. But, beginning in 2008, as fuel efficiency went up, the gas tax no longer covered expenses. Congress made up shortfalls with money from general funds.
In 1983, in order to gain support for an increase of $.05 in the gas tax from lawmakers from the Northeast who wanted money for mass transit, Congress agreed to establish a separate fund for public transportation that would get one out of every five cents collected from the gas tax. This 80% to 20% ratio has lasted ever since.
Now, Republican negotiators are demanding less money for public transportation and more for roads, sparking outrage from Democrats who note that a bipartisan agreement has stood for almost 40 years and that changing the ratio between public transportation and roads will move us backward. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2019, fossil fuels used in transportation produced 29% of U.S. greenhouse gases.
Portman, the lead Republican negotiator, says that Republicans have made a “generous offer” and that it will provide a “significant increase” in transit money. “Democrats, frankly, are not being reasonable in their requests right now,” he said.
Republicans want to deliver money to rural areas where people depend on driving, even though there are far more people who live in areas that benefit from public transportation. Rural areas, of course, are far more likely than urban areas to be full of Republican voters.
Democrats in the House are eager to address climate change. On July 21, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and 30 Democratic members of the committee wrote to Pelosi and Schumer to urge them to include instead the terms of the INVEST in America Act the House passed on a bipartisan basis earlier this month. That bill offered a forward-looking transportation package that expanded public transportation even as it called for road and bridge repair. “We can’t afford to lock in failed highway-centric policies for another five years,” they wrote.
But there is a larger story behind this transportation bill than the attempt of Republicans to change a longstanding formula to keep themselves in power. Republicans who are not openly tying themselves to the former president want to pass this measure because they know it is popular and they do not want Democrats to pass another popular law alone, as they did with the American Rescue Plan when Republicans refused to participate.
Democratic leadership wants to work with those Republicans to pass a bipartisan bill because it will help to drive a wedge though the Republican Party, offering an exit ramp for those who would like to leave behind the increasing extremism of the Trump Republicans.
Trump Republicans are, indeed, becoming more extreme as the House’s select committee on January 6 takes shape. After the Senate rejected a bipartisan commission to investigate the insurrection, House Speaker Pelosi and the House voted to establish a select committee. Its structure was based on one of the many committees established by the Republican-controlled House to investigate the attack on U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012. It permitted the minority to name 5 members, to be approved by the Speaker.
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) tried to undercut the committee by appointing three members who had challenged the counting of the certified votes on January 6, including Jim Jordan (R-OH), who was at a December meeting with Trump and other lawmakers when they discussed protesting the vote count on January 6, and Jim Banks (R-IN), who attacked the committee, saying: “Make no mistake, Nancy Pelosi created this committee solely to malign conservatives and to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.” When Pelosi rejected Jordan and Banks, McCarthy pulled all five of his appointees.
But Pelosi had already established the committee’s bipartisanship when she appointed Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), a staunch Republican who voted with Trump more than 90% of the time but who openly blamed him for the January 6 insurrection. Today, Pelosi added Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) to the committee as well.
Kinzinger is an Iraq War veteran who was one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January. “Let me be clear, I’m a Republican dedicated to conservative values, but I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution—and while this is not the position I expected to be in or sought out, when duty calls, I will always answer,” Kinzinger said in a statement.
McCarthy promptly tweeted that the committee had no credibility because Pelosi had “structured the select committee to satisfy her political objectives.”
McCarthy is scrambling, not least because he will almost certainly become a witness for the committee.
But there is more. With Trump out of office, pressure is ramping up on those who advanced his agenda. News broke on Thursday that the FBI had received more than 4500 tips about Brett Kavanaugh during his nomination proceeding for confirmation to the Supreme Court, and had forwarded the most “relevant” of those to the White House lawyers, who buried them, enabling the extremist Kavanaugh to squeak into a lifetime appointment to the court.
In Georgia, law enforcement officers indicted 87 people in what they are calling the largest gang bust ever in the state. Seventy-seven are part of the “Ghostface Gangsters” gang of white supremacists whose network stretched from Georgia to South Carolina to Tennessee. “The gang’s culture, structure, leadership, chain of command, and all involved in the furtherance of this ongoing criminal enterprise have been charged,” law enforcement officers said.
Meanwhile, vaccinated Americans are becoming increasingly angry at the unvaccinated Trump supporters who are keeping the nation from achieving herd immunity from the coronavirus. Some Republicans are starting to call for their supporters to get vaccinated.
As pressure mounts, McCarthy is not the only one who has signed onto the post–January 6 Trump party who is ramping up his rhetoric. This weekend, when presented with a gun, Trump’s disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn told the crowd, “Maybe I’ll find somebody in Washington, D.C.”
Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who has been linked to the planning for the January 6 insurrection, suggested at an Arizona rally for the former president last night that the rioters were peaceful and that the real criminals were “insiders from the FBI and DOJ.” It seems likely he is hoping to discredit those organizations before more information comes out.
At the same rally, the former president spoke for almost two hours, reiterating his lie that he won the 2020 election and suggesting he would be reinstated into the White House before the next election. (He was weirdly fixated on routers.) He blamed Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, former Vice President Mike Pence, and Kavanaugh for his loss of the White House, and praised his former lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
“The radical left Democrat communist party rigged and stole the election,” he said.
A final note tonight: We lost a great American, Bob Moses, today. I don’t want to tack him on to tonight’s letter; he deserves his own. So hold this space. Until then, Rest in Power, Dr. Moses.
GASLIT NATION WITH ANDREA CHALUPA AND SARAH KENDZIOR
After examining the latest voter suppression situation in the United States, we do a deep dive into mercenary Erik Prince. After committing war crimes in Iraq, this Blackwater founder has been building up his “blood money” business, including teaming up with Russia and Gulf States to make dirty deals involving the 2016 election and now attempting to build a private army in Ukraine.ic and other disastrous effects of climate change.
“Are you on the side of truth or lies; fact or fiction; justice or injustice; democracy or autocracy?”
In a speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia today, President Joe Biden asked his audience to take a stand as he called defending the right to vote in America, “a test of our time.”
Biden explained that the 2020 election has been examined and reexamined and that “no other election has ever been held under such scrutiny and such high standards.” The Big Lie that Trump won is just that, he said: a big lie.
Nonetheless, 17 Republican-dominated states have enacted 28 laws to make it harder to vote. There are almost 400 more in the hopper. Biden called this effort “the 21st-century Jim Crow,” and promised to fight it. He pointed out that the new laws are doing more than suppressing the vote. They are taking the power to count the vote “from independent election administrators who work for the people” and giving it to “polarized state legislatures and partisan actors who work for political parties.”
“This is simple,” Biden said. “This is election subversion. It’s the most dangerous threat to voting and the integrity of free and fair elections in our history.”
While Biden was on his way to Philadelphia, more than 50 members of the Texas House of Representatives were fleeing the state to deny the Republicans in the legislature enough people to be able to do business. They are trying to stop the Republicans from passing measures that would further suppress the vote, just as they did when they left the state in May. Along with voting measures, the Texas Republicans want to pass others enflaming the culture wars in the state: bills to stop the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public schools (where it is not taught) and to keep transgender athletes from competing on high school sports teams. Both of these issues are part of a wider program pushed by national right-wing organizations.
When the Democrats left the state two months ago, Republican governor Greg Abbott was so angry he vetoed funding for the legislature (that effort is being challenged in court). This time, he has vowed to arrest the Democratic members and hold them inside the Capitol until the special session of the legislature ends in late August. This threat has no effect outside of Texas, where state authorities have no power, and even within the state it is unclear what law the legislators are breaking.
But it does raise the vision of a Republican governor arresting Democratic lawmakers who refuse to do his bidding.
What is at stake in Texas at the local level is that Abbott is smarting from two major failures of the electrical grid on his watch: one in February and one in June. What is at stake at the national level is that the electoral math says that Republicans cannot expect to win the White House in the future unless they carry Texas, with its 40 electoral votes, and the state seems close enough to turning Democratic that Abbott in 2020 ordered the removal of drop boxes for ballots. The electrical crisis of February, which killed nearly 200 Texans and in which Republican senator Ted Cruz was filmed leaving the state to go to Cancun, has hurt the Republican Party there.
And so, Abbott and his fellow Republicans are consolidating their power, planning to “win” in 2022 and 2024 by making sure Democrats can’t vote.
Biden today went farther than he ever has before in calling out Republicans for what they are doing. He described the attempt to cast doubt on the 2020 election and to rig the vote before 2022 for what it is: an attempt to subvert democracy and steal the election. “Have you no shame?” he asked his Republican colleagues.
But as strongly as Biden worded his speech, the former speechwriter for Republican President George W. Bush, David Frum, in The Atlantic today went further.
“Those who uphold the American constitutional order need to understand what they are facing,” Frum wrote. “Trump incited his followers to try to thwart an election result, and to kill or threaten Trump’s own vice president if he would not or could not deliver on Trump’s crazy scheme to keep power.” Since the insurrection, he noted, Trump supporters have embraced the idea that the people who hold office under our government are illegitimate and that, therefore, overturning the election is a patriotic duty.
“It’s time,” Frum said, “to start using the F-word.” The word he meant is “fascism.”
“We are facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War,” Biden said today…. I’m not saying this to alarm you; I’m saying this because you should be alarmed.”
We must, he said, have “the will to save and strengthen our democracy.”