President Biden delivers big things for the American people, and for the world

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

December 29, 2022

Today, President Joe Biden signed into law the bipartisan year-end omnibus funding bill passed by the House and the Senate before lawmakers left town.

The $1.7 trillion measure addresses key goals of both parties. It funds the military and domestic programs. It funds public health and science, invests in law enforcement, and funds programs to prevent violence against women. It funds veterans’ services, and it provides assistance to Ukraine in its struggle to protect itself against Russia’s invasion. It updates the Electoral Count Act to prevent a president from trying to overturn a presidential election, as former president Trump did.

Biden said, “This bill is further proof that Republicans and Democrats can come together to deliver for the American people, and I’m looking forward to continued bipartisan progress in the year ahead.”

But on his social media platform, Trump took a stand against the bill that funds the government. “Something is going on with [Senate minority leader] Mitch McConnell [(R-KY)] and all of the terribly and virtually automatic ‘surrenders’ he makes to the Marxist Democrats, like on the $1.7 Trillion ‘Ominous’ Bill,” Trump wrote. “Could have killed it using the Debt Ceiling, or made it MUCH better in the Republican House. Nobody can be this stupid.” Then he went on to blame the deal on McConnell’s wife, Trump’s own Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, using a racist slur.

This exchange reveals the dynamic dominating political leadership at the end of 2022. Biden and the Democrats are trying to show that the government can produce popular results for the American people. They are joined in that effort by Republicans who recognize that, for all their talk about liberty, their constituents want to see the government address their concerns. Together, they have passed the omnibus bill, as well as the CHIPS and Science Act, the bipartisan infrastructure law, and gun safety legislation.

This cooperation to pass popular legislation is an important shift in American politics.

But Trump and his cronies remain determined to return to power, apparently either to stop this federal action Trump incorrectly calls “Marxism” or, in the case of extremist Republicans, to use the government not to provide a basic social safety net, regulate business, promote infrastructure, or protect civil rights—as it has done since 1933—but instead to enforce right-wing religious values on the country. They reject the small-government economic focus of the Reagan Republicans in favor of using a strong government to enforce religion.

The determination of Trump and his team to dominate the government, and through it the country, has been illustrated powerfully once again today with the release of more transcripts from testimony before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. Former White House director of strategic communications Alyssa Griffin recalled how Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, dismissed the idea that the Trump administration should coordinate with the incoming Biden officials over the coronavirus pandemic. “It was the first COVID… meeting that Jared led after [Biden won],” Griffin recalled, “& Dr. Birx… said, “Well, should we be looping the Biden transition into these conversations?” & Jared just said, ‘Absolutely not.’”

Similarly, in an extraordinarily petty exchange, the chief of staff to former first lady Melania Trump, Stefanie Grisham, recalled that Trump wanted to fire the chief White House usher, Tim Harleth, for being in contact with the Biden team about the presidential transition. (Secret Service agents told Trump about the contact, raising more questions about the role of the agents around Trump.) Melania Trump stopped the firing out of concern for the stories Harleth could tell about the Trump family, but he was let go just before Biden’s inauguration, leaving the Biden’s standing before the closed doors of the White House for an awkwardly long time when they entered for the first time.

This determination of far-right Republicans to bend the country to their will presents a problem for the Republican Party. Establishment Republicans came around to backing Trump in 2017 after he promised them lower taxes and less regulation, the goals they had embraced since the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

But Trump managed to stay in power by feeding the reactionaries in the party: those who reject the idea of American equality. Trump’s base is fiercely opposed to immigration and against the rights of LGBTQ Americans, while also in favor of curtailing the rights of women and minorities. Rejecting the equality at the heart of liberal democracy, many of them hope to enforce religious rules on the rest of the country and admire Russian president Vladimir Putin and Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán for replacing democracy with what Orbán has called “Christian democracy,” or “illiberal democracy” that enforces patriarchal heterosexual hierarchies. As Trump encouraged them to, many of them reject as “fraudulent” any elections that do not put their candidates in power.

Now, as Republican establishment leaders recognize that Trump’s star is fading and his legal troubles seem likely to get worse—his tax returns will be released tomorrow, among other things—they seem eager to cut Trump loose to resurrect their anti-tax, anti-regulation policies. But those Americans who reject democracy and want a strong government to enforce their values are fighting for control of the Republican Party.

The far right has turned against Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, whom Trump hand-picked and who helped arrange the false electors in 2020. Trump loyalist Mike Lindell, the pillow magnate, is challenging McDaniel. Of more concern to her is the challenge of Harmeet Dhillon, a prominent election denier who has provided legal counsel for Trump in his struggles against the January 6th committee, calling it “a purely political witch-hunt, total abuse of process & power serving no legitimate legislative purpose.” Orbán supporter and Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson and Turning Points USA founder Charlie Kirk are backing Dhillon.

Kirk, who is a prodigious fundraiser, has warned the RNC that the party must listen “to the grassroots, our donors, and the biggest organizations and voices in the conservative movement” or it would lose in 2024. “If ignored, we will have the most stunted and muted Republican Party in the history of the conservative movement, the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations.”

The far right is also challenging the bid of House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) for House speaker, creating such havoc that today former Republican representative, senator, and secretary of defense William S. Cohen and former congressional staff director and presidential senior fellow emeritus at the Council on Foreign Relations Alton Frye published an op-ed in the New York Times warning that “the Republican caucus is dominated by campaigns and commitments that gravely encumber efforts to define common ground in the political center.” They urged House members to recruit a moderate speaker from outside the chamber and to “fortify those Republicans who seek to move the party beyond the corrosive Trump era.”

They called for a secret ballot, so Republican members won’t have to fear retaliation.

Cohen and Frye suggested that organization of the House by an outsider would allow for “meaningful coalition building,” but the Republicans about to take control of the House have so far indicated only that they intend to investigate the Biden administration before the 2024 election, a throwback to the methods party leaders have used since 1994 to win elections by portraying the Democrats as corrupt.

Representatives James Comer (R-KY) and Jim Jordan (R-OH), who are expected to take over the House Oversight Committee and the House Judiciary Committee, respectively, have already demanded records from the White House. When White House Special Counsel Richard Sauber said the White House would respond to those committees after the Republicans were in charge of them—a position administrations have as taken since the 1980s—Comer and Jordan took to social media today to complain that “at every turn the Biden White House seeks to obstruct congressional oversight and hide information from the American people.” (Jordan, of course, refused to respond to a subpoena from the January 6th committee.)

The year 2022 has seen an important split in the Republican Party. The party’s response to voters’ dislike appears to be either to reject democracy altogether or to double down on the old rhetoric that has worked in the past, although you have to wonder if they have gone to that well so many times it’s drying up.

In the meantime, the Democrats have worked with willing Republicans to demonstrate that lawmakers in a democracy really can accomplish big things for the American people, and for the world.

“We can never surrender to democracy’s enemies”

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

December 24, 2022

Today, by a vote of 225 to 201, the House passed the 4,155-page omnibus spending bill necessary to fund the government through September 30, 2023. The Senate passed it yesterday by a bipartisan vote of 68–29, and President Joe Biden has said he will sign it as soon as it gets to his desk.

The measure establishes nondefense discretionary spending at about $773 billion, an increase of about $68 billion, or 6%. It increases defense spending to $858 billion, an increase of about 10%. Defense funding is about $45 billion more than Biden had requested, reflecting the depletion of military stores in Ukraine, where the largest European war since World War II is raging, and the recognition of a military buildup with growing tensions between the U.S. and China.

Senators Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) and Richard C. Shelby (R-AL) and Representative Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT) hammered out the bill over months of negotiations. Leahy and Shelby are the two most senior members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and both are retiring at the end of this session. Shelby told the Senate: “We know it’s not perfect, but it’s got a lot of good stuff in it.”

House Republicans refused to participate in the negotiations, tipping their hand to just how disorganized they are right now. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) insisted that the measure should wait until the Republicans take control of the House in 11 days. This reflects the determination of far-right extremists in the party to hold government funding hostage in order to get concessions from the Democrats.

But their positions are so extreme that most Republicans wanted to get the deal done before they could gum it up. Indeed, right now they are refusing to back Republican minority leader McCarthy for speaker, forcing him to more and more extreme positions to woo them. Earlier this week, McCarthy publicly claimed that if he becomes House speaker, he will reject any bill proposed by a senator who voted yes on the omnibus bill. After the measure passed the House, McCarthy spoke forcefully against it, prompting Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) to say: “After listening to that, it’s clear he doesn’t have the votes yet.”

The measure invests in education, childcare, and healthcare, giving boosts to the National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and investing in mental health programs. It addresses the opioid crisis and invests in food security programs and in housing and heating assistance programs. It invests in the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Park Service and makes a historic investment in the National Science Foundation. It raises the pay for members of the armed forces, and it invests in state and local law enforcement. It will also provide supplemental funding of about $45 billion for Ukraine aid and $41 billion for disaster relief. It reforms the Electoral Count Act to prevent a plan like that hatched by former president Donald Trump and his cronies to overturn an election, and it funds prosecutions stemming from the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“A lot of hard work, a lot of compromise,” Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, (D-NY) said. “But we funded the government with an aggressive investment in American families, American workers, American national defense.” Schumer called the bill “one of the most significant appropriations packages we’ve done in a really long time.”

And so, members of Congress are on their way home, in the nation’s severe winter storm, for the winter holiday.

It is a fitting day for the congress members to go home, some to come back in January, others to leave their seats in Congress to their successors. On this day in December 1783, General George Washington stood in front of the Confederation Congress, meeting at the senate chamber of the Maryland State House, to resign his wartime commission. Negotiators had signed the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War on September 3, 1783, and once the British troops had withdrawn from New York City, Washington believed his job was done.

“The great events on which my resignation depended having at length taken place; I have now the honor of offering my sincere Congratulation s to Congress and of presenting myself before them to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the Service of my Country,” he told the members of Congress.

“Happy in the confirmation of our Independence and Sovereignty, and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States of becoming a respectable Nation, I resign with satisfaction the Appointment I accepted with diffidence.”

“Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of Action; and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life.”

In 1817, given the choice of subjects to paint for the rotunda in the U.S. Capitol, being rebuilt after the British had burned it during the War of 1812, fine artist John Trumbull picked the moment of Washington’s resignation. As they discussed the project, he told President James Madison: “I have thought that one of the highest moral lessons ever given to the world, was that presented by the conduct of the commander-in-chief, in resigning his power and commission as he did, when the army, perhaps, would have been unanimously with him, and few of the people disposed to resist his retaining the power which he had used with such happy success, and such irreproachable moderation.”

Madison agreed, and the painting of a man voluntarily giving up power hangs today in the U.S. Capitol, in the Rotunda. It hung there over the January 6 rioters as they tried to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and put in place their candidate, who insisted he should remain in power despite the will of the American people.

Yesterday’s release of the report of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol reviewed the material the committee has already explained, but it did have a number of revelations.

One is that former president Trump was not simply the general instigator of the Big Lie that he had won the election, and the person egging on his violent supporters, but also that he was the prime instigator of the attempt to file false slates of electors. This puts him at the heart of the attempt to defraud the U.S. government and to interfere with an official proceeding. On page 346, the report says: “The evidence indicates that by December 7th or 8th, President Trump had decided to pursue the fake elector plan and was driving it.” In that effort, he had the help of Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, even after White House lawyers had called the plan illegal and had backed away from it.

Committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS)’s introduction to the report put Trump’s effort in the larger context of a history that reaches all the way back to the American Revolution. “Our country has come too far to allow a defeated President to turn himself into a successful tyrant by upending our democratic institutions, fomenting violence, and…opening the door to those in our country whose hatred and bigotry threaten equality and justice for all Americans.”

“We can never surrender to democracy’s enemies. We can never allow America to be defined by forces of division and hatred. We can never go backward in the progress we have made through the sacrifice and dedication of true patriots. We can never and will never relent in our pursuit of a more perfect union with liberty and justice for all Americans.”

Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy to reunite for special 20th anniversary celebrating “Love Actually”

The stars of Love Actually will reunite for a special 20th anniversary special on US network ABC, it has been announced.

The one-hour special will look at how the film became a beloved Christmas tradition and a global sensation, with exclusive interviews with cast members.

Love Actually

Hugh Grant, Dame Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy, Laura Linney and Thomas Brodie-Sangster will sit down with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer for the show.

It will also include an appearance from writer and director Richard Curtis, as well as a message from Martine McCutcheon.

ABC said the special would offer new insight into behind-the-scenes secrets and the film’s famous scenes as well as examining how the Covid-19 pandemic “refocused the ways we love and connect”.

In an exclusive clip of the interview, Dame Emma recalled watching the film for the first time.

“Hugh came up behind me as we were walking out and said ‘is that the most psychotic thing we’ve ever been in?’” she said.

Grant, who plays the British Prime Minister in the iconic Christmas film, also reveals he thought he would “hate” the iconic dancing scene in Downing Street.

“But I will give myself the credit of having the secretary catch me,” he says.

In another clip, Curtis tells Sawyer: “I do think that the way to think about life is that every day has the potential just to be gorgeous.”

Sawyer also poses the ever elusive question to cast members: “Love actually is?”, to which Grant answers “dead”.

The special comes after cast members in 2017 reunited for the short sequel, Red Nose Day Actually, which was also made by Curtis and further developed key character storylines.

Several scenes from the short echoed iconic moments from the film such as the cue card scene with Keira Knightley’s and Andrew Lincoln’s characters.

In the mini sequel, Grant, Liam Neeson, Linney, Colin Firth and Rowan Atkinson made appearances.

Curtis, who was also involved in Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bridget Jones’ Diary as a writer, said in the lead-up he would “never have dreamt of writing a sequel to Love Actually”, but added: “I thought it might be fun to do ten minutes to see what everyone is now up to.”

“We’ve been delighted and grateful that so many of the cast are able to take part – and it’ll certainly be a nostalgic moment getting back together and recreating the characters 14 years later,” he said.

“We hope to make something that’ll be fun – very much in the spirit of the original film and of Red Nose Day – and which we hope will help bring lots of viewers and cash to the Red Nose Day shows.”

Love Actually has consistently rated as the top searched-for Christmas film in France, Italy and 17 other countries, totalling 887,000 worldwide searches a month.

The story of the original film, which is an international co-production between the UK, the United States and France begins five weeks before Christmas and is played out in a weekly countdown until the holiday, followed by an epilogue that takes place one month later.

The Laughter & Secrets of Love Actually: 20 Years Later – A Diane Sawyer Special, will air on Wednesday, November 30 at 1am UK time on ABC.

Source: Love Actually: Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy to reunite for special 20th anniversary TV special celebrating popular Christmas film

Mackenzie Crook hadn’t watched Worzel Gummidge before he took on the reboot

The writer-director-star of the reboot was unaware of the passing for the animated scarecrow.

By Patrick McLennan

Mackenzie Crook says he didn’t watch Worzel Gummidge when he was young and was unaware of the passion that people of his generation had for the living scarecrow when he agreed to make last year’s two-part series.

Crook is back with another Worzel Gummidge special, Saucy Nancy, this Christmas after the success of 2019’s rebooted family drama based on the books of Barbara Euphon Todd.

He told The One Show: “There’s a whole generation of people, my age I guess, that held the ’80s version, the Jon Pertwee version so dearly to their hearts… And I didn’t actually watch that, perhaps I was unaware when I got involved and as the thing went on I realised what a thing this was on my shoulders, what a weight of responsibility.” Continue reading