“Bad actors”set out to cause January 6 chaos … especially Trump

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

October 24, 2021

I had planned to post a picture tonight, but this evening Rolling Stone dropped an exclusive, blockbuster story from reporter Hunter Walker that demands attention. 

The story says that two sources who are talking to the January 6th committee about planning the January rallies in Washington, D.C., have talked to Rolling Stone as well. They say they worked with congressional lawmakers and White House officials to plan rallies both in Washington, D.C., and around the country. They deny that they intended to storm the Capitol and imply they got used, which points to the sources being from within Women for America First, the organization that sponsored a bus tour and rallies around the country before heading to Washington for January 6.

They allegedly named Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX), as people with whom they planned. They also claim that Gosar promised them a blanket presidential pardon, although they do not say for what.

From the White House team, they singled out then–chief of staff Mark Meadows. “Meadows was 100 percent made aware of what was going on,” one of the sources said.

Katrina Pierson was a key figure in both accounts. She was on Trump’s campaign teams in 2016 and 2020, and worked with the organizers of the rallies before the mob stormed the Capitol. 

One of those talking to Rolling Stone said: “It’s clear that a lot of bad actors set out to cause chaos…. They made us all look like s**t.” This person included Trump on their list of bad actors and described feeling used by him and then abandoned. “I’m actually pretty pissed about it and I’m pissed at him.” 

Nick Dyer, who is communications director for Greene, said the congresswoman was only involved in planning to refuse to accept certified ballots, nothing more. He tried to compare Greene’s actions with those of Democrats who objected to Donald Trump’s 2016 win, and said that no one cares about the events of January 6 amongst what he suggests is the disaster of the Biden presidency. 

No other spokespeople for the lawmakers involved answered requests for comment.

Between this, and the stories that continue to drop about Facebook, and the infrastructure bill, and voting rights measures… it seems likely to be a big week in Washington.

Today’s split in the Republican Party mirrors the split in the Democrats in 1860  

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

October 10, 2021

The fight over raising the debt ceiling reveals that the Trump wing has taken control of the Republican Party.

Defaulting on our debt for the first time in our history would have crushed our economy and forfeited our international standing. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that a default would be “catastrophic,” creating “a permanently weaker nation.”

Financial analysts at Moody’s Analytics noted that when a problem with word-processing equipment at the Treasury led it inadvertently to miss payments on Treasury bills in 1979, the resulting jump in interest rates ultimately cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned that default would undermine our international reputation.

But when the House passed a bill to raise the debt ceiling, Senate Republicans killed the measure with the filibuster, the Senate rule that allows debate to continue without a vote until 60 members of the Senate vote to end debate—a rule that essentially means it takes 60 votes, rather than a simple majority, to pass any bill the minority wants to block.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agreed that the ceiling must be raised. But then he insisted he would not allow Democrats to pass the bill with a simple majority. He told them they must pass a measure raising the debt ceiling in a reconciliation package, which cannot be filibustered but which would make it harder for Democrats to pass their popular infrastructure measures. Democrats noted that the Republicans ran up the debt and now should agree to pay it, and they refused to try to rush through a reconciliation package to shield the Republicans from their responsibility.

And then, as business leaders began to map out a pressure campaign to get McConnell to drop the filibuster, he backed down and agreed…not to allow a simple majority vote, but to find ten votes to break a filibuster.

As co-host of Pod Save America Dan Pfeiffer noted in his newsletter The Message Box, that approach suggested that McConnell has lost control of his caucus. Any senator can vote against allowing a simple majority, and it seems McConnell could not trust the other Republican senators to permit a vote and so had to try to force the Democrats to do things his way. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called his bluff.

McConnell scrounged up the votes he needed but then wrote a scathing letter to President Joe Biden, announcing he would “not provide such assistance again if your all-Democrat government drifts into another avoidable crisis.” But the truth is that he is putting the best spin he can on the fact he can’t help even if he wanted to: he no longer controls the caucus.

Immediately, former president Trump issued a statement blaming McConnell for “folding to the Democrats, again. He’s got all of the cards with the debt ceiling, it’s time to play the hand. Don’t let them destroy our country!”

On September 22, Trump explained that to stop the Democrats, the Republicans might have to burn down the country: “The way I look at it,” he wrote, “what the Democrats are proposing, on so many different levels, will destroy our country. Therefore, Republicans have no choice but to do what they have to do, and the Democrats will have no choice but to concede all of the horror they are trying to inflict upon the future of the United States.”

Those who agree with Trump are now in charge of the Republican Party.

Today, on Fox News Sunday, the second-ranking Republican in the House, Steve Scalise (R-LA), refused repeatedly to say that Biden had won the 2020 election. Although then–attorney general and Trump loyalist Bill Barr said there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and state election officials and judges have all agreed there were no irregularities that would have changed the outcome, Scalise backed Trump’s Big Lie that he actually won the 2020 election.

He did so by arguing that certain states had not followed the Constitution when state judges, governors, and election officials expanded mail-in voting during the pandemic. There is no indication that those adjustments changed the outcome of the election, but in summer 2020 Trump became fixated on the idea that mail-in voting hurt his reelection campaign.

As soon as Trump lost the election, he began to try to get officials to cheat to say he won, and then to replace officials who refused with those he thought would help him keep the presidency. On January 2, he tried to browbeat Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger into “finding” 11,780 votes in Georgia—one more than Biden’s margin of victory. Then he fired the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, BJay Pak, because he would not produce evidence of fraud, replacing him with someone Trump hoped would.

Now, across Republican-dominated states, Trump Republicans are doing the same thing: attacking those Republican officials who refuse to say the 2020 election was stolen and replacing them with partisans who will. In Hood County, Texas, where Trump won 81% of the vote, his supporters are trying to get rid of the Republican elections official who is trying to preserve the security of elections by, for example, excluding from a private meeting a journalist from One America News.

At the local level, anti–mask mandate and anti-vaccine protesters are bullying school board members and town officials to demand that local leaders bow to their wishes, and they are threatening violence in a way that looks much like the rise of anti-socialist gangs in the 1930s that fed the rise of fascism.

Last week, Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who is currently defying a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the January 6th attack on the Capitol, told an audience that he would have 20,000 “shock troops” on hand to take over the government and deconstruct it as soon as Republicans again are in charge. “We control this country,” he said. “We have to start acting like it.”

Today, on the birthday of Ashli Babbitt, who was shot by an officer as she tried to break through a barricaded door to stop the counting of the ballots that would make Biden president, Trump recorded a video for a family event saying: “There was no reason Ashli should have lost her life that day. We must all demand justice for Ashli and her family.”

Last night, in Iowa, Trump held a “rally.” Mainstream Republican officials, including Senator Chuck Grassley, Governor Kim Reynolds, and Representatives Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson, attended. Right on cue, a Trump supporter told a reporter: “We’re just sick of it, you know, and we’re not going to take it any more. I see a civil war coming….”

Today’s split in the Republican Party mirrors the split in the Democrats in 1860. The leadership is made up of extremists who consider their opponents illegitimate, maintain they alone understand the Constitution, and are skewing the mechanics of our electoral system to keep themselves in power. In 1860, the Democratic Party split, its moderates joining with the fledgling Republicans to defend the United States of America.

Then, as now, the radicals calling for the destruction of the nation were a shrinking minority desperate to cling to power. Then they took up arms to divide the nation in two and keep power in their part of it; now they are launching a quieter war simply by rigging future elections to conquer the whole nation.

Republican linking the debt ceiling to Biden’s infrastructure package is disingenuous 

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

September 27, 2021

Today, the Senate considered a bill to fund the government until December and to raise the debt ceiling. The Republicans joined together to filibuster it.

Such a move is extraordinary. Not only did the Republicans vote against a measure that would keep the government operating and keep it from defaulting on its debt—debt incurred before Biden took office—but they actually filibustered it, meaning it could not pass with a simple majority vote. The Republicans will demand 60 votes to pass the measure in the hope of forcing Democrats to pass it themselves, alone, under the system of budget reconciliation. 

This is an astonishing position. The Republicans are taking the country hostage to undercut the Democrats. If Congress does not fund the government by Thursday, the government will shut down. And if the country goes into default sometime in mid-October, the results will be catastrophic. 

We are in this position now because Congress last December funded the government through this September 30 as part of a huge bill. The new fiscal year starts on October 1, and if the government is not funded, it will have to shut down, ending all federal activities that are not considered imperative. This year, such activities would include a wide range of programs enacted to combat the economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Republicans have said they are willing to pass a stand-alone funding bill. That is, they are willing to continue to spend money going forward, even though to do so at the rate they want means raising the debt ceiling. Indeed, Senators Bill Cassidy, (R-LA), John Kennedy (R-LA), and Richard Shelby (R-AL) joined McConnell today to try to pass a new funding bill that would provide disaster relief to Louisiana and Alabama in the wake of Hurricane Ida and fund the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). They complained that “disaster assistance is long overdue” and that “it’s critical” to extend flood insurance “so homeowners are covered come the next storm.”

But while willing to add to the debt, they refuse either to raise taxes or to raise or suspend the debt ceiling that would enable the government to pay for it.

The debt ceiling is the amount of money Congress authorizes the government to borrow. Congress started authorizing a general amount of debt during World War I to give the government more flexibility in borrowing by simply agreeing to an upper limit rather than by specifying different issues of debt, as it had always done before. That debt limit is not connected directly to any individual bill, and it is not an appropriation for any specific program. Nowadays, it simply enables the government to borrow money to pay for programs in laws already passed. If the debt ceiling is not raised when necessary, the government will default on its debts, creating a financial catastrophe.

So, while a measure to fund the government is forward looking, enabling the government to spend money, a measure to raise the debt ceiling is backward looking. It enables the government to pay the bills it has already run up.

Not funding the government means it will have to shut down; not paying our debts means catastrophe. Both of these measures will hobble the economic recovery underway; refusing to manage the debt ceiling will collapse the economy altogether and crash our international standing just as President Biden is trying to reassert the strength of democracy on the world stage. 

Led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Republicans are trying to tie the debt ceiling to the idea that Democrats are big spenders. They are determined to stop the passage of Biden’s signature infrastructure packages, both on the table this week: a smaller bipartisan package that funds road and bridge repair as well as the spread of broadband into rural areas, and a larger package that funds child care and elder care infrastructure, as well as measures to combat climate change, over the next ten years. 

Both infrastructure measures are popular, and if they become laws, they will reverse the process of dismantling the active New Deal government in which Republicans have engaged since 1981. The Republicans are determined to prevent at least Biden’s larger package from passing. Killing it will keep in place their efforts to whittle the government down even further, while it will also destroy Biden’s signature legislative effort. 

But the Republican link of the debt ceiling to Biden’s infrastructure package is disingenuous. 

Raising the debt ceiling will enable the government to pay for debts it has already incurred. The Republicans themselves voted three times during Trump’s presidency to raise that ceiling, while they added $7.8 trillion to the national debt, bringing it to its current level of $28 trillion. Further, Biden has vowed to pay for his new package in part by restoring some—not all—of the corporate taxes and taxes on our wealthiest citizens that the Republicans slashed in 2017. 

This, Republicans utterly reject.

McConnell maintains that he does not want the U.S. to default on its debt; he just wants to force the Democrats to shoulder the responsibility for handling it, enabling Republicans to paint them as spendthrifts. 

It is an extraordinary abdication of responsibility, driving the U.S. toward a disastrous fiscal cliff in order to gain partisan advantage. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warns that a default “could trigger a spike in interest rates, a steep drop in stock prices and other financial turmoil. Our current economic recovery would reverse into recession, with billions of dollars of growth and millions of jobs lost.” Financial services firm Moody’s Analytics warned that a default would cost up to 6 million jobs, create an unemployment rate of nearly 9%, and wipe out $15 trillion in household wealth.

The U.S. has never defaulted on its debt. Today Senate Republicans voted to make that happen.

In 1866, the year after the Civil War ended, Congress dealt with a similar challenge to the national debt. Democrats eager to undermine the United States wanted to protect the debt the Confederates had run up to rebel against the government, while demanding that the debt the United States had incurred to fight that war be renegotiated. Recognizing the ultimate power of financing to determine the fate of the nation, the Republicans in charge of the federal government settled the issue of the debts assumed by the two sides by writing their terms into the Fourteenth Amendment. 

To pull the financial rug out from under former Confederates so they could not raise money to go back to war, the Republicans wrote in the fourth section of the amendment that “all…debts, obligations, and claims” of the former Confederacy “shall be held illegal and void.”

And, to keep the Democrats from destroying the government, the Republicans wrote into the Fourteenth Amendment that “the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law…, shall not be questioned.” 

The Democrats will likely split today’s measure in two so they can fund the government ahead of Thursday’s deadline and focus on the infrastructure bills also on the table this week. They will deal with the debt ceiling themselves, later. 

Charlottesville began a wave of violent populism that mutated into authoritarianism

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

August 11, 2021

Four years ago today, racists, antisemites, white nationalists, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis, and other alt-right groups met in Charlottesville, Virginia, to “Unite the Right.” The man who organized the rally, Jason Kessler, claimed he wanted to bring people together to protest the removal of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a local park. But the rioters turned immediately to chants that had been used by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s: “you will not replace us,” “Jews will not replace us,” and “blood and soil.” They gave Nazi salutes and carried Nazi insignia, and many brought battle gear and went looking for fights. By the end of August 12, they had killed counterprotester Heather Heyer and had injured 19 others. After the governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency, the rioters went home. 

The Unite the Right rally drew a clear political line in America. Then-president Donald Trump refused to condemn the rioters, telling a reporter that there were “very fine people, on both sides.” 

In contrast, former vice president Joe Biden watched the events at Charlottesville and concluded that the soul of the nation was at stake. He decided to run for president and to defeat the man he believed threatened our democracy. Biden was especially concerned with Trump’s praise for the “very fine people” aligned with the rioters. “With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it,” Biden said, “and in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.”  

Four years later, it is much easier to see the larger context of the Charlottesville riot. The political threat of those gangs who tried to unite in Charlottesville in 2017 recalls how fascism came to America in the 1930s: not as an elite ideology, but as a unification of street brawlers to undermine the nation’s democratic government. 

In 2018, historian Joseph Fronczak explored the arrival of fascism in the U.S. In an article in the leading journal of the historical profession, the Journal of American History, Fronczak explained how men interested in overturning Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency in 1934 admired and then imitated the violent right-wing gangs that helped overturn European governments and install right-wing dictators. 

The United States had always had radical street mobs, from anti-Catholic gangs in the 1830s to Ku Klux Klan chapters in the 1860s to anti-union thugs in the 1880s. In the 1930s, though, those eager to get rid of FDR brought those street fighters together as a political force to overthrow the federal government. 

While they failed to do so in an attempted 1934 coup, Fronczak explains, street fighters learned about the contours of fascism once their power as a violent street force was established. He argues that in the U.S., fascism grew out of political violence, not the other way around. Mobs whose members dressed in similar shirts, waved similar flags, and made similar salutes pieced together racist, antisemitic, and nationalistic ideas and became the popular arm of right-wing leaders. In America, the hallmark of budding fascism was populist street violence, rather than an elite philosophy of government.

The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville had the hallmarks of such a populist movement. Leaders brought together different gangs, dressed similarly and carrying the emblem of tiki torches, to organize and attack the government. Rather than rejecting the rioters, then-President Trump encouraged them. 

From that point on, Trump seemed eager to ride a wave of violent populism into authoritarianism. He stoked populist anger over state shutdowns during coronavirus, telling supporters to “LIBERATE MINNESOTA,” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” His encouragement fed the attacks on the Michigan state house in 2020.  And then, after he repeatedly told his supporters the 2020 presidential election had been stolen, violent gangs attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, in an attempt to overturn the government and install him as president for another term.

While that attempted coup was unsuccessful, the empowerment of violent gangs as central political actors is stronger than ever. Since January 6, angry mobs have driven election officials out of office in fear for their safety. In increasingly angry protests, they have threatened school board members over transgender rights and over teaching Critical Race Theory, a legal theory from the 1970s that is not, in fact, in the general K–12 curriculum. 

Now, as the coronavirus rages again, they are showing exactly how this process works as they threaten local officials who are following the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to require masks. Although a Morning Consult poll shows that 69% of Americans want a return to mask mandates, vocal mobs who oppose masking are dominating public spaces and forcing officials to give in to their demands. 

In Franklin, Tennessee, yesterday, antimask mobs threatened doctors and nurses asking the local school board to reinstate a mask mandate in the schools. “We will find you,” they shouted at a man leaving the meeting. “We know who you are.”

Rosen provides the hard evidence that attempted to overturn the election

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

August 7, 2021

[…] today’s testimony by Jeffrey A. Rosen, acting attorney general during the Trump administration, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, strikes me as being a game-changer. 

New York Times reporter Katie Benner broke the news way back in January that a relatively unknown lawyer in the Justice Department, Jeffrey Clark, worked secretly with then-president Donald Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Clark was a political appointee in the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice until he was moved in September 2020 to the civil division. 

Rosen replaced Attorney General William Barr when Barr resigned on December 23, 2020. But immediately, when Rosen refused to entertain the idea of overturning the election, Trump considered firing Rosen and replacing him with Clark. Rosen and his acting deputy attorney general, Richard P. Donoghue, along with top leaders in the Department of Justice all threatened to resign if Trump made the change, and the then-president backed down.

The news that Clark and Trump were working together to overturn the election sparked congressional investigations in the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. On Wednesday July 28, from the House committee, we learned that Trump had pressured Rosen daily to help him overturn the election. And we learned that Donoghue had taken notes of the calls.

On Friday, July 31, the House Oversight and Reform Committee released some of those notes. They were explosive. On December 27, Rosen said that the Department of Justice had concluded the election was legitimate and that it “can’t + won’t snap its fingers + change the outcome of the election.” Trump replied that he just wanted the department to “say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R[epublican] Congressmen.”

The next day, Clark tried to get Rosen and Donoghue to sign off on a letter claiming that the election had been fraudulent and saying that the Georgia legislature should appoint a different set of presidential electors on the grounds that the election there was full of irregularities. 

The Justice Department had already determined that the election was, in fact, legitimate, and not marred by fraud. Donoghue responded to Clark that “there is no chance that I would sign this letter or anything remotely like this…. [T]his is not even within the realm of possibility.” Rosen wrote: “I confirmed again today that I am not prepared to sign such a letter.”

According to an article in the New York Times by Katie Benner today, Rosen has been in talks with the Department of Justice for months to determine what information he could offer without disclosing information covered by executive privilege. On July 27, the Department of Justice said it would not restrict the testimony of former officials to the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, and shortly after, former president Donald Trump said he would not sue to stop them from testifying. 

Clark did not comment, but in January he said that while he had “a candid discussion of options and pros and cons with the president,” all of his official communications with Trump “were consistent with law.”

According to Benner, as soon as he got the all-clear, Rosen scheduled interviews with the congressional committees and with the inspector general of the Department of Justice to tell as much as he could of what he had seen before anyone tried to stop him. He met with the inspector general yesterday, and today he talked to the Senate Judiciary Committee for more than six hours. 

Richard P. Donoghue has also agreed to testify, as have other Department of Justice officials.

What this means is that congressional investigating committees now have witnesses to Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. 

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that tonight the Senate voted 67-27 to move the bipartisan infrastructure bill forward, just hours after Trump called it a “disgrace” and warned, “It will be very hard for me to endorse anyone foolish enough to vote in favor of this deal.” And yet, 18 Republicans joined the Democrats, reflecting the reality that 72% percent of Americans support the measure and going on the record against it, as Republicans did in March with the popular American Rescue Plan, is even less attractive now than it was then.

Tonight’s vote suggests that Republicans are not all going to continue to move in lockstep with the former president. Those cracks could well widen as more and more information about his administration comes out.