Twice-impeached Trump: “The radical left Democrat communist party rigged and stole the election”

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

July 15, 2021

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.

—-

HCR: Are you on the side of truth or lies?

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

July 13, 2021

“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.”

HCR: The GOP is tethering itself to Trump and the Big Lie

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

July 13, 2021

Today’s news all centered around the Big Lie that former president Donald Trump won the 2020 election.

Yesterday, Trump spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where the audience cheered through his meandering speech, in which he insisted that he won the 2020 election. “The entire system was rigged against the American people and rigged against a fair, decent and honest election,” he said. CNN’s Daniel Dale, who has fact-checked Trump’s speeches for years, called the speech “untethered to reality.” 

But Trump was not alone: the whole three-day event featured speakers, including Representatives Ronny Jackson and Louie Gohmert, both Texas Republicans, focused on that Big Lie. 

Just how untethered from reality this argument is became clear today when U.S. District Judge Linda V. Parker held a hearing on whether the lawyers who tried to overturn the 2020 election results in Michigan should face sanctions. Those lawyers, dubbed the “Kraken” by one of their leaders, Trump-affiliated lawyer Sidney Powell, produced close to 1000 pages of affidavits intending to cast doubt on the election results. Michigan and the city of Detroit filed complaints with the bar after the lawsuits failed, calling for punishment for the lawyers who had signed on to the effort.

As today’s hearing proceeded, it became clear that the so-called Kraken lawyers had made no effort to verify much of anything they presented to the court. Repeatedly, Parker asked if anyone had tried to verify any of the affidavits they had filed; repeatedly, they indicated they had not. At one point, Parker said, “I don’t think I’ve ever really seen an affidavit” like this. “This is really fantastical,” Parker said. “How can any of you, as officers of the court, present this type of an affidavit?” 

Parker suggested that the whole point of the lawsuits in the first place was to spread lies to make people think the election wasn’t legitimate. “My concern is that counsel here has submitted affidavits to suggest and make the public believe that there was something wrong with the election…that’s what these average affidavits are designed to do, to show there was something wrong in Michigan….” 

Although Kraken lawyer Juli Haller began to cry during the hearing, Trump-affiliated lawyer Sidney Powell made it clear that, far from backing down, she wanted to move forward. Repeatedly, she and other lawyers demanded a trial or at least an evidentiary hearing, clearly trying to legitimize their claims by presenting them in an official setting. Like other Trump supporters, Powell is hoping to use official procedures to legitimize lies. We saw this in the hearings before Trump’s first impeachment, when lawmakers such as Jim Jordan (R-OH) used the official proceedings to construct a narrative for rightwing media.

David Fink, an attorney representing Detroit, called that pattern out: “Because of the lies spread in this courtroom, not only did people die on January 6, but many people throughout the world…came to doubt the strength of our democratic institutions in this country.”

Also today, news broke that, back in November, the Republican National Committee’s chief counsel, Justin Riemer, called claims that Trump had won the election “a joke.” Speaking of the lawyer pushing such claims, Riemer said, “They are misleading millions of people who have wishful thinking that the president is going to somehow win this thing.”

And yet, the Republican Party itself is tethering itself to Trump.

In Oklahoma and Alaska, state Republican Party leaders have backed Trump-supporting challengers to James Lankford (R-OK) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Lankford was actually speaking on the floor of the Senate on January 6, preparing to object to some of the certified ballots, when the rioters broke into the Capitol. After the insurrection riot, Lankford chose not to continue his objection to the counting. He now faces a primary challenger.

So does Murkowski, who, when party leaders similarly primaried her with someone backed by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2010, won a write-in campaign. Shortly after the insurrection, Murkowski said to a reporter: “I will tell you, if the Republican Party has become nothing more than the party of Trump, I sincerely question whether this is the party for me.”

In Pennsylvania, the chair of the state senate’s Intergovernmental Operations Committee, Trump-ally state senator Doug Mastriano, is demanding an Arizona-type recount of the 2020 vote in his state. Blocked by Democratic governor Tom Wolf and the state’s attorney general, Mastriano today issued a statement saying he would continue to fight for what he called a “forensic investigation.”

Meanwhile, in Texas, at least 51 of the 67 Democratic lawmakers are leaving the state to block Republicans from passing voter restriction laws. By fleeing the state, they will deprive the legislatures of enough lawmakers to do business, a number called a “quorum.” The Texas legislature is in special session this summer in part because the Democrats blocked these laws in the same way in May. In response, Texas governor Greg Abbott vetoed funding for the legislature. Today, once again, he accused them of abandoning the duties for which voters elected them. 

And yet, the Republicans’ argument for further restricting the vote is based on the Big Lie that the state needs to be protected from voter fraud after the 2020 election.  

Tomorrow, President Joe Biden will go to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to make a speech on voting rights. He is expected to call out the Big Lie and to talk about “actions to protect the sacred, constitutional right to vote.”

HCR: Biden’s challenge with Afghanistan

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

July 8, 2021

Today, President Joe Biden announced that the military mission of the United States in Afghanistan will end on August 31. We have been in that country for almost 20 years and have lost 2448 troops and personnel. Another 20,722 Americans have been wounded. Estimates of civilian deaths range from 35,000 to 40,000. The mission has cost more than a trillion dollars.

Leaving Afghanistan brings up just how much the world has changed in the past two decades.

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan a month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001—which killed almost 3000 people in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania—to go after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who had been behind the attack. The Islamic fundamentalist group that had controlled Afghanistan since 1996, the Taliban, was sheltering him, along with other al Qaeda militants. Joined by an international coalition, the U.S. drove the Taliban from power, but when the U.S. got bogged down in Iraq, its members quickly regrouped as an insurgent military force that attacked the Afghan government the U.S. propped up in their place. By 2018, the Taliban had reestablished itself in more than two thirds of Afghanistan.

In the years since 2001, three U.S. presidents have tried to strengthen the Afghan government to keep the nation from again becoming a staging ground for terrorists that could attack the U.S. But even a troop surge, like the one President Barack Obama launched into the region in 2009, could not permanently defeat the Taliban, well funded as it is by foreign investors, mining, opium, and a sophisticated tax system it operates in the shadow of the official government.

Eager to end a military commitment that journalist Dexter Filkins dubbed the “forever war,” the previous president, Donald Trump, sent officials to negotiate with the Taliban, and in February 2020 the U.S. agreed to withdraw all U.S. troops, along with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, by May 1, so long as the Taliban stopped attacking U.S. troops and cut ties with terrorists.

The U.S. did not include the Afghan government in the talks that led to the deal, leaving it to negotiate its own terms with the Taliban after the U.S. had already announced it was heading home. Observers at the time were concerned that the U.S. withdrawal would essentially allow the Taliban to retake control of the country, where the previous 20 years had permitted the reestablishment of stability and women’s rights. Indeed, almost immediately, Taliban militants began an assassination campaign against Afghan leaders, although they have not killed any American soldiers since the deal was signed.

Biden has made it no secret that he was not comfortable with the seemingly endless engagement in Afghanistan, but he was also boxed in by Trump’s agreement. Meanwhile, by announcing the U.S. intentions, American officials took pressure off the Taliban to negotiate with Afghan leaders. The Pentagon’s inspector general noted in February that “The Taliban intends to stall the negotiations until U.S. and coalition forces withdraw so that it can seek a decisive military victory over the Afghan government.”

In April, Biden announced that he would honor Trump’s agreement—“an agreement made by the United States government…means something,” Biden said—and he would begin a final withdrawal on May 1, 2021, to be finished before September 11, the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Today, the president explained that the withdrawal was taking place quicker than planned. He claimed that the U.S. had accomplished what it set out to do in Afghanistan. It had killed Osama bin Laden and destroyed a haven for international terrorists.

But the U.S. had no business continuing to influence the future of the Afghan people, he said. Together with NATO, the U.S. had trained and equipped nearly 300,000 members of the current Afghan military, as well as many more who are no longer serving, with all the tools, training, and equipment of any modern military. While we will continue to support that military, he said, it is time for the Afghan people to “drive toward a future that the Afghan people want and they deserve.”

For those asking that we stay just a little longer, especially in light of the fact the U.S. has lost no personnel since Trump cut the deal with the Taliban, he asked them to recognize that reneging on that deal would start casualties again. And, he asked, “Would you send your own son or daughter?”

Biden insisted the U.S. would continue to support the Afghan government and said the U.S. was working to bring to the U.S. Afghan translators whose lives are now in danger for working with U.S. forces. He also seemed to acknowledge the extraordinary danger facing Afghan women and girls under the rule of the Taliban as it continues to sweep through the country. And yet, he said, “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.”

But Biden’s argument for leaving Afghanistan is based not just on the U.S. having achieved its original stated goals and his own dislike of endangering our military personnel. He wants the U.S. to adjust to the reality that the world has changed dramatically in the past 20 years.

Since 9/11, the international terrorist threat has spread far beyond Afghanistan and is now far easier to target with financial measures than with soldiers. So, for example, in April, the Biden administration placed sanctions on Pakistani nationals for money laundering in what was likely an attempt to stop the money flowing to the Taliban through Pakistan, money that keeps the Taliban alive. It has also sanctioned Russia for backing the Taliban in its attempt to assassinate American military personnel.

Bruce Riedel, an expert on U.S. security, South Asia, and counter-terrorism at the Brookings Institution who was with the Central Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan when the Russians invaded in 1979, concluded after Biden made his withdrawal announcement in April that it is not clear that the Taliban will take over Afghanistan after the U.S. leaves. The country remains mired in a civil war, and who the winner will be remains open.

Threats to America are more likely to come these days from cyber attacks, like the one that hit the U.S. on the Friday before the holiday weekend. Apparently originating in Russia, that ransomware attack hit supply chains. Like the one that hit Colonial Pipeline in May, disrupting fuel supplies to the Southeast, such attacks have potential to do enormous damage. Biden has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country harbors hackers, that critical infrastructure is off limits, and that the U.S. will retaliate for any such attacks.

Finally, of course, Biden can turn his attention from Afghanistan in part because the U.S. has not suffered a major attack by foreign terrorists since 2001. Now, according to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, our primary danger from terrorism is homegrown and comes from “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.”

HCR: In 1879, political extremists tried to suppress the vote and take over the country. Is history repeating itself?

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

July 2, 2021

Today news broke that Anthony Aguero, who was in the Capitol on January 6 and who is close to Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), joined Republican members of the right-wing Republican Study Committee when they traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border Tuesday night.

Aguero interviewed, chatted with, translated for, and gave a ride to one of the lawmakers, there. Those included Representatives Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), Ronny Jackson (R-TX), Thomas Tiffany (R-WI), Chris Jacobs (R-NY), Michael Cloud (R-TX), John Rose (R-TN), and Mary Miller (R-IL). The Republican Study Committee’s deputy communications director, Buckley Carlson, who is Tucker Carlson’s son, said Aguero’s presence with the group was “purely incidental.”

The association of sitting Congress members with someone who was apparently part of an insurrection is particularly audacious at a moment when the House of Representatives is in the process of forming a select committee to investigate that series of events.

Once before, in 1879, a political party behaved in a similarly aggressive way, trying to destroy the government from within. Then, too, Congress members took an extremist position in order to try to steal the upcoming presidential election. They hoped to win that election by getting rid of Black voting.

Still angry after the votes of Black southerners tipped the contested election of 1876 to the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, Democrats set out to stop government protection of Black voters before the next presidential election. In 1879, they attached to appropriations bills riders that prohibited the use of the army to guard southern polling places (it is a myth that federal troops abandoned the South in 1877) and eliminating federal supervision of elections. The punishment for holding federal troops at the polls was a fine of up to $5000 and imprisonment at hard labor for 3 months to 5 years, that is, an express ride into the convict labor system that was brutalizing formerly enslaved people.

Republicans refused to accept the terms of the appropriations bill, and Congress adjourned without passing it. Hayes immediately called the new Congress into special session. In this Congress, though, Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate, for the first time since before the Civil War. And, since the senior members of the party were southerners, former Confederates quickly took over the key leadership positions in Congress.

Once there, they ignored that voters had put them in office in a reaction against Republicans’ economic policies and Hayes’s contested election. Instead, they insisted that the American people wanted them to enact the extreme program they had advocated since the war, overturning the federal policies that defended Black rights and reinstating white supremacy, unchallenged. They took their fight to end Black voting directly to the president.

The House Minority leader was a Union veteran from Ohio, James A. Garfield. He explained to a friend the Democrats’ plan: if Hayes vetoed the bills and the Democrats were unable to pass them over his veto—“that is, if he does not consent or 2/3 of the two Houses do not vote on these measures as the Democratic caucus has framed them,” Garfield wrote—“[t]hey will let the government perish for want of supplies.” “If this is not revolution,” he concluded, “which if persisted in will destroy the government, [then] I am wholly wrong in my conception of both the word and the thing.”

Democrats tried to argue that they were fighting for free elections, for liberty from a tyrannical national government. But they also listed the virtues of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, whom they compared to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and U.S. Grant, and celebrated the former Confederates who had been elected to make up their new majority. Just like Davis, they claimed, all they asked was to be left alone to run their states as they wished. One ex-Confederate told the New York Times that leaving Congress in 1861 had been “a great blunder.” Southerners were far more likely to win their goals by controlling Congress. Southern Democrats urged their constituents to “present a solid front to the enemy.”

With Garfield stiffening the spines of nervous Republicans, Hayes vetoed the bill with the riders five times, and as popular opinion swung behind him, the Democrats backed down. They had badly misjudged their power. The extended rider fight kept the story of their attack on the government firmly in front of voters, who despised their behavior and principles both. In the next presidential election, voters turned away from the Democratic candidate and to Garfield, now famous for his stand against the riders and for his wholehearted defense of Black voting.

The 1879 overreach of the Democratic extremists marked a sea change in the Democratic Party. Scorched by their 1880 defeat, Democratic leaders turned away from ex-Confederates and toward new urban leaders in the North. Eager to nail together a new constituency, those leaders talked of racial reconciliation and began to lay the groundwork for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was born in 1882, just two years before New York Democrat Grover Cleveland would win the White House on the party’s new platform.

The story of Garfield’s rise to power has been much on my mind today, partly because it is the anniversary of the day in 1881 when assassin Charles Guiteau shot the president, although he would live until September 19, when he finally succumbed to horrific infections caused by his doctor’s insistence on probing the bullet wound without washing his hands.

But I am also thinking of this story as I watch Senate Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) try to figure out how to respond to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s invitation to suggest five members for the new select committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection. Senate Republicans killed the bipartisan select committee on which Republicans would have had significant power to limit the investigation both in scope, by refusing to agree to certain subpoenas, and in time, because Congress had required that committee to report before the end of the year. Now, Republicans are facing a committee dominated by Democrats who have subpoena power and no time limit, all while Republican extremism is on increasingly public display.

Forcing the creation of this select committee, rather than taking the offer of an independent, bipartisan committee, was a curious decision.

In 1879, when voters spent several months watching extremists of one party try to suppress the vote and take over the country, they rejected that party so thoroughly that it had to reinvent itself.