Trump loyalists are on the ropes – watch for just $49.99!

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

September 8, 2021

Early in the wake of Trump’s presidency, Republican Party lawmakers facing upcoming elections appear to have made the calculation that radicalized Trump voters were vital to their political futures. They seemed to worry that they needed to protect themselves against primary candidates from the right, since primaries are famous for bringing out the strongest partisans. If they could win their primaries, though, they could rely on tradition, gerrymandering, and voter suppression to keep them in office.

So Republicans tried to bury the January 6 insurrection and former president Trump’s role in it. Although both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) called attention to Trump’s responsibility for the attack immediately after it happened, they voted to acquit him of the charge of “incitement of insurrection” placed by the House of Representatives, and either to echo or not to oppose the accusation that the 2020 election was fraudulent.

Republican governors like Greg Abbott in Texas and Ron DeSantis in Florida, both of whom appear to have presidential ambitions, along with Kristi Noem in South Dakota, took strong stands against immigrants who they insisted were invading the country, masks that they claimed were stifling children, and now, in Texas (but soon to spread), against abortion. At the same time, Republican-dominated states dramatically restricted the right to vote.

This calculation is hardly a secret. In Washington state, two Trump-type candidates have recently challenged the popular Republican incumbent Jaime Herrera Beutler, who voted for the former president’s impeachment. Trump has endorsed one of them, and Florida Republican Representative Matt Gaetz, a Trump loyalist, traveled there this weekend to boost that candidate’s campaign.

Republicans in Texas have swung hard right to rally their white base in a state that is now majority minority. The governor recently directed state police to arrest immigrants believed to have come to America illegally. The Republican legislature has passed, and the Republican governor has signed, a draconian abortion law empowering neighbors to collect $10,000 if they win a lawsuit against anyone who “abets” an abortion after six weeks, before most people know they’re pregnant; a strong voter suppression bill; and a law that permits people to carry guns without a permit.

​​Democratic state Representative Ron Reynolds, vice chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, told the AP’s Will Weissert and Paul J. Weber: “They have to entertain and they have to appease because these are the people that are excited about voting in Republican primaries.”

But the Republicans’ move right was always a political gamble. The fact that politics is getting so frantic suggests it is a gamble they are afraid they are losing.

Far from disappearing, the events of January 6 loom larger every day. On September 4, Jacob Chansley, who then called himself “QAnon Shaman” and was seen in the Senate Chamber on January 6, shirtless, painted, wearing a horned helmet, and carrying a flagpole topped with a spear, pleaded guilty to a felony. He could face 41 to 51 months in prison. He is one of 600 charged so far in the insurrection. Like others, he claimed he believed Trump had called him to the Capitol that day.

Some Republican lawmakers might be looking at Chansley’s four or so years in prison and getting nervous as they might face their own day of reckoning.

Senate Republicans filibustered the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the events of January 6, so the House created a select committee instead. McCarthy tried to sabotage the select committee by adding to it two representatives who had already declared their opposition to it; then, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected them, McCarthy withdrew all the Republicans from the committee and refused to participate in it, clearly hoping to discredit its work as a partisan hit job. But Pelosi invited anti-Trump Republican representatives Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) to participate in the committee, and they agreed. As of September 2, Cheney is now the committee’s vice-chair.

The committee has asked a wide variety of sources for a wide variety of records, prompting what certainly looks like concern from lawmakers who worked closely with the former president. When the select committee asked telecommunications companies to preserve the phone records of certain members of Congress, as well as the former president and members of his family, the lawmakers in question strongly opposed the committee’s request.

McCarthy claimed that any company turning over private information was “in violation of federal law and subject to losing their ability to operate in the United States,” although experts say there is no law that stops companies from complying with a subpoena (and, of course, Republicans demanded—and received—Hillary Clinton’s private data in 2016). McCarthy seemed to issue a threat when he said: “If companies still choose to violate federal law, a Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable under the law.”

Eleven House Republicans wrote a letter to Yahoo (mistakenly addressing it to a CEO who left the company in 2017) warning that “the undersigned do not consent to the release of confidential call records or data,” claiming that “your company has a legal obligation to protect the data of your subscribers and customers,” and threatening that “[i]f you fail to comply with these obligations, we will pursue all legal remedies.”

The eleven lawmakers signing the letter were those most closely associated with Trump: Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Scott Perry (R-PA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Jodie Hice (R-GA), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and Jim Banks (R-IN), who seems to have aims for higher office.

Greene warned that any company complying with the committee’s request would be “shut down.”

McCarthy also claimed that the Department of Justice had said Trump did not cause, incite, or provoke the violence on January 6. This prompted select committee chair Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) and Vice-Chair Cheney to issue a statement “on McCarthy’s January 6th misinformation campaign,” calling “reports of such a conclusion… baseless.”

The anti-government anti-mask movement also probably seemed like a better idea before the Delta variant hit. Governors like Abbott and DeSantis have doubled down on opposing mask mandates: DeSantis has gone so far as to use the government to prevent private businesses from requiring masks and to block local officials from requiring masks in schools.

But mask mandates are widely popular, and as hospitalizations and deaths spike among the unvaccinated, popular opinion is turning against anti-maskers. The area around Miami, Florida, has seen the deaths of at least 13 school staff from Covid-19; hospitalizations of children are rising; and north Idaho has begun to ration medical care; Covid hospitalizations on Labor Day 2021 were 61,000 higher than they were a year ago (99,000 versus 38,000), and health care workers are exhausted. Doctors are beginning to push back against the anti-maskers, while school boards in Florida are defying DeSantis’s ban and Texas schools are challenging Abbott’s rule in court.

While Trump-reflecting lawmakers are demanding Americans put their lives, and their children’s lives, on the line for “freedom,” news broke tonight that Trump and his son Don, Jr., will spend the night of September 11, 2021, the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, commenting on a “gamecast” of a boxing match between former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield (who stepped in when Oscar De La Hoya tested positive for Covid) and Vitor Belfort at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida. “I love great fighters and great fights,” Trump said. “You won’t want to miss this special event…”—which can be purchased for $49.99.

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.

HCR: GOP denies January 6 insurrection; Criminal charges forthcoming for Trump

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

May 20, 2021

The news grabbing the headlines today is the congressional fight over the creation of a bipartisan independent commission to investigate the events surrounding the January 6 insurrection.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made demands of the Democrats that he evidently expected Democrats to refuse, enabling him to object to the commission by claiming it was partisan. But the Democrats agreed to his conditions, forcing him to object in such a way that it was clear he is simply covering for the former president and, likely, for himself, because he does not want to have to testify to what he observed or participated in in the days around that event (including, for example, the hostile phone call with Trump when McCarthy was inside the besieged Capitol).

McCarthy and the Republican whip, Steven Scalise (R-LA), whose job is to get Republican members to vote along the lines leadership requires, set out to get Republican representatives to oppose the creation of the commission. But when the House voted on the bill this afternoon, 35 Republicans broke ranks to join the Democrats and vote to create  the commission. The defections were a sign that McCarthy and the Trump caucus do not entirely own the House Republicans yet; 35 Republicans would like to know what the heck happened on January 6. One hundred and seventy-five Republicans want to sweep the whole event under the rug. The final vote on the bill to create the commission was 252-175.

Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH) spoke for those of us who are gobsmacked that anyone could say we do not need to investigate the most profound attack on our democracy in our history. He thanked the Republicans supporting the creation of the independent commission and then turned on the rest. “Benghazi. You guys chased the former secretary of state all over the country, spent millions of dollars. We have people scaling the Capitol, hitting the Capitol police with lead pipes across the head, and we can’t get bipartisanship. What else has to happen in this country? Cops: this is a slap in the face to every rank-and-file cop in the United States. If we’re going to take on China, if we’re going to rebuild the country, if we’re going to reverse climate change, we need two political parties in this country that are both living in reality—and you ain’t one of them.”

The bill now goes to the Senate, where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has announced he will not support it. After Trump’s second impeachment trial, McConnell said that he hadn’t voted to convict Trump because the former president would face punishment later. Now he has attacked the bipartisan commission as partisan and said, “It’s not at all clear what new facts or additional investigation yet another commission could actually lay on top of existing efforts by law enforcement and Congress,” implying that there has been an investigation already—there has not—and that the fact we don’t know what such a commission would uncover means we have no need to uncover it.

All of this matters because the January 6 insurrection was an attack on our democracy, and the Republican Party has concluded that they do not want us to know what happened. A number of Republicans have said they believe that “Antifa” was behind the riot; if they really thought that were the case, wouldn’t they want an investigation?

The only logical conclusion is that they are afraid of what an investigation will uncover. And, in fact, that’s precisely what Republican senators are saying: they do not want an investigation to color the 2020 election. Today Senate Republican whip John Thune (R-SD) said that the findings of any investigation “could be weaponized politically and drug into next year” (although the bipartisan agreement requires the investigation to be over by the end of 2021). After years of weaponizing investigations—Benghazi, Secretary of State Clinton’s emails, Hunter Biden—the Republicans are facing an investigation, based in reality, that likely will reflect badly on them. They want no part of it.

But it is going to be very difficult to stuff back into the bottle the genie of interest in what the heck went on during the Trump administration. Yesterday’s announcement by New York Attorney General Letitia James that her office’s investigation into the Trump Organization has become a criminal investigation sparked fireworks from the former president. Today he issued a long, rambling statement that rehashed all his complaints about, well, everything, but the centerpiece was James’s announcement. It was weird and unhinged, even for him, and suggested that he is very worried that there will be criminal charges forthcoming.

And today a filing from the Department of Justice showed that, under Biden, the department has found the parents of 54 more children, from whom they were separated at our southern border by the Trump administration in an attempt to stop refugees from entering the country. The previous administration separated at least 2800 children from their parents. Shortly after he took office, Biden created a task force in the Department of Homeland Security to reunite families. The parents of 391 migrant children have still not been found.