Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
December 1, 2023
Former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, died today. Named to the court by President Ronald Reagan to honor a campaign promise, O’Connor was known as a pragmatist who paid attention to the real-world consequences of the court’s decisions and who was willing to rethink her positions.
Traditionally, this understanding of how court decisions affect lives has come from justices who have held elective office before their elevation, and O’Connor fit the bill: she served in the Arizona state senate for 5 years, eventually becoming majority leader. Since she stepped down in 2006, there have been no judges on the court with that elective experience, and the court has swung hard to the right.
For the sixth time in U.S. history, the House of Representatives today voted to expel one of its members, Representative George Santos (R-NY). Expulsion requires two thirds of the House. The resolution to expel Santos passed by a vote of 311 to 114, with 105 Republicans voting with all but four Democrats (two voted no and two voted present).
Representative Max Miller (R-OH) told his colleagues that Santos’s campaign had charged both Miller’s credit card and that of his mother for contributions that exceeded legal limits and of which they were both unaware. “You, sir, are a crook,” he told Santos.
But the top four members of the Republican leadership—Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA), Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN), and Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-NY)—and more than 100 other Republicans voted against expelling Santos, who is under criminal indictment and by whom a House Ethics Committee report suggested even more “uncharged and unlawful conduct.”
Santos was a reliable right-wing vote, and losing him will make the Republicans’ majority even slimmer than it already was, suggesting that Republican leadership and much of the rank and file were more interested in power than concerned about criminal behavior among their conference.
“To hell with this place,” Santos said after the expulsion.
The quest for power also showed up this week when a federal appeals court released secret text messages from Representative Scott Perry (R-PA) to other participants in the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, revealing his frantic attempts to end the right of the American people to choose their president.
In that attempt, Perry communicated with Justice Department attorney Jeff Clark, Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, many of Trump’s lawyers, and numerous Pennsylvania state lawmakers including Doug Mastriano, none of whom contacted authorities about the attempt to overthrow our democratic system.
Perry also contacted other Republican representatives, including Jody Hice (R-GA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Chip Roy (R-TX), and representative-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) about the effort. They didn’t alert anyone to the anti-democratic effort, either.
Stopped by a gag order from attacking the staff of Judge Arthur Engoron, who is overseeing the fraud trial of the Trump Organization in Manhattan, former president Trump has turned to attacking Engoron’s family. Trump has alleged on social media that Engoron’s wife has been posting about him on social media, but she has not: the posts Trump has identified are not from her, although blog posts by far-right extremist Laura Loomer said they were.
Trump seems to be trying to get out from under the legal cases against him by threatening participants in the legal system and by delaying the trials until next year’s election. It is his position that if he wins the presidency in 2024, Trump’s lawyer told a judge in Georgia today, Trump cannot be tried as part of the racketeering case of those who tried to overturn the 2020 election until at least 2029.
In the Washington Post yesterday, neoconservative scholar Robert Kagan warned that “a Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable,” and today in The Bulwark, Jonathan V. Last agreed. He pointed to a conversation neoconservative thinker William Kristol had this week with journalist Jonathan Karl, in which Karl described a dystopian future painted not by Democrats but by former Trump employees: a government full of Trump loyalists who understand “that they are free to break the law because they will be pardoned” as Trump seeks retribution against those he sees as his enemies.
“The storm is coming,” Last warned readers. “The world looks normal right now, but it is not. Forces are in motion that will bring us to a point of national crisis one year from now.”
And yet, in Washington, D.C., the federal judge overseeing the case concerning Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election today rejected Trump’s request to throw the case out on the grounds that, as president, he had absolute immunity for anything he did while in office.
Judge Tanya Chutkan wrote that being president “does not confer a lifelong ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ pass.” Trump’s “four-year service as Commander in Chief did not bestow on him the divine right of kings to evade the criminal accountability that governs his fellow citizens,” she added.
Trump is not exactly going out of its way to attract voters, either. He has once again embraced the idea of getting rid of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. More than 40 million Americans get their health coverage under the ACA, and as many as one out of every two people too young for Medicare have a pre-existing health condition that, without the protection of the ACA, could make healthcare insurers discriminate against them.
Trump says he will replace the ACA with something better, but his advisors acknowledge that they have no plans to do more than chip away at the existing law.
President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders are calling attention to Trump’s threats against the ACA and today are touting that under Democratic governor Roy Cooper, North Carolina has become the 40th state to expand Medicaid under the ACA. This means that 600,000 North Carolinians are now eligible for healthcare coverage.
“Despite this progress, MAGA Republicans still want to get rid of the Affordable Care Act,” Biden said, “just like my predecessor tried and failed to do repeatedly.”
Other Republican leaders don’t seem terribly worried about attracting anyone but their base, either. House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) was in the news today for having written the foreword for and promoted a book that advanced conspiracy theories against Democrats and attacked poor voters as “unsophisticated and susceptible to government dependency.”
And perhaps even the base will be dismayed by news out of Florida, where the chair of the state Republican Party, Christian Ziegler, is under investigation for sexual battery and rape. Ziegler is married to Bridget Ziegler, the co-founder of Moms for Liberty; she has said public schools are “indoctrination centers for the radical left,” and that she wants to bring “religious values” into them.
The Florida Center for Government Accountability, which broke the story, calls the Zieglers “one of Florida’s top political power couples,” close to both governor Ron DeSantis and Trump.