HCR: The Big Lie continues to poison

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

June 15, 2021

This morning, the Democrats on the House Oversight Committee released a series of emails and documents that show just how hard former president Trump worked to overturn the 2020 election and retain an illegal grip on power. 

On December 14, 2020, which was the day electors in each state certified the votes of the Electoral College, then-president Trump’s assistant wrote an email to then–Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen talking about alleged voter fraud in Michigan. The email was titled “From POTUS”—that is, from the President of the United States—and it included a long list of talking points to offer about why the votes should not be certified. That email had a number of documents that allegedly proved voter fraud.

Minutes after that email went out, another Justice Department official, Richard Donoghue, sent the same documents to the U.S. Attorneys for the Eastern and Western Districts of Michigan. Forty minutes later, then-president Trump tweeted that Attorney General William Barr would be stepping down and would be replaced by Rosen. Donoghue would become Rosen’s deputy. 

On December 29, then-president Trump’s assistant emailed Rosen, Donoghue, and Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall with a draft of a legal brief to file in the Supreme Court. It demanded that the court declare that the Electoral College votes of six states—ones that Trump lost—“cannot be counted” and asked the court to order a redo of the election in those states.

From then on, Trump and his aides, including White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, repeatedly pressured officials at the Department of Justice to overturn the election results. Meadows forwarded information suggesting, among other things, that Italians changed U.S. votes through satellite technology and that Trump clearly won the election. Their complaints were so far-fetched that Rosen and Donoghue referred to them as “Pure insanity.”

And yet, the Big Lie that Trump won the 2020 election continues to poison our country. On January 6, that lie led Trump’s supporters to try to stop the counting of the certified electoral votes by storming the Capitol and threatening the lawmakers there. Just hours after the insurrection, 147 Republicans voted to challenge the election results. 

And some of them remain firmly in the camp of the Big Lie, now downplaying the events of January 6. Today, 21 House Republicans voted against awarding the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’s highest award, to all the law enforcement officers who protected the Capitol on January 6. The measure passed with 406 lawmakers of both parties voting in favor. Republican Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said to those voting no: “How you can vote no to this is beyond me.” 

But some have gone further in challenging the seriousness of the attack on the Capitol. Today at a hearing of the House Oversight Committee, a number of the Republicans spent their time expressing concern for the insurrectionists. Representative Glenn Grothman (R-WI) suggested that as many as 1000 of the people in the Capitol on January 6 were tourists who had wandered into the building inadvertently (the Capitol was closed to tourists because of the pandemic). Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) argued that the Capitol police officers were “lying in wait” for Ashli Babbitt, who was shot as she tried to break into a secure area. According to Gosar’s construction, Babbitt was “executed” by police. He demanded to know the name of the officer involved in the shooting.

Today, Attorney General Merrick Garland released the nation’s first ever National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism. It emphasized that the Department of Justice would seek to prevent violence, not protected expression, and would be evenhanded: “The definition of ‘domestic terrorism’ in our law makes no distinction based on political views—left, right, or center—and neither should we,” it said. The plan calls for streamlined information sharing among law enforcement officials, a focus on the transnational elements of domestic terrorism, an effort to reduce access to recruitment materials and weapons, and screening of government employees—including military and law enforcement—before hiring to make sure they do not harbor illegal and violent views. 

The new plan also takes a longer view, saying that conquering our long tradition of domestic terrorism will require tackling racism, gun violence, and mass murders. Ending domestic terrorism means paying better attention to mental health and creating “the type of civics education that promotes tolerance and respect for all and investing in policies and programs that foster civic engagement and inspire a shared commitment to American democracy.” And, the document continues, “it means ensuring that there is simply no governmental tolerance—and instead denunciation and rejection—of violence as an acceptable mode of seeking political or social change.”

Also today, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the third ranking Republican in the Senate, told a right-wing society that he wants to make President Biden “a one-half-term president” by retaking power in Congress in 2022 and blocking Biden’s agenda. 

The president is in Europe, of course, but his spokesperson Andrew Bates illustrated that the administration intends to move beyond the Trump loyalists. In a statement, Bates said: “The President looks forward to continuing to deliver for the American people, continuing to make government work for them again, and continuing to bring our country together—after having reduced cases of the worst public health crisis in over a century by more than 90%, signed historic economic legislation that helped fuel unprecedented job growth for any administration’s first 100 days in office, protected Americans’ health care, and restored our leadership and competitiveness in the world.”

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.

HCR: “Saving America” – just as white supremacists “saved” the Jim Crow South

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

May 14, 2021

This morning, as expected, the House Republicans elected Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Trump’s choice for conference chair, to replace Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY). This means that the four top House Republican leaders—Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), Stefanik, and Policy Committee Chair Gary Palmer (R-AL)—all voted to overturn Biden’s 2020 victory after the January 6 attack on the Capitol. 

Stefanik thanked “President Trump for his support,” saying “he is a critical part of our Republican team.” She went on to say that “House Republicans are united in our fight to save our country from the radical Socialist Democrat agenda of President Biden and Nancy Pelosi.”

Today’s vote confirmed that the leaders of the current Republican Party are willing to abandon democracy in order to save the country from what they call “socialism.”

But what Republicans mean when they say “socialism” is not the political system most countries recognize when they use that word: one in which the people, through their government, own the means of production. What Republicans mean comes from America’s peculiar history after the Civil War, when new national taxation coincided with the expansion of voting to include Black men.

In the years just after the firing stopped, white southerners who hated the idea that Black men could use the vote to protect themselves terrorized their Black neighbors. Pretending to be the ghosts of dead Confederate soldiers, they dressed in white robes with hoods to cover their faces and warned formerly enslaved people not to show up at the polls. But in 1870, Congress created the Department of Justice, and President U.S. Grant’s attorney general set out to destroy the Ku Klux Klan. 

In 1871, southern leaders changed their tactics. The same men who had vowed that Black people would never be equal to whites began to say that their objection to Black voting was not based on race. No, they said, their objection was that Black people were poor and uneducated and would elect lawmakers who promised to give them things—hospitals, and roads, and schools—that could be paid for only through tax levies on people with property: white men. In this formulation, voting was not a means to ensuring equality; it was a redistribution of wealth from hardworking white men to African Americans who wanted a handout. Black voting meant “socialism,” and it would destroy America.

With this argument, northerners who had fought alongside Black colleagues and insisted they must be equal before the law on racial grounds were willing to see Black men kept from the polls. Black voting, which northerners had recognized as key to African Americans being able to protect their interests—and, for that matter, to defend the national government from the former Confederates who still wanted to destroy it—slowed. And then it stopped. 

The South became a one-party state ruled by a small elite class, defined by white supremacy, and mired in poverty. For its part, the North also turned on workers, undermining the labor movement and focusing on protecting the new industrial factories whose owners claimed they were the ones driving the economy. 

In the 1930s, the Great Depression changed this equation. When the bottom fell out of the economy, Democrats under Franklin Delano Roosevelt transformed the government to regulate business, provide a basic social safety net, and promote infrastructure. As early as 1937, Republican businessmen and southern Democrats began to talk of coming together to stop what they considered socialism. But most Americans liked this New Deal, and its opponents had little hope of attracting enough voters to stop its expansion.

That equation changed after World War II, when Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower began to use the government to advance racial equality. Truman’s 1948 desegregation of the military prompted southern Democrats to form their own short-lived segregationist party. The Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional enabled opponents of the new government system to tie racism to their cause. They warned that the expanded government meant the expensive protection of Black rights, which cost tax dollars. They argued it was simply a redistribution of wealth, just as their counterparts had done in the Reconstruction South.

With the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, that argument increasingly fed the idea that Black and Brown people were lazy and wanted to receive government handouts rather than work. Businessmen and social traditionalists eager to get rid of the popular New Deal government told voters that government programs to help ordinary Americans were “socialism,” redistributing money from hardworking white people to lazy people of color. They talked of “makers” and “takers.”

To purge the nation of socialism, then, and return it to the pre–New Deal government, they set out to limit voting. In 1980, Paul Weyrich, the co-founder of the Heritage Foundation that has designed much of the legislation currently being passed in Republican-dominated states, said “I don’t want everybody to vote….our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” 

By 1986, Republicans were talking about cutting down on Black voters through “ballot integrity” drives. As Democrats sought to expand voting, most notably with the 1993 Motor Voter Act, Republicans began to charge that they were losing elections only because of voter fraud, although experts agree that voter fraud is exceedingly rare and does not change election outcomes. Since then, arguing that they are simply protecting the vote, Republicans have become dependent on ID laws and other voter suppression measures. 

But by 2020, it was clear that the Republicans’ drive to slash the government back to its 1920 form, along with the racism and sexism that had become central to the party to pull voters to their standard, had become so unpopular that it was unlikely they could continue to win elections. And so, Republicans began to say that the United States is “not a democracy,” as Utah Senator Mike Lee tweeted in October. “Democracy isn’t the objective,” he continued, “liberty, peace, and prospe[r]ity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.” 

With the election of Democrat Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, along with a Democratic Congress, the leadership of the Republican Party has taken the next step. They are rejecting the legitimacy of the election, doubling down on Trump’s Big Lie that he won. Claiming to want to combat “voter fraud,” they are backing bills across the country to suppress Democratic voting, making sure that no one but a Republican can win an election.

Just as white southerners argued after the Civil War, Republican leaders claim to be acting in the best interests of the nation. They are standing firm against “the radical Socialist Democrat agenda,” making sure that no wealthy person’s tax dollars go to schools or roads or social programs. 

They are “saving” America, just as white supremacists “saved” the Jim Crow South.

HCR: Cheney shines a light on the “threat America has never seen before”

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

May 11, 2021

Tonight, in a speech that claimed every piece of the Republican landscape since 1980, Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney launched a broadside against the Republican leaders who have shackled the party to the former president.

“Today we face a threat America has never seen before,” Cheney said. “A former president who provoked a violent attack on this Capitol in an effort to steal the election has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him. He risks inciting further violence. Millions of Americans have been misled by the former president. They have heard only his words, but not the truth, as he continues to undermine our democratic process, sowing seeds of doubt about whether democracy really works at all.”

Cheney recalled the determination of those in Kenya, Russia, and Poland to risk their lives to vote for freedom, and talked of how the dream of American democracy had inspired them. She touched on religion, assuring listeners that God has favored America. She invoked Reagan, claiming that his Republican Party won the Cold War and saying that America is now on the cusp of another cold war with communist China.

This impending struggle highlighted the importance of today’s domestic struggle: “Attacks against our democratic process and the rule of law empower our adversaries and feed communist propaganda that American democracy is a failure. We must speak the truth. Our election was not stolen, and America has not failed.”

Cheney went on to claim that she stood on conservative principles Republicans like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has abandoned. The fundamental conservative principle is the rule of law, she reminded listeners, and those backing Trump’s Big Lie are denying that rule and undermining our democracy. The election is over, she said, and “Those who refuse to accept the rulings of our courts are at war with the Constitution.” It is imperative, she said, to act to prevent “the unraveling of our democracy.”

“This is not about policy. This is not about partisanship. This is about our duty as Americans. Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar.”

Tomorrow, House Republicans will vote on whether to keep Cheney at the number three spot in the party in the House—she is expected to be removed—and Trump’s own former deputy attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, will tell the House Oversight Committee that after the election, the Justice Department “had been presented with no evidence of widespread voter fraud at a scale sufficient to change the outcome of the 2020 election.”

On Thursday, over 100 former Republican leaders will drop a letter saying that if party leadership does not separate itself from former president Trump, they will start a third party. They are calling themselves the “rationals” against the “radicals,” and they include former governors and representatives, as well as Republican officeholders.

This revolt against the Trump loyalists in the Republican Party signals that, no matter what leadership is saying, many Republicans—including Republican lawmakers—are not, in fact, united behind the former president. After all, he never broke 50% approval when he was president, and he lost the White House and Congress for the party. And, now that he is locked out of Twitter and Facebook, it appears he can no longer command the audience he used to. In the week since he launched a new blog, it has attracted a little over 212,000 likes, shares, and comments. The top post got just 16,000 engagements.

Meanwhile, 63% of Americans approve of the job President Joe Biden is doing.

What’s at stake in the fight over Cheney’s position in the Republican Party—admit it, did you ever think you would care about who was the third most important House Republican?—is not some obscure struggle for political seniority. It’s a fight over whether the Republican Party will wed itself to the Big Lie that a Democratic president is illegitimate, despite all evidence to the contrary. Cheney is not a Democrat by a long shot, and she is correctly calling out the danger of the Big Lie for what it is: a dagger pointed at the heart of our democracy.

HCR: Liz Cheney, Rudy, and the Big Lie

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

May 4, 2021

n any normal era, the big story right now would be the country’s dramatic economic recovery from the recession sparked by the coronavirus. In the first three months of 2021, the economy grew by 1.6% as economic stimulus measures kicked in and people started to buy things again. Amazon posted profits of $8.1 billion for the first three months of the year; the same months last year brought the company $2.5 billion. Supply chains are still frayed, pushing prices upward, but those problems are expected to ease as the chains heal.

At the beginning of the year, economists predicted just 0.6% growth, because they did not expect vaccinations to go into circulation as quickly as they did, and they expected the recession to linger for months. If the current growth rate holds, it would mean an annual rate of 6.4% (it’s unclear, of course, if it will hold).

For the last three weeks, jobless claims have dropped. Restaurants and service industries are not in as good a shape as consumer goods, but they should recover as more and more people get vaccinated. We are still down about 8.4 million jobs lost during the pandemic, but employment is moving in the right direction.

This economic turnaround is possible because of the administration’s vaccine program. That’s another huge story. Just four months ago, it was unclear how vaccinations would happen, and how long they would take. But Biden clearly considered the vaccination program his top priority, a way to prove that an efficient federal government was indeed vital to the country.

As of Monday, more than 56% of U.S. adults have had at least one dose of the vaccine, and more than 246 million doses have been administered. Biden is aiming to get 70% of Americans vaccinated by July 4 and is trying to make getting vaccines even easier to help persuade everyone to get them. The administration wants pharmacies to give shots to walk-in patients, for example, and is giving more doses to rural areas to cut travel distances. Today, the administration announced that states whose people are refusing the vaccine will be able to decide if they want the vaccines allocated to them as a percentage of their population. If not, they can choose to contribute those they don’t want to a federal pool from which states eager for more could pull.  

Biden appears to be betting that Americans of all parties will pay attention to what he is accomplishing and stop listening to Republican lawmakers, who are living in an entirely different political reality than the Democrats.

But it’s hard to get airtime for good, solid, progress when Republican leadership is openly feuding, the former president’s advisor Rudy Giuliani is in front of cameras talking about the Ukraine scandal that led to Trump’s first impeachment, and a federal judge today whacked Trump’s second attorney general, William Barr, for misleading her, Congress, and the public about the Mueller investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

The fight between House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) is escalating. To court the Trump base, McCarthy is trying to bring the caucus together behind the former president, but Cheney refuses to overlook the January 6 insurrection. She is adamant that Republicans must push back on the Big Lie that Trump won the 2020 election, while the Republicans are coming together behind that lie. New York Representative Elise Stefanik, a Trump loyalist, is working to succeed Cheney as the third most powerful Republican in the House. Swapping Stefanik for Cheney will cede the party to Trump once and for all.

On her side, Cheney has the fact that there are already 400 federal cases against the January 6 insurrectionists, and those cases will be in the news, with videos and evidence, in the coming months, constantly reminding people that the Trump Republicans are defending that insurrection. And she is calm and measured, while the Trump loyalists are represented by provocateurs like Lauren Boebert (R-CO), fond of parading around with her guns; Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA); and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) who is currently entangled in a sex-trafficking scandal involving minors. Cheney can do a lot of damage to a Trump party if she wants to.

Tying the party to Trump and the Big Lie also means that party leaders will have to weather whatever might come of the federal investigation into Giuliani, who is publicly accusing officials at the Department of Justice of trying to get to Trump through him. But the investigation into Giuliani’s work in Ukraine began not under Merrick Garland, the current attorney general, but under William Barr, Trump’s attorney general. And today, federal prosecutors in Manhattan asked U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken to appoint an outside lawyer, known as a “special master,” to review the evidence investigators took from Giuliani’s home and office to avoid accusations of political bias.

Since the search, legal analysts have been very visible in the media, suggesting that Giuliani is in, as Trump critic George Conway said, “deep s**t.”

Another story today also grabbed headlines away from Biden and kept the focus on the former president. U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued a strongly worded opinion ordering the Justice Department to release a 2019 memo connected to whether Trump should have been charged with obstructing justice during the Russia investigation. Jackson accused the DOJ under Barr’s tenure of misleading her, Congress, and the public both about the memo and about the Mueller Report itself.

The DOJ has until May 17 to decide if it will appeal her ruling or release the memo.

This weird dichotomy between the things that are going very right in the new administration and the things that are going very wrong has unusually profound implications. Republican lawmakers in the states are doing all they can to skew the mechanics of government so they can regain control of the country no matter how unpopular they are.

Paying attention to the fireworks on the Republican side of the aisle threatens to drown out the extraordinary things the Biden administration has already accomplished. But ignoring the growing radicalism of the Trump party threatens to downplay just how dangerous it really is.