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: McConnell won’t permit Biden to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

June 14, 2021

Today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told radio personality Hugh Hewitt that it is “highly unlikely” that he would permit President Biden to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court if the Republicans win control of the Senate in 2022.

While it seems certain that, if returned to his leadership role in the Senate, McConnell would block any Biden nominee, the fact he said it right now suggests that he is hoping to keep evangelical voters firmly in the Republican camp. In 2016, after Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, McConnell refused even to hold hearings for President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. McConnell’s justification for this unprecedented obstruction was that Obama’s March nomination was too close to an election—a rule he ignored four years later when he rushed through Amy Barrett’s appointment to the Court in late October when voting in the upcoming election was already underway—and yet the underlying reason for the 2016 delay was at least in part his recognition that hopes of pushing the Supreme Court to the right, especially on the issue of abortion, were likely to push evangelical voters to the polls.

McConnell’s stance was at least in part directed to the changing nature of the judiciary under President Biden. Last week, the Senate confirmed the first Muslim American federal judge in U.S. history, a truly astonishing first since Muslims have been part of the U.S. since the earliest days of African enslavement in the early 1600s. By a vote of 81 to 16, the Senate confirmed Zahid Quraishi, the son of Pakistani immigrants and veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq, to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

More to the point, perhaps, for McConnell, is that the Senate today confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Jackson takes the place of Merrick Garland, who is now the attorney general. This post is generally seen as a stepping stone to the Supreme Court. Biden has suggested he would appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court, and Jackson is widely thought to be a top contender.

Aside from its implications for the Supreme Court, McConnell’s stand makes a mockery of Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) insistence on bipartisan support for legislation that protects voting rights. Manchin is demanding that bills protecting voting win bipartisan support because he says he fears that increasing partisanship will injure our democracy. McConnell’s flaunting of his manipulation of Senate rules to cement Republican control of our courts leaves Manchin twisting in the wind.

States, too, are passing voter suppression legislation along strictly partisan lines. The Brennan Center for Justice keeps tabs on voting legislation. It writes that “Republicans introduced and drove virtually all of the bills that impose new voting restrictions, and the harshest new laws were passed with almost exclusively Republican votes and signed into law by Republican governors.”

The Republican domination of the government over the past four years is on the table today as Democratic lawmakers try to get to the bottom of who authorized the FBI under former president Trump to spy on reporters, Democratic lawmakers and their families and staff members, and on White House Counsel Don McGahn and his wife. CNN chief congressional reporter Manu Raju tweeted that Adam Schiff (D-NY) who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, says after speaking with Garland that he still doesn’t know who started the investigation. “We discussed the need to really do a full scale review of what went on in the last four years, and make sure that steps are taken to re-establish the independence of the department,” he said.

While Attorney General Merrick Garland has referred the issue to the inspector general of the Justice Department, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler (D-NY), tonight announced the committee would open a formal investigation into the department’s secret seizure of data. “It is…possible that these cases are merely our first glimpse into a coordinated effort by the Trump Administration to target President Trump’s political opposition,” the committee members said in a statement. “If so, we must learn the full extent of this gross abuse of power, root out the individuals responsible, and hold those individuals accountable for their actions.”

In the midst of the uproar over the news that the Trump Department of Justice investigated Democratic lawmakers, the top national security official in the Justice Department, John Demers, a Trump appointee, has retired. Demers ran the department that had a say in each of the leak investigations.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, organized as a military alliance after WWII, met today. The heads of state of the 30 participating countries issued a communique reaffirming “our unity, solidarity, and cohesion,” and reiterating that, in case of attack, each nation would come to the aid of another. The members reiterated their commitment to a rules-based international order.

While the statement said NATO members remained open to a periodic, focused, and meaningful dialogue,” it singled out Russia as a threat and called for it to withdraw its forces from Ukraine, Georgia, and the Republic of Moldova. It condemned Russia’s “illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea.” It warned that NATO countries would, in certain circumstances, recognize a cyberattack as “amounting to an armed attack” and would treat it as such, rising to each other’s defense.

The statement was less strident against China, noting its “growing influence and international policies can present challenges.”

NATO leaders vowed to stand against terrorism and to continue to support Afghanistan despite the U.S. withdrawal. They reiterated that they did not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. In a reflection of the new era, the signatories’ statement called for addressing climate change. It also affirmed “the critical importance of women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation in all aspects of peace and stability, as well as the disproportionate impact that conflict has on women and girls, including conflict-related sexual violence.”

Biden says he promises to prove “that democracy and that our Alliance can still prevail against the challenges of our time and deliver for the needs and the needs of our people.” With this strong statement of NATO solidarity in hand, Biden will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.

HCR: Why is Critical Race Theory such a flashpoint in today’s political world?

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

June 12, 2021

Yesterday, David Ignatius had a piece in the Washington Post that uncovered the attempt of the Trump administration to reorder the Middle East along an axis anchored by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudia Arabia (more popularly known as MBS), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and Jared Kushner of the U.S.

To make the deal, the leaders involved apparently wanted to muscle Jordan out of its role as the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, a role carved out in the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan that was hammered out under President Bill Clinton. The new dealmakers apparently wanted to scuttle the U.S.-backed accords and replace them with economic deals that would reorder the region.

This story has huge implications for the Middle East, for American government, for religion, for culture, and so on, but something else jumps out to me here: this story is a great illustration of the principles behind Critical Race Theory, which is currently tearing up the Fox News Channel. Together, the attempt to bypass Jordan and the obsession with Critical Race Theory seem to make a larger statement about the current sea change in the U.S. as people increasingly reject the individualist ideology of the Reagan era.

When Kushner set out to construct a Middle East peace plan, he famously told Aaron David Miller, who had negotiated peace agreements with other administrations, that he didn’t want to know about how things had worked in the past. “He said flat out, don’t talk to me about history,” Miller told Chris McGreal of The Guardian, “He said, I told the Israelis and the Palestinians not to talk to me about history too.”

Kushner apparently thought he could create a brand new Middle East with a brand new set of alliances that would begin with changing long standing geopolitics in Jerusalem, the city three major world religions consider holy. It is eye-popping to imagine what would have happened if we had torn up decades of agreements and tried to graft onto a troubled area an entirely new way of interacting, based not on treaties but on the interests of this new axis. Apparently, the hope was that throwing enough money at the region would have made the change palatable. But most experts think that weakening Jordan, long a key U.S. ally in the region, and removing its oversight of the holy sites, would have ushered in violence.

The heart of the American contribution to the idea of reworking the Middle East along a new axis with contracts, rather than treaties, seems to have been that enough will and enough money can create new realities.

The idea that will and money could create success was at the heart of the Reagan Revolution. Its adherents championed the idea that any individual could prosper in America, so long as the government stayed out of his (it was almost always his) business.

Critical Race Theory challenges this individualist ideology. CRT emerged in the late 1970s in legal scholarship written by people who recognized that legal protections for individuals did not, in fact, level the playing field in America. They noted that racial biases are embedded in our legal system. From that, other scholars noted that racial, ethnic, gender, class, and other biases are embedded in the other systems that make up our society.

Historians began to cover this ground long ago. Oklahoma historian Angie Debo established such biases in the construction of American law in her book, And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes back in 1940. Since then, historians have explored the biases in our housing policies, policing, medical care, and so on, and there are very few who would suggest that our systems are truly neutral.

So why is Critical Race Theory such a flashpoint in today’s political world? Perhaps in part because it rejects the Republican insistence that an individual can create a prosperous life by will alone. It says that, no matter how talented someone might be, or how eager and dedicated, they cannot always contend against the societal forces stacked against them. It argues for the important weight of systems, established through time, rather than the idea that anyone can create a new reality.

It acknowledges the importance of history.

HCR: What “bipartisanship” REALLY means today

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

June 8, 2021

After Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced this weekend that he would not support either the For the People voting act or an attempt to break the filibuster for a voting measure, but would work to get bipartisan agreement on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, today Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pulled the rug out from under him. 

McConnell said today that restoring the provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that protect minority voting would give too much power to the federal government and that such protection was unnecessary anyway. “The Supreme Court concluded that conditions that existed in 1965 no longer existed,” McConnell said. “So there’s no threat to the voting rights law. It’s against the law to discriminate in voting on the basis of race already. And so I think it’s unnecessary.” 

To say there is no threat to the voting rights law is delusional. The reality is that In 2013, within 24 hours of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision ending the Justice Department’s oversight of certain states’ voting requirements, Texas enacted a strict voter ID law. Other states quickly followed suit. And now, in the wake of the 2020 election, Republican-dominated state legislatures across the country are drastically curtailing voting access. 

Today, more than 300 “advocacy, civic, faith and labor groups representing nearly 2.5 million Americans from 43 states and the District of Columbia” asked the president and vice president to fight for the For the People Act. “[F]air representation and voter access in America are under direct attack,” the letter read. “We are extremely worried about the very survival of our democracy.  We ask that you place the urgent passage of this bill at the top of your administration’s agenda.”

This afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that the Senate will still vote on the For the People Act, as scheduled, in late June. He says he is open to changes to the measure if they will help get Manchin on board. But he is going to force senators to go on record for or against voting rights. 

Gone are the days when McConnell could protect his caucus from unpopular votes simply by refusing to bring anything to a vote. Republicans have had to vote on the bipartisan, independent January 6 commission, which was popular, and voted to go before the country as a party protecting insurrection. Now they will have to take a stand on other popular measures like voting rights and, if the Senate breaks up the bill, getting big money out of politics, which is even more popular, and so on.

Today, Republicans filibustered a measure designed to prohibit discrimination in pay based on sex. The bill would have limited pay differentials to things like education, training, and experience, and would have prohibited employers from retaliating against workers who compared their salaries. Blaming the Democrats for advancing what he calls “partisan” bills, McConnell pointed to the equal pay act as a sign that the “era of bipartisanship is over.”

In fact, we had an illustration of what “bipartisanship” means in today’s Senate when the Senate Rules and Administration and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees that investigated the January 6 insurrection today produced a bipartisan report on the events of that day. Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee chair Gary Peters (D-MI) told reporters: “There were significant, widespread and unacceptable breakdowns in the intelligence gathering. . . . The failure to adequately assess the threat of violence on that day contributed significantly to the breach of the Capitol… The attack was, quite frankly, planned in plain sight.” 

To gain bipartisan support, the report focused on communications failures. It did not explore the roles of government officials, including former president Trump, in the January 6 crisis, and it did not use the word “insurrection” apart from quotations of witness testimony. The result was a curiously sanitized rendition of the events of January. Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) commented: “January 6th didn’t happen because there were security failures, it happened because there was a violent mob that attacked the Capitol, and we need to know why that happened.”

McConnell’s comment about the end of bipartisanship was a sweeping declaration that he would lead Republicans in opposing the Democratic program, and that includes the American Jobs Act, the extensive infrastructure bill that President Biden initially pegged at $2.3 trillion. Biden has been negotiating with Republicans, led by Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, on the measure, but today called it quits after they refused to raise their offer more than $150 billion despite his offer to cut more than $1 trillion off his initial ask. Republicans blamed Biden for ending the talks. 

Biden has not, in fact, ended the talks, though: he has handed them to a different group of lawmakers who have shown a willingness to work across the aisle. That group includes Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema (D-AZ), who might be persuaded to be more reliable Democratic votes if they have a bigger hand in the infrastructure bill. If this group does manage to hammer out a bipartisan infrastructure package, a vote on it could undercut McConnell’s ability to hold his caucus in opposition to the Democrats.

The biggest sticking point in negotiations is that Democrats want to fund much of the American Jobs Act by increasing corporate taxes from the lows of the 2017 tax cuts (although not to the level they were before those cuts), while Republicans are adamant they will not sign on to any such increases. 

The Republican position took a hit this morning, when ProPublica published an investigation based on leaked tax documents. It revealed that America’s 25 richest people—some with more than $100 billion in wealth—pay remarkably little in federal income taxes…sometimes nothing. They can avoid taxes through various accounting methods, while ordinary Americans pay full fare. 

Also this morning, Biden tweeted: “I’m working hard to find common ground with Republicans when it comes to the American Jobs Plan, but I refuse to raise taxes on Americans making under $400,000 a year to pay for it. It’s long past time for the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share.”