Republicans have elected a pro-Trump extremist as speaker

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

October 25, 2023

Today, the United States House of Representatives elected a new speaker to replace former speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who was ousted by Republican extremists. The new speaker, Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana, had an advantage over rivals because he has been a backbencher in the House fewer than eight years, too invisible to have made many enemies. He is the least-experienced speaker in more than a century. 

Senate Republicans openly admitted they didn’t know who he was. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) added: “Apparently experience isn’t necessary for the speaker job…. We’re down to folks who haven’t had leadership or chairmanship roles, which means their administration of the House will be a new experience for them.”

The Republican conference decided to back Johnson after extremists scuttled their first choice after McCarthy, Louisiana representative Steve Scalise, and after a block of Republicans refused to back Trump loyalist Jim Jordan of Ohio. After Jordan, Minnesota representative Tom Emmer got the nod from the conference…until former president Trump expressed his disapproval. 

Democrats repeatedly offered to work with Republicans to elect a speaker who accepted the results of the 2020 presidential election and who agreed to bring to the floor for an up-or-down vote legislation that was widely popular in both parties. The Republicans rejected those offers.

Instead, they have elected a pro-Trump extremist as speaker.

Johnson was instrumental in Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Routinely in touch with Trump, he rallied his colleagues to object to counting the electoral votes from states that Democratic candidate Joe Biden won. As Trump’s legal challenges to the results failed, Johnson pushed a Texas lawsuit against the four states that had given Biden the win, calling for the invalidation of millions of his fellow Americans’ ballots, and echoed lies about Venezuelan interference with ballots. 

Johnson has also embraced the far right’s culture wars. He is a self-described evangelical Christian who is staunchly anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ rights, anti-union, and anti-immigration. He has close ties to the Israeli right wing, and he opposes further aid to Ukraine, saying such money would be better spent at home, but he has also called for extensive cuts to domestic spending programs. 

When a reporter asked Johnson about his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, the colleagues surrounding him booed and told the reporter to “shut up.” On the floor of the House, every single Republican voted for Johnson.

And so, the House Republicans have caved to the MAGA extremists. Representative Pete Aguilar (D-CA) said that for the Republicans, the search for a speaker hadn’t been about looking for someone interested in “growing the middle class, helping our communities, keeping the cost of healthcare lower, and making life for everyday Americans better.” Instead, Aguilar said, “this has been about one thing…who can appease Donald Trump. House Republicans have put their names behind someone who has been called the most important architect of the [2020] electoral college objections.” A Republican yelled back: “Damn right!” 

The Republicans appear to be planning to go before the voters in 2024 with a presidential candidate who is deeply enmeshed in trials over allegedly criminal behavior, whose hastily appointed Supreme Court justices overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision recognizing the constitutional right to abortion, and who tried to steal the 2020 election. Alongside him, they have now elevated a fervently anti-abortion House speaker who backed the former president’s effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. 

Voters resoundingly rejected both of those positions in 2022. 

In contrast to his Republican colleagues, in his welcome to the new speaker, House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) outlined his caucus’s efforts to work with Republicans in a bipartisan way, noting that it was the Democrats who provided the votes to raise the debt ceiling, to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government and thus avoid a shutdown, and to secure disaster assistance for Americans suffering from extreme weather events. 

Going forward, he said, House Democrats will “continue to push back against extremism in this chamber and throughout the country. House Democrats will continue to protect Social Security, protect Medicare, protect Medicaid, protect our children, protect our climate, protect low-income families, protect working families, protect the middle class, protect organized labor, protect the LGBTQ community, protect our veterans, protect older Americans, protect the Affordable Care Act, protect the right to vote, protect the peaceful transfer of power, protect our democracy, and protect a woman’s freedom to make her own reproductive health care decision.”

But Jeffries’s soft speech covered a steely message. He observed that “Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election,” adding that “[h]e’s doing a great job under difficult circumstances, and no amount of election denialism will ever change that reality.” 

Jeffries pointed out that great presidents of both parties have urged House members to “put aside partisan politics for the good of the American people,” and he noted that Americans are “understandably alarmed at the turbulence of the moment, at the chaos, the dysfunction, and the extremism that has been unleashed in this chamber, from the very beginning of this Congress.” But in what amounted to a warning to the newly empowered extremists, he continued: “But this, too, shall pass. Our country has often confronted adversity, and the good news is we always find a way to make it to the other side.”

“We faced adversity in the 1860s, in the middle of the Civil War, when the country was literally tearing itself apart. We faced adversity in October of 1929 when the stock market collapsed, plunging us into a Great Depression. We faced adversity in December of 1941, when a foreign power unexpectedly struck, plunging us into a world war with the evil empire of Nazi Germany.

“We faced adversity in the Deep South in the 1950s and 60s, when the country was struggling to reconcile the inherent contradictions between Jim Crow segregation and the glorious promises of the Constitution. We faced adversity on September 11th, 2001, when the Towers and the Pentagon were unexpectedly struck, killing thousands of lives in an instant.”

And then, by placing House Republicans in this list, Jeffries tied them to the wrong side of history. “We faced adversity right here in the House of Representatives when on January 6, 2021, a violent mob of insurrectionists incited by some in this chamber overran the House floor as part of an effort to halt the peaceful transfer of power,” he said.

And, he concluded, “[e]very time we faced adversity, the good news here in America is that we always overcome….”

Biden: “We cannot give up on a two-state solution.” Former Twitter “X” is now a source of widespread disinformation

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

October 22, 2023

Today, a convoy of 20 trucks crossed into Gaza from Egypt to bring food, water, and hospital equipment. Secretary of State Antony Blinken thanked “our partners in Egypt and Israel, and the United Nations, for facilitating the safe passage of these shipments through the Rafah border crossing” after “days of exhaustive U.S. diplomatic engagement in the region and an understanding President Biden reached with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during his recent historic visit to Israel.” Since then, Special Envoy David Satterfield has worked to get the aid flowing.

Israel had vowed not to allow any aid to Gaza until Hamas released the 210 hostages it is holding, but Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant explained that officials had to back down: “The Americans insisted and we are not in a place where we can refuse them. We rely on them for planes and military equipment. What are we supposed to do? Tell them no?”

The convoy is a test to see if Hamas will permit the aid to get to civilians. Blinken warned that if it interferes, “it will hinder the international community from being able to provide this aid. Civilian lives must be protected, and assistance must urgently reach those in need. We will continue to work closely with partners in the region to stress the importance of adhering to the law of war, supporting those who are trying to get to safety or provide assistance, and facilitating access to food, water, medical care, and shelter for citizens wherever they are located in Gaza.”

While more than 200 trucks are waiting at the border and Egypt says the crossing is now open permanently, the next convoy is not expected to cross the border until Monday, even as conditions in Gaza worsen.

The U.S. is continuing to work to get U.S. citizens and their families out of Gaza through Egypt.

Also today, Egypt held a hastily convened peace summit with leaders from Arab countries, Europe, Africa, and North America to figure out how to stop the violence in Gaza. While the parties were unable to agree on a statement, there was a broad consensus that Israel must abide by the laws of war, which prohibit making war on civilians. (Israel claims it honors this prohibition as it tries to eliminate Hamas and its infrastructure, and also to recover the hostages Hamas is holding. Hostage-taking is also prohibited by the rules of war.)

Neither Israel nor Hamas was at the meeting. The head of the Palestinian Authority (which has partial control of the West Bank), Mahmoud Abbas, spoke for the Palestinians. He decried what he called war crimes as Israeli airstrikes kill civilians, and called for a two-state solution to the crisis, although a recent Gallup poll suggests a strong majority of Palestinians do not support that effort.

Abbas’s call harks back to the longstanding plan for two independent states that Hamas rejects and that the 2020 Abraham Accords negotiated by the Trump administration undermined by normalizing relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain without providing for a Palestinian state. Since then, Israel has accelerated the settlement of Israelis on Palestinian lands in the West Bank.

The call to resurrect a two-state solution was echoed by Egypt’s president Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who do not want Palestinians displaced by Israel to destabilize their countries. Chinese leader Xi Jinping backed that idea on Thursday in his first statement on the crisis, and in his own speech on Thursday, Biden also said, “We cannot give up on a two-state solution.”

Meanwhile, Israel has increased its warnings to those in the north of Gaza of an approaching ground invasion, in which those who do not evacuate risk being “identified as a partner in a terrorist organization.”

As this conflict plays out, observers have already identified widespread disinformation about it on social media. “X,” formerly known as Twitter, is one of the worst actors.

In the U.S., such disinformation pits Americans against each other, and today the U.S. sent a cable to more than 100 countries warning that U.S. intelligence officials assess that Russia is using such methods to affect the elections around the world. A senior State Department official told reporters that Russia was so successful in amplifying disinformation about the 2020 U.S. election and the COVID-19 pandemic that the Kremlin decided to up its game.

The aim of those attacking our elections is to discredit our democracy

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

October 28, 2022

At about 2:30 am, police in San Francisco responding to a call discovered that an assailant had broken into the San Francisco home of House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and attacked her husband, 82-year-old Paul Pelosi, with a hammer, shouting, “Where’s Nancy?” The attacker apparently tried to tie Mr. Pelosi up “until Nancy got home” and told police he was “waiting for Nancy.”

Mr. Pelosi suffered a fractured skull and serious injuries to his right arm and his hands. He underwent surgery today. He is expected to recover.

Speaker Pelosi was in Washington, D.C., at the time. The House speaker is the third-ranking officer of our government, second in line to succeed the president. An attack on her is an attack on our fundamental government structure.

Those who knew the alleged attacker, 42-year-old David DePape, say his behavior has been concerning. His Facebook page featured conspiracy theories common on right-wing media, saying Covid vaccines were deadly; that George Floyd, the Minneapolis man murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin, actually died of a drug overdose; that the 2020 election was stolen; and the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol was a “FARCE.” He reposted a number of videos by Mike Lindell, the Trump loyalist and chief executive officer of the MyPillow company, lying that the 2020 election was stolen.

Matthew Gertz of Media Matters reviewed DePape’s blog and found it “a standard case of right-wing online radicalization. QAnon, Great Reset, Pizzagate, Gamergate and all there, along with M[en’s] R[ights] A[ctivist]/misogyny, hatred of Blacks/Jews/trans people/’groomers,’ and anti-vax conspiracy theories.”

According to Harry Litman, the legal affairs columnist for the Los Angeles Times, DePape has been booked so far only on state crimes, including attempted homicide and elder abuse. According to Joyce White Vance at Civil Discourse, evidence that he went after Mr. Pelosi in order to intimidate Speaker Pelosi or stop her from performing her official duties would constitute a federal crime.

The attack on Mr. Pelosi comes after right-wing figures have so often advocated violence against the House speaker that the rioters on January 6 roamed the U.S. Capitol calling for her in the singsong cadences of a horror movie. Before she ran for Congress, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) said Pelosi was a “traitor” and told her listeners that treason is “a crime punishable by death,” and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) once “joked” about hitting Speaker Pelosi with the speaker’s gavel if he becomes speaker himself, prompting laughter from his audience.

Whipping up supporters against a perceived enemy to create a statistical probability of an attack without advocating a specific event is known as “stochastic terrorism.” Without using that phrase, Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) explained it today: “[W]hen you convince people that politicians are rigging elections, drink babies blood, etc, you will get violence. This must be rejected.”

Right-wing media channels immediately spun the home invasion and attack into Republican talking points, saying that “crime hits everybody” and that “this can happen anywhere, crime is random and that’s why it’s such a significant part of this election story.” Some tried to pin the attack on President Joe Biden, blaming him for not healing the country’s divisions; Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin said of Pelosi and her husband: “There’s no room for violence anywhere, but we’re going to send her back to be with him in California.” Aaron Rupar of Public Notice called out how few Republicans publicly condemned the attack and how many tried to pin the blame for it on Democrats.

Late yesterday, Twitter’s board completed the $44 billion sale of the company to billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk. Musk has promised to be an advocate for free speech and to reopen the platform to those previously banned for spreading racist content or disinformation—including former president Trump—but his actual purchase of the site might complicate that position.

In the technology magazine The Verge, editor Nilay Patel wrote, “Welcome to hell, Elon.” The problems with Twitter, Patel wrote, “are not engineering problems. They are political problems.” The site itself is valuable only because of its users, he points out, and trying to regulate how people behave is “historically a miserable experience.”

Patel notes that to attract advertising revenue, Musk will have to protect advertisers’ brands, which means banning “racism, sexism, transphobia, and all kinds of other speech that is totally legal in the United States but reveals people to be total a**holes.” And that content moderation, of course, will infuriate the right-wing cheerleaders who “are going to viciously turn on you, just like they turn on every other social network that realizes the same essential truth.” And that’s even before Twitter has to take on the speech laws of other countries.

Musk clearly understands this tension. Trying to reassure advertisers before the sale, he tweeted: “Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences!” Car manufacturer General Motors has temporarily stopped running ads on Twitter until its direction becomes clearer.

Today, racist and antisemitic content rose sharply as users appeared to be testing the limits of the platform under Musk. The Network Contagion Research Institute, which studies disinformation on social media, noted that posters on the anonymous website 4chan have been encouraging users to spread racist and derogatory slurs on Twitter. The Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism, which focuses on civil rights law, backed this observation up today when it noted that on October 27, an anonymous post on 4chan, which users immediately spread to extremist Telegram channels, told followers how to increase antisemitic content on Twitter.

In the first 12 hours after Musk acquired the site, the use of the n-word increased nearly 500%.

After a few high-profile accounts appeared to have been reinstated, this afternoon, Musk tweeted that he is creating a council to figure out a content moderation policy, and that no major content decisions or reinstatements will happen until it creates a policy. At the very least, this should protect Twitter from becoming associated with new accounts promoting violence before the midterm elections.

And that is a concern. Today, the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, National Counterterrorism Center, and U.S. Capitol Police warned of violent extremism surrounding the upcoming midterm elections, including attacks on “candidates running for public office, elected officials, election workers, political rallies, political party representatives, racial and religious minorities, or perceived ideological opponents.”

The aim of those attacking our elections is to discredit our democracy.

On Point: Social media is killing democracy

Social media platforms have immense power, from shutting down voices to amplifying what we see. But is that singular power perilous to democracy?



Shoshana Zuboff, professor emerita at Harvard Business School. Author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.” (@shoshanazuboff)

Guillaume Chaslot, founder of AlgoTransparency. Mozilla fellow. Advisor at the Center for Humane Technology. He helped develop YouTube’s recommendation algorithm from 2010 to 2011. (@gchaslot)

Ramesh Srinivasan, professor in UCLA’s Department of Information Studies. Director of the UC Digital Cultures Lab. Author of “Beyond the Valley.” (@rameshmedia)

Meghna Chakrabarti serves as host and editor of On Point. Based in Boston, she is on the air Monday through Friday.