I had planned to post a picture tonight, but this evening Rolling Stone dropped an exclusive, blockbuster story from reporter Hunter Walker that demands attention.
The story says that two sources who are talking to the January 6th committee about planning the January rallies in Washington, D.C., have talked to Rolling Stone as well. They say they worked with congressional lawmakers and White House officials to plan rallies both in Washington, D.C., and around the country. They deny that they intended to storm the Capitol and imply they got used, which points to the sources being from within Women for America First, the organization that sponsored a bus tour and rallies around the country before heading to Washington for January 6.
They allegedly named Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX), as people with whom they planned. They also claim that Gosar promised them a blanket presidential pardon, although they do not say for what.
From the White House team, they singled out then–chief of staff Mark Meadows. “Meadows was 100 percent made aware of what was going on,” one of the sources said.
Katrina Pierson was a key figure in both accounts. She was on Trump’s campaign teams in 2016 and 2020, and worked with the organizers of the rallies before the mob stormed the Capitol.
One of those talking to Rolling Stone said: “It’s clear that a lot of bad actors set out to cause chaos…. They made us all look like s**t.” This person included Trump on their list of bad actors and described feeling used by him and then abandoned. “I’m actually pretty pissed about it and I’m pissed at him.”
Nick Dyer, who is communications director for Greene, said the congresswoman was only involved in planning to refuse to accept certified ballots, nothing more. He tried to compare Greene’s actions with those of Democrats who objected to Donald Trump’s 2016 win, and said that no one cares about the events of January 6 amongst what he suggests is the disaster of the Biden presidency.
No other spokespeople for the lawmakers involved answered requests for comment.
Between this, and the stories that continue to drop about Facebook, and the infrastructure bill, and voting rights measures… it seems likely to be a big week in Washington.
The fight over raising the debt ceiling reveals that the Trump wing has taken control of the Republican Party.
Defaulting on our debt for the first time in our history would have crushed our economy and forfeited our international standing. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that a default would be “catastrophic,” creating “a permanently weaker nation.”
Financial analysts at Moody’s Analytics noted that when a problem with word-processing equipment at the Treasury led it inadvertently to miss payments on Treasury bills in 1979, the resulting jump in interest rates ultimately cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned that default would undermine our international reputation.
But when the House passed a bill to raise the debt ceiling, Senate Republicans killed the measure with the filibuster, the Senate rule that allows debate to continue without a vote until 60 members of the Senate vote to end debate—a rule that essentially means it takes 60 votes, rather than a simple majority, to pass any bill the minority wants to block.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agreed that the ceiling must be raised. But then he insisted he would not allow Democrats to pass the bill with a simple majority. He told them they must pass a measure raising the debt ceiling in a reconciliation package, which cannot be filibustered but which would make it harder for Democrats to pass their popular infrastructure measures. Democrats noted that the Republicans ran up the debt and now should agree to pay it, and they refused to try to rush through a reconciliation package to shield the Republicans from their responsibility.
And then, as business leaders began to map out a pressure campaign to get McConnell to drop the filibuster, he backed down and agreed…not to allow a simple majority vote, but to find ten votes to break a filibuster.
As co-host of Pod Save America Dan Pfeiffer noted in his newsletter The Message Box, that approach suggested that McConnell has lost control of his caucus. Any senator can vote against allowing a simple majority, and it seems McConnell could not trust the other Republican senators to permit a vote and so had to try to force the Democrats to do things his way. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called his bluff.
McConnell scrounged up the votes he needed but then wrote a scathing letter to President Joe Biden, announcing he would “not provide such assistance again if your all-Democrat government drifts into another avoidable crisis.” But the truth is that he is putting the best spin he can on the fact he can’t help even if he wanted to: he no longer controls the caucus.
Immediately, former president Trump issued a statement blaming McConnell for “folding to the Democrats, again. He’s got all of the cards with the debt ceiling, it’s time to play the hand. Don’t let them destroy our country!”
On September 22, Trump explained that to stop the Democrats, the Republicans might have to burn down the country: “The way I look at it,” he wrote, “what the Democrats are proposing, on so many different levels, will destroy our country. Therefore, Republicans have no choice but to do what they have to do, and the Democrats will have no choice but to concede all of the horror they are trying to inflict upon the future of the United States.”
Those who agree with Trump are now in charge of the Republican Party.
Today, on Fox News Sunday, the second-ranking Republican in the House, Steve Scalise (R-LA), refused repeatedly to say that Biden had won the 2020 election. Although then–attorney general and Trump loyalist Bill Barr said there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and state election officials and judges have all agreed there were no irregularities that would have changed the outcome, Scalise backed Trump’s Big Lie that he actually won the 2020 election.
He did so by arguing that certain states had not followed the Constitution when state judges, governors, and election officials expanded mail-in voting during the pandemic. There is no indication that those adjustments changed the outcome of the election, but in summer 2020 Trump became fixated on the idea that mail-in voting hurt his reelection campaign.
As soon as Trump lost the election, he began to try to get officials to cheat to say he won, and then to replace officials who refused with those he thought would help him keep the presidency. On January 2, he tried to browbeat Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger into “finding” 11,780 votes in Georgia—one more than Biden’s margin of victory. Then he fired the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, BJay Pak, because he would not produce evidence of fraud, replacing him with someone Trump hoped would.
Now, across Republican-dominated states, Trump Republicans are doing the same thing: attacking those Republican officials who refuse to say the 2020 election was stolen and replacing them with partisans who will. In Hood County, Texas, where Trump won 81% of the vote, his supporters are trying to get rid of the Republican elections official who is trying to preserve the security of elections by, for example, excluding from a private meeting a journalist from One America News.
At the local level, anti–mask mandate and anti-vaccine protesters are bullying school board members and town officials to demand that local leaders bow to their wishes, and they are threatening violence in a way that looks much like the rise of anti-socialist gangs in the 1930s that fed the rise of fascism.
Last week, Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who is currently defying a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the January 6th attack on the Capitol, told an audience that he would have 20,000 “shock troops” on hand to take over the government and deconstruct it as soon as Republicans again are in charge. “We control this country,” he said. “We have to start acting like it.”
Today, on the birthday of Ashli Babbitt, who was shot by an officer as she tried to break through a barricaded door to stop the counting of the ballots that would make Biden president, Trump recorded a video for a family event saying: “There was no reason Ashli should have lost her life that day. We must all demand justice for Ashli and her family.”
Last night, in Iowa, Trump held a “rally.” Mainstream Republican officials, including Senator Chuck Grassley, Governor Kim Reynolds, and Representatives Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson, attended. Right on cue, a Trump supporter told a reporter: “We’re just sick of it, you know, and we’re not going to take it any more. I see a civil war coming….”
Today’s split in the Republican Party mirrors the split in the Democrats in 1860. The leadership is made up of extremists who consider their opponents illegitimate, maintain they alone understand the Constitution, and are skewing the mechanics of our electoral system to keep themselves in power. In 1860, the Democratic Party split, its moderates joining with the fledgling Republicans to defend the United States of America.
Then, as now, the radicals calling for the destruction of the nation were a shrinking minority desperate to cling to power. Then they took up arms to divide the nation in two and keep power in their part of it; now they are launching a quieter war simply by rigging future elections to conquer the whole nation.
Today, the Senate considered a bill to fund the government until December and to raise the debt ceiling. The Republicans joined together to filibuster it.
Such a move is extraordinary. Not only did the Republicans vote against a measure that would keep the government operating and keep it from defaulting on its debt—debt incurred before Biden took office—but they actually filibustered it, meaning it could not pass with a simple majority vote. The Republicans will demand 60 votes to pass the measure in the hope of forcing Democrats to pass it themselves, alone, under the system of budget reconciliation.
This is an astonishing position. The Republicans are taking the country hostage to undercut the Democrats. If Congress does not fund the government by Thursday, the government will shut down. And if the country goes into default sometime in mid-October, the results will be catastrophic.
We are in this position now because Congress last December funded the government through this September 30 as part of a huge bill. The new fiscal year starts on October 1, and if the government is not funded, it will have to shut down, ending all federal activities that are not considered imperative. This year, such activities would include a wide range of programs enacted to combat the economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.
Republicans have said they are willing to pass a stand-alone funding bill. That is, they are willing to continue to spend money going forward, even though to do so at the rate they want means raising the debt ceiling. Indeed, Senators Bill Cassidy, (R-LA), John Kennedy (R-LA), and Richard Shelby (R-AL) joined McConnell today to try to pass a new funding bill that would provide disaster relief to Louisiana and Alabama in the wake of Hurricane Ida and fund the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). They complained that “disaster assistance is long overdue” and that “it’s critical” to extend flood insurance “so homeowners are covered come the next storm.”
But while willing to add to the debt, they refuse either to raise taxes or to raise or suspend the debt ceiling that would enable the government to pay for it.
The debt ceiling is the amount of money Congress authorizes the government to borrow. Congress started authorizing a general amount of debt during World War I to give the government more flexibility in borrowing by simply agreeing to an upper limit rather than by specifying different issues of debt, as it had always done before. That debt limit is not connected directly to any individual bill, and it is not an appropriation for any specific program. Nowadays, it simply enables the government to borrow money to pay for programs in laws already passed. If the debt ceiling is not raised when necessary, the government will default on its debts, creating a financial catastrophe.
So, while a measure to fund the government is forward looking, enabling the government to spend money, a measure to raise the debt ceiling is backward looking. It enables the government to pay the bills it has already run up.
Not funding the government means it will have to shut down; not paying our debts means catastrophe. Both of these measures will hobble the economic recovery underway; refusing to manage the debt ceiling will collapse the economy altogether and crash our international standing just as President Biden is trying to reassert the strength of democracy on the world stage.
Led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Republicans are trying to tie the debt ceiling to the idea that Democrats are big spenders. They are determined to stop the passage of Biden’s signature infrastructure packages, both on the table this week: a smaller bipartisan package that funds road and bridge repair as well as the spread of broadband into rural areas, and a larger package that funds child care and elder care infrastructure, as well as measures to combat climate change, over the next ten years.
Both infrastructure measures are popular, and if they become laws, they will reverse the process of dismantling the active New Deal government in which Republicans have engaged since 1981. The Republicans are determined to prevent at least Biden’s larger package from passing. Killing it will keep in place their efforts to whittle the government down even further, while it will also destroy Biden’s signature legislative effort.
But the Republican link of the debt ceiling to Biden’s infrastructure package is disingenuous.
Raising the debt ceiling will enable the government to pay for debts it has already incurred. The Republicans themselves voted three times during Trump’s presidency to raise that ceiling, while they added $7.8 trillion to the national debt, bringing it to its current level of $28 trillion. Further, Biden has vowed to pay for his new package in part by restoring some—not all—of the corporate taxes and taxes on our wealthiest citizens that the Republicans slashed in 2017.
This, Republicans utterly reject.
McConnell maintains that he does not want the U.S. to default on its debt; he just wants to force the Democrats to shoulder the responsibility for handling it, enabling Republicans to paint them as spendthrifts.
It is an extraordinary abdication of responsibility, driving the U.S. toward a disastrous fiscal cliff in order to gain partisan advantage. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warns that a default “could trigger a spike in interest rates, a steep drop in stock prices and other financial turmoil. Our current economic recovery would reverse into recession, with billions of dollars of growth and millions of jobs lost.” Financial services firm Moody’s Analytics warned that a default would cost up to 6 million jobs, create an unemployment rate of nearly 9%, and wipe out $15 trillion in household wealth.
The U.S. has never defaulted on its debt. Today Senate Republicans voted to make that happen.
In 1866, the year after the Civil War ended, Congress dealt with a similar challenge to the national debt. Democrats eager to undermine the United States wanted to protect the debt the Confederates had run up to rebel against the government, while demanding that the debt the United States had incurred to fight that war be renegotiated. Recognizing the ultimate power of financing to determine the fate of the nation, the Republicans in charge of the federal government settled the issue of the debts assumed by the two sides by writing their terms into the Fourteenth Amendment.
To pull the financial rug out from under former Confederates so they could not raise money to go back to war, the Republicans wrote in the fourth section of the amendment that “all…debts, obligations, and claims” of the former Confederacy “shall be held illegal and void.”
And, to keep the Democrats from destroying the government, the Republicans wrote into the Fourteenth Amendment that “the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law…, shall not be questioned.”
The Democrats will likely split today’s measure in two so they can fund the government ahead of Thursday’s deadline and focus on the infrastructure bills also on the table this week. They will deal with the debt ceiling themselves, later.
So many stories landed today that some will have to wait. Tonight’s news, though, boils down to Republican attempts to retake control of the government in the 2022 elections…and, if Trump has his way, even earlier.
This morning, CNN revealed another bombshell story from the forthcoming book by veteran reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa: a six-point memo from pro-Trump lawyer John Eastman laying out a plan for then–vice president Mike Pence to steal the 2020 election for Trump.
The memo started by falsely claiming that seven states had sent competing slates of electors to the President of the Senate; in fact, Trump loyalists demanded their own electors, but each state had certified one official slate of electors. If Pence—or, if Pence recused himself, the then–Senate president pro tempore, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley—rejected the ballots from those seven states, Eastman claimed, Trump would have ten more electoral votes than Biden and would win the election.
When Democrats howled, Pence could instead assert that neither candidate had a majority and throw the election into the House of Representatives, where each state would get a single vote. Since 26 of the 50 states were dominated by Republicans, Trump would win there, too.
“The fact is that the Constitution assigns this power to the Vice President as the ultimate arbiter,” Eastman wrote. “We should take all of our actions with that in mind.”
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani tried to convince Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to back the scheme; someone also ran the idea past Republican senator Mike Lee of Utah. Both dismissed it. But, notably, neither revealed this extraordinary attempt to destroy our democracy.
When Pence ultimately refused to go along, Trump turned on him and told attendees at the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally that “if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election.” He explained that “the number one, or certainly one of the top, Constitutional lawyers in our country,” had offered a plan, and that “Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us….”
Aside from the obvious, Eastman’s memo raises three interesting points. First, it refers to the idea that Pence might hand over the count to Grassley, a plan that needs more investigation. Second, it relies on the work of emeritus Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe, who tweeted that it took snippets of his work out of context to create “a totally fake web of ‘law’ that no halfway decent lawyer would take seriously…. Ludicrous but scary as hell. Think 2024. Those guys mean business….” And, third, it debunks the current right-wing talking point that Trump wanted only to question the results of the election. Clearly, he wanted to be declared the winner.
Even after President Joe Biden was sworn in, Trump supporters continued to insist that the election had been fraudulent. Famously, the Arizona state senate hired a company called Cyber Ninjas to reexamine the votes from Maricopa County, although the county board of supervisors, a majority of whom were Republicans, had already audited the ballots and the machines and found no problems. The county board strongly opposed the new “audit.”
The Cyber Ninjas examined ballots for bamboo to see if China had hacked the election, used insecure practices, rejected observers, and finally sent voting information to Montana for analysis. Documents released by the state senate under a court order in late August revealed that groups backed by pro-Trump loyalists Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell, and two correspondents from the One America News Network paid for the Arizona investigation.
Last week, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the state senate and the Cyber Ninjas had to release the records concerning their activities. Cyber Ninjas is refusing to do so, offering as a reason—among others—that it is busy writing its report (which is already four months late) and document production will take time away from that effort. Its lawyer says it will “produce documents out of goodwill and its commitment to transparency” when it has time, but does not recognize any legal obligation to do so.
Seeking an Arizona-type “audit” in Pennsylvania, Republicans in that state’s legislature last Wednesday voted to issue subpoenas for personal information of about 6.9 million state voters, including names, addresses, birth dates, driver’s license numbers, and the last four digits of Social Security numbers. Republicans say a private company needs that information to fix issues in election procedures uncovered in 2020, but the Republican leader of the investigation has declined to say how the information will be used.
Democrats sued Friday to stop the release of the voter information, and two Democratic representatives to Congress have asked the Department of Justice to investigate whether the subpoenas could violate federal laws by leading to voter intimidation.
A new story sheds more light on the election reform Republicans are talking about. On May 6, 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis raised eyebrows when he signed a new election law in front of television cameras for the Fox News Channel, excluding all other media. While Republicans insisted they wrote new election laws to prevent voter fraud—despite the lack of evidence of any such widespread fraud—internal emails and text messages from Florida Republicans revealed today by Politico show that their concerns were actually about gaining advantage in the 2022 elections.
Joe Gruters, the state senator who chairs the Florida Republican Party, repeatedly said in public that the new bill would “make it as easy as possible to vote, and hard as possible to cheat.” But in private text exchanges with state representative Blaise Ingoglia, the former chair of the Florida party, Gruters called for getting rid of existing mail-in ballot requests, saying that keeping them would be “devastating,” since Democrats used them more frequently than Republicans. “We cannot make up ground,” Gruters wrote. “Trump campaign spent 10 million. Could not cut down lead….” Ingoglia told Politico: “This was a policy decision all along and had nothing to do with partisan reasons.”
Finally, tonight, the immigration issue is back in the news. Republicans have tried to make immigration their key issue for 2022, but the terrible surge in coronavirus in Republican-dominated states like Texas has captured the news cycle. For the past few days, though, the rise in Haitian refugees on the U.S. southern border has reclaimed headlines. Haitians have long come to the southern border for admission to the U.S., but the recent earthquake in Haiti, along with the assassination of the country’s president and hopes that the Biden administration will be welcoming, has brought 12,000–15,000 Haitians in the past few weeks.
The situation there remains much as it has always been under Biden: the administration kept the public health guidelines established during the pandemic under former president Trump, and it is turning away most adult immigrants and refugees. It has been returning Haitians to Haiti by plane, with seven flights daily set to begin on Wednesday.
But right-wing media is, once again, insisting that Biden is allowing a flood of immigrants to overrun the U.S. At the same time, images of white border patrol agents on horseback riding down Haitian migrants, with their reins swinging, has horrified those who see in them the history of southern slave patrols hunting enslaved Americans. The Biden administration will have to thread a very thin political needle: disavowing the actions of the border patrol agents without opening itself to Republican attacks that it is “soft” on immigration. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has launched an inquiry into the agents’ behavior.
For his part, Trump does not want to wait until 2022 for a change in government. On Friday, he wrote to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger charging that 43,000 Georgia ballots were “invalid.” He called for Raffensperger to decertify the 2020 election “and announce the true winner,” warning that the nation “is being systematically destroyed by an illegitimate president and his administration.”
Trump is under criminal investigation in Georgia for his previous attempts to overturn the state’s election results.
As the coronavirus continues to burn across the United States, Republicans are maintaining their opposition to President Joe Biden’s new requirement that certain groups, including those who work at companies that employ more than 100 people, should either be vaccinated or be tested frequently for the virus. They insist that vaccination should be voluntary, but have no solution to the new spike in coronavirus infections and deaths.
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis is threatening to sue cities that impose vaccine requirements, saying such mandates will hurt the economy by threatening jobs. More than 11,215 Florida residents are currently hospitalized with Covid-19.
More than 243,000 children tested positive for the virus last week, the second highest number of pediatric cases since the pandemic started. About 2200 are currently hospitalized.
Democrats continue to develop the infrastructure measure they expect to pass through reconciliation, thus being able to steer the bill through the Senate without facing a filibuster (budget reconciliation bills can’t be filibustered). A recent poll conducted for CNN by the independent research firm SSRS found that 93% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents think it is important to the party’s identity to believe that the federal government should do more to help people.
The price tag on the new measure is currently around $3.5 trillion. As E. J. Dionne points out in the Washington Post, that number covers 10 years of spending, a period of time in which the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), which measures the value of production, is expected to be $288 trillion. So that $3.5 trillion makes up around just 1.2 percent of the economy. It’s a big number, but not a large percentage for an investment in childcare, elder care, education, and addressing climate change.
The Democrats propose to fund the bill not with deficit spending alone, as so many of our investments have been funded of late, but by cutting spending elsewhere and by raising revenue by restoring some of the taxes Republicans cut in 2017. The Democrats also propose raising taxes on individuals who make more than $400,000 a year, or couples who make more than $450,000 a year. There is a growing impulse to level the economic playing field in this country as growing inequality makes the news more frequently. As Dr. Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, told Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein, the wealth of the top 400 people in the U.S. has increased by $1.4 trillion since 2019.
While the moderate Democrats and the progressive wing of the party are sparking breathless news stories as they hash out their differences, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that Republicans refuse to participate in this process at all.
Perhaps the biggest breaking news today, although it, too, is a continuation of a longer theme, is that, in California’s recall election of Governor Gavin Newsom, the campaign website of challenger Republican Larry Elder, a right-wing talk show host, is already claiming he lost the election because of fraud. “Statistical analyses used to detect fraud in elections held in 3rd-world nations (such as Russia, Venezuela, and Iran) have detected fraud in California resulting in Governor Gavin Newsom being reinstated as governor,” the website says. “The primary analytical tool used was Benford’s Law and can be readily reproduced.”
But the election isn’t until tomorrow.
The theme that Democrats win elections only by cheating became popular in Republican circles after the 1993 Motor Voter Act, which made it easier for poor people to vote. Republicans said Democrats, who passed the measure, were simply packing elections with their own voters. There was not then, and there is not now, evidence of widespread fraud in American elections.
Former president Donald Trump harped on the idea that Democrats cheated in the 2016 election—he insisted he would have won the popular vote as well as the vote in the Electoral College if it hadn’t been for fraudulent Democratic votes—and that idea is, of course, at the heart of his complaint about Biden’s election in 2020. There is no evidence for these accusations; they are lies. And yet, that recent CNN/SSRS poll found that 59% of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents think believing that Trump won the 2020 election is important to their identity as Republicans.
California has about half as many registered Republicans as it does registered Democrats, and Newsom won in 2018 by almost 24 percentage points, so if Newsom wins tomorrow’s election it will hardly be an upset. But Elder is already claiming fraud and refusing to say he will accept the results of the election—the same playbook Trump used in 2016 and 2020. Tonight, a pastor at a rally for Elder prayed: “We don’t even look at the polls because we are looking to you, Lord. Lord, we pray that you would take down the current government…. We ask this state will be set free, and you would start with Larry Elder.”
If losers in a democracy refuse to accept the legitimacy of elections, the system falls apart.
The growing radicalism of the Republican Party is putting pressure on Democrats to pass a voting rights act to counteract the vote-suppressing measures that Republican-dominated states are enacting. Today, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he hopes to bring a voting rights bill backed by West Virginia Democratic senator Joe Manchin to the floor for a vote as early as next week.