Tag Archives: Chuck Grassley

The Republican Predicament

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

I have been warning for months, if not years, about the danger the Republican Party poses to the United States, referring to it as a “terrorist organization” and criticizing it for its willingness to do former President Donald Trump’s bidding. But, fairness demands that I point out the beginnings, perhaps, of some cracks in Republican subservience to Trump.

Do not get me wrong: The vast majority of Republicans still appear willing to kneel before the would-be autocrat of Mar-a-Lago. There appears to be no end of Republican politicians trekking to south Florida or willing to appear on stage with Trump to show their loyalty in hopes he does not turn on them and back a primary challenger. Trump still leads a cult-like movement that may well take America down the road to fascism in the near future.

But — but, there is some dissent among Republicans. This past Sunday two southern Republicans suggested that Trump may not be the best thing for the Republican Party. What is most interesting is that both these Republicans — Senator Bill Cassidy from Louisiana and Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas — hail from states that are deeply Republican and from a region that overwhelmingly votes Red, and for Trump, in particular.

Cassidy told Mike Allen of Axios that he does not believe Trump will be the Republican presidential nominee in 2024. “President Trump is the first president,” Cassidy said in the interview, “in the Republican side at least, to lose the House, the Senate, and the presidency in four years. Elections are about winning.” When asked if he would vote for Trump for president, Cassidy offered a definitive, “I’m not.”

Cassidy was one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump, at his second impeachment trial, for inciting the January 6 insurrection. “Our Constitution and our country is more important than any one person. I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty,” Cassidy said in a statement after the Louisiana’s Republican Party censured him for his vote.

Perhaps, more surprising was the position taken by Hutchinson in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” in which the Arkansas governor criticized the former president for endangering Republican prospects in next year’s midterm elections. “Re-litigating 2020 is a recipe for disaster in 2022,” Hutchinson said. “Let’s talk about the future. The election is past, it’s been certified.… It’s about the future, it’s not about the last election.” 

Hutchinson was responding to a specific question from “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, who asked if Republicans should be worried by the statement Trump issued last week that Republicans may not vote in 2022 and 2024 because of alleged “fraud” in 2020. Many Republicans fear that Trump’s continuing demand of blind loyalty from his followers, including urging his voters to sit out future elections, will cost Republicans winnable elections. Hutchinson merely said out loud what many Republicans say quietly. 

We do not have to dig deep in history to find a precedent for Republicans to be concerned about Trump’s focus on his 2020 defeat. Many Republican strategists blame the loss of two Georgia Senate seats in that state’s January 5, 2021, runoff on Republican voters staying home because they believed Trump’s claims of fraud in the November 2020 presidential election. These Republicans fear Trump could cost them seats in the House and Senate in 2022 and may yet jeopardize the party’s chances in the Virginia governor’s race next month.

The New York Times reports that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who supports continued audits of the 2020 presidential vote and who echoes all of Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud, was surprised to discover that almost 10 percent of Republican voters in her district might not vote in 2022. Greene apparently told supporters that an internal survey found that five percent of Republicans said they definitely would sit out the 2022 election and another four percent would consider not voting. Given the closeness of recent Georgia elections, the possibility that nearly 10 percent of Republicans would stay home seriously endangers Republican chances. 

Republicans are caught between a rock and a hard place. As Cassidy said, Trump lost them the White House and both chambers of Congress. His continued ranting about fraud and the possibility that Republicans will not vote endangers future elections. Yet, his followers dominate the party. According to a recent poll, 41 percent of Republicans say they consider themselves Trump followers, not Republicans. And, nearly two-thirds of Republicans say the GOP should punish elected officials who openly criticize Trump. 

Given those numbers, it is not surprising that most Republican polticians are unwilling to go on record saying anything negative about Trump. Most will only whisper what Cassidy and Hutchinson were willing to say out loud. Most are more like Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who in February criticized Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection. Yet, earlier this month, Grassley stood next to Trump at a rally and welcomed the former president’s endorsement for another term in the Senate. But, even Grassley made it clear he wanted Trump’s backing not out of fondness for the former president but because of Trump’s popularity. “I was born at night, but not last night,” Grassley told the rally goers. “So if I didn’t accept the endorsement of a person that’s got 91 percent of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn’t be too smart. I’m smart enough to accept that endorsement.”

So, which is it? Cassidy and Hutchinson warning the Republican Party to be careful who it heeds? Or, Grassley, who probably knows better, groveling before evil because it is politically wise to do so?

But, what is the politically wise thing to do? Is it wise to act in the short term to save a political career or to jettison political subservience to one man in the interest of the future of the Republican party and the Republic? That is the Republican predicament, and it appears we are going to have front row seats to watch the decision-making play out.

Posted October 19, 2021

A Simple Question

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

It was a simple question: “Do you think the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump?”

A simple question demanding a simple yes or no answer from Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the second-ranking House Republican. A simple answer Scalise could not or would not give. Hard as Fox News host Chris Wallace tried, Scalise refused to answer the question. 

Scalise’s repeated dodge demonstrated, once again, the cowardice of Republican politicians in 2021 who do not dare to contradict Trump. The defeated candidate, who lost by more than seven-million votes, continues to insist he won. And, if he insists, so must every other Republican, save the few with the courage to speak the truth.

What Scalise did in the interview with Wallace was arguably more dangerous than flat out contending the election was stolen. He hid behind a debatable constitutional argument that some states failed to follow their own laws governing presidential elections. “It’s states that did not follow the laws set which the Constitution says they are supposed to follow,” Scalise argued. “That is what the United States Constitution says. They don’t say the states determine what the rules are. They say the state legislatures determine the rules.” 

Scalise engaged in a rhetorical trick that allows a politician to have it both ways. In the future, he can deny he ever said the election was stolen while, for now, suggesting to the blindly loyal Trump faithful that election “irregularities” render the actual results suspect. While sidling around the truth, Scalise stays in the good graces of the Grand Poobah of Mar-a-Lago without ever actually make a claim he must know is not true. 

Revealingly, Scalise never detailed what laws were broken. He probably did not want to specify because courts around the country have ruled against Republican politicians who have made the dubious claim that the Constitution was not followed. Judges from both parties, some appointed by the defeated candidate himself, have rejected suits contesting the election results. The argument Scalise lamely advanced rests on the notion that the Constitution gives the power to administer elections to state legislatures. The Republican contention is that accommodations instituted during the pandemic — such as expanded mail-in voting — were invalid because they were instituted by governors, election officials, and judges. 

The constitutional arguments matter little to those who cannot believe or refuse to believeTrump lost. That is why Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of the few Republicans to stand up to Trump, immediately attacked Scalise on Twitter. “Millions of Americans,” Cheney tweeted, “have been sold a fraud that the election was stolen. Republicans have a duty to tell the American people that this is not true. Perpetuating the Big Lie is an attack on the core of our constitutional republic.” 

Scalise and others — like Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley who stood silently on a stage with Trump Saturday night while the former president repeated the Big Lie — are playing with fire. America is at a crossroads, with Republicans and Democrats deeply distrustful of each other, and millions, from both parties, ready to break the United States in two. A poll conducted over the summer by the University of Virginia Center for Politics found that 52 percent of Trump voters agreed with the proposition that the “situation in America is such that I would favor [Blue/Red] states seceding from the union to form their own separate country.” Approximately 41 percent of Biden voters gave the same answer. We must not ignore these numbers. 

Secession was tried once before. It resulted in the deaths of more than 750,000 Americans during the Civil War. That conflagration was touched off when 11 states, all from one region of the nation, seceded in order to preserve the institution of slavery. Secession this time, as contemplated by nearly half of the electorate, would involve reliably red states — Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, and so on — forming one nation, and overwhelmingly blue states— California, New York, Illinois, and several others presumably — coalescing into another country.

What would happen to the minority of blue voters in red Mississippi? Or, red voters in California? Would this be like the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, with millions of Muslims living in what became India fleeing to Pakistan, and Hindus in the lands designated as Pakistan escaping the other way, with millions killed in the population exchange? Would people have to abandon their property and businesses without compensation as they flee? Would that be followed by a political cleansing of those who did not make it across borders? And, what would happen in evenly divided purple states, such as Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania? Would referenda determine their fate? Who would trust the results of such elections?

These are not idle questions. Barring a jail term (we can hope, can we not?), Donald Trump is going to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2024. He is hugely popular among Republicans, he has a massive war chest, and everyone knows he will not accept anything but victory. Make no mistake about it, the continual chorus citing a stolen election is more about the next election than the last one. Trump and his docile minions keep repeating the lie about the “stolen” 2020 election because they want to condition their followers to disbelieve the results of the next election.

Republican legislatures throughout the country are changing election laws in ways that not only suppress the votes of those who oppose them but also give Republican politicians the power to nullify and alter the results. When that happens — and it is a real possibility — then an election will truly be stolen.

This is why cowardly politicians like Scalise are dangerous. They are perpetuating a lie about a stolen election that in turn gives ammunition to other politicians to change the rules so that Republicans can guarantee the results of the next election.

At that point, democracy is dead, the Constitution in tatters, and civil war the only alternative. 

Representative Scalise, it is a simple question. Give the simple answer next time!

Posted October 12, 2021

A Frightening Place

It was all bullshit. —  President Donald Trump, February 6, 2020, celebrating his Senate acquittal. It was the first time a president has used that profanity in a formal event on camera in the East Room of the White House. 

It does not quite have the forgiving tone of Abraham Lincoln’s “With malice toward none; with charity for all;” or Franklin Roosevelt’s call to struggle, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself;” or John Kennedy’s appeal to action, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country;” or Ronald Reagan’s challenge, ”Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” “It was all bullshit” passes for eloquence in the era of Trump, and the words exemplify the destruction this president has wrought on the nation’s sense of decency, fair play, honesty, and political comity.

Trump has wreaked havoc on the nation, from a dysfunctional foreign policy that rewards dictators and punishes longtime friends and allies to domestic policies that hasten environmental destruction, exacerbate climate change, contribute to increasing income inequality, and undermine healthcare. Many of Trump’s regressive policies can be undone by the stroke of a pen by the next president. Some of the recovery from Trumpism requires voters not only to throw him out of the White House but to elect enough Democrats in the fall to control both houses of Congress.

But, unfortunately, I fear Trump has done lasting damage to the nation, setting dangerous precedents for future presidents. His coarseness, his meanness, and his ability to corrupt the nation’s political processes and escape retribution may serve as a template for future presidents. The president’s ability to bend one of the nation’s political parties to his will damages the proud tradition of independent political action and the long history of courageous politicians speaking truth to power (Utah Senator Mitt Romney is the exception). Trump has recast the Republican Party into an instrument of his narcissism, making it a willing accomplice in his campaign to accrue near dictatorial powers and his undermining of the Constitution and the rule of law.

Trump also has succeeded in converting roughly 40 percent of the electorate into slavish supporters of his ill behavior willing to turn a blind eye to his lawlessness. Trumpistas support what can only be termed a “cult of personality,” which believes the leader can do no wrong. They go further, implicitly sanctioning Trump’s crass speech and despicable actions, suggesting that if the president does it, it is not illegal. Richard Nixon would have approved.

The president’s recent behavior is evidence that his impeachment and subsequent acquittal have emboldened him in his pursuit of dictatorial powers. In this, he is aided by his lackeys in control of key governmental agencies and his sycophants in Congress. 

Exhibit number one: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has turned over Hunter Biden’s confidential financial records to Republican Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin to aid Trump in his quixotic attempt to smear former vice president Joe Biden. Mnuchin acceded to the request the senators made one hour after Trump’s acquittal despite refusing to release Trump’s tax returns as required by law. 

Exhibit number two: South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham — often an unhinged defender of Trump — says Attorney General William Barr has “created a process” for Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to feed the Justice Department dirt on the Bidens dug up in Ukraine. As in authoritarian nations, the organs of government are used to smear and damage the leader’s perceived enemies. At the same time, Barr has shut down six investigations into Trump and his businesses, and the attorney general has issued new rules to prevent the FBI and other law enforcement agencies from conducting politically sensitive investigations. Barr’s decree may be an attempt to prevent abuses such as those that occurred in 2016, or, it might be an attempt to insure that there are no probes of possible foreign interference in the 2020 election.

Exhibit number three: Trump has retaliated against two aides who testified under subpoena in the House impeachment inquiry. Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was recalled from Brussels, and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman was removed from his position at the National Security Council. Now, a president certainly is entitled to have aides whom he trusts, but the haste with which these firings were announced and the manner in which Vindman was ousted suggests Trumpian retribution against those he blames for impeachment. In Vindman’s case, his brother — who also had a government post — was removed as well (shades of Joseph Stalin ordering the deaths of the families of those he purged), and both Vindmans were escorted immediately from the White House. Both Sondland and Alexander Vindman were planning on leaving the administration soon, but Trump sought public vengenance. 

The recent firings confirm the suspicion that Trump wants only yes men and women working for him. Any president benefits from diverse opinions, but in the case of the current occupant of the Oval Office, the wish for lackeys serving him is particularly dangerous. Trump is an ignorant man made more dangerous because he is oblivious to his ignorance. No Team of Rivals as depicted in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s seminal study of Lincoln and his Cabinet for Trump. 

The nation is in a frightening place. Romney has been warned he would not be safe if he attends a conservative conference, and one-third of Republicans have a positive view of Vladimir Putin, the murderous, autocratic president of Russia who Trump clearly admires. And, our nation is led by a man who utters expletives in the White House, fires those who are not 110% for him, utters lies with abandon in the State of the Union, and blasphemes at the National Prayer Breakfast. Matters will only deteriorate if Trump is reelected and is encouraged to further consolidate authority. As it is, I fear what the months until the election hold for us.

Posted February 11, 2020

Get Me a Sandwich Board: The End Is Near

The Trump administration is in its death throes. It is not a question of when the end will come, but how soon.

John Kelly, the retired Marine general and new White House chief of staff, will impose a degree of order and discipline in the unruly West Wing. Kelly will not tolerate the chaos that existed under his predecessor, former Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, who was chosen as a sop to the GOP establishment. But, Kelly will soon learn — if he does not already know it — that the problem at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is not just the staff but the commander-in-chief.

President Donald Trump cannot be controlled. He is addicted to Twitter (and cable news, but that is another matter), and as long as he sets policy by tweet (re: transgender ban in the military), Kelly will not succeed in creating an orderly chain of command nor will he be able to set up a system where protocol is followed. Trump will not stop attacking both natural allies and political enemies alike, and his angry tweets will continue to undermine staff morale. He may be unhappy with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, but as two people close to the president told Maggie Haberman of The New York Times, Trump torments Sessions because, as president, “He can.” Kelly will find most of his time occupied cleaning up the messes created by his boss.

Kelly presides over a West Wing riddled with incompetence. The brief tenure of Anthony Scaramucci — a communications director who did not know the off-the-record rules — indicates that Kelly is exerting control, for now. The influential relatives of the president are in over their heads. Ivanka Trump has been far from a moderating influence on her father, and as for her husband, Jared Kushner, who has been appointed head of practically everything, it has become apparent that he knows little about most things. Kushner and his wife, for example, pushed for hiring Scaramuci as communications director and recommended the president fire James Comey, the former FBI director. For a young man, Kushner has a very poor memory, as evidenced by repeatedly revising his security clearance forms.

Kelly will find himself working for an increasingly isolated president. The most significant development of Trump’s last, terrible week was not the individual disasters — the pushback from Republicans over bullying Sessions, the failure of the Republican healthcare law, the political speech to the Boy Scouts, the rebuff by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the antagonizing of law enforcement officials — but the sum of all that friendly fire. Trump’s allies and constituents discovered that they could rebuke the president and get away with it. Last week proved what had been apparent to many: The emperor has no clothes.

Congressional Republicans now know they can criticize the president with impunity. Republican Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina warned the president not to fire Sessions nor go after special counsel Robert Mueller. Graham said he would introduce legislation to protect Mueller and warned that any attempt to fire the investigator “could be the beginning of the end” of the Trump presidency. Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, a normally reliable conservative Republican from Iowa, announced that he would not convene hearings to consider a replacement for attorney general.

Three GOP senators mustered the conviction to defy the president on the long promised repeal of Obamacare. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — the latter the butt of a ham-handed attempt to cower her into voting for the so-called “skinny” repeal — earlier announced their opposition, but the bill was sunk by the defection of John McCain. I have no doubt McCain sincerely believed the bill was awful policy and worse politics, but I also have no doubt that McCain enjoyed handing a defeat to the man who said of the Arizona Republican during the presidential campaign, “He’s no war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Many commented that McCain gave the GOP healthcare bill the thumbs-down. I suspect he was extending a different digit in another direction toward 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

At least until January 2019, Republicans are in charge of Trump’s fate. Their majorities in the House and Senate control the president’s agenda (provided GOP leaders can even rally their caucuses), not to mention possibly consider impeachment as revelations of wrongdoing mount. Congressional Republicans have become more emboldened in opposing Trump as his support diminishes with constituencies normally in the president’s corner. The military, for example, was caught off guard by the tweet announcing the transgender policy shift, and General Joseph Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs, said there would be “no modification” of current policy until the Pentagon receives an order through normal channels. Chief Scout executive Michael Surbaugh posted a message online apologizing for “the political rhetoric” of the president at the Boy Scout jamboree. And, heads of police departments from New York City to Los Angeles criticized Trump’s urging police officers not to be “too nice” when transporting suspects. A defense attorney indicated that he might use video of the president’s remarks in court to bolster a civil case of a suspect who sues a police department over brutality.

Things will only get worse for the president. Little of the GOP agenda is likely to be enacted, and Republicans will grow bolder in opposing Trump as institutional allies — military, Boy Scouts, the police, and who knows who else — regularly are offended by Trump. So far, Trump has maintained his popularity with the base, but with little to show for his time in office, how long will the base stick with the president?

Yes, the end is near. Get me a sandwich board!

Posted August 1, 2017