Tag Archives: Jim Jordan

The Party Line

I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, May 12, 2021.

I don’t think that anybody on our side has been arguing that [voter fraud is] pervasive all over the country. — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, May 11, 2021.

You can’t have the Republican conference chair reciting Democrat [sic] talking points. — Republican Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, in defending the purge of Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, May 11, 2021.

You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January 6, you’d think it was a normal tourist visit.Republican Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia, who claims calling the insurrection at the Capitol an insurrection “is a baldfaced lie,” May 12, 2021.

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Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

There may not be, in former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway’s infamous phrase, “alternative facts,” but in today’s Republican Party there is clearly an alternative reality. No one who follows the news these days can be oblivious to repeated unfounded claims by Republicans of fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Nor can anyone seriously believe that the truth is merely a “Democrat [sic] talking point.” And, everyone who watched at the time or has since seen clips is fully aware that those were not tourists on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021. 

And, yet, here is today’s Republican Party promulgating shameless lies — shameless because they are easily shown to be falsehoods — with impunity. The most apt historical analogy is the machinations of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, where truth was what the party said on any given day, endlessly repeated in party organs like Pravda and Izvestia. The same for Republican leaders, who spew the party line, knowing that it will be repeated by Fox, One America News Network, Breitbart, and other right-wing mouthpieces for GOP lies. 

For today’s Republican leaders, the truth is malleable. McCarthy, McConnell, and the like get away with their lies because they know that, in the tribal environment of the 21st century, the Republican base gets its news only from right-wing sources. So, they lie with impunity in the realization that the voters to whom they are speaking are never exposed to the truth in fair-minded newspapers or television news shows. 

McCarthy cannot be so naive as to believe that no one in his party is questioning the results of the presidential election. He cannot be oblivious to the post last week in which former president Donald Trump said, “The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!” (Which raises a question: Has McCarthy purchased his airline tickets to south Florida to grovel once again before the emperor? Trump cannot be happy with McCarthy’s comment.) And, does the senator from Kentucky really believe no one is claiming massive fraud in American elections? (See above, Trump and “THE BIG LIE.”) Is McConnell unaware of polls that consistently show a majority of Republicans believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump? And, McConnell must be savvy enough to understand that the party’s base believes the unproven lies about election fraud because that is what party leaders have repeatedly told Republican voters.

Jim Jordan is certainly correct — and many other Republicans have said, as well — that party leaders cannot be so diametrically off-message as Liz Cheney and keep their posts. But, the issue for which Cheney was purged Wednesday is not some policy difference over tax rates or infrastructure projects. No, the Wyoming Republican was ousted as conference chair because she told the truth, because she repeatedly has said that the 2020 election was fair and that Donald Trump bears responsibility for the criminal attack by the mob he — as she said — “summoned.” No, Representative Jordan, the truth is not a Democratic talking point. 

If it were not so perverse, the claim by Representative Clyde that January 6 resembled a normal tourist day at the Capitol would be laughable. Not many tourists hang nooses on the Capitol grounds. Not many law-abiding visitors smash windows and break down doors. Not many of those who come to see where the nation’s laws are made attack law-enforcement officials. Representative Clyde may be the boldest of the bold GOP liars because most of the American public saw or has seen what happened on January 6. 

The comparison of such lies to the old Soviet Communist Party is apt. The Republican Party has not descended to the level of the Soviet Union during the iron-fisted rule of Joseph Stalin. Dissidents or those whom the party simply no longer trusts are not executed or sent to some American gulag. No, the analogy is to the Soviet Union of the Brezhnev era in the 1970s. Opposition still was not tolerated, but conformity was imposed by less brutal means than in Stalin’s day. Anyone who dared to question Leonid Brezhnev or other leading party hacks might be denounced by name, lose his or her nice apartment, or be fired from a plush job and sent to some remote province.

Like the Soviet Communist Party at its sclerotic worst — when leaders simply mouthed tired, old Marxist dogma, which no one seriously still believed — the current Republican Party no longer stands for anything except maintaining its hold on power. To do that, the GOP must purge truth-tellers like Cheney, rewrite election laws in enough states to enable it to win future elections, and repeat the “Big Lie.”

The truth, after all, is only what the party says it is. But, always stay tuned, the truth is malleable. The party line may be different tomorrow.

Posted May 14, 2021

 

Do the Right Thing

The 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach President Donald Trump Wednesday deserve credit for political courage.

The 197 who voted in the negative deserve continued scorn for their willingness to abet Trump in his heinous behavior.

It is that simple.

Trump is a recidivist who will say whatever he is told is necessary to avoid criminal and political liability, but once he believes he is in the clear — or his worst impulses get the better of him — he will revert to norm, which, in this case, means encouraging his supporters, once again, to attempt to overthrow the government of the United States. We have seen this movie before, most notably after White supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. So, yes, Trump released a clearly scripted video Wednesday evening urging his supporters to avoid violence, but he strikingly avoided accepting blame for inciting the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. The day before Wednesday’s impeachment vote, he called remarks to his supporters before the riot — urging them to march on the Capitol and show “strength” — “totally appropriate.” Who knows what he will say tomorrow?

Trump’s propensity to cause mayhem is one reason — in addition to sending a signal to other would-be dictators and supporting the rule of law — why the Senate must convict him of the House’s charge even after he leaves office next week. The constitutional penalties for conviction include removal from office and “disqualification” from ever holding federal office again. While Trump cannot be removed from office after January 20, he still could run for the presidency again. The Senate must insure that never happens. As noted constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe points out in The Washington Post, there are precedents in American history for convicting impeached officials — judges — after they left office. 

Trump is not the only Republican who needs to take responsibility for abetting insurrection. Complicit also are the nearly two-thirds of the Republican House caucus who voted on January 6 to overturn a free and fair election and the 197 Republicans who voted on January 13 not to impeach. A trial in the Senate, incidentally, will force Republican senators to go on record as supporting or opposing the Constitution and the rule of law. The public needs to know who among its leaders is patriotic and who would overthrow the government.

There are indications and rumors that some members of Congress actively aided the insurrectionists. Democratic representatives have accused unnamed Republicans of giving tours of the Capitol to insurrectionists the day before the siege. Representative Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat from New Jersey, said some of her GOP colleagues “incited this violent crowd.” Democrats are furious at gun-toting new Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado who tweeted the morning of the insurrection “Today is 1776” and, then, in the midst of the attack, revealed that Speaker Nancy Pelosi had left the floor of the House chamber. The House should expel these members, as well as Alabama’s Mo Brooks who told told the MAGA-clad thugs on the National Mall — before the riot — “today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”

The defense of the president offered by the 197 Republicans who voted against impeaching him ranged from the absurd to the pathetic to technicalities. There was the usual “whataboutism” offered by Ohio’s Jim Jordan — “they spied on his campaign” — and Florida’s Matt Gaetz — “Speaker Pelosi stood at the rostrum and tore through the president’s State of the Union speech” (oh my!). Jodey Arrington of Texas said the president showed “poor judgment” in his speech to the rally — as if Trump had told an off-color joke at a state dinner.  Most were oblivious to the cynicism of claiming impeachment would only further divide the nation, as if their repeated lies about a fraudulent election were not divisive. None praised the president, and Michael McCaul of Texas worried that he might regret his decision, saying future revelations might “put me on the wrong side of this debate.” Note to the representative: You already are on the wrong side!

Contrast the pusillanimity of the Republican majority with the brave 10 who voted to impeach. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House and no flaming liberal, said, “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution…. The president of the United States summoned the mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack.” Washington’s Dan Newhouse announced he was voting yes because “there is no excuse for President Trump’s actions.”  Another Washingtonian, Jaime Herrera Beutler, perhaps said it best. “I’m not afraid of losing my job, but I am afraid that my country will fail,” she told her colleagues.

Because of the actions of the president — who incited a violent insurrection against the government he leads — troops are bivouacking in the Capitol for the first time since Confederate armies threatened to cross the Potomac during the Civil War. This is all because a vain, narcissistic, ignorant man refused to recognize the results of a legitimate and free election, lying that he won but his victory was stolen. It is also because Republicans in a position to do something about Trump and his malignant actions refused to act for four years.

Republicans were furious in early 2020 when Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California, speaking at the Senate trial after Trump’s first impeachment, quoted an anonymous threat warning Republican senators that if they voted to acquit they would wind up with their “head on a pike.” It was meant metaphorically, of course, but Republicans in Congress were always afraid of Trump’s wrath and its influence on their constituents, which is why they repeatedly overlooked the president’s offenses and why it took courage for Beutler to say she was “not afraid of losing my job.” All the others, sadly, were afraid. Some Republicans, according to Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat, were afraid for more than their jobs, fearing for their lives and the safety of their families if they voted to impeach the president. Representative Peter Meijer, a Michigan Republican, says some of those who voted to impeach are “altering our routines, working to get body armor… [because] our expectation is that someone may try to kill us.”

Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second ranking House Democrat, told Republicans, “It is never too late to do the right thing.” Only 10 in the House listened. Let us hope enough Republican senators heed Hoyer’s advice and do the right thing at the trial of Donald Trump.

Posted January 15, 2021

  

   

A Bad Day for Republicans

Wednesday’s first day of testimony in the public portion of the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump showcased two political parties going in opposite directions. On one side of the committee room were the Democrats, sober, thoughtful, searching for the facts by questioning two impressive witnesses. On the other side were the Republicans, not interested in facts, determined only to muddy the waters by spinning webs of conspiracies and badgering two career diplomats.

The all-day testimony revealed an important piece of news which further ties Trump directly to the effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival. An aide of Ambassador William Taylor, the hand-picked Trump appointee serving as the top diplomat in Ukraine, overhead a phone call that revealed the president’s preoccupation with Ukraine investigating the Bidens. Perhaps as shocking as the revelation was the nature of the call itself. Trump spoke of the matter on an unsecured cellphone to Gordon Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union, who was in a Kyiv restaurant. It is reasonable to assume the Russians were listening, as they do to most important conversations in Ukraine, which may have pleased the president since it would have informed Russian President Vladimir Putin that Trump was happy to undermine Ukraine’s security. As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked Trump in that now-famous photograph of Pelosi standing in the Cabinet Room, pointing a finger at an obviously fuming Trump, why “do all roads lead to Putin?” 

Taylor’s new information is just one more chunk of evidence in the case against Trump. But, it does not materially affect the case, since any sentient being — a category which apparently does not include congressional Republicans — understands the extent of the president’s abuse of power, amply illustrated by the testimony Wednesday. So also depicted was the complicity and corruption of the Republican Party, all of whose members on the House Intelligence Committee either defended the obviously guilty president or remained silent in the face of mounting evidence. 

Defending the president is now the only priority of the Republican Party. It is the all-consuming commitment of a party that has put its collective conscience in a lock-box for the duration of the Trump presidency, at least. Whether Republicans, after debasing themselves over and over, can reclaim those consciences when Trump is gone — as he will be, someday — is problematic. Congressional Republicans obviously believe defending Trump is essential to their political power, that he is all that stands between them and defeat. Similarly, Trump voters ignore the president’s discernible lies and subversion of national security in the pursuit of personal political and financial gain in the belief that if Trump goes down, the nation will be ruined. So, Republican leaders and voters follow Trump into the abyss.

Instead of probing questions aimed at determining what happened — the modus operandi of the Democrats — the minority trotted out excuses, distractions, and outright lies (the repeated accusation, despite repeated denials, that Chairman Adam Schiff knows the identity of the whistleblower is one example of GOP lies). Republicans cannot ask probing questions since the facts of the matter are not in dispute, given the testimony of numerous public officials and the admission of wronging by the president — revealed in the memorandum of the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky released by the White House — and subsequently confirmed by acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney in a news conference. 

In lieu of an opening statement, Representative Devin Nunes of California, ranking Republican member of the Intelligence Committee, ran through the GOP’s list of smears while denigrating the witnesses: “Ambassador Taylor, and [Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George] Kent — I’d like to welcome you here, and congratulate you for passing the Democrats’ Star Chamber auditions held for the last six weeks in the basement of the Capitol. It seems you agreed, wittingly or unwittingly, to participate in a drama. But the main performance — the Russia hoax — has ended, and you’ve been cast in the low-rent Ukrainian sequel.” 

Viewers must have felt they were watching a performance in the theater of the absurd when Republican chief counsel Steve Castor uttered, “It’s not as outlandish as it could be,” in reference to the manner in which the entire sorry plot to subvert American national security in pursuit of Trump’s re-election was conducted. Ambassador Taylor reacted as if Castor were joking, laughingly replying, “It’s not as outlandish as it could be. I agree.” Well, yes, Mr. Castor, things always can be worse, a point the chief counsel seemed to endorse when he said a few moments later, “It might be irregular, but it’s certainly not outlandish.”

Then came the pugilistic Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican of Ohio, recently installed by the House GOP leadership on the committee, no doubt because he has all the charm of a pit bull. Jordan’s one point — his only point — is that no crime was committed because, in the end, the Ukrainians received the military aid. Two points, esteemed member, a botched crime, as I detailed at length last week, is still a crime, and, the aid flowed only because Congress learned, through the whistleblower’s complaint, of its suspension and began to ask questions. An amendment to the dictum that a botched crime is still a crime: If the police nab a bank robber as he flees, his lawyer cannot claim no crime was committed because the bank got its money back. 

Wednesday was a bad day for the GOP; the need to do better defending Trump in the remaining public hearings may lead Republican members to even uglier attacks on witnesses, the process, and their Democratic colleagues. By way of contrast, the Democrats, who are conducting the inquiry with solemnity, are demonstrating how government ought to work. They know the damage American politics would suffer if Trump’s actions become the “new normal.” As Speaker Pelosi correctly observes, Trump’s actions to force a foreign power to help him win re-election “makes what Nixon did look almost small. Almost small.”

Worse than Nixon! Well, Trump always wants to be the best at everything!

Posted November 15, 2019

The Problem of Defending Trump

The political cowardice, servility, and sycophancy displayed by many congressional Republicans toward President Donald Trump’s criminality no longer surprises, but it continues to shock. Wednesday’s grandstand stunt by a group of Trump’s congressional allies — storming a closed-door committee hearing — demonstrates two things: First, the panic of frantic Republicans confronting a steady drumbeat of gripping evidence, and, second, the lack of a convincing argument for Trump’s innocence.

Every time Trump’s defenders offer a case on his behalf, the goal posts move, either because new evidence emerges or because the president and his allies, through incompetence and poor planning, admit to yet another piece of the Ukraine puzzle. First, the president’s supine supporters argued that the whistleblower’s complaint was unsupported and hearsay; then, they claimed there was no quid pro quo; later, there may have been a quid, but there was no quo (since the Ukrainians, allegedly, did not know the military aid was held up); now, they rail against the process, complaining the impeachment inquiry lacks transparency and is a witch hunt since Republicans, so they say, are not equal partners in the investigation, though they nearly are equally represented in the committees.

Complaints about process indicate arguments lost. Since Republicans cannot rebut the evidence revealed during the process, all they have left is to claim the process is a sham and unfair. So, Representative Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, lead more than 30 of his colleagues into a secure committee room in the Capitol where California Democrat Adam Schiff — chair of the House Intelligence Committee — “is holding secret impeachment depositions.” The Republicans who staged the caper later talked to reporters only about process, sidestepping the allegations central to the impeachment inquiry. The stunt compromised security in the room because the Republicans brought cellphones into a secure area, potentially allowing Russian, Chinese, or whomever hackers access. Ohio Republican Representative Jim Jordan said of the cellphones, “It was a mistake, so no big deal. They understand now, and it won’t happen again.” Representative Jordan, it is a big deal, and are you suggesting more disruptions of a constitutional and secure process?

The Republican argument about process is riddled with holes and inconsistencies. First, a Republican-run House of Representatives had no qualms about holding secret hearings on the trumped-up claims surrounding the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s role as secretary of state in the tragedy at Benghazi, Libya. Second, Republicans have not been denied access to the hearings on impeachment. Republican members of the three committees involved in the inquiry — Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight, and their appointed staff — can participate in the hearings and ask questions. Only lawmakers not on those committees — Democrats as well as Republicans — are barred. Third, the hearings are closed because they are more productive that way. When Democrats earlier held a public hearing on accusations of Trumpian wrongdoing, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski openly mocked lawmakers in front of the cameras. Fourth, some of the testimony potentially involves classified and secret material that must be vetted in private first. Fifth, the House impeachment inquiry is akin to grand jury proceedings, which are always secret. Sixth, the House will hold open hearings when it begins to consider the actual articles of impeachment. And, seventh, the trial in the Senate, presumably, will be public. But, that is up to Senate Majority Leader “Moscow” Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans.

Republicans have been driven to pro forma complaints about process because of the overwhelming evidence against Trump. This has been evident from the first inklings of the Ukraine scandal, but the Democrats running the impeachment inquiry, especially Chairman Schiff, have been meticulous in building a case against the president. The dramatic testimony this week of William Taylor, a former military officer and diplomat who has served his country for 50 years, clearly shows that Trump ran a rogue operation aimed not at furthering U.S. national interests but geared to aiding his reelection campaign. Taylor is a West Point graduate who served in Vietnam and who undertook diplomatic missions for both Democratic and Republican presidents. No one can claim Taylor is an operative of the so-called Deep State out to get Trump. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo persuaded Taylor to take the post — over the objections of Taylor’s wife — as ambassador to Ukraine after Trump insisted on the ouster of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Taylor, who took detailed notes, soon realized that Trump — along with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others minions — was conducting an extortion campaign against Ukraine. Taylor told the Intelligence Committee that there was, indeed, a quid pro quo (not that one was needed to proceed with impeachment) in Trump’s demand that Ukraine pursue two investigations to aid him. One, was to look into the debunked idea that Ukraine colluded with Democrats in 2016 to the detriment of Trump’s campaign; the other, was to target Burisma, a company whose board once included Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden who Trump views as his strongest potential adversary in 2020. There were two potential rewards for Ukrainian cooperation: A meeting between Trump and Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and the release of congressionally authorized military aid.

The administration, typically, has launched a smear campaign against Taylor and other patriots who have testified before Congress. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham released a statement asserting, “President Trump has done nothing wrong — this is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution.” (The idea of a Trump defender invoking the Constitution after the president referred to the “phony emoluments clause,” which is clearly in the Constitution, is laughable.)  The attempted sullying of Taylor’s reputation is vile, but not surprising.

Taylor had the courage to come forward and tell Congress what he knows about the administration’s rogue foreign policy. Now, it is up to Republicans in Congress to demonstrate similar courage and stand up to Trump. That is particularly incumbent on GOP senators as they will have to serve as jurors in a trial before the Senate after Trump is impeached, as he almost surely will be. This week’s stunt of storming a secure House meeting room to interfere with a legitimate and lawful impeachment inquiry suggests congressional Republicans have a long way to go to live up the oaths they swore to uphold the Constitution.

Posted October 25, 2018

 

The Republican Dilemma

The Republican dilemma is simple: There is no good defense for President Donald Trump’s requests for foreign governments to interfere in the 2020 presidential election. The arguments posited by Republicans so far — ranging from silly to absurd to downright lying — are an indication of just how dubious the GOP position is. A further indication is the lack of historical precedent for such an invitation. Not one of 10 former White House chiefs of staffs — who served under all the presidents from Ronald Reagan through Barack Obama — recalled any instances when the White House solicited or accepted electoral help from other countries, according to a survey conducted by The New York Times. (The quotations in the following two paragraphs come from this article.)

James Baker, a former chief of staff for two presidents, remembers one telling episode. In October 1992, four Republican members of Congress came up with a plan to bolster the flagging re-election prospects of President George H.W. Bush, who was trailing challenger Bill Clinton. Their plan: Attack Clinton for protesting the Vietnam War while attending school in London and also visiting Moscow. Bush liked the idea, but then demurred at the next suggestion. “They wanted us to contact the Russians or the British to seek information on Bill Clinton’s trip to Moscow,” Baker wrote in a memo later that day. “I said we absolutely could not do that.”

“I served three [Republican] presidents in the White House and don’t remember even hearing any speculation to consider asking for such action,” said Andrew  Card. William Daley, a chief of staff under Obama, said if someone hinted at such a move he would “recommend the person be escorted out of” the White House. “I would have shut him down,” said Leon Panetta, chief of staff for Clinton.

All of these patriots understood that extending an invitation for foreigners — countries or nationals — to meddle in American elections is wrong, aside from the particulars of Trump’s requests to Ukraine — a vulnerable country in the shadow of a mighty neighbor, Russia — and China and who knows how many other countries. The reason is simple: Other countries do not act in the interests of the United States. They act only in their own interests. That is right and proper. As Lord Palmerston, a prime minister of Britain in the 19th century, famously said, “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” It does not matter if the other country is a friend, an ally, or an enemy. The same rule applies to Britain, Israel, and Canada as to Russia, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia. 

The Framers understood the dangers of foreign interference. “Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence… the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government,” said President George Washington in his Farewell Address. Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist No. 68, warned of the “most deadly adversaries of republican government [who] might be expected to make their approaches… from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.” Hamilton never dreamed that a president might hold the door open, so to speak, for such an adversary. At the Constitutional Convention, James Madison alerted his colleagues to the possibility of a president who “might betray his trust to foreign powers.”

Republicans once knew the Framers were right. During the vice-presidential debate in 2016, Mike Pence said, “…All you need to know out there, this is basic stuff. Foreign donors, and certainly foreign governments, cannot participate in the American political process.” Now, the vice president sings a different tune: “I think the American people have a right to know if the vice president of the United States [Joe Biden] or his family profited from his position as vice president during the last administration…. The president made it very clear that he believes other nations around the world should look into it as well.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently warned Russia not to meddle in the 2020 elections, but said it was Trump’s “duty” to lure Ukraine into an investigation of the president’s political foe.

Most Republicans probably understand that Trump’s Ukraine phone call was an abuse of power, which is why so many of the ostensible defenses of the president are so tortured. Defending the indefensible is hard work, and it may make even the glibbest of speakers babble. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is hardly glib, but his performance Sunday on “Meet the Press” was a classic example of a politician with no cogent answer to a question trying to evade instead. Host Chuck Todd asked Johnson why he reportedly winced when told that military aid to Ukraine was linked to an investigation of Trump’s foes. Johnson immediately launched into a defense of Trump, claiming “I have never in my lifetime seen a president, after being elected, not having some measure of well wishes from his opponents. I’ve never seen a president’s administration be sabotaged from the day after election.” (Apparently, Johnson missed the Obama years.) Then, Johnson raised alleged CIA and FBI leaks on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The interview went completely off the rails — with Johnson shouting incoherently — when Todd tried to steer the subject back to the matter at hand. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s inability to mount a coherent defense of Trump in an appearance on “60 Minutes” did the president no favors. McCarthy apparently had not read the White House-released notes on the Ukraine call, accusing host Scott Pelley of adding “a word” — though — to Trump’s request that Ukraine do the president a favor. “Though” is in the White House document. McCarthy — along with other Republicans, Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio and Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri — later claimed Trump was joking when he asked China also to interfere in American politics. Funny man, that President Trump!

Many Republicans fall back on conspiracy theories, which was Johnson’s tactic when he invoked supposed leaks on Russian meddling in 2016, ostensibly to aid Hillary Clinton’s Democratic presidential campaign. Conspiracy theories or evasion or deflection, anything but actually discussing the issues at hand. The reason Republicans do not want to defend the merits of Trump’s actions is obvious: The actions are indefensible. And, that is the Republican dilemma, which will only worsen.

Posted October 8, 2019

The Don and His Consigliere

“Liar, liar, pants on fire!” That playground taunt, delivered by Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona and accompanied by a poster, was the epitome of the Republican defense of President Donald Trump during the day-long testimony of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen before the House Oversight Committee. Admittedly, Trump — who acts like a mob boss — is a tough guy to defend, so it should surprise no one that the Republican strategy was to impugn the bearer of the bad news rather than to counter the substance of Cohen’s remarks.

Chris Christie, a former governor of New Jersey and a Trump defender, noticed the weakness of the GOP ploy. The president, Christie said, must have been “fuming that no one’s defending him.” Christie labeled the lame performance “either a failure of those Republicans on the Hill or a failure of the White House to have a unified strategy with them.” 

In truth, there was not much Republicans could do. Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina tried to defend Trump against Cohen’s accusation of racism by positioning an African American woman — Lynne Patton, a longtime Trump aide and current official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development — over his shoulder as a prop to demonstrate diversity. That piece of theater led to a scuffle later in the hearing when Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, labeled the use of Patton a “racist act.” Meadows bristled at the thought Tlaib was calling him a racist, but she insisted she was talking about the act, not Meadows.

For the most part, GOP members simply used their time not to poke holes in Cohen’s testimony — which would have been difficult because he provided documentary evidence for many of his charges — but to question his motives or to attack Democrats for holding the hearing in the first place. It seems Republicans on the Oversight Committee have no idea what oversight means, since they refused, when they were in the majority, to hold any substantive hearings to investigate credible charges of Trumpian misdoings.

Gosar of the playground taunts was disowned last November by six siblings, all of whom endorsed his opponent in the 2018 midterm election. “We gotta stand up for our good name,” said David Gosar in a political advertisement on behalf of his brother’s opponent. “This is not who we are.” But, it is who the member of Congress is. Gosar got so excited by his attack on Cohen that he stumbled over his words. Others also demonstrated a fair degree of apoplexy. Meadows looked as if he were about to have a coronary when he tried to nail Cohen for allegedly lying on a committee form about whether the former Trump aide had been paid for services by a foreign government. The dispute demonstrated only that Meadows had not accurately read the question on the form. 

Ohio Representative Jim Jordan expressed outrage that Lanny Davis — a friend of Hillary and Bill Clinton — represented Cohen. Jordan and others repeatedly attacked Cohen as a convicted perjurer. Cohen is going to jail for that crime, and other misdeeds. But, even liars sometimes tell the truth, especially when they have documents to back up their assertions. 

Much time was spent on Cohen as a would-be influence peddler and prospective recipient of lucrative book and movie deals. Numerous Republican members tried to get Cohen to vow he would not profit from his notoriety, which Cohen refused to do. Republicans also tried to portray Cohen as a grasping office seeker disappointed he did not get a job in the White House. All in all, the strategy of attacking Cohen as a dishonest criminal who should not be believed begs an important question: Why did Trump employ such a disreputable person for a decade?

The truth is, of course, that Cohen is much like Trump, who was something of a mentor to the younger man. Apparently, Cohen had easy access to Trump and his family. According to Cohen, he briefed Trump, Don Jr., and Ivanka at least 10 times during the 2016 presidential campaign about the Trump family’s attempt to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. That gives the lie to Trump’s claim of no business dealings with Russia and implicates Ivanka for the first time in that sordid episode. One other family note: Don Jr. might want to inquire as to the veracity of Cohen’s statement that father thought son “had the worst judgement of anyone in the world.”

Cohen produced checks indicating Trump reimbursed his fixer for the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels while Trump was in the White House. Cohen also testified that he was present in July 2016 when Trump took a call on speakerphone from Roger Stone who said, “He had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” According to Cohen, Trump replied, “Wouldn’t that be great.” 

Cohen also offered tantalizing hints of more investigations. When one member of Congress asked about Cohen’s last conversation with his former boss, Cohen declined to give details, saying it is “being investigated right now” by federal prosecutors in New York. As for other instances of possible wrongdoing or crimes by Trump, Cohen repeated, “Again, those are part of the investigation.” Stay tuned!

The former consigliere reaffirmed that Trump operated like a mob boss. Trump never gave explicit instructions to Cohen to do wrong, but Cohen understood the “code.” Like a good Mafia underling, Cohen was not hesitant to threaten those who might stand in Trump’s way. When asked, Cohen said he issued about 500 threats on behalf of Trump (that includes threats of litigation) in his decade of employment. So, Cohen should not have been shocked that Trump used mob language in calling his former aide a “rat.” Nor should anyone have been surprised that on the eve of Cohen’s testimony, Florida Republican Representative Matt Gaetz, who has a history of incendiary comments, tweeted, “Hey @MichaelCohen212 — Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends?” (The tweet has been deleted, but the gist was repeated on the House floor.)

Cohen’s testimony — and the antics of a fool like Gaetz — demonstrate once again that, as Cohen pointed out, Trump corrupts everyone who comes in contact with him. That may be the greatest tragedy of this sordid presidency.

Posted March 1, 2019

Going Down With Trump

Note to Republicans: You get no credit if you abandon President Donald Trump after the cell door slams shut.

Court filings Friday implicated the president in felonies. If all of Trump’s amoral and immoral actions — not to mention his lies, crassness, meanness, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and autocratic tendencies — did not force Republicans to reconsider their commitment to him, a serious and credible accusation of felonious behavior should.

In a court filing last Friday in New York City, federal prosecutors said the president directed illegal payments to prevent a potential sex scandal from jeopardizing his chances to win the presidency in 2016. The filing means the Justice Department believes the accusations previously made by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer. In a separate filing in Washington, prosecutors from the special counsel’s office said an unnamed Russian offered Cohen “governmental level” cooperation between Russia and the Trump campaign at a time when Trump was interested in building a hotel in Moscow. 

If Trump were a private citizen, he likely would be facing an indictment in the near future. Only the Justice Department’s squeamishness over indicting a sitting president keeps Trump out of legal jeopardy — for the time being. (Prosecutors in New York believe Trump could be indicted on campaign finance violations if he is not re-elected.) But, he can be investigated and/or impeached by Congress, and the incoming Democratic majority in the House is poised to use its powers to look into Trump’s wrongdoing.

Almost all Republicans acquiesced silently as Trump coddled dictators, lied shamelessly, pulled out of trade pacts GOP leaders had previously supported, levied tariffs that hurt their constituents, separated immigrant families at the border, trashed the federal judiciary, and made light of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi (this is a very partial list). There have been, from time to time, murmurs of discontent, but no real challenges to the president as putative leader of the Republican Party. Most of the GOP has fallen into line, accepting presidential misdeeds while supporting an agenda often at odds with traditional conservative policy.

Now that the president’s legal jeopardy is clearer than ever, Republicans have to decide whether to go down with the sinking ship — for it is going down — or save whatever remains of their tattered reputations. Doing the latter risks short-term retribution from the ever-loyal Trump base. Doing the former risks the condemnation of history.

When Republican leaders informed Richard Nixon he lacked the votes in a Senate trial following his likely impeachment, the president resigned. For two years, most Republicans stood by Nixon as the Watergate scandal crept closer to him and the inner White House circle. But, after the evidence became incontrovertible in the form of the White House tapes, Senator Barry Goldwater, the Arizona conservative, led a delegation of Republican congressional leaders to the White House to tell Nixon he was finished. 

There are signs that some Republicans are rethinking their loyalty to a president who never returns it in kind. Indications of economic distress — tariffs and trade wars hurting constituents and a tumbling stock market — coupled with the administration’s defense of Saudi Arabia for its complicity in the Khashoggi assassination make it easier for Republicans to separate themselves from Trump. Chaos within the White House following the ineptly handled announcement of John Kelly’s departure as chief of staff and the refusal of the heir-apparent, Nick Ayres, to take the job also worries some savvier Republicans. The latest legal maneuverings suggesting Trump’s complicity in criminal behavior only heighten GOP anxiety.

Robert Costa and Philip Rucker reported in The Washington Post over the weekend that many Republicans fear the White House has no plan to deal with the intensifying Russia investigation, which creeps closer and closer to Trump. Eventually, the probe will consume the party if it continues to tie its future to a president facing legal jeopardy. Trump’s unwillingness to listen to legal and political advice and his penchant for incriminating tweets contribute to Republican fears. Trump, after all, believes he is the smartest person in the room — in this case, the room is the world — and is convinced he can outsmart adversaries and weather any storms. Most of Washington, regardless of party, knows better.

For now, congressional Republicans appear inclined to stand by Trump. But, one pro-Trump senator says Trump has “lost me” if the special counsel documents a conspiracy with Russians. Others might bolt if the president were to pardon Paul Manafort, Trump’s one-time campaign manager who has been convicted of tax and bank fraud and faces other charges, including lying to the special counsel. Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a vocal Trump critic and frequent butt of Trumpian bullying, says, “The president’s situation is fraught with mounting peril and that’s apparent to everyone who’s paying any attention, which is all of my Republican colleagues.” 

Trump reportedly believes ultra-right supporters on Capitol Hill — such as Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and the comically foolish Devin Nunes of California — will stick by him. That may not be enough as more indictments come from the various investigations that are getting closer and closer to Trump. It is time for the rest of the Republican Party to decide on its course of action.

Trump sullies the good names of everyone with whom he comes into contact. This is most obviously true of those who have worked for him in the White House, but it is also the case for the Republican Party. Prominent Republicans — congressional leaders, governors, and other party leaders — will have to answer to history for their silence in the face of a president who undermines the rule of law both nationally and internationally.

Once the cell door shuts — and Trump, metaphorically, is dressed in orange — it will be too late.

Posted December 11, 2018

Undermining the Rule of Law (It’s the Autocrat’s Way)

Autocracy grows when society’s institutional protectors of freedom are sabotaged. President Donald Trump relentlessly has attacked the free press, calling it “fake news” in an effort to undermine the credibility of news accounts detailing collusion between his campaign, then his administration, and Russia. Now, Trump and his enablers are attacking special prosecutor Robert Mueller and federal law enforcement officials in hopes of stopping or curtailing the investigation of the president’s inner circle of advisers, past and present.

For the past several weeks, Trump and his partisans have engaged in a reckless and sustained attack on the FBI and the special counsel. Their aim is obvious: If Mueller’s impartiality is questioned, then the public might not believe any report he issues concluding there was wrongdoing on the part of Trump or his aides. Even more ominous is the possibility that the sustained attack on Mueller’s probe is intended to lay the groundwork for Trump’s firing of the special counsel.

Trump is leading the charge. “After years of [former director James] Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters – worst in History!” the president tweeted earlier in December. In a speech last week in Pensacola, Florida, the president referred to a “rigged system.” He added, “This is a sick system from the inside. And, you know, there is no country like our country but we have a lot of sickness in our institutions.” It is a curious spectacle that Trump heads a government that he accuses of conspiring against him politically. Trump’s ploy is obvious: If the system is “rigged” no one can object to the president either pardoning aides (or himself, for that matter) indicted during an allegedly corrupt probe or removing the special prosecutor.

Trump is not alone in attacking law enforcement; he is receiving assistance from a number of shameless congressional Republicans. At a hearing last week, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee launched an all-out assault on the special counsel and the FBI. Representative Steve Chabot of Ohio said, “The depths of this anti-Trump bias on the Mueller team just goes on and on. It’s absolutely shocking.” No, Representative Chabot, what is shocking is how you and your cohorts are willing to undermine the public’s faith in the impartiality of the special counsel’s office.

There was more. Representative Ron DeSantis of Florida speculated that anti-Trump bias is leading the FBI to conclude that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and DeSantis threatened current FBI Director Christopher Wray with “a contempt of Congress.”  Ohio Representative Jim Jordan said he has a “hunch” that there is  “pro-Clinton, anti-Trump bias” at the FBI. Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida called Comey an “egomaniac rouge” who was biased against the president. The assertion of FBI bias against Trump and attacks on Comey are interesting, given that Comey’s decision to reopen the probe of Clinton’s emails less than two weeks before the election probably contributed to Trump’s victory.

Fox News anchor Sean Hannity, a sometime Trump adviser, called Mueller “a disgrace to the American justice system’’ and said his team is “corrupt, abusively biased and political.’’  The goal of the onslaught against Mueller by conservative media and politicians is, in the words of Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman, “to delegitimize Mueller in such a way that he can either be fired or can be ignored if he concludes the president broke the law.”

All of this talk of bias in the probe is beyond absurd. Mueller is a longtime Republican who was appointed FBI Director by President George W. Bush. Rod Rosenstein, a Republican who was appointed deputy attorney general by Trump, named Mueller as special counsel. Comey is a Republican who served in the Justice Department under George W. Bush. He has made political contributions to John McCain and Mitt Romney, both former presidential nominees of the Republican Party! The current director of the FBI, Wray, is another Republican who has contributed to GOP candidates and who was appointed to head the bureau by Trump.

Despite all this, Trump and his cohorts have no reluctance to scream “bias.” They cite political contributions that some on Mueller’s team made to Democrats. Trump’s defenders also point to anti-Trump texts made by Peter Strzok who was a key FBI investigator into Clinton’s use of a private email server. Strzok was removed from the investigation promptly after his texts became known. Rather than showing anti-Trump, pro-Clinton bias, the Strzok episode appears to be evidence that the system is functioning well.

The FBI is one agency of government Americans traditionally have held in high regard. A 2015 poll found that 68 percent of respondents viewed the FBI “favorably.” But, a poll by the University of Texas — completed after Trump began attacking the FBI — shows that only 43 percent of Texas Republicans now look favorably on the bureau.

Trump simply does not care about any damage he does to American institutions such as the FBI. The only goal is his own survival, and, to insure that, he has attacked (so far) the courts, the media, American allies, his own political party, the Intelligence community, former presidents, and even the pope. And, there is no evidence his attacks will end.

It is the strategy of an autocrat. Do not believe the press or the justice system or the electoral process. Believe me!

Which is why the most dangerous president in American history must be removed.

Posted December 15, 2017

 

An Unwanted Child

The gestation period was a long seven years, the delivery difficult, and when the child arrived, the parents thought it so ugly they hid it in the cellar. Even now, the child is shrouded, allowing viewers only an occasional glimpse. It may not be long before the parents — House Republicans and the president — disown the unwanted child. The clue may come when the president begins referring to the baby as “Ryancare” in honor of House Speaker Paul Ryan.

“Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated,” President Trump said late last month. Actually, the only one who did not know was the clueless president. Everyone else knew, which is why it has taken Republicans seven years to come up with a replacement and why they hid the replacement in a GOP-only “reading room” in the Capitol, though available only to some Republicans, as they denied entry to read the bill to Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Drafting a healthcare bill that retains the popular parts of Obamacare — children may remain on their parents’ plan until age 26 and no denying coverage for pre-existing conditions — while doing away with the individual mandate yet keeping coverage affordable for people who need it proved so difficult that Republicans leaders did not want anyone to see their genetically mutated baby. And, even after introducing the bill, the House leadership rushed it through committees. The House Ways and Means approved it at 4:30 Thursday morning, before the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office weighs in on the cost of the legislation and the number of people who will lose insurance.

The good news in this sorry mess — if there is any good news — is that the Republican legislation, dubbed the American Health Care Act (AHCA — not to be confused with the Affordable Care Act [ACA], or, perhaps, confusion is intended by the authors of the bill) is that the legislation may not pass. Democrats, of course, will vote in lockstep to defeat it, but Republicans have the votes to ram the AHCA through Congress — if they stay united. That’s a big if, for already the long knives are out on the right and among moderates in the GOP. In the House, the self-styled Freedom Caucus objects to Trumpcare. “It’s Obamacare in different format,” says Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio. Representative Louis Gohmert, a Texas Republican, likened the bill to “horse excrement.” Congressional right-wingers — backed by the Heritage Foundation and the Club for Growth — object to three provisions in the AHCA: the continuation of Medicaid expansion until 2020; the failure to repeal immediately all of the ACA’s tax increases; and, the guarantee of refundable tax credits to help people buy insurance. Arch-conservatives view tax credits as “a new entitlement.”

Ryan promises passage in the House. He may be overly optimistic, but even if the legislation gets through the lower chamber, it faces a difficult road in the upper where three GOP factions oppose key parts of the AHCA. First, a group of western and midwestern Republican senators — from states that accepted the expansion of Medicaid to insure the poor — fears the wrath of constituents who will lose their recently acquired Medicaid coverage. Second, quasi-libertarians — Rand Paul of Kentucky, in particular — agree with the House Freedom Caucus that the proposal is “a new entitlement.” Third, moderate Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine heads this faction — object to the defunding of Planned Parenthood, which provides needed healthcare for poor women. If Republicans lose just three votes in the Senate, the AHCA is doomed.

Like all legislation, the AHCA has winners — the young, the healthy, and the wealthy — and losers — the old, the poor, and the sick. The young and the healthy no longer face penalties for not buying insurance (a consequence of the abolition of the individual mandate), and the wealthy receive huge tax breaks amounting to a massive redistribution of wealth (a key to understanding most, if not all, Republican actions).

The old lose because premiums rise with age faster than the increase in tax credits that is intended as an offset. People over 55 would be most affected, which means that Medicare would be accepting sicker people in the future, increasing pressure on the insurance plan for the elderly. That consequence is intended, because the sooner Medicare goes into crisis — a deliberate byproduct of the AHCA — the quicker “entitlement hawks” like Ryan can turn it into a voucher program.

The Republican proposal phases out federal subsidies to states to fund Medicaid expansion, making the poor clear losers. And, the sick lose because without the individual mandate — forcing young, healthy people into the insurance marketplace — premiums will rise for those who need insurance the most. And for the poor who are sick, the new legislation would be a nightmare. The proposal not only ends Medicaid expansion, it would change how Medicaid is funded, resulting in less money becoming available to the states for healthcare. States would be in the unenviable position of deciding who gets how much medical care. That is called rationing healthcare, and it is why so many Republican governors are squeamish about the AHCA. Remember, rationing was one of the (false) battle-cries of the anti-ACA crowd back in the day — that, and “death panels.”

Since the GOP proposal reduces coverage and makes insurance less affordable, Republicans have to sell it by arguing that Obamacare is on the verge of collapse. That is simply false. Premiums rose for 2017, but the evidence suggests that was a one-time rate hike. Millions who previously did not have insurance now are covered by the ACA, the exchanges are stable, and the ballooning increases in the cost of medical care have been slowed. The ACA, in other words, is working, which is why the program now has widespread support.

Any health insurance proposal that leaves the poor and the sick worse off is a bad proposal. After all, the point of health insurance is to spread the cost of healthcare around — to redistribute healthcare, if you will — so that healthy people invest in coverage to guarantee healthcare for the unhealthy. The Republicans’ “magic formula” for replacing Obamacare turns out to be a weak remix of Obamacare: Covering fewer people while charging them more and giving an enormous tax cut to the rich. Trumpcare is, indeed, an unwanted child.

Or, make that Ryancare.

Posted March 10, 2017