January 30, 2024 (Tuesday)Today, according to Clare Foran, Manu Raju, and Morgan Rimmer of CNN, House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) told his Republican colleagues that he will not bring forward the bipartisan immigration bill senators have been working on for months, calling it “absolutely dead.” Although Johnson insisted in November that border security was so crucial that he wouldn’t bring up aid to Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and Gaza until such legislation was attached to it, Trump has made it clear he wants immigration and border security left on the table for him to use as an issue in his run for the presidency.Instead of addressing border security through legislation, House Republicans instead are moving forward with their plan to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. They wrote articles of impeachment even before holding hearings. Today, members of the House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing to mark up those articles, which claim that Mayorkas committed high crimes and misdemeanors because he allegedly breached the public trust and refused to enforce immigration law. In all our history, only one cabinet officer has been impeached. William Belknap, whose eight years as secretary of war under President U. S. Grant had been marked by ostentatious displays of wealth and apparent kickbacks from army contracts, was charged with corruption in March 1876 just hours after he tearfully handed Grant his resignation. The House charged Belknap with “criminally disregarding his duty as Secretary of War and basely prostituting his high office to his lust for private gain.” The Senate agreed that it had jurisdiction to hold an impeachment trial even for a former government official, for an officer should not be able to escape justice simply by resigning. After hearing more than 40 witnesses, a majority of senators voted to convict Belknap on each of five charges, but no vote reached the necessary two-thirds threshold for conviction, and he was therefore acquitted. Almost 150 years later, the impeachment of Mayorkas would be the second effort to impeach a cabinet member. Yet there is no suggestion that Mayorkas has done anything but try to implement the law, even as the administration has repeatedly asked for more funding to make it possible for him to do his job.In the hearing today, Representative Seth Magaziner (D-RI) noted that “across the system, we are at and above capacity, and so, what should the secretary do? The secretary, because he has not received the funding to provide adequate detention capacity, has to use his judgment for who to detain and who to release. That is not illegal. It is certainly not impeachable. And it is the exact same kind of discretion that every other director before him has used. In the last two years of the Trump administration, 52% of migrants apprehended at the southern border were released, not detained…. Nearly a million people. I did not hear my Republican colleagues trying to impeach the secretary or acting secretary under the Trump administration during those years. But here they are, trying to impeach Secretary Mayorkas for doing the exact same thing.”Rather than passing the laws the country needs, the extremist Republicans appear to be determined to tee up an issue on which Trump can run for president in 2024. House speaker Johnson has demanded “ZERO” illegal crossings into the U.S., but this is a standard that no previous homeland security secretary has met because it is impossible to wall off every single means of entering this country by water, air, or land. And—despite Republicans’ false claims that Biden has established “open borders”—immigrants were more likely to be released into the country during Trump's term than during Biden’s. What is going on here is an attempt of the extremist Republicans to undercut the administration by attacking a key cabinet officer not for actual misbehavior but on policy grounds. There is no chance the Senate, dominated by Democrats, will convict Mayorkas even if the House, with its razor-thin Republican majority, impeaches him, but the extremist minority in the House that is going after him is attempting to set a precedent that a minority can stop the government from functioning. The cost of that obstruction has been clear in domestic politics over government funding, but it has now become a global issue over the question of U.S. support for Ukraine. Johnson had said he would not bring forward a bill to provide supplemental funding for Ukraine unless it included measures for increased border security; now his rejection of a bill to provide that border security threatens Ukraine aid. Ukraine is defending itself against an invasion by Russia, but the struggle there is larger than one between two countries: it is the question of whether the rules-based international order put in place after World War II will survive, or whether the world will go back to a system in which stronger countries can gobble up less powerful ones. Military aid for Ukraine is widely popular among Americans and among American lawmakers, who recognize the larger questions at stake. But extremist Republicans are siding with Trump, who has made his preference for Russia and its autocratic leader over Ukraine clear. The realization that a few extremist Republicans are scuttling Ukraine aid has prompted officials from both parties to warn of the consequences if the U.S. stops providing support to Ukraine.In Foreign Affairs today, Central Intelligence Agency director Wililam Burns noted that the war has weakened Putin’s Russia significantly. Aid to Ukraine has amounted to less than 5% of the U.S. defense budget, “a relatively modest investment with significant geopolitical returns for the United States and notable returns for American industry,” he wrote.“For the United States to walk away from the conflict at this crucial moment and cut off support to Ukraine would be an own goal of historic proportions,” Burns said. The secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Jens Stoltenberg, has been in Washington, D.C., this week, urging Republicans to back the aid, if only on the grounds that most of the money appropriated goes to support jobs in the U.S. The man behind the extremists, Trump, was in the news today for the fact that the political action committees that back him spent about $50 million covering his legal bills in 2023. That money came from donors and arrived primarily in the months after the 2020 presidential election, when Trump lied that he had actually won the election and needed financial support to challenge the results.
February 9, 2024 (Friday)Yesterday, Special Counsel Robert Hur, appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland in January 2023 to investigate President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents before he was president, released his report. It begins: “We conclude that no criminal charges are warranted in this matter. We would reach the same conclusion even if Department of Justice policy did not foreclose criminal charges against a sitting president.” The Department of Justice closed a similar case against former Vice President Mike Pence on June 1, 2023, days before Pence announced his presidential bid, with a brief, one-page letter. But in Biden’s case, what followed the announcement that he had not broken a law was more than 300 pages of commentary, including assertions that Biden was old, infirm, and losing his marbles and even that “[h]e did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died” (p. 208).As television host and former Republican representative from Florida Joe Scarborough put it: “He couldn’t indict Biden legally so he tried to indict Biden politically.”Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and their teams came out swinging against what amounted to a partisan hit job by a Republican special counsel. The president’s lawyers noted that it is not Department of Justice practice and protocol to criticize someone who is not going to be charged, and tore apart Hur’s nine references to Biden’s memory in contrast to his willingness to “accept…other witnesses’ memory loss as completely understandable given the passage of time.” They pointed out that “there is ample evidence from your interview that the President did well in answering your questions about years-old events over the course of five hours. This is especially true under the circumstances, which you do not mention in your report, that his interview began the day after the October 7 attacks on Israel. In the lead up to the interview, the President was conducting calls with heads of state, Cabinet members, members of Congress, and meeting repeatedly with his national security team.” Nonetheless, they note, Biden provided “often detailed recollections across a wide range of questions, from staff management of paper flow in the West Wing to the events surrounding the creation of the 2009 memorandum on the Afghanistan surge. He engaged at length on theories you offered about the way materials were packed and moved during the transition out of the vice presidency and between residences. He pointed to flaws in the assumptions behind specific lines of questioning.” They were not alone in their criticism. Others pointed out that Republicans have made Biden’s age a central point of attack, but Politico reported last October that while former House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was publicly mocking Biden’s age and mental fitness, he was “privately telling allies that he found the president sharp and substantive in their conversations.” Dan Pfeiffer of Pod Save America and Message Box noted that the report’s “characterizations of Biden don't match those relayed by everyone who talks to him, including [Republicans].” He explained: “There are few secrets in [Washington], and if Joe Biden acted like Hur says, we would all know. Biden meets with dozens of people daily—staffers, members of Congress, CEOs, labor officials, foreign leaders, and military and intelligence officials…. If Biden was regularly misremembering obvious pieces of information or making other mistakes that suggested he was not up to the job, it would be in the press. Washington is not capable of keeping something like that secret."But the media ran not with the official takeaway of the investigation—that Biden had not committed a crime—or with a reflection on the accuracy or partisan reason for Hur’s commentary, but with Hur’s insinuations. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo noted that the New York Times today ran five front-page stories above the fold about the report and Biden’s memory.Matt Gertz of Media Matters collected some of the day’s headlines: “Eight Words and a Verbal Slip Put Biden’s Age Back at the Center of 2024 (New York Times); “1 Big thing: Report Questions Biden’s memory (Axios)”; “Biden tries to lay to rest age concerns, but may have exacerbated them” (CNN); “Biden disputes special counsel findings, insists his memory is fine” (CBS News); “Age isn’t just a number. It’s a profound and growing problem for Biden” (Politico); and so on. As far back as 1950, when Senator Joe McCarthy (R-WI) insisted—without evidence—that the Department of State under Democratic president Harry Truman had been infiltrated by Communists, Republicans have used official investigations to smear their opponents. State Department officials condemned McCarthy’s “Sewer Politics” and the New York Times complained about his “hit-and-run” attacks, but McCarthy’s outrageous statements and hearings kept his accusations in the news. That media coverage, in turn, convinced many Americans that his charges were true.Other Republicans finally rejected McCarthy, but in 1996, congressional Republicans frustrated by the election of Democratic president Bill Clinton in 1992 and the Democrats’ subsequent expansion of the vote with the so-called Motor Voter law in 1993 resurrected his tactics. They launched investigations into two elections they insisted the Democrats had stolen. They discovered no fraud, but their investigation convinced a number of Americans that voter fraud was a serious problem.There were ten investigations into the 2012 attack on two U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed and several others wounded; Republican-dominated House committees held six of them. Kevin McCarthy bragged to Fox News personality Sean Hannity that the Benghazi special committee was part of a “strategy to fight and win” against then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The strategy of weaponizing investigations went on to be central to the 2016 election, when Trump ran on the investigation of Clinton’s email practices, and to the 2020 election, when Trump tried to weaken Biden’s candidacy by trying to force Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to say that Ukraine was opening an investigation into Hunter Biden and the company he worked for. Going into 2024, the House is investigating Hunter Biden, and while witness testimony and evidence has not supported their contention that President Biden is corrupt, the stench of the hearings has convinced a number of MAGA voters of the opposite.And now the media appears to be falling for this strategy yet again.Political commentator Brian Tyler Cohen outlined how Biden’s performance disproves the argument that he is unfit for the presidency: “The thing about Biden’s memory,” Cohen wrote, “is that he’s presided over the addition of ~15 million jobs & 800k manufacturing jobs, 23 straight months of sub-4% unemployment, surging consumer sentiment, wages outpacing inflation, the American Rescue Plan, Inflation Reduction Act, CHIPs Act, PACT Act, infrastructure law, gun safety law, VAWA, codified marriage equality, canceled $136 billion in student loan debt for 3.7 million borrowers, bolstered NATO, and presided over electoral wins in ‘20, ‘22 and ‘23.”Political strategist Simon Rosenberg had his own take: “As we end this crazy week I am struck that somehow the claim that Biden's memory is faulty has gotten more attention than a jury confirming that Trump raped E. Jean Carroll in a department store dressing room.”It may be, though, that the report has been a game changer in a different way than Hur intended it. Hur’s suggestion that Biden does not remember when his son died seems to echo the moment in the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings in which Senator McCarthy was trying to prove that the U.S. Army had been infiltrated by Communists. Sensing himself losing, McCarthy attacked on national television a young aide of Joseph Nye Welch, the lawyer defending the Army. “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” Welch demanded. “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” McCarthy didn’t, but Americans did, and they finally threw him off the public stage. Biden supporters took their gloves off today, producing videos of Trump’s incoherence, gaffes, and wandering off stages, and noting that he mistook writer E. Jean Carroll, whom he sexually assaulted, for his second wife, Marla Maples, when asked to identify Carroll in a photograph. They also produced clips of Fox News Channel personalities Sean Hannity and Jesse Watters messing up names themselves on screen, and gaffes from Republican lawmakers. Senior communications advisor for the Biden-Harris campaign T.J. Ducklo released a statement lambasting Trump for a speech he gave tonight in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, saying: “Tonight, he lied more than two dozen times, slurred his words, confused basic facts, and placated the gun lobby weeks after telling parents to ‘get over it’ after their kids were gunned down at school. But you won’t hear about any of it if you watch cable news, read this weekend’s papers, or watch the Sunday shows.” But it was Biden who responded most powerfully. “There’s even a reference that I don’t remember when my son died,” he told reporters. “How in the hell dare he raise that…. I don’t need anyone to remind me when he passed away.” And when asked about Hur’s dismissal of him as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” Biden responded with justified anger: “I am well-meaning, and I’m an elderly man, and I know what the hell I’m doing. I’ve been President. I put this country back on its feet.”
Hi Folks:First off: Everything that already exists will stay exactly the same! But here’s the news: after years of requests, we are finally adding audio versions of Letters from an American.
The audio version will appear the morning after I post the letter. They
will live on this Substack page, if you want to get them here, but they
will also be available on the Apple Podcast Channel, and elsewhere, as
we get our ducks in a row.
Like the Letters, they are free.
committed to trying this for three weeks, to see how it goes. Please
let me know if you think it’s worthwhile, and do spread the word to
those who might be interested.
Trying to get solid information in front of as many people as we can heading into this election.
Where the episodes will be stored on Substack:
February 15, 2024 (Thursday) Today House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) canceled tomorrow’s votes and sent the House of Representatives into recess until February 28.Before recessing, Johnson refused to take up the national security supplemental bill the Senate passed early Tuesday morning, providing aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan and humanitarian aid for Gaza. Johnson said the House must “work its own will” rather than vote on the bill at hand because the measure did not include border security measures.Yesterday, Johnson told House Republicans that the House will not be “rushed” into passing foreign aid, despite the fact that Ukraine’s desperate need for ammunition is enabling Russia to regain some of the territory Ukraine’s troops reclaimed over the past year. But is it a rush? President Biden asked for additional national security funding in October 2023. A majority of lawmakers in the Senate and the House support such a measure, but Johnson bowed to the demands of MAGA Republicans and said he would not bring such a bill up for a vote unless it contained border security measures to address what they insisted was a crisis at the southern border of the U.S., apparently banking on the idea that such a compromise was impossible.But Democrats were so desperate to pass the Ukraine funding they see as crucial to our national security that they agreed to give up their demand for a path to citizenship for the so-called Dreamers, those brought to the United States as children and reared here but now stuck in citizenship limbo. So, after four months of work, Senate negotiators produced a bill that offered much of what Republicans demanded. Once it was clear a deal was going to materialize, Trump demanded it be shut down, likely because he has promised his base that on his first day back in office, he will “begin the largest domestic deportation operation in American history,” and a new border measure would both undermine his campaign message and stymie his plans. Although the border patrol officers union endorsed the Senate national security measure that included border security provisions, Republicans killed it. Senators immediately went to work on a national security supplemental without the border measure, passing it with 70 votes on Tuesday morning. Johnson indicated he would not take it up, right about the same time that Trump renewed his attack on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that underpins U.S. and global security. “House Republicans are…siding with Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Tehran against our defense industrial base, against NATO, against Ukraine, against our interests in the Indo-Pacific,” the White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said yesterday, and President Joe Biden has repeatedly warned that “[f]ailure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will never be forgotten.” But Republicans, too—including Trump’s vice president Mike Pence—are begging House Republicans to pass a version of the measure. Perhaps to pressure Johnson, House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Turner (R-OH), who is a strong supporter of aiding Ukraine in its fight against Russia, yesterday released information about “a serious national security threat,” urged all members of Congress to view the intelligence, and called on Biden to declassify all information relating to it. That threat appears to be antisatellite weapons Russia is developing, but they are not yet operational. Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) of the Senate Intelligence Committee expressed concern that the disclosure might have revealed intelligence sources and methods.And now, rather than taking up the national security measure, the House has recessed.National security and border measures are not the only things the House is ignoring. Since this is a leap year, putting February 29 on the calendar, the recess will give the House just three working days to pass appropriations measures for the 2024 budget before the stopgap continuing resolution to fund the government expires on March 1.The appropriations process is so far overdue that it threatens to become tangled in that for 2025, which is set to begin March 11, when the White House is expected to release its budget proposal for the year. While they have been unable to make headway on these measures, on Tuesday night, Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to impeach Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, blaming him for an increase in migrants at the border. Johnson has named as impeachment managers a number of Republican extremists, including Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Clay Higgins (R-LA), and Harriet Hageman (R-WY). As Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan of Punchbowl News reported: “This is the most chaotic, inefficient and ineffective majority we’ve seen in decades covering Congress. It started this way under former Speaker Kevin McCarthy and has gotten worse under Johnson.”Trump and his MAGA supporters are demonstrating their power over the Republican Party. Trump is trying to install hand-picked loyalists, including his daughter-in-law, at the head of the Republican National Committee, where she vows that “[e]very single penny will go to the No. 1 and the only job of the RNC—that is electing Donald J. Trump as President of the United States.” When Trump was in office, his team installed loyalists at the head of state parties, where they have worked to purge all but Trump loyalists. MAGA Republicans are continuing that process. After Senator James Lankford (R-OK), a reliable conservative tapped by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to negotiate a border measure, produced one that favored Republican positions, right-wing provocateur Benny Johnson called those like Lankford “traitors…spineless scum” who must “be criminally prosecuted.” That demand for purity appears to be radicalizing the House as Republicans inclined to get things done, including five committee chairs, have announced they will not run for reelection. Meanwhile, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene yesterday said that British foreign secretary David Cameron, who is urging Congress to pass Ukraine aid, “can kiss my ass.” But the MAGA agenda is falling apart in the courts. True the Vote, the right-wing organization that insisted it had evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, has told a Georgia judge that, in fact, it has no such evidence. Their claims provided the basis for the arguments about voter fraud highlighted in right-wing pundit Dinesh D’Souza’s film 2000 Mules. Today a grand jury convened by Special Counsel David Weiss, whom Trump appointed to investigate Hunter Biden, indicted former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov for making a false statement and creating a false and fictitious record about Hunter Biden. Smirnov has been a key witness for Republican allegations about Biden’s “corruption” since Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) released Smirnov’s unverified claims about a year ago and other MAGA figures spread them. Matthew Gertz of Media Matters noted that Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity’s show highlighted these allegations in at least 85 separate segments last year, including 28 monologues. Now a grand jury has grounds to think Smirnov lied. Trump’s personal problems also continue to mount. Today Judge Juan Merchan confirmed that Trump is going to trial on his criminal election interference case, with jury selection beginning on March 25. Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg has charged Trump with 34 felonies for falsifying business records in order to hide critical information from voters before the 2016 election. Prosecutors say that Trump defrauded voters by illegally hiding payments he made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about their affair before the election. As Andrew Warren put it in The Daily Beast, the case “is about a plot to deprive voters of information about a candidate for president—information that Trump and his allies believed to be damaging enough to hide.”And yet Trump’s MAGA Republicans are calling the shots in the House, and their refusal to support Ukraine threatens to empower Russian president Vladimir Putin and thus to lay waste to the rules-based international order that has helped to prevent world war since 1945. Conservative pundit Bill Kristol noted earlier this month that “politics is often a stage on which people act in bad faith. Still, the demagogic opposition of House Republicans to the border/Ukraine bill, when they've all said the border is an emergency and that Putin should be stopped, is just about the baddest bad faith ever.” The implications of that bad faith for the country—and the world—are huge.