Heather Cox Richardson
Yesterday, Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) announced he would not run for reelection. That announcement came just as The Atlantic published an excerpt from a forthcoming biography of Romney by McKay Coppins in which Romney expressed disgust with his Republican colleagues for feeding Trump’s lies to their voters in exchange for power and acknowledged that “[a] very large portion of my party really doesn’t believe in the Constitution.”
Coppins had access to Romney’s private journals, correspondence, and interviews. He describes Romney as isolated from other Republicans in Washington, unwelcome first because he was disgusted by Trump and vowed to be independent of him and then because, in the first impeachment trial, Romney voted to convict on one of two charges.
Romney said that “[a]lmost without exception” his Republican colleagues “shared my view of the president,” but they refused to speak up out of fear that their voters would turn against them. Coppins recounts a weekly caucus lunch at which Republicans gave Trump a standing ovation, listened as he boasted and rambled through remarks, and then burst into laughter as soon as Trump left.
That loyalty appears to have been behind leaders’ refusal to address rumors of violence on January 6, 2021. According to Coppins, on January 2, 2021, Senator Angus King (I-ME) warned Romney that a high-ranking Pentagon official had told King that right-wing extremists online appeared to be planning to attack the government on January 6 to stop what Trump had told them was the stealing of the 2020 presidential election. They talked of guns and arson and bombs, and they talked of targeting the traitors in Congress, among whom they counted Romney for his vote to convict Trump on one count in his first impeachment trial. King was concerned for Romney’s safety.
Romney promptly texted then–Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to recount the conversation. “There are calls to burn down your home, Mitch; to smuggle guns into DC, and to storm the Capitol,” Romney wrote. “I hope that sufficient security plans are in place, but I am concerned that the instigator—the President—is the one who commands the reinforcements the DC and Capitol police might require.” McConnell never answered.
When even after the events of January 6, fellow senators continued to execute their plan of objecting to the counting of electoral votes for certain states, Romney called them out on the floor of the Senate for “being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy.”
Romney recalled that some senators refused to convict Trump in the second impeachment trial out of concerns for their safety and that of their families. Romney himself had hired a security detail for his family since the attack on the U.S. Capitol, but at $5,000 a day such security was out of reach for most of his colleagues.
Just eleven years ago, Romney was the 2012 Republican nominee for president. Almost 61 million Americans voted for him. Now he is leaving public service with voters calling him a traitor and threatening his life.
In the House of Representatives today, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) had to pull back one of the eleven spending bills that Congress needs to pass before the end of the fiscal year on September 30 to fund the government. Extremists say they will not bring any of those bills to the floor without deeper cuts than McCarthy agreed to in a deal with President Biden earlier this year.
In a conference meeting today, McCarthy allegedly exploded at the extremists stopping the budget process, who hold over him their power to challenge his speakership. “If you want to file a motion to vacate,” he said, “then file a f*cking motion.” Rather than backing down, an extremist leader, Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), continued to needle McCarthy on social media.
The House went home for the weekend. While it made no progress on the budget this week, Speaker McCarthy did manage to initiate an impeachment inquiry into President Biden in an unsuccessful attempt to appease the extremists. According to Jonathan Swan, Maggie Haberman and Alyce McFadden of the New York Times, those extremists have been conferring with Trump.
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who has led calls to impeach Biden, told the reporters that she told Trump she wanted the impeachment inquiry to be “long and excruciatingly painful for Joe Biden.” Ultimately, she says, she wants a “long list of names” of those she claims are involved in crimes with the Bidens, and when Trump wins the presidency in 2024, she wants “to go after every single one of them and use the Department of Justice to prosecute them.”
Today the independent counsel appointed by then-president Trump to investigate Biden’s son Hunter charged Hunter with three felonies related to the fact that he falsely claimed he was not using illegal drugs when he applied to buy a handgun that he owned for about 11 days in 2018. Los Angeles Timeslegal affairs columnist Harry Litman noted that in June, after five years of investigation, the Justice Department negotiated a plea agreement with Hunter Biden’s lawyers in which Biden would plead guilty to two tax offenses and receive probation, and a gun charge would be dropped after two years if he continued to stay drug-free.
Although Biden had taken the unusual step of retaining Trump’s appointee, then–U.S. attorney David Weiss, to continue to investigate Hunter even after Trump’s term ended, to avoid any appearance of interference, Republicans protested what they saw as preferential treatment for the president’s son, harassing Weiss’s team and FBI agents and their families. Then the deal fell apart for reasons unrelated to Hunter.
And now Weiss has brought more charges. Litman notes that “the charges Weiss brought are rarely pursued for their own sake. The department does bring such charges against defendants who use improperly obtained firearms to commit other crimes. And in one or two instances, prosecutors appear to have used such charges against defendants whom they knew to be particularly dangerous. But this indictment over an isolated lie by a relatively harmless firearm applicant seems to be without precedent.”
But, Litman notes, the Republicans now have something with which “to muddy the waters with respect to Trump’s multiple criminal indictments.” As if on cue, House Oversight Committee chair James Comer (R-KY) claimed that “[m]ountains of evidence reveals that Hunter Biden likely committed several felonies and Americans expect the Justice Department to apply the law equally. Today’s charges are a very small start, but unless U.S. Attorney Weiss investigates everyone involved in the fraud schemes and influence peddling, it will be clear President Biden’s DOJ is protecting Hunter Biden and the big guy.”
Yesterday, President Biden spoke at a campaign reception. “Everybody always asks about impeachment,” he said, but he didn’t think much about it. He noted that Greene had vowed to impeach him the first day she was elected, and said: “I get up every day…not focused on impeachment. I’ve got a job to do. I’ve got to deal with the issues that affect the American people every single solitary day.”
That focus today demonstrated the vision Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have for the U.S. After yesterday’s meeting between Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan today held a trilateral call with his counterparts in Japan and South Korea, honoring the agreement forged at the historic trilateral summit of the three countries at Camp David in August. Together, they noted that North Korean arms exports to Russia would directly violate multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, including ones for which Russia itself voted.
And in Largo, Maryland, today, after listing the economic accomplishments of his administration, Biden called out the Republicans for their lack of policy plans. For all the time they spend attacking Bidenomics, he said, “here’s what they never do: They never talk about what they want to do…. They tell you what they’re against. What are they for? It’s like they want to keep it a secret.”
Biden pointed out that just months ago, Republicans threatened to default on the U.S. debt, and now they are breaking the commitment they made to resolve that standoff. Working from a budget produced in June by the Republican Study Committee, which has 156 out of 222 of the Republican members in the House, Biden explained that Congressional Republicans now are doubling down on the old trickle-down economics that “hollowed out…the middle class…blew up the deficit…produced an anemic economic growth…and…stripped the dignity and pride and hope out of a community, one after another.”
“[Y]ou hear from our friends on the other side, the MAGA Republicans, what’s wrong with America. Everything’s wrong with America. They keep telling us America is failing,” Biden said. “Well, they’re wrong. They’re failing. America is not failing. America is winning. And there’s one reason for it: you. All you people get up every single morning and go out to try to do the right thing. You, the American people—you’re the one with grit and determination. Not me or your elected officials. You.”
“We’re the only nation based on an idea—an idea. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Look,” Biden said, “we’ve never fully lived up to it,’’ but “[w]e’ve never walked away from it.”
“These other guys are trying to walk away from it.”