Heather Cox Richardson
In a day that was chock full of political stories in which Republicans were launching attacks on Democrats, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) made a key point. “We have not passed an emergency supplemental, a Farm Bill, or regular Appropriations,” he said. “The story is not what they are doing. The story is what they are not doing.”
Schatz was referring to specific, vital measures that are not getting through Congress: the outstanding funding bill for aid to Ukraine and Israel, border security, and humanitarian aid for Gaza; the Farm Bill, which governs the nation’s agricultural and food assistance programs and needs to be renewed every five years; and the regular appropriations bills that Congress must pass and that House extremists tossed out former speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) over because they wanted deep cuts that he had agreed with President Joe Biden not to make.
But there is a larger point behind Schatz’s observation. Republicans, especially the extremist wing, have garnered power by promising to stop the government from acting. The extraordinary gerrymandering in Republican-dominated states following Operation REDMAP in 2010 created such safe districts that Republicans did not need to worry about losing elections. That safety meant that their role was not to offer real legislative solutions to problems, but rather to gin up support for the party nationally by pushing party talking points on right-wing media. Those talking points focused on slashing the government, which they claimed was hurting their constituents by defending secular society and providing benefits to undeserving minorities and women.
Now, though, the Republicans are in charge of the House of Representatives, and they actually need to get work done. But extremist Republicans’ skill set involves pushing talking points to create a false reality that demands gutting the government, not legislating, which requires compromise and deep understanding of issues.
We appear to be watching Republicans’ fake image crash against reality.
This morning was the scheduled date for the House Oversight Committee’s closed-door deposition from President Biden’s son Hunter. Committee chair James Comer (R-KY) subpoenaed him in early November, trying to find evidence that the president participated in illegal business deals before he became president. But, in fact, the committee is making its case entirely by innuendo—it has turned up no evidence of any such schemes—and publicly misrepresented the closed-door testimony of Hunter Biden’s former business partner to say the opposite of what it did.
So Hunter Biden’s lawyers called their bluff, saying the younger Biden would be happy to testify…but only in a public hearing, so that his testimony could not be misrepresented. The committee refused that offer, saying he must appear behind closed doors, a condition that seemed to undercut their claim they want transparency.
Today, Hunter Biden turned the tables on their habit of giving press statements by showing up himself outside of the Capitol to reiterate that he would answer “any legitimate questions” in a public hearing. “Republicans do not want an open process where Americans can see their tactics, expose their baseless inquiry, or hear what I have to say. What are they afraid of?”
He offered his own statement. “Let me state as clearly as I can,” he said. “[M]y father was not financially involved in my business, not as a practicing lawyer, not as a board member of Burisma, not in my partnership with a Chinese private businessman, not in my investments at home nor abroad, and certainly not as an artist,” he said. “There is no evidence to support the allegations that my father was financially involved in my business, because it did not happen,” he said.
He portrayed his father as a loving parent who supported him through his addiction struggle, and noted that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) had showed naked photos of him in a committee hearing, taking “the light of my dad’s love for me” and presenting it “as darkness.”
Republicans say they will prosecute Hunter Biden for contempt of Congress because he defied a subpoena. But that, too, is awkward, as a number of Republican representatives—including Judiciary Committee chair Jim Jordan (R-OH)—ignored subpoenas from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Pushing the idea that there is a “Biden crime family” is a transparent effort to create confusion by suggesting that the Bidens are simply the Democratic version of the Trumps, whose family business, the Trump Organization, was found guilty of tax fraud in January 2023. Judge Arthur Engoron also found that company, along with Trump and his two older sons and two other employees, liable for bank fraud in September 2023 and is currently considering fines of at least $250 million and ending the Trumps’ ability to do business in New York. Testimony in that trial concluded today.
With no comparable Biden Organization, Republicans are trying to invent one.
Their effort to convince voters that President Biden is corrupt has led to the tail wagging the dog as, after hearing constantly about how lawless Biden is, their supporters have demanded that House Republicans launch an impeachment inquiry into him. Today, House Republicans unanimously voted to open such an inquiry, though the lack of evidence made them caution that such an inquiry did not mean they would ultimately impeach the president.
When asked what he’s hoping to gain from an impeachment inquiry, Representative Troy Nehls (R-TX) answered: “All I can say is Donald J. Trump 2024, baby.”
Biden reacted with uncharacteristic anger, calling out Republicans for ignoring the many imperative issues before them in order to “waste time on this baseless political stunt that even Republicans in Congress admit is not supported by facts.” He listed the nation’s unfinished business: funding for Ukraine and Israel, immigration policy, and funding the government to avoid “self-inflicted economic crises like a government shutdown, which Republicans in Congress are driving us toward in just a few weeks because they won’t act now to fund the government and critical priorities to make life better for the American people.”
Biden pointed out that having wasted weeks after tossing out their own House speaker and “having to expel their own members”—a reference to George Santos (R-NY), whom the House expelled two weeks ago—Republicans are now “leaving for a month without doing anything to address these pressing challenges.”
Republicans’ image has met reality today in another way, as well. In 2020, former president Trump insisted that Biden would tank the economy, but in fact, under Biden it has bloomed. Today the Dow Jones Industrial Average, one of the key measures of the stock market, climbed to a new all-time high, topping out at over 37,000. At the same time, unemployment has sat below 4% for months now, and inflation has fallen, showing that “Bidenomics” has been hugely successful.
Tonight, though, Trump doubled down on Republican talking points, telling an audience in Iowa that unless he is reelected—presumably to reverse Biden’s policies—“we’ll have a depression the likes of which I don’t believe anybody has ever seen.”
But in an interesting rejection of House talking points in favor of reality, this evening the Senate passed a clean $886 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which gives a 5.2% pay raise to military personnel, by a vote of 87 to 13. House Republicans had loaded the measure up with a wish list of attacks on abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, and diversity initiatives.
Tomorrow the measure will go to the House, where extremist Republicans angrily oppose it, but experts expect it will pass nonetheless.