Republicans’ 2024 Magical Thinking
Lots of Republicans want Donald Trump to disappear from politics. Their main strategy is hope.
By McKay Coppins

Press them hard enough, and most Republican officials—even the ones with MAGA hats in their closets and Mar-a-Lago selfies in their Twitter avatar—will privately admit that Donald Trump has become a problem. He’s presided over three abysmal election cycles since he took office, he is more unstable than ever, and yet he returned to the campaign trail this past weekend, declaring that he is “angry” and determined to win the GOP presidential nomination again in 2024. Aside from his most blinkered loyalists, virtually everyone in the party agrees: It’s time to move on from Trump.

But ask them how they plan to do that, and the discussion quickly veers into the realm of hopeful hypotheticals. Maybe he’ll get indicted and his legal problems will overwhelm him. Maybe he’ll flame out early in the primaries, or just get bored with politics and wander away. Maybe the situation will resolve itself naturally: He’s old, after all—how many years can he have left?

This magical thinking pervaded my recent conversations with more than a dozen current and former elected GOP officials and party strategists. Faced with the prospect of another election cycle dominated by Trump and uncertain that he can actually be beaten in the primaries, many Republicans are quietly rooting for something to happen that will make him go away. And they would strongly prefer not to make it happen themselves.

“There is a desire for deus ex machina,” said one GOP consultant, who, like others I interviewed, requested anonymity to characterize private conversations taking place inside the party. “It’s like 2016 all over again, only more fatalistic.”

The scenarios Republicans find themselves fantasizing about range from the far-fetched to the morbid. In his recent book Thank You for Your Servitude, my colleague Mark Leibovich quoted a former Republican representative who bluntly summarized his party’s plan for dealing with Trump: “We’re just waiting for him to die.” As it turns out, this is not an uncommon sentiment. In my conversations with Republicans, I heard repeatedly that the least disruptive path to getting rid of Trump, grim as it sounds, might be to wait for his expiration.

Their rationale was straightforward: The former president is 76 years old, overweight, appears to maintain the dietof a college freshman, and believes, contrary to all known science, that exercise is bad for you. Why risk alienating his supporters when nature will take its course sooner or later? Peter Meijer, a former Republican representative who left office this month, termed this strategy actuarial arbitrage.

“You have a lot of folks who are just wishing for [Trump’s] mortal demise,” Meijer told me. “I want to be clear: I’m not in that camp. But I’ve heard from a lot of people who will go onstage and put on the red hat, and then give me a call the next day and say, ‘I can’t wait until this guy dies.’ And it’s like, Good Lord.” (Trump’s mother died at 88 and his father at 93, so this strategy isn’t exactly foolproof.)

Some Republicans are clinging to the hope that Trump might finally be undone by his legal troubles. He is currently the subject of multiple criminal investigations, and his detractors dream of an indictment that would derail his campaign. But most of the people I talked with seemed resigned to the likelihood that an indictment would only boost him with the party’s base. Michael Cohen, who served for years as Trump’s personal attorney and now hosts a podcast atoning for that sin titled Mea Culpa, grudgingly told me that his former boss would easily weaponize any criminal charges brought against him. The deep-state Democrats are at it again—the campaign emails write themselves. “Donald will use the indictment to continue his fundraising grift,” Cohen told me.

Others imagine a coordinated donor revolt that sidelines Trump for good. The GOP consultant told me about a private dinner in New York City that he attended in the fall of 2021, when he saw a Republican billionaire give an impassioned speech about the need to keep Trump from returning to the Oval Office. The man said he would devote large sums of money to defeating the former president and urged his peers to join the cause. The others in the room—including several prominent donors and a handful of Republican senators—reacted enthusiastically that night. But when the consultant saw some of the same people a year later, their commitment had waned. The indignant donors, he said, had retreated to a cautious “wait and see” stance.

This plague of self-deception among party elites contains obvious echoes of Trump’s early rise to power. In the run-up to the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, a fractured field of feckless candidates spent time and money attacking one another, convinced that the front-runner would eventually collapse. It was widely believed within the political class that such a ridiculous figure could simply never win a major party nomination, much less the presidency. Of course, by the time Trump’s many doubters realized they were wrong, it was too late.

Terry Sullivan, who ran Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign, told me that Trump’s rivals failed to beat him that year in large part because they were “always convinced that his self-inflicted demise was imminent.”

“There is an old quote that has been attributed to Lee Atwater: ‘When your enemy is in the process of drowning, throw him a brick,’” Sullivan told me. “None of Donald Trump’s opponents ever have the balls to throw him the damn brick. They just hope someone else will. Hope isn’t a winning strategy.”

For conservatives who want to prevent a similar fiasco in 2024, the emerging field of GOP presidential prospects might seem like cause to celebrate. After all, the healthiest way to rid their party of Trump would be to simply beat him. But a sprawling cast of challengers could just as easily end up splitting the anti-Trump electorate, as it did in 2016, and allow Trump to win primaries with a plurality of voters. It would also make coalescing around an alternative harder for party leaders.

One current Republican representative told me that although most of his colleagues might quietly hope for a new nominee, few would be willing to endorse a non-Trump candidate early enough in the primary calendar to make a difference. They would instead “keep their powder dry” and “see what those first states do.” For all of Trump’s supposedly diminished political clout, he remains a strong favorite in primary polls, where he leads his nearest rival by about 15 points. And few of the other top figures in the party—Ron DeSantis, Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley—have demonstrated an ability to take on Trump directly and look stronger for it.

Meijer, who voted to impeach Trump after January 6 and went on to lose his 2022 primary to a far-right Trump loyalist, attributes Republican leaders’ current skittishness about confronting Trump to the party’s “ideological rootlessness.” The GOP’s defenestration of long-held conservative ideals in favor of an ad hoc personality cult left Republicans without a clear post-Trump identity. Combine that with what Meijer calls “the generalized cowardice of political figures writ large,” and you have a party in paralysis: “There’s no capacity [to say], ‘All right, let’s clean the slate and figure out what we stand for and build from there.’”

Even if another Republican manages to capture the nomination, there’s no guarantee that Trump—who is not known for his grace in defeat—will go away. Last month, Trump caused a minor panic in GOP circles when he shared an article on Truth Social suggesting that he might run an independent spoiler campaign if his party refuses to back him in 2024. The Republicans I talked with said such a schism would be politically catastrophic for their party. No one had any ideas about how to prevent it.

Meanwhile, the most enduring of GOP delusions—that Trump will transform into an entirely different person—somehow persists.

When I asked Rob Portman about his party’s Trump problem, the recently retired Ohio senator confidently predicted that it would all sort itself out soon. The former president, he believed, would study the polling data, realize that other Republicans had a better shot at winning, and graciously bow out of 2024 contention.

“I think at the end of the day,” Portman told me, “he’s unlikely to want to put himself in that position when he could be more of a Republican senior statesman who talks about the policies that were enacted in his administration.”

I let out an involuntary laugh.

“Maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part,” Portman conceded.

McKay Coppins is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

Donald Trump Isn’t the Only One to Blame for the Capitol Riot. I’d Know.
Jan. 30, 2023

Opinion Piece – NYTIMES from James Sasso – served as investigative counsel for Jan. 6 Committee

I spent 12 months holed up in a windowless cubicle den or locked in my home office investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol and working on a report that my fellow investigators and I thought would blow open the story. When it was released, the press described it as “monumental.” This paper called it “damning.” And it was — for former President Donald Trump, since he bears primary responsibility for the attempted insurrection. But the report could only tell part of the story.

Other political, social, economic and technological forces beyond the former president had a hand, whether intentionally or not, in radicalizing thousands of people into thinking they needed to attack the seat of American democracy. Only by understanding how those people lost faith in our governing institutions can we as a country figure out how to protect our democracy from threats like the attack on the Capitol.

As an investigative counsel for the Jan. 6 Committee’s “Red” Team, which investigated the people who planned and attended the riot, as well as the domestic extremist groups responsible for much of the violence, I tracked more than 900 individuals charged by the Department of Justice with everything from parading in the Capitol to seditious conspiracy. We interviewed roughly 30 of those defendants about their motives. What my team and I learned, and what we did not have the capacity to detail with specificity in the report, is how distrust of the political establishment led many of the rioters to believe that only revolution could save America.

It wasn’t just that they wanted to contest a supposedly stolen election as Mr. Trump called them to do, they wanted to punish the judges, members of Congress, and law enforcement agencies — the so-called political elites — who had discredited Mr. Trump’s claims. One rioter wondered why he should trust anything the F.B.I., D.O.J., or any other federal entity said about the results. The federal government had worked against everyday Americans for years, the rioters told us, favoring entrenched elites with its policies. For many defendants — both those awash in conspiracy theories, as well as some of the more reasonable Trump supporters at the Capitol that day — a stolen election was simply the logical conclusion of years of federal malfeasance.

With the legitimacy of democracy so degraded, revolution appeared logical. As Russell James Peterson, a rioter who pleaded guilty to “parading, demonstrating, or picketing” in the Capitol, saidon Dec. 4, 2020, “the only way to restore balance and peace is through war. Too much trust has been lost in our great nation.” Guy Reffitt, who earned seven years in prison for leading the charge up the Capitol steps while carrying a firearm, made a similar case later that month: “The government has spent decades committing treason.” The following week, he drove 20 hours to “do what needs to be done” because there were “bad people,” “disgusting people,” in the Capitol. Oath Keepers convicted of seditious conspiracy and other crimes, like their leader Stewart Rhodes, had long believed that a corrupt group of left-wing elites was preparing to upend American freedoms and that only militias like themselves could save the Constitution. Their loss of faith in the federal government had led them to the delusion that their seditious behavior to keep Mr. Trump in power was patriotic.

Strikingly, these comments came not only from domestic violent extremists; some came from people who appeared to be ordinary Americans. Dona Sue Bissey, a grandmother and hair salon owner from Indiana, said shortly after the attack that she was “very glad” to have been a part of the insurrection; Anthony Robert Williams, a painter from Michigan, called Jan. 6 the “proudest day of my life.”

Since the 1960s, political scientists have surveyed Americans and measured the steady decline of public faith in the federal government. Again and again, they have described the predictable consequences of people believing that the deliberative system has lost its legitimacy; almost always, they will turn to alternative means to get what they want, even if it means destroying their government in the process. The attack on the Capitol was a perfect example. William Dunfee, an Ohio pastor facing felony and misdemeanor charges, told his congregation on Dec. 27, 2020, that settling “your differences at the ballot” did not work, so they should make the “government, the tyrants, the socialists, the Marxists, the progressives, the RINOs” in Washington “fear” them.

Some have criticized our report because it focused on Mr. Trump and his Big Lie instead of diving more deeply into other causes, such as declining faith in government or racial resentment or economic inequality, which pushed people to believe patriotism required storming the Capitol. Far from ignoring those concepts, we have released many of our documents publicly and archived the rest so that historians, political scientists, sociologists and many others can scrutinize our findings in ways we could not, examining the causes and consequences of Jan. 6 with a longer time horizon than we had.

Our report proposed several straightforward fixes to prevent another sitting president from contesting a fair election. But solving the core problem — lost faith in government — will take more time and a battery of far more complex remedies.

The most important step elected officials can take — aside from choosing not to undermine our institutions for their own political gain — is to advance a comprehensive set of election and campaign finance reforms to make politicians more responsive to their constituents than to the money and voices of the few. Congress could also create universal election rules that encourage all citizens to vote while reassuring a skeptical public that the elections are secure. But beyond that, our leaders need to build trust broadly by tackling economic inequality and reinvesting in communities devastated by globalization and technological changes. At the most basic level, politicians should refocus locally on building roads, lowering crime and revitalizing small business districts, instead of looking for votes by harping on divisive national topics.

Such reforms would not be a silver bullet. A few of the defendants we interviewed complained of being misled by social media, which seems to have pushed them into conspiracy theory rabbit holes like QAnon. Many also had not-quite-veiled racial resentments that drove their lack of faith in government. But at the very least, these reforms might begin to convince citizens that their government works for them, not just the rich and powerful. Once we can restore that baseline trust, we can better avoid future attacks, both physical and intangible, on our democracy.

Mr. Trump did not appear out of a vacuum to upend democracy. His presidency was the culmination of years of political degradation during which voters watched our political institutions rust to the point of breaking. Like any good liar, Mr. Trump succeeded by building his lies off a truth; people no longer trust the federal government because they see its corroded institutions as corrupted for the few against the many. Until we fix that problem, we will not free ourselves from the threat of future political violence and upheaval worse than Jan. 6.

George Santos Puts One Over On NY 3rd District – Eugene Robinson Washington Post

30 january 23
The people of New York’s 3rd Congressional District thought they were sending to the House a successful Jewish businessman who had attended an elite prep school, starred on the volleyball team at Baruch College, earned a graduate degree at New York University, worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, founded his own thriving asset-management firm, and served his community by running an animal-rescue charity.

Instead, they got none of the above.

They got Rep. George Santos (R), or “Anthony Devolder,” or “Anthony Zabrovsky,” or “Kitara Ravache.” Whoever he might be, he is not remotely the man those voters believed they were electing.

Santos defrauded his constituents, morally if not legally, and effectively disenfranchised them. More of his fabrications are revealed almost daily. His presence in the House chamber, where so much history has taken place, defiles and dishonors the institution — yes, that is still possible — and he should be promptly expelled.

This is something that Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree on. Almost every member of Congress I’ve ever met, from either party, at some level understands holding elective office as a sacred trust. To accept a brazen charlatan such as Santos as a colleague is to mock the hallowed place they love to call the “People’s House.”

The excuse for doing nothing that Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Santos have offered — that the people of his district decided Santos should represent them, and their will is sovereign — holds no water. Those voters chose a fictional character, a figment of Santos’s fertile imagination. Their will was not honored, but instead thwarted, by his myriad lies.

If Santos had, say, claimed a college degree that he fell just short of earning, or exaggerated his athletic prowess or his business acumen, I would understand a decision to let voters render their verdict in 2024. He would hardly be the first member of Congress to burnish a résumé. But I am aware of no precedent in which a representative or senator forged an entire gleaming persona out of patent lies.

There is no shame in capping one’s formal education with a high school equivalency diploma; Abraham Lincoln, who served a term in the House, never went to college, either. But to then claim both undergraduate and graduate degrees is indeed shameful, and dishonest, and perhaps pathological.

And given where his district is, it was unforgivable for Santos to falsely claim on his campaign website that his mother “was in her office in the South Tower” of the World Trade Center at the moment of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Santos said on Twitter that 9/11 “claimed my mother’s life.” He told voters that although she survived the attacks, she later died of cancer — implying that the illness was caused by toxic dust and debris from the towers’ collapse. There is no evidence that Santos’s mother worked at the World Trade Center on 9/11, and immigration records appear to show she was not even in the United States at the time.

In the parts of Queens and Long Island that Santos represents, many voters would have personally known office workers or firefighters who died on 9/11 or in the aftermath. For Santos to lie about having a personal connection to a tragedy so deeply felt by so many New Yorkers is cynical and sick.

I realize that calling for Santos to be expelled might sound quixotic. Yes, I know that Republicans have only a nine-seat House majority. I know McCarthy needed Santos’s vote to become speaker and will need his continuing support to keep that hard-won gavel. And I know there is a good chance that if Santos were tossed out, the seat might well go to a Democrat in a special election.

But even then, Republicans would still control the chamber. And McCarthy’s position is already precarious, since any member of the GOP caucus can force a vote on his ouster. Also, there is a practical question: How can McCarthy or anyone else in the House trust anything Santos ever says?

The House Ethics Committee is investigating Santos but usually moves at the speed of molasses in winter. Local and federal prosecutors, meanwhile, are following the money — looking into Santos’s personal and campaign finances — and McCarthy might be waiting to see what those probes unearth before taking any action.

If so, that is a mistake. It is already beyond dispute that injury has been done to the people of New York’s 3rd District, who are denied the representative they voted for. As speaker, McCarthy has a binary choice: Either he moves against Santos in defense of the House’s integrity — or he proves that it has none.

Role Of Government Has Changed And Will Continue To Change – Check Out The Dads Caucus

Heather Cox Richardson

Two relatively small things happened this week that strike me as being important, and I am worried that they, and the larger story they tell, might get lost in the midst of this week’s terrible news. So ignore this at will, and I will put down a marker.

At a press conference on Thursday, Representatives Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Daniel Goldman (D-NY), Andy Kim (D-NJ), Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Colin Allred (D-TX), Mike Levin (D-CA), Josh Harder (D-CA), Raul Ruiz (D-CA), and Senator Rob Menendez (D-NJ) announced they have formed the Congressional Dads Caucus. 

Ironically, the push to create the caucus came from the Republicans’ long fight over electing a House speaker, as Gomez and Castro, for example, were photographed taking care of their small children for days as they waited to vote. That illustration of men having to adjust to a rapidly changing work environment while caring for their kids “brought visibility to the role of working dads across the country, but it also shined a light on the double standard that exists,” Gomez said. “Why am I, a father, getting praised for doing what mothers do every single day, which is care for their children?” 

He explained that caucus “is rooted in a simple idea: Dads need to do our part advancing policies that will make a difference in the lives of so many parents across the country. We’re fighting for a national paid family and medical leave program, affordable and high-quality childcare, and the expanded Child Tax Credit that cut child poverty by nearly half. This is how we set an equitable path forward for the next generation and build a brighter future for our children.”

The new Dads Caucus will work with an already existing caucus of mothers, represented on Thursday by Tlaib.

Two days before, on Tuesday, January 24, the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor released its initial findings from the new National Database of Childcare Prices. The brief “shows that childcare expenses are untenable for families throughout the country and highlights the urgent need for greater federal investments.” 

The findings note that higher childcare costs have a direct impact on maternal employment that continues even after children leave home, and that the U.S. spends significantly less than other high-wage countries on early childcare and education. We rank 35th out of 37 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) made up of high-wage democracies, with the government spending only about 0.3% of gross domestic product (GDP) compared to the OECD average of 0.7%.

These two stories coming at almost the same time struck me as perhaps an important signal. The “Moms in the House” caucus formed in 2019 after a record number of women were elected to Congress, but in the midst of the Trump years they had little opportunity to shift public discussion. This moment, though, feels like a marker in a much larger pattern in the expansion of the role of the government in protecting individuals. 

When the Framers wrote the U.S. Constitution, they had come around to the idea of a centralized government after the weak Articles of Confederation had almost caused the country to crash and burn, but many of them were still concerned that a strong state would crush individuals. So they amended the Constitution immediately with the Bill of Rights, ten amendments that restricted what the government could do. It could not force people to practice a certain religion, restrict what newspapers wrote or people said, stop people from congregating peacefully, and so on. And that was the opening gambit in the attempt to use the United States government to protect individuals.

But by the middle of the nineteenth century, it seemed clear that a government that did nothing but keep its hands to itself had almost failed. It had allowed a small minority to take over the country, threatening to crush individuals entirely by monopolizing the country’s wealth. So, under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, Americans expanded their understanding of what the government should do. Believing it must guarantee all men equal rights before the law and equal access to resources, they added to the Constitution the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, all of which expanded, rather than restricted, government action. 

The crisis of industrialization at the turn of the twentieth century made Americans expand the role of the government yet again. Just making sure that the government protected legal rights and access to resources clearly couldn’t protect individual rights in the United States when the owners of giant corporations had no limits on either their wealth or their treatment of workers. It seemed the government must rein in industrialists, regulating the ways in which they did business, to hold the economic playing field level. Protecting individuals now required an active government, not the small, inactive one the Framers imagined.

In the 1930s, Americans expanded the job of the government once again. Regulating business had not been enough to protect the American people from economic catastrophe, so to combat the Depression, Democrats under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt began to use the government to provide a basic social safety net. 

Although the reality of these expansions has rarely lived up to expectations, the protection of equal rights, a level economic playing field, and a social safety net have become, for most of us, accepted roles for the federal government. 

But all of those changes in the government’s role focused on men who were imagined to be the head of a household, responsible for the women and children in those households. That is, in all the stages of its expansion, the government rested on the expectation that society would continue to be patriarchal.

The successful pieces of Biden’s legislation have echoed that history, building on the pattern that FDR laid down. 

But, in the second half of his Build Back Better plan—the “soft” infrastructure plan that Congress did not pass—Biden also suggested a major shift in our understanding of the role of government. He called for significant investment in childcare and eldercare, early education, training for caregivers, and so on. Investing in these areas puts children and caregivers, rather than male heads of households, at the center of the government’s responsibility.

Calls for the government to address issues of childcare reach back at least to World War II. But Congress, dominated by men, has usually seen childcare not as a societal issue so much as a women’s issue, and as such, has not seen it as an imperative national need. That congressional fathers are adding their voices to the mix suggests a shift in that perception and that another reworking of the role of the government might be underway. 

This particular effort might well not result in anything in the short term—caucuses form at the start of every Congress, and many disappear without a trace—but that some of Congress’s men for the first time ever are organizing to fight for parental needs just as the Department of Labor says childcare costs are “untenable” strikes me as a conjunction worth noting.

Weaponization of Lies to Confuse the Public for Political Purposes

Heather Cox Richardson

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) today asked six former presidents and their vice presidents to look to see if they have any presidential records, including documents marked classified, in their possession. It sent the letters to representatives for former presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan and former vice presidents Mike Pence, Joe Biden, Dick Cheney, Al Gore, and Dan Quayle. It did not make a similar request to former president Jimmy Carter because although he was the one who signed the Presidential Records Act into law, it did not go into effect until he left office.

This request illuminates the crucial importance in our society of disinformation: deliberate lies or misdirection to convince people of things that are not true. 

At this point, documents bearing classification markings have turned up in the possession of Trump, Biden, and Pence. The NARA request suggests the possibility that other high-ranking officials also have documents that they are unaware they hold. Trump and his allies insist that the special counsel investigating him for potential criminal behavior means that he is being treated differently than the others, with the implication that he is being treated unfairly.

But the issue has never been about the documents themselves, although it is a problem that any of the former officials have documents marked classified. The issue was that NARA repeatedly asked Trump to produce documents it knew he had, and that he repeatedly refused even after being subpoenaed. Finally, the Department of Justice felt obliged to get a court order to search his property, and even now his lawyers refuse to sign off on paperwork saying he has turned in all the documents he stole. In contrast, Biden and Pence apparently did not know they had any documents with classified markings, alerted NARA as soon as they realized it, and have cooperated with authorities. 

The cases are not the same.

For a long time now, the right wing has muddied the political waters by creating such confusion over things that should be clear—flooding the zone with sh*t, as Trump advisor Stephen Bannon put it—that people can’t figure out what is really going on. 

An attempt to continue that strategy is what’s behind the House Republicans’ establishment of a select subcommittee on the “weaponization” of the federal government, positioned under the Committee on the Judiciary. The representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has put on that committee are grandstanders, and they have indicated they plan to argue that the Biden administration has politicized the government. Considering the representatives involved, we can expect lots of yelling and sound bites for right-wing media, designed to build the narrative they want their voters to believe.

But the truth is that it was the Trump administration that sought to weaponize the government against their perceived enemies. News broke today that Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, deliberately tried to use the Department of Justice to undermine the officials who had—according to the Justice Department’s own independent inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz—launched the Russia investigation properly and with good reason.  

The story, by Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman, and Katie Benner in the New York Times, also told us more. After the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller detailing contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives came out, Barr consistently spun the information inaccurately to make the best possible case for Trump. He convinced many Americans to think that there was nothing between the Trump campaign and Russia, although in fact Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report that came out afterward concluded the opposite. 

Barr undermined not only the Mueller report but also the inspector general’s report, ignoring its findings and telling the press—inaccurately—that the FBI had opened the Russia investigation on the “thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient,” or “without any basis.” (In fact, the FBI opened the inquiry when an Australian diplomat warned that a member of the Trump campaign had boasted that Russian operatives had “dirt” on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Australia and the United States, along with Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, are part of an intelligence alliance known informally as Five Eyes. It was this information that Horowitz found compelling enough to open an investigation.) 

After the Mueller report’s release, Barr appointed a special counsel, John Durham, to investigate the investigators. Durham used the very tactics of which the Republicans’ accused the Democrats, using bad information to try to get information on a private citizen. But no matter how hard he tried, he did not, in fact, turn up information indicating the investigators had conducted themselves improperly. 

What Durham did find, though, were accusations from Italian officials that Trump himself might have engaged in financial crimes. The accusations were too serious for him and Barr to ignore. Barr authorized Durham’s inquiry to become a criminal inquiry, but here’s the kicker: when news of that new phase became public, Barr sat back as media spun the new criminal inquiry as proof of misbehavior on the part of those who had conducted the Russia inquiry. Trump even told followers that the criminals were former president Barack Obama, former vice president Joe Biden, and leading FBI and intelligence officials. The actual target of the criminal investigation was Trump himself. 

In the end, Durham never found anything to contradict Inspector General Horowitz’s report saying the Russia investigation was begun properly, and the only cases he brought failed. But the cozy relationship between him and Barr violated department policy for special counsels, according to legal analyst Lisa Rubin, as they allegedly discussed the case frequently, including occasionally over drinks. A special counsel is supposed to be independent. 

The New York Times article details how the Trump administration worked overtime to use the apparatus of government to convince the American people that there was nothing to the Russia investigation, although repeated reports said otherwise.

This story seems especially relevant in light of the arrest this week of Charles McGonigal, who was the special agent in charge of counterintelligence in the FBI’s New York Field Office from 2016 to 2018 and, before that, was the section chief of the Cyber-Counterintelligence Coordination Section at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. McGonigal supervised and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs. McGonigal is charged with working for Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin. Deripaska was also a close associate of political operative Paul Manafort, who ran Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. 

In a powerful Twitter thread today, scholar of authoritarianism Timothy Snyder noted that authorities, as well as the American people, have not taken the threat of Russian influence in our politics seriously enough. He pointed out that in 2016, McCarthy himself i said he thought Putin was paying Trump, and now, just after the McGonigal story broke, McCarthy threw Adam Schiff—who was key in chasing down Trump’s machinations over Ukraine—off the House intelligence committee. “Schiff is [an] expert on Russian influence operations,” Snyder wrote. “It exhibits carelessness about national security to exclude him. It is downright suspicious to exclude him now.” 

Meanwhile, newly elected House Republican Cory Mills of Florida, endorsed by Trump, handed out defused grenades today on the floor of the House. Mills is an election denier who boasted on his website that he sold tear gas used on Black Lives Matter protesters. Mills accompanied the grenades with a note suggesting he was sending them because McCarthy has put him on the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees.

But, as with most of the performances coming out of the right wing these days, that explanation seems intended to be misdirection. It’s impossible to ignore the threat wrapped up in handing a colleague a grenade.

Passed in the Michigan Senate

I wanted you to be the first to know. Moments ago, the Senate passed a substantial tax credit increase for working families, taking a huge, historic step towards putting more money in the pockets of Michiganders who need it most.

This increase from 6% to 30% will give an average of $600 more to Michigan’s working families and generate $553 million for small businesses and local economies in rural, suburban, and urban parts of our state.

The last Republican administration made Michigan nearly last in the country. Now, Democrats are moving toward making our state a national leader in creating better opportunities for economic stability across all 83 counties:

Michigan families will have more money to support their local small businesses and increase investments in their communities
Almost half of Michigan children will realize improved outcomes; healthier groceries, better clothes, and newer school supplies will set up our younger generations with a stronger foundation for their future
Local economies will grow as participation in the workforce increases — lifting families out of poverty, creating a more stable and secure future for our residents and economy alike

As inflation increasingly moves essential items like groceries and auto repairs out of reach for too many, it’s more important than ever that we work to make Michigan a better place, especially for those who are struggling. And after nearly four decades of GOP policies that benefited the richest among us, I am honored to pass legislation that actually supports the Michiganders that need help the most.

This is just the beginning of the progress that will be made with our new Majority. From all of us in the Michigan Senate, thank you for electing the first Democratic majority in four decades. We don’t take for granted the trust you have placed in us and will work tirelessly for the people of Michigan.

Thank you,

Senator Kristen McDonald Rivet

The Biden Economic Resurgence With Record Job Growth against Republican Party Obstruction and Implosion

Heather Cox Richardson

Democrats are generally staying out of the way and letting Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the House Republicans make a spectacle of themselves. In order to get the votes to become speaker, McCarthy had to give power to extremists like Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and now has openly brought her on board as a close advisor, making the extremists the face of the new MAGA Republican Party. If McCarthy appears to have abandoned principle for power by catering to the far right, Representative George Santos (R-NY) hasn’t helped: stories of his lies have mounted, and financial filings yesterday suggest quite serious financial improprieties. 

Even the Senate Republicans seem to be keeping their heads down while the House Republicans perform for their base. Demanding big cuts in spending before they agree to raise the debt ceiling has put the House Republicans in a difficult spot. They have been clear that they intend to slash Social Security and Medicare, only to have Trump, who was the one who originally insisted on using the debt ceiling to get concessions out of Democrats, recognize that such cuts are enormously unpopular and say they should not touch Medicare and Social Security. Senate Republicans have said they will stay out of debt ceiling negotiations until the House Republicans come up with a viable plan.

While the House Republicans take up oxygen, the Democrats are highlighting for the American people how, over the past two years, they have carefully and methodically changed U.S. policy to stop the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few. 

In July 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to promote competition in the economy. Since the 1980s, he said, when right-wing legal theorist Robert Bork masterminded a pro-corporate legal revolution against antitrust laws, the government had stopped enforcing laws to prevent giant corporations from concentrating their power. The result had been less growth, weakened investment, fewer small businesses, less bargaining power for workers, and higher prices for consumers. 

“[T]he experiment failed,” he said.

Biden vowed to change the direction of the government’s role in the economy, bringing back competition for small businesses, workers, and consumers. Very deliberately, he reclaimed the country’s long tradition of opposing economic consolidation. Calling out both presidents Roosevelt—Republican Theodore, who oversaw part of the Progressive Era, and Democrat Franklin, who oversaw the New Deal—Biden celebrated their attempt to rein in the power of big business, first by focusing on the abuses of those businesses and then by championing competition. 

The administration put together a whole-of-government approach to restore competition based on the 72 separate actions outlined in Biden’s executive order. A terrific piece today by David Dayen in The American Prospect suggests that the effort has worked. Overall, Dayen concludes, the executive order of July 9, 2021, was “one of the most sweeping changes to domestic policy since FDR.” 

While administrations since Reagan have judged whether consolidation is harmful solely by its effect on consumer prices, the Biden approach also factors in the welfare of workers, including their ability to negotiate higher wages. It has also taken on the sharing of medical patents that have raised costs of drugs and equipment like hearing aids by preventing others from entering the market. It has taken on large businesses’ strangling of start-up competitors simply by buying them out before they take off. And, crucially, it has claimed the ability to review previous mergers that it now deems in violation of antitrust laws, citing the 1911 breakup of Standard Oil. 

Dayen notes that one of the causes for a sharp drop in mergers and acquisitions in the second half of 2022 is that government agencies are willing to enforce antitrust laws. “Just about everything on competition has been hard-fought,” he writes, “[b]ut there’s plenty of evidence of real movement.”

Not only government agencies, but also the Democratic Congress—along with some Republicans—passed a number of laws that have shifted the economic policy of the nation. Biden is fond of saying that he doesn’t believe in trickle-down economics and that he intends to build the economy from the bottom up and the middle out. New numbers suggest the policies of the past two years are doing just that.

The December jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that job growth continues strong. The country added 223,000 jobs in December, and the unemployment rate went down slightly to 3.5 percent. The last two years of job growth are the strongest on record, and the country has recovered all the jobs lost during the pandemic. According to the White House, 10.7 million jobs were created and a record 10.5 million small businesses’ applications were filed in the past two years. 

On Monday the Wall Street Journalreported that median weekly earnings rose 7.4% last year, slightly faster than inflation. For Black Americans employed full time, the median rise was 11.3% over 2021. A median Hispanic or Latino worker’s income saw a 4.8% raise, to $837 a week. Young workers, between 16 and 24, saw their weekly income rise more than 10%. Also seeing close to a 10% weekly rise were those in the bottom tenth of wage earners, those making about $570 a week. The day after the Wall Street Journal’s roundup, Walmart, which employs 1.7 million people in the U.S., announced it would raise its minimum wage to $14 an hour, up from $12.

Democrats promised that the CHIPS and Science Act would bring “good paying” jobs to those without college degrees by investing in high-tech manufacturing. A study by the Brookings Institution out yesterday notes that the act has already attracted multibillion-dollar private investments in New York, Indiana, and Ohio and that two thirds of the jobs they will produce are accessible to those without college degrees. Those jobs do, in fact, pay better than most of those available for those without college degrees, although Brookings urged better investment in training programs to make workers ready for those jobs. 

The Inflation Reduction Act gave Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and capped the cost of insulin for those on Medicare at $35 a month (Republicans blocked an attempt to make that cap available for those not on Medicare). It made hearing aids available over the counter, making them dramatically cheaper, and it also expanded subsidies for the Affordable Care Act. Today the Department of Health and Human Services announced that a record number of Americans enrolled in the ACA in the last open enrollment period: 16.3 million people.

Greg Sargent of the Washington Postnotes that much of the investment from these laws is going to Republican-dominated states even though their Republican lawmakers opposed the laws and voted against them. The clean energy investments of the Inflation Reduction Act are going largely to those states, bringing with them additional private investment. A solar panel factory is expanding into Greene’s own district despite her vocal opposition both to alternative energy and to the Inflation Reduction Act. 

For 40 years the Republican Party offered a vision of America as a land of hyperindividualism, in which any government intervention in the economy was seen hampering the accumulation of wealth and thus as an attack on individual liberty. The government stopped working for ordinary Americans, and perhaps not surprisingly, many of them have stopped supporting it. Biden refused to engage with the Republicans on the terms of their cultural wars and has instead reclaimed the idea that government can actually work for the good of all by keeping the economic playing field level for everyone.

Biden and members of his administration are taking to the road to tout their successes to the country, especially to those places most skeptical of the government. If they can bring the Republican base around to support their economic policies, they will have realigned the nation as profoundly as did FDR and Theodore Roosevelt before them.

Governor Whitmer’s State Of The State Address

LANSING − Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer laid out her vision Wednesday night for how she wants Michigan to look by the time she leaves office: free preschool for all 4-year-olds, gun safety laws on the books, tax cuts for seniors and low-income workers and clear protections for LGBTQ residents.

She detailed the policy priorities in her annual State of the State address, the first of her final term.

Whitmer kicked off her speech by acknowledging the economic toll high inflation and rising costs have imposed on residents in the state. “Michiganders are facing the pinch right now,” she said. “We are all concerned about making sure we live in a safe neighborhood and have jobs and businesses in our towns next year and next decade.”

Her remarks were delivered amid a monumental shift in power in Lansing. This month, Democrats took control of the state Legislature for the first time since 1983, a political transformation in Michigan politics that could give Whitmer a historic opportunity to accomplish her policy goals.

“We spoke with a clear voice in November. We want the ability to raise a family without breaking the bank. We want strong protections for our fundamental rights to vote and control our own bodies,” she said.

But Whitmer doesn’t see a clear mandate in the results of the most recent election, citing Democrats’ narrow two-seat majorities in the state House and Senate. The governor said she wants to work with Republicans, placing a premium on building as much bipartisan support as she can for her policy goals. Voters want leaders who “work across the aisle to solve problems and deliver on the issues that make a real difference in our lives,” Whitmer said.

A few of her lines drew applause from both sides of the aisle.

Before the speech, House and Senate Republican leaders said they wanted to hear the governor commit to sweeping tax relief for older Michiganders and pledge to not touch a state income tax rollback that could be triggered by the state’s massive budget surplus. As the GOP continues to find its footing in the minority, they hope procedural tools and persuasive arguments help them maintain a modicum of the power they commanded during their last decade in control in Lansing.

After the speech, the GOP leaders said they were frustrated with the governor’s refusal to specifically mention tax breaks for all seniors and her focus on what they deemed “divisive” issues, like gun safety laws and civil rights protections for the LGBTQ community.

“These are divisive policies. We want to start out working together, let’s focus on things where there’s agreement. There can be agreement on growing our economy, on bringing supply chains back from overseas, on increasing talent in our state, and on tackling workforce housing,” said House Minority Leader Matt Hall, R-Richland Township.

“Let’s focus there, and let’s start moving in a direction together, rather than focusing on divisive policies that are going to divide the state.”

House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit, said he expects tax relief will garner bipartisan support. “I’m encouraged that Republicans have a similar plan that Democrats have in terms of tax relief.”

In her speech, Whitmer reiterated her long-standing call to roll back the so-called retirement tax that ended exemptions for income from pensions and urge lawmakers to expand Michigan’s state Earned Income Tax Credit, a tax benefit for low-income workers that is currently one of the least generous in the country.

Lawmakers from both parties have also put forward legislation to increase the state Earned Income Tax Credit from 6% to 20% of the federal credit as proposed in House bills and 30% in a Senate plan. Before the speech, Republican leaders noted some Democratic plans would phase in tax credits over a number of years, or not take effect immediately.

During the Gov. Rick Snyder administration, Republican lawmakers cut the EITC and eliminated tax exemptions for pension income, changes Whitmer has repeatedly pledged to reverse. 

“In 2011, seniors and hardworking families had the rug ripped out from under them when the retirement tax was enacted and the Working Families Tax Credit was gutted,” she said, referring to Michigan’s EITC. “It was wrong. Now, we can make it right.”

Both Democratic and Republican bills introduced in the current session propose some form of tax relief for older Michiganders, with Democratic proposals focused primarily on tax exemptions for pensions and a GOP plan that would allow a broader set of seniors to deduct income from any source from their tax bill.

Changes to how retirees are taxed will save half a million households an average of $1,000 a year while expanding the state’s EITC will provide on average at least $3,000 refunds to 700,000 families and impact nearly 1 million children, Whitmer said.

Document Differences & Continued House Chaos As McCarthy Try’s To Maintain Power

Heather Cox Richardson

The fact that former vice president Mike Pence’s lawyer disclosed on January 18, 2023, that Pence also had documents with classified markings at his Indiana home should tell us a couple of things.

First, the discovery suggests that it is apparently not uncommon for officials to find such documents among their papers, although the level of classification clearly matters. There have been complaints for a long time that people overuse classification in general at the lower levels. We do not know the level of classification of the documents found at the Biden and Pence residences, but it is possible to imagine lower-level documents slipped in among their papers when they were packed up to move from one office to another.

Indeed, former National Security Agency top lawyer Glenn Gerstell told Dustin Volz and Warren P. Strobel of the Wall Street Journal that problems arise when officials move in and out of office. “At the end of an administration there is obviously a desire, and a requirement, by the outgoing administration to remain active until the last minute,” he said. “You’re almost asking for trouble.”

Second, it highlights the difference between officials like Biden and Pence who inadvertently find such documents among their other papers and alert the National Archives and Research Administration (NARA), and those who stonewall NARA and the FBI, as Trump did. This distinction is really the crux of the difference between Biden and Pence, on the one hand, and Trump, on the other. 

On January 18, Pence’s lawyer Greg Jacob wrote to the acting director of NARA that “a small number of documents bearing classified markings…were inadvertently boxed and transported to the personal home of the former Vice President at the end of the last Administration. Vice President Pence was unaware of the existence of sensitive or classified documents at his personal residence…and stands ready and willing to cooperate fully with the National Archives and any appropriate inquiry.” 

The letter says that, after hearing about the discovery of documents marked classified in Biden’s possession, Pence, “out of an abundance of caution,” hired lawyers with experience in handling classified documents to look through records stored in his home. When they turned up such documents, they locked them up “pending further direction on proper handling from the National Archives.” 

The letter ended: “Vice President Pence has directed his representatives to work with the National Archives to ensure their prompt and secure return. Vice President Pence appreciates the good work of the staff at the National Archives and trusts they will provide proper counsel in response to this letter.”

Law professor and legal commentator Ryan Goodman tweeted: “This is how you keep your client out of jail.” He added: “Like the known facts in Biden case, the strong contrast with Trump’s conduct shows why Trump is in so much legal jeopardy and stands to be indicted.”

Today, Judge Robert McBurney, who oversaw the grand jury investigating Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential vote in Georgia, heard arguments about whether to release the grand jury’s report. Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis urged McBurney not to release the report, for which many media outlets have been clamoring. “In this case, the state understands the media’s inquiry and the world’s interest. But we have to be mindful of protecting future defendants’ rights,” Willis said. She went on to say that decisions about charging individuals in that case are “imminent.” 

That is, Willis signaled that her office is likely to indict certain people, and she worries that releasing the report will taint the trials. 

Also today, Representative George Santos (R-NY) revised his financial reports to say that a $500,000 loan to his campaign did not, in fact, come from his personal funds. Nor did a $125,000 loan that had also previously been attributed to him, according to the new filings. But while that new paperwork said Santos did not, in fact, put up the money, it didn’t say where the funds did come from. 

Santos’s troubles are pulling in Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the powerful lawmaker who backed Santos during the campaign. Donors told Pamela Brown and Gregory Krieg of CNN that they supported the unknown Santos because of Stefanik’s endorsement and now feel betrayed. Santos’s extraordinary lies taint the Republicans as a whole in New York, while the conference’s determination to stand behind him to keep his vote in House speaker Kevin McCarthy’s weak majority ties the party to power rather than principle. 

That drive for power is behind the so-called weaponization committee, put together by McCarthy to fulfill a promise to the right-wing extremists whose votes he needed to become speaker. This committee is the new House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, placed with the Judiciary Committee, and Jim Jordan (R-OH) will chair it. Yesterday in The Bulwark, Jill Lawrence explained that the true goal of the committee is “shoveling paranoia and distortion into the news stream” to make right-wing voters distrust the government even more than they already do. David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Florida who left the party in 2018, told Lawrence: “It’s a drug they’re going to put out on the street for conservative media and conservative voters.” 

McCarthy released the names of the Republican committee members today. There was such interest from Republicans in participating that McCarthy has expanded the original fifteen members of the committee. So far, he has named 12 Republicans. Led by Jordan, they are dominated by extremists and seem likely to try mostly to get airtime on right-wing media, just as Lawrence and Jolly say.

McCarthy fulfilled another promise to the extremists today when he refused to seat Democratic representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA) on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, saying that he appreciated the loyalty of House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) to his colleagues and continuing, “But I cannot put partisan loyalty ahead of national security, and I cannot simply recognize years of service as the sole criteria for membership on this essential committee. Integrity matters more.”

Because the Intelligence Committee is a select committee, McCarthy has the power to reject members. But this is a breach indeed. He wrote to Jeffries that, in his opinion, the use of the Intelligence Committee in the previous two congresses had made the nation “less safe.” 

Under Schiff, who was chair in those congresses, the committee exposed that then-president Trump had withheld aid to Ukraine in order to pressure Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to work with Trump to undermine then-candidate Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential run. Schiff then led the House’s impeachment case in the Senate trial.

During those impeachment hearings, Republicans tried to get Swalwell kicked off the committee after news broke that an accused foreign agent had raised money for his campaign in 2014 and put an intern in his House office. She had targeted a number of rising politicians but did not, apparently, do anything illegal or gain access to any classified information.

When informed by the FBI of concerns about the agent, Swalwell immediately cut ties with her and worked with the FBI. An FBI official said Swalwell was “completely cooperative” and “under no suspicion of wrongdoing.” To justify getting rid of Swalwell, McCarthy fell back on what he said was classified information the FBI had shared in a briefing, although other Republican colleagues who had been briefed at the time expressed no concerns then or later, and McCarthy did not express concerns about the other politicians the agent had targeted. 

McCarthy apparently promised to go after Schiff and Swalwell as payback for the removal from all committee assignments—by bipartisan votes—of Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) after it turned out she had endorsed violence against Democratic leaders, and of Paul Gosar (R-AZ) after he published an animated video showing himself attacking Biden and killing Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). 

Finally, another mass shooting on Monday took seven more lives. So far, 2023 is at an all-time high for mass shootings at this point in the calendar. California has been particularly hard hit in the past weeks, and today its governor, Gavin Newsom, called out Republicans for standing in the way of gun safety.