A choice Republicans will regret.
October 26, 2023
As I begin to write the newsletter on Wednesday evening, reports of another mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, are streaming across the airwaves. This uniquely American phenomenon of mass killings that occur with sickening regularity must stop. It is on the ballot in 2024, 2026, 2028—and forever thereafter. It is on the Supreme Court’s docket this term. It is on the PTA agenda of every primary school in America. It is on the minds of every high school parent, teacher, student, and staff. It is a lurking concern of every employer and employee in every workplace in our nation.
One man. One gun. Sixteen dead (at least) and sixty injured in an hour. The Framers could not conceive of such violence and did not intend to enshrine the right to possess weapons of mass murder in our nation’s founding charter—notwithstanding the grotesque intellectual contortions and bad faith arguments of Justice Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
We must pursue every legal path to ban weapons of war in the hands of citizens. Impose civil liability on manufacturers. Ban assault rifles and every clever modification by merchants of death to circumvent those bans. Expand the Supreme Court to reclaim the original intent of the Second Amendment. Pass federal legislation. Amend the Constitution. No effort is in vain. We owe it to every victim of every mass shooting, domestic violence, robbery, gang murder, suicide, and accidental shooting. Enough is enough.
House Republicans collapse.
House Republicans elected MAGA extremist Mike Johnson from Louisiana as the Speaker of the House. The election of Johnson represents a collapse and surrender of the several dozen remaining non-MAGA extremists to the minority MAGA fringe of their party. It is a debacle for the tattered remnants of the GOP, a fact confirmed by the crowing of Matt Gaetz, who conflates winning a brawl and governing a nation. Gaetz said,
MAGA is ascendant and if you don’t think that moving from Kevin McCarthy to MAGA Mike Johnson shows the ascendance of this movement, and where the power of the Republican Party truly lies, then you’re not paying attention.
Matt Gaetz is correct that the “power of the Republican Party” lies in the MAGA extreme, but he couldn’t be more wrong in claiming that “MAGA is ascendant.” The extremist views of Mike Johnson, Matt Gaetz, and Marjorie Taylor Greene are badly out of step with the views of the strong majority of Americans.
Republicans could not have chosen a worse emissary of the GOP message heading into the 2024 elections (except for the reviled Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene). As soon as Mike Johnson was elected, his extremist views came into sharp focus. See Talking Points Memo, Best Way To Make Someone’s Quiet Extremism Widely Known? Elect Them Speaker.
As explained in TPM, Johnson has been a key player in a far-right Christian organization (The Alliance Defending Freedom) that was behind Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health (overturning Roe v. Wade) and 303 Creative (legalizing discrimination against LGBTQ people). Per TPM:
The newly elected Speaker of the House once worked as an attorney for a far-right Christian legal group whose work you are almost certainly familiar with. The Alliance Defending Freedom — where Johnson was once an attorney and a spokesperson — is the group behind many of the most recent legal attacks on reproductive rights and the LGBTQ community.
Most recently, the group represented the plaintiff in 303 Creative v. Elenis, in which the Supreme Court sided with the plaintiff arguing the First Amendment allows businesses to discriminate for religious reasons if the business offers “expressive” services. ADF was also part of the team defending Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban before the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case where the Supreme Court ultimately overturned Roe v. Wade.
Johnson has published editorials that claim homosexuality is “inherently unnatural” and a “dangerous lifestyle” that would lead to legalized pedophilia and possibly even destroy “the entire democratic system.” He favors the imposition of a nationwide ban on the reproductive liberty of women. Johnson was the leader in drafting a brief asking the Supreme Court to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The brief is here: Texas v. Pennsylvania | Amicus Brief of 126 Members of House of Representatives.
Republicans have made a grievous mistake in electing Mike Johnson, who is already being batted around by Matt Gaetz and other extremists who are claiming that Johnson made “doomed-to-fail” deals in order to become Speaker.
For example, Matt Gaetz claimed that Johnson won’t propose a continuing resolution because “It’s not part of the plan,” even though Johnson sent a “Dear Colleague” letter that presupposes a continuing resolution by the end of November. Gaetz also claims that Johnson will not advance a bill funding Ukraine’s defense. (The substance of the prior sentences is derived from Punch Bowl News, which is behind a paywall.)
Republicans elected Johnson because they were exhausted and because his record was below the radar. In a few hours on Wednesday evening, it became clear that Johnson will be an albatross around the neck of every vulnerable Republican in districts won by Joe Biden in 2020.
NY Judge fines Trump $10,000 for violating gag order.
Judge Arthur Engoron fined Donald Trump $10,000 after Trump made a statement about the Judge’s clerk while on a break from the NY civil fraud trial. See The Guardian, Judge fines Trump $10,000 for violating gag order and says he is ‘not credible’ as witness | Donald Trump.
This judge is a very partisan judge, with a person who is very partisan sitting alongside him – perhaps even much more partisan than he is.
Judge Engoron’s clerk sits next to the Judge in the courtroom. Judge Engoron previously issued a gag order prohibiting Trump from making comments about court personnel. The judge ordered Trump to take the witness stand to explain his comment. Trump claimed he was not speaking about the Judge’s clerk but was instead attacking Michael Cohen.
Judge Engoron found that Trump's testimony was “not credible” and issued $10,000 in sanctions.
Trump is an expert at skirting the system by using ambiguous language to threaten witnesses, prosecutors, and judges. Judge Engoron called his bluff. Engoron previously told Trump that future violations could include severe sanctions, including “possibly imprisoning” Trump. We can only hope.
Trump is unraveling. He will not make it through a federal criminal trial without being jailed for violating the conditions of his release. Read on!
Jack Smith asks Judge Chutkan to clarify that Trump can be detained if he violates the federal gag order.
On Wednesday, special counsel Jack Smith asked Judge Chutkan to modify the conditions of Trump's release to clarify that violating the gag order in the DC federal prosecution could result in “an order of detention.” See Memorandum in Opposition | United States v. Trump (at page 31, citation to 18 U.S.C. § 3148).
Jack Smith’s request to modify the gag order was motivated by Trump's attack on Mark Meadows after ABC News reported that Meadows had been granted limited immunity by Jack Smith and had testified before a grand jury. Smith asked Judge Chutkan to reimpose the gag order that she stayed temporarily to allow Trump to file an appeal. Trump used that brief stay to attack Mark Meadows and Judge Engoron’s clerk.
It is difficult to see how Judge Chutkan can refuse Jack Smith’s request.
The walls are closing in on Trump.
Israel’s war against Hamas.
President Biden gave a joint press conference with Prime Minister Albanese of Australia on Wednesday. Biden’s lengthy remarks offer an insight into the complexity of the situation in the Middle East. They also demonstrate Biden’s command of a wide range of facts and his effort to recognize the needs of both Israelis and Palestinians. Skeptics of President Biden’s effort to consider the needs of Palestinians should read his remarks.
Anyone who doubts Biden’s competency and expertise should read the entire set of remarks from the press conference. I did. And I am more impressed than ever with Biden. See Remarks by President Biden and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia in Joint Press Conference | The White House.
More on Justice Thomas’s scandals.
The New York Times reported in August that Justice Thomas purchased a luxury recreational vehicle with a “loan” from a wealthy friend. Justice Thomas never reported the loan on his financial disclosures and the lender (Anthony Welters) said that the loan was “satisfied.” Keen observers noted that “satisfying” a loan is not necessarily the same thing as “repaying” the loan.
The Senate Finance Committee investigated the loan and has concluded that there is no evidence that Justice Thomas repaid the loan. See Business Insider, Clarence Thomas never paid back a $267,230 loan from a rich friend used to buy a luxury RV, Senate committee finds.
Per Business Insider,
Documents reviewed by the committee included a handwritten note from 2008 in which Welters told Thomas he would no longer seek further payments on the loan. The committee said the note also said Thomas had only made interest payments on the loan.
The evidence suggests that a wealthy friend of Justice Thomas forgave a $267,000 loan, and Thomas failed to report that gift on his financial disclosure forms. This is merely the latest development in an unfolding scandal involving Justice Thomas. Meanwhile, Chief Justice Roberts does nothing.
Several readers have forwarded articles that claim President Biden’s strong support of Israel will alienate young Black voters and other activists within the Democratic Party and, therefore, cost him the election in 2024. It is undoubtedly true that Biden’s support for Israel may alienate some voters. It is also undoubtedly true that Biden would alienate other voters if he failed to support Israel. So, noting that Biden’s stance on Israel may affect his support among voters is to state a truism.
The inevitability of affecting support among some voters does not mean that Biden shouldn’t care about those voters. He should. He and his advisors should make efforts to reach out to communities who feel alienated by his support for Israel. I think many of those voters would be surprised by Biden’s strong statements in support of Palestinians in his press conference with Australian Prime Minister Albanese on Wednesday.
Biden is in an impossible situation. So, what should he do? He should do what he believes is in the best interests of the US without regard to the effect on his personal political prospects. We should expect nothing less from President Biden—or any other president. Such selflessness is the mark of a true leader—and an attribute that will, over time and on average, result in the broadest support for a leader.
If we can’t win with a president willing to put country before self, we don’t deserve to win. Have faith, do not panic in this moment of crisis, and continue to do everything possible to explain to others that Joe Biden is the best person for the job, even when he pursues policies rejected by some portion of the electorate.
Talk to you tomorrow!