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Biden asks, “What are Republicans for?”
January 20, 2022
[Audio version here.]
President Biden held a two-hour news conference on Wednesday—the first anniversary of his inauguration. It was a challenging outing because he is fighting stiff headwinds as he finishes a year that was a tremendous success by any measure. The press did not care about his accomplishments and spent their time asking “gotcha” questions and tossing insults in the form of thinly disguised questions. It was a pathetic performance by the media that deserves no further mention.
If you would like to review the accomplishments listed by Biden in his remarks, the White House website lists those impressive accomplishments, which include 200 million vaccinated Americans, 6 million new jobs, the largest drop in unemployment ever, the lowest child poverty rate ever, passage of the American Rescue Plan and the Infrastructure Bill, and confirmation of more judges in his first year than any president since John F. Kennedy. That’s a lot—and exceeds the record of any president in the last half-century.
Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post has provided an objective summary of the press conference that focuses on the substance of Biden’s comments rather than the melodrama of the media’s effort to force Biden to utter clickable soundbites. See Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post, “The media wants to paint Joe Biden as a failure. He won’t let that happen.” The lengthy news conference was remarkable because Biden accepted responsibility for some of the unmet expectations of his first year in office. He acknowledged that it was his obligation to “get out into the community [and] connect with people more,” saying that his failure to do so was a problem of “my own making.” The ability to admit mistakes and accept responsibility is a sign of leadership and moral courage sorely lacking among most politicians.
Biden also made some news during the press conference. He said that the social programs included in the Build Back Better bill would likely be broken into smaller bills (“big chunks”) and reintroduced in the future. (Those bills will be subject to the filibuster.) He acknowledged that Russia would likely invade Ukraine but would pay a “serious and dear price” if it did. On that topic, he stumbled, saying that a “minor incursion” might not draw a rebuke and that a cyberterrorist attack might not draw a full-scale response. The White House later walked back those comments.
Biden also made news in his change in tone regarding Republican obstructionism. After admitting that he was surprised that his “Republican friends” were so “stalwart” in their efforts to block anything that might make him look good. Biden then turned to Republicans asking,
What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they’re for.
The answer to Biden’s rhetorical question is, “Nothing.” We should expect Biden to repeat that refrain in 2022 and that Republicans will respond with lies. It is our job to expose those lies for what they are by citing the facts of what Republicans have done, have failed to do, and are doing to undermine democracy. Biden can’t do it by himself, no matter how many community meetings he holds. To the extent that Democrats must change their messaging, it is a collective obligation. Let’s do our part and remind voters early and often that Republicans stand for “Nothing”—or worse. As to the “or worse” part, read below about the dark moves by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
A spate of bad news for Trump on the legal front.
For those frustrated that Trump always seems to wriggle free of accountability for his actions, Wednesday was a good day for those who hope for justice-—and a bad day for Trump.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court issued an 8-1 order denying Trump’s last-ditch effort to prevent the National Archives from providing the House Select Committee with Trump’s communications on January 6th. The order is here: Trump v. Thompson. Although Trump’s application raised a host of potentially complicated legal issues, the Court essentially said that Trump’s assertion of executive privilege was so flimsy and scattershot, he would have lost under any plausible legal theory. The National Archives has already begun to forward documents to the House Select Committee. The ruling will also likely affect the assertion of executive privilege by Mark Meadows, Steve Bannon, John Eastman, Rudy Giuliani, and others.
New York Attorney General Letitia James revealed in a court filing that she has uncovered evidence of widespread fraud at the Trump Organization. See NYTimes, “N.Y. Attorney General Outlines Pattern of Possible Fraud at Trump Business.” The investigation, being run by Attorney General James, is civil in nature, although she is sharing information with the Manhattan District Attorney, who is conducting a criminal investigation into the same matters. Eric Trump asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination more than 500 times in a deposition in the civil investigation. James is now attempting to compel testimony from Trump, Don Jr., and Ivanka. Eric Trump appears to have reasonable grounds to fear criminal prosecution; read paragraphs 39-40 of the filing linked above. The evidence in the court filing seems specific enough and serious enough to justify the indictment of some members of the Trump Organization.
Finally, the effort to bring Merrick Garland’s attention to the criminal conspiracy of the “fake electors” is gaining momentum. During his press conference, President Biden mentioned the issue, a statement that surely reached Garland’s ear. Democrats must not relent on this issue. As Philip Rotner explains in his most recent article in The Bulwark, this issue has strong parallels to Nixon’s Watergate scandal. A crime seemingly committed by perpetrators removed from Trump will likely lead directly to the Oval Office. As Rotner notes, the 59 Republicans who signed the fake election certificates are people with jobs and families who may have believed (wrongly) that their actions were innocent and would be pardoned by Trump. Rotner notes that if those 59 individuals were called before grand juries, the likelihood that one of them would flip on Meadows, Trump, or anyone else who directed the conspiracy is high. Rotner concludes,
[W]hat started as a politically impeccable investigation of a mundane crime committed by nondescript individuals—like the investigation of the five Watergate burglars—could bring down the whole edifice.
It would be poetic justice if Trump’s effort to recruit others to commit a crime on his behalf was the act that finally brings him to account before the bar of justice. That day may finally be drawing nearer.
Governor Ron DeSantis moves toward an authoritarian regime in Florida.
Ron DeSantis has used his position as Florida Governor as a platform to “out-Trump Trump.” He may have finally exceeded Trump’s depravity by proposing a special “election police force” that reports only to him and has the power to arrest and incarcerate citizens. See Paul Waldman’s discussion of these developments in The Washington Post, “Ron DeSantis creates a paradise of authoritarianism in Florida.” DeSantis has asked for $6 million to fund an “Office of Election Crimes and Security” with 52 officers. DeSantis swears on his honor that he will not direct the officers as to which non-existent crimes they should investigate. Of course, we have no reason to believe a single word DeSantis says since he is a major proponent of The Big Lie.
The existence of voter fraud in Florida is essentially zero, so the proposed election police can only be viewed as a naked threat intended to intimidate law-abiding citizens exercising their right to vote. And the notion that the election police would report directly to DeSantis has dark parallels in private security forces utilized by dictators and strongmen in the last century—arrangements that resulted in thuggery, violence, and intimidation of political opponents. What could go wrong here? Everything! Ron DeSantis is headed down a dark path—and Republican voters love it. DeSantis is currently ranked second in polling for the 2024 Republican nomination. Let’s hope that voters in Florida stop DeSantis’s bid for re-election in 2022 and remove some of the sheen from the Republican “golden boy.”
During the time that I have been writing this evening’s edition of the newsletter, efforts to create a carve-out from the filibuster for voting reform failed on the Senate floor. Senators Manchin and Sinema joined 50 Republican Senators to block efforts to ensure fairness and access in federal elections. Although this failure has threatened the rights of millions of Americans, the arcane rules of the Senate have been protected from democracy. It is a bitter disappointment, but Democratic leadership is already talking about renewing the fight. Good. We should support them every step of the way. Most importantly, we must ensure that every Democrat elected to the Senate henceforth will vow to abolish the filibuster in its entirety. Until that happens, it will be the weapon of choice among those who seek to suppress the will of the people.
But even on this dark day, there is reason for hope. Last week, the Ohio Supreme Court overturned a congressional districting map created by the Ohio legislature, which is controlled by Republicans. See MSN, “Ohio Supreme Court rejects GOP-drawn congressional map as unfairly partisan.” The victory came in two lawsuits filed by organizations that seek to protect voting rights. The first suit was filed by Marc Elias’s law firm, in conjunction with Democracy Docket. The second suit was filed by the League of Women Voters of Ohio. Both of those organizations deserve our thanks and support for bringing lawsuits that protect voting rights where state legislatures engage in gerrymandering.
Democracy Docket has a newsletter that can keep you informed of legal challenges to gerrymandering. Subscribing to the newsletter is a good way to keep abreast of developments in the area—and to learn of victories real-time. And litigation is expensive. Consider supporting the work of Democracy Docket and the League of Women Voters.
Legal challenges will not overcome all efforts at voter suppression by Republicans. But every victory is important, bringing us one step closer to equal rights under the law and proportionate representation in Congress. Efforts to reform the filibuster suffered a temporary setback today, but the victory in Ohio is proof that we have other paths to success. Of course, voter suppression can always be overcome by voter turnout—which can be increased through hard work. We can do that. We did it in 2018 and 2020. Let’s do it again!
Talk to you tomorrow!