“Look! There goes Elvis!”
September 28 ,2023
There is an old joke about shouting, “Look! There goes Elvis!” to distract attention from an unfolding crisis. If Nero had known about the Elvis Gambit when Rome was burning, he might have said, “Look! There goes Cato!” House Republicans used their version of the gambit on Thursday as they careened toward a shutdown forced on us by “twenty-five GOP weirdos.” To distract attention from their utter inability to perform their most basic function, House Republicans began an “impeachment inquiry” into Joe Biden’s hypothetical corruption that exists only in the alternate universe where “lizard people” rule the world. (The “lizard people conspiracy” is believed by millions of Americans and has been embraced by violent QAnon adherents.)
I do not mean to make a joke out of a serious situation, but the first session of the impeachment inquiry was a joke. The GOP’s main witness, Fox commentator and erstwhile law professor Jonathan Turley, told the House Oversight Committee that
I do not believe that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment . . . . Whether [Biden] encouraged it [corruption] we simply don’t know and we don’t even know if this was an illusion or not.
You do not need to be a top trial lawyer to know that it is a lousy strategy to call as your first witness someone who destroys your case. Generally, you allow your opponent the privilege of doing so. But when you have no case, your choices are limited: Call a Fox-friendly law professor who still lives on Earth 1.0 and who will admit there is no basis for impeachment, or call a lizard person to explain that in the alternate MAGA universe, the absence of proof is a sure sign of a massive cover-up. After today’s hearing, Oversight Committee Chair James Comer may be thinking seriously about calling a lizard person as his next witness.
In candor, I borrowed the notion of the “distraction gambit” from Dennis Aftergut’s article in Salon, James Comer brings the MAGA circus to town: What the House GOP witness list says about impeachment. Aftergut writes,
It's all about distraction.
"Don't look over there, where a New York judge just ruled that the Trump Organization is liable for fraud," says the carnival barker. "Looky here, we've got some right-wing opinion bloviators coming to testify against Joe Biden."
"They can speculate about why there might be evidence somewhere down the line. But finding it? That's not their department."
Aftergut wrote his piece before the hearing, so he gets an A+ for calling it in advance.
At this point, you have to wonder why Republicans continue holding hearings that are face-plant failures of epic proportions. The failures were so spectacular that even Steve Bannon mocked the committee’s choice of Turley as an opening witness. See Bannon mocks House GOP over impeachment inquiry witness selection | The Hill. A Fox News anchor wondered aloud, “What was accomplished over the last six hours of hearings,” saying, “Today we just got a lot more smoke.”
The hearing was shameful on many levels, including fabricated evidence by Republicans that “cut and pasted” portions of text messages to make new, different messages that were never sent. At one point, Democrat Greg Casar (TX) asked Republicans to agree—by a show of hands—that they are committed to holding both Hunter Biden and Donald Trump to account if they are convicted in their criminal trials. No Republicans raised their hands.
But the most shameful fact is this: The impeachment inquiry took time away from the urgent need to keep the government operating after September 30. If a shutdown occurs, millions of government workers will be furloughed and not receive pay. But the staff of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees will continue to work on the sham impeachment because Republicans have declared their staff members to be “essential workers.” That is an insult to every federal worker serving the public who will be locked out of work because of the dereliction and dysfunction of House Republicans.
Indeed, late Thursday evening—as the stench of the sham proceedings still wafted through the Capitol—Speaker McCarthy again failed to advance a spending bill necessary to keep the government operating. See Politico, House GOP's spending gambit flops. And, per Politico, as of Thursday evening, McCarthy did not have the votes to pass a doomed-to-fail-in-the-Senate continuing resolution to keep the government open.
President Biden delivers speech on defending democracy.
President Biden traveled to the McCain Institute and Library in Arizona on Thursday to deliver the first of four speeches on the importance of defending democracy. The official version of the President’s remarks are here: Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by President Joe Biden on Democracy in Tempe, AZ | The White House.
President Biden sharpened his message regarding the threat posed by MAGA extremism:
[T]here is something dangerous happening in America. There is an extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs of our democracy. The MAGA Movement.
Not every Republican—not even the majority of Republicans—adhere to the extremist MAGA ideology. I know because I’ve been able to work with Republicans my whole career. But there is no question that today’s Republican Party is driven and intimidated by MAGA extremists. Their extreme agenda, if carried out, would fundamentally alter the institutions of American Democracy as we know it.”
As I’ve said before, we’re at an inflection point in our history – one of those moments that only happens once every few generations. Where the decisions we make today will determine the course of this country—and the world—for decades to come.
So, you, me, and every American who is committed to preserving our democracy carry a special responsibility. We have to stand up for America’s values embodied in our Declaration of Independence because we know MAGA extremists have already proven they won’t. We have to stand up for our Constitution and the institutions of democracy because MAGA extremists have made clear they won’t. History is watching. The world is watching. Most important, our children and grandchildren are watching.
A video of Biden’s full remarks is here: President Biden Delivers Remarks Honoring the Legacy of Senator John McCain - YouTube.
Biden has made similar remarks in the past, so he did not break new ground on Thursday. But his renewed emphasis on defending democracy comes when Trump is increasing the frequency and gravity of his attacks on democracy and the rule of law—including his threats on the life of General Milley and the operations of NBC and MSNBC. Trump's most recent assaults on democracy cannot go unanswered, and Biden rose to the occasion on Thursday.
The plan is for Biden to make similar speeches across the nation to broaden the conversation away for the economy. At the same time, Biden’s campaign released a new television ad that attacks Trump's record on workers’ rights in Michigan. The ad concludes with the tagline, “Joe Biden doesn’t just talk. He delivers.”
The speech in Arizona and the campaign ad in Michigan target swing states more than a year before Election Day 2024. Democrats should take heart and confidence from these new efforts. It is time for Biden to become more aggressive and proactive at the very moment that Trump's legal jeopardy and electoral weakness are increasing. Read on!
New York action against Trump for fraud.
Trump sought an order from the appellate division in the New York Supreme Court to remove Justice Engoron from the case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James against Trump and his business organizations. Although the appellate division issued an initial stay of trial in the matter, the appeals court lifted the stay on Thursday. As a result, the remaining issues in the case will proceed to a bench trial on Monday of next week.
Attorney General Letitia James plans to call twenty-eight witnesses in the trial that begins Monday, including Donald Trump, Don Jr., Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, Alan Weisselberg, Trump's accountant from Mazars USA, Michael Cohen, and dozens of former Trump Organization executives. Much of the remaining proceeding will be devoted to establishing damages, but there are substantive charges that are unresolved, including a “conspiracy to defraud” count.
Trump claims he will testify in the proceeding instead of invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination as he did in his deposition in the case.
No matter what the polls say, none of this is good for Trump. The cumulative burden of Trump's legal proceedings is causing persuadable independents to reconsider their past support for Trump. In an evenly divided electorate, a loss of support among independents will be fatal to Trump's political prospects. As always, we can’t rely on Republicans to defeat themselves, but as Simon Rosenberg frequently says, “We would much rather be us than them.”
Trump decides not to seek removal of the Georgia case to federal court.
On Thursday, Trump decided not to file a petition to remove the Georgia criminal case to federal court. See The Hill, Trump won’t try to move Georgia charges to federal court. This is a positive development on several fronts:
· First, the trial and pre-trial proceedings will be televised.
· Second, D.A. Fani Willis can proceed to trial against Trump without fear that the state criminal trial will inadvertently result in dismissal of charges against Trump under the Constitution’s ‘double jeopardy” clause. (This is an esoteric but important point. See Joyce Vance’s explanation, here).
· Third, the jury pool is less likely to draw MAGA extremists (although there are no guarantees that such extremists will not make it on the jury in Fulton County).
The media gives Trump a pass (again).
Trump appeared in Michigan this week in an appearance billed as a speech to striking auto workers. The media dutifully reported that storyline even though there was little evidence that striking autoworkers were in the crowd at the non-union plant where Trump appeared at the invitation of management of the plant.
Many outlets noted that they had difficulty identifying striking autoworkers in the crowd. But diligent reporting by local outlets raises a strong inference that the Trump campaign brought in shills to fill the audience for Trump's speech. Those shills were not striking auto workers—or even autoworkers, for that matter. See Josh Marshall in Talking Points Memo, who raises the question of whether there has been a “news blackout” on the presence of phony striking auto workers at the Trump event. See Talking Points Memo, A Blackout on The Phony “Union Members” At Trump’s Event?
Per Talking Points Memo,
[I]t seems like a lot of the “union members” and “auto workers” there were phonies. While the Detroit News reported on it, the fact doesn’t seem to have seeped into any of the coverage from the big agenda setting outlets like Axios, Politico, the Post or the Times. Weird!
[Per the Detroit News], [o]ne individual in the crowd who held a sign that said “union members for Trump,” acknowledged that she wasn’t a union member when approached by a Detroit News reporter after the event. Another person with a sign that read “auto workers for Trump” said he wasn’t an auto worker when asked for an interview. Both people didn’t provide their names.
See also New York Magazine, The Media Falls for Trump’s Labor Lies:
[S]kepticism should have informed press coverage of Trump’s Michigan speech. . . . This shouldn’t be difficult, and yet the press struggles. . . . [A] paper or news channel can find it difficult to cover Trump “without sounding like a shrill, dull, Democratic propaganda outlet.” Therefore, the media “comports itself as an amnesiac, or an abusive household committed to keeping up appearances, losing itself in the old routines, in an effortful approximation of normality until it almost forgets what it doesn’t want to know.”
The media’s lack of curiosity about the apparent sham “striking auto workers” at the Trump event is egregious. One day earlier, Biden made history by joining a UAW picket line. Trump's fake event was treated as a false equivalency. It was not. It was a made for media event that allowed lazy journalists to produce copy or gather video that made it seem like Trump ran a competing “striking auto worker event” the next day.
As Josh Marshall notes, imagine the outrage and non-stop coverage if Biden used play-actors to fill the audience in his appearances. The shock, indignation, and pearl-clutching by journalists would be insufferable. But Trump fills his crowd with hired audience members to pose as striking auto workers and the media shrugs its shoulders and says, “Meh.”
The double standard is so blatant it hurts to watch. What are these “respected” journalists thinking when they treat Trump as a legitimate candidate rather than as a coup-plotting conman, fascist, sexual predator, fraudster, and defense secrets thief? Why did the press give Trump a “pass” on this story?
Apple Podcast of BigTentUSA event.
Simon Rosenberg and I spoke at a BigTentUSA event on Wednesday evening of this week. Our remarks and answers to questions are available on Apple Podcasts, BigTent Podcast: Simon Rosenberg and Robert Hubbell.
Thanks to BigTentUSA for inviting me to speak and for the great work it is doing to help defend democracy!
A quick survey.
My part-time staff member who is urging me to be more proactive has suggested that I post my newsletter to other social media platforms to make it easier for readers to share. If you frequently share the newsletter, can you take this short survey? (Also, thanks for sharing the newsletter!)
I admit it. I have fallen victim to the media’s narrative that “Joe Biden is old.” In what way, you ask? Whenever Joe Biden gives a major speech, I sit on the edge of my seat, hoping he doesn’t make a gaffe that will fuel the false media narrative. Note to self: Knock it off!
Joe Biden’s speech in Arizona puts the lie (again) to the notion he is “too old.” Check out the video of the speech and ask yourself how Joe did compared to how you might have done under similar circumstances. Biden got off to a slow start (he usually does), but several minutes in, his humanity, humor, and decency shine through. And something that we should never forget is that Joe Biden has a stutter. Not “He used to have a stutter.” He still does. (There is no “cure” for stuttering.) In every speech Biden gives, he controls his stuttering by force of will and discipline, an achievement that the media neither recognizes nor considers in its coverage of his speeches.
More to the point, Biden’s speech was dignified, appropriate, and genuine. Did he read from a teleprompter? Yes. Was his delivery robotic and uncomprehending as is Trump's delivery when he reads from a teleprompter? No!
Part of the anxiety in watching Joe Biden is that I want so much for him to succeed and to prove his naysayers wrong that I create unnecessary worry about his performance. The people who want to slander Joe Biden will not be dissuaded no matter how many outstanding speeches he gives, so let’s stop worrying about Biden’s performance. Every word he utters is recorded and repeated, so he will make mistakes. The same is true of Trump. It will even out over the long run.
So, my resolution for today is to be comfortable with the fact that Joe Biden is a normal, decent human who will make mistakes—like every other human on earth. But he is a great president—an accomplishment only a few humans have ever achieved! We cannot lose sight of that fact because of the media’s lazy obsession with Joe Biden’s age.
I will be in touch tomorrow!
Usage note: I used the past tense verb “careened” instead of “careered” because I have given up explaining the difference to readers who correct my correct usage of the verb “to career.” (Originally, “careen” meant to lay a ship on its side for repairs, and “career” referred to short bursts of speed by knights in jousting tournaments.) But language changes, and “careen” is now commonly used in American English to mean “to move at top speed in a reckless manner.” So, I surrender in my effort to maintain a distinction that has disappeared through usage. In American English, the verbs “career” and “careen” now mean the same thing (although this Google NGram suggests that “to career” is still used more frequently than “to careen”). So, take your pick, but don’t pick on people who use “career” to refer to “moving at top speed in a reckless manner!”