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No one is in charge of House GOP
September 18, 2023
There was no good news out of the House over the weekend regarding progress toward passing a budget. Indeed, in a sign of how dysfunctional the House GOP caucus is at this point, two dead-end proposals are being floated to jump-start the process. One proposal was drafted without involvement from Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and the second proposal involves McCarthy trying to ram a bill down the throat of the GOP caucus as he dares them to remove him from the Chair.
The first proposal is for a thirty-day “continuing resolution” drafted by “representatives” of the various factions in the GOP. It has no guarantee of passage in the House but is guaranteed to fail in the Senate if it makes it that far. The resolution would keep the government open for thirty days but require an 8% cut in spending levels for all agencies except Defense and Veterans Administration. See Washington Post, House Republicans strike deal on short-term funding, but Senate likely to reject. (Accessible to all.) The notion that the Democratic-controlled Senate would agree to an 8% cut in all spending except for Defense and VA is a fantasy.
The second “proposal” was made by Kevin McCarthy on Fox News on Sunday. He said he would bring the Defense spending bill to the floor for a vote. The move is a “put up or shut up” dare by McCarthy to the reactionary elements of his caucus who are threatening a motion to “vacate the chair.” See NYTimes, McCarthy to Push Pentagon Measure in Effort to Break G.O.P. Spending Impasse. (Accessible to all.) As explained by the Times,
Speaker Kevin McCarthy said on Sunday that he intended to resurrect a stalled Pentagon spending measure and try to push it to the House floor this week despite pledges by members of the far-right Freedom Caucus to oppose the move unless their sweeping demands on spending were met.
His decision, announced on Fox News, was a bid to pressure far-right members to drop their insistence on steeper spending cuts or risk political heat for blocking the Pentagon funding bill. The move would be a major test for the ultraconservative Republicans who are using the threat of a government shutdown at the end of the month to press their spending goals . . . .
It is unusual for the Speaker to negotiate with his caucus on live TV by threatening them with a “take-it-or-leave-it” deal. And it is uncommon for the rank-and-file to hold a press conference to announce a “deal” on a continuing resolution to break a budget impasse. In short, no one is in charge of the GOP caucus at this moment. Let’s hope that the grownups in the room take charge—soon.
Texas Senate acquits Attorney General Paxton
In a disgraceful and corrupt verdict, the Texas Senate acquitted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on charges of abuse of office. Paxton was credibly accused of using his office to provide favorable outcomes for a major campaign donor/real estate developer. The impeachment in the Texas House was a strong bipartisan show of support for the rule of law— 121-23 in favor of impeachment (including 60 Republicans voting in favor of impeachment). That brief fling with the rule of law by Texas Republicans died a quick death in the Texas Senate.
The acquittal in the Texas Senate followed party lines—Republicans voting against impeachment with Democrats voting in favor. Why the switch by Republicans? There are two primary reasons: Money and political revenge.
The state’s Lieutenant Governor—Dan Patrick—presided over the Senate trial. As Paxton sensed his growing exposure to impeachment, his PACs “loaned” $2 million and donated $1 million to the campaign of Lieutenant Governor Patrick—who is not up for election for another three years. That move is similar to a criminal defendant “loaning” $2 million and “donating” $1 million to the reelection campaign of the judge presiding over his criminal trial—even though the judge is not up for reelection for another three years. In other words, it stinks. See Austin American Statesman, Editorial: Paxton is acquitted — and Texans, government are the losers. (Unfortunately, this article has disappeared behind a paywall after I first read it.)
Per the Austin American Statesman,
While Patrick was blasting the House [for impeaching Paxton], he never mentioned that he and Paxton remain interconnected financially by a series of political donations and loans tied to Paxton's political future.
That includes a $2 million loan Patrick's campaign received from a pro-Paxton political action committee. The PAC separately gave Patrick's campaign a $1 million donation, though Patrick is not up for reelection for three more years and already sits on a $22 million campaign war chest.
The acquittal sends a harsh message to whistleblowers. Members of Paxton’s office reported his political corruption to the FBI. Some of those whistleblowers have lost their jobs for doing the right thing.
Lt. Governor Patrick consistently ruled in favor of Paxton during the Senate trial—no surprise there! See Salon, Dan Patrick rules in favor of suspended Texas AG Ken Paxton in first major move of impeachment trial.
In helping to assure an acquittal for Paxton, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick was able to “stick it to” his chief political rival in the Texas GOP, the speaker of the Texas House, Dade Phelan. The Wall Street Journal editorial board explained Dan Patrick’s motivation in its editorial, Why Ken Paxton was Acquitted. (This article is accessible to all.)
The WSJ editorial board wrote,
What really happened Saturday is that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who runs the state Senate, chose to rescue Mr. Paxton in a rebuke to his rival, House Speaker Dade Phelan. All politics is very local here.
We wrote at the beginning of the Senate trial that Mr. Patrick looked like he might examine the evidence with an open mind. He had kept quiet during the House debate. But we were wrong. It’s now obvious the fix was in from the start and that Mr. Patrick lobbied his fellow GOP Senators to unite against the House articles of impeachment.
The real losers are the citizens of Texas, who will continue to have an Attorney General under federal indictment for securities fraud since 2015 and whose trial will be scheduled at a hearing in October.
We should acknowledge the role of dark-money PACs who owe their power and influence to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United—courtesy of John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Sam Alito, Anthony Kennedy (retired), and Antonin Scalia (deceased). The obscene $3 million transaction between Ken Paxton’s PAC and the official who would preside over his trial—Dan Patrick—was funded by anonymous donors protected by Citizens United. That anonymity grants dark money donors great power in the absence of accountability. Overruling Citizens United should be among the first tasks of a newly expanded Supreme Court.
NBC’s Meet the Press interviews Donald Trump.
NBC committed journalistic malpractice by interviewing Donald Trump on its “Meet the Press.” Trump railroaded interviewer Kristen Welker by interrupting her hundreds of times during the interview. She was back on her heels most of the interview, telling Trump, “There are so many topics to cover, we have to move on,” “I am not the one being interviewed here,” and “That is false.” It was good that Welker at least stood up to Trump's lies by saying “That is false” a dozen times, but she did not challenge Trump with the details because she appeared unprepared to do so.
As a result, the 1-hour-forty-minute interview was dominated by Trump's claims that the election was rigged, that Joe Biden is corrupt, that he did everything perfectly on January 6th, on the call with Brad Raffensperger, and the call with Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
A transcript of the interview is here: Full transcript: Read Kristen Welker's interview with Trump.
NBC should not have given a platform to Trump even though he is running for president. He attempted a coup, incited an insurrection, retained defense secrets, and obstructed justice. He should be treated as the aspiring dictator and criminal that he is, rather than treated with kid gloves in an interview that begins with the following question:
Why do you want to be president again?
What?!#% You have got to be kidding me! How about asking why he attempted a coup and insurrection to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, rather than presuming he is a legitimate candidate for president. (He is not.) But the second question was almost as bad as the first:
Hunter Biden, was indicted by a federal grand jury on three gun charges. Given that, Mr. President, can you continue to say that there are two systems of justice?
Wait! Kirsten Welker is one of the first real journalists to interview Trump after he attempted a coup and insurrection, and the second question is about Hunter Biden?!
Surely Welker would use her third question to ask about the insurrection and coup, no? No! She asked,
Let’s move on to what a second Trump term would look like.
Argh!! Welker finally got around to the insurrection and coup in a roundabout way later in the interview, but only after a ten-minute diatribe by Trump about the rigged election. Welker asked if Trump disagreed with Cassidy Hutchinson, whether he watched the Capitol assault on television, and why he did not call out the National Guard earlier. But those questions nibbled at the margins of the elephant in the room: “Why did you attempt to overturn the 2020 election?” That question went un-asked.
Trump refused to answer any questions about his actions (or inaction) on January 6 but did say he would consider pardoning the Proud Boys and other January 6 defendants. In one of the few direct answers he gave to Welker, he said “That’s false” when asked if he asked employees to delete surveillance tapes at Mar-a-Lago.
Welker tried to pin Trump down on policy issues but was unsuccessful. See Vox, Trump’s interview on Meet the Press shows few solid policy plans.
In Sunday’s interview with Kristen Welker, Trump went with his classic playbook of vague answers and conspiracy theories.
Welker’s interview attempted to corral Trump on serious policy issues — an essentially impossible task despite her efforts to keep him on topic.
Here’s the major takeaway: NBC was unable to force Trump to engage on the substance—a scenario that NBC anticipated. In exchange, it granted Trump a solid 40 minutes of airtime to spread lies about the 2020 election, January 6, and Joe Biden. Kristen Welker (and her staff) were underprepared, given what they knew about Trump's style of rapid-fire lies. Saying, “That’s false” is ineffective, especially when Trump retorts, “No, it’s true.”
So, did NBC educate the voters about Trump's positions? No. Did it confront him about his criminal conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election? No. Instead, it gave him free airtime worth tens of millions of dollars.
Opportunity for Reader Engagement.
I will be joining Melissa Walker of The States Project at an event this coming Thursday. Here are the details:
Mark your calendars: September 21 at 7:30 PM EDT! Please join me in an illuminating Zoom conversation with Melissa Walker, the Director of Giving Circles for The States Project (TSP). Melissa and I will discuss the political landscape in America and TSP's successes and upcoming challenges in holding and flipping state legislatures. Join us to learn how to elect more Democrats to state legislatures to enact progressive laws on choice, guns, voting, LGBTQ rights, and education. This event is hosted by the TSP Giving Circle “Fighting for Justice in the States.”
Just click here to join the discussion: The States Project Zoom meeting.
The acquittal of Ken Paxton by the Texas Senate is a travesty. Based on emails and postings in the Comment section from readers in Texas, it appears that they are feeling beleaguered and forgotten—at least some of them. That feeling is understandable. Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature and all statewide executive offices. But it would take flipping only ten seats in the Texas House (out of 150) for Democrats to gain control. Is that goal achievable in 2024? Consider this:
In 2024, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump will be on the ballot in Texas—as will be the criminalization of reproductive liberty in Texas, which has enacted one of the most restrictive and punitive sets of laws in the nation. In 2022, there were a dozen state House districts where Greg Abbott and Beto O’Rourke were separated by a single-digit margin of victory. Flipping ten seats will be difficult—but not impossible. And that is the mission of The States Project—"winning governing majorities in the states by making state legislative campaigns more effective and better-funded.” We must fund candidates for seats that are within reach. We won’t win them all—at least not all at once. But if we pick up a handful of seats in the Texas House in 2024, that would provide hope and momentum to complete the task in 2026.
The point is that faithful Democrats are holding down the fort in Texas, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and other red states—despite gerrymandering and hostile courts. They deserve our attention and support. If you are involved in work to register Democrats, get out the vote, or fund elections in states in which you do not live—thank you! You are investing your time and resources in a strategic way that will help Democrats build a permanent governing majority at the state and national level. Keep up the good work!!
Talk to you tomorrow!