Today’s Edition: Nine months of silence.
October 7, 2021
On Tuesday of this week, President Biden hinted that he would consider carving out the debt ceiling from the filibuster. Less than twenty-four hours later, Mitch McConnell offered Democrats a deal for a temporary increase in the debt ceiling. In making his offer, McConnell said that the extension was intended to give Democrats sufficient time to increase the debt ceiling using a “stand-alone” reconciliation vote (not subject to the filibuster). Democrats quickly indicated a willingness to accept McConnell’s offer. Details are being refined as I write this newsletter, so it is not clear whether Democrats are committing themselves to using reconciliation, or whether they are preserving the option of creating an exception to the filibuster. Either way, it was a humiliating retreat for McConnell. See Talking Points Memo, “Abject Fold.”
As explained in yesterday's newsletter, Republicans are attempting to force Democrats to use reconciliation because that process requires the debt ceiling to be increased by a specific amount. That specific amount will be used as fodder for Republican attack ads in 2022. And as explained in yesterday’s newsletter, using reconciliation to raise the debt ceiling will not preclude Democrats from using reconciliation to pass Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.
Avoiding default is the right result. Let’s hope that Democrats draw the right lesson from McConnell’s collapse: When Democrats present a united front, he surrenders. If Joe Manchin wants his Freedom to Vote Act to pass, he needs to stop ruling out modification of the filibuster—as he did again, inexplicably, at the very moment McConnell was retreating on the debt ceiling.
None of these developments change the fact that the Republicans continue to use the threat of a default by the U.S. to gain partisan advantage. Their conduct is reprehensible and reckless. Democrats should be running ads now highlighting the fact that Republicans are resorting to economic terrorism directed at the financial well-being of hardworking Americans. The Democrats need some good public relations help. Any volunteers?
Bernie Sanders says what every Democrat is thinking about Manchin and Sinema.
Over the weekend, President Biden privately lamented to House Democrats that he had to deal with Manchin and Sinema “a lot.” On Wednesday, Senator Bernie Sanders called a press conference to complain that Manchin and Sinema were engaging in unfair negotiating tactics. Sanders said,
The time is long overdue for [Manchin] to tell us with specificity — not generalities; we're beyond generalities . . . what he wants and what he does not want and explain that to the people of West Virginia. Sen. Sinema’s position is that she does not negotiate publicly. I don’t know what that means. . . . Don’t know where she’s coming from. Tell us what you want.
After being challenged for his failure to offer specifics, Manchin released a statement saying that he wants a “compassionate, rewarding society”—a statement so general as to be meaningless. Sanders later responded to that statement on The Rachel Maddow Show, asking whether a “compassionate, rewarding society” includes caring for 600,000 homeless, providing dental care to seniors, and free education to community college students seeking the skills to fill jobs that cannot find qualified applicants. Let’s hope that Senator Manchin is chastened. At the very least, he has likely learned that it is a fool’s errand to debate Bernie Sanders about social justice. Let’s hope that Senator Sanders keeps up the pressure on Manchin and Sinema.
Nine months have lapsed since January 6th insurrection. Where is the Merrick Garland?
After readers told me, “Enough!”, I stopped my daily ranting about the failure of the DOJ to prosecute Trump, Giuliani, and other leaders of the January 6th insurrection. Alumni of the DOJ assured me that the radio silence from the DOJ was proof that Merrick Garland is serious about prosecuting Trump. I dearly hope those alumni are right. But with each passing month of silence, I fear they are wrong.
Nine months have lapsed since the January 6th insurrection. The Guardian is reporting that a criminal probe by the Georgia District Attorney for Fulton County into Trump’s vote tampering is still active. The Georgia A.G. is cooperating with the House Select Committee investigating the events of January 6th. See The Guardian, “Criminal inquiry into Trump’s Georgia election interference gathers steam.” The article mentions that the FBI is conducting interviews regarding death threats against state election officials but makes no mention of the FBI conducting interviews about Trump’s attempted interference in the Georgia presidential election results. Nor is there any indication in the media that either the FBI or the DOJ is investigating Trump’s involvement in the January 6th insurrection.
The continued silence is ominous. Trump attempted a coup, and the DOJ appears to be doing nothing. Attorney General Merrick Garland said last week that the storming of the Capitol was a “heinous event, which almost interfered with the cornerstone of our democracy, which is the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another. . . . We have taken actions commensurate with how important this act was.”
(The quote comes from the National Law Journal, behind a paywall. I can’t link to it.)
Note that Merrick Garland speaks in the past tense: “We have taken actions.” But to date, the DOJ has primarily prosecuted insurrectionists for “parading on Capitol grounds” without a permit. One insurrectionist who posted a video saying that “We broke into the Capitol to find Nancy and shoot her in the friggin’ brain” was charged with a single misdemeanor count for “uttering loud or abusive language” to “disrupt the orderly conduct of Congress.”
If Merrick Garland believes that the above charges are “commensurate” with the “heinous event” on January 6th, he doesn’t know the meaning of the word “heinous.”
Beginning with Robert Kagan’s op-ed in WaPo, “Our constitutional crisis is already here,” media commentators have increasingly suggested that it may already be too late to prevent a coup in 2024. Kagan closes his essay with the following question:
One wonders whether modern American politicians, in either party, have it in them to make such bold moves, whether they have the insight to see where events are going and the courage to do whatever is necessary to save the democratic system.
Here’s a suggestion for a “bold move” to save our democracy: Issue federal indictments against Trump for inciting insurrection and interfering in Georgia’s electoral count. And let’s not forget that South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham asked the Georgia Secretary of State whether it was possible “to toss all mail ballots in [Georgia] counties found to have higher rates of nonmatching signatures.” If appropriate, the DOJ should investigate and/or indict Senator Graham, Rudy Giuliani, attorney John Eastman, the House members who gave guided tours to insurrectionists, and the Arizona legislators who surrendered possession of federal ballots to private contractors in violation of federal law. In other words, bring the full force of the U.S. criminal system to bear on everyone who facilitated the attempted coup in 2020 or who violated state and federal election laws to assist that effort.
Merrick Garland can prosecute hundreds of insurrectionists for “parading without a permit” and it will do nothing to protect our democracy from a repeat of the “heinous event” of January 6th. But a handful of strategic indictments against the leaders of the insurrection and those who interfered with state election counts will be a powerful deterrent to wannabe coup plotters.
It is time for Merrick Garland to make himself heard. Otherwise, his silence is sending a powerful message—but not the one he wants.
Response to Facebook whistleblower testimony.
I am still sifting through reader suggestions for sources about Facebook’s pernicious practices and efforts to combat the corrosive effect of Facebook in our daily lives. I will report on those suggestions in the coming days. To start, I want to recommend the “Center for Humane Technology.” The Center provides terrific resources for parents and educators to help teenagers be intelligent users of social media. Indeed, the training “modules” are helpful background for everyone. The Center’s website includes the award-winning documentary, “The Social Dilemma,” which is free on YouTube until October 31st. I urge you to spend ten minutes exploring the Center’s website. You will be impressed and motivated to learn more about the influence of social media in our lives. And you may be surprised to learn that in the world of social media, you are the product that is being sold.
Federal Judge Robert Pitman (Western District of Texas) granted a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of the Texas anti-abortion statute, S.B. 8. The order is here, United States of America v. Texas. There is much to digest in the opinion, but for the moment, let’s take a look at Judge Pitman’s rebuke of the U.S. Supreme Court and Texas. The state requested that Judge Pitman stay enforcement of his order so that Texas could appeal the injunction. Pitman rejected the request for the stay, stating:
The State has forfeited the right to any such accommodation by pursuing an unprecedented and aggressive scheme to deprive its citizens of a significant and well-established constitutional right. From the moment S.B.8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution. That other courts may find a way to avoid this conclusion is theirs to decide; this Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.
Judge Pitman has taken a courageous and principled stand. Let’s hope that his action will shame other courts into doing the right thing.
Talk to you tomorrow!
Postscript: The KNP Complex fire is slowly moving up the Mineral King Valley. Cooler weather and the possibility of rain later in the week may slow the fire’s progress, but it will likely burn until the first snow of the season. The fire remains about 1.5 miles from our mountain community.