Does Josh Hawley Want to Be the New Trump?

Yesterday when the news broke that Sen. Hawley plans to contest the Electoral College vote on January 6, I fired off an email to him to explain what I thought of him. Hawley’s plan is, of course, an exercise in grandstanding and attention-seeking. More than one commenter today expects Hawley to try for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. I guess he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the base.

Hawley is a hot shot with boundless ambition in spite of being short of serious accomplishment in political office. He does have a serious resume — “He graduated from Stanford University in 2002 and Yale Law School in 2006. He has clerked for Chief Justice John Roberts; he taught at one of London’s elite private schools, St. Paul’s; and he served as an appellate litigator at one of the world’s biggest law firms,” it says here. In 2011 he became an associate professor at the University of Missouri law school. But as an elected official he hasn’t done much.

In 2016 he won election to be the Missouri attorney general. During his campaign against Democratic incumbent Teresa Hensley it was apparent there was some disagreement about what attorneys general do.

Democrat Teresa Hensley says the attorney general is the state’s top prosecutor, and for people to hold that office they must have courtroom experience.

“I’ve practiced law for 25 years, including 10 as a county prosecutor,” Hensley said. “My opponent is a young man who has never represented a client in a Missouri courtroom. He’s never practiced law in Missouri or stood in front a judge in Missouri. He’s not qualified for this job.”

Republican Josh Hawley says the main function of the attorney general’s office is to defend Missourians from an overreaching government and uphold criminal convictions won by local prosecutors that are on appeal.  …

… Hawley says Missouri’s economy is “being stifled and strangled by over regulation,” and he vows to use the office to “fight back against Washington dysfunction and bureaucratic overreach.”  …

… But Hensley says her opponent has made it clear he’ll use the office to advance an “extreme political agenda” instead of “protecting the people of Missouri from those who would pollute our air and water. From those who would commit consumer fraud. From predatory lenders.”

Hensley was right. Hawley served as state attorney general for only two years before running against Claire McCaskill for U.S. Senate in 2018. He didn’t exactly light the firmament on fire as an AG. The New York Times, October 2018:

A former law professor and clerk for Chief Justice John Roberts, he brought a conservative intellectual pedigree but little management experience to the attorney general’s office, where his campaign says he has gained “a reputation for taking on the big and the powerful.”

But a review of public records and internal documents, as well as interviews with current and former employees, reveals a chaotic tenure as attorney general that has been costly for state taxpayers. Judges have criticized the office over its slow pace of discovery, and Mr. Hawley’s staff had to renege on a settlement in a high-profile civil case.

Mr. Hawley also quietly closed the environmental division and failed to fully vet one of his top supervisors, who departed after a female attorney in the office complained about his conduct. And his deputies took an unusual approach in an investigation of the governor’s office, largely acceding to demands to limit interviews of the governor’s staff to 15 minutes, internal records obtained by The New York Times show.

You’ll remember Eric Greitens, the gun-totin’ Republican Missouri governor who was forced to resign in his first term because of campaign finance issues. Hawley eventually moved against Greitens when it became clear protecting Greitens was getting in the way of his Senate run.

Hawley also got caught using a state vehicle and driver for personal use, such as attending Kansas City Chiefs games. State auditor Nicole Galloway found that Hawley wasted a lot of state money for political and personal purposes, actually. When Galloway ran for governor this year, Hawley got back at her by leveling completely bogus charges against her.

It’s also the case that Hawley sold his home in Missouri in 2019. He doesn’t own a home in the state any more. He uses his sister’s address as his voter’s address, even though he lives full time in Virginia. Figure that one out.

So now Hawley is a U.S. senator, and the question is, does he have the chops to put on the mantle of Trump? Hawley is not the bomastic, over-the-top type that Trump is. Hawley’s thing is more of an affected folksiness. So I don’t think he can pull it off. But lord help us if he does pull it off, because like Trump, he is greedily ambitious and doesn’t let morality and ethics and good of nation stuff get in the way. And unlike Trump, he’s smart.

Peter Wehner writes at The Atlantic:

What is happening in the GOP is that figures such as Hawley, along with many of his Senate and House colleagues, and important Republican players, including the former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, are all trying to position themselves as the heirs of Trump. None of them possesses the same sociopathic qualities as Trump, and their efforts will be less impulsive and presumably less clownish, more calculated and probably less conspiracy-minded. It may be that not all of them support Hawley’s stunt; perhaps some are even embarrassed by it. But these figures are seismographers; they are determined to act in ways that win the approval of the Republican Party’s base. And this goes to the heart of the danger.

The problem with the Republican “establishment” and with elected officials such as Josh Hawley is not that they are crazy, or that they don’t know any better; it is that they are cowards, and that they are weak. They are far more ambitious than they are principled, and they are willing to damage American politics and society rather than be criticized by their own tribe.

Paul Waldman:

But for Hawley, the doomed fight is the point, not the outcome. “Somebody has to stand up here,” he said in an appearance on Fox News. “You’ve got 74 million Americans who feel disenfranchised, who feel like their vote doesn’t matter.”

But this isn’t disenfranchisement. It’s called losing. The votes of Trump supporters mattered; it was just that there were fewer of them than votes for Joe Biden. That’s what happens in an election: One side loses, and if it was your side, it doesn’t mean you got cheated. It just means you lost.

But those voters “deserve to be heard,” Hawley says, as though the problem they have had is an insufficient opportunity to air their deranged conspiracy theories. Never have a group of people so ear-splittingly loud spent so long complaining that they’re being silenced.

No one seriously denies that the Republican base has utterly lost its mind; the only question is how shamelessly GOP politicians will pander to that lunacy. For Hawley, the limit has not yet been reached.

It remains to be seen if Hawley knows any limits where his own self-interest is concerned.

Josh Hawley

Making Them Own It

Mitch McConnell may eventually kill the $2,000 direct payment, but at the moment he’s about as close to being outmaneuvered as he has been for a long time.

Mike DeBonis and Tony Romm at WaPo:

The shifting Senate winds come a day after the House passed a bill to increase stimulus checks with a bipartisan 275-to-134 vote. That proposal, called the Caring for Americans with Supplemental Help (Cash) Act, aims to boost the $600 payments authorized in the massive year-end spending-and-relief package that Trump signed Sunday by another $1,400 and expand eligibility for them.

McConnell initially blocked consideration of the House bill. But now some Senate Republicans are deserting ship to support the bill, including David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, for some reason (/sarcasm).

McConnell instead took note of Trump’s Sunday statement that called for not only larger checks but also new curbs on large tech companies and an investigation into the November election, and he suggested they would be dealt with in tandem. That tech provision is commonly referred to as “Section 230.”

“Those are the three important subjects the president has linked together,” he said. “This week the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus.”

Trump is still throwing fits to get people bigger checks and to end tech liability protection.

“Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP,” Trump wrote. “$600 IS NOT ENOUGH! Also, get rid of Section 230 – Don’t let Big Tech steal our Country, and don’t let the Democrats steal the Presidential Election. Get tough!”

I still am not sure what Trump thinks ending the tech liability protection provision will accomplish, although if it makes Facebook and YouTube and Whatever Social Media Company more careful about what they allow to be published, that might be a good thing.

After McConnell spoke Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) made a request to take up the House-passed bill.

“There’s a major difference in saying you support $2,000 checks and fighting to put them into law,” he said. “The House bill is the only way to deliver these stimulus checks before the end of session. Will Senate Republicans stand against the House of Representatives, the Democratic majority in the Senate and the president of their own party to prevent these $2,000 checks from going out the door?”

Well, look at you, Chuck, getting all confrontational.

Let us also pause to give credit to Bernie Sanders for leading the Senate Democratic charge.

Sanders, with support from the Senate Democratic caucus, plans to use a series of procedural moves to delay a vote on a bipartisan defense authorization bill. These maneuvers can’t prevent the defense bill from becoming law, but that’s not really the point. The bill is considered a must-pass, and Sanders’s objections can delay passage, annoy Senate Republicans, and potentially force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to raise a series of objections that could damage his party’s ability to hold onto its Senate majority.

And Sanders also has a clear demand: He will lift his objections to an immediate vote on the defense bill if McConnell permits a vote on legislation providing $2,000 checks to Americans earning less than $75,000 a year.

Of course there’s a lot else to criticize about the relief bill than the size of the direct payments, but it’s not often that Mitch and the Republican Party get snagged in the boy parts this tightly.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined from left by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, dismisses the impeachment process against President Donald Trump saying, “I’m not an impartial juror. This is a political process,” as he meets with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Trump’s Next-to-Last Hurrah?

Trump signed the omnibus/relief bill and then released a statement calling for changes to the bill. Please, somebody send him that Schoolhouse Rock video.

According to Mike Allen at Axios, SecTres Mnuchin and House Republican Leader McCarthy got Trump to cave with a combination of flattery and empty promises. I take it that when Trump signed the bill, he believed Senate Republicans would go ahead and pass the $2,000 benefit and eliminate the tech liability protection I wrote about a couple of days ago.  I will be very surprised if Senate Republicans even bother to go through the motions. At this point, they’re probably about as ready to get rid of Trump as are the rest of us.

Today House Democrats are planning to vote to override Trump’s veto of the annual defense bill and pass a stand-alone $2,000 benefit bill. The latter probably will be blocked again. I expect the override to pass and the Senate to support it also, but we’ll see.

Paul Waldman offers a recap of Trump’s latest episode:

Cementing his status as quite possibly the worst deal-maker ever to sit in the Oval Office, President Trump once again created a crisis, made some impulsive demands, then backed down at the last minute without actually obtaining anything other than some increased suffering for millions of Americans.

If there is a silver lining to any of this, Waldman continues, it’s that it shows us how weak Trump has become and how easy it will be for Congress, and the rest of us, to ignore him. I don’t believe there’s any critical legislation left for him to sign, which means not even Senate Republicans need him for anything any more. They might even prefer that he stay away from Georgia, although today Rupert Murcoch’s New York Post is telling Trump to give up on overturning the election to focus on Georgia.

Back to Waldman:

According to various reports, Trump’s aides and members of Congress finally persuaded him to sign the bill by managing him like an angry toddler, letting his tantrum run its course. One of the ways they seem to have done so is by fooling him into thinking that he possesses something like a line-item veto. They unearthed a process known as “rescission,” which hasn’t been used in decades but gives the president the ability to request that individual spending items be rescinded.

So in Trump’s statement, he proclaimed that the bill included “wasteful” spending, and “I will send back to Congress a redlined version, item by item, accompanied by the formal rescission request to Congress insisting that those funds be removed from the bill.” It was an attempted assertion of strength — but a completely hollow one, since even if the White House gets around to making the request (and I’m betting it won’t), Congress can ignore it. Which it will.

Through all those weeks of negotiation, I take it that everyone in Congress, of both parties, assumed that Steve Mnuchin was speaking for Trump and keeping Trump apprised of developments. Mnuchin may very well have attempted to keep Trump informed and may very well have believed Trump would sign whatever was passed. It’s clear Trump has been so obsessed with overturning the election he wasn’t paying much attention to the omnibus bill until it was plopped in front of him to sign.

At The Week, Joel Mathis writes that Trump has learned nothing. “It is remarkable that he spent four years in the White House without showing any real growth in his ability to get stuff done,” Mathis says. A big part of Trump’s problem is that he has no patience or appreciation of process. All along he has treated the details of policy making as irrelevant. He wants to rule by edict, like a king — declare what he wants done and let the little people figure out how to do it — but Washington doesn’t work that way.

Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer at Politico:

THAT’S IT? President DONALD TRUMP made all this noise about the Covid relief and government funding bill only to sign it and get nothing in return?

TRUMP got taken to the cleaners.

WHAT A BIZARRE, embarrassing episode for the president. He opposed a bill his administration negotiated. He had no discernible strategy and no hand to play — and it showed. He folded, and got nothing besides a few days of attention and chaos. People waiting for aid got a few days of frightening uncertainty.

ZIP. ZERO. ZILCH. If he was going to give up this easy, he should’ve just kept quiet and signed the bill. It would’ve been less embarrassing.

Trump’s last hurrah will be on January 6, when we will hopefully see his last attempt to overturn the election fizzle out.

David Horsey, Seattle Times

There Is No Endgame.

At WaPo: Mass confusion over Trump’s endgame as Washington barrels toward shutdown, economic crisis.

A large spending bill that Congress passed last week must be signed into law by midnight on Monday in order to prevent many federal agencies from dramatically scaling back their operations. After Congress passed the bill, Trump posted a video on Twitter announcing his objections to it, claiming stimulus benefits were too small and that foreign aid was too excessive.

Since he posted the video on Dec. 22, White House aides have not offered any public briefings on Trump’s strategy or plans. Instead, Trump has issued a series of tweets reiterating his demand for changes but not saying much more. Vice president Mike Pence is in Vail, Colo. and has also been out of sight in recent days.

The consequences of inaction are immense.

Well, yeah. Immense and ruinous for everybody. See Countdown to shutdown: Here’s what happens if Trump doesn’t enact the stimulus law by midnight Monday. It’s bad. Back to the earlier WaPo article:

The White House has provided virtually no information about what its plans are to head off the potential economic calamity of a shutdown and the failure of the relief effort. A White House spokesman declined to comment when asked about the president’s intentions. Negotiations between congressional leaders and the White House appear to be at a complete standstill, and a back-up plan had not yet materialized as of Sunday afternoon.

All kinds of people, especially Republicans, in Washington are baffled over Trump’s inaction. Nobody does this.

“Everybody in the White House is trying to figure out what’s in Trump’s head, if this is a bluff or if he’s going to carry this out. He’s been confronted with all the facts and evidence,” said one person briefed by several White House officials over the weekend, speaking on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal discussions. “Nobody knows what Trump is going to do. It’s a bizarre situation.”

By all accounts, Trump is still primarily obsessed with overturning the election he’s lost several times already. And I would say there’s no point expecting Trump to be rational. He’s like an abusive man. Abusers have to be in control, and when control is taken away from them — when the victim tries to leave — they become more dangerous.

“The statistics are that women in abusive relationships are about 500 many times more at risk when they leave,” said Wendy Mahoney, executive director for the Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Domestic violence is all about power and control, and when a woman leaves, a man has lost his power and control.”

Trump hit the jackpot of all big, shiny toys — he got to be president! — and now it’s being taken away from him, and he can’t deal. He can’t deal with losing the election. He can’t face the loss of status and power. He doesn’t understand why other people with power — senators, governors, Supreme Court justices — aren’t helping him keep what he wants. And if he can’t have what he wants, he’s going to hurt as many people as he can hurt while he can, before power is taken away from him. Nobody burns bridges more effectively than an abusive man who loses control.

So I don’t expect him to sign anything. I hope I’m wrong.

Nancy Pelosi says she’s going to make another attempt to pass a stand-alone $2,000 direct benefit tomorrow. As with the last attempt, this isn’t expected to pass. It’s about forcing Republicans to go on record opposing it. IMO if Republicans had half a brain they’d pass it and send it to Trump asap. He still might not sign the bill, of course.

Bill Barr is now gone. This analysis by David Graham on Barr’s departure is from December 14, but it’s still worth reading. Barr has been such a perfect toady. Before election day, he was making noises about voter fraud, and after the election he authorized federal prosecutors to investigate fraud claims. But at some point, there was a line Barr wouldn’t cross. We may never know what that line was. He stopped supporting the fraud claims. He’s out. Whatever Barr expected to accomplish with his lies and deceit and degradation of his office, all that is gone.

See also On His Way Out the Door, Barr Drops a Bombshell About the Durham Investigation by Nancy LeTourneau. In his last interview as Attorney General, Barr more or less exonerated the CIA and other intelligence agencies that investigated potential connections between the Trump campaign and Russia before the 2016 elections. The investigation was initiated for justifiable reasons, Barr said; the CIA was not out of line. For some reason, Barr decided he was done lying for Trump.

Another big loser here is Steve Mnuchin. Jeff Stein, WaPo:

The president’s denunciation of the agreement represented a stunning public broadside against his own treasury secretary, who for four years loyally shielded the president’s tax returns, endured repeated presidential tirades in private, and defended even Trump’s most incendiary and contradictory remarks. Through it all, Mnuchin had emerged with the unique ability to walk a tightrope between Trump and congressional leaders, serving as an emissary in difficult negotiations. That all ended on Tuesday, when Trump posted a video on Twitter ridiculing the agreement. …

…Mnuchin had described the bipartisan deal as “fabulous” one day before Trump called it a “disgrace.”

“Loyalty and assistance to President Trump generally gets rewarded with humiliation. This is how it ends for a lot of people who work for the guy,” said Brian Riedl, a conservative policy expert at the Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank. “Secretary Mnuchin has been completely embarrassed.”

Like Bill Barr, Mnuchin spent his time in office being a fool for Trump, and Trump didn’t hesitate to betray him. Because Trump isn’t getting what he wants.

Senate Republicans are in the dark about what Trump might do. Normally a Republican president would be discussing his end game with Senate Republicans, but not now. He’s leaving them dangling. He’s angry because they should have helped him win. He isn’t getting what he wants.

And if he hurts, everybody has to hurt.

Update: The Mahablog magic works again. I am seeing reports that Trump signed the bill, although he still says the bill is a disgrace.

The Temper Tantrum at the End of America

I hope you had a pleasant Christmas. Donald Trump appears to have had a pleasant Christmas. News stories say he played golf with Lindsey Graham on Christmas day. Then Miz Lindsey tweeted this:

The tech liability protection thing is in the defense funding part of the omnibus bill, I take it. I confess I haven’t followed this issue closely. There’s a discussion of it here. Righties want to revise Section 230, “a 25-year-old law that lets websites moderate third-party content as they see fit without being liable for that content (with a few exceptions). Simply put, you can sue a Twitter user if they tweet something defamatory about you, but you can’t sue Twitter.” In rightie world, social media companies should somehow be forced to publish content righties like no matter how inflammatory, dangerous, false, or libelous it is.  How removing liability protection would accomplish that eludes me, however.

Anyway, I say that if Trump wants to make a deal, give folks the $2,000 and strip out the tech liability protection and insist that he sign the damn bill asap. And be clear there will be no more negotiations with him. A lot of people lost unemployment benefits today. Millions will be in a world of hurt if this bill doesn’t become law, like, now. Before the end of the year, at the latest.

Unfortunately Trump is probably just delaying the bill so he can stay in the news. I wish there were some way to declare a news media embargo on him if he doesn’t sign the damn bill. That would probably be the one thing that would motivate him.

Joe Biden released a statement today that begins:

It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don’t know if they’ll be able to make ends meet because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign an economic relief bill approved by Congress with an overwhelming and bipartisan majority.

This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences. Today, about 10 million Americans will lose unemployment insurance benefits. In just a few days, government funding will expire, putting vital services and paychecks for military personnel at risk. In less than a week, a moratorium on evictions expires, putting millions at risk of being forced from their homes over the holidays. Delay means more small businesses won’t survive this dark winter because they lack access to the lifeline they need, and Americans face further delays in getting the direct payments they deserve as quickly as possible to help deal with the economic devastation caused by COVID-19. And while there is hope with the vaccines, we need funding to be able to distribute and administer them to millions of Americans, including frontline health care workers.

But for Trump, not signing the bill is the equivalent of holding his breath or screaming his head off until he gets want he wants. The problem is, he wants everything. If you made him emperor of the world, that still wouldn’t be enough. He’s like a black hole of neediness.

A day before unemployment benefits for millions of Americans were set to expire, President Donald Trump had a different insult in mind: his former-model wife has yet to appear on the cover of a fashion magazine as first lady.

“Fake news!” he complained on Twitter from Palm Beach, concerned for Melania’s social station on Christmas as Americans hunkered at home, enduring a holiday diminished by pandemic, darkened by the prospect of an imminent government shutdown and shaken by an eerie explosion in Nashville that authorities said was intentional.

A day later, as those jobless benefits for gig workers and self-employed Americans were lapsing, Trump was issuing a string of angry messages about his own perceived injustices: the election he falsely claims was stolen from him and the growing roster of people he’s upset won’t help him reverse it.

I understand he’s blamed Bill Barr, the CIA, Mitch McConnell, pretty much the entire Republican establishment, for his election loss. This is truly a temper tantrum for the ages. I don’t think in all of world history there’s been an explosion of sheer arrested emotional development that was this big or consequential.


I’m Out of Good Cheer Right Now

The graphic is a bit faded, but so are we all about now, I suspect.

Millions of Americans are facing eviction and hunger now, for no fault of their own. They had a brief bit of hope — next week there’d be a little money, extended unemployment benefits, an extended eviction moratorium — and now that’s been snatched away again. A better package in a few weeks, assuming there is one, is going to be too late for a lot of people. The help needs to come now. It just breaks my heart.

And Donald Trump played golf today.

Trump is angry at the world now. It would be like him to let people starve and freeze in the streets because he lost the election. There is speculation he’s going to stay in Florida and not come back to Washington, ever. He may very well blow off whatever duties he is supposed to attend to until the end of his term. I’m betting he doesn’t sign the bill, and it will die.

I just hope most Americans are told the truth about why this disaster happened. I fear they’re being told it’s Nancy Pelosi’s fault, somehow.

Greg Sargent thinks Trump will sign the bill, because Trump doesn’t want to disrupt distribution of the covid vaccines, which he considers to be his great achievement. He probably threw the bomb about the $600 payment just to get attention. I hope he’s right.

It’s not clear to me if a government shutdown would immediately disrupt vaccine distribution, but it probably wouldn’t be long before states run out of funds for distribution and begin to scale back vaccinations.

Amber Phillips writes that Trump really is out of options to take back the election. Maybe now that he’s away from the White House — and maybe not going back — he’ll come to terms with that and sign the freaking bill. But not before ruining a lot of Christmases.

Alex Isenstadt reports at Politico that Trump is now checking out the 2022 midterms and is preparing to support primary challengers to Republican incumbents he considers insufficiently disloyal to him. See also Greg Sargent, Republicans raging at Trump are getting exactly what they deserve. The Republican establishment must secretly hope Trump falls into a water hazard on his golf course and is eaten by an alligator.

I’ve long enjoyed Christmas Eve because of the way the world suddenly gets quiet in the evening. It’s push, hustle, shop right up until the sun sets, and suddenly the stores close and everyone goes home. This year there’s just the relentless, grinding passage of time and a lot of people staring into an abyss.

I do hope that wherever you are you have some cheer and company this holiday. And as always I appreciate all of you for helping me stay sane.

Did Trump Just Kill the Relief Bill?

I never liked reality television shows that didn’t involve cute animals, like “Dr. Chris: Pet Vet.” But now we’re all stuck in one. I am not happy.

Along with yesterday’s shameful and disgraceful pardons, Trump apparently threw a fit over the frustrating relief bill and threatened to not sign it. Jordan Weissmann writes at Slate that Trump’s threat revealed he has no clue what the bill is.

So Donald Trump took a breather from plotting history’s most ineffectual coup on Tuesday night in order to toss a grenade into Washington’s holiday plans, tweeting a surprise video in which he announced he did not support the crucial coronavirus relief bill Congress passed earlier this week. Calling the legislation a “disgrace,” he complained that the $600 checks it included for most households were “ridiculously low” and asked Congress to increase them to $2,000.

It would have been nice if he’d done that several days ago.

Echoing deceptive criticisms that have circulated online over the past couple of days, Trump also criticized the coronavirus package for including unrelated spending like foreign aid to Egypt and Belize as well as funding for Asian carp removal. “It’s called the COVID relief bill, but it has almost nothing to do with COVID,“ he said. This is blatantly misleading; what actually happened is that for procedural reasons Congress inserted the coronavirus deal into a larger end-of-the-year spending bill necessary to keep the government open, which contains money for basic government efforts like fishery management. Unfortunately, our president is fundamentally a low-information Twitter and Fox News junkie, and according to the Washington Post, some of his aides who disliked the bill used the foreign provisions “as a way to turn Trump against the measure, knowing that American money going to other countries raises the president’s ire.” History, as usual, is playing out as farce.

My sense of things is that Trump’s cognitive abilities have deteriorated since the election, and of course they weren’t that great before the election. I wouldn’t call this a psychotic break; it’s more like dementia mixed with paranoia.

Sorry you killed the impeachment now, Mitch? See also Jonathan Chait, Trump Has Reached the ‘Railing Against Mike Pence’ Bunker Phase.

So how much damage can Trump do? Back to Jordan Weissmann.

In theory, lawmakers passed the COVID relief and government funding bill with enough votes to override a veto from the president. The problem is that it appears Trump could kill the legislation through a so-called pocket veto, which cannot be overturned, simply by choosing not to sign it before Congress ends its term in January. The next House and Senate would have to start over with a new bill, which could be a lengthy process.

This would not have been a concern if Capitol Hill had actually gotten its act together and sealed a relief deal earlier. Under Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution, the president has 10 days, not including Sundays—so basically the 18th century equivalent of 10 business days—from the time he receives a bill to either sign or veto it. After that period, the legislation automatically becomes law unless Congress has already adjourned, in which case the bill dies. The problem is that the current Congress is set to end by noon on Jan. 3, meaning that even if lawmakers sent him the bill tomorrow, they will have to adjourn before the 10-day window runs out. Trump can kill the bill permanently without lifting a finger while he sits in bed at Mar-a-Lago binging on Newsmax. (And no, Congress can’t delay the end of its term; that would require passing a law.)

Yes, this would be just the time to fail to pass a spending bill and shut down the government. Greg Sargent:

Trump’s threat not to sign the deal makes a government shutdown more likely, and it puts congressional Republicans who supported it in a terrible spot. As one GOP observer noted, Trump “just pulled down the pants of every Republican who voted for it.”

There might be a silver lining to this, eventually, which is that it could help Democrats in the Georgia runoff elections.

That’s why Jon Ossoff, Perdue’s Democratic challenger, jumped on Trump’s missive. Ossoff told CNN that Congress absolutely must “send $2,000 checks to the American people right now, because people are hurting.”

Ossoff added that Republicans such as Perdue are only now backing $600 stimulus checks, after they “obstructed direct relief for the last eight months.”

Republican Senate candidates Perdue and Loeffler have run on being loyal to Trump and have refused to acknowledge that he lost the election. Will they now support the $2,000? Or go against Trump and stick with $600?

Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi seized on Trump’s announcement to call for a stand-alone bill that would provide the $2,000 direct payment. The House plans to bring it up tomorrow, Christmas Eve.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, in a letter to Democrats, challenged Republicans to block the measures and said top Democrats were waiting to hear from Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, to see if there would be an objection from a House Republican. Any lawmaker willing to return to Washington in person can block the bill from moving forward by denying unanimous consent.

Make ’em be on the record, in other words.

Within minutes of Mr. Trump’s public opposition to the bill, Ms. Pelosi declared her agreement with the president’s call for $2,000 checks, as did Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, and some of Congress’s most liberal members.

“We need to send a clean bill with just $2,000 survival checks and a separate spending/covid relief bill,” Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota and a frequent target of Mr. Trump’s ire, wrote Tuesday evening on Twitter, adding, “since Trump wants to sign a bill with survival checks, let’s send one to his desk right away.”

Of course, this measure will probably die in the Senate, because Mitch. But this is a great opportunity for Democrats to show America that Republicans killed it. And again, this has put Republicans in a real box.

The two Republican candidates in Georgia, Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, were already proclaiming passage of the coronavirus relief bill as a triumph, but they have also pledged fealty to the president, who called the bill a “disgrace.”

Still, a number of Republicans are likely to resist increasing the amount of direct payments after months of insisting that a relief package should be as small as possible. In the days before a bipartisan deal was struck, Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, blocked attempts to raise the payments to $1,200.

Unemployment benefits are about to expire. Evictions are going to start. People are desperate. Mnuchin has been prancing around saying that people could start getting their $600 next week, but now that’s all in the crapper. Things could get really ugly really fast.

“Most working Americans don’t need a check right now,” said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, on “Fox and Friends” Wednesday morning. “It’s a really foolish, egg-headed left-wing socialist idea to pass out free money to people.”

If this is a reality TV show, and we have to vote somebody off the island, let’s make it Kentucky.

Leaving Venezuela; or, The Power of Litigation

I don’t link to Newsmax often. I may never have linked to Newsmax, actually, or at least not for many years. But I’m linking to this — Facts About Dominion, Smartmatic You Should Know. Dominion and Smartmatic are voting machine companies that play a central role in claims that Trump was robbed of an election win.

What’s remarkable about the article is that it’s factual. We see paragraphs like this:

Newsmax would like to clarify its news coverage and note it has not reported as true certain claims made about these companies.  …

…Dominion has stated its company has no ownership relationship with the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s family, Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s family, the Clinton family, Hugo Chavez, or the government of Venezuela.

Neither Dominion nor Smartmatic has any relationship with George Soros.

Smartmatic is a U.S. company and not owned by the Venezuelan government, Hugo Chavez or any foreign official or entity.

Smartmatic states it has no operations in Venezuela. While the company did election projects in Venezuela from 2004 to 2017, it states it never was founded by Hugo Chavez, nor did it have a corrupt relationship with him or the Venezuelan government.

It’s also the case that Smartmatic and Dominion are separate companies and not affiliates. Smartmatic machines were not used in any of the contested states and in fact were used only in Los Angeles County in 2020. According to wingnut theory, Dominion is just a front company for Smartmatic, or else Dominion uses Smartmatic software, neither of which is true. The Smartmatic connection apparently is important to the Trump Wuz Robbed theory because Smartmatic was founded in the United States by a software engineer named Antonio Mugica who was born in Venezuela. Dominion has no ties to Venezuela, I take it.

Gotta get Venezuela in there, somewhere.

I bet you are guessing that somebody got the fear of expensive litigation put into them. You would be right. See Ben Smith at The New York Times, The ‘Red Slime’ Lawsuit That Could Sink Right-Wing Media. In brief, both Smartmatic and Dominion have threatened right-wing media entities, plus Sydney Powell, with lawsuits. And they have damn good cases.

These are legal threats any company, even a giant like Fox Corporation, would take seriously. And they could be fatal to the dream of a new “Trump TV,” a giant new media company in the president’s image, and perhaps contributing to his bottom line. Newsmax and OAN would each like to become that, and are both burning money to steal ratings from Fox, executives from both companies have acknowledged. They will need to raise significantly more money, or to sell quickly to investors, to build a Fox-style multibillion-dollar empire. But outstanding litigation with the potential of an enormous verdict will be enough to scare away most buyers.

See also Max Shuham at Talking Points Memo, Newsmax Runs Away From Its Election Conspiracy Coverage Like A Scalded Dog. And at Forbes, see Jemima McEvoy, Voting Machine Manufacturer Threatens Legal Action.

In a three-minute segment aired on three shows that previously played host to some of the more zany election fraud claims coming from Trump’s advocates—Fox Business’ “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” and Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo’s “Sunday Morning Futures” and Jeanine Pirro’s “Justice with Judge Jeanine”—Fox News appeared to retract allegations made against Smartmatic.

In each pre-recorded segment, entitled “CLOSER LOOK AT CLAIMS ABOUT SMARTMATIC,” an unnamed voice is heard questioning Open Source Election Technology Institute Director Eddie Perez, labeled a “leading” authority on open source software for elections, who fact checks false claims about Smartmatic, including some that have previously made their way onto Fox’s airwaves as serious allegations.

One America News appears to be holding out and has published no retractions I could find. Yet.

Trump is not giving up on his fraud claims. See Charlotte Klein at Vanity Fair, Martial Law? Seizing Voting Machines? Trump’s Election Denial Is Only Getting More Deranged.

Trump reportedly discussed invoking martial law to overturn his losing election result—a strategy one of the meeting’s attendees, former national security adviser and recent pardon recipient Michael Flynn, had recently proposed on cable television. …

…Trump’s discussion about using the military for an election redo was one of many absurd and alarming ideas floated—and strongly pushed back on—during Friday’s meeting, which “became raucous and involved people shouting at each other at times,” according to the Times. Among the more contentious topics was naming Sidney Powell, the Trump-aligned lawyer and conspiracy theorist, as a special counsel to investigate voter fraud allegations, something Trump is apparently considering. Powell, who was present at the Friday meeting, has peddled unfounded voter fraud allegations, including a conspiracy theory about an international plot to rig the U.S. election through voting machines, and was disavowed by the Trump campaign weeks ago.  …

… Another reported idea weighed during Friday’s meeting was an executive order to seize voting machines to examine them for alleged fraud, after Giuliani separately asked the Department of Homeland Security to do so earlier in the week—apparently to no avail, according to the Times, as he was told the department does not have such authority.

Today, the about-to-quit Bill Barr “said there was ‘no basis’ for seizing voting machines or appointing a special counsel to look into voter fraud, in a clear rejection of President Donald Trump’s increasingly desperate attempts to overturn the election result.”

Trump has also filed a new petition at the Supreme Court, asking the SCOTUS to throw out the election results in Pennsylvania. Yes, this is a new case, not the old one. I wonder why he’s bothering, since tossing Pennsylvania wouldn’t give Trump another term. One suspects this was filed mostly to placate Trump, who by several accounts has lost most of his connections to objective reality.

It occurs to me that if Trump has to leave the country, he might consider relocating to Venezuela. If you’ve got a ton of cash it’s probably a fine place to live.

Neither Stimulated Nor Relieved

Whether you call it the flaccid stimulus bill or the frustrating relief bill, it appears there will be something passed no later than tomorrow. That’s assuming Trump doesn’t throw a wrench in the works.

[Update: The Mahablog magic strikes again — it was announced a deal has been struck just after I posted this.]

The poison pill provision introduced by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R, PA) that would have tied the hands of the Federal Reserve has been watered down. Here’s the deal:

Mr. Toomey had sought to bar the Fed and Treasury Department from setting up any loan program similar to those established this year that have helped to keep credit flowing to corporate, municipal and medium-size business borrowers during the pandemic recession.

The agreed-upon alternative, offered by Mr. Schumer and still being drafted near midnight on Saturday, aides familiar with the process said, would bar only programs that were more or less exact copycats of the ones newly employed in 2020.

That sounds annoying but not catastrophic. Yet to be resolved:

Among the outstanding hurdles for lawmakers and aides racing to draft text was a push to expand a paid leave mandate set to lapse at the end of the year, how much money should be allocated to private and parochial schools and whether businesses should be allowed to deduct from their taxes loans given under a popular federal loan program, according to officials involved in the discussions.


One of the potential remaining stumbling blocks is President Trump, who has largely been removed from the stimulus negotiations as he continues to attack the outcome of the Nov. 3 election and undermine President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory. Shortly after midnight on Sunday, he tweeted his frustration with Congress for not yet acting on a stimulus and signaled that he would want larger direct payments than the $600 payments currently under discussion.

“GET IT DONE, and give them more money in direct payments,” the president wrote on Twitter.

I’d like to see a larger payment, too, but Mr. Stable Genius should be complaining to Mitch. And I am so happy I am not in Congress. I think at this point I’d be homicidal.

Elsewhere: There has been a lot of talk that Trump is losing it. We might wonder whether he ever had it. But there have been leaked accounts of oval office meetings that claimed Trump talked about martial law and appointing Sidney Powell special counsel to inspect Dominion voting machines. Dominion, meanwhile, has threatened Powell with a defamation suit.

See Peter Wehner, Trump Is Losing His Mind.

Given Trump’s psychological profile, it was inevitable that when he felt the walls of reality close in on him—in 2020, it was the pandemic, the cratering economy, and his election defeat—he would detach himself even further from reality. It was predictable that the president would assert even more bizarre conspiracy theories. That he would become more enraged and embittered, more desperate and despondent, more consumed by his grievances. That he would go against past supplicants, like Attorney General Bill Barr and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, and become more aggressive toward his perceived enemies. That his wits would begin to turn, in the words of King Lear. That he would begin to lose his mind.

So he has. And, as a result, President Trump has become even more destabilizing and dangerous.

“I’ve been covering Donald Trump for a while,” Jonathan Swan of Axios tweeted. “I can’t recall hearing more intense concern from senior officials who are actually Trump people. The Sidney Powell/Michael Flynn ideas are finding an enthusiastic audience at the top.”

Trump today was retweeting crap from Gateway Pundit and a string of people I never heard of that claimed more votes were counted for POTUS than there are registered voters in the U.S. He’s not giving up. We may have to send in marshalls to haul him out of the White House after all. Fun!