The Mahablog

Politics. Society. Group Therapy.

The Mahablog

Why Right Wing Crazies Are Trying to Destroy One of the Few Things George W. Bush Got Right, and Other News

Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report at Politico that Trump’s co-defendants are begining to turn on him. Apparently their lawyers think their best defense is that they were just following Trump’s orders.

In court documents and hearings, lawyers for people in Trump’s orbit — both high-level advisers and lesser known associates — are starting to reveal glimmers of a tried-and-true strategy in cases with many defendants: Portray yourself as a hapless pawn while piling blame on the apparent kingpin. …

… In late August, an information technology aide at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort dramatically changed his story about alleged efforts to erase surveillance video and agreed to cooperate with special counsel Jack Smith, who has charged Trump with hoarding classified documents. The aide, Yuscil Taveras, was not charged in the case, but his flip may help him dodge a possible perjury charge prosecutors were floating — and it is likely to bolster Smith’s obstruction-of-justice case against Trump and two other aides.

Then, three GOP activists who were indicted alongside Trump in Georgia for trying to interfere with the certification of President Joe Biden’s win in the state asserted that their actions were all taken at Trump’s behest.

And last week, Trump’s former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows — also charged in the Georgia case — signaled that his defense is likely to include blaming the former president as the primary driver of the effort.

That’s the problem with coups d’état. Yeah, there’s power and glory if you win, but you’re in a heap o’ trouble if you lose.

Last week some of the co-defendants were complaining that Trump wasn’t helping them with their legal bills. Indeed, some of them who were doing legal work for the “campaign” were stiffed.

Several of the attorneys who spearheaded President Donald Trump’s frenzied effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election tried, and failed, to collect payment for the work they did for Trump’s political operation, according to testimony to congressional investigators and Federal Election Commission records. This is despite the fact that their lawsuits and false claims of election interference helped the Trump campaign and allied committees raise $250 million in the weeks following the November vote, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot said in its final report.

So no power, no glory, and no money. And no point falling on any swords on behalf of Trump.

In other news: A Catholic priest named Richard W. Bauer is genuinely horrified that the anti-abortion movement is working to kill a very successful U.S.-funded anti-AIDS program.

Some House Republicans refuse to move forward with a five-year reauthorization of the program in its current form because of evidence-free insinuations that it indirectly funds abortion. PEPFAR’s legislative authorization expires at the end of this month. Unless Congress acts urgently to renew it, the world could lose PEPFAR as we know it.

PEPFAR is the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a George W. Bush initiative that actually had excellent results. Father Bauer spent years in Africa working with AIDS patients and saw the results himself. “The results were astounding,” he said. “PEPFAR has meant that millions of H.I.V.-positive children and adults who were near death have been brought back to life.”

Father Bauer traced the rumor that PEPFAR is funding abortions to a report from the Heritage Foundation that claimed, without evidence, that PEPFAR is promoting abortion in Africa. “That same report callously referred to H.I.V. as a ‘lifestyle disease’ and framed antiretroviral therapy as a partisan talking point,” Father Bauer wrote. He emphasizes that the programs is saving countless lives, which he has seen for himself, and that the program has always been closely monitored to be sure the money is being spent as intended.

My first reaction to this was that the anti-abortion movement has always traded in lies. Over the years they’ve claimed abortions cause breast cancer; that women who abort suffer psychological damage; that women don’t get pregnant from rape; that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal body parts. I’ve written about the lies of the Fetus People a lot over the years; see, for example, “Smoke and Mirrors and Abortion” from 2013. Most of them can’t get basic facts about gestation right. It’s a wonder they reproduce, yet they somehow do so.

And, of course, with righties, little details like facts and evidence are meaningless. They believe what they want to believe, or whatever somebody decides is expedient for them to believe.

So it is that the entire right-wing anti-abortion political infrastructure in the U.S. has decided that PEPFAR is evil and must be destroyed. Politico reports today that the law governing PEPFAR expires at the end of this month, and at the moment there seems to be no way it will be renewed. The only hope is probably some short-term funding that will have to be re-fought every few months.

And of course on the Right there’s no political penalty to allowing African babies to die of preventable disease. At least they aren’t being aborted! Priorities, you know.

The Latest in Trump Criminal Indictment News

Many games are afoot, my friends. A lot of news broke late yesterday that appears to send Trump’s legal issues into new trajectories.

Among these: Today Rudy Giuliani will be meeting with Fani Willis and her team, says the Daily Beast. Nobody knows what this meeting is about. He doesn’t need to meet with them just to surrender and post bail, I don’t think. Should Trump be worried? Michael Cohen thinks so:

Donald Trump is an “idiot” for not paying legal expenses incurred by his attorney the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani in the Georgia election subversion case, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen said. …

… Cohen suggested Giuliani would be wise to “flip” on Trump.

“Allegedly from Rudy’s own mouth, he claims that he has a smoking gun, information about Donald,” Cohen said. “Well, if that’s true … I don’t have to suggest anything to Rudy. He’s the one that basically came up with this concept of strong-arming when he was head of the southern district of New York. He’s going to need to speak and he’s going to need to speak before everybody else does.”

Giuliani’s work for Trump also included digging for political dirt in Ukraine, efforts which contributed to Trump’s first impeachment.

Cohen said: “The job that Rudy did for Donald, I don’t know if I would pay either. But at the end of the day, when your life is basically hanging on the line once again, you just don’t really want to throw another lawyer under the bus.”

By all accounts Rudy is in a desperate financial situation and is watching the shabby remnants of his personal fortune and career circle the drain. And it was widely reported that Trump recently rebuffed Rudy when Rudy begged for a financial lifeline. Rudy surely has insider information on the fake electors scheme, for example, that Fani Willis might find useful. This is all speculation, of course.

But speaking of fllipping — this was revealed in a court filing late yesterday —

A key witness against former President Donald Trump and his two co-defendants in the Mar-a-Lago documents case recanted previous false testimony and provided new information implicating the defendants after he switched lawyers, special counsel Jack Smith’s office said in a new court filing.

Yuscil Taveras, the director of information technology at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s club in Palm Beach, Florida, changed his testimony last month about efforts to delete security camera video at the club after he changed from a lawyer paid for by Trump’s Save America PAC to a public defender, Tuesday’s filing says.

David Kurtz at TPM breaks it down more:

In March 2023 testimony to the DC grand jury, Taveras and De Oliveira perjured themselves by denying having any conversations about the security footage at Mar-a-Lago.

In June 2023, Smith advised Woodward that Taveras was a target of its investigation and sought a hearing with the chief judge in DC over Woodward conflict of interest. Woodward was repping both Nauta and Taveras.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg provided Taveras with a public defender to confer with about the conflicts of interest Woodward had. On July 5, Taveras informed Boasberg that he was changing lawyers from Woodward to the public defender.

Soon after, Taveras recanted his prior false testimony to the grand jury and implicated Trump, Nauta, and De Oliveira. The superseding indictment soon followed.

Possibly related, but I’m not sure — earlier this month Smith filed additional grand jury information from the D.C. grand jury in the documents case, and Loose threw a fit over it.

Cannon said there was not “sufficient legal or factual basis to warrant” the “secrecy” — and ordered a clerk to remove both of Smith’s filings from the South Florida docket.

Cannon also asked Trump’s legal team to respond to allegations from those grand jury proceedings that attorney Stanley Woodward — representing Trump valet Waltine Nauta — has conflicts of interest in the documents case, since three of his clients may be called to testify as government witnesses.

The potential witnesses include Mar-a-Lago IT director Yuscil Taveras and two others who worked in the Trump White House and followed the 45th president to Florida, filings show.

Loose threw this fit shortly after the superseding indictment had been filed, or at least it was reported on after the superseding indictment had been filed, but I suspect there’s a connection.  Back to David Kurtz:

Smith is hitting back hard on three main points: (1) his use of the grand jury in DC was proper; (2) Woodward is deeply conflicted for all the above reasons but also because he was provided to Taveras and paid for by Trumpworld entities; and (3) there is zero precedent for resolving this kind of conflict by barring the testimony of a key witness, which is what Woodward proposed.

The legal expert bobbleheads on MSNBC have been saying all along that there is nothing at all wrong with having two grand juries in two places, considering that the alleged criminal activity was taking place in two places. Loose is just incompetent.

And then there’s Mark Meadows, who seems to be trying to have it all different ways at once. See How Mark Meadows Pursued a High-Wire Legal Strategy in Trump Inquiries by a bunch of people at the New York Times (no paywall).

In brief, Meadows appears to be cooperating, at least partly, with Jack Smith, but he’s resisting cooperation with Fani Willis. Regarding Georgia, Meadows wants his case moved to a federal court. He’s got a hearing on this next week, but his deadline for surrender to Fulton County is this Friday. And Fani Willis refused Meadows’s request for an extension. So he’s asking a judge to protect him from being arrested.

[Update: A judge told Meadows and Jeffrey Clark he can’t stop Fani Willis from having them arrested if they don’t surrender by Friday.]

But we learned this week that Meadows told federal prosecutors he doesn’t recall former President Trump “ordering, or even discussing, declassifying broad sets of classified materials before leaving the White House,” for example. So he’s not totally stonewalling Jack Smith. He appears to be trying to avoid a criminal conviction while not becoming a rage target of the Trump base. Good luck with that.

Word is that Trump plans to turn himself in at the Fulton County jail on Thursday night to get maximum television coverage.

In other news: Tonight is the first Republican presidential nomination debate. A lot of commentators are saying that if Ron DeSantis doesn’t do especially well tonight he might as well drop out. That’s probably true.

The eight finalists who are eligible and expected to debate are DeSantis, Asa Hutchison, Tim Scott, Doug Bergum, Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, and Vivek Ramaswamy. But Bergum (and who is he, again?) was injured playing basketball yesterday and may not be able to be there. So they can’t hook the guy up on Zoom or something?

In other other news: There are reports that Trump’s big idea for the economy is a “universal baseline tariff” on virtually all imports to the United States; something in the neighborhood of 10 percent. Even the mouth breathers at Power Tools are appalled and talking about Smoot-Hawley II. WaPo:

On Fox Business on Thursday, the former president called for setting this tariff at 10 percent “automatically” for all countries, a move that experts warn could lead to higher prices for consumers throughout the economy and could likely lead to a global trade war.

“I think we should have a ring around the collar” of the U.S. economy, Trump said in an interview with Kudlow on Fox Business on Thursday. “When companies come in and they dump their products in the United States, they should pay, automatically, let’s say a 10 percent tax … I do like the 10 percent for everybody.”

In brief, after all this time he still doesn’t understand how tariffs work.

The Best Foreign Policy Money Could Buy

Turns out Trump’s foreign policy was for sale to the highest bidder. And it wasn’t just the Trumps cashing in.

See also Juan Cole and Heather Cox Richardson. Juan Cole wrote,

Donald Trump as president dumped the Paris Climate Accord, withdrew from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, endorsed the 2017 blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and pushed for declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. The Brotherhood had been part of the 2011 uprisings against Arab dictators, leading Arab monarchies to see them as subversives and dangerous to the status quo.

All of these steps were on a wish list of the United Arab Emirates, the fabulously wealthy Gulf oil state, with its capital at Abu Dhabi.

And Heather Cox Richardson wrote,

According to today’s charges, once Trump was in office, Barrack continued to lobby for the UAE until April 2018. He allegedly worked with allies in the UAE to draft passages of Trump’s speeches, hone press materials, and prepare talking points to promote UAE interests. Without ever registering as a foreign agent, he worked to change U.S. foreign policy and appoint administration officials to meet a “wish list” produced by UAE officials.

Barrack helped to tie the Trump administration to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, turning the US away from Qatar, an ally that hosts US air bases (although they are now being closed as bases and in the process of becoming housing for our Afghan allies before their US visas come through). From the beginning, the administration worked closely with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who controls $1.3 trillion in sovereign wealth funds and essentially rules the UAE, and with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), whom Prince Mohammed championed.

In May 2017, Trump advisers Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon, along with Saudi and UAE leaders, met without the knowledge of then–Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to talk about blockading Qatar. When Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt launched a blockade on June 5, 2017, Trump cheered them on, although the State Department took a neutral stand and the Pentagon thanked Qatar for hosting US troops.

Trump’s first foreign visit as president was to Saudi Arabia, remember, which gave us the famous glowing orb moment:

Tom Barrack  also was instrumental in bringing Paul Manafort and Rick Gates into the Trump campaign, which introduced the Russian connection as well. See also What Really Happened to the Inaguration Money? and The Trump Inauguration: Grifters Gonna Grift.

There are allegations floating around that Barrack took in about  $1.5 billion from the UAE and the Saudis. When Trump finds out someone other than him was making money on his admnistration, he’ll blow a fuse.

When One Side’s Terrorist Is Another Side’s Martyr

Can we talk big-time hypocrisy? The Right has gifted martyrdom to the late Ashli Babbitt, the woman shot and killed while rioting in the Capitol January 6. These past six months they have called for the name of the law enforcement officer who shot her, but the officer was cleared of wrongdoing, and his name was not released.

Now parts of rightie media have named a name, based on their analysis of the video of the shooting. I am not going to repeat the name here, because the wider his name is known the more peril he is in. And I have no opinion as to whether the man named is the real shooter. I do have an opinion that the Justice Department was right to clear him of wrongdoing.

To review, on January 6 Ms. Babbitt was in the forefront of a port of the mob who came up against the barricaded door of the Speaker’s Lobby, a space outside the main entrance of the House chamber. Members of Congress and their staffs were escaping through the lobby at the time. Rioters shattered the glass on the doors. In the videos, you can see a law enforcement officer standing behind the doors with a gun drawn. Babbitt, with the help of other rioters, was squeezing herself through an open space to get into the lobby. You can see her in this photo; she’s wearing the striped backpack.

I am told that in some videos, security staff can be heard shouting “Get back! Get down!” I have not watched every video myself to verify that, but in this one you can hear rioters yell, “he’s got a gun.” One officer is plainly visible pointing his handgun. And as Babbitt’s head came through the window, he fired. She was struck in the neck and declared dead at the hospital.

The righties make much of the fact that Babbitt was not armed. But the security staff at that time had no way to know who was armed. And in any event, by then police all over the building were being routed and beaten up by the overwhelming force of the mob. Armed or not armed, the rioters were a clear danger to the legislators still a few feet away, either evacuating or still in the House chamber. This photo taken from within the House chamber suggests that if those doors had been broken through, more people would have been shot.

It is regretful that anyone died in that mob. But how deluded do you have to be to believe that Babbitt died “for no reason“?

The Department of Justice said of the officer who shot Babbitt:

The focus of the criminal investigation was to determine whether federal prosecutors could prove that the officer violated any federal laws, concentrating on the possible application of 18 U.S.C. § 242, a federal criminal civil rights statute. In order to establish a violation of this statute, prosecutors must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the officer acted willfully to deprive Ms. Babbitt of a right protected by the Constitution or other law, here the Fourth Amendment right not to be subjected to an unreasonable seizure. Prosecutors would have to prove not only that the officer used force that was constitutionally unreasonable, but that the officer did so “willfully,” which the Supreme Court has interpreted to mean that the officer acted with a bad purpose to disregard the law. As this requirement has been interpreted by the courts, evidence that an officer acted out of fear, mistake, panic, misperception, negligence, or even poor judgment cannot establish the high level of intent required under Section 242.

The investigation revealed no evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer willfully committed a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242. Specifically, the investigation revealed no evidence to establish that, at the time the officer fired a single shot at Ms. Babbitt, the officer did not reasonably believe that it was necessary to do so in self-defense or in defense of the Members of Congress and others evacuating the House Chamber. Acknowledging the tragic loss of life and offering condolences to Ms. Babbitt’s family, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and U.S. Department of Justice have therefore closed the investigation into this matter.

I don’t know the status of the evacuation at the exact moment of the shooting, but it’s my understanding that the mob could well have gotten their hands on members of Congress if it had gotten through that door. Lawmakers Were Feet and Seconds Away From Confrontation With the Mob in the Capitol, according to a Wall Street Journal headline. And now that the mob has the name of an officer, he and his family will need to be moved to a very safe, undisclosed location. So far, none of the published articles naming his name have given his address or the names of family members, but that’s only a matter of time. Somewhere, no doubt, he is already doxxed.

It’s my understanding that the shot that killed Ashli Babbitt was the only gunshot fired in the Capitol that day. There was, of course, bear spray and tasers and many blunt objects in the hands of the mob. I’ve waded into some rightie sites today, and according to rightie lore, all of the rioters who died that day were killed by Capitol security. Beside Babbit, these are:

Kevin D. Greeson, 55, of Athens, Alabama. According to news reports, Greeson was standing with a group of Trump loyalists on the west side of the Capitol when he suffered a heart attack and fell to the sidewalk. He was talking on the phone with his wife at the time. According to righties, he had a heart attack because he was shot in the chest with rubber bullets.

Rosanne Boyland, 34, of Kennesaw, Georgia. Ms. Boyland was trampled by her fellow rioters, although the official cause of death was “acute amphetamine intoxication.” Even so, the New York Times “Day of Rage” video shows rioters trampling over her. According to rightie lore, the crowd ran because it was being fired on. No, it wasn’t. The crowd was not in retreat but in advance. No shots are heard. No one in that part of the crowd was shot.

The point is that a characteristic of Trump supporters is blind tribal loyalty and an inability to take personal responsibility for anythng.

Speaking of deaths, on July 6 Chris Hayes made the point that the House would have been evacuated sooner except that Rep. Paul Gosar was taking his time objecting to the ballots of his own state. If the House chamber had evacuated sooner, Ashli Babbitt might still be alive. Chris Hayes stopped short of accusing Gosar of coordinating with the mob. Hmm.

And let us not forget that abut 140 officers were injured in the defense of the Capitol. Many injuries were serious — broken ribs, smashed vertebrae, head injuries. Officer Brian Sicknick died the next day, perhaps from unrelated causes, and two other officers committed suicide in the days after the riot.

But we must remember that the mob is still out there, and still dangerous, and they think they have righteousness on their side.

See also: Philip Bump, The death of Ashli Babbitt offers the purest distillation of Donald Trump’s view of justice.

We Need the For the People Act of 2021 (HR 1)

H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021, was introduced and referred to House Committees on January 4. It is a bill intended “To expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy, and for other purposes.”

I can’t tell you how much we need this bill to pass.

It’s a huge bill, so I can only provide a few highlights. If my discussion doesn’t include your favorite voting reform idea, that doesn’t mean it isn’t in there, somewhere. And of course the committees are going to tinker with it for awhile, but here is a brief discussion of what’s in this bill’s three divisions — Voting, Campaign Finance, and Ethics.


Here’s a bullet list of the voting section I copied from Common Cause.

  • Automatic voter registration
  • Online voter registration
  • Same day voter registration
  • Make election day a federal holiday
  • Voting rights restoration to people with prior felony convictions
  • Expand early voting and simplify absentee voting
  • Prohibit voter purges that kick eligible voters off the registration rolls
  • Enhance election security with increase support for a paper-based voting system and more oversight over election vendors
  • End partisan gerrymandering by established independent redistricting commissions
  • Prohibit providing false information about the elections process that discourage voting and other deceptive practices

Note the part about ending partisan gerrymandering. That by itself would go a long way toward forcing the GOP to sober up and act like a grown-up political party again, IMO.

One section reaffirms the commitment of Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act. I’ll quote this part —

The Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision gutted decades-long Federal pro3 tections for communities of color that face historic and continuing discrimination, emboldening States and local jurisdictions to pass voter suppression laws and implement procedures, such as those requiring photo identification, limiting early voting hours, eliminating same-day registration, purging voters from the rolls, and reducing the number of polling places. Congress is committed to reversing the devastating impact of this decision.

From there, the bill discusses specific examples of discrimination from recent elections. The bill would ensure that federal civil rights laws protect citizens from these discriminations. There are also provisions aimed at protecting access to voting for Native Americans and people with disabilities.

There’s a section calling for D.C. statehood. It also calls for uniform standards in federal elections.

Campaign Finance

Here’s the bullet list for this section:

  • Require secret money organizations that spend money in elections to disclose their donors
  • Upgrade online political spending transparency rules to ensure voters know who is paying for the advertisements they see
  • Create a small donor-focused public financing matching system so candidates for Congress aren’t just reliant on big money donors to fund their campaigns and set their priorities
  • Strengthen oversight rules to ensure those who break our campaign finance laws are held accountable
  • Overhaul the Federal Election Commission to enforce campaign finance law
  • Prohibit the use of shell companies to funnel foreign money in U.S. elections
  • Require government contractors to disclose their political spending

There’s a long section that takes direct aim at the Citizen’s United decision that’s worth reading on it’s own. It starts on page 533 on this pdf.

There’s a section dedicated to closing loopholes that allow foreign money into our elections. There’s language prohibiting deepfakes and otherwise deceptively edited audios or videos unless there’s a clear disclaimer, e.g., this video has been manipulated. A candidate who is the subject of deceptively edited audios or videos can sue for damages.


  • Slow the revolving door between government officials and lobbyists
  • Expand conflict of interest law
  • Ban members of Congress from serving on corporate boards
  • Require presidents to publicly disclose their tax returns
  • Overhaul the Office of Government Ethics to ensure stronger enforcement of ethics rules
  • Require members of the U.S. Supreme Court abide by a judicial code of ethics

I’m sure you already know where all those provisions are coming from.

The Common Cause page has more information and links to other summaries. See also:

Center for Responsive Politics, Democrats prioritize campaign finance overhaul with ‘For the People Act’

Matt Keller, The Hill, Trump actions illustrate why Congress must pass the For the People Act

Center for American Progress, Momentum Builds for Democracy Reform as Schumer Designates the For the People Act as Senate’s First Bill

This bill is what we need to stop the continued erosion of democracy by right-wing plutocrats and fascists and Trump wannabees, never mind Trump himself  It is absolutely vital to restoring democracy. Without it, I fear we’re going to continue to lurch toward ruin and dictatorship.

But of course, the catch is that there is no way this bill will pass in the Senate unless the Dems kill the filibuster. Ed Kilgore, New York magazine:

To put it bluntly, the lesson many Republicans took away from their former president’s attempted theft of the presidential election is that the voters who defeated him need to be discouraged from returning to the polls in the future. As Ron Brownstein notes, there’s a new frenzy of voter-suppression measures underway in Republican-controlled states that may hold the balance of power in upcoming elections: …

… The urgency of these measures should be obvious, with red states narrowing the path to the ballot box and with the decennial redistricting about to begin. And unlike many other measures facing a filibuster, voting rights and democracy-promotion legislation does not qualify for inclusion in a budget-reconciliation bill that can be enacted with a simple majority. So in many important respects, it’s now or never for voting rights. …

… In any event, Democrats in Congress and the White House and their advocacy-group and grassroots supporters need to come to a quick consensus about how to test the willingness of Democratic filibuster defenders like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, and relatively independent Republicans like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, to make some new exceptions to the disreputable old institution. Voting rights might offer the most compelling case for limited filibuster reform, and for Democrats, the cause without which all others may ultimately fail.

Kilgore suggests that the foot-draggers might be persuaded to kill the filibuster specifically for voting rights legislation, leaving it intact for other laws. I think that’s a good idea. He also suggests testing the waters by putting the John Lewis Voting Rights Act up for a vote first.

But we absolutely need this bill. I am stick to death of the right-wing nutjobs turning our country into crap. It has to stop.

Reconciliation Can’t Fix Everything

If you missed Rachel Maddow last night, this brief segment is worth a look.

What she’s saying here is that because of a law passed during the Nixon Administration, it is possible to use the budget reconciliation process to bypass the filibuster and pass big bills with a 50 percent vote. This can’t be done multiple times a year; it can only be done with bills written as part of the budget. But since Congress didn’t pass a budget last year and hasn’t passed one this year, we’ve can use reconciliation twice this year.

There are limits to what kind of bill can be passed through reconciliation. The Congressional Budget Act permits using reconciliation for legislation that changes spending, revenues, and the federal debt limit, it says here. Senate rules allow senators to block provisions that are not connected directly to spending, revenue, and debt.

Maddow thinks the Democrats could use reconciliation to pass covid relief/stimulus and a jobs/infrastructure bill. But that leaves out other vital reforms we really, really need. Immigration reform and voting/election reform come to mind.

Do see Ron Brownstein, The Decision That Will Define Democrats for a Decade, at The Atlantic.

The party’s immediate political fate in the 2022 and 2024 elections is likely to turn mostly on whether Joe Biden can successfully control the coronavirus outbreak—restarting the economy and returning a sense of normalcy to daily life. But the contours of American politics just over that horizon, through 2030 and beyond, will be determined even more by whether Democrats can establish new national standards for the conduct of elections through a revised Voting Rights Act and sweeping legislation known as H.R. 1, which would set nationwide voting rules, limit “dark money” campaign spending, and ban gerrymandering of congressional districts. With both bills virtually guaranteed to pass the House, as they did in the last Congress, their fate will likely turn on whether Senate Democrats are willing to end the filibuster to approve them over Republican opposition on a simple-majority vote.

Agreed; there’s no way ten Republicans would be persuaded to vote for this.

That decision carries enormous consequences for the future balance of power between the parties: The number of younger and diverse voters participating in future elections will likely be much greater if these laws pass than if they don’t, especially with state-level Republicans already pushing a new round of laws making it tougher to vote based on Donald Trump’s discredited claims of election fraud in 2020. Given those stakes, the Democrats’ voting-rights agenda is quickly becoming a focal point of the pressure from left-leaning activists to end the filibuster. “Our grass roots will not accept the notion that we had good intentions, but we just failed” to pass these laws, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, a Democrat who is the lead sponsor of the Senate companion to H.R. 1, told me.

It could be catastrphic for the Dems if they don’t get election reform passed.

More from Greg Sargent:

Congressional Democrats are coalescing around a package of reforms that would dramatically expand access to voting by requiring states to implement automatic voter registration, extensive early voting and same-day registration. It would restrict voter suppression tactics and hurdles on vote-by-mail.

The reforms would also require nonpartisan redistricting commissions — a strike at the next round of GOP gerrymanders — while restoring protections in the Voting Rights Act and blocking states from disenfranchising felons. The reforms would go far in curtailing Republican counter-majoritarian tactics for years to come.

Sargent and Brownstein both think the future of the U.S. is on the line here. Republicans in many states are gearing up to intensity voting restrictions in the wake of the 2020 election. And the Republicans are getting crazier by the minute. Further, thanks to the court-packing by Trump and McConnell, it’s likely voter suppression efforts will be sustained in court challenges.

I don’t think there’s any way to fix our election problems without eliminating the filibuster. And without fixing our election problems, the nutjob Right will continue to destroy America.

GOP Can’t Quit Trump

A few days ago I proposed that the insider Republican establishment, led by Mitch McConnell, would cut Trump loose from the party. Others disagreed. Now it appears they were right and I was wrong, although Mitch isn’t necessarily happy about it.

Nicholas Fandos and Jonathan Martin, The New York Times:

Three times in recent weeks, as Republicans grappled with a deadly attack on the Capitol and their new minority status in Washington, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky carefully nudged open the door for his party to kick Donald J. Trump to the curb, only to find it slammed shut.

So his decision on Tuesday to join all but five Republican senators in voting to toss out the House’s impeachment case against Mr. Trump as unconstitutional seemed to be less a reversal than a recognition that the critical mass of his party was not ready to join him in cutting loose the former president. Far from repudiating Mr. Trump, as it appeared they might in the days after the Jan. 6 rampage at the Capitol, Republicans have reverted to the posture they adopted when he was in office — unwilling to cross a figure who continues to hold outsize sway in their party.

One thing I want to say about the vote on Tuesday — it’s my understanding that the motion voted on this past Tuesday was not whether Trump could be impeached after he had left office, but whether the Senate could vote on whether Trump could be impeached after he left office. Rand Paul made a motion to hold a vote on the constitutionality of the impeachment trial. Then Chuck Schumer asked for a vote to table the motion, and that’s what was voted on Tuesday. That may or may not matter going forward, but I do try to be accurate.

Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey, WaPo, Republicans back away from confronting Trump and his loyalists after the Capitol insurrection, embracing them instead:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced little more than a week ago that the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol had been “provoked” by Donald Trump. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Trump “bears responsibility” for failing to respond more quickly to the bloody incursion.

But that was then.

The nation’s two most powerful elected Republicans have signaled that they are ready to look past questions of responsibility for the violent effort to overturn the result of the presidential election, an attempt that left a Capitol Police officer and four rioters dead, as they maneuver to avoid a divisive battle within the Republican Party and try to position it to reclaim power in 2022.

The article goes on to say that McCarthy is meeting with Trump in Florida today to “mend relations that were frayed by the Jan. 6 attack.”

As I’ve said already, IMO the Republican Party would be far better off in the long run if they moved away from Trumpism, even though that would put them at a disadvantage in 2022. It hasn’t been that long — four years, I believe — since Republicans were still claiming to be the “party of ideas” and making a show, however fictional, of having policy ideas to address the nation’s problems. In 2020 they didn’t even bother to write a platform, and nobody seemed to care.

If the GOP continues to align itself with nutjobs, terrorists, and Trumpers, IMO the primary effect will be to drive people to the polls to vote for Democrats. But until enough of them get the memo that this ain’t workin’, Republican office holders will continue to do a lot of damage.

Take Marjorie Taylor Greene, who seems to be trying to get herself expelled from the House. Over just the past few hours videos and tweets have surfaced that show Greene calling for the execution of Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi; confronting a survivor of the Parkland high school schooting —

— and she is still pushing the lie that the election was stolen from Trump. And for sheer pig-ugly stupid, you can’t do better than the ravings of Ms. Greene, prior to her election, demanding that representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib re-take their oaths of office on the Bible rather than the Q’ran, because “that’s the law.” Um, no, it isn’t.

(Update: Marjorie Taylor Greene penned conspiracy theory that a laser beam from space started deadly 2018 California wildfire at Media Matters.)

Naturally, House Republican leadership decided to assign Rep. Moron to the education committee. Nancy Pelosi is not pleased.

“It is absolutely appalling, and I think that the focus has to be on the Republican leadership of this House of Representatives for the disregard that they have for the death of those children,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol.

Pelosi said it’s “beyond the pale” that GOP leaders would place Greene on the Education panel.

“What could they be thinking? Or is thinking too generous a word for what they might be doing?” she asked.

And this takes us to Why Republicans Can’t Win on QAnon-Supporting Marjorie Taylor Greene by Philip Elliott in Time:

To say Marjorie Taylor Greene is a challenge to the Republican brand is a massive understatement. Her colleagues know it, too. …

… It’s clear that every moment spent on this is one not making the case to Americans why a conservative counter to the Democrats’ control of the House, the Senate and the White House matters. Greene is not only wasting GOP leaders’ time, she’s creating a rallying cry for the opposition. For years, Republicans have linked all Democrats to boogeymen like Nancy Pelosi, AOC and Hillary Clinton. And it goes both ways. George W. Bush by the end of his term was toxic. Greene may prove lethal.

But does the leadership marginalize her? No, they put her on the education committee. This is going to be the next two years, folks: One party will be trying to govern and the other will be running the Circus of Deranged Clowns.

Jennifer Rubin notes today that the Biden Administration is moving swiftly ahead with policy plans to address the nation’s problems. But Republicans?

Well, over in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took days to agree on an organizing resolution to get the new session underway. The vast majority of Senate Republicans said they do not want to have a trial to hold the instigator of a violent insurrection accountable. (How typical it is for them to stage a vote to tell us what they do not want to do.) They are stalling on the confirmation of a new homeland security secretary. They have no alternative relief package for covid-19. Most of their time seems to be absorbed whining about “censorship” or claiming Democrats are being “divisive.” They are offering no response to any of the multiple crises we face (e.g., climate change, the economy, health care, racial justice, domestic terrorism). Their “big idea” is to wait and see if the pandemic and economy get worse.

But what could they do? What could they possibly do, without betraying the “principles” (e.g., kneecapping government; exploiting working people; protecting the wealth of the wealthy) that guide them? All they’ve got left is stopping the Democrats from getting anything done.

Some of Us Warned This Would Happen

DHS has issued a warning of a “heightened threat environment across the United States” from “ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives.” Trumpers and right-wingers, in other words.

No doubt every rightie in media, social and otherwise, will start screaming that the Biden Administration is unfairly targeting them.

Some elements in DHS have unsuccessfully tried to warn us about the danger of right-wing extremism for years, of course. Remember this one?

In April 2009, federal intelligence officials issued a prescient warning to police departments around the country.

“Right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat,” experts in the Department of Homeland Security wrote. “These skills and knowledge have the potential to boost the capabilities of extremists — including lone wolves or small terrorist cells — to carry out violence.”

It was one of DHS’ most explicit mentions of homegrown terrorists since 9/11, one with a direct connection to the military.

But the call to action was effectively buried after powerful Republican politicians and their allies in the right-wing media launched broadsides against President Barack Obama’s administration and Democrats, alleging that they had disrespected the men and women in the U.S. military while attempting to surveil and silence conservatives. The blowback shifted the debate away from how to actually address the threat and into another partisan public spectacle.

In the years since, every time someone proposes that there’s a threat of violence from right-wing groups, that person is shouted down. So let’s see what happens this time. But the 2009 report was prescient. Since the January 6 Capitol insurrection, news stories about the number of cops and ex-military who were among the insurrectionists have spread throughout the land, to the surprise of absolutely no one who’d been paying any attention at all.

It’s also the case that many people involved in national security are inclined to give righties a pass. For example, Iveta Cherneva at Salon discusses FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich, who will be retiring soon.

In the spring of last year, when I was a candidate for the office of UN special rapporteur on freedom of speech, Bowdich was quoted, in a memo leaked to the New York Times, reacting to the nationwide wave of Black Lives Matters protests. Bowdich maintained that the protesters should be arrested under an outdated racketeering law from the 1940s. The leaked memo showed that Bowdich considered the social justice movement “a national crisis” comparable to 9/11. The hundreds of thousands of people mourning and marching across the country, unified by the simple concept that no life should be taken lightly, were seen by the FBI’s deputy director as similar to terrorists or members of organized crime operations.

The problem is bigger than Bowdich.

The FBI remains obsessed with dissident or radical voices on the left, while largely ignoring the violent extremists and the real terrorism threat on the far right, as recently revealed by an Intercept investigation that found “glaring disparities between law enforcement’s depiction of groups on the right and the left.”

When it came to analysis of left-wing groups, “law enforcement intelligence was often vague, mixed up in online conspiracy theories or untethered to evidence of suspected criminal activity”. When it comes to the right, on the other hand, the documents showed “law enforcement agencies across the country sharing detailed and specific information on the mobilization of armed groups looking to use the unrest as cover to attack law enforcement and protesters and set off a civil war.”

This suggests to me that right-wing extremism presents a much more tangible, clear, and present danger than anything happening on the left.

It’s also the case that for years, right-wing organizations glorified gun culture and, with the help of right-wing politicians, have managed to erase anything resembling gun control in large parts of the country. So now we’ve got vast swarms of right-wing thugs who are legally armed to the teeth and who have been primed to oppose anything resembling democratic government. Way to go, America.

Please see Out of the Barrel of a Gun by Charles Homans at the New York Times. We are all increasingly at the mercy of angry, heavily armed people — mostly men — who fervently believe they have a constitutional right and patriotic duty to destroy the government and anyone who supports it as the heavily armed people see fit. The “constituion,” in this case, is an amorphous thing that exists in their imaginations and bears no resemblance to the document drawn up and ratified in 1789, but good luck explaining that to them.

The only thing that’s stopped these specimens from being an even bigger threat is that they’ve been more of a culture than a movement, at least until recently. Trumpism and the pandemic have given them direction and focus. Mary McCord writes in the Los Angeles Times:

Since the onset of the pandemic, paramilitary groups have engaged in armed intimidation and threats at statehousesgovernors’ mansions, and public health officials’ homes in opposition to public health orders. They have endangered public safety — with fatal results — by self-deploying to “protect” property from what have been largely false rumors of antifa violence during racial justice demonstrations. Six men involved with a private militia have been charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and try her for treason. These groups are trained and organized for the sort of violence that occurred on Jan. 6. Support for Trump has often been at the core of their online rhetoric, and Trump’s apparent encouragement of their activities has been used to normalize their extremist views for broader appeal.

The Capitol siege reveals something that many have been willing to ignore for too long: the involvement of paramilitary organizations that often refer to themselves as “patriots” with extremists who openly advocate for and commit violent attacks to intimidate and coerce. Many condemn the latter as domestic terrorists, and indeed, the U.S. Code defines domestic terrorism as activities that involve crimes of violence committed with the intent “to intimidate and coerce a civilian population” or “to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” But few have been willing to acknowledge that some paramilitary organizations and their members have advocated for and committed acts that meet the domestic terrorism definition.

Few have been willing to acknowledge that a bunch of American-born white guys who wave the flag and call themselves “patriots” could be domestic terrorists. But they are, and they have been for a long time. Maybe they’ll finally be recognized as such.

In other domestic terrorism news — Reuters reports,

Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys extremist group, has a past as an informer for federal and local law enforcement, repeatedly working undercover for investigators after he was arrested in 2012, according to a former prosecutor and a transcript of a 2014 federal court proceeding obtained by Reuters. …

… Tarrio, in an interview with Reuters Tuesday, denied working undercover or cooperating in cases against others. “I don’t know any of this,” he said, when asked about the transcript. “I don’t recall any of this.”

Law-enforcement officials and the court transcript contradict Tarrio’s denial. In a statement to Reuters, the former federal prosecutor in Tarrio’s case, Vanessa Singh Johannes, confirmed that “he cooperated with local and federal law enforcement, to aid in the prosecution of those running other, separate criminal enterprises, ranging from running marijuana grow houses in Miami to operating pharmaceutical fraud schemes.”


Mitch McConnell’s Big Red Wall of No

The big news today is that it appears Mitch McConnell has backed down on blocking Democrats from assuming the majority in the Senate and will allow the power-sharing agreement to proceed. I say appears because it is now afternoon in Washington DC, and from what I can tell from news reports the deal isn’t done yet.

The most recent news, from Mike DeBonis and Erica Werner at WaPo:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned Democrats Tuesday that Republicans would counter any attempt to eliminate the filibuster, the 60-vote supermajority requirement to move most legislation, with “immediate chaos” that would grind the chamber — and the Democratic governing agenda — to a halt.

McConnell delivered his admonition less than a day after he signaled he would move forward with a power-sharing agreement governing operations of the 50-50 Senate — only after two Democratic senators made public assurances that they would not support eliminating the filibuster.

Both senators, Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), had previously said they opposed ditching the rule, and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) declared victory Tuesday — thanking McConnell for accepting “exactly what Democrats proposed from the start.”

“I’m glad we’re finally able to get the Senate up and running,” Schumer said. “My only regret is that it took so long.”

But McConnell, speaking after Schumer, said it was Republicans who had secured a victory, by ensuring that the filibuster is not in immediate peril. He went to on to describe in detail how the GOP would respond if Democrats changed their position and moved to eliminate the filibuster in order to pass their agenda.

Yeah, we can’t let the party that won the bleeping election pass their agenda, can we?

If Dems mess with filibuster rules, McConnell plans to raise objections to routine business and issue frequent quorum calls to gum up the works and stop Democrats from getting anything done. That’s what he said he would do, and I don’t doubt he will do it.

McConnell said Tuesday a further escalation would mean Senate business would move at “a snail’s pace” and “drain comity and consent from this body to a degree that would be unparalleled in living memory.”

Nah, I think McConnell has already done that. I don’t see how it could get any worse than it already is.

The question is, can the Democrats get around McConnell’s big red wall of no? I don’t understand Senate procedures well enough to answer that question. Greg Sargent:

Superficially, it’s of course good news that McConnell backed down. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) correctly judged that McConnell would buckle if Democrats refused to rule out ending the legislative filibuster later. They’ll need to preserve that possibility as a future weapon against relentless McConnell obstructionism.

But the bad news is that en route to this point, two moderate Senate Democrats — Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — further dug themselves in against ending the filibuster at any point. Though that could change, for now it risks weakening Democratic leverage against McConnell’s use of it to frustrate Biden’s agenda.

It’s always possible Manchin and Sinema could change their minds again, I suppose.

Waldman goes on to say that what’s at stake here isn’t just President Biden’s agenda. And it isn’t just getting a relief package to Americans asap. “No, what McConnell is threatening is even worse than all that. By Schumer’s analysis, successful McConnell obstruction would also continue undermining faith in democracy itself, making voters susceptible to another Trumpist demagogue,” Waldman writes.

In short, if Biden’s agenda passes and succeeds, it destroys the anti-government mythology that Republicans have used these past forty years to undermine democracy and turn the U.S. into a plutocracy.  Republican governance is about exploiting America’s people and resources for the benefit of the rich, and that’s that.

Assuming a power sharing agreement goes into effect in the next few hours, that’s just the beginning of the war. If legislation will still require 60 votes to move forward, the big red wall is still in place. They can use reconciliation to get past the 60 vote threshold on some bills, but not all the bills, I don’t believe.

On the plus side, Chuck Schumer insists he has learned the lesson of the obstructed Obama agenda and will not take McConnell’s “no” for an answer. “Schumer pledged that this time, Democrats will not get lured in by GOP bad faith, and vowed that Democrats will respond with procedural aggressiveness against McConnell’s all-but-certain duplication of that performance,” Paul Waldman says. So we’ll see.

Click here to see clips of Rachel Maddow’s interview with Schumer last night.

Take Josh Hawley. Please.

I think we can say that Senator Josh “Mr. Entitled” Hawley doesn’t take criticism well.  Quint Forgey, The Hill:

Sen. Josh Hawley on Monday filed a counter-complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee against the seven Senate Democrats who had previously filed a complaint against him and Sen. Ted Cruz over the two Republicans’ objections to the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“The idea that one Senator who disagrees with another Senator can therefore have that Senator punished, sanctioned, censured, or removed is utterly antithetical to our democracy and the very idea of open, lawful debate,” Hawley (R-Mo.) wrote in a letter to the seven Democrats.

This isn’t so much about one senator disagreeing with another. It’s about one senator supporting the authoritarian takeover of the U.S. by overturning a lawful election. It’s also about one senator supporting a violent takeover of the Capitol building that might have gotten other senators killed.

It may be that Hawley assumed his challenge of the Electoral College votes was a harmless stunt that wouldn’t succeed. It may be that he didn’t realize how violent the attack on the Capitol would get. But stunts like that must not be allowed to become a standard part of our elections. Because eventually they will overturn an election. And the mob already got people killed.

Cristina Cabrera, Talking Points Memo:

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) invoked the ironclad “I know you are, but what am I?” defense on Monday with a formal demand for an ethics investigation into the Democratic senators who requested an investigation into his attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

In a complaint to the Senate Committee on Ethics that was saturated with outrage and self-victimization, Hawley accused Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) of engaging in “improper conduct” by “knowingly submitting a frivolous complaint to accomplish impermissible partisan purposes.”

“The Senate cannot function if its neutral administrative processes are hijacked for bad-faith ends, but that is precisely what is occurring here,” wrote Hawley, who had voted to throw out electors from swing states that went to Joe Biden during what was supposed to be Congress’ procedural ratification of the election results.

Hawley also penned an irony-free letter to the Democrats complaining that their request was “utterly antithetical to our democracy.”

In his complaint, Hawley actually accused the Democratic senators of “Fabricating conspiracy theories to attack me for political purposes.”

Gee, imagine anybody fabricating conspiracy theories for political purposes.

Determined to make a fool of himself in public, Hawley also is complaining that free speech is being muzzled in America. Jonathan Chait:

Josh Hawley’s lifelong quest to the presidency was initially supposed to run through elite channels of conventional Republican advancement. During the last four years, the plan suddenly changed, and Hawley fashioned himself a Trumpian populist railing against his own class. Now the blueprint has changed once again. Hawley is casting himself as a dissident, a modern Mandela or Solzhenitsyn.

His manifesto has somehow been smuggled past the censors and published on the front page of the New York Post. Its headline decries “the muzzling of America,” presenting Hawley himself as the most prominent victim of a scourge threatening every American man, woman, and child.

Only in America could someone so oppressed by Big Brother get his complaints published on the front page of one of the top ten (by circulation) newspapers in the country.

Boiled down into plain English, Hawley’s “muzzling” consists of calls for resignation from some of his political opponents (and me; as a constituent I email him regularly explaining what I think of him); several of his donors have pledged to stop giving him money; and Simon & Schuster canceled his book deal, forcing him to take his manuscript to a another publisher. Solzhenitsyn should have had it so good.

Exactly which rights are being violated is a tad murky, but one of them is the infamous Right to Not Be Disagreed With that righties fervently believe is in the Constitution, somewhere. I’ve written about this before, such as here and here. See also Adam Serwer, Tribalism And Constitutional Rights, on this phenomenon.

There is also the deeply held belief in the right to a medium or venue of your choice. But, seriously, I have seen the First Amendment. That ain’t in there. There is no constitutional right to have your manuscript published by Simon & Schuster. There is no constitutional right to a Twitter account. There just isn’t. You can express your opinion freely, but if no one else wants to post or publish it, you may have to do it yourself. The First Amendment only restricts government from censoring you, not private publishing or social media companies.

But Hawley knows this good and well. He is not stupid. He has a fancy-shmancy law degree; he clerked for Chief Justice Roberts. He just thinks he is entitled to not suffer the consequences of his own bad actions.

See also:

Steve Benen, MSNBC, Already in a ditch, Josh Hawley finds a shovel, keeps digging