Former senior Trump White House aide Steve Bannon says he will appeal after being found guilty of two counts of contempt of Congress over his refusal to comply with subpoenas issued by the congressional panel investigating the events of January 6, 2021.
The verdict was not unexpected. Some “Never Trumpers,” like retiring U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) had strong praise for the D.C.-jury that found Bannon guilty. “It’s good. I mean justice, right? You can plead the Fifth if you want in front of our committee, but you can’t ignore a congressional subpoena, or you’ll pay the price,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Others, like Harvard legal scholar Alan Dershowitz, think Kinzinger and other “Never Trumpers” are prematurely congratulating themselves over having pushed the issue so far. Interviewed on Newsmax, the noted attorney said the composition of the jury alone was almost certainly enough reason for the conviction to be reversed on appeal.
Dershowitz said the conduct of the trial had raised serious issues. “The only provision of the Constitution, which appears basically twice, is trial by jury in and in front of a fair jury. Number one, he didn’t have a fair jury. Number two, the judge took his defenses away from him,” he said, echoing a claim made by Bannon‘s legal team that the judge’s ruling stripped them of the opportunity to put on an effective defense.
“And all you had to do was say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this man Bannon worked for Trump,’” Dershowitz said. “That’s the end of the case,” which saw Bannon found guilty of criminal contempt of Congress. He’s not the first former administration official to have a congressional contempt citation referred to the U.S. Department of Justice for criminal indictment. Most have not been acted on over the last 50 years, including one involving former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder after he refused to comply with congressional subpoenas seeking information about a DOJ-led undercover operation that armed Mexican drug cartels.
In the trial arising out of Bannon’s November 2021 indictment, prosecutor Molly Gaston argued he “chose allegiance to Donald Trump over compliance with the law,” according to published reports that appeared Friday. “When it really comes down to it, he did not want to recognize Congress’ authority or play by the government’s rules,” Gaston said. “Our government only works if people show up. It only works if people play by the rules. And it only works if people are held accountable when they do not.”
Bannon could be sentenced to as little as 30 days per count or as much as two years, something Trump opponents hope might scare other potential witnesses who have refused to appear before the panel to change their minds. That, people who have followed the events closely say, is highly unlikely as the most ardent supporters of the former president view the inquiry as nothing more or less than a directed effort to embarrass the former president. They believe most Democrats and some Republicans want Trump left unable to be a candidate in 2024 for the office he lost in 2020.
There’s a lot not to like about the January 6 Committee, including the way it was established and how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to let the chamber’s top Republican, California’s Kevin McCarthy, name who its GOP members would be. From the start, it’s pursued an avenue of inquiry that resembles very much what a high school senior might use when writing a term paper: Come up with the thesis first, look only for evidence to support it, then restate the thesis.
Bannon and others opting not to appear in response to a subpoena are probably right that their cooperation would make them party to a fishing expedition and not from inside the boat. The hook is the panel’s inquiry has been another contemptible effort to get Trump that is an abuse of due process, the separation of powers and the legal system. The idea that Bannon, as Dershowitz suggests, could get a fair hearing before a jury of his peers in Washington, D.C., would be laughable if liberty weren’t on the line. Before anyone brings up the issue of that being a nakedly partisan statement, I say the same thing if California Gov. Gavin Newsom were on trial for criminal violations of his own pandemic lockdown rules in La Jolla or Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s husband were defending his liberty in a courtroom in the U.P. for trying to get his boat in the water ahead of time and against the rules by throwing what he thought was his political weight around.
It can be argued, and probably should be, that Pelosi and company are abusing their power as they have accused Trump of abusing his. Rightly or wrongly, he believed reelection had been denied him through dishonest means. There is no forum for settling that claim, at least at the moment, save the court of public opinion, so what alternatives did he have except to call on his supporters to pressure those in charge of key decisions to consider them carefully and to examine all the evidence? Some of them, if they weren’t just anarchists trying to bring the whole system down by taking advantage of the situation, went too far.
That doesn’t eliminate the fact the concerns Trump raised were dismissed while careful consideration was shown to the losing candidate’s claim in 2000, constantly repeated by a fawning media, that elderly Jewish voters in Florida’s Palm Beach County had mistakenly voted for Pat Buchanan when they meant to vote for Gore because the ballot was confusing. People actually took that seriously and it was the over-the-threshold to contesting the outcome of the entire election that stopped the presidential transition process dead in its tracks.
Democrats routinely put their thumbs on the political scales but rarely get called on it. When a Republican does it, it’s an immediate constitutional crisis. Nobody wins in that scenario, except the occasional Democrat in a race where the outcome is disputed. The track record on these kinds of investigations is so bad that even if the Jan. 6 panel does find a smoking gun, half the country will never believe it.
There’s a proper way to look into the events of that day, which were uncalled for, horrific and against everything that America stands for, and the Jan. 6 panel isn’t it. Steve Bannon’s not the only one who should have contempt for Congress because of it.
Confidence in major U.S. institutions such as the government, media, law enforcement, and Big Tech is at a record low and has not improved at all since 2021, a new report from Gallup found.
Of the 16 institutions Gallup measured Americans’ confidence in, “Congress” ranked the worst, with only 7 percent of those surveyed claiming they trusted the legislative body. That’s a 5-point drop since Gallup’s 2021 poll.
“The presidency” and “the U.S. Supreme Court” also lost a noteworthy amount of Americans’ trust since last year. While the presidency clocked 38 percent confidence last year and SCOTUS received 36 percent, both branches of government dropped into the low- to mid-20s in 2022.
Specifically, the court had a 25 percent vote of confidence with Americans before the Dobbs v. Jackson decision was released, and the presidency held 23 percent of Americans’ trust. That’s even lower than President Joe Biden’s current 38 percent approval rating.
Other institutions such as church or organized religion (31 percent), the criminal justice system (14 percent), big business (14 percent), newspapers (16 percent), and police (45 percent) marked their lowest votes of confidence since the 1990s, according to Gallup.
Americans have also significantly lost trust in the media. Only 11 percent of those surveyed said they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in “television news.” That confidence goes up to 16 percent with newspapers but, much like the TV news category, is still down 5 points from just last year.
Trust in the media is drastically split along partisan lines. While only 8 percent of Republicans and 8 percent of independents say they still have faith in TV news, 20 percent of Democrats reported confidence in broadcast media. When it comes to newspapers, only 5 percent of Republicans and 12 percent of independents say they have confidence, compared to 35 percent of Democrats.
Only small businesses and the U.S. military seem to have captured more than 50 percent of Americans’ vote of confidence.
There are a lot of folks who like to watch the NFL on TV. Maybe not as many as there were before the whole kneeling thing started, but it’s still a big number. And many of those probably find it irritating to no end when one of the commentators says something like—and it’s almost inevitable that they will—”It’s all going to come down to which team can put the most points on the board.”
For the people who, like me, make a living writing about politics and elections, the onset of primary season produces for us the same kind of annoyance. It’s maddening when someone who is presented as an expert on the ins and outs of the electoral process says, as you can safely bet someone eventually will, that “it’s all going to come down to turnout.”
There are times when there is a real urge to smack some of these analysts in the face. This is what comes from eliminating high school civics programs and news organizations deciding that those who at one time or another covered local government are now well-suited to explain how and why politicians get elected.
The 2016 presidential election is a perfect example of this phenomenon in practice. Many of the nation’s top political reporters, as well as those in the middle and many of the bottom-feeders, missed what was going on. They bought into the spin that Hillary Clinton‘s election was inevitable. As such, they regarded the October 2016 leak of an audiotape in which Donald Trump could, to put it gently, be heard speaking unflatteringly about women, as a death blow.
Admittedly, in many races and almost any other year, it probably would have been. But the choice between Clinton and Trump was unlike any presented to the voters in some time.
It takes experience in the electoral process to generate the level of sophistication regarding the many nuances in American politics. It takes more than subject-matter expertise to get it right. So many of my colleagues missed it so totally that I—who saw Trump’s chances of getting to the White House growing while Clinton’s were contracting, even after the release of the infamous audiotape—was either onto something or had simply become a cheerleader for whichever candidate the GOP chose to nominate.
The reason I bring this all up is that I now see it happening again. The dominant political media’s obsession with Trump, the candidates he’s endorsed and whether or not they’re winning contested GOP primaries is only a small part of the 2022 midterm election story.
It’s a popular subject because it’s easy to cover and people seem interested in it. It doesn’t, however, tell us much about where the GOP is headed or what’s now happening among the Democrats. The next election, as much as the mainstream media won’t like it, isn’t going to be a referendum on Trump. It’s going to be about President Joe Biden and how the Democrats have run the country for the last two years, even though—and this is something else that’s been overlooked—the GOP is in charge of more states now than at almost any time in history.
The Biden presidency is failing. At least that’s the perception people have. His approval rating, which started in the low- to mid-60s when he took office, has now sunk below 40. That’s not good for him, and it’s not good for his party. Democrats are getting the blame for things that are happening as a result of policies Biden has put in place, as well as for things harmful to the interests of the United States over which he has no direct control. That’s created a positive political environment for the GOP, which has amassed a nearly double-digit lead on the crucial polling question of which party voters want to control Congress after the next election.
How people feel, and why, is what ties all this together. The environment drives turnout and, right now, GOP voters are energized and engaged. A Rasmussen Reports national survey released May 26 found that of the 79% of likely voters who are excited to vote in the midterm election, Republicans led Democrats by an eight-point margin. Among those who said they were “very excited” (49 percent) to vote this fall, the GOP lead grows to 16 points. “These findings are consistent with the generic congressional ballot,” the polling firm said, “where Republicans held a nine-point lead last week.”
The challenge for those writing about elections is to figure out why that is. To be blunt, they need to set aside their personal biases—left and right—long enough to get in touch with what the American voter is thinking, while also abandoning their propensity to judge whether those thoughts are “right” or “wrong.” Only then will they be able to report competently on the contest for control of Congress this fall.
The former GOP majority leader shows how the sausage is made.
It’s always a temptation when reviewing political books to cite the observation attributed to Bismarck that “Laws are like sausages. It’s best not to see them being made.” It’s so tempting it’s become a cliché. Yet just because it’s trite doesn’t make it true.
In election after election, we’ve seen candidates for high office make promises we presume they intend to keep. Then they go off to Washington, ready to do the right thing, only to find themselves eventually distracted by the perks that come with the job, as we’ve seen time and again on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers and on the nightly news.
One who did manage to stay within the boundaries he set for himself was former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas). First elected in 1984, he quickly became the kind of conservative leader many Republicans had long prayed would come upon the scene.
For many, their first encounter with him came while he was pushing a then-revolutionary idea that would allow the federal government to close unneeded military bases over the opposition of those who represented the districts in which they were located. The Armey Base Closing Bill, which he managed to get passed despite not being a member of the House Armed Services Committee, has been held up ever since as an example that legislators looking to make their mark as serious people would do well to emulate.
It did not take long for Armey to be seen as the conservative standard-bearer on a host of issues related to economics and education. He’s still revered to this day by the nation’s millions of home-schooling families because he stopped an effort by congressional Democrats to regulate their activities. But he is best known for his leadership on economic issues — particularly against the tax increases that George H. W. Bush sought in violation of the “no new taxes” promise he made during the 1988 presidential election.
That, as most people know, proved ruinous to Bush’s hopes for a second term because it turned the Reagan wing of the party against him. White House insiders tried to mitigate the political damage by claiming it was a gambit by then-White House Chief of Staff John Sununu to produce an uptick in federal revenues by forcing the Democrats to sign on to a cut in the tax rate on capital gains. Other said later that it was tied to getting congressional support for the military operation that pushed Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.
What wasn’t, and what no one has ever said until now when Armey does it, is that the tax hike was something long in the works, planned by key Bush aides whose green eyeshades were pulled down too far over their faces to see reality staring back at them.
According to Armey, he was told in 1989 during the period in which 101st Congress was organizing that House Budget Chairman Leon Panetta (D-Calif.) looked him in the eye and told him Bush’s OMB Director-designate “Dick Darman believes that if he can get President Bush a year beyond his ‘read my lips’ declaration, he can get him to agree to raise taxes in a budget deal.”
Leader is not gossipy or salacious, and he doesn’t use his prose to settle scores. That’s what makes Armey’s book so different from the traditional Washington memoir. He has kinder words for some Democrats than those who know him as a fierce partisan might expect. He’s also got some choice words for some of his fellow Republicans, who do not come off at all well. This includes the man who succeeded him as majority leader, Tom DeLay of Texas, who is widely viewed as the principal inside man in the aborted coup against House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Armey, who says to this day says he had no part in the coup, recounts how he was angrily confronted by his fellow Texan after being forced to apologize to the entire Republican Conference. DeLay, he writes, “rushed me, grabbed my coat, and screamed into my face. ‘You rotten SOB! I hate you! And I am going to ruin you, you miserable bastard!’”
There’s a lot for anyone to learn in Leader, whether you want to know how good policy becomes law, how bad economics make bad policy, or how the legislative process really works, told from the perspective of a man who not only participated in it but also led it for almost a decade. As the Republican House floor leader, he had the insider’s view. In his book he shares it, warts and all, candidly and seemingly without reservation, something that in the age of spin and social media happens all too infrequently. Unlike many of his former political colleagues, Armey didn’t write this book to make money. He wrote it to make a point worth making, which, frankly, is why Dick Armey ever does anything.
Republicans call new perks "disgusting" and "out of touch."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi belatedly jumped into America’s baby formula crisis on Friday, calling nationwide shortages “unconscionable” and setting an emergency vote next week. But while she tried to get Democrats caught up on a crisis that caught them by surprise, her administrative office was busy ramping up new perks for lawmakers.
House members were alerted to two new perks this week compliments of the chamber’s Democrat leadership: fully paid memberships to Peloton gyms as well as a brand new liquor and drinks outlet.
Republicans immediately seized on the optics, saying doling out additional benefits to lawmakers when everyday Americans are struggling to fill gas tanks, grocery carts or baby bottles was a bridge too far, even for Washington.
“Washington Dems couldn’t be more out of touch,” Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.) wrote as he tweeted out a new announcement by the House Chief Administrative Officer announcing a new “House Drinks storefront” in the Rayburn House Office Building where lawmakers and staff can buy beverages, wine and liquor.
“Whether you’re hosting a meeting or an office event or just want to stock up on your favorite drinks, House Drinks sells water, soda, juice, alcohol and spirits,” the announcement boasted. “Six, twelve and 24-packs are available depending on the drink.”
Ferguson, a member of the powerful purse-strings-controlling Ways and Means Committee, sent out his tweet with the hashtag “FirePelosi” and noted “your tax dollars can be used for purchases.”
“Americans can’t afford to buy groceries or put gas in their cars, and Nancy Pelosi decides now is a good time to open a congressional liquor store on Capitol Hill,” he added.
Meanwhile, multiple members of Congress confirmed to Just the News that the Chief Administrative Officer has also decided to provide all lawmakers, staff and Capitol Police officers with free VIP memberships to Peloton gyms.
An email obtained by Fox Business said the “premier employee benefit” will provide employees with both Peloton All-Access and a Peloton App membership at no monthly cost. The network said the deal involved a $10,000 upfront payment and $10 per month per staffer who used the perk.
Peloton confirmed to Fox Business that the “the US House of Representatives is extending Peloton Corporate Wellness to all House staff and Capitol police.”
The new perks follow other benefits Congress has received — and in some cases abused — over the years, like a post office, a bank, and fat pensions. And they come after Pelosi has faced murmurs about multiple instances of being out of touch, including when she boasted about her expensive freezer filled with ice cream during the pandemic, a move some progressives claimed hurt Democrat election chances.
The gym deal resonated all the way to the campaign trail, where Tennessee House candidate Robby Starbuck decried Washington’s tone deafness.
“Moms and Dads are going to 8 stores looking for baby formula while paying for gas they can barely afford but at least the Democrats are using our tax dollars to do Peloton,” Starbuck tweeted. “Disgusting.”
In the aftermath of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to a seat on the United States Supreme Court, there’s a lot still to be said about the way federal judicial nominations are handled. Most of it bad. Like Humpty Dumpty, the process is so badly broken that “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” may never get it back together again.
Each party blames the other for the breakdown. Republicans, heels dug in, say, “What about Bork?” Equally immovable Democrats respond, “What about Merrick Garland?” Rare these days is the senator who can vote to confirm a high court appointment made by a president of the other party without incurring substantial political problems with the folks back home.
The reasons for this are not just partisan. As the parties have polarized, so too has their view of the proper role of the federal judiciary. Progressives prefer nominees who are “activists” and who consider the public policy implications of what they hand down in addition to or over and above issues of constitutionality. They, like the late Justice William O. Douglas, believe they should be guided by the penumbras currently emanating from the Constitution rather than its text alone, allowing, even requiring them to “make law from the bench” without regard for textual limitations.
Conservatives seek out nominees who feel bound by limitations beyond precedent, including the belief that the words used in the Constitution had a clear, specific, common meaning understood by reasonable people at the time it was written and which are still determinate today. That philosophy of “originalism,” held among others by legendary Justice Antonin Scalia, is best expressed axiomatically as “The Constitution says what it means and means what it says.”
Over time, these diametrically opposite views regarding the role of a Supreme Court justice have turned the confirmation process into something resembling a partisan political campaign. President Joe Biden acknowledged as much Friday at the White House at an event with Judge Jackson following the Senate vote.
“I knew the person I nominated,” he said, “would be put through a painful and difficult confirmation process. But I have to tell you: What Judge Jackson was put through was well beyond that. There was verbal abuse, the anger, the constant interruptions, the most vile, baseless, vile [sic] assertions and accusations.”
Biden must have missed the Kavanaugh hearings. He didn’t miss the Bork or Thomas hearings, though. He was not only present as they were publicly flayed regarding their opinions and had their character assassinated, he presided over them. And each one of them contained more “baseless, vile assertions and accusations” than anything Judge Jackson experienced.
It’s no coincidence the coarseness now infecting the judicial confirmation process started when Biden was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He knows the role politics plays in the process of getting someone on the federal bench, embracing it when running for president in 1988 and 2020 when he refused to commit for or against a proposal to “pack” the Supreme Court should he win.
This leaves Judge Jackson in an unfortunate position. For the rest of her life, or at least for as long as she is on the Court, there will be just as many people wondering if she was the best choice for the job or if her appointment was simply the most politically expedient for a president who needed to keep a campaign promise.
As far as the Senate vote goes, congratulations are due to the future justice now that she has been confirmed. It is a high honor of which she will hopefully prove herself worthy. There’s reason for concern she won’t, but not the ones you might expect.
Biden won the election. He had every right to pick a liberal, activist judge. If qualified, she should be confirmed despite that. By deciding to focus on what frankly were ancillary matters during her confirmation hearings, the senators on the Judiciary Committee rejected the opportunity to explore just how far outside the mainstream of American legal thought she might be and if any of her views were extreme enough to disqualify her.
Such a reason might exist but was left largely unexplored. In a set of written questions submitted to her by members of the committee, Judge Jackson was asked to explain, in her own words, “the theory prevalent among members of the Founding Fathers’ generation that humans possess natural rights that are inherent or inalienable.”
She answered well at first, explaining this as the being reflected in the Declaration of Independence – some might call it the cornerstone of the entire document – that certain rights come from “our Creator,” as Jefferson put it, and are, therefore, “inalienable.” These include, she wrote the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and are often referred to as “natural rights.”
This is more than just the mainstream view of the common law, embraced by liberals and conservatives alike for centuries. It is foundational to the American democratic system. When asked if she herself held that view, she replied, “I do not hold a position on whether individuals possess natural rights.”
This is a jarring admission. At least it should be. If our most basic rights like the right to life and liberty do not come from “our Creator,” if they are not inherent, then they can only be made by man. If they are made by man or granted by man, they can be taken away.
Admittedly, there is a difference between having a right and being able to exercise it, which is something Supreme Court justices often must consider in the cases before them: Has an action by the government interfered with an individual’s ability to exercise an inherent right? Judge Jackson’s position was not made clear in a follow-up question seeking to clarify her views.
Instead, she responded evasively, directing those reading her response to her answer to a previous question: “As a sitting federal judge, all of the Supreme Court’s pronouncements are binding on me, and under the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, I have a duty to refrain from critiquing the law that governs my decisions, because doing so creates the impression that the judge would have difficulty applying binding law to their own rulings. Consistent with the positions taken by other pending judicial nominees, it is my testimony that, as a general matter, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the merits or demerits of the Supreme Court’s binding precedents.”
That tells us nothing. It is a subject that those who sought to keep Judge Jackson off the high court should have pursued with greater force. Does she believe we have an inherent right to life and to liberty, or doesn’t she? This is one of the most basic of the many complex issues the justices on the high court are called upon to consider every term. The American constitutional republic is predicated on the notion that the government’s respect for all opinions and people, even those in the minority in any group or on any issue, is a requirement. It can be inferred from her answer that she does not agree and may fall back on that position but only when it is useful to do so in furtherance of her arguments in her writings.
Hopefully, this will not prove to be a real concern. Either she affirms through her writings from the bench that her views are, in fact, in line with the thinking of the Founders or because she will be forever in the minority on the Court on any decision handed down by the Court where belief in inherent rights matters. Elections, as they say, have consequences. Her elevation to the Court is one of them. Something to remember for next time.
When Sen. Joe Manchin announced on Fox News that he could not support President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation even at its reduced price, he took heat from White House Press Secretary Jan Psaki, followed quickly by criticism from journalists and pundits.
“How will the nation ever address the enduring market failures, glaring inequality, and big social-safety-net gaps that the Build Back Better plan was designed to tackle?” asked New Yorker columnist John Cassidy. Manchin was also accused of voting against his state’s interests, while others attributed his no vote to the fact that he takes campaign money from the coal, oil and gas industries. This week, the coal miners’ union upped the pressure by calling on West Virginia’s senior senator to vote for BBB.
As a political scientist who has studied and written about Congress for over 50 years, I do not find it surprising that an incumbent more conservative than the average Democratic senator should balk at legislation he considers too liberal. Nor was it surprising when a Republican who occupied a space on the spectrum to the left of the average GOP senator vexed party leaders by voting at the last minute to preserve the Affordable Care Act, which is what John McCain did.
I don’t find any of that surprising because I was around when Bill Clinton came to office — after 12 years of Republican presidents — with high hopes for universal health care, a large jobs stimulus plan, tax increases, family leave, and a major energy tax. A brief review of some of these measures and who determined their fate is useful.
The energy tax (calculated on British thermal units) was reduced to a small increase at the gas pump by moderate Senate Democrats from oil patch states, most specifically John Breaux of Louisiana and Oklahoma’s David Boren. That duo, plus Sun Belt moderates such as Sam Nunn and Dennis DeConcini made sure that Clinton didn’t derail the North American Trade Agreement over environmental and labor issues, which is what labor-friendly colleagues were pressuring the administration to do. In order to get his job stimulus bill through Congress, Clinton jettisoned some urban spending and an expansion of student loan grants. Legislation expanding national service programs had to be cut by over half before centrist Democrats would vote for it. And the much-touted universal health care bill shepherded by first lady Hillary Clinton never made it out of the relevant House committees. Reps. Mike Andrews of Texas and Jim Cooper of Tennessee were among those who objected to the cost.
The same pattern held when the Republicans took over Congress in 1995 for the first time in 40 years and tried to enact various elements of their “Contract With America.” The Senate during 104th Congress had only 52 Republicans, meaning that it needed the votes of every centrist Republican to pass anything. Two states alone prevented conservatives from acting on balanced budget legislation, term limits, and efforts to curb unfunded mandates. Oregon’s delegation (Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood) and Maine’s (William Cohen and Olympia Snowe) were made of confirmed moderates. These four, along with Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, and Democrat-turned-Republican Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado forced the leadership to simply abandon the idea of reducing Medicare and Medicaid.
Given this history, no one should be surprised that a moderate (or conservative, if you prefer) Democrat elected from a conservative state that Joe Biden lost by nearly 40 percentage points should balk about transformative progressive legislation or that such a lawmaker can determine the fate of major legislation. As I say, it’s happened before. The George W. Bush administration began with a 50/50 Senate with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote in case of ties. Some of Bush’s conservative policies ranging from tax cuts to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge were watered down by a combination of more liberal Republicans (including Snowe and Specter), along with newer additions Lincoln Chafee and Susan Collins of Maine. Jim Jeffords actually left the GOP, swinging the balance in the upper chamber.
Yet today things are different. What distinguishes Manchin and his treatment from that of Breaux, Boren, Specter, Snowe and the others? The first thing is that there are not many Democrats elected to the Senate from “red” states anymore. I’m talking about Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. In Clinton’s first Congress, 20 of the 26 Senate seats representing these states were held by Democrats. In the present Senate, there is one, and only one, Democrat elected from those 13 states. Yes, his name is Joe Manchin.
In the 103rd Congress, the states of Delaware, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington had more Republican than Democratic senators. In the present Senate these states have no Republican senators. The sorting and polarization that has occurred over the last three decades results in fewer moderate senators of either political party. The smaller the number of such lawmakers the more likely they are to be targeted for criticism and electoral challenge. In the Clinton era it was harder to assail them because there were more of them — and they were people whom liberals might need on the next key legislative vote.
The overall effect of party sorting is that voting in the Congress has become much more polarized. In the Senate during Bill Clinton’s first term in the White House, Americans for Democratic Action (a liberal organization that awards numerical scores to members of Congress) recorded an average of 75% percent support among Democratic senators for liberal policy, with 13 of them showing less than two-thirds support for ADA-backed legislation.
In the same Congress, the ADA gave Republican senators an average score of 20%, with seven moderates registering scores between 40% and 75%. These scores are in sharp contrast to the contemporary Senate where, in 2020 (the last year data are available), the average Democratic score was over 95% percent while Republicans averaged less than 4%. The lowest Democratic senator — no surprise — was Manchin, who voted the liberal position 75% of the time, a score equal to the average in the 103rd Senate.
On the Republican side there were only two senators who scored over 10% on the liberal index with the high score being 25%. In sum, in the sorted and polarized Congress there are fewer and fewer moderates. And while moderates like Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema still impact legislative results, they increasingly face scathing attacks from members of their own party. Manchin’s position was labeled “anti-Black, anti-child, anti-woman and anti-immigrant” (Rep. Cori Bush) and his reasoning “bullshit” (Ilhan Omar). House Progressive Caucus leader Pramila Jayapal claimed publicly that Manchin “betrayed his commitment not only to the president and Democrats in Congress but, most importantly, to the American people.”
In the days when there were more centrists in Congress, one did not find the intensity and number of such intra-party attacks. Much is lost in addition to civility. Those senators closest to the 50th vote in the chamber have always transformed policy. The end result in the Clinton and Bush presidencies was legislative compromise that, in each case, prevented the party in power from veering too far in the direction of the ideological purists and their party’s left or right base.
In the politically sorted and polarized Congress today, there is little tolerance for anything other than extreme policy. This is one obvious reason why the American people do not think highly of the Congress and its policy process. In the final YouGov poll of Donald Trump’s presidency, only 14% of registered voters approved of the job Congress is doing. Those numbers have ticked up slightly in the past year, but in the RealClearPolitics poll average, a solid two-thirds of voters disapprove of Congress.
The ultimate question that liberal purists must ask themselves is: How do we win a majority — or get anything accomplished — if Democrats such as Joe Manchin and Rep. Abigail Spanberger (pictured) of Virginia are not progressive enough? Republicans face an even more difficult quandary: How do they build sustainable majorities if everyone who accepts the outcome of the 2020 presidential election is not fit to be a GOP candidate for elective office?
It is these days hard to imagine West Virginia electing a Democrat. If Manchin were not in the Senate, where would the liberal agenda be? Without winning Senate and House races in more moderate or conservative states like Arizona, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, it is hard to see how Democrats will maintain control of Congress in future elections. The intense criticism of Manchin and Sinema for defending the filibuster and questioning Build Back Better is unlikely to move crucial centrist-minded independents to maintain Democratic control of both branches of the Congress. If and when Republicans regain the majority, they will be faced with the same purity problem but over a different set of issues, mainly those revolving around Donald Trump’s ambitions. In sum, for both parties, purity is fatal for solving problems and sustaining majorities.
With GOP poised to retake power in 2023, immigration agencies seek writers to draft 'responses to congressional inquiries'
The Biden administration is actively recruiting journalists to provide communications and public relations services on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security as it struggles to contain the illegal immigration crisis on the southern border.
This week, DHS posted three job openings for the position of “writer-editor”—one at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and two in the public affairs office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The timing and job descriptions suggest the Biden administration is already preparing for the onslaught of immigration-related congressional inquiries that will presumably occur if Republicans regain control of the House and Senate in 2023.
CBP, for example, is seeking a writer-editor whose duties will include drafting “responses to congressional inquiries on complex issues related to the enforcement of legislation.” The position, which comes with a generous starting salary of between $89,834 and $116,788, will also involve “presenting information to maximize understanding and minimize controversy among the intended audiences.”
ICE, meanwhile, is looking for two writers whose duties will include “creating talking points” for the senior agency officials who will presumably be called to testify before Congress if Republicans take power. According to the job listing, qualified candidates must have experience “following guidance from the leadership and adhering to the views of the organization’s leadership.” The position, which comes with an even more generous starting salary of between $126,233 and $164,102, requires a “secret” level security clearance and is classified as “high risk,” which refers to its “potential to damage the public’s trust in the Federal Government.”
Despite the Biden administration’s reluctance to address the border crisis, immigration remains a top concern among American voters. According to Gallup, immigration has consistently ranked among the top four issues Americans cite as the “most important problem” facing the country. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden’s top priority—so-called voting rights, or “election reform”—barely registers as a top concern for voters.
Just one in three voters approve of Biden’s handling of immigration, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. Perhaps they are turned off by Vice President Kamala Harris’s egregiously flippant attitude toward the situation. Fiscal year 2021 saw the highest level of migrant apprehensions (1.7 million) at the southern border in U.S. history, but because the Biden administration is already dealing with several significant crises, and because the mainstream media are reluctant to cover the issue for ideological reasons, immigration has largely been absent from the political conversation.
That will presumably change in the increasingly likely event that Republicans are victorious in this year’s midterm elections and take charge of the congressional hearing schedule in 2023. If the DHS job listings are in fact part of an effort to confront that eventuality, it would be a rare display of competence and preparation from an administration that has proven itself hopelessly inept when it comes to solving the problems Americans actually care about.
In Biden's America, the action is outside the Beltway
It took a few days away from the nation’s capital for me to appreciate how boring the place has become. Recently I returned from a trip to California and discovered that I hadn’t missed anything—no presidential scandal, no legislative logrolling, no surprise vacancies on the Supreme Court. Yes, the pace of events slows down in Washington every summer. Congress goes on recess and metro residents travel for vacation. But 2021 is different. This year, D.C.’s irrelevance is neither seasonal nor exceptional. It’s the norm.
Since Bill Clinton’s impeachment, the city has been the site of momentous events and world-defining debates. The fallout from the 2000 election, 9/11, the war on terrorism, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the surge, the financial crisis, the election of Barack Obama, Obamacare, the Tea Party, the debt ceiling, the response to the Arab Spring, the 2013 government shutdown—they all testified to the centrality of Washington.
Donald Trump’s descent on the escalator in 2015 intensified press coverage. His victory in 2016 upped the political stakes. The Trump presidency unfolded in spectacular, captivating fashion. It was a live-broadcast, four-year, nonfictional telenovela, complete with a climactic twist and a tragic ending. On occasion, the cast traveled to Singapore, Hanoi, Helsinki, and Mar-a-Lago. But the main set was the Oval Office.
Well, the show is over and the thrill is gone. It used to be that the federal city—and its chief executive—drove the national conversation. But President Biden purposely limits his exposure to remain as uncontroversial as possible. “Boring news cycle deals blow to partisan media,” read the headline of an article in Axios on June 29. The piece tracked a fall in web traffic, app user sessions, and social media engagement since President Trump left office. Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, tweeted out the story. “Sorry not sorry,” he wrote.
After 12 years of highly visible celebrity presidents, the current occupant of the White House is a 78-year-old who eschews social media, rarely gives one-on-one interviews, limits himself to about one public event a day, calls on pre-selected reporters at press conferences, often refers to notes, and returns home to Delaware most weekends. Joe Biden’s spending plans may be gargantuan and foolish, his decisions on the border and on Afghanistan may be impetuous and disastrous, and his offhand remarks may be puzzling and odd, but no one gets worked up about him personally. Last month Doug Rivers of the Hoover Institution observed that voters don’t consider Biden an ideologue. It doesn’t matter that Biden’s goals are more ambitious than Obama’s: Far greater numbers of voters said that Obama was “very liberal” than say the same of Biden today.
This low-key presidency combines with tight margins in Congress to diminish Washington’s importance. Unlike his two most recent predecessors, Biden is not an omnipresent figure. The 50-50 Senate blocks the progressive wish list from becoming law. The result is a devolution of controversy to the state, municipal, and local levels of government. Not in two decades covering politics, for example, have I seen state legislatures receive as much attention as they have in recent months.
Meanwhile, the big political news is Democrat Eric Adams’s victory in the New York City mayoral primary. What’s unique about Adams is that he ran the first New York campaign in decades with national implications. His triumph underscored the electorate’s concern with rising crime rates. It demonstrated that even Democratic primary voters in a majority-minority city oppose defunding law enforcement.
“According to recent data from the Democratic-oriented Navigator Research,” writes Ruy Teixeira in a recent issue of the Liberal Patriot newsletter, “more Americans overall, including among independents and Hispanics, now believe violent crime is a ‘major crisis’ than believe that about the coronavirus pandemic or any other area of concern.” This alarm over rising crime manifested itself locally before becoming apparent to officials in Washington, including Biden, who scrambled to announce a crime reduction plan in late June.
The most glaring sign of the Beltway’s detachment from national life has been the movement against critical race theory (CRT) in public schools. Like the Tea Party, this movement is spontaneous, self-organizing, and uncontrolled. Unlike the Tea Party, however, it is focused on a hyperlocal (yet super-important) issue: K-12 instruction. As of this writing, the anti-CRT movement fields candidates for school boards. Congress is an afterthought.
The national politicians who amplify the movement’s rhetoric are piggybacking on a grassroots phenomenon. And while the fight against CRT has implications for federal policy, it is not as though the right’s answer to far-left school boards is national curricular standards. On the contrary: The parental revolt over “woke” education bypasses Washington, transcends party lines, and has clearly defined and limited goals.
What’s fascinating about the anti-CRT campaign is that its most prominent antagonists are not elected officials. The Tea Party pitted rebels such as Jim DeMint, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz against the Republican establishment and Barack Obama. But the participants in this most recent iteration of the culture war are different. The anti-CRT spokesman Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute is a documentarian and activist, and Bari Weiss and Andrew Sullivan are journalists. The most famous advocates of so-called antiracist education are Nikole Hannah-Jones, lead writer of the New York Times‘s 1619 Project, and Ibram X. Kendi of Boston University. Fights over CRT don’t take place in the halls of Congress, but on Morning Joe.
Maybe political entrepreneurs in the coming months will appropriate and elevate the issues of voter ID, crime, and anti-American pedagogy into national campaigns. Maybe the anti-CRT movement will follow the Tea Party and use the 2022 election to springboard into the Beltway. Maybe the next president will impress himself or herself into the national consciousness in the manner of an Obama or a Trump. Or maybe the next president will be Trump.
For now, though, Joe Biden is president. Congress is deadlocked. Both the left and right are more interested in values than in entitlements. The media track the states, the cities, the schools. Why? Because the real action is happening in places like Atlanta, Tallahassee, Austin, Phoenix, New York City, and Loudoun County. Not in Washington, D.C.
In Washington, there are two kinds of Republicans: those who care what The New York Times writes and those who don’t. As hard as it is to believe, there are still some in the GOP who care deeply about what the liberal media establishment says, though it’s not clear why.
The Times has been losing readership for years, along with its power to set the national agenda. It still has influence in the Acela corridor—that swath of urban liberalism between Washington, D.C., and Boston—and among the people who select the stories the major networks will cover. But most Americans get their news from the internet, where, as far as information about politics is concerned, it’s still the wild, wild west.
Among folks who use the internet as their primary source of information, the Times has about as much impact as a fly on an elephant’s back. To these people, what the so-called paper of record says about the GOP, conservatives in general and Donald Trumpspecifically doesn’t matter a swivel-eyed tinker’s damn.
To the elites, Wyoming representative Liz Cheney’s ouster from the No. 3 position in the House GOP leadership is a big deal. To them, it’s all about Trump—a person whose influence, Cheney and her newfound brethren seem to believe, must be cleansed from the party. To those who follow the House closely and understand how these things work, it’s not such a big deal.
Regarding Trump, Cheney is at odds with most of her Republican colleagues. Most of them, it seems clear, either continue to embrace the former president or would rather avoid talking about him, and instead prefer to spend their time and political capital opposing the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris vision for America.
This is not an unreasonable position to take. Nor is Rep. Cheney’s—as an individual member of Congress. If she wants to spend her time crusading against Trumpian elements within the Republican Party, she has every right to do so. However, as a member of House GOP leadership, she has obligations that go beyond the dictates of her own conscience. She is responsible to the colleagues who put her in office and who—earlier this term—voted to keep her there. That means she should be on the Sunday shows and out in the hustings helping GOP candidates take control of the House back from Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats. She can’t do that if all she wants to talk about, as she’s made clear, is Trump.
The Republicans should be favored to win back the majority in 2022, based on reapportionment and redistricting alone. For all the Democrats’ protestations about gerrymandering—which they used to extend their own congressional majority for at least an additional 10 years beginning in 1982 without a word from elite media save for the Wall Street Journal editorial page—a fair map drawn without any demographic trickery should easily add the number of seats needed for the GOP to reach and exceed the magic number of 218. But, because nothing in politics is certain, unfocused GOP leadership could throw a wrench into the works and prevent it from happening.
The list of things that could go wrong for Republicans’ House prospects is long and largely speculative. High atop it, though, is a campaign in which Democrats and major media outlets force GOP congressional candidates to defend Trump day in and day out instead of taking the attack to Biden and the Democrats. In that environment, Cheney’s repeated condemnations of the former president and his influence on the party would not have been helpful to winning the House Republican Conference a majority for the two years before the next presidential election. And it would have been fatal to the Republican Party’s attempt to regain control of the Senate.
Members of the congressional leadership are expected to be team players. Leaders, even in the minority, must balance the interests of all members of their conference against their own. It is not easy and not a job for the faint of heart. But the number one priority, former House speaker Newt Gingrich once told me, is “Don’t do anything that will start a civil war inside your own party.” Cheney broke that rule and received the appropriate consequence. She has not been thrown out of office or stripped of her committee assignments. She’s now free to pursue what she thinks best for herself and the GOP without diminishing the prospects the other Republicans serving with her will be reelected.
In Washington, that matters. Out in America, where real life exists, not so much.
U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, under fire and with her approval rating among the folks back home dropping, has drawn what will likely be the first of many opponents in the next GOP primary.
The No. 3 Republican in the GOP House leadership, Cheney is under fire for her vote to impeach former President Donald J. Trump, a largely partisan effort launched by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, after the January 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Democrats and some Republicans have repeatedly referred to the riot as an attempted “insurrection” prompted by Trump’s refusal to acknowledge his defeat in the 2020 presidential election. The objective of the rioters, some say, was to disrupt and perhaps force Congress to suspend that day’s counting of the electoral college ballots as prescribed by the U.S. Constitution and to prevent Joe Biden from being officially declared president-elect.
Cheney has drawn heat for her vote to affirm the charges against Trump and for insisting it was, for her and for all Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives a “matter of conscience” that permitted members to cast aside any partisan allegiances by which they might feel bound.
Taking on Cheney is Wyoming State Rep. Chuck Gray, a Republican who announced his intentions on social media.
“It’s time for a leader who actually listens to the hard-working people of Wyoming, and not to the D.C elitists,” Gray tweeted. “Join me on my journey as I seek the Republican nomination for the United States Congress.”
In February, the Wyoming Republican Party voted overwhelmingly to censure Cheney with only eight of the 74-member state GOP’s central committee openly opposing the punishment in a process that did not conclude with a formal vote. An effort by GOP House conservatives to remove Cheney from her party leadership post failed 145-61.
Gray has repeatedly criticized Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump and accused her of taking positions that were “nothing more than a stepping stone” to higher office. “Well, not anymore,” he said. “Wyoming agrees with President Trump” who, during his recent speech to the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference called Cheney out by name and said he hoped she would be defeated.
The subject of Trump’s speech caused some friction between Cheney and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who told reporters at a press availability he thought the former president should speak to the nation’s largest annual gathering of conservative political activists. Cheney disagreed, saying she did not believe the former president “should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.”
Cheney, who was first elected to the House in 2016, has not yet said whether she will be a candidate for reelection in 2022. Her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, held the seat she now occupies from January 1979 until 1989 – when former President George H.W. Bush nominated him to be U.S. Secretary of Defense.
It makes a lot of sense for Republicans to run a unified campaign going into the next election—with the intent to not just hold the White House and the U.S. Senate, but to regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives, as well.
Many election forecasters would say that if the election were held today, that’s a bridge too far. And they’d be right. House Republicans under Kevin McCarthy have offered little in the way of meaningful contrasts on most of the major pieces of legislation taken up over the past few months. But establishing a meaningful contrast with the way the other party runs things (or would run them) is a key component of any winning strategy and, thanks to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s considerable overreach in the last coronavirus bill, Republicans now have a chance to make such a contrast.
The American public is highly dissatisfied with the job Congress is doing. According to Gallup, just 20 percent of those recently surveyed expressed approval of Congress. Even Democrats are unhappy, with just a quarter telling Gallup that things under Pelosi were going well.
Part of this is attributable to the increasing polarization of the American electorate. As veteran electoral analyst Michael Barone has written repeatedly, the number of people who split their vote between the major parties as they move down the ballot has declined steadily since the Bush/Gore election in 2000.Ads by scrollerads.com
Republicans can make polarization work to its benefit, especially in the upcoming election, if they run a campaign based on the idea that the two parties have dramatically different visions of what the nation should be like in the future—a vision clearly defined by what Pelosi and her allies narrowly managed to get through the House in the last COVID-19 relief bill.
That legislation contains lots of wedges issues the GOP can exploit to its benefit. For example, with more people out of work at any time since the Great Depression, it’s highly unlikely most voters would support the distribution of their hard-earned tax dollars to unemployed people here in America who did not go through the legal immigration process. It’s the kind of excess progressives generally favor, but which leaves most Americans probably thinking twice about voting for any member of Congress who supports it.
Likewise, the Pelosi-built bill included an extension of the so-called bonus payment being given to many unemployed workers who now find themselves making more money while out of work than they did while gainfully employed. That’s bad policy, not just because it adds considerably to the annual deficit, but because it is also a perverse incentive to stay out of the labor market just as job openings are once again about to become plentiful.
Throughout the political activities related to COVID-19 relief, the Democrats have insisted on all kinds of new spending, adding to the budgets of agencies that are not involved in fighting the pandemic and liberally passing out money to friends and favored interests. Most everything Democrats have accused President Donald J. Trump of doing for his so-called “billionaire buddies,” they’ve themselves done for the interests that keep them in power.
All this creates a contrast with Republicans, who, at least at one time, used to argue for responsible spending and balanced budgets. Trump was never part of that, but he did take the lead, by cutting the corporate tax rate and deregulating industries, in getting the American economy growing at something like the level it is supposed to during good times.
Pelosi’s plan for America, like Joe Biden’s, is the anthesis of that. Incredibly, the former vice president recently proposed taking the corporate tax rate back up to a level higher than even China’s. So much for global business competitiveness during a time when the pressure will be high on America’s manufacturers to come home to the United States.
A coherent, well conceived and executed plan could get the GOP within striking distance of a House majority. It could even push Republicans over the top if they make the effort to produce the proper policies. The money and the organization are there. If they have ideas to go with it, Pelosi may have to pass the gavel next January—which would be good for America.
The COVID-19 crisis has taken America to places no one thought possible. The social lockdown ordered by so many governors to “flatten the curve” has turned into a kind of soft repression threatening the free exercise of rights guaranteed to us by the U.S. Constitution.
That’s not a popular opinion or one that’s readily accepted by those who influence what the average American thinks day by day. Those in positions to filter the flow of information before it reaches the masses have people so concerned about the possibility of dying of coronavirus, they’ve forgotten there’s more to life than just being alive.
Think back to the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson didn’t cite “life” as our only unalienable right. He put “liberty” and “the pursuit of happiness” alongside it, two things we’ve lost sight of as fear dominates our days and nights.
Consider how the goalposts have been moved regarding the need for us to self-quarantine. In the beginning, we were told it was to prevent the rapid spread of the coronavirus from overwhelming the nation’s health care system. Too many patients for the available supply of doctors, nurses, hospital beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment would be catastrophic, it was explained, leaving most of us willing, in the beginning anyway, to go along with what the public health experts were advising.Ads by scrollerads.com
They may have been right—but there’s still much we don’t know. We don’t know how many people have been exposed to COVID-19 or how many have built up antibodies and immunities. We don’t know the full range of risk factors to determine who is vulnerable. We don’t know exactly how many people who contract it can be expected to die. And we don’t know if nature is building up herd immunity, the strength or duration of immunity or if the mitigation efforts have been successful. Nonetheless, the curve appears to be flattening in many states.
That should be good news. But rather than see it as a reason to open up the national marketplace, health experts and some politicians are arguing that the United States should not reopen until testing and tracing procedures are much more widespread and that a return to normalcy won’t be possible until a vaccine is available.
That’s a recipe for disaster. The need to return to something resembling regular order is obvious. Americans are getting restless. They’re beginning to think about their “liberty” and their ability to pursue “happiness” in the same breath as their right to “life.” The salve coming from Washington in the form of trillions of dollars in aid, whose economic impact remains questionable, isn’t pacifying anybody.
The political class is responding with efforts to evade accountability. Credit Republican Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky for trying to force a recorded vote on the $2.5 trillion CARES Act in the House of the Representatives. His effort was blocked by lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle, who wanted the bill passed with no fingerprints on it and to stay out of town. That’s outrageous, but not as much as the push by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others in the Democratic caucus to set up a system allowing proxy voting on legislation before the House of Representatives during the coronavirus pandemic.
That idea has been blocked, at least for now, by Republican opposition. Pelosi’s too smart to attempt a change in the rules that profound without getting buy-in from the opposition because she recognizes how much it would change the institution over which she presides.
Allowing proxy voting on legislation could destroy accountability among members of Congress. We don’t expect much of our representatives, not really. The old saying attributed to Woody Allen that 90 percent of the job is just showing up comes to mind. Just be there most of the time, vote when called upon to do so and issue a press release once in a while so we know you’re there, and the American people will vote to re-elect you better than 90 percent of the time every two years.
What the Democrats want—and are pursuing in the name of crisis preparedness—would allow a few members to control everything that happens in the U.S. House. The leadership could keep votes in their pocket for when they were needed, in effect nullifying the impact of any petition the people may make to those whom we vote to put in office. Proxy voting could lead to a concentration of power that would make the House more like the Senate, which the founders specifically didn’t want.
Like the economy, we should want the government to be transparent and open. Voting by proxy, which would soon become the norm once Congress goes over the top of that slippery slope, would be a step toward autocracy and away from self-government. It’s an idea that should be allowed to die a quiet death.
The change would ensure that the business of Congress could go on during crises such as the coronavirus pandemic.
Multiple members of the House have reported positive tests or exposure to the coronavirus, the worst being 45-year-old Utah Democrat Ben McAdams, who was hospitalized with breathing troubles over the weekend. In the Senate, Rand Paul has tested positive, and Amy Klobuchar reported that her husband is hospitalized and receiving oxygen.
It’s time for Congress to follow the rest of the country and work remotely. That means taking unprecedented steps that both houses have resisted for years. While it would be a good thing to expand remote voting capacity permanently, now is not the time to leverage a crisis into long-term reforms; short-term measures that prove workable can be assessed later for their long-term viability. Remote voting should be passed immediately as a short-term emergency measure and reevaluated after the present crisis has passed.
Remote voting could never be a full substitute for the presence of Congress in Washington. Our representatives frequently need to meet with each other and their staffs and receive briefings, many of them involving information that is more securely delivered in person in the Capitol than over any network. Public hearings require physical presence. But much of Congress’s staff work could already be done outside of D.C., and the challenges of security for 535 people voting on bills are not significant. If necessary, each member could still have a (younger, D.C.-resident) staff proxy on site to verify the vote cast. Remote voting would ensure that the business of Congress could go on without large physical gatherings of infected or vulnerable representatives. If it proves workable, it could also lengthen the amount of time members of Congress could spend in their home states and districts without ignoring their core duties.
The need is bipartisan, but it would prevent the vagaries of illness from unsettling the partisan balance of power. President Trump has supported the idea, and Dick Durbin and Rob Portman have proposed a resolution:
Durbin called for establishing “a verifiable technology and procedure so members do not have to be physically present.” “Five of our Senate colleagues were unable to come to the floor of the Senate and vote because they’re in self-quarantine at this moment,” he said. “The numbers could grow to the point it could reach an extreme where there’s a question of an actual quorum on the floor of the Senate.”
Portman and Durbin’s resolution would give the Senate majority and minority leaders joint authority to allow secure remote voting for up to 30 days during emergency situations such as the current pandemic. Under the measure, the Senate could vote to extend the initial authority in additional 30-day increments.
The need in the case of the Senate should be particularly obvious: Five Senators are between the ages of 83 and 86, and more than a quarter of the chamber is age 70 or over. Senate traditionalists such as Mitch McConnell and Roy Blunt have thus far proven resistant, given their hesitance to open broader questions about changing the rules, but they should reconsider given the exigencies of the situation.
The Constitution should not be an insuperable obstacle, although it might preclude either House from going to remote voting without the other. Article I, Sections 4-5 provide:
The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day [which they have]. [In each House], a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide. Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings. . . . Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal. Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.
Obviously, when the Framers wrote the requirements that Congress “assemble” and do so in the same “Place,” and that various rules be determined by those “present,” they anticipated physically assembling in the same location. But nobody in 1787 would have thought that this excludedpresence by telecommunication, as no such thing was possible at the time. The best methods of long-distance communication in America in 1787 were crude tools such as smoke signals. Samuel Morse’s telegraph would not be invented for another half a century; its French predecessor was not publicly demonstrated until 1793. Constitutional interpretation typically tries to apply old rules to new technology by finding analogous Founding-era practices, but there is really no contemporary analogue to being present in a legislative chamber by remote technology. The best answer is instead to leave interpretation of these requirements to the House and Senate themselves.
The Supreme Court, in its 2014 decision in NLRB v. Noel Canning, ruled that President Obama could not make recess appointments during pro forma sessions. Those pro forma sessions, at which no Senate business was conducted, were held precisely to prevent short recesses in the Senate’s calendar from giving Obama an excuse to make recess appointments. Calling short recesses and interrupting them with pro forma sessions were practices unknown at the Founding, when it was not practical for senators to travel to and from the capital in a few days.1
The Court gave strong weight to the Senate’s determination that it was not in recess during the pro forma sessions, notwithstanding the fact that it was transparently engaged in a legalistic interpretation of a “session” in order to thwart the president. The Court stressed “the Constitution’s broad delegation of authority to the Senate to determine how and when to conduct its business”:
The Constitution . . . gives the Senate wide latitude to determine whether and when to have a session, as well as how to conduct the session . . . when the Journal of the Senate indicates that a quorum was present, under a valid Senate rule, at the time the Senate passed a bill, we will not consider an argument that a quorum was not, in fact, present.
The Court emphasized that its deference may not be absolute in every case, but in Noel Canning, it considered the question closed so long as the Senate was sufficiently present to be capable of doing business. If both chambers changed their rules to consider remotely present members to be present and able to vote, that standard would be satisfied.
The business of the nation requires Congress to remain on duty during a crisis such as this one. Changing the rules to ensure the functioning of the national legislature is the responsible thing to do.
Column: Why impeachment isn't going away
Trump supporters are right to feel vindication after Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress. At times the special counsel seemed unfamiliar with the contents of his own report. He came across as aloof and confused and often unable to answer both Democratic and Republican questions to the lawmakers’ satisfaction. The same media figures that began the day saying Mueller’s appearance might be the game changer ended up calling it a flop. “Democrats now have one option to end Trump’s presidency,” read the headline of Dan Balz’s analysis in the Washington Post. “The 2020 election.” Trump, as always, put it more memorably: “TRUTH IS A FORCE OF NATURE!”
The real truth is Mueller’s testimony was never going to interrupt preexisting trends. Support for impeachment has been stable for a year at around 40 percent in the Fox News poll of registered voters. Fox asks, “Do you think President Trump should be impeached and removed from office, or not?” In June 2018, 39 percent of respondents answered yes. Last week, 42 percent said the same. Opposition to impeachment has hovered around 50 percent during all this time. When the most recent Fox News poll asked if Mueller’s testimony might cause voters to change how they felt about Trump, only 8 percent said there was a strong chance of that happening. Forty-nine percent said not at all.
Views of President Trump are cast iron. Mueller might have overturned this equilibrium by offering new evidence incriminating Trump or by saying definitively that Trump obstructed justice. He did neither. Nor was he going to. It was clear from his May press conference that Mueller did not want to appear before Congress and that he had said all he was willing to say in his report. The negotiations over his testimony that stretched into midsummer, the sudden delay of his testimony by a week, and the addition of his chief of staff as counsel further indicated his reluctance as well as his lack of assurance before the cameras. The presence on the committee of Republicans hostile to Mueller’s investigation and to his findings meant that the hearing would not be entirely favorable to Democrats. Sure enough, Mueller’s performance was a disappointment.
But President Trump and Republicans would be wrong to assume that the Democrats’ drive to impeachment has ended. The will to overturn the 2016 election never depended on Mueller. He was merely the most likely instrument of Trump’s undoing. Democrats have called for impeachment since Trump’s inaugural. What they have lacked is the means. Maxine Waters raised the idea in February 2017, months before Trump fired James Comey and set in motion the train of events culminating in Mueller’s appointment as special counsel. Tom Steyer launched Need to Impeach in October 2017, a year and a half before Mueller filed his report. Last January, on the first evening of the House Democratic majority, Rashida Tlaib declared her intention to “impeach this m—f—r.”
The impeachment resolution the House voted on last week had nothing to do with Mueller or his report. It found Trump guilty “of high misdemeanors” and “unfit to be president” because of his “racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.” The measure didn’t even pretend to have a relationship with actual criminal or civil law. It received 95 votes nonetheless, all Democrats, including the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The same man who, after Mueller’s belly flop, argued before the Democratic Caucus that he has enough material to begin impeachment right now. Mueller’s testimony might not increase the number of House Democrats for impeachment from less than half (40 percent) to a majority. But it’s not as if that percentage is about to decrease, either.
Democrats overwhelmingly support impeachment. Forty percent of adults in the most recent Economist/YouGov survey say Congress should try to impeach President Trump. That number rises to 70 percent among Democrats. It is no wonder why. Trump is a one-man rebuke of progressivism, of political correctness, of a humanitarianism that does not recognize citizenship or national borders. Since 2016 an entire media-political infrastructure has been built to push the messages that Trump’s election was illegitimate, Trump’s actions in and out of office are criminal, and Trump ought to be excised from the government as quickly as possible. Even if Mueller and his report fade from view—and there is no guarantee they will—the president’s adversaries will continue to search for the annihilating angel who will deliver them from Donald Trump.
Why? Because the impeachment debate is not about what Trump has done, is doing, or might do. It is about whether he and the social forces he represents are entitled to rule.