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September 12, 2023 Heather Cox Richardson

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Members of the House of Representatives returned to work today after their summer break. They came back to a fierce fight over funding the government before the September 30 deadline, with only 12 days of legislative work on the calendar. That fight is also tangled up with Republican extremists’ demands to impeach President Joe Biden—although even members of their own caucus admit there are no grounds for such an impeachment—and threats to the continued position of Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as speaker of the House.

It’s an omnishambles, a word coined in 2009 by the writers of the BBC political satire The Thick of It, meaning “a situation, especially in politics, in which poor judgment results in disorder or chaos with potentially disastrous consequences.” 

It fits. 

In August, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed 12 spending bills covering discretionary funding—about 27% of the budget—by bipartisan votes, within limits set as part of the deal Speaker McCarthy made with President Biden to prevent the U.S. defaulting for the first time in history. 

But the House left for summer break without being able to pass more than one of the 12 necessary bills. The extremists in the House Freedom Caucus oppose the spending levels Biden and McCarthy negotiated, insisting they amount to “socialism,” although with the exception of the Covid-19 blip, discretionary federal spending has stayed level at about 20% of the nation’s gross domestic product since 1954. 

The Republican-dominated House Appropriations Committee has reneged on the deal McCarthy struck, producing bills that impose cuts far beyond those McCarthy agreed to. In particular, it cut Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funding for programs to address climate change and the Internal Revenue Service, which has been badly underfunded since at least 2010, leaving wealthy tax cheats unaudited. The cuts are ideological: the bills have cut funding for food assistance programs for pregnant mothers and children, grants to school districts serving impoverished communities, the Environmental Protection Agency, agencies that protect workers’ rights, federal agencies’ civil rights offices, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the IRS (on top of clawing back funding in the IRA), and so on.

Although appropriations bills are generally kept clean, the extremists have loaded the must-pass bills with demands unrelated to the bill itself. They have put measures restricting abortion and gender-affirming care in at least 8 of the 12 bills. Even if such measures could make it through the Democrat-dominated Senate—and they can’t—President Biden has vowed to veto them. 

Even fellow Republicans are balking at the attempt of the extremists to get their ideological wish list by holding the government hostage. Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, told reporters she doesn’t see how the Republicans are going to get the bills out of the committee, let alone pass them. “Overall, I think it’s going to be very, very hard to get these bills forward,” she said.

Far from negotiating with McCarthy over the break, Freedom Caucus members appear to be increasing their demands as a shutdown looms. In August, the caucus announced it would not support even a short-term funding bill unless it also included their own demands for border policy, an end to what they call “woke” policies in the Department of Defense, and what they call the “unprecedented weaponization” of the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They also oppose funding for Ukraine to enable it to fight off Russia’s invasion.

They have hinted they will use procedural votes to prevent any large spending bill from getting to the floor at all. One of the tools at their disposal is a challenge to McCarthy’s leadership, which thanks to the deal he struck to get the speakership in the first place, a single member can bring. Today, Florida representative Matt Gaetz threatened to “lead the resistance” if McCarthy worked with Democrats to fund the government. 

They have offered McCarthy a way to avoid that showdown: impeach President Joe Biden, although there is no evidence the president has committed any “high crimes and misdemeanors” required for an impeachment. 

Today, McCarthy availed himself of that escape clause. On the first day back from a 45-day August break, rather than tackling the budget crises, he endorsed an impeachment inquiry into President Biden. 

This is a fascinating moment, as the Republicans have opened an impeachment inquiry into Biden with no evidence of wrongdoing. For all their breathless statements before the TV cameras, they have not managed to produce any evidence. Trump’s own Department of Justice opened an investigation into Biden four years ago and found nothing to charge. As Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo notes, Biden’s taxes are public, and a U.S. attorney has been scrutinizing Biden’s son Hunter for years; red flags should have been apparent long ago, if there were any.

Just yesterday, Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) tore apart the talking points far-right Republicans have been using to smear the president. He noted that none of the bank records Representative James Comer (R-KY) has referenced show any payments to President Biden, none of the suspicious activity reports the Oversight Committee has reviewed suggest any potential misconduct by Biden, none of the witness accounts to the Oversight Committee show any wrongdoing by Biden, Hunter Biden’s former business associates explicitly stated they had no reason to think President Biden was involved in his son’s business ventures, and so on. 

This inquiry is not actually about wrongdoing; it is a reiteration of the same plan Trump tried to execute in 2019 when he asked Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to smear Biden before the 2020 presidential election. By launching an inquiry, Republicans can count on their false accusations spreading through the media, tainting their opponents even without evidence of wrongdoing. See, for example, Clinton, Hillary: emails. 

McCarthy insisted to reporters that an impeachment inquiry would simply give House committees leverage to subpoena officials from the White House, but during the Trump administration, the Department of Justice issued an opinion that the House must take a formal vote to validate an impeachment inquiry. It did so in reaction to then–House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s launch of an impeachment inquiry without such a vote, and the decision invalidated subpoenas issued as part of that inquiry. Pelosi went on to hold a vote and to launch an official inquiry.

It will not be so easy for McCarthy. He has not wanted to hold a vote because outside of the Freedom Caucus, even Republicans don’t want to launch an impeachment inquiry when there is no evidence for one. Senate Republicans today were quick to tell reporters they were skeptical that McCarthy could get enough votes in the House for an article of impeachment, and they were clear that a Senate trial was not an option. Representative Ken Buck (R-CO), himself a member of the Freedom Caucus, said: “The time for impeachment is the time when there’s evidence linking President Biden—if there’s evidence linking President Biden to a high crime or misdemeanor. That doesn’t exist right now.” 

The attack on Biden is a transparent attempt to defend former president Trump from his own legal troubles by suggesting that Biden is just as bad. Russia’s president Vladimir Putin today also defended Trump, saying that his prosecutions show that the United States is fundamentally corrupt. His comment made former representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) seem to wash her hands of the modern incarnation of her political party. “Putin has now officially endorsed the Putin-wing of the Republican Party,” she wrote. “Putin Republicans & their enablers will end up on the ash heap of history. Patriotic Americans in both parties who believe in the values of liberal democracy will make sure of it.”

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) summed up the day: “So let me get this straight: Republicans are threatening to remove their own Speaker, impeach the President, and shut down the government on September 30th—disrupting everyday people’s paychecks and general public operations. For what? I don’t think even they know.”

The center-right think tank American Action Forum’s vice president for economic policy, Gordon Gray, had an answer. Ever since the debt ceiling fight was resolved, he told Joan E. Greve of The Guardian, “there’s a big chunk of House Republicans who just want to break something. That’s just how some of these folks define governing. It’s how their constituents define success.”

Notes:

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-20309441

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/omnishambles

https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/historical-tables/

https://www.brookings.edu/articles/cutting-irs-funding-is-a-gift-to-americas-wealthiest-tax-evaders/

https://www.axios.com/2023/07/26/health-care-poison-pills-spending-process

https://www.cbpp.org/research/federal-budget/partisan-house-appropriations-bills-underfund-non-defense-priorities-and

https://19thnews.org/2023/09/congress-house-appropriations-spending-funding/

https://thehill.com/business/budget/4123988-senate-negotiators-pass-all-12-funding-bills-for-first-time-in-years/

https://www.politico.com/news/2023/08/21/house-freedom-caucus-potential-shutdown-00112068

https://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/punchbowling-very-strongly

https://oversightdemocrats.house.gov/news/press-releases/as-the-house-returns-to-session-ranking-member-raskin-releases-statement-on-the

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/31/us/politics/house-impeachment-vote.html

https://oversightdemocrats.house.gov/news/press-releases/ranking-member-raskin-s-statement-on-maga-republicans-illegitimate-impeachment

https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/4198517-senate-gop-says-house-lacks-evidence-for-impeachment/

https://apnews.com/article/russia-vladimir-putin-donald-trump-dc89488c40360150afeeb25941bd44fc

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/sep/10/kevin-mccarthy-government-shutdown-far-right-republicans

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WATCH: ‘This Is My First Rodeo’ | Ben Meets America Ben Kawaller

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In the latest stop on his cross-country quest to understand America, Ben Kawaller watches men hurl cows to the ground.

Last month I attended The American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas, a city of around 400,000 souls situated between Dallas and Fort Worth. This was my first rodeo, and it did not take me long after entering its host venue, the gargantuan Globe Life Field, to realize that I did not know what a rodeo was. If you’d asked me six weeks ago to define the term, I would have said something like, “It’s when you watch someone career around an enclosed pen on an animal.” 

Which is actually not too far off. But what I hadn’t realized is that a rodeo is actually a sporting event. 

You see, some people are especially good at bending these animals to their will, and if you are one of those people, you can win competitions for things like making the animals run very fast, or tying the animals up very quickly, or not dying while trying to sit on one of the animals.

Of course, I wasn’t really there for the games; I was there to talk to the crowd about what makes our society so divided. If you’re tuning in for the first time to my new series—“Ben Meets America”—I was born and raised in progressive Brooklyn, I now live in West Hollywood, and I will admit to being soft in some fundamental way. Suffice it to say I get a more transcendent high from watching a torch song than I do from watching a man hurl a small cow to the ground.

But, in fact, theater and rodeo have their similarities. If you’ve been to a play in recent years, you will have suffered the degradation of a “land acknowledgement.” This is when the audience is told before the show—either in an announcement or in the program notes—that they’ve gathered on land stolen from whatever Native American tribe existed there years ago. My sense is that some of this is rooted in the idea that America itself is fundamentally illegitimate. Whatever’s behind it, the inclusion of a land acknowledgement has become de rigueur.

I did not think conservatives did land acknowledgements, so I was surprised when the Native American actor Mo Brings Plenty appeared before the start of one of the competitions and performed a minute or two of indigenous wailing. I believe the intent of this was to, well, acknowledge the fact that Native American bloodshed was central to the expansion of the American West. What I did not expect was the incongruence of what came after. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean. I’m still puzzling over its significance.

In the end, however, I decided I prefer the conservative version of a land acknowledgement. Unlike the inane liberal sacrament, it appears to be capable of expressing two truths at once: that oceans of indigenous blood were spilled in the creation of this country, and that we live in one of the greatest nations on earth.

Even if one of our favorite spectator sports is man versus cow.

Only paid subscribers can see Ben’s video on The American Rodeo. Become one today and scroll down to watch.

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April 14, 2024 Garamond

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Senate spotlight: A Trump Republican’s China problem Judd Legum

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November’s election will not only determine which party controls the White House but also the United States Senate. Currently, the Democratic caucus holds a narrow 51-49 advantage. Control of the chamber will come down to a handful of competitive races. This is the first installment in a series that takes a deep dive into the issues shaping these campaigns. 

In Ohio, businessman Bernie Moreno (R) is attempting to unseat Senator Sherrod Brown (D). Ohio, once a swing state, has been trending Republican. Moreno’s campaign strategy is to attach himself at the hip to Donald Trump. He refers to himself as the “Trump endorsed Republican nominee for US Senate from Ohio.” This helped him easily win the Republican primary against a field of more politically experienced opponents.  

In a potential second term, Trump is vowing to declare economic war on China, promising to “tax China to build America up.” Trump’s plan is to revoke China’s most favored nation trading status and impose a tariff on Chinese goods of up to 60%. (The policy would cost the typical American household thousands of dollars annually and increase inflation.) Imports of “essential goods” from China, including electronics, steel, and pharmaceuticals, would be completely banned

Moreno has taken a similar approach, saying he is running for Senate to “Beat Communist China.” To bolster his anti-China credentials, Moreno claims to have a history of combating Chinese power. These stories, however, don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Moreno made his fortune through buying and selling car dealerships. As his wealth increased, so did his interest in Republican politics. In 2011, former Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) appointed him to the board of trustees at Cleveland State, one of Ohio’s public universities. Moreno served as chairman of the Cleveland State board from 2016 to 2018.

Confucius Institutes, which offer “Chinese language and culture programs,” were established at numerous U.S. universities beginning in 2005. They were partially funded by the Chinese government. Over time, there were bipartisan concerns that Confucius Institutes were being used to promote Chinese government propaganda or even to facilitate espionage. On the campaign trail, Moreno has repeatedly claimed that, in his role as chair of Cleveland State’s Board of Trustees, he eliminated the university’s Confucius Institute.

Here is how Moreno described his role in a March 2023 campaign event:

I chaired the board of trustees at Cleveland State University, and I’m very proud of the fact that when I was there, we got rid of our Confucius Institute. We made certain that we focused everybody on student achievement, and we respected free speech on campus.

He made a nearly identical claim in October 2023. But it is a lie.

Moreno’s service on the board ended in May 2018. Cleveland State did not shut down its Confucius Institute until 2021. The truth is, while Moreno was on the board, he repeatedly approved funding for Cleveland State’s Confucius Institute. In 2016, when Moreno was still vice chairman, he voted to approve $38,000 in funding for the school’s Confucius Institute. The following year, as chairman, Moreno voted to re-up the funding. Minutes from these meetings show that Moreno did not express any concerns about the Confucius Institute

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Moreno told the Columbus Dispatch that he deserves credit for the elimination of the Confucius Institute at Cleveland State because of “his role in the hiring of Harlan Sands, who was Cleveland State’s president when the institute closed.” There are a couple of issues with this response. First, this is not what Moreno said previously. He clearly said that the board “got rid” of the Confucius Institute while he was chair. Second, Cleveland State did not eliminate the Confucius Institute because of the initiative of President Sands. Cleveland State, along with nearly all other universities, closed its Confucius Institute after Congress passed legislation in 2018 and 2020 limiting federal funding for universities that maintained the Confucius Institutes. From 2019 to 2023, the number of Confucius Institutes operating in the United States went from about 100 to fewer than 5.

The truth about Moreno and Chinese-made SUVs

“When I was a General Motors dealer, I sold Buicks. The Buick Envision was made in China. I told General Motors I wouldn’t sell one of them, don’t even ship it to me,” Moreno said during a February 10, 2024 radio interview. “They threatened me and sent me all kinds of nasty notes… we have to actually take this stand…”

That story, which Moreno also told during his brief run for Senate in 2021, is a lie. 

In reality, Moreno sold the Buick Envision at his dealership for at least five years — from 2014 to 2019 — and promoted the vehicle repeatedly on its social media channels, an investigation by NY1 revealed

A December 13, 2016 video published on the “Bernie Moreno Companies” YouTube page begins with this testimonial: “My name is Kayla McCullough. I purchased a 2017 Buick Envision from Buick GMC of Beachwood… I highly recommend you visit the team at Buick GMC of Beachwood, a Bernie Moreno company.”

Moreno’s campaign “acknowledged to Spectrum News that his dealership did sell the Chinese-made SUVs.” It claimed that “in response to the closure of the Lordstown Plant here in Ohio [in March 2019],  Bernie made a decision to stop any new inventory of Envision’s from being sold at his dealership. After he sold off the inventory he already had on the lot, he refused to take orders for more Envisions.” This explanation, however, makes little sense as the Envision was also produced in China and never at Ohio’s Lordstown Plant. Moreno’s dealerships also continued to advertise for the Envision months after the closure of the plant. 

 

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