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September 5, 2023 Heather Cox Richardson

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On Saturday, President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden went to Florida, where he surveyed the damage, praised the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and told the people of Florida: “Your nation has your back, and we’ll be with you until the job is done.” 

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated, “It doesn’t matter if it’s a red state or a blue state, the president’s going to show up and be there for the community.” Florida governor Ron DeSantis declined to meet with the president, apparently fearing a backlash from anti-Biden primary voters, but Republican senator and former Florida governor Rick Scott did meet with Biden and praised his rapid response to the hurricane. 

Biden’s promise to the Republican-dominated state of Florida even in the face of DeSantis’s pettiness was a striking contrast to former president Trump’s withholding of federal aid from Malden and Pine City, Washington, almost exactly three years ago, when a September 2020 wildfire destroyed 15,000 acres and 85% of the buildings, including 65 homes. Trump held up Washington governor Jay Inslee’s request for a disaster declaration, which frees up federal funds, for more than four months out of spite at the Democratic governor. 

It was Biden who finally approved the declaration days after taking office. According to Emma Epperly and Orion Donovan Smith of the Spokane, Washington, Spokesman-Review, when he heard the declaration was finally in place, Malden Mayor Dan Harwood teared up in relief. “Our citizens are going to be able to go forward now,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. It’s a very, very good day.”

Yesterday the three most senior civilian officials in the Department of Defense responsible for their branches—Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, and Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth—wrote in the Washington Post that Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL, though it turns out he lives in Florida) is actively eroding “the foundation of America’s…military advantage” with his blanket hold on military promotions. 

Tuberville says he launched the hold in protest of the military’s policy of ensuring that military personnel can obtain reproductive health care, including abortions, but as the authors of the Post op-ed say, his policy “is putting our national security at risk.” More than 300 of our critical posts have acting officials in place, and three of our five military branches—the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps—have no Senate-confirmed service chief. 

In defense of his position, Tuberville has begun to attack the military leaders whose promotions he is opposing, much as former Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson lashed out repeatedly at Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Mark Milley for his support for diversity and inclusion in the military. In their op-ed, the secretaries warned of the danger of politicizing our military and noted that the damage Tuberville is inflicting on the service will echo for years as today’s colonels and captains gather that their service is not valued by members of Congress. 

Tonight, Secretary of the Navy Del Toro, who was born in Cuba, said on CNN: “I would have never imagined that…one of our own senators would actually be aiding and abetting communist and other autocratic regimes around the world. This is having a real negative impact and will continue to have a real negative impact on our combat readiness. That’s what the American people truly need to understand.”

Today marked the start of Texas attorney general Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial in the Texas Senate, which has taken on a meaning far larger than the fate of a single state official and become a fight over the future of the Republican Party. 

Paxton is a hard-right Republican who has based his political career on his identity as a Christian conservative advancing evangelicals’ culture wars. He has pushed Texas rightward since he took office in 2015, first challenging President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and immigration orders, then championing Trump, then celebrating his wins against “woke Biden administration rules” and defending states’ rights. 

Paxton supported Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, filing a lawsuit drafted by the Trump campaign to challenge other states’ elections and then, when the Supreme Court declined to hear that case, criticizing both the court and other states when he spoke at the January 6 rally at the Ellipse that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

But Paxton has been embroiled in scandals since being indicted for securities fraud just months after he took office as the state’s top law enforcement officer. That trial has yet to take place, but now he is embroiled in other scandals that have led the Republican-dominated Texas House of Representatives to pass 20 articles of impeachment against him by a vote of 121 to 23. The House started impeachment proceedings after Paxton asked for $3.3 million in state funds to pay a settlement to four whistleblowers who accused him of abuse of office and bribery in 2020 and who were fired within a month. 

But the impeachment charges center around his ties to his friend and donor Nate Paul. Paxton is accused of helping Paul in exchange both for gifts and for hiring Paxton’s mistress.

The Texas Senate will conduct the impeachment trial. There are 31 members of the Senate, but one of them is Paxton’s wife, whom the Senate banned from voting after she refused to recuse herself. So to convict him, it will take 21 of the 30 state senators who can vote (his wife’s presence makes the conviction threshold 21 rather than 20). If all 12 Democrats in the Senate vote to convict, it will require 9 of the 18 voting Republicans to convict him. 

Robert Downen and Zach Despart of the Texas Tribune yesterday reported that the impeachment trial is expected to focus on Paxton’s infidelity to his wife. He told his staff about the extramarital affair at the center of his relationship with Nate Paul in 2018, when he promised it was over and he was recommitting to his marriage. But, in fact, he didn’t. To hide the affair from his wife and his deeply religious constituents, impeachment managers say, Paxton worked with Paul to get a job for his girlfriend and hide the relationship, and then used his office to help Paul weather lawsuits and bankruptcy.  

The Republican Party in Texas is split over Paxton much as the country is split over former president Donald Trump. Some say that Paxton’s extraordinary behavior warrants impeachment and trial and that, after all, a majority of Republicans in the Texas House were so concerned they impeached him. 

But others insist that he is, as he claims, a victim of political persecution. They maintain that a flawed man can do God’s will, and they support Paxton no matter what his failings out of support for his political crusades on their behalf. J. David Goodman reported yesterday in the New York Times that right-wing donors have embarked on an expensive, high-pressure campaign to convince Republicans in the Texas Senate to vote against conviction, threatening to primary anyone who votes against Paxton.

Still, his approval rating among Republicans has dropped by 19 percentage points since April, while his disapproval rate has more than tripled since last December. 

In other court news, a Florida judge this weekend struck down a state congressional map pushed through the legislature by Florida governor Ron DeSantis, saying it violates the state constitution by diluting Black voting power. The state will automatically appeal. 

Today, three Republican-appointed federal judges struck down Alabama’s new congressional map after the state legislature ignored a court order to redraw the state map to include a second majority Black district since the state map put in place after the 2020 census likely violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act. 

The judges wrote that they were “disturbed” by the state legislature’s refusal to correct its illegal maps. “We are not aware of any other case in which a state legislature—faced with a federal court order declaring that its electoral plan unlawfully dilutes minority votes and requiring a plan that provides an additional opportunity district—responded with a plan that the state concedes does not provide that district.”

The court will appoint a special master to draw Alabama’s congressional map, but Alabama attorney general Steve Marshall, a Republican, has already appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

In Wisconsin, where Republicans have called for impeaching Supreme Court justice Janet Protasiewicz for violating ethics codes by calling the state’s congressional maps “unfair” and “rigged,” a state judiciary disciplinary panel has dismissed those complaints. Republicans drew the congressional map in Wisconsin so fully in favor of their party that in 2018, Democratic candidates for the state assembly won 54% of the popular vote but Republicans “won” 63 of the assembly’s 99 seats, only three seats short of a supermajority that would enable them to override a veto by the Democratic governor. 

And finally, U.S. district judge Tim Kelly sentenced former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio today to 22 years in prison. This is the longest sentence handed down for any of the January 6 rioters, though far shorter than the 33 years prosecutors had requested. Kelly also handed down sentences significantly below the guidelines for the crimes Proud Boys leaders committed: Joseph Biggs was sentenced to 17 years; Zachary Rehl, 15 years; and Ethan Nordean, 18 years. Dominic Pezzola, who was found not guilty of seditious conspiracy but guilty of other crimes, received a 10-year sentence. 

Tarrio is the last of the gang to be sentenced and was not present at the January 6 attack, underscoring the wide reach of a conspiracy conviction.

Notes:

https://www.statesman.com/story/news/2021/01/06/texas-ag-ken-paxton-praises-texas-rips-georgia-pro-trump-rally/6564017002/

https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/10/politics/ken-paxton-texas-settlement/index.html

https://www.cnn.com/2023/09/04/politics/ken-paxton-impeachment-texas-attorney-general/index.html

https://www.texastribune.org/2023/09/04/ken-paxton-affair-impeachment-trial-marriage/

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/04/us/ken-paxton-impeachment-conservative-lobbying.html

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/texas-attorney-general-ken-paxtons-securities-fraud-trial-delayed-until-end-of-impeachment-trial

https://www.kxly.com/news/nearly-three-years-after-babb-road-fire-malden-continues-to-recover/article_31c871dc-30bf-11ee-af56-63698f9780b2.html

https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/feb/04/biden-approves-disaster-assistance-for-washington-/

https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/jan/16/trump-is-blocking-aid-to-malden-pine-city-fire-vic/

https://www.politico.com/news/2023/09/02/biden-desantis-hurricane-00113833

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2023/09/02/remarks-by-president-biden-reaffirming-his-commitment-to-supporting-the-people-of-florida/

Jamie Joseph, “Tuberville to maintain hold on military nominees…” Fox News, August 25, 2023.

https://thehill.com/homenews/media/560364-tucker-carlson-doubles-down-on-milley-criticism-disgusting/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/09/04/army-navy-air-force-secretaries-tuberville-military-hold/

https://www.democracydocket.com/news-alerts/federal-court-blocks-alabama-congressional-map-after-republican-lawmakers-defied-u-s-supreme-court/

https://www.democracydocket.com/news-alerts/florida-judge-strikes-down-desantis-congressional-map-for-diminishing-black-voting-power-in-north-florida/

https://fox11online.com/news/state/complaints-over-campaign-comments-by-wisconsin-supreme-court-justice-dismissed-justice-janet-protasiewicz-democrat-republican-party

https://www.vox.com/voting-rights/2023/8/3/23818858/wisconsin-gerrymander-clarke-wisconsin-election-commision-supreme-court-janet-protasiewicz

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/former-proud-boys-chairman-enrique-tarrio-convicted-seditious/story?id=102929276

https://twitter.com/Acyn/status/1699192862049526189

https://www.emptywheel.net/2023/09/04/the-finding-out-part-proud-boys-face-sentencing/

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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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