Yesterday, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), said the Select Committee has received significant new evidence that may require new hearings not currently planned. He noted that video footage from British documentary film maker Alex Holder, who had access to Donald Trump before, during, and after Jan. 6, may be important. Also, during the first four hearings, a flood of new tips came in that need to be investigated. If any of these tips strike paydirt, then Thompson will certainly call for more hearings.
A hearing is scheduled for today, then the House shuts down for 2 weeks, returning on July 12. Most members will return to their districts to talk to the folks back home. However, the staff lawyers don't have districts to return to and will stay in town looking at all the new information and preparing reports for the members to look at when they return.
The Committee also has a new witness to talk with, a witness who just might know a few things. Who is it? Why, it's Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL). He previously rebuffed a subpoena from the Committee, but yesterday he announced he's willing to talk. This may have something to do with the fact that his Senate campaign, and his political career, both ended on Tuesday. Brooks' main condition: His testimony must be public. Officially, his reason is that he doesn't want information about what he said to leak out in "bits and pieces." Readers can decide for themselves if that sounds like it's the real reason. Recall that Richard Nixon was done in by underlings he threw under the bus in order to save himself. The day may soon come that Trump will regret yanking his endorsement of Brooks.
According to Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY), the last two hearings were intended to focus on how Trump summoned the mob and directed them to march on the Capitol. Of course, the new footage and tips might change that. (V)
Once again CNN's Chris Cillizza has made up a list of one-liners from the Select Committee's most recent hearing that might one day rival "What did the president know and when did he know it?" Again, this is a quiz. Who said each one? Answers at the bottom of the page.
If we had to guess which one might outlive all the others, it would be #7. To be a keeper, it has to be self-contained and make the point in a few carefully chosen words. We think #7 sums ups Trump's entire approach to the 2020 election results. If you want to argue for a different one, let us know. (V)
Donald Trump is not happy with the Select Committee's public hearings. And he blames, you guessed it, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
The problem is that there is no one on the Committee who defends Trump. When the idea of a committee was first proposed, McCarthy did name five Republicans for it, but two of them—Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Jim Banks (R-IN)—are bomb throwers who had no intention whatsoever of conducting a proper investigation. They just wanted to sabotage it, so Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) rejected them and told McCarthy to pick two other Republicans who were willing to conduct a fair investigation. But instead of doing that, McCarthy picked up his ball and went home. If he had simply named two other Republicans who were prepared to follow the facts wherever they led, Pelosi would have accepted them. So, in a real sense, Trump is right for once. McCarthy could have had a committee with five normal Republicans, but he sabotaged that himself by insisting in putting people on the committee who would do nothing but try to blow it up. The result is that now no one on the Select Committee is trying to defend Trump. Note that we've made this same argument, pointing to is as evidence of McCarthy's lack of vision and political skill.
Trump has spent the past week at his Bedminister golf club venting his frustration with McCarthy at anyone willing to listen. He has also made a couple of quick side trips to give speeches where he could vent to friendly audiences. He recently griped: "I don't understand why Kevin didn't put anyone on the Committee." Maybe it is because McCarthy is not a very good politician and doesn't realize that sometimes in politics you are better off taking half of what you want (e.g., five honest Republicans on the Committee who would ask probing questions, but politely) than pushing for bomb throwers and getting nothing.
If Trump continues to bear a grudge against McCarthy—and Trump is an Olympic-level grudge-bearer—McCarthy could have a problem becoming speaker in the next Congress, even if the Republicans get a majority. If Trump supported, say, Jordan, for speaker, McCarthy could have a hard time putting together a majority of the House (218 votes). McCarthy's only hope then would be to have such a large majority that he could afford to lose a few dozen votes of Trump's biggest toadies.
Trump is also continuing to trash Mike Pence. Pence doesn't seem to understand the consequence of this—that he has almost no chance of getting the Republican nomination in 2024 since, even if Trump doesn't run himself, there is no way he will endorse Pence. If Pence were a little smarter, he would testify before the Committee, tell the truth, hope that he can destroy Trump as a force, and then pray that he could get a position in Nikki Haley's cabinet. Of course, if that came to pass, Pence and Haley would be unable to discuss business over dinner. Or lunch. (V)
There was so much other news yesterday that we didn't have time to write this story up, but it is a biggie. Some parts of Maine are so rural that there are no schools there. To help students who live in those areas, the state legislature created a voucher program that pays the tuition of students who want to attend a private school elsewhere in the state. However, the program does not allow the vouchers to be used at religious schools, since using taxpayer money to support religious schools would appear to violate the Constitution's separation of church and state. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court decided that nope, giving state money to religious schools is just fine and dandy. The vote was 6-3. We're not going to tell you who voted each way since, even if you haven't seen the story somewhere, we are confident you can guess who supported the law and who opposed it.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion and said that by not allowing religious schools to get state money, the state was discriminating against religion and that cannot be allowed. OK, that lets the cat out of bag as to one of the 6 "yea" votes. We'll also give you a hint about one of the dissenters. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote: "This Court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build." Sotomayor foreshadowed more changes to come to decades of settled law. She suggested that the only reason this is going to happen is that conservatives now have a clear majority on the Court. In other words, the conservative justices can do whatever they want, law or no law, because they have the votes now.
Rachel Laser, CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, was laser-focused on the problem, saying: "The Court is forcing taxpayers to fund religious education." She called it "government-enforced tithing."
Justice Stephen Breyer asked: "What happens once 'may" becomes 'must?'" He is concerned that states that fund public schools using taxpayer money will soon be required to fund religious schools with taxpayer money as well.
Maine AG Aaron Frey (D) was also upset by the ruling. He said: "The education provided by the schools at issue here is inimical to a public education. They promote a single religion to the exclusion of all others, refuse to admit gay and transgender children, and openly discriminate in hiring teachers and staff." He argued that the Court is now forcing taxpayers to support a kind of education that is fundamentally at odds with the values (many) Americans hold dear.
This not the first Court decision that forces taxpayers to fund religious organizations. In 2020, the Court ruled that a Montana program that provided tax credits to donors who sponsored scholarships at private schools could also get them for donating to religious schools. (V)
In other Supreme Court (pre-)news, the Democratic Party is expecting the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade completely and is preparing to deal with it. In every competitive House district in the country where the DNC is doing polling, there is a question about abortion. This foreshadows different approaches to the issue in different districts. E-mails are being prepared to be blasted out as soon as the ruling comes out. It is possible that in districts where the vast majority of people are pro choice, the message will be "send us money." However, in districts where it is 50-50, the message might be more nuanced, saying, for example, "Don't you think women ought to control their own bodies?" And in districts where a majority oppose abortion, the message might even be: "Do you really want the big evil government to be deeply interfering in peoples' personal lives?" The Party is also developing models to be able to determine how someone feels about abortion based on external factors (e.g., targeting Prius owners differently from pickup truck owners).
A key problem the DCCC is facing is how to make abortion a top issue with gas prices at $5/gal. Strategists know that there will be a flurry of news stories all over the media for a week or two after the ruling is made public, but then it will fade. The challenge will be to keep it going via TV ads, digital ads, and radio ads, carefully targeted at the right people in the right districts.
The DCCC is also doing plenty of oppo research. Many Republicans oppose all abortions, even in those cases where the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. Expect plenty of dramatic ads about how some woman is being forced to continue a pregnancy as a result of being raped and Congressman [X] is all for her forced pregnancy. It will be very nasty.
Three pro-choice groups—EMILY'S List, Planned Parenthood, and NARAL—have announced a $150 million ad campaign for the midterms. They have public opinion already on their side. Gallup has reported that 55% of Americans are pro-choice. Pew found that 60% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. The Kaiser Foundation found that two-thirds of Americans do not want Roe reversed. The point of the $150 million ad campaign is to get all the pro-choice people to stop whining and go out and vote for pro-choice candidates (and also get them to contribute money to the cause).
Democrats know that abortion won't be the only issue and it will have to compete with the economy and other things. Consequently, the focus will be on getting through to voters who might prioritize abortion above inflation—especially women, particularly in the suburbs. Also, states with strong libertarian streaks like New Hampshire and Nevada, will be targeted with the message that the government should have no role in telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies. There just happen to be key Senate races in these two states.
But the Democrats are not unified on this issue. For example, Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA), who is pro-life, just signed a bill that will impose harsher penalties on abortion providers as soon as Roe is overturned. It is hard to tell what Edwards really believes, but as a politician in the deep South, he knows that being pro-choice is not a winner in elections.
It is estimated that if Roe is overturned, a quarter of the clinics nationally that offer abortions will have to close. As of 2021, there were 790 publicly advertised abortion clinics. Of these, 758 were physical facilities and 32 were telehealth clinics. California, with 168 facilities, had more than the 34 states with the fewest clinics combined. Mississippi, Missouri, South Dakota, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming have one each and these will probably all be forced to close if Roe falls. (V)
Yesterday, we had an item about how the Senate seemed likely to pass a fairly meaningless gun measure. That still seems to be true. However, to become law, the measure also has to pass the House. That is in doubt since Kevin McCarthy, Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-NY) are actively opposing the Senate bill. Fundamentally, the Republican leadership is against any and all restrictions on gun ownership. In addition, Donald Trump is also telling all Republicans to vote against it. If all Republicans follow their marching orders, then the House will have to pass the bill with only Democratic votes.
That is not impossible, since Democrats have a tiny majority in the House, but if there are half a dozen defections, the bill won't make it. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), and Jake Auchincloss (D-MA) have all expressed doubts about the bill because it does almost nothing and if it passes, Republicans won't want to bring up the subject of gun safety for another decade. The big question is whether a feeble bill that does almost nothing to curb gun violence is worth it if it blocks discussion of a much better bill down the road. In the end, if Nancy Pelosi orders her troops to support the bill, probably almost all of them will do it, however grudgingly, and it might just pass. (V)
If Time Magazine had an "Opportunist of the Year" award, Elise Stefanik would have won it at least once. She started out as a moderate Republican from upstate New York who was interested in getting things done in Congress and helping her constituents. When Kevin McCarthy decided to boot Liz Cheney from the leadership for telling the truth about Donald Trump, he understood that replacing the only woman in the leadership with a man would not go over well with those suburban moms his party badly needs. So he found a young telegenic woman, Stefanik, to replace Cheney. Since then, Stefanik has miraculously transformed into a fire-breathing Trumpist, something she never was before her elevation. But now, all of a sudden, what she does is front page news, and not just in Potsdam and Morristown.
In particular, Stefanik is now brawling with the chairman of the New York State Republican Party, Nick Langworthy. It started when Langworthy jumped to support Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who is running for governor, a job Stefanik thought suited her perfectly. Then Langworthy pushed Rep. Chris Jacobs (R-NY), who represents the Buffalo suburbs, into retirement after the Buffalo massacre when Jacobs said that he would vote for a ban on AR-15s. Langworthy then decided to run for Jacobs' seat in the redistricted map. So what did Stefanik do? She endorsed his opponent, Carl Paladino, who opposes same-sex marriage, all abortions, rights of Native Americans in the state, and the whole nine yards. But he is not against everything and everyone. In Feb 2021, he told Buffalo's WBEN radio station "we need somebody inspirational like Adolf Hitler." He also loves Donald Trump.
Now the Stefanik-Langworthy rift is spreading. Langworthy tried to block Stefanik from accessing the state GOP's voter database, but the RNC stopped him. Then Stefanik told the RNC to stop sending money to the New York Republican Party. This led Party spokeswoman Jessica Proud to proudly say: "Chairman Langworthy works together seamlessly with Chairwoman McDaniel and her team on behalf of all our GOP candidates and elected officials." Right. Sure.
Langworthy has accused Stefanik of endorsing Paladino as part of her vendetta against him. But not every Republican is so happy with Langworthy. In particular, some are not so happy with him pushing Jacobs out of Congress so he could run for the seat himself. On the other hand, other Republicans aren't happy with one of their leaders endorsing a guy who thinks Hitler was a great leader. Her position as the #3 House Republican is much less certain in the new House, as she may get some viable competition for the job after the election. (V)
Joe Biden's first nominee for White House Science Adviser, Eric Lander, a professor of biology at M.I.T. with a distinguished track record, was academically qualified for the job and was eventually confirmed by the Senate despite his reputation for offending women. Unfortunately, the rumors were correct, and after he started work he immediately began bullying his subordinates. A number of them spoke up and Lander decided the best course of action was to resign, which he did on Feb. 7, 2022.
It took Biden 4 months to find a new candidate, but now he has made a nomination, and the new one is equally qualified but as different from Lander as can be. The nominee is Arati Prabhakar, an immigrant from India who has ties to Caltech (masters and Ph.D.) rather than M.I.T. Prabhakar is also a physicist rather than a biologist. In fact, she is the first woman ever to get a Ph.D. in applied physics from Caltech. If confirmed, she will be the first woman of color and the first immigrant to be the White House science adviser. During his campaign, Biden promised to appoint more women and more minorities to high positions, and he is certainly doing that.
Prabhakar has a long track record in science management. After getting her Ph.D. she worked for DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, for seven years. This somewhat obscure piece of the DoD has an interesting history. Around 1957, then-President Eisenhower discovered that the Army, Navy, and Air Force were fighting over the Pentagon's research budget. He was appalled and created ARPA (later renamed DARPA) to handle all research for the military. ARPA floundered for a few years, not sure what its mission really was. In 1965, Bob Taylor became head of ARPA's Information Processing Office and had a vague vision of connecting computers around the country somehow, but his masters degree was in psychology and he didn't know how to do it. He hired Larry Roberts, who had a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from M.I.T., to figure it out.
At first Roberts didn't know how to go about it either, but in 1967 he attended a conference in Gatlinburg, TN, and heard a paper by a group from the U.K. that described a small packet-switching computer network the group had built. This was Roberts' eureka moment and he decided ARPA should focus on funding the development of a nationwide computer network. He asked AT&T, then the world's largest corporation, to build it. But the phone company wasn't interested in taking advice from a 30-year-old know-it-all and said no. They were quite convinced that the phone system was excellent and this new-fangled packet-switching technology was a waste of time. So Roberts put the project up for bids and a tiny company in Massachusetts, BBN, won the contract and built what became the ARPANET. This gradually evolved into the modern Internet, and—in case it holds your interest—the very first computer connected to ARPANET was at UCLA. Next time someone asks you: "Name one useful thing the government has done" you might say: "It built the Internet because the private sector thought it was a stupid idea."
After her stint working for DARPA in the 1980s and 1990s, Prabhakar became head of the National Institute of Standards and Technology at the age of 34. She later worked for 10 years for a venture capital company focused on green technology. In 2012, Barack Obama got her to go back to DARPA, this time as head of the agency, where she remained for 5 years. She has won numerous awards over the years.
Joe Biden clearly believes in science, but knows very little about it, so Prabhakar is going to have to explain many complex issues to him so he can make difficult choices including determining how much funding each of numerous important projects should get. For example, climate change has many aspects and so do cancer research, space exploration, preparing for the next pandemic, and a slew of other science-related topics. It will be Prabkahar's job to help Biden make tough choices here and also be the public face of science to the country defending his eventual choices. Also, when the Republicans attack immigrants, as they often do, Biden can point to Prabhakar as an immigrant who got a Ph.D. from Caltech and has been a real asset to the country in numerous ways. (V)
For what it is worth (probably not much), the House Democratic caucus is more unified than either party has been for at least 50 years. On floor votes, nearly all the Democrats vote the same way. In addition, the House has passed just about every bill on the Democrats' agenda, including the Build Back Better bill, voting rights bills, abortion bills, and much more, usually with no more than one or two dissenting votes, and often with none. Unfortunately, nearly all the bills failed in the Senate, but that in no way reflects on Pelosi's ability to herd the cats.
In the past, members of both parties often bucked their leaders; now that almost never happens. Just one House Democrat voted against the final Build Back Better bill and just one House Democrat opposed a bill to legalize abortion nationwide. On the bills to extend the deadline to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, establish specific rights for LGBTQ+ people, provide a pathway to citizenship for dreamers, and restructure the Voting Rights Act, not a single Democrat voted no.
This record is in striking contrast to what happened in the House under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Defections were endemic then. In 1993, 41 House Democrats voted against Clinton's economic plan, 69 Democrats voted against the Brady Bill, and a majority of Democrats voted against NAFTA. Under Obama, the situation barely improved. Obama's cap-and-trade bill that allowed companies to buy and sell pollution rights saw 44 defections, while 34 Democrats voted against the Affordable Care Act.
Rule changes explain some of this. In 1975, Democrats changed the rules about committee chairs. Before then, they were determined by seniority and each chair operated like a feudal lord, listening to no one. After 1975, the caucus elected chairs and chairs were suddenly much more responsive to the leadership. Also, when Republicans captured the House in 1995 for the first time in 40 years, Newt Gingrich enforced party discipline with an iron fist and Democrats saw how well it worked.
Another factor is geographic change. Forty or 50 years ago, there were many blue dog Democrats from the South or rural areas in the north who opposed the Party's leaders. They are pretty much gone now, and almost all remaining Democrats actually support the Party's platform, so there is little dissension on ideological grounds, as there used to be. Of course, this can be seen as a sign of weakness rather than strength. Democrats simply can't complete in vast swaths of the country.
This enormous party discipline is not unusual worldwide. In parliamentary systems, all members are expected to vote with the leadership on every bill and woe be to the member who falls out of line. This is becoming the norm in the House as well. If a member votes against the leadership on anything important, that member can expect a well-financed primary opponent at the next election. As a consequence of all these factors, party discipline is at a 50-year high, and maybe even longer. (V)
The courts move slowly, but they do move. On Tuesday, Judge Eric Davis denied a motion from Fox News' parent company to throw out a lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems. He said that the defamation case, filed in March 2021, can now go forward. He said that if Dominion can prove its case in court, Fox would be directly liable for damages. He also said that even without ruling on the merits of the case, the allegations were reasonable and the damages Dominion suffered could well be due to what Fox on-air hosts said about the company's products. Dominion is asking for $1.6 billion from Fox for its allegations that Dominion's voting systems were rigged for Joe Biden.
Winning a case like this requires Dominion to prove that not only was Fox's reporting false, but that they knew it was false and did it anyway. Fox was warned in real time that its hosts were repeating lies over and over and rather than stop them to investigate, Fox management told them to keep at it.
Working against Fox is that some of Rupert Murdoch's other media properties, specifically the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, had already concluded that: (1) there was no fraud and (2) Trump had lost. Both were urging Trump to concede. Given that, it will be hard for Murdoch to argue that he genuinely thought Trump won. If so, why did he allow two of his newspapers to announce that Trump had lost?
Fox is also being sued by Smartmatic, another manufacturer of voting systems. That case is being heard in New York and the judge in that case also said it could go forward. if both companies prevail, it could potentially cost Fox multiple billions of dollars. (V)Answers to the quiz