As you can see, the tempo of events is moving rapidly now. Donald Trump not finishing his term of office now seems like a real possibility, as astonishing as that may seem. A number of developments are coming together, like converging waves that build on each other.
There are two things I think we should be thinking about as developments which led to this quickening.
President Trump used his first public appearance in front of reporters since a mob of his supporters breached the Capitol last week, resulting in the deaths of five people, to test out whether his old defenses still carried any water.
There is a simple chain of events that even news outlets doing the best work are still tiptoeing around. After President Trump gave his speech to the insurrectionists on Wednesday he returned to the White House and excitedly watched the storming of the Capitol on TV. As members of Congress were besieged and then retreated to a secure undisclosed location, Trump received numerous pleas from members of Congress to send reinforcements or call on his supporters to disperse. He refused because he liked what he was seeing.
It is the last full week of the Trump presidency and if last week was any indication of how long this week will feel, we should be prepared for another interminable one.
A month ago I made a point that I and others have been making in various ways and in various contexts for years, but with renewed urgency. After Trump Democrats must exercise great discipline not to operate within or engage with the bad faith arguments of Republicans who remain unwilling to come to grips with or take accountability for what they’ve done to the country. Today we see, predictably, the same pattern: it has taken Republicans only three or four days to resolve that they are the primary victims of the events of the last week. We’ve skipped ahead from the “stolen election” lie to claims Republicans are the new Jews being trained off to concentration camps because their months-old pet social network Parler became too radioactive for the hosting service it ran on.
One thought I keep returning to: if there were a functioning federal government we’d be seeing regular press conferences updating the public on on-going arrests, health status of the injured, progress of the investigation. As far as I can tell there hasn’t been a single one. Nothing from DOJ, FBI, Capitol Police, the Pentagon. Normally you might expect such information to be channeled through press conferences at the White House. But, not to put too fine a point on it, it’s not clear or perhaps too clear which side the White House is on.
Events are moving so rapidly that commentary becomes dated almost immediately. So I want to step back a bit to see the events of the last week from a more distant perspective, particularly the interrelationship between three critical events. It is how I think history will likely eventually see them.
President Trump’s coup plot reached a high water mark at the end of last week when Republicans in Congress rushed to join efforts to contest the lawful electoral college vote which made Joe Biden the next President of the United States. It was at this point when first Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and then Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) rushed forward to become the leaders of the coup on Capitol Hill as a way to burnish their Trumpite presidential resumes.
If Donald Trump had posted his latest video yesterday it would have bought him a lot of credit, unfortunately. The fact that he released it this evening is a measure of just how tenuous his position has become. Two events from just the last couple hours demonstrate why. We now learn that a Capitol Police officer was beaten to death by his insurrectionist supporters. And now The Wall Street Journal editorial page, even in advance of that news, has called for him to resign or be impeached.
TPM Reader JB, a former Hill staffer, is 100% right. A serious threat to the Capitol would never have been left to the Capitol Police. The failure is almost certainly rooted in the fact that federal law enforcement and the military were reluctant to plan for a threat from the President’s own supporters.
To your correspondent BK’s comments today I have to add the point that a serious threat to the Capitol — which yesterday’s riot certainly was — would never have been left to the Capitol Police alone had it been foreseen.
We often forget that we don’t only arrest and prosecute people to exact individual punishment or to protect public safety. Arrest and prosecution is also how society communicates to itself the parameters of acceptable behavior. Yesterday was many things. But a critical part of it was the result of years and decades of treating violent right-wing extremism as a sort of wingnut performance art, crazy but essentially harmless and to be indulged. Think of the original Bundy clan standoff and the later Malheur standoff. An insurrectionist told a Capitol Police officer yesterday “You didn’t take it back, we gave it back,” as he walked out of the Capitol.
You saw them. They were strutting and proud. They gave their names to reporters. They posed for pictures.
One more point about the President and the decision to call in the National Guard. I’ve mentioned several times below that the chain of command simply went around the President. Mike Pence gave the order even though there’s really no legal basis for him doing so. Most of these reports suggest the President was just checked out, maybe not interested in talking to them.
CBS and only CBS is reporting that cabinet members are discussing invoking the 25th amendment to remove President Trump from office. I will believe it when I see it. But there have been a few hints over the last hours that the national security structure and some critical functions of government are operating separate from President Trump. The Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs conferred with Mike Pence and the Democratic and Republican congressional leaders about bringing in the National Guard. Apparently there were no discussions with the President and Mike Pence eventually gave the order, even though there’s no basis I can think of on which Pence could give such an order.
I probably don’t have to tell you to be excited about the results out of Georgia tonight where it seems highly likely that the the Democrats picked up both Senate seats and thus took control of the Senate. You don’t need me to tell you about the historic nature of Raphael Warnock’s victory. But the consequences of these victories is likely even greater than many realize.
We know from past experience that Republicans will try to repurpose their election fraud charade as the rationale for new voting restrictions. Many non-Republicans are looking at this ghastly carnival and simply being thankful that it will almost certainly fail in its goal of giving President Trump a second term in office. But this is a dangerous and misguided complacency. It’s one that will further endanger the country down the road, not only in additional voter suppression laws but in the danger of repeats and possibly successful repeats of what is happening now.
To put it simply, this will create a new reality in which this episode lives on not as a shameful, discrediting episode but as a grievance and rallying cry on the right with no counterforce opposing it. We absolutely have to avoid this.
How do you do that?
Yesterday, TPM broke the news that the Atlanta-area U.S. attorney was leaving his post early. Byung Jin “BJay” Pak, of the Northern District of Georgia, had planned to leave on Inauguration Day, but instead was leaving immediately due to “unforeseen circumstances,” he told his staff yesterday.
Today, we learned who will replace him: Bobby Christine, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. TPM broke that story too.
The Georgia elections are upon us and I confess I simply have no idea what the outcomes are going to be. Early voting included encouraging hints for Democrats, particularly in levels of African-American voting. But trying to disentangle the meaning of early voting before you see same day voting is generally a fool’s game. The polls have been almost literally tied throughout. Though the averages of the final polls show one or two point leads for both Democrats, as we’ve learned, in our current politics, Republicans routinely outperform polls by very small but real margins. Especially when Trump is on the ballot. Is Trump on the ballot? Literally, no, but he’s certainly trying to pretend like he is.
It was pretty transparently clear that the source of the Trump-Raffensperger recording was Raffensperger and staff lawyer Ryan Germany. But it’s notable that in the follow-on reporting they aren’t being coy about it. They are basically saying, we’d been asked to commit illegal acts in earlier calls. It seemed prudent to record this call. Probably the best way to see this is that the two men decided to wear what amounts to a DIY wire.
As with the President’s “perfect call” with President Zelensky of Ukraine, the Raffensperger call is so transparent and damning it rather defies commentary. What more is t here to say? The call is reminiscent of descriptions of Trump calls and ploys going back decades. I’ve actually been in calls like this with angry CEOs. One of them I remember most palpably was with a New York richie who’s a pal of the President’s. They’ve been puffed up on affirmations and theories by their yes-men and your job is to listen to them vent and yell.
First, yes, I’m taking this all in too. I’m in that mode in which the revelations are coming so fast that there isn’t much to do beyond take it all in. I will only add that it is a federal crime to falsify vote totals, manufacture votes, not count lawful votes, etc. And it is a crime to try to force an election official to do so. There’s a very good argument that this phone call is evidence of federal crimes by the President of the United States and others.
There’s a fascinating and perhaps ominous article this morning in the LA Times about health care workers who are refusing to take or at least reluctant to take the COVID vaccine. There’s a range of reasons from reasons from things that might strike some of us as irrational to the general hesitancy of not wanting to be first to other things that have some logical basis. One nurse the reporters interviewed is six months pregnant and noted (which I believe is true) that the vaccine hasn’t yet been tested on pregnant women. I don’t know if there’s any clinical reason why this vaccine could operate differently in pregnant women. But I certainly know that many pregnant women and expectant fathers are highly cautious about anything that can disrupt a pregnancy.
I think we fool ourselves, are less than honest with ourselves, if we treat COVID vaccine hesitance or resistance as just a new version of the anti-vaccine activism we’ve seen for the last couple decades. It’s clearly connected to that phenomenon and is fueled by the climate of doubt it has created. But this is a new vaccine and (in the case of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines) uses a novel vaccine approach. Being wary of going first in such a case is simply not the same as refusing vaccines which have been administered literally billions of times and have track records of short term and long term safety going back decades.
Since we spoke last the two Georgia Senators have endorsed $2,000 checks. Senate Democrats called for a vote and Mitch McConnell refused to allow a vote.
There it is. McConnell blocks motion to vote on Democrats' $2,000 relief checks bill. pic.twitter.com/iYceWbNxiU
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) December 29, 2020
I heard a very knowledgable hill reporter say that McConnell doesn’t care how unpopular this is in the country. He only cares about the majority and saving those two Senate Republicans. This doesn’t add up to me. I’ll say first that I don’t think these races will come down to stimulus checks. But the races are close enough that it could come down to anything and everything.
In twenty years of doing this, one thing that strikes me again and again is the critical importance of naming things in politics. If the question is advocacy and persuasion few steps are more important than effectively and consistently naming the key developments, agenda items, threats and prizes and raising them in the public consciousness. There are few things – things that can be controlled by people involved in politics and campaigns, as opposed to the tides of historical change we are awash in – more important for Democrats to do a good job at in the next two yeas.
You know some examples of this. The ‘death tax’, for instance. Conservative operatives took the unglamorous and unsympathetic cause of trust fund kids and gave it a title with punch, ready understandability and even an edge of justice. In politics like everything else you simply must put your best foot forward. Just showing up or just doing a good job is never enough. You have to tell your story. You have to make sure people with a lot else on their plate know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and why it might be important to them that you succeed. That starts with naming things. That makes the thing visible and tells a story about it embedded in the name.
Yesterday, as the news set in that President Trump had pardoned almost everyone involved in the Russia scandal, I saw an editor at one of the big political publications say that with this step President Trump had taken one more step in erasing the Mueller probe. This is wrong. And explaining why it’s wrong gives me another opportunity to reaffirm my belief that knowledge, a public accounting of what happened is far more important than punishment for individual wrongdoers.