As expected, it was déjà vu all over again on Wednesday, as the House voted to impeach Donald Trump a second time. There are some news stories so big that nearly everything else feels small and out of place by comparison. So, it's all impeachment today, broken up into subsections as we did for our item on the insurrection that started it all:
Part I: The Vote
Initially, the vote was scheduled to take place yesterday in the early evening, Washington time. That was clearly a case of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) being conservative, because the actual vote took place several hours earlier, after much debate in the House. To give a sense of the tone and tenor of that portion of the day, here are some of the things that were said (members who voted for impeachment are noted with an asterisk):
- Pelosi*:"I ask you to search your souls and answer these questions: Is the President's war on democracy in keeping with the Constitution?"
- House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD)*:"I served with Ronald Reagan, with George H.W. Bush and George Bush. I have respect for all of those presidents. They cared about our country. They honored our constitution and they executed the duties of the office consistent with the Constitution and laws of our country. That is not true of this president. And therefore, he ought to be removed. And we have that opportunity to do so. Is there little time left? Yes. But it is never too late to do the right thing."
- House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA):"Impeaching the President in such a short time frame would be a mistake. A vote to impeach will further fan the flames of partisan division."
- Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)*:"[A]t every juncture ... when evil threatened to overtake good, patriotic Americans stepped forward to say 'enough.' This is one of those moments. Let us say 'enough.' Enough."
- Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA):"You hate him. You hate him. You hate him. You hate him for putting America first."
- Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA)*:"This president intends to exercise power long after he is out of office. He is capable of starting a civil war, and he must be impeached."
- Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA):"If we impeached every politician who gave a fiery speech to a crowd of partisans, this Capitol would be deserted. That's what the President did, that is all he did. He specifically told the crowd to protest peacefully and patriotically."
- Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO)*:"The 117th Congress must understand we have a mandate to legislate in defense of Black lives. The first step in that process is to root out white supremacy, starting with impeaching the white supremacist in chief."
- Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA)*:"These articles of impeachment are flawed, but I will not use process as an excuse. There is no excuse for President Trump's actions."
- Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)*:"Donald Trump is a living, breathing impeachable offense. It is what it is."
- Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA)*:"My vote for impeaching the sitting president is not a fear-based decision. I am not choosing a side—I am choosing truth. It's the only way to defeat fear."
- Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX)*:"What do you think they would have done if they had gotten in? What do you think they would have done to you? And who do you think sent them here? The most dangerous man to ever occupy the Oval Office. If inciting a deadly insurrection is not enough to get a president impeached, then what is?"
- Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA):"I've seen the dark evil of political violence firsthand, and it needs to stop. But all of us need to be unequivocal in calling it out every single time we see it. Not just when it comes from the other side of the aisle."
- Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD)*:"It's a bit much to be hearing that these people would not be trying to destroy our government and kill us if we just weren't so mean to them."
- Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH):"We should be focused on bringing the nation together. Instead Democrats are going to impeach the President for a second time one week before he leaves office. Why? Why? Politics. And the fact they want to cancel the President."
- Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN)*:"For years we have been asked to turn a blind eye to the criminality, corruption and blatant disregard to the rule of law by the tyrant president we have in the White House. We as a nation can no longer look away."
- Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA):"President Trump has held over 600 rallies in the last 4 years. None of them included assaulting police, destroying businesses or burning down cities. Democrats have spent all this time endorsing and enabling violent riots that left billions in property damage and 47 dead."
In short, the main pro-impeachment arguments were: (1) Trump has gone too far this time; (2) Trump is, and will continue to be, a danger to the Constitution; (3) we must not enable violent white supremacists, and (4) sometimes you just have to do the right thing. The main anti-impeachment arguments were: (1) whataboutism; (2) what Trump did/said wasn't that bad; (3), this is just another case of Trump Derangement Syndrome; and (4) impeachment will be too divisive for the nation.
The final vote was 232-197, with 10 Republicans joining all the Democrats and another four Republicans not voting. Here are all 10 of the pro-impeachment Republicans, along with the districts they represent, the partisan lean of those districts, and which presidential candidate won that district:
Name District PVI Pres. Liz Cheney WY-AL R+25 Trump +43 Dan Newhouse WA-04 R+13 Trump +19 Tom Rice SC-07 R+9 Trump +18 Adam Kinzinger IL-16 R+8 Trump +17 Anthony Gonzalez OH-16 R+8 Trump +15 Peter Meijer MI-03 R+6 Trump +4 Jaime Herrera Beutler WA-03 R+4 Trump +4 Fred Upton MI-06 R+4 Trump +4 John Katko NY-24 D+3 Biden +5 David Valadao CA-21 D+5 Biden +9
As you can see, some of these folks had plenty of cover for voting for impeachment. In fact, Valadao and Katko probably had no choice. On the other hand, some of them—Newhouse, Rice, Kinzinger, and Gonzalez in particular—really stuck their necks out, and may have ended their political careers yesterday. If there is an explanation for their choice beyond "they voted their conscience," we do not know what it is. Cheney is a special case, since she's trying to position herself to be the leader of a new and improved post-Trump GOP. So, her vote may have been a matter of conscience, or one of political expediency, or both. We just don't know. Reportedly, there were additional Republican members who would have voted for impeachment, but who feared for themselves and/or their families, and felt the risk was not justified given that passage of the article of impeachment was a certainty anyhow.
Incidentally, the four Republicans to cast no vote at all were Andy Harris (MD), who said he was too busy back home caring for COVID-19 patients (he's an M.D.); Greg Murphy (NC), who said he was caring for his wife, who is recovering from back surgery; Daniel Webster (FL), who was absent due to "family medical obligations," and Kay Granger (TX), who abstained without explanation.
Part II: The Donald
The President, by all accounts, is feeling the two emotions that you would predict for him right now: self-pity and anger. As always, he needs someone to blame. And, like Dracula, he needs a constant supply of fresh victims. So while Trump has spent plenty of time scapegoating VP Mike Pence and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) in the past few days, he's moved on to a new target. That gives us a chance to do one of the pop quizzes we so love to inflict on both readers and students. Can you guess which previously bulletproof Trump insider is now in the doghouse?
- Son Donald Trump Jr.
- Son-in-law Jared Kushner
- TV lawyer Rudy Giuliani
- Crackpot lawyer Sidney Powell
- Chief of Staff Mark Meadows
We'll give you the answer later. For now, however, we will say that regardless of what Trump is actually feeling, he knows (or someone has persuaded him) that he has really left himself exposed here. And so, he released a video on Wednesday condemning violence and calling for calm. Here it is:
(NB: We've embedded several videos lately, and because of the way caching works, you might be seeing the wrong video right now—possibly Randy Rainbow singing about sedition. If so, either force-reload or else click on the link right above the video.)
Anyhow, it is obviously better for Trump to condemn violence than it is for him to encourage it, but one cannot take this address seriously, for at least three reasons:
- His heart's not in it: At this point, we have all seen footage from one (or many) of Trump's rallies. When he really feels what he's saying, the President is very expressive with both his hands and his tone of voice. That's even true on more buttoned-down occasions, like his convention speech. On the other hand, when he's just doing what he thinks he has to do, his voice turns into a near monotone, and he clasps his hands and twiddles his thumbs. That's the Trump that is on display here.
- The real problem: If Trump really wanted to make a serious effort at calming his followers down—which, admittedly, might be beyond even his powers at this point—then he would focus on the current cause of their anger and not the effects. That is to say, he would make a statement along these lines: "Joe Biden is the next president of the United States, he won in a legitimate election that was not stolen, and the time has come for us to accept that and start preparing for the next election." Of course, the President did not say that and would not say that because his self-worth demands that he spend the rest of his life nursing the idea that he was cheated rather than that he lost.
- The airing of grievances: Like a Festivus celebration, a Trump video is not complete until the airing of grievances has taken place. The bitching and moaning about social media (which starts around 3:50) merely dumps a bit more fuel onto the flames that the President claims to be trying to extinguish.
In short, this is just another "cover your ass" (CYA) video, presumably done at the behest of Trump's attorneys. But not Rudy Giuliani, it would seem. To answer the pop quiz, he is the scapegoat du jour, and in response to being impeached again, the President has ordered his staff to stop paying Giuliani's legal fees, which have reached seven figures. Anyone who did not see that coming, sooner or later, has not been paying attention for the last 50 years. We're talking delusional here, on the level of....well, of Rudy Giuliani, actually.
In stiffing Giuliani, Trump is being unbelievably stupid and shortsighted. There are state officials investigating Trump and may well be federal ones as well after Jan. 20. Giuliani knows a tremendous amount about what Trump has been up to for years. Does Trump really want Giuliani to cooperate with the feds and the state investigators? Not paying him sounds like a really good way to get him mad enough to do that.
Unfortunately for Trump, his CYA efforts appear to be too little, too late. He has created all kinds of trouble for himself, with much of the damage likely to be permanent. To start with, his political brand has taken a huge hit. Yet another poll, this one from Politico/Morning Consult, affirms that he's fallen through his apparent floor and that his approval rating is now in the low 30s (34%, to be precise). Further, only 40% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents want to see him run again in 2024; last month the number was 53%. It's true that Trump still has the loyalty of the most hardcore elements of his base, but maintaining that over the next few years will not be easy without the bully pulpit and without his social media megaphone (MAGAphone?). On Wednesday, incidentally, Snapchat became the latest social media outlet to ban Trump for life.
Trump's business brand is also in great peril. He makes most of his money these days from licensing deals, and his partners are mostly heading for the hills, or will do so as soon as their contracts allow. The city of New York has exercised its right to terminate a contract with the Trump Organization to run a carousel, two ice rinks and a golf course in city parks. Chicago is trying to remove the President's name from the Trump Tower in that city. Trump International in Washington, D.C. is hemorrhaging money, and attempts to sell the business have come to naught, as nobody's interested. In fact, the broker who was handling the sale just quit. And if Trump needs money to tide himself over while he tries to clean up the mess, well, he better not go to Deutsche Bank, because they just announced they will no longer lend money to the President or his family. It's not easy to become so odious that even Deutsche Bank won't talk to you. For all of these reasons, not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars in loans that are about to come due, insiders say Trump is scared witless that he's going to end up broke.
And then there is the impeachment. No matter what happens when the matter gets to the Senate, Trump's historical brand—for lack of a better term—is now ruined. Even if the Abraham Accords bring peace to the Middle East, the tax cuts/trade wars launch a new era of unprecedented economic prosperity, and Operation Warp Speed unexpectedly leads to a cure for cancer, the one thing that schoolchildren will know about Trump 100 years from now is that he was the first (and hopefully only) president to be impeached twice.
A more immediate effect of the impeachment, at least if Trump is convicted, may get into his craw even more. We intended to answer this in the Q&A this weekend, but instead we shall address it now. It has been reported—and is very believable—that the one thing Trump likes about being president is the fringe benefits. There are also fringe benefits of being an ex-president, including Secret Service protection, a pension ($200K/year), and a generous travel allowance (up to $1M/year). These privileges are granted by congressional statute, and can be taken away by congressional statute. Indeed, if he's convicted by the Senate, everything except the USSS protection goes away automatically by the terms of the Former Presidents Act (well, probably, because the act specifically refers to removing benefits for "presidents" who are impeached and convicted, not "ex-presidents"). The USSS protection is covered by a different statute (18 U.S. Code 3056), but Congress could take that away too, if they wanted. Further, an impeachment and conviction would likely lead to Trump's exclusion from some of the "soft" perks of being ex-president; he wouldn't be invited to important funerals, NARA probably wouldn't be interested in taking over management of his presidential library, etc.
And finally, we will mention again that Trump has potentially exposed himself to criminal liability here that could well land him in the hoosegow. He could try to self-pardon but, as we've noted, that may not pass muster. It is even less likely to pass muster when executed after the self-pardoner has been impeached. Alternatively, Trump could deploy his army of lawyers (sans Rudy Giuliani, apparently), but will he be able to afford them much longer? And now that they know that he is not going to pay Giuliani for work already performed, surely any lawyer who is willing to work for Trump is going to demand a retainer of tens of thousands of dollars in advance.
Part III: An Inside Job?
Trump may not be the only person who has reason to be nervous these days. The insurrection is the sort of event that, like the 9/11 attacks, is going to be investigated six ways from Sunday. And there are lots of folks who might just find themselves ensnared by the long arm of the law. Let's start with the rioters. As we've already noted, many of them did foolish things that allowed (or that will allow) the FBI to track them down, including wearing easily identifiable items of couture during the insurrection, or posting pictures/videos to social media, or both. The latest to be popped is Klete Keller, Olympic medalist in swimming, and pride of USC, who decided that trespassing in the Capitol while wearing a jacket issued only to U.S. Olympic swimmers was a wise choice.
There are also plenty of rioters who, once the manure began to hit the fan, fired up Parler and deleted any incriminating posts. Not so fast, as it turns out. It would seem that Parler was programmed by the sort of folks who...well, would use Parler. That means that very basic Security 101 and Programming 101 protocols were not followed. "Deleted" posts were not actually deleted, they were just labeled with a "delete" flag. Metadata on location and identity was not scrubbed. And so, a hacker managed to download 99% of the site's content before it went offline, a total of 80 TB, including 1 million videos. Many of the scraped messages that discuss the upcoming insurrection, or videos that show people participating in the insurrection, will be easily traced to the person who posted them.
Moving on, there is also a spotlight on the U.S. Capitol Police, and the other folks who were supposed to keep the peace last Wednesday. Uncomfortable questions are being asked about why the rioters faced so little resistance, and why doors and gates in the way of the mob were sometimes opened rather than being reinforced.
And finally there are the politicians, whose direct culpability—if proven—would be scandalous at a level that would make Watergate look like a game of patty-cake. Details are fuzzy right now, for obvious reasons, but here are the potential puzzle pieces that are already out there:
- Ali Alexander, the die-hard Trump loyalist responsible for organizing the "Stop the Steal" movement, said that he worked with Reps. Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar (both R-AZ), and Mo Brooks (R-AL) to hatch the plot to storm the Capitol. "We four schemed up a way of putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting," was Alexander's description. He's not the world's most reliable source, of course, but it's also worth asking: Why would he lie here? Also keep in mind that "Well, we didn't expect people to get violent" is not a defense.
- Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), a former naval officer, and several of her (as-yet-unnamed) colleagues noticed some of the Trumpy members of Congress giving tours to "supporters" on Jan. 5. Since tours are suspended right now, due to COVID-19, this was suspicious enough that Sherrill (and others) reported it immediately. Sherrill and some of her colleagues now believe that those were reconnaissance missions. More than 30 of them sent a letter to the acting House and Senate sergeants-at-arms, as well as the acting chief of the U.S. Capitol Police, asking for an investigation. "The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day," the letter reads. "Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex. The presence of these groups within the Capitol Complex was indeed suspicious."
- Newly seated Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), who is one of the most Trumpy and most far-right members of the House GOP caucus, was allegedly live-tweeting the location of Nancy Pelosi during the riot, ostensibly in hopes of helping the mob to find the Speaker.
It is, of course, way too early to know what will come of all of this. Heads are going to roll, that much is certain. What's unclear is: (1) how many? and (2) exactly how prominent will those heads be?
Part IV: The Echo Chamber
Starting when Germany invaded Poland and World War II began in Europe in Sept. 1939, and continuing for the next two years, there was a large and outspoken contingent of Americans who foresaw where things were headed, and who opposed U.S. involvement in yet another long, ugly war. These folks got much, much quieter after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. Maybe they changed their minds, or maybe they realized that changed circumstances meant that it was better to keep quiet.
Given how disastrous all the right-wing rabble-rousing has turned out, and given all the consequences that are coming, you might think the enablers of that rabble-rousing would back off, at least temporarily. But that is not what is happening. Consider the right-wing media. Actually, before you consider the right-wing media, consider how a legitimate news outlet covered yesterday's events. Here are the top five headlines from CNN on Wednesday night:
- House impeaches Trump for 'incitement of insurrection'
- Feds warn extremists may be emboldened to carry out additional attacks after Capitol insurrection
- Questions swirl around possible 'insider' help for Capitol attack
- These 10 Republicans voted to impeach Trump
- Trump isolated and wallowing in self-pity in the White House, sources say
If you would like another example, here are the top five Washington Post headlines:
- TRUMP IMPEACHED AGAIN
- 10 Republicans support the unprecedented indictment
- Democrats demand investigation of whether Republicans in Congress aided Capitol rioters
- QAnon reshaped Trump's party and radicalized believers. The Capitol siege may just be the start.
- President is isolated and angry at aides for failing to defend him as he is impeached again
And now, beginning the trip down the right-wing rabbit hole, here are the top five Fox News headlines:
- PARDON TRUMP? Ex-FBI head says Biden should at least consider it for the good of the country
- What a Senate impeachment trial could mean for Trump - and why it might not happen at all
- ANDREW MCCARTHY: House impeachment vote represents 'wasted opportunity' for consensus
- JONATHAN TURLEY: Trump 'would have standing to challenge' his impeachment trial
- Rep. Mace blames both parties for violence in House speech: 'Our words have consequences'
Further down the rabbit hole, here are the top five Newsmax headlines:
- Sen. Graham Urging President-elect Biden to Tell Dems to Drop Impeachment
- FAA Gets Tougher on Unruly Flyers After Capitol Riot
- Trump Considers Lawyer From DC Rally for Defense: Sources
- Rep. Pete Meijer Likely to Face GOP Challenge for Impeachment Vote
- Conservatives Move to Strip Rep. Liz Cheney of Leadership Job
And so far down the rabbit hole that you may never again see the light of day, here are the top five OAN headlines:
- President Trump Delivers Message To The American People
- Parler CEO warns app may not return online after being deplatformed
- Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene: Dems on record supporting violence
- Report: Dems partly at fault for insufficient security at U.S. Capitol
- Rep. Jordan: Impeachment 'part of the obsession' Democrats have with President Trump
You can start to see how different people end up with rather different sets of "facts."
And speaking of enablers, there are also some members of Congress who have no boundaries and no limits, and who are going to keep on keepin' on no matter what. Among those is the aforementioned Marjorie Taylor Greene who, at very least, is a bigot, and who certainly appears to be mentally ill. She has already announced that she will bring articles of impeachment against Joe Biden on his first day in office. Many of Greene's new colleagues (including several Republicans) already loathe her, and this certainly isn't going to help. She's also one of the folks who made a point of not wearing a mask when confined with immunocompromised colleagues during the Capitol invasion, by the way.
In any event, the point is that there is apparently nothing that will cause the most rabid, most outspoken supporters of Trumpism to rein it in.
Part V: What's Next?
Nancy Pelosi has now done her part—she got an article of impeachment drafted, revised, and passed by the House with (a little bit of) bipartisan support. She officially announced her impeachment team afterward, making a point of using the same podium that was nearly carted off by the insurrectionists who invaded the Capitol. The impeachment managers will now have some period of time to plan their case before they have to present it—maybe a few days, maybe a week, maybe much longer. They are reportedly thinking about calling Brad Raffensperger as their first witness.
Exactly how much time elapses between now and the impeachment trial is up to the Senate Majority Leader—currently Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and then Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) after Jan. 20 at noon (give or take a few minutes). On Wednesday, McConnell reiterated that he will not call the Senate back into session before Jan. 19. He presumably means it, though one wonders if he wants to be responsible for the possibility of the inauguration and the impeachment trial going on at the same time. That's stacking one powder keg on top of a second powder keg.
Once Schumer is calling the shots, then he'll also have a decision to make. Rep. Jim Clyburn's (D-SC) idea of waiting 100 days does not appear to be too popular with Democratic members (or their voters), but asking Joe Biden to twiddle his thumbs for his first week in office while he waits for his cabinet to be confirmed is not too popular, either. At the moment, there are conversations going on about whether it's legal to do impeachment for half the day and Senate business for the other half. According to current Senate rules, it's not, but it's also the case that the majority gets to change the rules if they want to. How this will all shake out in the end is a mystery to us, and probably to most (or all) members of the Senate, too.
Another mystery is what will happen once the trial commences. McConnell says that he is "undecided" on whether to convict Trump or not. We seriously doubt that is true, though. McConnell has many good reasons to try to slay the Trump monster, and few reasons to try to save him. At the same time, smart politics dictate that this needs to look like a really hard decision, one that the Senator only arrived at after much thought, reflection, self-doubt, prayer, yadda, yadda, yadda. If we were betting, we would bet that he votes to convict, and that he brings at least 16 of his colleagues along with him, enough to seal the deal. At that point, it requires only a majority to bar Trump from future officeholding. McConnell can let the Democrats plus Kamala Harris handle that piece of business, leaving his hands relatively free of the Donald's blood.
The other pending matter, of course, is the inauguration. The folks responsible for the initial storming of the Capitol are expected to be back in force, perhaps joined by even more radical associates. Maybe they will demonstrate peacefully, as is their right. More likely, however, they are planning to get violent again. If so, they may want to rethink that position. The number of National Guard troops that has been activated for next week is now up to 20,000. And, unlike the Capitol Police, they aren't going to play nice. Ashli Babbitt was shot to death last week because she got close enough to VP Mike Pence to be a threat. The inauguration will be an outdoor event, and one that involves a vast number of important people, from Joe Biden on down. Any protester who does anything that appears to be even vaguely threatening is taking their life into their own hands, and should consider themselves lucky if all that happens is that they get arrested.
And speaking of Biden, let's finish with him. The President-elect has been put into a very tough situation by the behavior of Donald Trump and his base. It's been a long time (Abraham Lincoln?) since a reporter had to ask: "Are you concerned about the danger involved with giving your inaugural address outdoors?" On top of that, Biden is the leader of his party, and his party is leading the impeachment. However, he needs to appear hands-off, for fear of the impeachment coming across as victor's justice.
Of course, as a fellow who has been in politics for half a century, the President-elect knows how to handle these sorts of situations. He's made clear that he's not concerned about being targeted for violence. And, as regards the impeachment, he's been very passive. Actually, "silent" would be more correct. At least until yesterday, that is, when he finally issued a statement on the matter. It was just as milquetoasty as the circumstances called for; Biden expressed his hope that the Senate would find a way to manage both impeachment and the nation's "other urgent business." Putting his finger on the scale, one way or another, he is not.
So, there you have it—our third 6,000-word item in 8 days, all of them prompted by last week's unpleasantness. Don't say you don't get your money's worth with this site. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan13 Sheldon Adelson Dies
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