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Let's Get This Show on the Road

Yesterday, the National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex held its first hearing. It is possible that the Committee's work will eventually fade into the background, but for now, it's dominating headlines.

We used the word "show" very deliberately in the headline, because that is the portion of the process that is underway. At some point, the Committee will begin to look into some of the "known unknowns," but for now it is examining incidents that everyone has seen for themselves: Donald Trump's refusal to accept defeat, the encouragement that he (and other Republicans) gave to his supporters on the morning of Jan. 6, the invasion of the Capitol itself and the assault on the police, and so forth. The task for each faction (the Democrats and a few Republicans vs. the rest of the Republicans), at this time, is to do the best job of impressing the American people with their interpretation of events. And there is no question that the first round, at least, went to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) & Co.

The anti-Trump forces hit the ground running yesterday. The overture, as it were, came courtesy of Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who is chairing the 1/6 Committee. He penned an op-ed for The Washington Post that hit newsstands and computer screens a few hours before the hearings got underway. Here's the conclusion of his piece:

This hearing is just the beginning of the select committee's work; when it comes to the security of the Capitol—and our democracy—nothing will be off-limits. We will do what is necessary to understand what happened, why and how. And we will make recommendations to help ensure it never happens again. We owe it to the country we love to provide the answers that the American people deserve.

This is the framing the Democrats will return to, again and again, in op-eds, TV hits, campaign events, town halls, and the hearings themselves.

Of course, Team Pelosi also knows a few things about staging. And so, once the hearings got underway, they predictably and shrewdly put the two Republican members of the Committee front and center. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) was first to deliver her opening statement; here's our pick for the highlight:

I have been a conservative Republican since 1984 when I first voted for Ronald Reagan. I have disagreed sharply on policy and politics with almost every Democratic member of this committee. But, in the end, we are one nation under God. The Framers of our Constitution recognized the danger of the vicious factionalism of partisan politics—and they knew that our daily arguments could become so fierce that we might lose track of our most important obligation—to defend the rule of law and the freedom of all Americans. That is why our Framers compelled each of us to swear a solemn oath to preserve and protect the Constitution. When a threat to our constitutional order arises, as it has here, we are obligated to rise above politics. This investigation must be non-partisan.

Next up was Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who was clearly on the verge of tears as he delivered his opening statement. Again, our pick for the highlight:

Everyone in elected office knows how hard it can be sometimes to keep the oath "to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States" in the forefront of our minds, what with the political pressures and re-elections always around the corner.

But, Mr. Chairman, our witnesses today—like every law enforcement officer across the country—took the same oath we did. And on January 6th, the temptation to compromise their oaths didn't come in the form of a campaign check... or a threat from leadership... or an all-caps tweet.

It came in the form of a violent mob.

While we on this dais were whisked away from the danger, heroes like those here stood their posts before it, and paid the price.

[TO WITNESSES:] We are only here now because you were here then.

Therefore, it is altogether fitting that we begin our investigation of January's lawless attack against the Constitution with the men who made sure that attack did not succeed—the men who helped ensure that democracy held.

It's not going to win him a literature Nobel, but Kinzinger did manage to squeeze in some shade thrown in Donald Trump's direction ("all-caps tweet"), and a tip of the cap to Capitol police officers who were there to provide eyewitness testimony, and a callback to the Gettysburg Address ("it is altogether fitting").

Once all the Committee members had made their statements, then it was time for the police officers to have their say. They said dozens of things that got a lot of play on social media, news broadcasts, websites, etc. Here are some of the most notable:

In just a few brief words, we've got hypocrisy, assaults on police, pushback against GOP spin, pointing the finger at Trump himself, disrespect for the military, over-the-top racism, and a sharp critique of the members of Congress who have tried to sweep this under the rug. That's a pretty compelling narrative the Democrats and their two GOP allies managed to put forward yesterday.

Several outlets, as is usually the case with big events like this, had "takeways" pieces, and they saw it much as we did. Here's a selection:


The Hill:

Yahoo! News:

USA Today:


Ultimately, the members of the Committee have two jobs at the moment: (1) convince as many people as possible that their work is legitimate and important, and (2) convince as many people as possible that their work is bipartisan. The members achieved about as much as possible on those fronts yesterday. It helps a lot to have compelling statements from Cheney and Kinzinger, as well as compelling testimony from the officers. It also helps that their version of events is rooted in evidence, including powerful visual evidence that is there for all to see.

The pro-Trump forces, of course, are trying to make the opposite case, namely that the Committee is illegitimate and unnecessary, and also that it's a partisan exercise and a witch hunt. They also have to offer an alternate theory of what happened, particularly since "it was just a bunch of rowdy tourists" clearly isn't getting it done. Team Trump has been handed a much more difficult hand to play, since they don't currently have the platform afforded by high-profile congressional hearings. On top of that, it's not so easy to come up with an explanation for 1/6 that squares with the visual evidence, and yet excuses Trump and all other Republicans.

The Republicans' main theory, at least at the moment, is that this is all Nancy Pelosi's fault. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) is, quite literally, the anti-Cheney, having replaced the now-apostate Republican as chair of the House Republican Conference. And so, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) trotted Stefanik out to point the finger at the Speaker. At a press conference, held shortly before Tuesday's hearings commenced, Stefanik declared: "There is a reason that Nancy Pelosi is the most disliked elected official in America. She always puts her own partisan politics over what's best for the American people. She's an authoritarian who has broken the people's house ... The American people deserve to know the truth, that Nancy Pelosi bears responsibility as Speaker of the House for the tragedy that occurred on January 6." Clearly, the conversion of Darth Stefanik to the dark side of the force is complete.

As a tactical matter, it is understandable that Republicans are trying to pin the bullseye on Pelosi. She really is hated by many Americans, in part because she's a staunch Democrat, in part because she's elite (both in terms of wealth and power), in part because she's a woman, and in part because she's been the target of a decades-long propaganda campaign. The Speaker isn't that much different from Hillary Clinton in this way, except that she isn't as careless about her choice of e-mail servers. In addition, Pelosi was the most powerful Democrat in Washington on the day the insurrection took place, and so it might make sense to some people that the buck should stop with her.

There are, however, two rather serious problems with the line of attack that McCarthy, Stefanik, & Co cooked up. One, which will presumably be obvious to folks who know their civics, is that Pelosi does not command any contingent of troops or police officers. Even if one believes that she can unilaterally issue orders to the Capitol Police, which she cannot, that's a force of only about 2,000 people—not enough to tame an out-of-control mob. The other problem with this line of attack, which should be obvious to pretty much everyone, is that Pelosi had no information and no authority on 1/6 that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) did not also have. And so, if she is really to blame, isn't he equally to blame? And thus, isn't the ball right back in the Republicans' court? This immediately occurred to the folks who covered Stefanik's press conference, and she had no answer to the question. If Team Trump wants to try to make this stick with anyone beyond the base, they are going to have to come up with an answer to that.

Given the weaknesses of the Republicans' current "main" argument, not to mention that the Party and its right-wing media supporters are both chock-full of folks who love to toss anything and everything at the wall to see what sticks, Tuesday also witnessed the deployment of many other tricks from the GOP bag that were designed to excuse Trump, undermine the Committee, scapegoat Pelosi, etc. Here's a pretty decent accounting:

In case you can't tell, we were underwhelmed by the show that the Trump-loving Republicans put on yesterday. And hoo boy, as Slate's Jeremy Stahl points out, the amount of deflecting, grandstanding, bomb throwing, and general kookiness that Team Trump managed to produce without even being in the hearing room really does validate Pelosi's choice to boot Reps. Jim Banks (R-IN) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) from the Committee.

Anyhow, while Tuesday was the entree, the Committee's main task is clearly going to be putting a very harsh spotlight on the former president. And that, in turn, means that some tough tactical choices will soon present themselves. For example, The Washington Post's editorial board proposes that the Committee should waste no time in subpoenaing former White House Chief-of-Staff Mark Meadows, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and other White House insiders to find out exactly what was happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue while the Capitol was being breached. Will the Committee members be willing to fire that sort of shot across the bow? And what will they do if any or all of those folks say, "Thanks, but no thanks!" Whatever the Committee plans to do, the clock is tick, tick, ticking... (Z).

Biden to Mandate Vaccines for Federal Employees

All the easy options for getting people vaccinated have been deployed. All the moderate ones, too. And so, that leaves the tough choices, those that will be very unpopular with some segment of the voting public. Tomorrow, Joe Biden will apparently commit to one of those tough choices, and issue guidelines requiring "federal employees" to be vaccinated.

We put "federal employees" in quotation marks, because things are not exactly that simple, especially since the actual directive hasn't been issued yet. To start, Biden cannot demand compliance from employees of either the judicial or legislative branches of the federal government. There are also a small number of executive branch employees who are beyond his reach—basically, those appointed to jobs with set terms, and not subject to termination, like governors of the federal reserve or members of the Federal Communications Commission. The President can impose his will on the vast majority of executive branch employees, of course—at least, those who wish to keep their jobs. That adds up to more than 4 million people, including most of the federal bureaucracy, the USPS, contractors who work for the federal government, and even the military. It appears that the latter will not be included in Thursday's order, since that would make an already hot potato even hotter. However, that order is likely coming down the pike when the FDA gives final approval to the vaccines (which will make it 100% legal for Biden to issue the order). That approval is expected sometime next month.

Different media outlets seem to have different senses of exactly how much a done deal this is. The link above, from CNN, was posted at 6:12 p.m. ET on Tuesday, and frames this as signed, sealed, and delivered. Politico's story, by contrast, was last updated at 8:56 p.m. ET on Tuesday, and says the White House is still not 100% committed to moving forward. It's safe to assume that it will indeed happen, but we note this just in case, so Biden can't yank the rug out from under us the way that Nancy Pelosi did last week.

Assuming Biden does indeed pull the trigger, there will be an initial burst of negative coverage, as Fox personalities slur the President as a left-wing fascist (even though that term is oxymoronic), or perhaps a left-wing Faucist (even though that term is just moronic). There will be some rending of garments and gnashing of teeth, a few federal employees will make a big show of quitting their jobs, and yada, yada, yada. In the end, however, Biden has no real choice. With the Delta variant of COVID surging, and the trendlines moving in the wrong direction, he has to be able to say he did everything that was in his power to do. This move, while politically fraught, was one of the biggest arrows (needles?) left in his quiver. And yes, that means that we've just compared Biden to Robin Hood, the fellow who drove Prince John—an incompetent and feckless leader—from power. Hmmmmm... (Z)

TX-06 Pokes Trump in the Eye

Speaking of Prince (Donald) John (Trump), he's not going to be happy when he tunes into Fox this morning. Assuming they actually cover this story, that is. It is news, after all, and that's not really their specialty. Anyhow, last night in TX-06, Jake Ellzey (R) defeated Susan Wright (R), earning the right to replace Wright's husband, Rep. Ron Wright (R), who died of COVID-19 after embracing anti-vaxx propaganda from the right. Y'all got that, right?

Wright had at least three things going for her, namely (1) the sympathy accorded a grieving widow, (2) having collected the most votes in the first round of voting, and (3) Donald Trump's endorsement. None of it mattered, apparently, as she was defeated handily, 53.3% to 46.7% with 93% of precincts reporting.

It is tempting to try to read a lot of meaning into this election, and undoubtedly some outlets will do that. Be cautious, however. First, it's just one election in which only about 40,000 people voted. Second, while the district is red, it's not especially Trumpy. Third, as we have pointed out many, many times, special elections are wonky. Fourth, and most importantly, it was Republican vs. Republican, which means that any Democrats who showed up to vote were left to pick between two candidates who are presumably somewhat disagreeable (or even completely disagreeable). Can there really be any doubt that some sizable portion of those Democrats just picked "whichever candidate Trump does not support"?

That said, perception is often reality, and for some people this is going to make Trump's endorsement look like it can't seal the deal. That might even be partly fair, since last night's result may not tell us much about his influence on Republican voters, but it presumably does speak to the revulsion he inspires among Democrats (and many independents). Without question, his endorsement rallies [X] number of voters to a candidate's banner, but also [Y] number of voters to vote against that candidate specifically out of enmity for Trump and TrumpWorld. If Y is larger than X, or if the quantities are even reasonably similar, then his endorsement might indeed mean very little, except perhaps in closed Republican primaries in red states and districts.

And speaking of closed Republican primaries in red states and districts, the next test of Trump's endorsement power comes next Tuesday, when the good people of OH-15, which is R+7, will hold primaries as part of the process of replacing Steve Stivers (R), who quit the House to run the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. The Donald's horse is Mike Carey, a former coal lobbyist. It's a 12-person field, so it will not only be instructive to see if Carey wins, but also what percentage of the vote he gets. If he claims some very large share, say 30% or 40%, Trump can take some of the credit for that. If Carey comes out on top, but with only 15% or so of the vote, it will be hard to conclude that Trump commands the votes of all that many people. And if Carey loses, that will certainly take a bit more of the shine off Trump's endorsement, as we (and many others) will wonder: if the former president can't swing a primary in a very red district, where only 10-20% of the vote is needed to win, then what primary or election can he swing? (Z)

Newsom's Margin for Error is Shrinking

When it comes to the California gubernatorial recall election scheduled for Sept. 14, Democrats decided to gamble. They did not want to risk having Democrats vote "yes" on the recall, with hopes of upgrading Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to someone better. And so, in contrast to the previous recall election back in 2003, the blue team did not put a serious alternative on the ballot as an insurance policy whom Democrats could vote for, just in case.

The die is cast now, as the recall ballot is set. And with COVID-19 rearing its ugly head, and the usual summer fires, and the rising possibility of rolling blackouts, Newsom's position does not appear to be nearly as safe as it once was. The latest poll, from the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, says that 50% of likely voters want to keep the Governor, while 47% want to see him go. Admittedly, the poll is from Berkeley, and not UCLA, but it's probably reliable.

Joking aside, the real story of the poll is actually told in one of the crosstabs. Among registered voters, 51% want to keep the governor, and only 36% want to see him go. It's only among likely voters that it's close. In other words, and entirely predictably, Republican voters (who hope to get one of their people into the governor's mansion) are currently more likely to vote than Democratic voters (who would just be voting to maintain the status quo). Because Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state, and because California independents lean Democratic on the whole, the blue team has some margin for error. But, in the end, it's going to come down to turnout, and it could very well go either way.

We think the Democrats made a very unwise choice here, putting all their eggs in the Newsom basket. It is true that if they had put some superstar on the ballot, say Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), or Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), or even a wildcard like George Clooney, that might have caused some sizable number of Democratic voters to shoot for an "upgrade." However, if they had tapped a solid but low-profile alternative, like Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA), or California Treasurer Fiona Ma (D), or even an obvious placeholder like the famous, but 87-years-old Willie Brown, then dialed-in Democrats would have someone to vote for. We would guess that these folks would garner about 30% of the vote, which should be enough with the Republican vote split among a bunch of not-terribly-exciting candidates.

That said, the Republicans won't gain all that much if they manage to swipe the governor's mansion from the Democrats. Back in 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) took over a term that had nearly 3 years left in it. Between having some time to build a track record, and his famous name/charisma/centrism, as well as a mediocre 2006 opponent in Phil Angelides, the Governator was able to win a second term. This time around, by contrast, the replacement governor would inherit only about a year of Newsom's term, during which time they would be up against a state house absolutely dominated by Democrats. Oh, and California is less Republican now than it was in 2003. Add it up, and we're almost certainly talking short-timer here.

Incidentally, while only Gray Davis (2003) and Newsom have been subjected to actual recall elections, do you know how many of the last 10 governors of California have inspired the state's voters to at least begin the recall process? The answer is eight, with only Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown (D) avoiding that "honor." Overall, the state has seen 55 different gubernatorial recall attempts initiated since 1913; the two that got on the ballot happened to be the ones that attracted funding from well-heeled donors (some of them not even residents of the state). Clearly, the recall law is not being wielded solely against governors who are guilty of malfeasance, while it is most certainly being wielded against governors who have run afoul of conservative moneyed interests. That would be the polar opposite of what California progressives intended when they got the law passed in the first place over a century ago. (Z)

The 2022 Election Cycle Looks to Be Officially Underway

Way back in the distant past, New Year's Day was regarded as the beginning of "primary season," Memorial Day was regarded as the beginning of "general election season," and Labor Day was regarded as the beginning of "the home stretch." That was back when campaigns were limited, to a large extent, to the actual calendar year in which the election took place.

We no longer live in those halcyon days. We now spend considerably more time "in season" than out, which is great for political bloggers, news media, lobbyists, television stations, professional political operatives, and others for whom political maneuvering is fuel, but perhaps a little tiring for everyone else. Meanwhile, the sign that election season has arrived is certainly not the holidays anymore. What is the sign? Well, there are several possibilities, and one of them came yesterday.

Yes, that's right. The days may still have more daylight than darkness, and the leaves may not yet have turned to brown, and children may not be back in school, and you can still wear white in public without being gauche. However, we now have this cycle's first White House warning that the Russians are working to interfere with the election. Speaking to members of the intelligence community, Joe Biden was short on specifics, but said Team Putin is already working to spread doubt and misinformation about next year's contests. And when Putin says election season has begun, you better believe that it really has, comrade.

This said, we are left to wonder how efficacious Russia's efforts will actually be. Clearly, they were pretty effective in 2016, very possibly electing a president of the United States. But they do not appear to have upped their game since then, and appear to be using the same basic techniques (i.e., flooding Facebook with stupid crap). Now that the authorities are watching (because it's their job), and the Democrats are watching (because they don't want to be blindsided) and the social media platforms are kinda watching (because they don't want to be regulated), the Russians are likely to find the pipeline to be substantially narrowed. And these days, the kind of people who will buy what they are selling are going to be exposed to a barrage of anti-Democrat/Biden/Pelosi/Schumer/socialism propaganda, regardless of what the Russians do.

If Putin had the ability to move actual votes around, then that would be a different matter. However, there has never been any claim or evidence that he does, and the extremely decentralized (and largely offline) nature of balloting argues against it. If he did have that ability, wouldn't he have deployed it in 2020—if not to re-elect Donald Trump, then at least to tip a Senate election in the Republicans' favor, and thus to create gridlock? The Russian president's real goal is to undermine the U.S. government, and that would have gone pretty far toward that end. Perhaps the Russki hackers still have some tricks up their sleeves, or stowed away in their ushankas, but until presented with evidence this is the case, we are inclined to think of them as minor players, at most. (Z)

Mike Enzi, 1944-2021

Mike Enzi served the people of Wyoming in various political offices for 38 years, 24 of those in the U.S. Senate. He stood down in 2020, yielding his seat to Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and said he was looking forward to retirement after nearly 40 years in the arena. Sadly, that retirement proved to be quite short. He was badly injured in a bicycle accident over the past weekend, and succumbed to his injuries on Monday at the age of 77.

The obits are, in general, presenting him as an "old school" senator of the sort that used to roam the landscape freely. While noting that he was definitely very conservative, nearly all outlets have also pointed out that he was respected and had friends on both sides of the aisle—just like the days when Robert Byrd (D) and Howard Baker (R) would do battle on the floor of the Senate during the day, and then meet at a bar for drinks afterward. Similarly, Enzi's reputation as a hard-working, roll-up-your-sleeves sort of senator is also being celebrated. The Washington Post's obit, for example, says that "In a Senate often described as being composed of workhorses and showhorses, Mr. Enzi was widely regarded as belonging to the former category."

To us, this seems hagiographic and off the mark. Yes, Enzi definitely had some Democratic friends (including Joe Biden) and yes, he really did put in the work. But as the Republican Party veered to the right, and toward political stunts and rejection of evidence as substitutes for governance and science, he veered right along with it. Enzi was a global warming denialist in his final years in office, an enthusiastic supporter of Donald Trump's border wall, and regularly told the media that he backed Mitch McConnell's all-obstruction, all-the-time maneuvering whenever a Democrat was in the White House. Enzi voted with Trump about 90% of the time, which makes him about as Trumpy as Sens. Tim Scott (R-SC) and James Inhofe (R-OK), and a bit more Trumpy than Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO), Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). This would seem to make Enzi a part of the vanguard of the current Republican Party, and not part of the old guard.

Undoubtedly, the former senator's sudden passing, especially under these circumstances, is very sad. However, we are not fans of hagiography, nor of rewriting the past, including the recent past. Hence our unvarnished take on his career. (Z)

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