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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  The 1/6 Committee Hearings, Day 8: Fiddle-dee-dee!
      •  Biden Has COVID
      •  Time for Republican Senators to Squirm?
      •  Lee Zeldin Attacked
      •  CBS Team Won't Be Prosecuted
      •  This Week in Schadenfreude

The 1/6 Committee Hearings, Day 8: Fiddle-dee-dee!

The preeminent example of a leader doing nothing while disaster unfolds around him is surely Nero playing his fiddle while 70% of Rome's buildings were destroyed in a 6-day-long fire that left half the population homeless. It's probably not true, however. So, we may just need to replace "Nero fiddled while Rome burned" with "Trump watched Fox while the Capitol burned." Because unless you believe a vast number of people are lying, the latter is definitely true.

Yesterday, of course, was the eighth and final hearing in the 1/6 Committee's summer series. If you didn't see it, and you wish to watch, you can do so here:

We watched, of course. And here are the 10 biggest storylines, as we see them:

  1. Bennie Had to Jet: This probably won't get much attention, since it's a sidebar to the main story, but Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) was not present for last night's hearing because he's tested positive for COVID-19 (he did speak at the beginning and the end, from a remote location). That left Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) to run the hearing, with Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Elaine Luria (D-VA) handling the questioning and presentation of evidence. The responsible behavior of Thompson, and of Cheney and Kinzinger for that matter, stood as a very noticeable counterpoint to the behavior of Donald Trump on January 6.

  2. 187 Minutes: A recurrent motif of the hearing, as promised, was the period of time in which the protesters surged, and ultimately rioted, while Trump did nothing. That 187-minute span commenced at 1:10 p.m. ET, when the former president's speech to his supporters concluded, and ended at 4:17 p.m. ET, when Trump posted a video on Twitter suggesting that the protesters disperse. Note that the 4:17 end time is a little generous, since the video was something of a backhanded request for peace. Trump did call on the rioters to go home, but he also took the opportunity to praise them and to affirm that they were right in thinking that "We had an election that was stolen from us." In any event, many times during the hearing, the Committee focused on one particular moment during the 187 minutes, and juxtaposed what was happening at the Capitol versus what was happening (or, really, not happening) at the White House.

    Reader P.N. in Austin, TX, wrote to us before the hearing, hoping that last night's presentation would last exactly 3 hours, 7 minutes, so as to emphasize exactly how long Trump sat on his hands. The Committee was unable to pull that off, but "187 minutes" will certainly become a useful soundbite, Twitter hashtag and slogan. We also 100% guarantee you that some day in the future, someone is going to make a documentary or a movie called 187 Minutes (our money is on Oliver Stone). It certainly does not hurt the Committee's messaging, incidentally, that "187" is slang for murder. You can thank the California penal code, plus references to the code in West Coast hip-hop culture, for that.

  3. Dereliction of Duty: Everybody remembers the footage of George W. Bush on 9/11, reading a book to schoolchildren when he was informed of the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. He looked like a deer in the headlights, at least for a minute or two. And in circumstances like those, a response like that is understandable.

    The narrative presented last night—particularly by Pat Cipollone in video footage, and by Trump White House staffers Matthew Pottinger and Sarah Matthews in person—told a very different sort of story. Trump was not paralyzed by shock or indecision; he sat in a dining room not far from the Oval Office, watched the insurrection on TV, and refused to do anything about it. The list of people who pleaded with the former president to call off the rioters included not only Cipollone, but also two of his children (Ivanka and Donald Jr.), several of his admirers on Fox (Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Brian Kilmeade), and numerous members of the House of Representatives (Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-CA; Jeff Duncan, R-SC; Mike Gallagher, R-WI; Barry Loudermilk, R-GA and Chip Roy, R-TX).

    Trump's negligence really took three different forms. First, some staffers wanted him to send out a tweet, knowing that the MAGA Crowd was hanging on his every word. Trump chose, instead, to fire off a potshot at Mike Pence, which just egged on the crowd. Later, he sent out a couple of tweets flaccidly encouraging the crowd to be peaceful. His heart did not seem to be in them at the time, and last night that was confirmed. It was Ivanka who insisted on the tweets, and until the very moment they were sent out, the former president resisted including any form of the word "peace."

    Second, other staffers begged Trump to record a video message for the crowd; Matthews noted during her testimony that he could have walked to the briefing room in under a minute, could have had the press assembled in less than 3 minutes, and that anything Trump said could have been broadcast widely, on all channels, in under 10 minutes. The former president refused, of course, until he finally consented to recording the "sorry, not sorry" video at 4:17.

    Third, and most importantly, staffers pleaded with Trump to talk to the Pentagon and/or the National Guard, and to give them instructions on restoring order. Not only would Trump not do that, he also refused incoming phone calls. Eventually, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley gave up on Trump and got Mike Pence on the phone. In a clip played during the hearing, Miley said of Trump: "You know, you're the commander in chief. You've got an assault going on in the Capitol of the United States of America. And there's nothing? No call? Nothing? Zero?" Milley's disgust is evident from his words, and even more so from his tone of voice and posture when he said that.

    In view of all of this, the Committee members pulled no punches. Cheney declared that Trump violated his oath of office. Kinzinger accused him of dereliction of duty. Again, unless you believe all of these witnesses are lying, then those seem to be pretty apt characterizations.

  4. Calling Rudy: Trump's phone definitely wasn't broken on that fateful afternoon, however, as he did manage to call both Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) to urge them to continue their efforts to overturn the election. This just affirms that, even when people were in fear for their lives and/or dying, Trump's focus was solely himself and his desire to stay in power. Also, these phone calls look to us like pretty good evidence should any of these three men end up on trial for conspiracy.

  5. Calling Home: Speaking of "fear for their lives," the Committee reiterated something that came up in an earlier hearing: then-VP Mike Pence, and his security detail, were in significant danger, and feared for their lives. There was some video testimony to that effect; the most memorable detail was the revelation that some folks in Pence's entourage called their families to say good-bye. Shades of 9/11.

  6. That's All, Folks!: It wasn't just the vice-presidential detail that feared for their lives, it was members of Congress. Far and away the most memorable detail on this front that was presented last night involved Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO). The Committee showed the now-famous photo of him raising his fist as he walked past the rioters. Then, the Committee cut to video footage of him inside the Capitol, scampering through the halls like a rabbit as he tried to make sure his skin was saved. This was played twice, actually, with the second in slow-motion. We've never regarded Hawley as a viable presidential candidate, and this probably seals the deal, as the MAGA crowd hates weak/cowardly men.

  7. Hutchinson Vindicated: Clearly, the Committee is paying attention to its press clippings. They are aware that the right-wing media have focused like a laser on Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony, particularly her claim that Trump tried to overrule the Secret Service and head to the Capitol after his speech, and even more particularly on her secondhand testimony that he tried to grab the steering wheel of the vehicle he was traveling in, so as to force a change of course. And so, there was some testimony last night, most memorably from now-retired D.C. police sergeant Mark Robinson, confirming Hutchinson's account. The bit about grabbing for the steering wheel is not yet confirmed, since there are only a few people who can plausibly do so, but the rest was affirmed by Robinson and others.

  8. Pelosi, Too: When it comes to the story of 1/6, another target of laser-like focus from those on the right has been Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). After all, someone has to be responsible for the delayed response from the National Guard. And if it's not the Dear Leader, then who's to blame? Pelosi, of course, according to the Tucker Carlsons and Alex Joneses of the world. This makes zero sense, since Pelosi doesn't command the National Guard or any other force (beyond, perhaps, the small and clearly outmanned Capitol Police). However, that's been the narrative on the right, nonetheless.

    During the hearing, the Committee played footage of both Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on the phone, seeking assurances from then-acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller that the National Guard would take action and that order would be restored. This will not stop the conspiracists on the right, since they badly need Pelosi to be the guilty party here. But for anyone else, this should resolve any possible questions about the Speaker's role on 1/6.

  9. Beware the Outtakes: For years, there have been rumors that there exist outtakes from The Apprentice in which Trump says terribly racist and sexist things. Maybe those outtakes are for real, and will one day see the light of day, but thus far they are only a rumor.

    By contrast, the 1/6 Committee has, and yesterday showed, outtakes from the brief speech that Trump gave on January 7, less than a day after the insurrection petered out. He kept trying to thread a needle when it came to criticizing the actions of the rioters, and he also refused to say that the election was over, ultimately insisting that he would only say that Congress had certified the results.

    The point here could not be clearer: Before the insurrection, during the insurrection, and after the insurrection, Trump's sole concern was trying to remain in power. He did everything he could in service of that end, and he refused to do or say anything that might hamper his ability to achieve that end. Assuming he is charged with one or more crimes by the Department of Justice, his defense lawyers are going to have a near-impossible task before them. And then they'll probably get stiffed on their fee after he loses.

  10. You're Not in Business if You're Not in Show Business: The Committee hired former ABC News president James Goldston to help them produce materials for the hearings, and it shows. We live, these days, in a world of memes and soundbites, and he made sure the Committee seeded the hearings with plenty of those. He is also aware of the old teacher's trick, namely that you must change gears on a regular basis. Other than the opening statements, there is rarely a time when someone speaks for more than a few minutes before the audience is presented with another photo, or video clip, or audio clip, or some other change of gears.

Each of the eight hearings has been pretty bad for Donald Trump and his enablers, but this was probably the worst. You could have skipped the first seven, and just watched this one, and you'd come away confident that he was guilty of gross malfeasance. Certainly, the former president thinks he's been wounded. Folks a bit braver than us (and far, far braver than Josh Hawley) monitored Trump's Truth Social account last night, and followed along as he went ballistic. Again, that's always the clearest sign that he feels cornered.

Anyhow, that's it for the 1/6 Committee's summer series, but that doesn't mean the show is over. The members are going to spend the month of August collecting and working through more evidence, and then they'll be back with more hearings in September. (Z)

Biden Has COVID

Bennie Thompson isn't the only prominent Washington Democrat who's got a case of COVID right now. Yesterday, the White House announced that Joe Biden has contracted the virus. In fact, the President himself posted a video to Twitter:

In case you don't want to watch it, he says: "I guess you heard, this morning I tested positive for COVID. But I've been double vaccinated, double boosted. Symptoms are mild and I really appreciate your inquires and concerns. But I'm doing well, getting a lot of work done. Going to continue to get it done and in the meantime, thanks for your concern and keep the faith. It's gonna be OK."

He's the president, he's 79, and it's a dangerous virus, so most outlets had this as their 1A story yesterday. Fair enough, and so we pass it along, though it seems a relative footnote to us. Yes, presidents do have a history of lying about the severity of their health issues. In fact, our medical affairs consultant tells us that there's even been a president who misrepresented the seriousness of their bout of COVID, though we've been unable to figure out who she might be talking about. In any event, Biden seems fine in the video, and mild symptoms are consistent with his generally good health and his vaccination history. So, our guess is that he isn't lying, and that this will soon be in the rear-view mirror. At that point, the only real reminder will be people on the right who spend weeks or months kvetching that Biden recorded the video without a mask (the White House says that the videographer was masked and socially distanced). (Z)

Time for Republican Senators to Squirm?

As we noted earlier this week, the House passed a bill that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and that would affirm that a marriage that is legal in the state where it takes place is legal nationwide. In other words, red states would effectively be powerless to outlaw gay marriage, even if the Supreme Court revisits the issue and decides to overturn existing precedent.

Democratic leaders in the Senate, most importantly Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), said they just weren't sure they would have time to bring up the bill for a vote. That would appear to be a mistake. First, just the possibility of a vote has caused numerous GOP Senators to tie themselves into knots. Second, there is a real chance the bill would pass, giving the Democrats something to sell to young voters (i.e., "If you want more of the same, you've gotta get to the polls in November!").

As to the Republican senators tying themselves into knots, it's worth noting that nearly half of them have avoided making any statement at all. Among the ones who have, however, there have been some real pips. For example, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who has recently discovered that he wants to be the nation's leading anti-gay-marriage crusader, said he is inclined to oppose the bill, and that "I support the Constitution and letting the democratic process operate." It would seem that putting legislation before the Senate, and asking them to vote on it, is somehow not an example of the democratic process operating.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) also had a less-than-ideal response. When asked about the bill, the Senator described it as a "stupid waste of time." That is a shorthand version of a Republican talking point, echoed by Jim Inhofe (OK) and Bill Cassidy (LA), among others, that the only purpose of the bill is for the Democrats to do a little virtue signaling. But even if you believe that, Rubio's way of expressing himself seems to denigrate the millions of gay marriages that already exist. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), who is gay, says she ripped into the Florida Senator in the Senate elevator after he said that.

As to the bill passing, there appear to be five Republican "yea" votes already in the Senate: Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), Thom Tillis (NC) and, interestingly enough, Ron Johnson (WI). The latter's having come out, as it were, in favor of the bill suggests that opposition to LGBTQ+ marriage may be a loser in any other than deep red states. After all, roughly three-quarters of Americans support equal marriage rights. Meanwhile, there are only eight confirmed Republican "nay" votes. It's entirely plausible that five (or more) additional Republican votes are available, given the downsides of opposing the bill, not to mention that the measure jibes well with the libertarian strain in Republican politics.

If the same-sex-marriage bill were not enough, yesterday the House passed a bill that would guarantee that Americans have access to contraception. That one got just eight Republican "yea" votes: Liz Cheney, Brian Fitzpatrick (PA), Anthony Gonzalez (OH), John Katko (NY), Adam Kinzinger, Nancy Mace (SC), María Salazar (FL) and Fred Upton (MI), while two others (Mike Kelly, PA and Bob Gibbs, OH) voted present. By comparison, the gay marriage bill got 47 Republican votes in the House.

Schumer et al., have yet to make any comment as to whether they will bring the contraception bill up for a vote, though the politics would seem to argue for it. According to Gallup, 92% of Americans are OK with contraceptives. If Republican senators vote against the bill (or filibuster it), they will be embracing a very minority position, and will open themselves up to charges that they are the forced-pregnancy/forced-birth party. If they vote for the bill, then it will infuriate the anti-abortion crowd, especially since the law might effectively make abortifacients legal nationwide.

In any case, there could be some real fireworks in Washington in the next few months, even though the Fourth of July is over. (Z)

Lee Zeldin Attacked

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who is giving up his House seat to run for governor of his home state, held a rally yesterday. And during that rally, a man ran up on stage and pulled a knife with the obvious intent of stabbing Zeldin. However, the Representative was able to hold his assailant off until security had the situation under control.

Zeldin's opponent, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), said exactly what she should have said: "I condemn this violent behavior in the strongest terms possible—it has no place in New York." On the other hand, in rather tasteless fashion, Zeldin's spokesperson Katie Vincentz tweeted this:

Zeldin is running a "time to get tough on crime" campaign, and so Vincentz' tweet was a backdoor attack on Hochul.

In truth, of course, it is unlikely that the assault had anything to do with unchecked crime. Criminals are not known for attacking random politicians at rallies. Instead, the incident was almost certainly a byproduct of the current political climate, in which violence is seen (and often encouraged, see above) as a legitimate form of political expression. On that subject, reader J.S. in The Hague, Netherlands, sends along a new study on attitudes about political violence. The team of authors, all of them researchers at UC Davis, spoke to 9,000 people. Among their findings:

  • 50.1% of respondents believe that "in the next few years, there will be civil war in the United States."
  • 40% believe that "having a strong leader for America is more important than having a democracy."
  • 40% believe that "in America, native-born white people are being replaced by immigrants."
  • 20% said that violence is sometimes justified in order to achieve political goals
  • 12.2% said they were willing to commit political violence themselves
  • 7.1% said that they would be willing to kill a person to advance an important political goal
  • 4.0% thought it at least somewhat likely that in the next few years, in service of their political goals, "I will shoot someone with a gun."

These are all very concerning findings, but that last statistic may be the worst of all. That means that there are roughly 13 million people out there who expect to shoot a political opponent in the near future. Some of those folks are just armchair warriors, but even if it's just a quarter of those folks who are serious about it, then that's 1 in 100. And, last we checked, there are far more than 100 people at your average rally, speech, meet and greet, or other political event.

As we noted the last time a member of Congress was threatened—8 whole days ago—it's really only a matter of time until one or more of them is killed by an assassin. Rachel Kleinfeld, who was quoted in that item, says there's still potential to dial things down. While there are violent folks on both sides of the political aisle, the right-wing perpetrators of violence are considerably larger in number (two to three times larger) and have been "activated" by the rhetoric of Donald Trump and his ilk. She says that the non-Trump leaders of the Republican Party need to shun violent Republicans in no uncertain terms, which means—among other things—encouraging party members to vote against the Doug Mastrianos and the Dan Coxes of the world. Of course, there have largely been crickets so far, outside of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. In large part, that is because the non-Trumpers in the Republican Party, starting with Mitch McConnell, place winning elections above all else. To that, a cynic might add that they probably suspect that when someone does get killed, it will likely be a Democrat. And if they do suspect that, well, they are probably right. (Z)

CBS Team Won't Be Prosecuted

Shortly after the third 1/6 Committee hearing, a group of nine staffers of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert were arrested for trespassing in the U.S. Capitol. As you may just be aware, the right-wing media is quite adept at drawing false equivalencies. And so, quite a few of the talking heads on Fox, Newsmax, OAN, etc. posited that this was just as bad as what happened on 1/6, and that the only reason the CBS crew was not being lambasted is because they work for the liberal media.

The truth, of course, is rather different. On 1/6, of course, there were thousands of people. They gained access to the Capitol through the use of force, caused multiple deaths, and were trying to overturn the presidential election result. Nine people, by contrast, is rather less than thousands. Further, the nine were granted access by Congressional staffers, caused zero deaths, and were there to record a comedy sketch featuring the popular late night character Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. The only reason this turned into trespassing is that visitors to the Capitol are supposed to be accompanied by a guide at all times, and several members of the crew ended up guide-less.

It is not clear if being separated from the guide was the CBS folks' doing, or was the Congressional staffers' doing, or was just an accident. Whatever the case might be, federal prosecutors have decided they have little chance of proving criminal intent, and so have decided to drop the matter. That means that—surprise!—the right-wingers who made this sound like 9/11, redux were full of hot air. That's not to say that Fox, etc. are completely worthless, though, as they are always useful... for us to poop on. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude

As long as we're on the subject of right-wing media, OAN had a very unhappy week this week. It would seem that the right-wing outlet forgot that they are a tiny little operation, and that they need the big, bad cable conglomerates much more than the big, bad cable conglomerates need them. Having already been dumped by DirecTV, OAN decided to play hardball with Verizon Fios, presumably in the hopes of balancing their books on the backs of that one cable service. Verizon was not interested in paying an exorbitant rights fee to the network and, in fact, appears to have been looking for an excuse to part ways. In any event, it was announced yesterday that no deal has been reached, and that Verizon will drop OAN when its current carriage agreement expires on July 30.

It's possible that this is all posturing, and that Verizon and OAN will work something out. But we kinda doubt it, since there's a lot of content out there and OAN is probably more trouble that it's worth. Assuming Verizon sticks to its guns, then the only services that will still include OAN will be KlowdTV, GCI and Vidgo. We have never heard of any of the three, and none of them has a Wikipedia page, but a little research suggests that they have less than 500,000 subscribers... combined. By contrast, DirecTV has 14.5 million subscribers and Verizon Fios has 4.5 million.

This means that OAN's potential audience has been cut by approximately 97%. Unless the network finds a carriage deal quickly, or else finds a wealthy right-winger to bankroll the channel (i.e., like the Uihleins and The Federalist), then it will go the way of the dodo. And given that OAN has done little in its time but pump out propaganda and lies, there's certainly some schadenfreude in that, even if it means they might not be around long enough to pay out fat settlements to Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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