Frustrations simmer as Congress prepares rare August work

Even the August recess — one of the Congress’s most hallowed traditions — has now been uprooted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The impasse between Democrats and Republicans over a massive economic recovery package has spilled into next month, and shows no sign of ending soon. Hundreds of lawmakers are being sent home — for now — with a warning they may be called back with a day’s notice if an agreement is reached. Meanwhile, millions of out-of-work Americans are set to lose an additional $600-a-week in federal employment benefits in the coming days.

In the House, lawmakers departed D.C.’s swampy summer heat on Friday filled with frustration as party leaders in both chambers remained deadlocked over what to do with the expiring economic relief.

The jet fumes typically wafting past the chamber on the last day of July has been replaced by a sense of dread, particularly among Democrats, who passed a nearly $3.5 trillion bill months ago but now need to explain back home why Congress allowed a crucial financial lifeline for jobless Americans to lapse.

“People are feeling a lot of hardship right now. There’s a lot of suffering,” Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah) said in an interview during a final round of votes on Friday. “I think partisanship and disagreement has locked down Washington. It’s inexcusable.”

Lawmakers often look forward to decamping from D.C. in August and returning to their districts, especially in the critical months before an election when retail politics can make or break an incumbent. But this year is devastatingly different.

“It’s even more difficult to be back in the district because there is a lot of frustration and anger out there directed towards Congress,” Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) said. “A lot of people understand where the holdup is — in the Senate — but most voters just know that hey, Congress isn’t providing relief.”

House leaders gave their members permission to leave Washington this weekend as long as they can return within 24 hours to vote on an eventual deal, if it is ever reached.

“We will not start the August district work period until we pass appropriate Covid-19 relief to meet the current health and economic crisis,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced on the floor Friday.

Hoyer’s announcement wasn’t exactly a surprise. But a collective groan could almost be heard across the Capitol as his words reverberated through the House chamber. That means members will need to make yet another back-and-forth trek from their districts amid the raging global pandemic, with coronavirus cases still spiking in dozens of states and an estimated 1,000 Americans dying a day from Covid-19.

Some lawmakers said they may not return for the vote — which would put them at further risk of contracting the virus as cases continue to surge — and would instead cast their vote by proxy for the next round of relief.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and White House negotiators have made little headway on a bipartisan coronavirus relief deal, despite meeting for several hours over several days this week.

Instead, leaders of both parties have continued their public posturing — pointing fingers at the other side for allowing critical federal unemployment benefits and a federal evictions moratorium to lapse, even as jobless claims tick up and experts worry about the economy cratering.

“We don’t have shared values, that’s just the way it is,” Pelosi declared to reporters Friday. Meanwhile, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows took to his own podium at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue to accuse Democrats of causing the impasse.

In the Senate — where the House’s nearly $3.5 trillion relief bill has languished for two months — the fingerpointing intensified Thursday as senators from each party made opposing procedural motions intended to ramp up the pressure on the other. In the end, the chamber adjourned with no resolution, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has only sought to pin the blame on Pelosi and Democrats.

But even some Senate Republicans — who had, for weeks, resisted a deal — told reporters this week that they felt uncomfortable leaving for the weekend after the Senate adjourned Thursday with the unemployment aid set to expire. The Senate plans to begin its lengthy summer recess starting on Aug. 10, though that date, too, could be pushed back without a deal.

“I'd prefer to stay here today and tomorrow and get it done like we did the last time but apparently there's just not enough progress to justify that,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said before senators left Washington on Thursday.

“I remain hopeful that at some point next week, you know, people come back and realize that we're going to have to do this eventually so might as well do it now."

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), too, said that lawmakers likely would have stayed the weekend if a deal was just one or two days away. But that scenario remains unlikely.

"We can pretend that we're here working but if we're just here killing time for an eventuality next week, I think you have to play up those practical things,” he said.

Tensions in the Capitol had already been escalating before this week’s standoff in coronavirus talks. Last week, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) was witnessed verbally harassing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) over her political views just steps from the House chamber. And some rank-and-file GOP lawmakers tore into one of their own leaders, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), over disagreements on Trump.

Not to mention it’s been a devastating few weeks in the House with the death of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) on July 17 and the days of public grieving that followed. Before that, the nationwide reckoning over race led to the first real discussions on police reform in years, but ultimately collapsed amid partisan disputes.

“The biggest thing going through most of our heads probably right now is still John Lewis. He was such a good friend to all of us,” Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) said. “To have so many inspiring views, thoughts, remembrances of him, and then to have the drag we’re in. That’s disappointing.”

Anxiety in the Capitol further intensified this week after Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) — who is notoriously lax about wearing masks — tested positive for the virus, raising new questions about safety inside the building.

That all comes after a brutal year, with the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in February that was over just weeks before Congress was forced to swiftly shutter the Capitol and draft massive legislation dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and the economic recession that followed.

Since then, the year has only mushroomed into chaos as a Congress established in the 18th Century struggled to respond to a 21st Century pandemic. Not even August recess is spared — something lawmakers insist is the furthest thing from their mind as Congress struggles to reconcile around a coronavirus aid bill with millions of people struggling to pay their bills and provide food for their families.

“We have to stand ready. We know that we’re actually not going to have an August work period [until it's done],” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.).

Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

Posted in Uncategorized

Republicans are planning a mass attack against Biden using information from pro-Russian agents

In 2016, Donald Trump and his campaign team made more than 100 contacts with Russian agents in what turned out to be a successful effort to plunder information, disseminate propaganda, and ultimately steal an American election. Other Republican officials were certainly involved to some degree—particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who did everything he could to block efforts to make the public aware of Russian interference and damaged election security.

In 2020, Republicans in both House and Senate—having given Trump a free pass to invite foreign interference and approving the whitewashing of Trump’s crimes by Attorney General William Barr—are all on board. That includes Barr, who has all but promised to provide America with a QAnon-sanctioned October surprise. It includes Republican lawmakers like Rep. Devin Nunes, who are sitting on a packet of documents prepared by a pro-Russian official from Ukraine. It includes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been using the State Department to pile up a stack of unsubstantiated attacks on Joe Biden. Barr, Nunes, and Pompeo are not just sitting on this information: they’re deliberately hiding it, looking for the moment to strike when no one has a chance to see what a baseless conspiracy they’re really pushing.

Devin Nunes has always represented the ragged edge of support for Donald Trump. From the moment he jumped from an Uber and sneaked into the White House in an attempt to derail the Russia investigation, to his stint in front of the House Ethics Committee, Nunes made it clear that his loyalty to Trump exceeded any other responsibility. And when it came to questions about when Nunes would be truthful with his House colleagues, he could not have been more clear: “Never.”

So it should come as no surprise that as the 2020 election approaches, Devin Nunes has been working directly with a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker who previously passed along information through Rudy Giuliani. That lawmaker has been feeding information to Republicans in both the House and Senate. It comes in the form of a “packet” of supposed evidence that backs up Trump and Giuliani’s long-debunked claims about Joe Biden’s relationship to the Ukrainian government.

As CNN reports, Democrats have been aware that Republicans in the House and Senate—including Nunes—were sent a packet of information from pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach in January, in the midst of Donald Trump’s impeachment. But Republicans have refused to discuss what’s in the packet, or even admit that they have it. In closed-door Intelligence Committee hearings, Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York made multiple attempts to get Nunes to answer a simple question. "Is the ranking member prepared to even respond to the question?,” asked Maloney. ”How about it, Mr. Nunes? Did you receive a package from Andrii Derkach or not? And would you share with the committee or not?” Nunes did not respond. “Well,” said Maloney. “I guess this is a case where silence speaks volumes."

As Politico reported, that silence extends to the FBI. After Democratic staff members became aware of the existence of the document packet, they requested information on the contents from the FBI. Not only has there been no information provided, there hasn’t even been a response.

During his Tuesday hearing with the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General William Barr was just as silent in refusing to share any information collected in the investigation he’s conducted with the assistance of U. S. Attorney John “Bull” Durham. That investigation also includes sharing Ukraine with Guiliani, as well as attempts to arm-twist officials in London, Rome, and Australia into giving Barr additional leverage that can be used to support Trump.

On Friday, The Hill reported that Rep. Eliot Engel has issued a subpoena to another Republican known to have been stacking up information provided by Giuliani and his associates: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Secretary Pompeo has turned the State Department into an arm of the Trump campaign and he’s not even trying to disguise it,” said Engel. Pompeo has shared information connected to Joe Biden with Senate Republicans, while hiding it from Democrats. However, it’s hard to call the information Pompeo has shared exclusively with Republicans a “packet” … because it’s over 16,000 pages long.

In the next 97 days, the attack on Joe Biden is going to come from William Barr, from Mike Pompeo, from Senate Republicans, and from Republican representatives like Nunes, all of them using information that has not been vetted, or even seen, by anyone outside the GOP. They’re not planning an October surprise: They’re planning a bullshit assault from every direction.

And, just like in 2016, they’re expected to get every single column of The New York Times and every single moment of network news airtime to repeat their claims, unchallenged, in the days right before the election.

Engel subpoenas State Dept. for Biden documents given to Senate Republicans

Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, subpoenaed the State Department Friday demanding copies of documents that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already provided to Senate Republicans investigating Joe Biden.

Engel indicated he subpoenaed the documents because the department had ignored his initial request to share copies of any material being provided to the Senate. Democrats view the Senate GOP investigation, led by Sen. Ron Johnson’s Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, as an effort to smear Biden on false corruption allegations related to his diplomacy in Ukraine.

“After trying to stonewall virtually every oversight effort by the Foreign Affairs Committee in the last two years, Mr. Pompeo is more than happy to help Senate Republicans advance their conspiracy theories about the Bidens,” Engel said in a statement. “I want to see the full record of what the department has sent to the Senate and I want the American people to see it too.”

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Engel has threatened to subpoena for the documents since May, when Johnson’s probe began ramping up.

Johnson has indicated that a report on his findings could be released this summer, and his panel is also attempting to obtain testimony from top Obama administration national security and diplomatic officials. He has denied that his investigation is meant as a political cudgel or is being influenced by foreign interests seeking to hurt Biden.

The House impeached President Donald Trump last year for pushing Ukraine’s leaders to investigate Biden and other Democrats, and withholding security assistance to the country — amid its war with Russia — to exert pressure.

Trump allies responded by leveling discredited allegations that Biden pressured Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who was investigating Burisma, an energy company for which his son Hunter served on the board. State Department leaders testified during impeachment proceedings that Biden’s work in Ukraine was done in accordance with department policy, and that efforts to remove the prosecutor were part of an international push to root out corruption. They also noted that the prosecutor himself was an impediment to investigating Burisma.

More recently, top Democrats have cited intelligence suggesting that at least some of the anti-Biden efforts are being fueled by Kremlin-aligned Ukrainians seeking to interfere in the 2020 election.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer have demanded an all-Congress FBI briefing about intelligence they say shows a specific foreign plot to influence congressional action.

After attending a general election security briefing, Pelosi on Friday morning blasted the administration for “withholding” evidence of foreign interference.

Posted in Uncategorized

Trump killed plans for a national testing strategy, because COVID-19 ‘hit blue states hardest’

On Thursday, Vanity Fair published a detailed analysis of how the planned federal testing program headed up by Jared Kushner disintegrated into a puddle of mismanagement, hubris, and finger-pointing. As much as any other story over the last three years, it’s instructive in showing how the Trump White House acted as if it were both above the rules and smarter than the experts. Like so many other things that have happened under Trump, it’s ultimately a story about how unwillingness to accept responsibility for anything dooms everything.

Only the utter abandonment of any effort to execute a coherent national testing strategy—a decision that all its own is principally responsible for consigning 160,000 Americans to their deaths—turns out not to be the worst aspect of this story. The worst part is that Trump, Kushner, and everyone involved knew that hundreds of thousands of Americans would die if they failed to act, but they still refused to act out of a political calculation. That calculation was that American deaths in blue states would be good for Trump’s election chances. The worst thing is that Americans did not have to die in vast numbers. The United States’ worst in the world results on COVID-19 were not an accident.

On the day he announced his coronavirus response team, Trump added management of testing for the disease onto the stack of things that son-in-law Kushner was supposed to squeeze in between solving Middle East peace and providing kill lists to authoritarian dictators. Kushner responded by forming a crack team of old college buddies and real estate pals who WhatsApp’d their way to a national testing strategy with the help of advice from billionaire bankers and the occasional health expert. The end result was a plan that recognized that the United States needed a coherent national testing strategy, that states shouldn’t have to compete with each other for protective gear, and that a national contract-tracing database was required to make testing effective.

Then the White House set out to execute that plan. Step one: Illegally purchase over a million Chinese-made COVID-19 tests that turned out to be “contaminated and unusable” in a $52 million taxpayer-funded boondoggle. Step two: Decide that paying any real attention to COVID-19 might be bad for the stock market and just say f-ck it about the whole thing. Seriously.

Trump’s “political instincts” were that it was better to simply continue downplaying concerns about the virus and to keep the federal government out of the testing business. Because, of course, testing for COVID-19 might find COVID-19, which would be “bad publicity.” Besides, Dr. Deborah Birx was backing up Trump, showing models that suggested the virus would just magically disappear with the summer. Trump decided to dump the whole idea of launching any testing plan, forget about contact tracing, and abandon any pretense of a national strategy.

But even that isn’t the worst thing. 

As a member of Kushner’s team made clear, Trump didn’t just decide that turning up cases of COVID-19 by testing for them would lead to bad publicity—he decided that, because it was hitting blue states the hardest, he should just let it burn. “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states,” said the source, “that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy.”

Just to repeat that: Trump deliberately decided to let Americans die, in huge numbers, not because there was nothing that could be done, but because it was decided that it would “politically advantageous” to have people dying in states with Democratic governors.

There are acts that go beyond the need for impeachment. There are acts that are so inhumane that they go beyond comprehension. There are actions for which even imprisonment seems inadequate. 

But let’s start with impeachment. The imprisonment can come later.

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: With the election slipping away, Trump reaches for a fantasy

Trailing in the polls and with Republicans in disarray over the unemployment insurance extensions and the contracting economy, Donald Trump tweeted about delaying the elections. And it was totally on brand: a thing someone never should do, he did.

With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2020

The reaction was swift and near-universal.

The President's tweet gives life to the theory many have been talking about for over a year now: that the President may attempt to disrupt our free & fair elections, or a transition in power. It sent a shiver down my spine, as I hope it does all of my colleagues of both parties.

— Rep. Elissa Slotkin (@RepSlotkin) July 30, 2020

And even though the President doesn�t have the authority to postpone the election, the self-serving nature of his comments & the way they upend the very tenets of what it means to be American, is so disheartening. Our elections aren�t about you, Mr. President. They�re about us.

— Rep. Elissa Slotkin (@RepSlotkin) July 30, 2020

That they are.

Daily Beast:

‘He’s Terrified of Losing’—Trump Goes Into Hyperdrive to Delegitimize The Election

As much of the political world went into an uproar over Donald Trump floating the idea of delaying the November election, inside the president’s orbit, his Thursday morning tweet suggesting just that was seen as something far narrower and more strategically focused.

The president isn’t really trying to delay the vote. He is trying to preemptively delegitimize the likely results.

MORE: Former Pres. Barack Obama: "If all this takes eliminating the filibuster�another Jim Crow relic�in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, than that's what we should do."

— Evan McMurry (@evanmcmurry) July 30, 2020


U.S. suffered worst quarterly contraction on record as virus ravages economy

When the economy was tumbling in the second quarter, Trump pumped up the third quarter. Now the high hopes are slowly deflating.

The U.S. economy crashed in historic fashion this year — shrinking at a nearly 33 percent annualized pace in the second quarter — as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged businesses and sent joblessness soaring. The question now for President Donald Trump, trailing in the polls and facing a daunting reelection effort, is just how much conditions can snap back in the months leading up to Election Day.

At least for the moment, the spike in Covid-19 cases, the potential for fresh trouble this fall and a bitter fight over how to pump more federal money into the ailing economy suggest the sharp bounce-back Trump is counting on may not show up in a way he envisions.

Watch the LDS vote in Arizona

— Bill Scher (@billscher) July 30, 2020


Does $600 a Week Make People Shirk? Evidence Is No

Yale study challenges Republican theory that expanded jobless benefits discourage people from working.

It’s a bit surprising that extra benefits don’t seem to raise unemployment, considering that many workers get a higher income from unemployment insurance than they got from working. One reason could be that workers who quit rather than being laid off aren’t eligible for unemployment insurance. They’re also required to keep looking for work, and they can lose their benefits if they refuse a “suitable” offer. On top of that, workers presumably realize that an employer’s paycheck is a better long-term bet than a check from the government that’s designed to be temporary.

"Nobody likes me": Trump usually pretends that he's wildly popular. Yesterday, however, overcome by self-pity, he slipped and told the truth about his standing.

— Steve Benen (@stevebenen) July 29, 2020

Henry Olsen/WaPo:

Sorry, Republicans. The polls really are that bad.

Many Republicans are responding with disbelief to polls showing President Trump well behind former vice president Joe Biden nationally and in all the swing states. Some say the polls are undercounting Republicans, while others cite 2016 as evidence that the polls are just wrong. Sadly, neither explanation holds water.

The evidence that polls undercount Republicans is slim at best. Five of the seven matchup polls between Trump and Biden in the RealClearPolitics average as of Tuesday morning have cross-tabulations that show the share of Republicans in their samples. Those shares range from a low of 24 percent to a high of 36 percent, with an average of 31 percent. That’s not far below the 33 percent GOP share in the 2016 presidential election exit polls, and the difference between the two cannot explain Trump’s massive deficit.

See also Nate Cohn/NY Times:

Are the Polls Missing Republican Voters?

Registered Republicans were actually more likely than registered Democrats to respond to the Times/Siena survey.

If polls using partisan characteristics from voter registration files showed a fundamentally different race, this could be a sign that the other polls were biased on partisanship. But the recent surveys that are weighted by party registration or primary vote history offer nearly the same picture as polls that are not. Arguably, they offer a picture even worse for Republicans.

Can a reporter please ask Trump about reports of white supremacists inciting violence across the country? MN: VA: DHS memo on this:

— igorvolsky (@igorvolsky) July 29, 2020

Dave Grohl/Atlantic:

In Defense of Our Teachers

When it comes to the daunting question of reopening schools, America’s educators deserve a plan, not a trap.

It takes a certain kind of person to devote their life to this difficult and often-thankless job. I know because I was raised in a community of them. I have mowed their lawns, painted their apartments, even babysat their children, and I’m convinced that they are as essential as any other essential workers. Some even raise rock stars! Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Adam Levine, Josh Groban, and Haim are all children of school workers (with hopefully more academically rewarding results than mine). Over the years, I have come to notice that teachers share a special bond, because there aren’t too many people who truly understand their unique challenges—challenges that go far beyond just pen and paper. Today, those challenges could mean life or death for some.

Federalist Society cofounder backed Trump during Mueller and impeachment: "But this latest tweet is fascistic and is itself grounds for the president�s immediate impeachment again by the House of Representatives and his removal from office by the Senate."

— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) July 30, 2020


Misinformation on coronavirus is proving highly contagious

As the world races to find a vaccine and a treatment for COVID-19, there is seemingly no antidote in sight for the burgeoning outbreak of coronavirus conspiracy theories, hoaxes, anti-mask myths and sham cures.

The phenomenon, unfolding largely on social media, escalated this week when President Donald Trump retweeted a false video about an anti-malaria drug being a cure for the virus and it was revealed that Russian intelligence is spreading disinformation about the crisis through English-language websites.

Experts worry the torrent of bad information is dangerously undermining efforts to slow the virus, whose death toll in the U.S. hit 150,000 Wednesday, by far the highest in the world, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Over a half-million people have died in the rest of the world.

The House Minority Leader accidentally calls one of his own, "Congressman Covid."

— Ed O'Keefe (@edokeefe) July 29, 2020

Katherine Eban/Vanity Fair:

How Jared Kushner’s Secret Testing Plan “Went Poof Into Thin Air”

This spring, a team working under the president's son-in-law produced a plan for an aggressive, coordinated national COVID-19 response that could have brought the pandemic under control. So why did the White House spike it in favor of a shambolic 50-state response

Most troubling of all, perhaps, was a sentiment the expert said a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically. “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy,” said the expert.

That logic may have swayed Kushner. “It was very clear that Jared was ultimately the decision maker as to what [plan] was going to come out,” the expert said.

James M. Lawson: "Let all the people of the USA determine that we will not be long as our economy is shaped not by freedom but by plantation capitalism that continues to cause domination and control rather than access and liberty and equality. "

— Evan McMurry (@evanmcmurry) July 30, 2020

Federalist Society co-founder says Trump's tweet about delaying election is grounds for impeachment

Federalist Society co-founder says Trump's tweet about delaying election is grounds for impeachmentHe voted for President Trump in 2016 and opposed his impeachment earlier this year, but Steven Calabresi, co-founder of the conservative Federalist Society, believes Trump took things too far by tweeting about delaying November's election.In an op-ed published Thursday afternoon by The New York Times, Calabresi, a professor at Northwestern University's Pritzker School of Law, wrote that he was "appalled" by Trump's tweet. "Until recently, I had taken as political hyperbole the Democrats' assertion that President Trump is a fascist," he added. "But this latest tweet is fascistic and is itself grounds for the president's immediate impeachment again by the House of Representatives and his removal from office by the Senate."Through wars, the Great Depression, and general upheaval, the United States has never canceled or postponed a presidential election, Calabresi said, and Trump's fears over increased mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic is no reason to consider doing so this year. Each state, he wrote, will decide "whether to allow universal mail-in voting and Article II of the Constitution explicitly gives the states total power over the selection of presidential electors."Now is the time for every Republican in Congress to stand up to Trump and let him know he "cannot postpone the federal election," Calabresi said. "Doing so would be illegal, unconstitutional, and without precedent in American history. Anyone who says otherwise should never be elected to Congress again." Read the entire op-ed at The New York Times.More stories from Could America split up? New Lincoln Project video imagines what it's like to wake up from a coma in 2020 'Massive undercount' feared as Census Bureau reportedly moves to end in-person count early

Posted in Uncategorized

Federalist Society co-founder says Trump’s tweet about postponing the election is grounds for ‘immediate impeachment’

Federalist Society co-founder Stephen Calabresi said that President Trump’s tweet suggesting to postpone the election is “fascistic” and “grounds for the president’s immediate impeachment.”