The U.S. is broken. Civics education might just save it

America has been Facebookified. You need look no further than the rash of people poisoning themselves using livestock dewormer to see the reach of the self-identified experts spouting conspiracy theories and quackery—not just on Facebook, but through all the channels and social media available. Distrust in the establishment has become so entrenched that they'll turn to someone their aunt's choir director's cousin talked to for medical advice.

There's a substantial segment of society that has so much distrust in government, they'll elect an orange-hued bargain basement Mussolini to the highest elected office in the land. They'll send Louie Gohmert to Congress—repeatedly—and give him Paul Gosar and Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene as reinforcements. We're here because Republicans from Ronald Reagan to Newt Gingrich to Grover Norquist made it the focus of their lives: reducing government "to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."

That meant, of course, making it unpopular by doing things like starving the Social Security Administration and Internal Revenue Service, two of the government agencies that have the most public interaction and have to provide customer service. Republicans, with way too much help from Democrats who bought into the whole idea that the deficit is a real thing that matters more than anything else, made certain that every interaction citizens had with federal agencies would take forever and be difficult and miserable. All the better, in the long run, to steal everything for the super rich.

Like Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg! Funny how that worked out for him.

So here we are in a global pandemic that has killed more than 636,000 Americans with a death toll rising despite the fact that the very effective vaccine is free. People will spend money on dangerous quack remedies and forged vaccine cards rather than just getting the damned free shot. That's fine for them if they want to poison themselves. But the fact is they're endangering everyone around them who can't be vaccinated, like children and the immunocompromised.

We're not just having a COVID-19 pandemic, we're having a selfishness pandemic. It's everywhere—all those viral videos of people having full-on meltdowns and temper tantrums over the suggestion that they put a scrap of cloth over their face. On airplanes, where a pandemic of violent stupidity has resulted in more than $1 million in fines levied against horrible people in just this year alone.

We're not just seeing some of the lowest levels of trust in government we've ever seen, we're seeing breakdown of the social contract, where in-person social interaction is become more and more rare, causing "civic deserts." Participation in social organizations like churches and unions is declining, and people—particularly on the right—seem to be forgetting how to conduct themselves in society.

However, there's one social institution left in every community across the nation where people do still come together: schools. Or at least, it is where the pandemic hasn't forced the schools to close. Schools could be a big part of solving this larger problem with a relatively simple solution: Teach civics again.

At the risk of sounding like a total fogey, that's one of the basics education needs to return to. Consider that just half of Americans could name the three branches of government in a 2020 survey—23% couldn't name any of the three. That's a big improvement from just a few years earlier when only about a quarter of respondents could name all the branches. Annenberg Public Policy Center Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson, whose organization conducts this annual survey, attributes increased knowledge to "Divided government, the impeachment process, and the number of times political leaders have turned to the courts … for increasing awareness of the three branches."

Yay, impeachment!

That's just one part of civics education—knowing how government works. The part of it that's essential is the part about how the social contract works. Like why we pay taxes—where that money goes at every level and what it means for our lives. Like how our actions in the larger world actually have an impact on other people. Like how we really are all in this together because that's just how life works unless you’re a hermit, and how in functioning societies even real hermits get vaccinated because that's just the right thing to do.

Cuomo’s arrogant bluster backfires. Everyone from Biden down is demanding he resign

An independent investigation, which lasted for five months and included 179 witnesses and 74,000 pieces of evidence, has concluded that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women and established a "toxic, hostile, abusive" office culture rife with "intimidation" and "fear." Given that kind of "leadership," it should come as no surprise that Cuomo responded grossly inappropriately and defiantly, like some rabid hybrid of Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. The asshole even had a video at the ready in which he used pictures of both President Barack Obama and George W. Bush hugging disaster victims in the aftermath of tragedy to show that powerful people hug other people and it's totally normal.

What he didn't have ready was a picture of some other high official who "during a hug, reached under Executive Assistant #1's blouse and grabbed her breast." Cuomo insisted Tuesday that all this behavior is just who he is. "I do banter with people," Cuomo said. "I try to put people at ease. I try to make them smile. I try to show my appreciation and friendship." Yes, nothing makes a work colleague smile like groping their breast.

Cuomo's arrogant and tone-deaf response to New York State Attorney General Letitia James' revelations in the report only made it that much easier for former friends and colleagues to abandon him. That includes President Joe Biden, a longtime ally, telling him it's time to go. "What I said was if the investigation by the attorney general concluded that the allegations were correct, back in March, I would recommend he resign," Biden told reporters. "That is what I'm doing today […] I think he should resign," the president said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who is from New York himself, agreed. He, along with New York colleague Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, released a statement saying it was time for Cuomo to go. "As we have said before, the reported actions of the Governor were profoundly disturbing, inappropriate and completely unacceptable," the senators said. "Today's report from the New York State Attorney General substantiated and corroborated the allegations of the brave women who came forward to share their stories—and we commend the women for doing so."

"No elected official is above the law," Schumer and Gillibrand concluded. "The people of New York deserve better leadership in the governor's office. We continue to believe that the Governor should resign." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged him to resign if for no other reason than "respect for the office he holds." She added: "As always, I commend the women who came forward to speak their truth." New York Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, Thomas Suozzi, and Gregory Meeks released a joint statement saying: "The time has come for Governor Andrew Cuomo to do the right thing for the people of New York State and resign." The remainder of the state's Democratic delegation soon followed suit. Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Carolyn Maloney, Brian Higgins, Nydia Velázquez, Ritchie Torres, Yvette Clarke, Kathleen Rice, Grace Meng, Adriano Espaillat, Jamaal Bowman, Mondaire Jones, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, "For the good of New York State, Andrew Cuomo must resign. If he does not, the New York State Assembly must begin impeachment proceedings."

Cuomo's fellow Democratic governors from neighboring states—Govs. Ned Lamont of Connecticut, Dan McKee of Rhode Island, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania—also called for his resignation, writing in a joint statement that they are "appalled at the findings of the independent investigation." There's pretty much no one besides Cuomo and possibly his brother Chris at CNN (CNN—you've got a big problem there) who thinks he needs to stay. His refusal to resign will lead to his impeachment.

Carl E. Heastie, the speaker of the State Assembly, said Tuesday: "He can no longer remain in office […] We will move expeditiously and look to conclude our impeachment investigation as quickly as possible." He said that Cuomo had "lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority." The report's finding are "disturbing," he said, adding that the conduct by the governor outlined in this report would “indicate someone who is not fit for office."

Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the majority leader of the State Senate, concurred. "This report highlights unacceptable behavior by Governor Cuomo and his administration," she said in a statement. "As I said when these disturbing allegations first came to light, the Governor must resign for the good of the state. Now that the investigation is comet and the allegations have been substantiated, it should be clear to everyone that he can no longer serve as Governor."

She and many others made it a point to "give a special thank you to the courageous women who bravely stepped forward to shed light on this awful situation. We all owe them a debt of gratitude." Indeed, the personal and professional risk these women took in taking on Cuomo makes obnoxious denials and excuses that much more egregious. His performance Tuesday will do nothing to help in in this impeachment. He has virtually no one on his side.

Meanwhile, Cuomo is facing a criminal investigation in Albany County, said David Soares, the county district attorney, on Tuesday. Soares said in a statement that his office would request the investigative materials from the attorney general's report and encouraged other women who have been abused by Cuomo to come forward to assist in the inquiry.

The FBI apparently lied about investigating Kavanaugh. What are Democrats going to do about it?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has now admitted that it failed to investigate even the most "relevant" of the 4,500 tips it received during an investigation into sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, then a Supreme Court nominee, now a Supreme Court justice. That was in response to a two-year-old letter from Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Chris Coons. "We apologize for the extended delay in responding," says Assistant Director Jill C. Tyson.

Which is problem No. 1 for the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Whitehouse and Coons are members: the FBI and Director Christopher Wray. Wray was the original recipient of the Aug. 19, 2019 letter from the senators. A letter which was ignored until June 30, 2021. Wray was the person ultimately responsible for how the FBI handled the background investigation with that "tip line," which ended up apparently just being a dumping ground. Whitehouse and Coons first pressed Wray on this in a July 2019 hearing.

"During the hearing, Wray echoed Republican claims that the FBI conducted the investigation 'by the book,' while asserting that supplemental background investigations are less rigorous than criminal and counterintelligence investigations," the senators say in a press release following the revelation that the FBI did nothing more than send the tips to Trump's henchmen.

So the senators fired off another letter Thursday. "The admissions in your letter corroborate and explain numerous credible accounts by individuals and firms that they had contacted the FBI with information 'highly relevant to … allegations' of sexual misconduct by Justice Kavanaugh, only to be ignored," the senators write in a sternly-worded letter. "If the FBI was not authorized to or did not follow up on any of the tips that it received from the tip line, it is difficult to understand the point of having a tip line at all." The letter demands more answers, potentially in pursuit of what will possibly be a future oversight investigation by the Judiciary Committee.

Because if it's not, what the hell is the point? There has to be accountability from Wray to explain why exactly the Trump White House called the shots on this. Honestly, Wray's job needs to be in jeopardy here. There's the very real possibility that the FBI director lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2019 when he told the senators that the investigation into allegations against Kavanaugh were "by the book." The committee needs to put all of the heat they can muster on him, and if necessary, on his boss—Attorney General Merrick Garland—until they get some goddamned answers. That goes for all the questions Whitehouse raised in a follow-up demand to Garland in March of this year.

In his follow up letter to Garland, Whitehouse wrote: "If standard procedures were violated, and the Bureau conducted a fake investigation rather than a sincere, thorough and professional one, that in my view merits congressional oversight to understand how, why, and at whose behest and with whose knowledge or connivance, this was done." This follow-up letter to Garland is apparently the impetus for the FBI to dust off its inbox to find and respond to the original inquiry from 2019, but it certainly doesn't answer all of their questions.

While they're at it, Senate Democrats need to start probing again how Kavanaugh managed to pay off hundreds of thousands in credit card debt between May 2017 and his nomination in July 2018, and on top of that pay $92,000 in country club fees, and pay the $10,500-a-year tuition for his two kids in private school, and make payments on the $815,000 mortgage he had for his $1.2+ million home. Because all of that is still very, very hinky.

That leads us to problem No. 2 for Senate Democrats and for President Joe Biden. There is a seated Supreme Court justice who has been credibly alleged to have committed assault, who has not been investigated, and whose finances are questionable, to say the least. First, this:

There is nothing stopping Democrats in the House and/or Senate from interviewing the witnesses the FBI never spoke to, and collecting the FBI tips the Trump White House apparently buried, as part of its own investigation into whether Kavanaugh committed perjury.

— Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) July 22, 2021

That's from a former senior aide to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, former Justice Department staff, and now executive director of Demand Justice. So yes, Congress can most definitely conduct the investigation where the FBI failed. The results of these investigations could lead, potentially, to impeachment of Kavanaugh, though that's a long shot and potentially a long way away.

Right now, Kavanaugh is just one of three Trump Supreme Court justices who are there in the most dubious of circumstances. Neil Gorsuch is in a seat stolen from President Barack Obama (hey, Merrick Garland!) by Mitch McConnell. Kavanaugh was not property vetted, no matter how you look at it. Amy Coney Barrett was rushed onto the court just days before the 2020 election—while people were casting their ballots—because Trump thought she would give him the majority that would overturn the election in case he lost. This dubious trio joins the inarguably corrupt Clarence Thomas, whose wife Ginni spent the whole of 2020 amplifying Trumpist conspiracy theories about Biden on social media.

They, with Alito, are the Supreme Court majority. The ones who all but ended voting rights and allowed for even more secrecy in dark money to flood our system. What they have planned for next session is even worse. The Supreme Court is packed with dangerous ideologues, and a few corrupt ones, too.

Now President Biden and Democrats have a chance to, well, unpack it. To dilute the Trump/RNC/Koch/Federalist Society’s malign influence and balance it out with four or six or however many additional justices. It is imperative. It is existential.

Republicans sink to new, amoral lows this week on everything that matters

Let's check in on this week in congressional Republicans, just a kind of check up to see how that revered institution of Joe Manchin's is doing vis-a-vis the GOP.

On Tuesday, the House passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, intended to address the rise of hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islander people during the pandemic. It directs the Department of Justice to facilitate the expedited review of hate crimes and reports of hate crimes and work with state, local, and tribal law enforcement to establish reporting and data collection procedures on hate crimes. There were 62 Republican "no" votes on that bill. Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican, said he voted against it because he didn't think it would work. "We can't legislate away hate," Roy said. Maybe that's why he's pro-hate of LGBTQ people.

In a related measure, 180 House Republicans refused to join Democrats in "Condemning the horrific shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 16, 2021, and reaffirming the House of Representative’s commitment to combating hate, bigotry, and violence against the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community." That was on Wednesday. "Some Republicans took issue with the resolution's mention of the coronavirus nicknames, and GOP leaders urged members to oppose it, according to a GOP source," reports Forbes. "Rep. Julia Letlow (R-La.) said in a floor speech she had 'hoped' to support it but that it's 'just another vehicle for delivering cheap shots against our former president.'"

Speaking of seditionists, 175 of them voted against the bipartisan national commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol. Among those voting against the commission was Rep. Greg Pence. He's the Republican brother of former Vice President Mike Pence. Who the mob on Jan. 6 had come to the Capitol to kill. They put up a noose and everything.

Greg Pence said that his brother was a "hero" for doing his job of coming back to certify the election after the attack. This Pence voted to overturn the election results that night. This Pence is more beholden to Trump than his own brother. "I think the whole thing is to spend the summer impeaching, again, Donald Trump," he told HuffPost. "That's all we're doing. It's a dog-and-pony show. … It's another impeachment." That's also a hell of an admission about what happened on Jan. 6, that it was all at the instigation of Trump.

While we're talking Jan. 6, check this out:

Kevin McCarthy doesn't answer a question about whether he's absolutely sure that no House Republicans communicated with January 6 insurrectionists pic.twitter.com/pntSzt7mIJ

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 20, 2021

That's House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, refusing to answer whether he knows for certain that no House Republican was in contact with the Jan. 6 insurrectionists.

While we're on the subject of seditionists, there’s Sen. Ron Johnson. On Thursday, the dumbest man in the Senate claimed that he was conducting his own investigation into Jan. 6. "I'm doing my own investigation to really accurately recreate what happened on January 6th but Nancy Pelosi's commission is not going to dig into this in any bipartisan fashion," the vacuous, dangerous idiot said on Fox News. "She gets to pick all of the staff members. This is a joke and should be voted down." That is not true. The House Republican who helped write the bill creating the commission says so. "The commission creates the rules as a team. They then hire as a team." Like facts are going to stop Johnson.

He says he "talked to people that were there," which suggests that Johnson is among those who needs to be subpoenaed about the events of that day. Anyway, he talked to them and they all said that nothing we saw in front of our very eyes that day happened. "By and large it was peaceful protests except for there were a number of people, basically agitators that whipped the crowd and breached the Capitol, and that's really the truth of what's happening here," Johnson said. Yeah. Agitators. Undoubtedly antifa and BLM. "This is all about a narrative that the left wants to continue to push and Republicans should not cooperate with them at all."

He just won't shut up. "The fact of the matter is even calling it insurrection—it wasn’t," Johnson insists. “I condemned the breach, I condemn the violence, but to say there were thousands of armed insurrectionists breaching the Capitol intent on overthrowing the government is just simply a false narrative."

The thing is, he's fundamentally speaking for the majority of the Senate Republicans. Starting at the top. Before the House voted Wednesday, Sen. Mitch McConnell announced that he will oppose the commission. Not one Republican senator, not even Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, has said they will vote for the commission. She sidestepped the question from reporters multiple times, but did say that "if" it happens, Trump should have to testify. Utah's Mitt Romney also avoided answering the question, but said that if it happens it needs to be limited in scope, that the "key thing that needs to be associated with this effort would be the attack on this building."

The reality is, Trump still owns the vast majority of Republicans. He is definitely calling the shots. Even with McConnell, who keeps pointing to the words he mouthed in defending his vote to acquit Trump for the crime of inciting the insurrection, but caved to pressure from Trump to oppose the commission.

This is what the Democrats who oppose filibuster reform—Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and Tom Carper (he's been quieter about it)—are enabling. They're refusing to cut McConnell and Johnson and all the others who are afraid to buck Trump out of the process of governing. Which means they're effectively letting McConnell and crew call the shots.

If they're not stopped, they will use their violent, amoral insurrection to steal the vote in 2022 and 2024, and make absolutely sure that Democrats never win the House, Senate, or White House again.

McConnell and Republicans can only sweep away the Jan.6 insurrection with Manchin’s help

Generations of senators who came before us put their heads down and their pride aside to solve the complex issues facing our country. We must do the same. The issues facing our democracy today are not insurmountable if we choose to tackle them together.

That's Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat arguing in a Washington Post op-ed that the filibuster must be preserved because ... reasons. Those reasons being something about how senators are better than everyone else and know better than anyone else and how dare any lesser being question that. I might be exaggerating a bit. But not much.

Manchin expanded on those deep thoughts the next day, on CNN. "January 6 changed me," Manchin said. "I never thought in my life, I never read in history books to where our form of government had been attacked, at our seat of government, which is Washington, D.C., at our Capitol, by our own people." Gosh, life-changing stuff. It must have really made him focus on how to secure our fragile democracy.

So after experiencing that life-changing day, when that institution he so reveres was attacked, and sharing it with those Republican colleagues he says are worthy of so much trust and respect, what must he think now that they're all lining up to oppose the bipartisan Jan. 6 commission? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who absolutely controls his conference, officially trashed the bill Wednesday, effectively killing it in the Senate. As long as the filibuster stands, anyway.

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"After careful consideration," (yeah, right) "I've made the decision to oppose the House Democrats slanted and unbalanced proposal for another commission to study the events of January 6th. As everybody surely knows, I repeatedly made my views about the events of January 6th very clear. I spoke clearly and left no doubt about my conclusions," McConnell said Wednesday morning. Never mind that McConnell's remarks on Jan. 6 came when he was defending his refusal to hold Donald Trump accountable for instigating the attack by voting to convict him in an impeachment.

And never mind that the agreement reached between House Homeland Security leaders Democrat Benny Thompson and Republican John Katko is scrupulously bipartisan—to a fault, considering how much leeway it gives McConnell and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy to sabotage it.

Even with that, McConnell has decided to kill the commission directly. Not just McConnell, either. Look at supposedly moderate Republican Sen. Rob Portman. "We have plenty of resources," he said Wednesday. "We had all of our investigative staff involved in both committees. They’re all cleared and up to speed… it’s faster to do something in Congress than to set up a commission where you have to get the staff hired and get them their clearances."

What about Manchin's great "moderate" friend, Sen. Susan Collins? She told reporters that she might deign to vote for it, provided that it has an artificial end date before the 2022 election year. That would give ample opportunity for McConnell and McCarthy, should it actually pass (which it won't), to drag their feet on naming commission members and ensuring that it can't even get to work before fall. They really don't want this to happen. They really don't want accountability.

They don't want to keep this from happening again.

So back to Manchin and what happened on Jan. 6 and what has happened since. Here's how it "changed" him, he wrote in that op-ed. "Our ultimate goal should be to restore bipartisan faith in our voting process by assuring all Americans that their votes will be counted, secured and protected." By not passing S. 1, the bill that would ensure every American's access to the ballot and ensure that elections are held with the highest degree of transparency and security possible. That's because he thinks the people spouting the Big Lie should be listened to, catered to.

Manchin is insisting that the rights of the rioters, the insurrectionists, and the seditionists receive equal deference to the rights of law-abiding American citizens whose votes the seditionists were trying to nullify. Seditionists who stormed the Capitol, threatening the life of then-Vice President Mike Pence and any member of Congress who crossed their path that day.

Now Republicans who aren't actively trying to rewrite the history of that day are trying to cover up what led to that day and what happened on that day, and trying to prevent a reckoning. They'll be able to do so. Joe Manchin, and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema for that matter, are granting them that ability by refusing to end the filibuster.

Republicans won’t whip against Jan. 6 commission vote, but McCarthy has ensured its failure

The House is scheduled to vote this week—as soon as Wednesday—on the deal struck by Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson and ranking committee member John Katko for a Jan. 6 commission. Structured much like the 9/11 Commission, the bipartisan committee would investigate the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol.

Thus far, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy hasn't said whether he'll endorse the deal, but leadership seems spooked enough over backlash against the idiot Republicans who insist that it wasn't a violent insurrection but just another "normal tourist visit." Republican leaders will not whip against the bill, meaning it will be a vote of conscience for their members.

That's after a handful of their members—including Rep. Liz Cheney, who secured a very large megaphone thanks to the House GOP deciding to kick her off the leadership team—spent the last several days blasting the revisionist history coming from their colleagues.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021 · 3:33:26 PM +00:00 · Joan McCarter

Speaker Pelosi reacts to McCarthy: "I am very pleased that we have a bipartisan bill to come to the floor and [it's] disappointing, but not surprising that [there's] cowardice on the part of some on the Republican side, [to] not to want to find the truth."https://t.co/9ppvhaEeuH

— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) May 18, 2021

On Friday, Cheney told ABC's Jon Karl that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy—who's done nothing but promote Trump's Big Lie in recent months—should testify before the commission. If he doesn't agree to that, Cheney said, he should be subpoenaed. "I think that he very clearly, and said publicly, that he's got information about the president’s state of mind that day," Cheney said. "I would anticipate that, you know—I would hope he doesn't require a subpoena, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he were subpoenaed."

Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton called out his colleagues on Sunday, calling their claims that the insurrection was just a patriots' play-date "bogus," and that those claims prove the need for the commission. "It's absolutely bogus. You know, I was there. I watched a number of the folks walk down to the White House and then back. I have a balcony on my office. So I saw them go down. I heard the noise—the flash bangs, I smelled some of the gas as it moved my way," Upton told CNN's Dana Bash on State of the Union. "Get the facts out, try to assure the American public this is what happened, and let the facts lead us to the conclusion," Upton said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski blasted House Republicans who downplayed the attack on Friday. "I'm offended by that," Murkowski told CNN. "This was not a peaceful protest. When somebody breaks and enters, and then just because you know they don't completely trash your house once you're inside does not mean that it has been peaceful. This was not a peaceful protest." She continued. "We got to get beyond that rhetoric and acknowledge that what happened were acts of aggression and destruction towards an institution, and there were some people intent on (harming) the people that were part of that institution."

She's going to be supporting the commission when the bill gets to the Senate. It is likely to pass there, too, but that's in part because there's a lot that Republicans, including Sen. Mitch McConnell, can do to weaken it.

The legislation creates a commission made up of 10 members, an equal number of members chosen by Democratic and Republican leadership. None of the members can be currently serving government officials and all must have a depth of experience in a combination government, law enforcement, civil rights, and national security service. Democrats would appoint the chair, Republicans the vice chair. The committee would have the power to subpoena McCarthy or anyone else, but if the vice chair wanted to veto that subpoena decision, they could.

The chair—appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer—has the sole power to secure information from the federal agencies and has control over appointing staff. That gives them significant power. But there are still pitfalls for the commission.

One of the key faults of the commission as negotiated is that it has a deadline of the end of this year. Republicans have already dragged it out for five months, and have the chance to do so again, even after the bill passes. Even if McConnell decided against filibustering the bill, he and McCarthy can simple draw out the process of naming their five members.   It's going to hinge a lot on how much McConnell wants to distance the Senate and the party from Trump, how much he wants to try to salvage any measure of dignity for his party. There's certainly no love lost between McConnell and Trump, who he blamed point blank for the Jan. 6 attack. That blame, however, didn't happen until after he voted to acquit Trump in his second impeachment trial.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021 · 1:22:31 PM +00:00 · Joan McCarter

House GOP Leader McCarthy makes it official Tuesday morning: he’s officially opposing the legislation and the commission, saying that Pelosi “refused to negotiate in good faith on basic parameters.” Which is categorically untrue since she handed over the negotiations and had Thompson and Katko figure it out.

“Given the Speaker’s shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America, I cannot support this legislation,” he said. Meaning BLM and Antifa are not explicitly included in the scope of the legislation, though as the commission is structured, the GOP members of it could do McCarthy’s and McConnell’s bidding and yammer on about it all the time. McCarthy’s express opposition makes it much less likely 10 Senate Republicans will support the commission. It will pass the House, but is pretty unlikely to pass in the Senate.

Deal struck on Jan. 6 commission, with House vote scheduled next week

After months of foot-dragging and obstruction from Republicans to the forming an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, a bipartisan deal has emerged. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had delegated Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson to work with ranking committee member John Katko of New York to find a solution. One, it should be noted, that has been greeted tepidly by Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Thompson and Katko have crafted legislation to create a commission modeled after the 9/11 panel. It would have 10 members, half of them appointed by Democratic congressional leaders, who would also appoint the chair. Republicans would appoint the other half, including the vice chair. Critically, if the chair and vice chair agree, the panel would have the power to issue subpoenas. So, problematically, they can veto each other's efforts to subpoena witnesses or documents. On the other hand, the chair is given sole power to get information from federal agencies and to appoint staff.

That, New York University law professor Ryan Goodman tells Greg Sargent at The Washington Post, gives the forces of truth a chance to prevail. "Thanks to powers invested in the Chairperson alone, the Democratically-appointed members would have significant control over the direction of the investigation," Goodman said, helping to prevent Republican appointees from "engaging in mischief." He added that the "Chairperson would be able to move ahead quickly with getting information from the government without needing a vote," saying that the chair can "appoint staff" who would "shape how the investigation and hearings unfold."

The bill specifies that those members cannot be "an officer or employee of an instrumentality of government"—i.e. there can be no currently serving government officials on the panel. They must have "national recognition and significant depth of experience in at least two" areas: previous government service; law enforcement; civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy; experience in the armed forces or intelligence or counterrorism; and a background in cybersecurity or technology or law. A final report, including recommendations for preventing future attacks, would be due at the end of this calendar year.

McCarthy told reporters Friday morning that he hadn't looked at the text yet (he's been too busy installing Trump's toady in leadership to pay attention, I guess), but continues to have concerns about the scope. Namely that "you got to look at the buildup before, and what went on afterward," meaning the BLM and antifa straw men.

The House is voting on the bill next week, along with a supplemental funding bill to beef up Capitol security. It will pass, and should get at least a handful of Republican votes, if not a few dozen, including one from Rep. Liz Cheney, who got a coveted Wall Street Journal quote Friday (take that, Stefanik). "I hope we'll be able to really have the kind of investigation we need about what happened on Jan. 6," Cheney said.

"As I have called for since the days just after the attack, an independent, 9/11-style review is critical for getting answers our [Capitol Police] officers and all Americans deserve," Katko said in a statement announcing the agreement. "This is about facts, not partisan politics." Thompson said in his statement. "I am pleased that after many months of intensive discussion, Ranking Member Katko and I were able to reach a bipartisan agreement. […] Inaction—or just moving on—is simply not an option. The creation of this commission is our way of taking responsibility for protecting the U.S. Capitol."

As of this writing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn't reacted to the announcement that a deal has been struck, or that the legislation should advance in the House as soon as next week. In the past, he's been critical of the effort, casting it as "partisan" and demanding that the commission also encompass "the full scope of the political violence problem in this country," meaning those BLM and antifa straw men again.

One of the problems with McCarthy and McConnell potential foot-dragging is, of course, whether it would pass in the Senate with the filibuster. The other problem is that the two of them are responsible, along with Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, for appointing half of the commission members. That gives them more opportunity to delay, with the clock ticking on the still-unformed commission's deadline for the end of the year for a report and recommendations.

On the other hand, McConnell has no love for Trump. Here's a pretty much hands-off way for him to damage Trump and to fight the Big Lie. He could make sure that at least some of the five Republican appointees aren't Trumpers. There are plenty of former Republican officials who would relish the opportunity to serve as his proxy.

It's also incumbent on someone in Republican leadership to acknowledge reality, especially as the lunatic fringe of the House Republicans have taken over and are in full denial mode. There was the truly ugly revisionism on display in this week's House Oversight hearing, where Republican Rep. Paul Gosar called even investigating the events of Jan. 6 an assault by the "deep-state" on "law-abiding citizens," and GOP Rep. Andrew Clyde said that day in the Capitol looked like a "normal tourist visit." The nation's dumbest man (yes, dumber than Sen. Ron Johnson) Rep. Louie Gohmert took to the floor Friday to flat-out lie about the events of that day.

Here's McConnell's chance to counter what's happening in his party in the House, including the ouster of Cheney in deference to Trump and the Big Lie. After Trump's acquittal on his second impeachment, McConnell excoriated Trump. He said that Trump was "practically and morally responsible" for the attack. "This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters' decision or else torch our institutions on the way out," McConnell said. "A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name," he said. "These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags and screaming their loyalty to him."

Having said all that, it's now largely going to be up to McConnell to do something about it.

Republicans totally miscalculate the moment, think opposing COVID-19 relief is a winner for them

The House Budget Committee advanced the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, on Monday. It combined bills from nine other committees into the budget reconciliation package that will get a final vote in the House at the end of this week, then go to the Senate where it can be passed with a simple majority vote. That part is key, and why lawmakers chose to use the budget reconciliation took for enacting the relief: because you can't count on any Republican to do the right thing. The right thing in this case is spending $2 trillion on helping everyone as opposed to giving it in tax cuts to the very rich.

Republicans are proving yet again how necessary choosing a path for relief that does not require them really is. Thus far, their only contribution has been to insist President Biden "unite" with them and accept one-third of a loaf with their "plan." Their toxicity was proved by Mitch McConnell's forcing Democrats to vote on noxious messaging amendments to get the process underway. Those tactics having failed in stopping the forward motion of the package, Republicans are now insisting their opposition to it is principled and won't harm them politically at all. It's almost as if the 2020 election, particularly the Georgia Senate races, didn't even happen.

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This tactic frankly has more of a vibe of leadership trying to convince individual Republicans that they'd damn well better not stray and end up helping Biden, but nevertheless, that's their plan. "It's clear Democrats have no interest in approaching COVID relief in a timely and targeted fashion and are instead using the reconciliation process to jam through their liberal wish list agenda," House Minority Whip Steve Scalise told Republican lawmakers in an email Friday, continuing to whip them into opposition.

Various Republican officials and hangers-on are keeping up the message. "House Democrats' $2 trillion socialist boondoggle puts partisan politics first and fails to address the most pressing needs facing Americans, like getting kids back in the classroom and reopening small businesses," Torunn Sinclair, a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, told The Hill.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell added "I don't see any risk to Republicans at all opposing this, especially as it relates to the 2022 election." A senior House Republican told CNN's John Harwood there would be no Republican votes for it. "Personally I expect zero. No effort to reach out to House R[epublicans] by majority or W[hite] H[ouse]. Why would any R[epublican] vote for this?" Certainly not because they have any concern for their constituents.

Other Republicans preview how they intend to run against Democrats on this in 2022 and beyond: revisionist history. "Democrats stalled on coronavirus relief for months in 2020 when American families desperately needed it," Mandi Merritt, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee said. "And what was their first priority when they now control the White House and both Houses of Congress? A politically motivated impeachment—not relief for struggling families. […] We will be sure that voters don’t forget this." Never mind that the House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act on May 15 and followed up by passing the compromise $2.2 trillion bill on October 1, 2020. Never mind that McConnell completely ignored these bills and refused to even talk to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about negotiations.

Republicans intent on opposing the bill because they are Republicans and can't do anything to help a Democratic president are insisting that despite the large bipartisan majority of support for the package, opposing it won't hurt them. That poll, from CBS News/YouGov shows 83% approval for the package, including a majority of Republicans. A total of 61% of Republicans in that poll said that the $1.9 trillion package was either about right (34%) or not big enough (27%). Another poll from the left-leaning firm Navigator Research last week found 73% support for the package, including 53% support from Republicans. A New York Times/SurveyMonkey survey in mid-February found 72% approval for it, with 43% of Republicans approving.

That's before the bill even passes. Before people get their $1,400 checks. Before they have more funding for their small businesses. Before they get their coronavirus vaccine. Before their family gets their brand-new monthly child tax credit payments. Once the benefits of this bill actually reach people, that support will solidify among all but the most hard-core Trumpist Republicans. Because the stuff in this bill is that good, and it really will help people.

A reminder: the bill provides $1,400 for every individual—including dependents, both minor and adult—who makes up to $75,000, or $2,800 to couples making $150,000, after which it tapers off, ending at the $100,000/$200,000 cap. That's based on the most recent federal tax filing, so families who lost income in 2020 need to file right away to receive the maximum payment. The government will use 2019 filings otherwise.

The bill also provides direct aid to small business, including restaurants and bars which have been unable to use the Paycheck Protection Program funding. (Disclosure: Kos Media received a Paycheck Protection Program loan.) The child tax credits it is authorizing will be paid out monthly as opposed to annually, and raise the maximum credit from $2,000 to $3,000 for children between ages 6 and 17 and to $3,600 for children under 6. It includes a $400/week boost to unemployment benefits and continues their availability to gig and self-employed workers. It provides hundreds of billions in funding to state and local governments and to schools, and billions for both COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution.

All of that will spur the nation into recovery, both in public health and economically. Republicans are using an outdated playbook in thinking they'll be able to skate—or even gain—politically by opposing it. They're looking back to 2009, when an inadequate stimulus package by the Obama administration led to a too-slow recovery. Biden isn't making that mistake again. Republicans are also looking back at their mostly successful opposition to the Affordable Care Act, when they made gains in House and Senate seats fighting the new law. Most of the benefits of Obamacare, however, weren't immediately available to people as the law wasn't fully implemented until 2014. Neither the 2009 stimulus nor Obamacare had the huge public support that this Biden package is now receiving.

The benefits of this package will be available immediately and to the majority of households in America, and that will make all the difference.

Republicans just proved it: If the filibuster doesn’t end, we cannot restore our democracy

The founding fathers, chafing under the malign thumb of Britain's monarchy, most definitely envisioned the potential for a Donald Trump. Alexander Hamilton pretty much nailed Trump in 1792: "When a man unprincipled in private life[,] desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper … despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may 'ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.'"

Thus we have the tool of impeachment and the checks and balances of a legislative, executive, and judicial system. What the founders apparently didn't account for in their careful crafting of the three branches was a Mitch McConnell, a lawmaker so unprincipled that he would enter into a bargain with Trump to enhance his personal power at the expense of the whole Senate, and use that power to subvert the third branch—the judiciary. The reasonable "cooling saucer" of the Senate created to counterbalance the rabble in the House of Representatives wasn't supposed to become a tool of the corrupt, but here we are—and not for the first time. There's a throughline in all of American history for the fight against majority rule democracy: white supremacy. Every sustained backlash against progress has come from privileged whites. We saw its violent and very public resurgence in Trumpism, a storm Republicans have been happy to ride. There are myriad reforms the country has to undertake to beat that back down again, but it has to start now and in the Senate, with the filibuster.

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The vehicle for that is singular: H.R.1, the For the People Act of 2021, and its companion in the Senate, S.1. The House bill, first passed in 2019 and subsequently ignored by McConnell, would enact substantial and groundbreaking electoral reforms. It would remove existing barriers to voting, secure the elections processes to secure the integrity of the vote, expand public financing to fight the pernicious entrenched and monied interests, and ban congressional gerrymandering to ensure equal and fair representation in the House of Representatives. It would also start to chip away at the imbalance of representation in the Senate—where states like Wyoming have a fraction of the population of the nation's largest cities—by granting statehood to the District of Columbia.

That bill is not going to pass the Senate if the filibuster holds, nor is any of President Joe Biden's agenda. Senate Republicans made that abundantly clear from Biden's first day in office, and even before. When the Senate flipped into Democratic hands on Jan. 5 with the runoff results in Georgia, McConnell started in, refusing to bring the Senate out of recess until Jan. 19. (That also built in his excuse for not voting to convict Donald Trump in his impeachment—he could say then, duplicitously, that a former president couldn't be convicted.) McConnell then spent three weeks refusing to allow Biden to form a complete Cabinet by blocking an organizing resolution for the Senate, the necessary piece of business for all of the committees assignments be made and the committees to start serious business, like considering legislation referred to them and processing Biden's nominees.

McConnell—with the tacit support of 49 Republican senators—insisted that this was all in the name of "unity," just like Biden wanted. His stance was that Democrats had to prove that they wanted unity by capitulating to his demand that they promise not to get rid of the filibuster and let him continue to block Biden's agenda and his nominees. To Schumer's credit, he didn't get that. To Joe Manchin's and Kyrsten Sinema's discredit, they agreed with McConnell. Sinema, in fact, has continued to do so.

Sinema is insisting that she'll oppose a minimum wage increase in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that Democrats are pushing through using budget reconciliation, a limited tool that isn't subject to the 60-vote majority rule and thus can't be filibustered. More than that, Sinema says: "I want to restore the 60-vote threshold for all elements of the Senate's work." That would mean handing a veto of every Biden nominee—including potentially to the Supreme Court—to McConnell.

Sinema is undoubtedly trying to hedge her bets just in case Republicans retake the Senate in 2022, trying to worm her way into their good graces. As if McConnell and team would reward a Democrat for anything. As if it wasn't a betrayal of her own constituents, who support a minimum wage increase. As if it wasn't a betrayal of the LBGTQ community in which Sinema claims membership. She's expressed her willingness to help Republicans filibuster the Equality Act, which bans discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. She's saying that she'll reimpose the 60-vote threshold to block Biden's pro-equality judges after Trump appointed so many anti-equality judges, needing just 51 votes.

She somehow believes that this can be put in the hands of Senate Republicans, only seven of whom voted to convict the guy who incited and directed an insurrection against them, a mob that was primed quite literally for their blood—and very nearly got it.  So, sure, these will be the people who will provide the 10 votes necessary to help Biden save the nation from COVID-19, provide health care to everyone in the aftermath of this pandemic, and finally enact comprehensive immigration reform to help border states like Arizona.

Which takes us back to the For the People Act. The events of Jan. 6 and the Senate Republicans' acquittal of Trump underline just how critical it is that Democrats respond forcefully and quickly to stamp down the radicalized Republican Party, to end its ability to maintain outsized power while representing the minority of the nation's population. It means, particularly for the likes of Manchin and Sinema, realizing that the Republicans they pal around with everyday are not their friends. That they would perhaps lament their deaths at the hands of a violent mob, but aren't going to act to prevent it from happening. It means ending the filibuster.

The For the People Act is the vehicle to use to do just that, because it would level the playing field for Democrats. More than that, it would allow for actual majority rule—for the majority of voters to have their will enacted. To have universal accessible and affordable health care. To have an economic system that's not weighted against them. To not have their families living in fear of separation. To have a government taking on the changes in the climate that threaten to make living in their home regions impossible.

None of that happens without a profound change in our electoral system, and H.R.1/S.1 would start that process. It's also where to dare Sinema and Manchin to thwart the will of the majorities who elected them, to dare them to stand with the white supremacist Republican Party that is fighting to keep whole communities of color disenfranchised.

Sanders, Wyden fight to keep survival checks from being cut by ridiculous austerity arguments

Democrats are having a public fight over something that really matters: how much assistance hurting people are going to get from them in survival checks. It's a stupid fight, summed up best by Sen. Bernie Sanders:

Unbelievable. There are some Dems who want to lower the income eligibility for direct payments from $75,000 to $50,000 for individuals, and $150,000 to $100,000 for couples. In other words, working class people who got checks from Trump would not get them from Biden. Brilliant!

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 7, 2021

He's not alone in this with powerful support from Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, the new chair of the Finance Committee. The other side is being spearheaded by Sen. Joe Manchin, with back-up from Mitch McConnell's favorite "bipartisan" water carrier, Sen. Susan Collins. They're trying to keep payments from what they call "high-earning" families.

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Look at how Manchin explains this: "An individual of $40,000 income or $50,000 income would receive it. And a family who is making $80,000 or $100,000, not to exceed $100,000, would receive it," Manchin said. "Anything over that would not be eligible, because they are the people who really are hurting right now and need the help the most." Who's missing there? Yeah, everybody making more than $50,001. So he's not even arguing in good faith here, couching this as cutting off payments at $80,000 when that's not what he wants to do.

The gap between $50,000 and $80,000 includes a lot of people who, as Sanders says, got two checks already from the Trump administration and are expecting the third one everybody is talking about, a point also made by Wyden: "I understand the desire to ensure those most in need receive checks, but families who received the first two checks will be counting on a third check to pay the bills." That's so glaringly apparent that it's hard to understand there is any constituency for this fight, including in the White House.

It gets even worse when you drill down to find out where the impetus for the cut comes from, as David Dayen has done at The American Prospect. The debate is being driven by a paper from Harvard economics professor Raj Chetty and others which showed higher-income households not spending the last, $600 round of checks immediately. Dayen uncovers the fact that the Chetty research is not on household-level income data. Instead, data for about 10% of U.S. credit and debit card activity sorted into ZIP codes by the address associated with the card. Those ZIP codes are then grouped "using 2014-2018 ACS (The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey) estimates of ZIP Code median household income," according to the appendix in the Chetty paper. So, as Dayen says, the conclusion that low-income people spent their checks immediately while higher-income people did not, "is by saying that ZIP codes that had lower-income people in them between three and seven years ago contained a higher level of immediate spending than ZIP codes with higher-income people during this period." A period before the pandemic.

That's a damned big supposition. Claudia Sahm, a former Federal Reserve and Council of Economic Advisers economist, tells Dayen, "I think the paper is unsuitable for the policy discussion. […] It's one paper at odds with 20 years of research. […] I know the sampling error has to be in the thousands of dollars, there's no way it’s that precise." What's even worse about this paper is that they didn't even disclose the out-of-date ZIP code basis for their data until late last week, more than a week after it had been highlighted in the traditional media and started taking hold. It's still out there, with The New York Times opinion page giving Chetty and colleagues space to continue their badly sourced argument.

All that's aside from the larger argument: we're in the middle of a global pandemic and the economy is in tatters—just spend the money helping as many people as possible and worry about sorting out who should have to pay any of it back later. Because the need is so great and this isn't a time to skimp. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said as much, and thankfully appears not to be so much on board with this push to reduce payments, though the White House has been vaguely supportive. "The exact details of how it should be targeted are to be determined, but struggling middle-class families need help, too," Yellen said on CNN this weekend. Asked if she thinks the targeting should be higher than $50,000 per person but less than $75,000, Yellen responded: "Yes, I—I think the details can be worked out. And the president is certainly willing to work with Congress to find a good structure for these payments."

There's also this: they're still going to base the payments on 2019 income unless they have 2020 income filed by the time the relief bill is passed. Which means you need to file immediately if you've had a big drop in income. Which means the IRS is going to be flooded with returns at the same time it's trying to make income determinations and trying to determine who gets what. But at least there is the recognition that a lot of people did not have the same income in 2020 as 2019.

Again, the survival checks have been means-tested already, with the first rounds of checks phasing out starting at $75,000 based on out-of-date data. Compounding that is this new argument based on really bad and irrelevant information. Not that what anybody does with their survival checks really matters right now, anyway. Worry about saving the maximum amount of people possible. That will make the economy come back stronger and faster and then the rest can be sorted out, if necessary, with tax reform.