House speaker has created a nexus of disaster. Biden has 4 days to fix it

Since Republicans took control of the House following the 2022 midterms, the U.S. has faced a crisis of governance. Unable to quit their own petty infighting, caught up in ugly leadership squabbles, and unwilling to move without the blessing of Donald Trump, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson now commands a Congress well past the brink of disaster. After being unable to pass necessary legislation and wasting endless hours on a faux impeachment inquiry of Biden that is going nowhere, Republicans have generated such a maelstrom of incompetence that it’s putting millions of lives and the stability of the planet at risk.

Contrary to what Republicans apparently believe, Congress is expected to do things. It has to meet the challenges of the day, promote policies that assist the nation, and deal with the day-to-day affairs that keep government functional. Since they gained their narrow margin, Republicans have done exactly none of these things.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden summoned Republican congressional leaders to a meeting at the White House. With Ukraine in retreat after running out of critical ammunition and a government shutdown only four days away, this could be the most consequential meeting in decades. Will Republicans wake up for one moment to place the nation and the world ahead of their desire to please Trump and feed their childish egos? Or will they drive the nation, and the world, onto the rocks?

After being selected for speaker on the basis that no one knew who the hell he was so no particular faction was out for his throat, Johnson has shown himself to be singularly inadequate for the role.

As Joan McCarter has reported, Johnson …

  • Swiftly burned through any honeymoon period and found that his every statement or action was being scrutinized by House members sure that they would do a better job in the big office.

  • He betrayed other congressional leaders by reneging on a budget deal after everyone thought the issues were settled.

  • When months of negotiations in the Senate produced a border bill that gave Republicans everything they had been demanding, Johnson refused to even consider it on orders from Trump.

  • With the clock winding down on the end of the year, Johnson wasted time on a pointless impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

  • With the stability of the Western world on the line, Johnson has repeatedly dithered and stalled on providing any assistance to Ukraine while Republicans increasingly look to Putin.

  • And with a government shutdown looming, Johnson sent the House out on a vacation that’s not set to end until three days before the deadline. 

Johnson is not just courting disaster, he is a disaster. Either he’s astoundingly ineffectual, or he’s an arsonist set on burning down America. It’s genuinely unclear which of these things is true.

We may find out today.

“Every day that Speaker Johnson causes our national security to deteriorate, America loses,” said White House spokesman Andrew Bates. “And every day that he puts off a clean vote [on assistance to Ukraine], congressional Republicans’ standing with the American people plunges. Running away for an early vacation only worsens both problems.”

Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is tired of the incompetence on the other end of the Capitol. “Shutting down the government is harmful to the country. And it never produces positive outcomes—on policy or politics,” said McConnell. 

At the same time everyone is trying to get Johnson to do his job, extremist Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus are doing everything they can to provide more road bumps.

Last week they submitted a list of policy riders to Johnson, including such nonsense items as zeroing out Mayorkas’ salary, blocking military members from traveling out of state to obtain abortions, and defunding environmental and climate policies. In all, there are more than 20 of these poison pills, and the Freedom Caucus is declaring that it will block any attempt to reach an agreement unless America is forced to swallow the whole bottle.

A real speaker, one with respect from the members of their party and the strength to push past fanatics bent on nothing more than causing disruption, would push past this. Unfortunately, America is saddled with Mike Johnson.

That doesn’t make a good outcome impossible, but it certainly makes it almost infinitely more difficult. 

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GOP continues bogus ‘investigation’ after star witness turns out to be Russian mole

On Wednesday, the Republican-led House of Representatives impeachment inquiry will question James Biden behind closed doors on the very critical matter of how he repaid a loan to his brother. Banking records have already revealed that there is absolutely nothing to find in this investigation. Joe Biden loaned his brother James $200,000. Two months later, James paid him back. Neither did one thing wrong.

This hearing is a perfect example of why everyone called before this inquiry should demand to testify publicly. Not only has House Oversight Committee Rep. James Comer accused both the president and Democrats in Congress of lying about the loan, even though Comer already had all the evidence in hand to show everything was accurate and above board, but Democrats are being denied their rightful opportunity to rub Republican noses in the ugly collapse of every piece of “evidence” behind this so-called investigation.

In the last few days, the FBI form that Republicans demanded to see, then released themselves after threatening to hold the FBI director in contempt, turns out to be the product of a Russian mole who was fed false information by Russian agents. Meanwhile, a picture of “cocaine” that was included in a court filing in charges against Hunter Biden turns out to be an image of sawdust. 

The only real questions that remain in this investigation are: How much did James Comer, Jim Jordan, and Chuck Grassley know, and when did they know it?

As Spiderman might say, let’s do this one last time

In 2019, Rudy Giuliani went to Ukraine on orders from Donald Trump and came back with a story. That story was so ludicrous that everyone passed on it, including Fox News. But there was one place where Giuliani could still get this mess published: The New York Times

According to that story, Joe Biden went to Ukraine and demanded the firing of Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin because Shokin was investigating Burisma, the energy company where Hunter Biden served on the board. Biden allegedly threatened to withhold U.S. aid from Ukraine until Shokin was canned so Hunter could continue to collect his paycheck, and this oh-so-good prosecutor was unjustly fired.

The Times ran the story verbatim, without seeming to do anything like check Giuliani’s sources or look at public records. However, within a few days, Bloomberg dispatched a reporter to Ukraine to check on what Giuliani was selling, and sure enough, it was all bullshit.

Not only had Shokin not been investigating Burisma, he was so notoriously corrupt that officials in both the U.S. and the U.K. called for his removal for years. Biden didn’t start the push to remove Shokin, and he didn’t act alone. Everything that happened in Ukraine was very public, and European officials celebrated when Shokin was finally sacked. 

There was no story. There never had been a story. But that didn’t stop Republicans from continuing to repeat Giuliani’s fairytale.

Then a miracle happened. Republicans learned that the FBI had been given a tip about this subject, one that resulted in an FD-1023 form that seemed to back up everything Giuliani had said in 2019. Over objections from the FBI, Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Jim Jordan demanded the form. Then Grassley and Comer released the form to the public, and it became the beating heart of the Republican “impeachment investigation.”

And the form was perfect. Referring to Joe Biden as the “big guy” was in there. A claim that Hunter Biden was hired to "protect us, through his dad, from all kinds of problems” was right on the front page. The “17 recordings” of phone calls that supposedly included Joe Biden getting directly involved with his son’s business came from this form. Best of all, it included the claim that a Burisma executive complained about how "it cost 5 (million) to pay one Biden, and 5 (million) to another Biden.” 

The form was everything. The absolute proof that Republicans wanted.

Except, of course, everything in it completely contradicted years of public records and statements from those involved. Republicans didn’t let that bother them. Comer defended this form repeatedly, calling Democrats who challenged its contents liars. Grassley declared the importance of those recordings mentioned in the form, even while admitting they might not exist. Jim Jordan practically quoted the form in his questioning of Devon Archer, and then lied about Archer’s testimony when it failed to match up.

Then last Thursday, Alexander Smirnov, the man behind that FD-1023, was charged with lying to the FBI and creating false records. According to CNN, Smirnov has informed investigators that he has “‘extensive and extremely recent’ contacts” with Russian spies. And in an interview after his arrest, Smirnov admitted that “officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved in passing a story about Businessperson 1.”

“Businessperson 1” is Hunter Biden.

So, Republicans have not only spent the last year pressing an investigation of the president’s son largely instigated by a document that turns out to have been tailor-made for them by Russian intelligence, they opened an impeachment inquiry with a Russian agent as the “heart” of their investigation

House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-OH) on the indictment of ex-FBI informant Alexander Smirnov for lying about the Biden family: “It doesn’t change the fundamental facts.” Reporter: “Doesn’t change the facts? It does change the facts, because they’re no longer facts.”

— The Recount (@therecount) February 21, 2024

The answer to why the FBI was so reluctant to release the document is simple: They don’t release unfounded accusations (unless they come from James Comey or Robert Hur, of course). And that ongoing investigation that had Republicans so excited was the investigation of Smirnov, not Hunter Biden. 

All of this was a lie, and Republicans knew it. Just ask one of the men who toured Giuliani around Ukraine in the first place. 

The FBI had my communications with the CEO of Burisma since my arrest in 2019. The GOP received my communications with the CEO of Burisma during the first Trump impeachment in 2020. They all knew that the 1023 from Alexander Smirnov was a lie. Why did they continue this farce…

— Lev Parnas (@levparnas) February 21, 2024

Republicans are plowing on, keeping up the pretense that this source they made such a big deal about for so long was just “ancillary” to their investigation into what they love to call “the Biden crime family.” They have other evidence, dammit. Like how Joe Biden once loaned his son some money for a truck

But in the last day, another part of the investigation into Hunter Biden has crumbled into dust. As in sawdust. 

Federal prosecutors mistakenly claimed in a court filing that a photo of sawdust they found while searching Hunter Biden's electronics was cocaine, attorneys for the president's son said Tuesday.

How anyone could have ever thought that this material, which was tan in color and sitting on a table saw, was anything other than sawdust is astounding. But a picture of any kind of dust seemed to be convincing to Sean Hannity, so Fox News audiences aren’t likely to be threatened by the truth. (This also raises questions about just what Hannity has been putting up his nose.)

A Russian agent. A fake document. A pile of sawdust. That’s what Republicans have to show for their big investigation.

It would be really great to hear what’s happening behind those closed doors today. Democrats should be having fun.

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The New York Times is determined to make ‘but his age’ the new ‘but her emails’

If there’s anything The New York Times seems to enjoy, it's coming up with a focused attack on a Democratic candidate and then running that attack over and over and over again. Maybe their writers enjoy the simplicity of copy-pasting their remarks. Maybe there’s pleasure in patchwriting existing articles into something “new.” Whatever it is, once the Times has latched on to their Great White “But Her Emails,” they are inclined to never let it go.

For Joe Biden, the line of attack doesn’t even require misunderstanding how email servers work, a pretense that some kind of rule has been broken, or James Comey coming in with a holier-than-thou hot take. Because Biden is old. Case closed. Break out the Xerox machine and just keep slapping that copy button.

Over the weekend, The New York Times filled every slot on its editorial page with a piece attacking Biden’s age and memory. That didn’t just include the Times’ conservative columnists calling for the president to step down, but the paper’s editorial board jumping in to tell you that Americans think Biden is too old. As for 77-year-old Donald Trump? Now there’s someone who “does not appear to be suffering the effects of time in such visible ways.”

How many times can a single article tell you that Biden is old, but Trump is in his prime? Well, there’s the headline:

Why the Age Issue Is Hurting Biden So Much More Than Trump

And the subhead:

Both Donald J. Trump and President Biden are over 75. But voters are much less likely to worry that Mr. Trump is too old to serve.

And then there’s this paragraph about Trump, which has to be read in its entirety to appreciate how embarrassing it would be to Kim Jong Un’s publicist.

Mr. Trump, by contrast, does not appear to be suffering the effects of time in such visible ways. Mr. Trump often dyes his hair and appears unnaturally tan. He is heavyset and tall, and he uses his physicality to project strength in front of crowds. When he takes the stage at rallies, he basks in adulation for several minutes, dancing to an opening song, and then holds forth in speeches replete with macho rhetoric and bombast that typically last well over an hour, a display of stamina.

Strength. Physicality. Stamina. Those are the words attached to Trump.

In the previous paragraph, the same article had different words for Biden: Tentative. Frail. Stiff.

In the middle of this article is a link to a New York Times/Siena College poll that reportedly showed 70% of Americans believing Biden to be too old for his office, while fewer than 50% said the same of Trump.

Gee. Where did they get an idea like that?

On Monday, a story on Biden’s age and memory is still at the top of The New York Times’ editorial page. Even if the contents of that story are far less caustic than the articles that ran over the weekend, it's still written from a tedious middle-of-the-road perspective that is not far off special counsel Robert Hur describing Biden as a “sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” It also serves to keep "Biden," "Age," and "Memory" right at the top of the headlines.

What’s especially convenient about this storyline for the Times is that they’ve already been doing it for decades. Here are a few past headlines:

The first two items on this list come from the last couple of years. The middle pair are from 2019, when Biden was only starting to gear up for his campaign to win the White House. The last item on that list is from 2008, when Biden had just been selected as Barack Obama’s running mate.

Joe Biden has always been the gaffe guy. If The New York Times assigns someone to cover a Biden speech, they know what’s expected: Forget everything else—just bring back the moment when Biden mixed up a name or mispronounced a city. Just as the Grey Lady had its fixed set of things to say about Hillary Clinton, which it trotted out on any occasion, for Biden it's always there to catch even the slightest slip. "Gaffe-prone" Biden has been their schtick for decades, which conveniently ignores Biden’s well-documented (and largely successful) effort to overcome a severe stutter. Now the Times is delighted to tie its grammar police to the Hur report and claim that this is all about age. Copy-paste. Copy-paste. Copy-paste.

Occasionally the Times will mount a small, milquetoast defense, like the piece titled, “I’m a Neuroscientist. We’re Thinking About Biden’s Memory and Age in the Wrong Way” at the top of the op-ed page at this moment, which powerfully argues that Biden isn’t “Forgetting” as Hur suggests, he’s merely “forgetting.” Because that distinction is certainly something that will be easily conveyed in a 30-second spot.  

Compare that bland language to the explicitly negative editorial columns over the weekend that called Biden "decrepit" and insisted he should step aside. Or this piece that kicks off by comparing Biden to an aging parent with dementia. “One of the most difficult conversations you can have in life is with a parent or peer who is becoming too old and infirm to work,” it declares. Apparently, it’s not so difficult, because the Times is having this conversation with its readers every day.

The New York Times, along with other media outlets, has created an opinion ouroboros. The publication provides stories that emphasize how Biden is old, slipping, and gaffe-prone. Then they circulate the news that people, shockingly, believe them. Then they use those poll results as an excuse to do it all again.

When it comes to Trump … don’t worry about it. He dyes his hair and wears makeup and talks for a long time. According to the Times, that means you shouldn’t be concerned about his age. In fact, they have a poll that shows you’re not concerned. And now, here’s an article about how you’re not worried about Trump’s age. Watch him dance. 

Republicans demanded border security, worked on a compromise deal with Democrats, and now want to blow the whole thing up. Biden is promising to remind Americans every day that the Republican Party is at fault for the lack of solutions to the problems they claim are most important.

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‘Chaos’ is the word for Republicans, and the media has finally noticed

For many years, the news media has loved "Democrats in disarray" stories. Those stories always seem to pop up in election years—especially years when things are going well—to assure readers that Democrats are divided, or they’ve lost the Black vote, or they don’t trust their leaders. Something. Anything that shows the Democratic Party as disorganized and incapable of running an effective government.

Somehow, that same media has seemed to largely ignore the MAGA cancer gnawing away at the Republican Party in both the House and Senate. Sure, there was some fun to be had in watching then-Rep. Kevin McCarthy get his dignity slowly stripped away in 15 rounds of voting for speaker, then watching McCarthy get ousted less than 10 months later. But through it all, news outlets went on pretending that the Republican rebellion in the House was a matter of a few ultra-extremists, and that Senate Republicans represented the affable senior league.

Well, the media can’t ignore it now. With both the House and the Senate GOP leaderships disintegrating, and with nothing getting done amid a festering cauldron of boiling egos, the media has to say it: Republicans are in chaos.

At The Washington Post, a headline from Wednesday mentions “unrest” and “chaotic, bugled votes.” The phrase “dysfunction in the House Republican conference” also makes an appearance as the Post explains how, despite Speaker of the House Mike Johnson slavishly following Donald Trump’s every whim and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell still laboring under the illusion that he has the power to get a bill through his own caucus, neither of them can get a damn thing done.

The Atlantic gets both “chaos” and “Trump” into one Wednesday headline as the outlet rightly points out that things gang aft agley is a hallmark of Trumpism. Chaos is also dead certain to be generated when legislators subvert their own goals, to follow the orders of a leader who sees their inability to act as a good thing. The Atlantic also gets in a “fiasco” when describing the failed attempt to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, as well as pointing out that while Johnson benefited from “conservative rebels” to land his tall chair, he doesn’t appear so fond of rebellion these days.

CNN leaves “chaos” out of its own headline, referring to “disasters” when talking about Republican defeats on both ends of the Hill. But it does launch the article with “Chaos has been a common theme for the 118th Congress.” CNN then gets more specific in pinning the problems on Republicans. In doing so, it comes up with what may be the best and funniest description of Johnson’s problems in trying to rule over “a rambunctious and anemic majority.” Like a bunch of college bros who are low on iron.

Barron’s is not exactly a reliable source of Republican criticism, but they did choose to run a Wednesday article from French news agency AFP, which couldn’t help but notice “back-to-back legislative defeats” amid “Republican chaos.” Republicans earn another “dysfunction” and pick up an “embarrassed,” along with a “missteps,” and finish off with a quote of Johnson admitting that things in the House are a “mess.” That’s pretty much a clean sweep in the Ineffectual Sweepstakes. AFP also puts some numbers around just how awful things are in the House. 

Rank-and-file conservatives have repeatedly tanked legislation pushed by the leadership, meaning Republicans were able to pass only 27 bills that became law last year, despite holding 724 votes.

Note that leaders generally bring up a bill for a vote only when they expect to win. Somewhere along the line, Republicans apparently banned basic math. Also worth noting: “rank-and-file conservatives” used to have a meaning that included something about being conservative. It is now simply a measure of how well someone follows the will of Trump.

Roll Call drops in to visit Democrats seeking cover amid “House GOP chaos” and gets a nice quote from Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse, who points out that House Republicans aren’t only unproductive, they’re also unpopular. The article also gives a nod to Democratic “unity” that is keeping their votes together, even as Republicans stalk around the floor snarling at each other.

Even The New York Times joins in with an article about “deepening Republican disarray.” And, okay, they didn’t use “chaos,” but give them a break. They probably bought “disarray” in bulk, and now they need to use it up somewhere.

At NBC News, Republicans earned a “rough week” for abandoning the border security deal they wrote. That article also spills a surprising amount of words in saying positive things about Democrats, including President Joe Biden.

Finally, here’s a rare Fox News link because it seems okay to pitch Rupert Murdoch a penny when his folks are writing about how Republicans are “shooting blanks” and “misfired” on impeaching Mayorkas. But the rest of the article descends into blaming Democrats for the loss because Rep. Al Green came from the hospital to cast a vote and threw off the count. Democrats didn’t just thwart the Republican scheme; they also somehow threatened the “Hippocratic Oath.” And Fox is just so frustrated that they actually called this the “119th Congress.” (It’s the 118th.) 

Overall, any week where Republican chaos can be so obvious that it causes the news media to momentarily halt the Dems-in-disarray storylines seems like a good one. The only thing left to complain about is … alliteration. Couldn’t someone pull out a “Republican rat’s nest” or even a “MAGA muddle”?

The media should work on that. They’re probably going to need it again.

Disinformation is a growing problem in American politics, but combating it in Latino media poses its own special challenges. Joining us on this week's episode of "The Downballot" is Roberta Braga, founder of the Digital Democracy Institute of the Americas, a new organization devoted to tackling disinformation and building resiliency in Latino communities. Braga explains how disinformation transcends borders but also creates opportunities for people in the U.S. to import new solutions from Latin America. She also underscores the importance of fielding Latino candidates and their unique ability to address the issue.

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Mitch McConnell has lost control of Senate Republicans. Blame Mitch McConnell

Mitch McConnell is 82 years old. In the past year, he’s twice suffered from instances in which he seemed to freeze and be unable to respond for several seconds. Three years ago, he declined to say why his hands were extensively bruised and bandaged. He has reportedly suffered from multiple falls, including one that kept him away from the Senate for six weeks in the spring of 2023.

And now McConnell is being repeatedly kicked by Republicans who have been railing against his leadership, calling for him to step down, and running roughshod over his authority. Long-time Republican senators have accused McConnell of “betrayal” and demanded “new leadership now.”

With Senate Republicans slipping into chaos and McConnell left gawping on the sidelines as his initiatives are shredded by his own party, it might be tempting to feel a bit of pity for the longest-serving party leader in Senate history. It might be, if the cause for all this wasn’t also Mitch McConnell.

The anarchy exploding around McConnell now is the fruit of the seeds he planted. These men clawing at his remaining power learned their tactics at his knee.

McConnell has demonstrated again and again that he lives by only one rule: If you can do it, and you want to do it, then do it. Rules be damned.

His gleeful refusal to hold a hearing on Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court was just one facet of how he blew past Senate rules and traditions to use the chamber as a bludgeon against a Democratic president. He used his office to block court appointments at all levels during Barack Obama’s presidency, then flipped that power to pack the lower courts with Donald Trump’s unqualified appointees. McConnell wrecked the Senate, and he did it deliberately, step by step, to draw power to himself and to his party. 

McConnell determined that for someone who was willful and self-centered enough to throw out all those ideas of “civility” and “decorum,” the Senate could become a tool to not just determine the legislative agenda, but lock down control over the judiciary for a generation. So he did.

He underscored his willingness to hold his personal political power above all else in 2021 when he voted to acquit Trump following an impeachment trial in which he barred all witnesses. McConnell knew Trump was responsible. He even said so. But when it came time to pick his nation or the party that kept him in power, there was never any question about which way McConnell would go.

Those men now pulling him down—Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and all the rest—were watching. They are all fine students of McConnell’s master class in discarding honest deliberation and harnessing the power of pure selfishness mixed with outright lies.

They were watching from the House side as well. Everyone in McConnell’s party didn’t just wake up one morning and realize that they didn’t have to follow “unwritten rules” or abide by “tradition.” The rules of the House are what they say they are, so long as they control the House. Mitch taught them that lesson. He’s been teaching it for decades.

From Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to Donald Trump, they are all students of McConnell’s do-as-thou-will-no-matter-what-the-cost-to-others university.

It’s fitting that when pressed about his role in writing the border security package, McConnell put himself first and ran a bus over Sen. James Lankford, who spent months negotiating that bill at McConnell’s orders and to McConnell’s specifications. That act of fundamental treachery in a moment of crisis defines McConnell in his weakness, but it’s been his hallmark all along.

The Republicans who want what little power McConnell still holds can read that move. They read it as desperation. They read it as weakness. They read it as an old man who has burned every bridge coming to the end of his time without honor, respect, or an ability to exert his will.

McConnell finds himself nearing the end of a long career. Maybe he thought this day was going to come with a big round of applause and speeches of gratitude from his colleagues. Instead, it’s coming with hands at his back, shoving him to get out of the way more quickly. His eternal pretense of being reasonable while sneering at the rules is no longer acceptable in a party that doesn't even bother to pretend. 

As he’s foundering, McConnell is calling on Republicans to help pass a bill to assist Ukraine. It’s absolutely necessary. It’s in the national interest. And it’s simply the right thing to do. McConnell reportedly sees it as legacy-defining

But that’s not true. McConnell has already defined his legacy. And that legacy says that things like “national interest” and “right” are nothing when compared to political power. He shouldn’t be surprised that Republicans only respond to his pleas with sneers and laughs. They’re good students.

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House GOP forms circular firing squad over their epic failures

On Tuesday, things went so wrong for Republicans that the level of their dysfunction became the focus of the story. At Fox News, Steve Doocy was busy dressing down House Majority Whip Tom Emmer for his role in throwing away a border security bill that is the best Republicans might ever get. Meanwhile, The New York Times was reporting that “dysfunction reigns in Congress” as the Republican majority in the House showed an incredible ability to lose its way with a “humiliating series of setbacks.”

Whatever Emmer was whipping, it wasn’t votes.

Now Republicans need someone to blame for those failures. Like all parties that revolve around a single authoritarian leader, the most important thing is not to fall under the baleful glare of the Eye of Donald Trump. And the best way to do that is … to point the finger at someone else.

After Republicans’ failure to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene made a bid to blame Democrats because Rep. Al Green turned up to vote in a wheelchair when Republicans thought they had safely scheduled this vote at a time when Green couldn’t appear due to emergency surgery.

Greene: Democrats hid one of their members trying to throw us off on the numbers

— Acyn (@Acyn) February 7, 2024

But blaming everything on the old hidden Democrat trick was not enough for others. Rep. Greg Steube went on Newsmax to point at a Republican absence—House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who had the audacity to be out for cancer treatment. “If Scalise would have been here … the bill would have passed,” Steube said.

There were claims overnight that Scalise would return for a Wednesday vote, though his office said otherwise. Dragging Scalise out of cancer treatment so that Republicans can squeak out a sham impeachment with a one-vote margin would be a top entry in the annals of both cruelty and pathos.

Other Republicans widened the scope of their blame to take in the whole of Republican leadership in the House, which led to one of the strangest aspects of a strange day: nostalgia for former Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

“Getting rid of Speaker McCarthy has officially turned into an unmitigated disaster,” tweeted Rep. Thomas Massie. “All work on separate spending bills has ceased. Spending reductions have been traded for spending increases. Warrantless spying has been temporarily extended. Our majority has shrunk.”

Massie wasn’t the only Republican suddenly longing for the Golden Age of Kevin, but the irony meter had to be definitively fried by this statement from Rep. Matt Gaetz.

"I also wonder, wouldn't it have been nice to still have Kevin McCarthy in the House of Representatives," Gaetz said on Newsmax. "Never thought you'd hear me say that."

Is that even irony? Irony squared? Irony times hypocrisy over the reciprocal of karma?

Whatever it was, Gaetz went on to blame McCarthy for getting rid of former Rep. George Santos. This definitely did not happen, since Santos was expelled two months after Gaetz engineered the ouster of McCarthy from the speaker’s chair.

Still, Santos sent Republicans a little something to remember him by in their moment of darkness.

Miss me yet?

— George Santos (@MrSantosNY) February 6, 2024

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson kept it simple: He blamed everyone but himself. "I don't think this is a reflection on the leader,” Johnson told reporters. “It's a reflection on the body itself." Sure. That’ll do it.

Following the loss on impeaching Mayorkas, one senior Republican aide was pushing a hard line, writing, “If we lose the Israel vote after losing Mayorkas impeachment: VACATE.” 

Then they lost the vote on Israel.

Rep. Mike Gallagher grabbed a pen for a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Wednesday, to take a swipe at every Republican in Congress who voted to impeach Mayorkas. “Impeachment not only would fail to resolve Mr. Biden’s border crisis,” wrote Gallagher, “but would also set a dangerous new precedent that would be used against future Republican administrations.” 

But Gallagher was alone in trying to stop the bleeding. The remainder of the caucus had their eyes firmly fixed on what’s important: pleasing Donald Trump. After all, Trump doesn’t want issues at the southern border solved; he wants them front and center in the fall election. And in that cause, congressional Republicans are fully prepared to humiliate themselves all over again today, and tomorrow, to infinity and beyond.

As The New York Times reports, Republicans thought they had set a trap for Democrats on the border issue, one that would give them a potent issue for the fall and powerful leverage to get policies they wanted. But Democrats “tripped them up,” in the Times’ words, by giving Republicans unexpected concessions on border security and tying it to military assistance for Ukraine. 

Now Republicans are scurrying to explain how what they demanded is the wrong thing all along. Congress is flailing, multiple issues get ignored in the storm of finger-pointing, and no one wants to name the person primarily responsible for this mess.

Because that person is Trump. And if Republicans have to burn down their own house and throw their friends under buses to make Trump happy … just line up those buses.

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Republicans demanded border security, worked on a compromise deal with Democrats, and now want to blow the whole thing up. Biden is promising to remind Americans every day that the Republican Party is at fault for the lack of solutions to the problems they claim are most important.

Appeals Court cuts down every piece of Trump’s immunity claim—with flair

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court ruled that Donald Trump is not immune to prosecution for his attempts to overturn the 2020 election. The 57-page ruling takes apart the claims that Trump made one by one, thoroughly dismembering his arguments to conclude that Trump’s declaration of “categorical immunity from criminal liability” is “unsupported by precedent, history or the text and structure of the Constitution.”

As The New York Times notes, the unanimous ruling is unlikely to be the last word on executive immunity, but the appeals court “handed Mr. Trump a significant defeat.” Not least of all in determining that, as far as the court is concerned, it’s very much Mr. Trump.

For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant. But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as President no longer protects him against this prosecution.

There’s nothing about this ruling that is going to make Trump happy.

Trump's former attorney Tim Parlatore predicts he's likely bothered by being referred to as "citizen Trump" in yesterday's ruling denying him presidential immunity.

— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) February 7, 2024

Mother Jones has sifted the ruling for some of the best lines, and that definitive stripping away of Trump’s former title is just one of them. There’s also the section where the court notes that during his second impeachment trial, Trump’s legal representative tried to have it the other way. In 2021, they argued that Trump shouldn’t be impeached because he was out of office and the proper place to deal with this was in court by writing “[w]e have a judicial process” and “an investigative process ... to which no former officeholder is immune.’”

The judges also noted that Trump wasn’t alone in making this argument: Thirty senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also argued that once he left office, Trump was no longer the proper subject of impeachment and was subject to the courts. 

But the portion of the ruling most likely to get wide play is one in which the judges point out the pure silliness of what Trump is suggesting.

It would be a striking paradox if the President, who alone is vested with the constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” were the sole officer capable of defying those laws with impunity.

This is connected to what others have described as the center of the judges' reasoning: Giving the president the kind of immunity Trump seeks would “collapse our system of separated powers by placing the President beyond the reach of all three Branches.” It would immediately elevate the president to an all-powerful dictator, unbounded by anything Congress or the courts might do.

In addition to declaring that he should have absolute immunity, Trump’s appeal included a backup claim that because he had been impeached and Republicans had voted to save him in the Senate, taking him to court on the same issues would be “double jeopardy.” But the court also swiftly dealt with that assertion, making it clear that impeachment and indictment were unrelated.

The ruling gives Trump until Feb. 12 to file an appeal with the Supreme Court. Otherwise, the district court can once again move forward on charges of election interference. The ruling is so definitive that numerous experts have suggested the Supreme Court might not take up an appeal from Trump. 

“My guess is that he’ll be a convicted felon when he gets on the stage to accept the Republican nomination for president.” Chris Christie predicts the Supreme Court will not hear Trump’s appeal, and the trial will begin in May.

— Republicans against Trump (@RpsAgainstTrump) February 7, 2024

However, some are suggesting that because special counsel Jack Smith originally tried to convince the Supreme Court to hear the case before it was sent back to the appeals court, this could be an opening for Trump’s attorneys to press the court to take up the case.

Trump has responded to the ruling with numerous repetitions of his assertion that presidents must have a level of immunity that no president has ever enjoyed in real life. 

When Trump brought this appeal, legal experts agreed that the issues around presidential immunity were novel and that whatever the court determined it would be making new law. Now a three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals has filled in those gaps, and their ruling seems so definitive that they may be the last word on this topic.

Except for Trump. He’ll keep on demanding absolute immunity. Even if he’s doing it from a prison cell.

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Republican Party suffers the most humiliating 24 hours in recent memory

Every party loses an election now and then. Both parties have spent whole decades on the outs, railing from the sidelines while their opponents controlled the agenda. However, it’s hard to think of a 24-hour period where any party has suffered so many self-inflicted disasters as the Republican Party experienced on Tuesday.

This beautiful run of disintegrating dignitas began on Monday evening when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke out to explain why the border security deal that had been negotiated over months was exactly what was needed to address “a humanitarian and security crisis of historic proportions.” Then he went behind closed doors three hours later to kill the bill on orders from Donald Trump. 

The morning opened to chaos. Sen. James Lankford, who had been McConnell’s chief negotiator on the bill, explained how it felt to be run over by a bus. McConnell, who once completely dictated the actions of Republicans in the Senate, was revealed as a sad puppet. The remaining Republicans were left stumbling over themselves, trying to justify sabotaging the best deal they’re ever going to get.

In hours Republicans took the issue at the heart of their 2024 campaign and turned it into an anchor that President Joe Biden will hang around their necks.

And their day only went downhill from there.

After a morning spent scrambling to create a reason for their actions that went beyond simple fear of Trump, Republicans got some troubling news about their golden ruler. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia took Trump to task with a 57-page decision that shredded any delusions about “absolute immunity.”

For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant. But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as President no longer protects him against this prosecution.

The unanimous decision was extensive and authoritative enough that experts are suggesting the Supreme Court might not consider Trump’s appeal, assuming Trump’s crack legal team manages to meet the short filing deadline provided by the appellate court.

But that was far from the end. Over on the House side of the Capitol, Republicans had cooked up the ridiculous impeachment proceedings against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for not being tougher on the border. Despite having just shot down a bill to get tougher on the border, they were determined to plunge blindly ahead under untested Speaker Mike Johnson.

Once again, Republicans learned that just because Nancy Pelosi made running a House vote look easy, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

The reason Republicans were so eager to hold the vote on Tuesday evening was because they knew that Democratic Rep. Al Green was in the hospital after undergoing emergency abdominal surgery on Friday. Republicans hoped to take advantage of Green’s absence to give them a buffer against any Republican defections from their unjustified and patently ridiculous impeachment.

But with the vote already underway, Green appeared in a wheelchair to cast the decisive vote, putting the motion into a 215-215 tie. Johnson was forced to flip his vote to preserve the issue for a re-vote at a later date, resulting in a stunning and deeply embarrassing loss for the Republicans.

Democrat Al Green surprised Rs when he showed up for the Mayorkas impeachment vote tonight -- and ultimately helped Ds sink sink measure. (It will pass when when Scalise returns.) But Dem leaders were ready. "It was not a surprise," House Minority Whip Katherine Clark told me

— Manu Raju (@mkraju) February 7, 2024

And the night still wasn’t over.

Earlier in the week, Republicans had prepared a stand-alone aid package for Israel in hopes that they could avoid having to vote on the Ukraine assistance and border security bill they had demanded for months. Johnson tried to push the Israel assistance package through using an accelerated procedure that required two-thirds of the votes. 

Proving once again that counting is considered higher math for this Republican team, that bill also failed, falling over 30 votes short.

Republicans have suggested that House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who missed the Tuesday night vote while undergoing cancer treatment, will be back on Wednesday so they can call a do-over. However, there is disagreement on this point.

Scalise’s office tells me his return “won’t be tomorrow”

— Morgan Phillips (@_phillipsmorgan) February 7, 2024

But if there is one thing this Republican-led House knows how to do, it’s hold one humiliating vote after another. So they will probably make it happen someday. 

But even after these two disastrous votes, the day still wasn’t over.

Soon after Johnson finally gaveled an end to fruitless efforts in the House, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel announced that she was stepping down. McDaniel has been under heavy pressure from Trump for failing to keep the RNC coffers filled with cash. 

McDaniel is the niece of Sen. Mitt Romney, but she stopped using her family name at Trump’s request. Now he has essentially fired her. As usual, Trump’s idea of loyalty is strictly one-way.

Republicans are rolling into the new day with absolutely nothing to show for surrendering everything to Trump. The best bill they could have hoped to negotiate is gone, they didn’t get their sham impeachment, they didn’t get their Israel-without-Ukraine funding package, and the chair of the party is packing up to leave. Meanwhile, Trump is entering the day with a much greater chance that he will face criminal proceedings before the election.

There aren’t a lot of New York Times headlines that bear repeating, but this one works:  

And it’s only Wednesday.

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The war between Matt Gaetz and Kevin McCarthy is far from over

The House Ethics Committee is conducting an investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz that includes reaching out to a woman he reportedly had sex with while she was still a minor. CNN reported Thursday that this investigation is now expanding, with the committee seeking information from a former Capitol Hill staffer described both as Gaetz's “ex-girlfriend” and a “key witness.”

In CNN’s words, the investigation includes “allegations of sex crimes, drug use, and illicit benefits.” But Gaetz is reportedly adamant that the whole thing is just “payback” for his role in ousting former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy.

Despite the source, there may be some truth to Gaetz’s claims. McCarthy may no longer be in the House, but he is reportedly "out for blood" and going on a "revenge tour" to get back at Gaetz and others he feels betrayed him.

While members of the House Ethics Committee have declined to comment, an attorney for Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend informed CNN that she is a potential witness in the ongoing investigation. The woman’s relationship with Gaetz reportedly goes back to 2017, which is the same period in which Gaetz was reportedly involved in sexual contact with a 17-year-old girl. 

A federal probe into allegations that Gaetz was involved in sex trafficking ended in 2023, with no charges filed against Gaetz. That investigation was connected to a scheme involving Florida tax collector Joel Greenburg—a reported friend of Gaetz—who was sentenced to 11 years in prison for six federal charges including sex trafficking, identity theft, and wire fraud.

The House Ethics Committee resumed its investigation into Gaetz in June 2023, several months before McCarthy was ousted. According to private correspondence that The Daily Beast reviewed, Gaetz told a friend that his effort to undercut and remove McCarthy from the speaker position was payback for launching the ethics probe. Gaetz ultimately forced the vote that ousted McCarthy, and was obviously pleased with the outcome.

“We heard Speaker McCarthy say that he wanted us to ‘Bring it on!’ Gaetz told reporters after the vote ended McCarthy’s term as speaker. “So I guess we did.”

In addition to the satisfaction of seeing McCarthy sidelined, the move also seems to have generated an infusion of cash for Gaetz. According to Politico, six of the eight Republican House members who voted to oust McCarthy saw an increase in small-dollar fundraising over the next quarter. Gaetz had a quarter-over-quarter jump of $725,000 from donors giving under $200. 

In December, the angry and humiliated McCarthy resigned from the House. But even though Gaetz won the battle, McCarthy doesn’t seem to be finished with the war.

Vanity Fair describes McCarthy as “out for blood,” and Politico says he is overseeing an effort to find primary challengers for the “Gaetz Eight.”

The New Republic calls it McCarthy’s “revenge tour” and says he knows exactly who he is targeting first: Reps. Nancy Mace, Bob Good, and Eli Crane. McCarthy’s allies judge these three to be the most vulnerable. Mace may be at the front of the line because she is described as having been a member of McCarthy’s “inner circle” before she voted for his removal.

After being removed from office and resigning from the House, McCarthy may seem to be a less-than-fearsome opponent when it comes to launching a campaign of revenge. However, previous to his ouster, he was known as the Republican’s best fundraiser. According to The New Republic, McCarthy is still able to tap his donor network to power primary challenges to those against the Republicans on his hit list. There are even indications that McCarthy’s vengeance tour could continue beyond this election cycle, as he works his way through Gaetz’s supporters. 

Whether or not McCarthy is successful, the idea that the best Republican fundraiser is busy raising funds to take down Republican incumbents seems like a very good thing for Democrats, as well as another battle in the Republican’s intraparty warfare. 

Maybe McCarthy should pick up a yellow jumpsuit and a katana.

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EMILY's List has been devoted to electing pro-choice Democratic women for 40 years, a mission that's grown only more critical since the fall of Roe. Joining us on "The Downballot" this week is Christina Reynolds, one of EMILY's top officials, to tell us about how her organization recruits, supports, and advises women candidates at all levels of the ballot nationwide. Reynolds explains the unique challenges women face, from a lack of fundraising networks to judgments about their qualifications that never seem to stick to men. She tells us how Dobbs has—and hasn't—changed campaigning for EMILY's endorsees and spotlights a wide range of key races the group is involved in this year.

Democrats are blowing up House GOP efforts to take down Biden

By now, anyone tuning into a House Oversight Committee or House Judiciary Committee hearing knows what to expect. With frequent slams of the gavel by their respective chairs, Republicans plod through repetitive attacks on President Joe Biden or waggle their fingers about some salacious claim including the phrase “Hunter Biden’s laptop.” Democrats try to object and occasionally insert a fact. But the next Republican is at the mic five minutes later, once again hammering the same lies.

At least that’s how it used to be. But anyone who has tuned in recently may have noticed a big change.

Democrats aren’t just tearing Republican arguments apart: They’re derailing hearings and getting their opponents genuinely flustered. The recent hearing in which Republicans intended to charge Hunter Biden with contempt for declining to testify behind closed doors is a good example. Not only did Hunter make a brief personal appearance and offer to testify right then and there in public, but Democrats were able to consistently throw Republicans off their game, blow away false evidence, expose their hypocrisy, and even hammer Donald Trump.

If all that seemed like it took a lot of behind-the-scenes planning, it did. But it won’t be the last time. Because as The Daily Beast reports, Democrats have a plan to make these hearings just as silly as the claims Republicans are making about Biden.

As soon as they gained control of the House in 2023, Republicans launched a series of supposed investigations into President Biden. And his children. And his brother. And anyone else they can lump in to the “Biden Family Investigation.”

For months, Rep. James Comer, who is heading up investigations in the House Oversight Committee, and Rep. Jim Jordan, who has the same role for the House Judiciary Committee, have been releasing false claims and mischaracterizing innocuous issues like a father loaning his son money for a car payment. But Republicans didn’t let having zero evidence stop them from announcing an impeachment inquiry in December.

The investigations have a clear goal: to reduce Biden’s chances of reelection and to signal to Trump that they’re trying to get revenge for his two impeachments. Republicans likely feel like these endless investigations worked well for them before the 2016 elections, when they spent two full years hectoring former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about Benghazi.

But this time around, the whole thing, whether it’s Republicans badgering an art dealer who sold some of Hunter’s paintings, a disappearing informant, or flashing revenge porn on the floor of the House, has been ridiculous from start to finish. The House GOP has been on a year-long fishing expedition featuring a level of obsession that would embarrass Captain Ahab, and they haven’t even found a minnow.

As Republicans ramped up the Biden attacks, Democrats responded. Rep. Jamie Raskin put together a “Truth Squad” that includes Reps. Greg Casar, Jasmine Crockett, Maxwell Frost, Daniel Goldman, and Jared Moskowitz. If some of those names sound familiar, it’s because they’ve been front and center in disrupting Republican plans.

It was Crockett who forcefully kicked off a confrontation with Rep. Nancy Mace who, on a committee where every Republican member is white, accused Hunter Biden and Democrats of engaging in “white privilege.” Crockett forced Mace to try and defend her indefensible remarks, and then Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slammed the gate closed by pointing out how Mace voted to eliminate the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights.

As The Daily Beast article highlights, Moskowitz was on hand with a poster showing a chummy photo of Trump and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein when it seemed that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was going to once again show nude pictures of Hunter Biden. “You come up here and talk about Hunter Biden’s behavior and you’re so disgusted,” said Moskowitz, “but the guy that you all kneel to associates himself with a pedophile.”

Those quick responses, along with Hunter Biden staring down Republicans from the visitor section, became the most viral moments from the hearing. Put together with sharp responses from other Democrats who refused to play Comer’s game, Republicans were left looking like this:

MAGAt House hearing. A picture is worth 1 MILLION words. EVERY hearing Comer has had, has been a disaster. Hunter Biden showed up at the hearing and spooked the MAGAts. Then they got a tongue lashing from @RepRaskin @RepJaredMoskowitz @RepJasmine Comer knew it was a disaster!

— Charm | DEMOCRATS deliver & NO CHAOS! 🇯🇲 💙🌊 (@CharmRobinson3) January 10, 2024

The best thing to come from all this is that Raskin and the Democrats have been joined by a new set of critics attacking Comer and his pointless investigation. As Kerry Eleveld reported earlier, Republicans are none too happy that this absurd “investigation” has gone on so long and come up so dry.

“James Comer continues to embarrass himself and House Republicans. He screws up over and over and over," said a source identified as "close" to House GOP leadership, who appeared to be playing CYA for the leadership team. The source's big fear was that Comer would ultimately fail to provide the foundation necessary (i.e. evidence) to follow through with impeaching Biden.

These anonymous Republicans don’t seem to be seriously considering that maybe Comer is failing not because he’s incompetent (or at least, not only because he’s incompetent) but because Joe Biden did nothing wrong. But then, they are Republicans. They’re used to having leaders whose closets are jam-packed with skeletons.

Republicans are trying to repeat their perceived success with Benghazi, but this time Democrats know the game and they have a plan to disrupt it. That plan isn’t necessarily convincing Republicans that Biden did nothing wrong, but it sure is making these hearings more fun to watch.

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