House Freedom Caucus is ready to force a government shutdown

The House Freedom Caucus has set the stage for a government shutdown, issuing a list of demands on Monday that they know will never be met. They are thereby setting up a test of wills between themselves and basically everyone else in the House and Senate, starting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Congress will need to pass a temporary funding bill to keep the government open when current funding ends on Sept. 30, and the Freedom Caucus is insisting it will not back a clean continuing resolution. Even a short-term bill, they insist, would need to include their far-right demands.

Freedom Caucus members are opposing any bill that “continues Democrats’ bloated COVID-era spending,” which is to say they’d oppose a short-term spending bill that didn’t make cuts right off the bat because they didn’t like the last government spending bill to pass. Additionally, they say, they won’t support any spending bill unless it includes the hateful immigration bill House Republicans said was a “first week” priority, but only managed to pass in May. They are vowing to oppose any bill that doesn’t “[a]ddress the unprecedented weaponization of the Justice Department and FBI to focus them on prosecuting real criminals instead of conducting political witch hunts and targeting law-abiding citizens” and “[e]nd the Left’s cancerous woke policies in the Pentagon undermining our military’s core warfighting mission.”

So first off they want a rollback to pre-pandemic spending levels, plus a bill that it took months for the House to pass as a stand-alone and that stands no chance in the Senate. But as unlikely as that is, at least it’s a concrete ask. From there, it gets murkier. How is a spending bill supposed to “address the unprecedented weaponization of the Justice Department and FBI”? Presumably cutting off the special counsel’s investigation into Donald Trump, but this is a demand that could cover a lot of ground, some of which the different members of the Freedom Caucus probably don’t even agree on. Finally, they are demanding a legislative ban on various military policies they don’t like, presumably starting with the military’s policy of paying for service members and their families to travel for medical care, including abortion, and maybe policies allowing trans service members to serve openly in the military. But again, railing against “cancerous woke policies” is pretty vague language, especially considering that these days “woke” means anything a Republican doesn’t like. In some Republican hands, “End the Left’s cancerous woke policies” could mean resegregating the military.

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In translation, the Freedom Caucus is saying that it wants a government shutdown because they know that these demands will never be met. The only way to keep the government open will be for McCarthy to rely on Democratic votes to get a clean continuing resolution and, ultimately, a funding bill through the House. The Freedom Caucus is banking—with good reason—on McCarthy being unwilling to do that. But just in case this is the moment McCarthy finds a spine, the Freedom Caucus said it would “oppose any attempt by Washington to revert to its old playbook of using a series of short-term funding extensions designed to push Congress up against a December deadline to force the passage of yet another monstrous, budget busting, pork filled, lobbyist handout omnibus spending bill at year’s end and we will use every procedural tool necessary to prevent that outcome.” In other words, if you try to pass this without us, we will do whatever it takes to block it from getting a vote.

It’s not clear that the Freedom Caucus demands could get through the House with its very narrow Republican control. They definitely can’t get through the Senate. So when the Freedom Caucus says that its support is contingent on getting all of their demands and that its members will do whatever possible to block a House vote on a bill they don’t like, they’re saying they want a shutdown. Let’s be very, very clear about that as the possibility of a government shutdown looms next month: It’s not both sides. It’s House Republicans.

American political parties might often seem stuck in their ways, but they can and in fact do change positions often. Joining us on this week's episode of "The Downballot" is political scientist David Karol, who tells us how and why both the Democratic and Republican parties have adjusted their views on a wide range of issues over the years. Karol offers three different models for how these transformations happen—and explains why voters often stick with their parties even after these shifts. He concludes by offering tips to activists seeking to push their parties when they're not changing fast enough.

Republican disarray is somehow, miraculously, getting worse

House Republicans aren’t getting anything done to benefit the nation or the voters, but they are achieving at a high level in at least one area: sheer disarray. Actually, make that two areas: sheer disarray and intense spitefulness.

The big talk among Republicans these days is impeaching President Joe Biden, with a split between people who want to impeach now without even pretending to have investigated and assembled impeachment-worthy evidence against him, and people who want to do it after a series of show trials designed to insert uncorroborated allegations into the public consciousness. Then there are the so-called “moderates,” who will whine to the press about the awful position they’re being put in—then fall in line when it’s time to vote on whatever the extremists have gotten Speaker Kevin McCarthy to back.

All of these groups are sharing their feelings with the press. The biggest splash this week was made by reports that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene called her former ally Rep. Lauren Boebert a “bitch” as the two joust over whose impeachment resolution will get the most attention and fundraising leverage. But it’s just one moment of hostility in a party with a lot of them.

RELATED STORY: House Republicans desperately seeking reason to impeach Biden

Greene says Boebert “copied my impeachment articles and probably did it, it seems to me, because there’s a fundraising deadline coming up at the end of the month,” and that she will be forcing a vote on her own impeachment resolution soon. When she does, have no doubt that she will fundraise off of it—in fact, Boebert sucking up Greene’s planned fundraising juice is no small part of the fury here.

RELATED STORY: Tense—or typical?—moment in House as MTG calls Boebert a 'b----'

Greene, though, is at risk of being purged from the far-right House Freedom Caucus over her closeness to McCarthy, which is seen as compromising her far-right purity. For her part, Greene says she’s just being “more realistic” in her tactics.

Greene’s “more realistic” tactics will still put Biden-district Republicans on the spot, though, and they’re unhappy about how often that’s happened recently.

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“I am concerned,” about having to vote on impeaching Biden, Rep. Tony Gonzales told CNN. “One witch hunt for another witch hunt makes this place all about witch hunts. Meanwhile, the American public are focused putting food on the table, keeping their kids safe in schools, keeping inflation down. Real issues.” That’s nice talk, but since Gonzales participated in party-line votes on referring Boebert’s impeachment resolution to two committees and on censuring Rep. Adam Schiff, it has to be filed as just talk until he actually votes against a Republican witch hunt.

And Gonzales is going to face that again and again. Whether it’s Greene and Boebert with their separate efforts to force an impeachment vote, or committee chairs like Jim Jordan and James Comer taking a little longer to put a fig leaf of fraudulent “investigation” and “evidence” on their eventual impeachment efforts, House Republicans are not letting this go. Given their failure to show how they would productively govern the United States by passing meaningful legislation—even if it died in the Senate—attacks on the president, the president’s son, and top administration officials are all they have to convince their base they’ve done something with two years in control of the House.

Extremism is a powerful drug. And these people are so awful that infighting was probably inevitable the moment Republicans had power. It's a virtuous (from Democrats’ point of view) circle: Republican disarray begets failure begets more disarray.

So-called moderates like Gonzales are reportedly trying to get McCarthy to stop giving in to the Freedom Caucus, but giving in to extremists is what McCarthy does—especially since the deal he struck to become speaker on the 15th vote gave any single member the ability to call for a vote to replace him. McCarthy is spending as much time trying to save his own hide as he is trying to lead his party. Not that McCarthy’s party is leadable, even under someone far more adept than he is.

RELATED STORY: Freedom Caucus insists McCarthy broke promises

Take Rep. Matt Gaetz, sounding like the id of the Republican Party. Using privileged resolutions to force votes on things like impeachment, as Boebert did, is “actually going to be a new doctrine for us,” he told CNN.

“I sort of have had enough struggle sessions,” he said. “I’m ready for action, action, action.”

If that action involves Greene and Boebert trading insults, Greene at risk of being kicked out of the Freedom Caucus, McCarthy being eternally under pressure, and every Republican who represents a district that voted for Biden having to take unpopular vote after unpopular vote, I’m here for it.

This week on “The Brief,” we are joined by Christina Reynolds of Emily’s List. Reynolds is the Senior Vice President of Communications and Content at the progressive organization, which works to get women elected to office. On the anniversary of the outrageous Supreme Court decision to take away the reproductive protections of Roe v. Wade, Reynolds talks about what she is seeing up and down the ballot this election cycle.

Trio of Republican lawmakers called up before Jan. 6 committee

Seeking information about their alleged roles in events that led up to the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the select committee probing the insurrection has now called on Republican Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama, and Ronny Jackson of Texas, to cooperate. 

The committee wants Biggs to face multiple questions, including those involving right-wing conspiracy theorist Ali Alexander and Alexander’s claim that Biggs was just one of a handful of sitting lawmakers whoactively worked to stop the peaceful transfer of power. 

Rep. Mo Brooks, who took the stage before Trump incited the mob and called on people to “fight like hell,” is again under the microscope for his remarks. This time, it was a public admission he made while running for the Senate. Brooks declared in March that Trump demanded he overturn the 2020 election. 

And in arguably the most troubling letter the committee issued Monday, in its request to Rep. Ronny Jackson, investigators asked the Texas Republican to pry back the curtain on his potential ties to the extremist Oath Keepers group and its members currently facing trial for seditious conspiracy. 

The requests come as the committee verges on resuming its public hearings on June 9, but they are not formal subpoenas. Investigators have historically aired on the side of caution when it comes to forcing compliance with their congressional colleagues. They have cited concerns over lengthy legal battles they anticipate they would face as the clock on the probe runs down. 

But they have not ruled this option out altogether. Before Monday, previous requests were sent to Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania. Both have refused to cooperate. 

According to investigators, Biggs is taking front row and center now for several reasons, chief among them his alleged relationship with right-wing conspiracy theorist Ali Alexander. 

Last December, over a series of live streams, Alexander boasted that the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement he founded was receiving help from Biggs, then the chair of the House Freedom Caucus. 

Alexander also named Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona and Mo Brooks of Alabama as instrumental facilitators. 

“We’re the four guys who came up with a Jan. 6 event,” Alexander said in one since-deleted video. 

In another video, as noted by The New York Times, Alexander said:

“We four schemed up putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting so that who we couldn’t lobby, we could change the hearts and the minds of Republicans who were in that body, hearing our loud roar from outside,” he said.

Biggs has denied ever meeting with Alexander or talking to him. Biggs did not immediately return a request for comment to Daily Kos on Monday.

Alexander, however, has cooperated with the Jan. 6 committee—along with more than 800 other people—and turned over several records. 

In April, he agreed to appear before a federal grand jury after receiving a subpoena for testimony relevant to the Justice Department’s investigation of Jan. 6.

The right-wing bombast has been mum about details of his cooperation, and when talking to the press, his attorney has underlined Alexander’s disavowal of the violence that unfolded. 

Investigators also want to question Biggs about his conduct on Dec. 21 at the White House where he and other House Freedom Caucus members attended an in-person and prominently advertised meeting with Trump. 

Trump’s then-chief-of-staff Mark Meadows boosted the signal after the meeting, noting he and other attendees were “preparing to fight back against mounting evidence of voter fraud.”

Several members of Congress just finished a meeting in the Oval Office with President @realDonaldTrump, preparing to fight back against mounting evidence of voter fraud. Stay tuned.

— Mark Meadows (@MarkMeadows) December 21, 2020

That meeting, according to the testimony already obtained by the committee, centered on the role then-Vice President Mike Pence could play if he would abandon his constitutional role during certification.

“As you may be aware, a federal judge… recently concluded that President Trump’s effort to pressure the vice president to refuse to count electoral votes likely violated two provisions of federal criminal law,” the committee wrote Monday, referencing a ruling from a federal judge in California.

In that ruling, the committee successfully obtained access to emails from conservative attorney John Eastman, the author of the six-point memo strategizing how to stop the certification. 

Biggs could also answer questions about his push to see “alternate electors” installed for the count. In a text message to Meadows on Nov. 6—just three days after the election and before results were finalized—the Arizona Republican was already pushing a proposal to get Trump’s electors set up in battleground states. 

Biggs acknowledged the scheme was “highly controversial.”

“It can't be much more controversial than the lunacy that we’re sitting out there now. And It would be pretty difficult because he would take governors and legislators with collective will and backbone to do that. Is anybody on the team researching and considering lobbying for that?" Biggs wrote.

Meadows replied: “I love it.”

In the end, election fraud was not found in Arizona or elsewhere. 

There’s also a push by the committee to learn more about a reported effort by House Republicans angling for presidential pardons after Jan. 6.

The committee disclosed Monday that White House personnel have already testified about the issue.

Just ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, it was widely reported that Trump seriously entertained issuing pardons for those tied up in crimes related to Jan. 6. In February, Politico reported that two people familiar with the discussions, including an adviser to Trump, said Trump was worried about possible criminal charges. 

“Is it everybody that had a Trump sign, or everybody who walked into the Capitol” who could be pardoned? Trump reportedly asked. 

The 45th president believed if he pardoned people, they would “never have to testify or be deposed.”

Trump ended up abandoning the idea when he was informed it could cause him new legal headaches and fresh campaign finance scrutiny. His impeachment-worn attorney Pat Cipollone also allegedly threatened to resign if Trump went through with the plan. 

Rep. Ronny Jackson on Monday slammed the request, dubbing the committee “illegitimate” and consumed by a “malicious and not substantive” agenda. He also described the investigation as a “ruthless crusade against President Trump and his allies.”

Jackson was particularly irked, he claimed, because the committee did not seek him out privately first, according to CBS. 

A committee spokesperson did not immediately return a request to Daily Kos.

Jackson’s cooperation is being sought because of his potential relationship with Oath Keepers accused of orchestrating a complex, weaponized conspiracy to stop the nation’s peaceful transfer of power on Jan. 6.

Related: Oath Keepers text expose talk of security details for Trump world figures, more Proud Boys ties

Prosecutors revealed last month that in the trove of text messages seized off Oath Keeper devices, the extremist group members discussed providing a personal security detail to Jackson during the attack. 

Critically, the @January6thCmte also calls on Rep. Ronny Jackson to answer questions about why the extremist Oath Keepers, including leader Elmer Rhodes, discussed him in their encrypted chat and their efforts to protect him because he had "critical data to protect"

— Brandi Buchman (@Brandi_Buchman) May 2, 2022

“Dr. Ronnie Jackson on the move,” one message from an unidentified person said. “Needs protection. If anyone inside cover him. He has critical data to protect.”

Other users in the chat worried about Jackson, once  the White House physician to Trump. 

“Hopefully they can help Dr. Jackson,” a text at 3:03 p.m. read. 

Rhodes responded two minutes later. 

“Help with what?” he wrote.

Within the same minute, Rhodes replied again. 

“Give him my cell,” he said. 

As for Mo Brooks, the Alabama Republican is being called up to discuss his comments in March when he appeared to lapse in total fealty to Trump. 

Trump dropped his endorsement of Brooks’s senate run following weeks of lethargic polling.

The former president first backed Brooks a full year in advance of the primary. But in that time, Brooks—looking to shore up more moderate Republicans in a tough race—began to backpedal, much to Trump’s ire. 

Brooks voted against certification on Jan. 6 and even campaigned with life-size Trump posters at his side, according to the Associated Press.

But during a pro-Trump rally in Alabama in August 2021, Brooks urged the crowd to forget about the failures of the previous year’s election. 

“There are some people who are despondent about the voter fraud and election theft in 2020. Folks, put that behind you, put that behind you,” Brooks said. 

He was booed and as noted by reporters on-site, he “nearly lost the crowd” before waffling again. 

”All right, well, look back at it, but go forward and take advantage of it. We have got to win in 2022. We’ve got to win in 2024,” Brooks said. 

Oh boy. Mo Brooks suggested, in seriousness, that those in attendance should accept the results of the 2020 election and move on to the next one … needless to say it did not go well and he nearly lost the crowd 😮

— Ryan Phillips (@JournoRyan) August 22, 2021

All lawmakers have been asked to set up a time to meet with investigators beginning next week. 

Though it was nearly a foregone conclusion that Reps. Jackson, Brooks, and Biggs would not comply, ultimately, the panel has made clear that forcing testimony from some individuals would not make or break the entire probe given the voluminous evidence already collected.