Mitt Romney says what other Republicans won’t: He’s not voting Trump

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah crossed a line this week that few if any national Republican officials have broached: rejecting Donald Trump at the ballot box if Trump's the nominee.

Asked by CNN's Kaitlin Collins whether he would vote for Trump over Joe Biden, Romney was unequivocal. 

"No, no, no, absolutely not," he said. Romney explained that whether he aligned with Trump on policy was not his primary consideration.

Instead, he placed character above all and said that having a president who was so "defaulted" of character would undermine America's greatness and our ability to be an international leader.

In many ways, Romney's public break from Trump isn't exactly “stop the presses” stuff. He is retiring at the end of this congressional term, has been a vocal critic of Trump in recent years, and was one of just seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump for inciting a violent attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

It's also highly doubtful that even a trickle of other notable Republicans will follow in his wake given the cowardice the vast majority of GOP politicians and officials have routinely exhibited over the last decade. 

Kaitlin Collins: Would you vote for Donald Trump over Joe Biden? Mitt Romney: No, absolutely not. @Acyn

— The Intellectualist (@highbrow_nobrow) February 29, 2024

But Romney's departure is important on two levels. 

First, MAGA has executed a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. But while Trump is still dominating the delegate count, his last remaining rival, Nikki Haley, has won somewhere between 25%-30% of self-identified Republican voters in the contests for which we have exit polling: New Hampshire and South Carolina. In other words, roughly a quarter to a third of self-identified Republicans either still favor old-school conservatism or simply don't want to be part of Trump's party. That's a sizable group of people. And it's entirely plausible that when the dust settles from 2024, some alienated Republicans could make an effort to form their own party, as former Rep. Liz Cheney alluded to earlier this year on ABC's "The View."

“I think that the Republican party itself is clearly so caught up in this cult of personality that it’s very hard to imagine that the party can survive,” Cheney told the hosts in January. “I think increasingly it’s clear that once we get through 2024, we’re gonna have to have something else, something new.”

Romney's assertion that he won't vote for Trump over Biden also brings into question what exactly Haley will do when her time for choosing comes. Haley will not endorse Biden; she has called him "more dangerous" than Trump. But she refers to both as "old men" and specifically calls Trump "unstable and unhinged."

So while Haley won't endorse Biden, she has so far declined to endorse Trump and charged that he cannot win general election. In other words, there's still a slim chance Haley will decline to endorse Trump at the end of her run—and that would be a meaningful departure for all the Republican voters and GOP-leaning independents who have embraced her policies and her mostly unabashed criticism of Trump.

Romney is telling Republican voters that it's okay to say "no, no, no" to Trump. Haley just might, at the very least, tell those same voters that Trump is too unfit to endorse.

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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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‘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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For Republicans, it’s now ‘Trump First, Putin Second, America Third’

From a domestic perspective, the Republican Party’s embarrassing failure to follow through on its Fox News-goaded attempt to impeach Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas proved to be a blessing. It was wholly performative theater, without any legitimacy. The party’s abrupt, equally embarrassing turnabout on immigration—an issue that Republicans had planned on wielding against Democrats going into 2024—was just more evidence of the GOP’s terminal dysfunction. 

As schadenfreude-y as it may have been for Democrats to watch as the Republicans immolated themselves on the altar of immigration, the rest of the world was far more concerned about how the U.S. would follow through on its prior strategic commitments to Ukraine and Israel. By Wednesday morning, aid packages to both nations were hopelessly consigned to the quicksand of GOP intransigence and finger-pointing. Since aid to those countries was tied—at Republicans’ insistence—to border legislation, the Republicans’ pathetic submission of their much-vaunted immigration concerns to Donald Trump’s electoral whims may have doomed the prospects of further aid to Ukraine and Israel for the remainder of the fiscal year.

(Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer is now crafting separate packages, without immigration reform included, but their likelihood of success appears murky.) 

From the perspective of our allies, however, what occurred this week is seen less as habitual Republican dysfunction and more as the total abandonment of American resolve. In a week’s time, we have proved ourselves, as Anne Applebaum presciently warned last month in The Atlantic, worse than an unreliable ally: We’ve become “a silly ally”—one that can no longer be taken seriously by the rest of the world.

Applebaum isn’t alone in that assessment. Tom Friedman’s Tuesday opinion piece in The New York Times, acidly titled “The G.O.P. Bumper Sticker: Trump First. Putin Second. America Third,” explains just how damaging and consequential the Republicans’ actions this week have been to the nation.

As Friedman wrote, even before the immigration and foreign aid bill collapsed under the weight of Republican cowardice:

There are hinges in history, and this is one of them. What Washington does — or does not do — this year to support its allies and secure our border will say so much about our approach to security and stability in this new post-post-Cold War era. Will America carry the red, white and blue flag into the future or just a white flag? Given the pessimistic talk coming out of the Capitol, it is looking more and more like the white flag, autographed by Donald Trump.

There is no serious doubt that House Republicans rejected the Senate’s painstakingly crafted immigration legislation, which satisfied nearly all prior GOP demands for border enforcement, at the behest of Donald Trump. Trump prefers to do nothing, effectively maintaining the status quo at the border for another full year so he can use it as a campaign talking point, assuming he's still eligible to hold public office

Fearing Trump's wrath, House Republicans swiftly pronounced the immigration and foreign aid package "dead on arrival" before most had even read it. Meanwhile, Republican senators began to quaver at the prospect of being primaried by Trump-chosen challengers for the audacity of trying to actually pass meaningful legislation. Faced with Trump’s continued vise-like grip on their party, upper chamber Republicans opted to jettison the legislation altogether. 

But, as Friedman observes, there’s another key player in the mix: Vladimir Putin. Putin is well-aware that Trump will abandon Ukraine—and likely NATO—the instant he returns to power. Friedman recognizes that Trump’s interests—and thus the interests of a supine Republican Party intent on enabling Trump’s dictatorial ambitions—now necessarily dovetail with Putin’s.

After Ukraine inflicted a terrible defeat on the Russian Army — thanks to U.S. and NATO funding and weapons — without costing a single American soldier’s life, Putin now has to be licking his chops at the thought that we will walk away from Ukraine, leaving him surely counting the days until Kyiv’s missile stocks run out and he will own the skies. Then it’s bombs away.

This week, one of Putin’s primary assets, the propagandist and “useful idiot” Tucker Carlson, is purportedly being wined and dined in Moscow so he can provide cover for Republicans to gut Ukrainian aid. Carlson’s paywalled, one-on-one interview with Putin, and how it might enable the murderous dictator’s “outreach” to Republicans, is already the talk of Russian state television.

As reported Wednesday by The Washington Post’s Robyn Dixon and Natalia Abbakumova:

State television propagandist Vladimir Solovyov, one of the Kremlin’s anti-Western attack dogs, seemed to suggest that Carlson’s interview would torpedo any last hope for approval of new American military aid for Ukraine.

Solovyov said Carlson’s visit came “at the worst possible time for the West,” and he begged Carlson to join the Russian Union of Journalists, which Solovyov heads.

As Friedman points out, this eagerness of Republicans to betray American strategic interests in order to satisfy both Trump and Putin transforms America’s credibility with our allies into a mere afterthought.

If this is the future and our friends from Europe to the Middle East to Asia sense that we are going into hibernation, they will all start to cut deals — European allies with Putin, Arab allies with Iran, Asian allies with China. We won’t feel the change overnight, but, unless we pass this bill or something close to it, we will feel it over time.

America’s ability to assemble alliances against the probes of Russia, China and Iran will gradually be diminished. Our ability to sustain sanctions on pariah nations like North Korea will erode. The rules governing trade, banking and the sanctity of borders being violated by force — rules that America set, enforced and benefited from since World War II — will increasingly be set by others and by their interests.

The saddest fact is that no one should really be surprised by Republicans’ behavior. For a substantial segment of their caucus, their order of loyalty really is “Trump first, Putin second, America third.” Evidently they feel that the risk of betraying their own constituents on the immigration issue is well worth the effort and impact, if it means pleasing their two masters. And if they have so small a regard for their own constituents, there’s little doubt they feel even less toward the American republic writ large.

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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.

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.

In 2024, Trump voters are motivated by one thing above all: Revenge

Americans typically frame their politics as a contest between “right” and “wrong.” In our two-party system today, voters usually believe both they and their party are completely in the right, while those on the opposite side are completely wrong. And this belief persists even after one side concedes defeat: Yes, my party lost the election, but your party is still wrong.

There’s nothing unusual about this. Americans have generally viewed elections that way since the founding of the republic. One side is invariably left unhappy with the result, but they’ll invariably lick their wounds, galvanize behind a new candidate, and try again next time. There’s usually been no burning sense of resentment, no designs of revenge held against the voters who repudiated their decision the last time around. When Barack Obama beat John McCain in 2008, Democratic voters didn’t want “revenge” on McCain voters. That was just the way things were in those halcyon days.

Until Donald Trump, that is. Trump himself has been soundly and decisively dismissed by most Americans. He was repudiated by multiple impeachments that he richly deserved, and emphatically rejected by an electoral and popular majority of American voters in the 2020 election. Now, in 2024—amidst a swirling maelstrom of serious legal and criminal charges against him—Trump has made revenge the central focus of his campaign.  He’s still insisting to his supporters that his 2020 loss was fake (it wasn’t), and that they’ve been insidiously victimized by some type of amorphous, pervasive fraud and Democratic chicanery that essentially played them for fools. It’s a con that Trump started cultivating well before the 2020 election itself, that only went into overdrive after his failed coup of Jan. 6, 2021. 

As Tom Nichols, writing for The Atlantic, observes, the Republican electorate has swallowed Trump’s fiction and internalized it. Republicans have transformed Trump’s embarrassments into an insult against their own personal identities and belief systems. It’s an offense that demands and necessitates revenge against those fellow Americans who dared to insult them.  

RELATED STORY: A reelected Trump would mean living under the constant threat of modern-day Brownshirts

As Nichols observes:

These voters are not settling a political score. Rather, they want to get even with other Americans, their own neighbors, for a simmering (and likely unexpected) humiliation that many of them seem to have felt ever since swearing loyalty to Trump.

A lot of people, especially in the media, have a hard time accepting this simple truth. Millions of Americans, stung by the electoral rebukes of their fellow citizens, have become so resentful and detached from reality that they have plunged into a moral void, a vortex that disintegrates questions of politics or policies and replaces them with heroic fantasies of redeeming a supposedly fallen nation.

It’s terribly difficult and gut-wrenching to admit that one’s choices were wrong. For some people, it’s impossible. For voters who fatefully cast their lot with Trump (and have been subjected over and over to glaring examples of his unfitness), there is no way to save face but by “plunging into that moral void,” as Nichols puts it.

They have to ignore Trump’s 91 criminal charges and his wholesale moral bankruptcy. They have to invent preposterous stories about President Joe Biden and his family. They have to believe, Nichols points out, that violence may be the only path to get their way—and it’s all to salvage their own sorry egos from the unforgivable slight of being wrong. So, egged on by their media bubble and abjectly Trump-dependent political leaders, these voters invent horrors that don't exist, imagine dire threats that they'll never personally face, and conjure up enemies they'll never encounter. It's all, as Nichols seems to imply, a coping mechanism to internally justify their own bad choice.

He wants revenge, and so do his supporters.

But, Nichols asks, against whom are they seeking violence and revenge? Why, Democrats, of course. Those neighbors who had that Biden-Harris 2020 sign have left them seething for four years, as has the local election board that processed all those mail-in votes. As Nichols observes, “When people talk about ‘resorting to violence’ they are, by default, talking about violence against their fellow citizens, some of whom have already been threatened merely for working in their communities as election volunteers.”

Unlike in previous elections, the motivation of these Trump loyalists isn’t really about policy, and it’s not really about “the border” or trans kids. It’s about a sense of revenge that Trump has cynically, deliberately cultivated in them. So they can finally come out on top.

As Nichols writes:

Much like Trump himself, these voters are unable to accept what’s happened over the past several years. Trump, in so many ways, quickly made fools of them; his various inanities, failures, and possible crimes sent them scrambling for ever more bizarre rationalizations, defenses of the indefensible that separated them from family and friends. If in 2016 they suspected, rightly or wrongly, that many Americans looked down on them for any number of reasons, they now know with certainty that millions of people look down on them—not for who they are but for what they’ve supported so vocally.

Nichols—a conservative, adamant “never-Trumper”—gets it mostly right here about Trump’s base, but he omits an important fact: that “what they’ve supported so vocally” is in fact quite telling about “who they are.” Still, he effectively dispenses with all the time and pixels wasted by major media in trying to “understand”—via visits to homey small-town diners and such—Trump voters’ motivations, ostensibly in the vain hope “that more listening and more empathetic nodding would put things right in a few years.”

That time has mercifully passed. Assuming Nichols is right, then there’s precious little to be gained by trying to understand Trump voters or ascribe any rationality to them. Revenge is a raw human emotion, not something that can be dealt with through discourse or reason. As Nichols cogently explains, more than anything, Donald Trump’s loyal base wants revenge “on their fellow citizens” for their attacks, critiques, and disparagement of Donald Trump.

No doubt they’ll be sorely disappointed when they don’t get it.

McConnell unwittingly explains why Trump now owns the Republican Party

During the same February 2021 impeachment trial speech in which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Donald Trump "practically and morally responsible" for the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, McConnell also argued that impeachment alone was never intended to be "the final forum" for justice.

"Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office—as an ordinary citizen," McConnell said as he sought to explain away the vote he had cast to acquit Trump.

"We have a criminal justice system in this country," McConnell continued. "We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one."

Yet on Tuesday when McConnell was asked if he still believes Trump isn't immune from prosecution, McConnell dodged the question, choosing instead to reframe the legal query as an electoral matter.

"Well, my view of the presidential race is that I choose not to get involved in it, and comment about any of the people running for the Republican nomination," McConnell responded.

Q: “You had argued, after voting to acquit the former president that presidents are not immune from prosecution is that still your view?” McConnell: “I choose not to get involved...and comment about any of the people running for the Republican nomination.”

— Republican Accountability (@AccountableGOP) January 9, 2024

If anyone wonders why Trump now owns the GOP, they need look no further than the feckless leadership of McConnell, who has failed at every turn to challenge Trump's takeover of the party.

It's a point former Rep. Liz Cheney has made repeatedly during her book tour for "Oath and Honor." In the book, Cheney writes that McConnell originally seemed "firm in his view" that Trump should be impeached. But as the vote approached, he got squishy and ultimately folded.

“Leader McConnell, who had made a career out of savvy political calculation and behind-the-scenes maneuvering, got this one wrong,” Cheney writes.

After years of McConnell worship by Beltway journalists, the fact that he 100% whiffed on the most consequential issue of our time might finally be sinking into the psyche of some political journalists and analysts.

As former U.S. attorney, deputy assistant attorney general, and “Talking Feds” host Harry Litman noted this week on NPR's “Trump Trials” podcast, we would never be here if McConnell hadn't "blinked" on convicting Trump.

"When you think of all the forks in the road over the last several years, that one moment with McConnell who was obviously saying that [Trump] was guilty and should have been convicted, stands out to me as the absolute road not taken," Litman observed.

That would have been the most "straight-forward" and appropriate way for McConnell to have "solved this national nightmare," Litman added, "and he blinked."

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The Texas GOP has a serious antisemitism problem

By Robert Downen The Texas Tribune

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Faced with ongoing scandals this month involving his allies' ties to antisemitic extremists, the leader of the Republican Party of Texas has come out strongly—to attack other conservatives who’ve criticized his friends.

For three weeks, Texas GOP Chair Matt Rinaldi has been defiant in the face of calls from members of his own party to cut ties with Defend Texas Liberty leader Jonathan Stickland, who recently hosted avowed white supremacist Nick Fuentes at his office for nearly seven hours. And he’s gone after those who’ve been critical of Defend Texas Liberty, a political action committee that is funded by two of the Texas GOP’s most prolific donors.

Separately, Rinaldi is at the center of a parallel controversy involving a group for young conservatives that he recently embraced despite warnings about its leaders’ openly antisemitic views and ties to white nationalist figures.

[Nick Fuentes is just the latest white supremacist embraced by Defend Texas Liberty]

For some Republicans, the dual scandals have raised serious questions about the party’s willingness to denounce racists — and its leader’s proximity to those who embrace them.

“He has put his friends’ interests above what is in the best interest of the party,” said Mark McCaig, an attorney and chair of the Texas Republican Initiative. “He is more concerned about protecting them and their gang.”

To be sure, Rinaldi was quick to distance himself from Fuentes. The Texas Tribune spotted Rinaldi earlier this month at the office building where Fuentes, an Adolf Hitler admirer who has called for a “holy war” against Jews and encouraged his followers to beat women, was being hosted by Stickland.

Asked about the Oct. 6 meeting, Rinaldi told the Tribune that he had no idea Fuentes was inside and would never meet with him. As for Stickland? Rinaldi said he would wait until more facts came out before commenting on his longtime political kin.

“I’m not going to make assumptions based on what I'm told by a reporter,” he said on Oct. 8.

Since then, neither Rinaldi nor the Republican Party of Texas has commented on Stickland, even as other major figures — including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Kyle Rittenhouse — have issued statements that confirmed the Tribune’s reporting. Nor has Rinaldi responded to concerns from fellow Republicans and some party executive committee members who’ve called for a break with Defend Texas Liberty, which has donated $257,000 to the party since 2021.

Instead, Rinaldi has reserved his ire for House Speaker Dade Phelan, accusing the Beaumont Republican of politicizing antisemitism before demanding his resignation. Phelan has also demanded Rinaldi step down as the party’s leader and give money the Texas GOP received from Defend Texas Liberty to pro-Israel charities.

Since news of the Fuentes meeting broke, Rinaldi has posted or amplified attacks on Phelan or the Texas House on X, formerly Twitter, more than 40 times. He has not, however, publicly criticized Stickland or Defend Texas Liberty at all — even as new information continues to emerge about their close ties to white supremacists.

[Here’s who gets money from Defend Texas Liberty, the PAC whose leader met with white supremacist Nick Fuentes]

On Monday, the Tribune reported that, in just the last month, at least five current and former Fuentes associates have worked with groups that are closely tied to Stickland, Rinaldi and Defend Texas Liberty. That includes True Texas Project, whose leaders have sympathized with the racist gunman who murdered 22 people at an El Paso WalMart in 2019, and who are set to host Rinaldi for a fundraiser and softball game this weekend.

On Wednesday, the Texas Observer reported that a swastika-clad neo-Nazi who was spotted handing out antisemitic flyers in Fort Worth this month had previously interned for Luke Macias, a longtime GOP consultant and Rinaldi ally who just replaced Stickland as president of Defend Texas Liberty, according to the group’s website.

And this week, the Tribune reported that the president of Texans For Strong Borders, Chris Russo, has for years been a prominent figure in Fuentes’ racist movement, and has continued to post on anonymous, hate-filled social media accounts as his group —with help from Rinaldi and Defend Texas Liberty — has emerged as an influential voice that’s pushed lawmakers to crack down on legal and illegal immigration.

Rinaldi and the Texas GOP did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

‘A moral obligation’

The controversies come amid an internecine fight between the state’s far right and the Texas GOP’s more moderate, but still deeply conservative, wing. That strife has exploded into all-out war since the impeachment and acquittal of Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Rinaldi ally who has received nearly $4.65 million from West Texas oil billionaires Tim Dunn and Farris and Dan and Farris Wilks. Those billionaires also fund Defend Texas Liberty and, before that, bankrolled Rinaldi’s career in the Texas House.

Defend Texas Liberty has been one of the most important players in the state party’s ongoing civil war. Campaign finance records show that, since 2021, it has given nearly $15 million to right-wing movements and candidates. The group made headlines this summer after giving $3 million to Patrick, months before he presided over Paxton’s impeachment trial. Defend Texas Liberty also gave $3.6 million to Don Huffines, a former state senator who helped push Gov. Greg Abbott to the right by attacking him on immigration and other issues during last year’s Republican primary.

Meanwhile, the Texas GOP’s far right has continued to embrace groups and individuals that others have warned are a bridge too far. Fuentes was the best-known of those extreme figures; but his visit and the ensuing controversy were punctuated by a separate-but-related, scandal involving the party and white supremacists.

That ordeal dates back to August, when the 66-year-old Texas Young Republican Federation voted to end its partnership with the Texas GOP until Rinaldi — who the group accused of initiating a “smear campaign” and partnering with far-right figures to undermine their newly-elected leadership — was removed from his position.

Things escalated last month, when Rinaldi pushed for the Texas GOP to bring a newly-formed spinoff group into the party despite warnings that its leaders included avowed white nationalists.

The warnings proved to be right: Days after the Tribune first reported on Fuentes’ visit with Stickland, an independent journalist reported that leaders of the new young Republicans group had praised Hitler online, and published photos of some of its leaders outside of an event for Fuentes’ vitriolically antisemitic “groyper” movement.

“There was a time in my life when I hated Nick Fuentes and his white supremacy views,” one of the group’s leaders, Rylie Rae, reportedly wrote on social media last year. “Now I recognize that he is one of the smartest people in our country and we need white nationalism. Oh how the tides have turned.”

Responding to the controversy, the new group’s leadership said in a statement that it “condemns bigotry in all forms” and had removed the individuals in question.

But before that, other young Republicans said they made clear to Rinaldi and the leaders of the new group that they were in bed with extremists. Those concerns were rebuffed, a move that one person said is emblematic of a broader problem and power struggle that has allowed extremists to flourish in Republican circles.

“There is a tendency among the populist right to essentially say, ‘It doesn’t matter how awful the person is, as long as they are on our side,’“ said Matt Wiltshire, finance director for the Young Republican National Federation. “We believe that we have a moral and ethical duty to be uncompromising in our stance that there is right and there is wrong.”

One of those removed was Konner Earnest, who led the group’s Parker County chapter and also recently became involved with the European American Community, a white nationalist group that argues American citizenship should be based on European ancestry.

Earnest has other ties to Rinaldi and Defend Texas Liberty: He was spotted outside the Fuentes meeting with Stickland, and has appeared in videos for Russo’s Texans For Strong Borders, which has received considerable financial support from Defend Texas Liberty. Earnest has also written anti-immigration articles for Texas Scorecard, a prominent right-wing media website that is financed by Defend Texas Liberty’s billionaire funders.

Rinaldi does not appear to have released any public statement or made any comment on social media about the young Republicans scandal.

Meanwhile, the Texas GOP’s executive committee remains at an impasse over how to respond to the party’s ongoing white supremacist problem.

Last week, after Stickland was quietly removed as Defend Texas Liberty’s president, roughly one-third of the executive committee's 64 members, including Vice Chair Dana Myers, signed a letter saying that the party had a “moral obligation to speak boldly, publicly, and clearly on this matter” and demand an explanation for the Fuentes meeting.

“Fuentes' views and Stickland’s tactics are abhorrent and totally antithetical to the principles of the Republican Party of Texas and to the conservatives who have trusted [Defend Texas Liberty] for the cause of liberty and patriotism,” they wrote. “Whether this was caused by a lapse in judgment, conscious disregard, poor leadership, or a faulty moral compass –– Stickland and [Defend Texas Liberty] must ultimately accept responsibility.”

The members also called on the Texas GOP — as well as its donors — to cut all ties with Defend Texas Liberty and the myriad groups it funds until Stickland is "removed and disassociated from [Defend Texas Liberty] and its benefactor organizations and a full accounting of the meeting is provided."

Since then, the party’s disagreements have continued to escalate in public view, as Rinaldi and his allies remain largely silent on the scandal. Two weeks ago — and after a Tribune reporter reached out to more than a dozen members of the party’s executive committee regarding Defend Texas Liberty — the Texas GOP removed contact information for executive committee members from its website.

The Texas GOP did not respond to a request for comment on the move, which has been publicly blasted as an attempt to keep members from being contacted by the public.

“You don’t stand for ‘we the people’ unless they have access to you,” said Cat Parks, a former executive committee member and vice chair of the Texas GOP. “It’s not like controversy didn’t happen during my tenure.”

For now, it’s unclear what comes next for the Texas GOP and its relationship with Defend Texas Liberty, which released a two-sentence statement saying it opposes Fuentes’ “incendiary” views but has yet to provide any other details on the meeting. Stickland may no longer be leading the group, but his removal is likely cosmetic given that he also owns Pale Horse Strategies, a consulting firm that is used heavily by Defend Texas Liberty-funded groups and candidates.

Members of the party’s executive committee have said as much this week, and reiterated their calls for the party to speak out against Defend Texas Liberty and Stickland.

The Texas GOP “must renounce [Defend Texas Liberty] until a full explanation of the Fuentes meeting is provided, those responsible are held accountable and there’s new entirely new leadership (not just the same players swapping job titles),” executive committee member Rolando Garcia wrote this week on social media.

“Don’t excuse the inexcusable just to spite your political enemies,” he added.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at

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