Legal expert: The gays are next

Just in case you may have been led to believe that the pending U.S. Supreme Court challenge from Mississippi is a singular, heartfelt moral argument over abortion, a legal brief filed in the case last week attempts to broaden the challenge to an attack on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights as well.

Indeed, the argument from the guy who designed the recent Texas law that has all but banned abortions in that state is a broadside against judges making any decision not specifically in black ink of the Constitution.

The author of the brief is Jonathan Mitchell, a one-time clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia, the former Texas Solicitor General and conservative attorney, who argues in the abortion case brief that not only is Roe v. Wade unconstitutional, but that the cases underscoring LGBTQ rights are "as lawless as Roe" and should be eliminated.

So, the people who brought you anti-abortion laws now want to re-open gay rights – another settled legal precedent. Or so we have thought.

Judges Shouldn't Judge

As MSNBC's Jessica Levinson argues in a column last week, "After scoring an initial victory in their mission to eviscerate women's constitutionally protected right to obtain access to an abortion, some in the conservative movement have already explicitly moved on to attacking LGBTQ rights, which suggests they're gunning for all your constitutionally protected rights — at least those not dealing with guns."

Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, also the director of its Public Service Institute at Loyola Law School, co-director of Loyola's Journalist Law School and former president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, explains that Mitchell, who now runs his own one-man law firm, is dead set against both Roe and the cases governing same-sex rights because "they're based on judges, well, judging."

The same Jonathan Mitchell who is seeking termination of abortion as legally valid argues in his Mississippi abortion case challenge due for hearing in December that women can have no protected right to abortion because it was never written in the Constitution.

Further, in the same brief, Mitchell suggested he's coming for Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 decision in which the Supreme Court ruled that laws that criminalize sodomy are unconstitutional, and Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 ruling in which the court concluded that the Constitution protects the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

Mitchell describes these outcomes as creating "court-invented rights to homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage." He concluded, "These 'rights,' like the right to abortion from Roe, are judicial concoctions, and there is no other source of law that can be invoked to salvage their existence."

One Man, One Influence

Apparently, it was the deeply religious Mitchell who advised Texas lawmakers to devise their anti-abortion law with a legal loophole – essentially giving enforcement powers to file damaging lawsuits to ordinary people rather than to state officials. With its ideological balance recast by Donald Trump, the Supreme Court refrained from blocking a new law in Texas that all but bans abortion — a potential turning point in the long-running fight over the procedure, as The New York Times explained.

Mitchell said that people should stop complaining about the Texas law he designed to restrict abortion because if women don't want to worry about needing an abortion, they can just stop having sex. Apparently, women should also not be raped or become victims of incest or use birth control.

Literalist Mitchell would say nothing governing such behaviors is written in the Constitution.

Likewise, the Constitution, brilliant as it may be among constitutional democracies, does not specifically grant rights to same-sex couples or lots of other issues. That's of course why we have judges and courts to apply broad principles to specific cases. Of course, one could argue the same about guns for use by anyone other than "regulated militias," but why insist on consistency?

The 14th Amendment guaranteeing citizen protections, cited to allow for Lawrence and Obergefell, talks of privileges and of equal rights against undue government restrictions. It doesn't include a list of those rights and leaves it to judges to err on the side of stopping undue intrusions.

Clearly Mitchell is among those who think judges have gone too far in interpreting the Constitution.

The point for today is that what is really at stake here goes well beyond the specific time-limitations of various state abortion laws or even the methods for enforcement. Hollowing out rights is a danger to democracy, and the same thinking that created the Texas abortion law is now being aimed at LGBTQ communities. You don't even have to squint to see equivalent concerns for transgender rights, voting rights, affirmative action, and civil rights of all kinds. Just whose rights are we protecting under these theories?

Who's the next target for these people?

Recalculating Nancy Pelosi’s big win

The preliminary win to advance Joe Biden's huge social services spending bill is being depicted as a parliamentary victory for Speaker Nancy Pelosi over a small group of would-be Democratic spoilers. A day or more later, what looks more the case are two things:

  • While the specifics did show Pelosi's legislative skill, the important, if narrow victory here is for an aggressive agenda to help a lot of people – despite unanimous objection from Republicans. There is way too much focus on the mechanics involved.
  • The same things that prompted a fissure between "progressives" and a group of nine "moderates" among Democrats did not disappear, and we will see them resurface as the bill itself gets real. The full expectation is that the final spending number will be less than $3.5 trillion first described, to ensure that there are the votes for even one-party passage.

It's our American obsession with winning rather than focusing on the basics.

As The New York Times summarized, "For now, the deal that Ms. Pelosi struck amounted to a precarious détente for Democrats that did nothing to resolve tensions between the moderate and liberal flanks or end the jockeying for political leverage."

It's an important distinction because there is no bill yet for infrastructure spending—small, medium, or huge—in place yet, and, other than general support for the substance over the timing of votes, there are lots of ways that this discussion about investing in our next 10 years still can go south.

As it stands, this contested vote essentially only lays the groundwork for Democrats to force through both a $1 trillion bill to fix roads, bridges, airports and a lot of rural broadband wiring and the three-times larger bill to address spending on "human infrastructure" that includes an array of improvements to universal pre-K education, health and prescription drug access and pricing, expanded Medicare coverage, child-care tax write-offs, paid leave and tax increases for the wealthy and corporations.

It's an important step, of course, but what we should remember is that Pelosi was forced to deal with a handful of "moderates" who basically don't support the full package.

What Pelosi Did

In case you were living your life and managed to avoid worrying about Congress, the group of nine moderates wanted an immediate vote on the already Senate-passed bipartisan hard infrastructure bill. Pelosi wanted to twin the two spending packages. What happed was, according to a variety of press reports and congressional statements, was extended legislative negotiation.

Pelosi's particular way out was to link all the spending under a singular "rule" vote that would set a Sept. 27 deadline for a vote on the roads bill, setting up the possibility for House committees to vet the social services programs and price them for a simultaneous vote. She won the day, but, obviously, there's not a lot of time to assess both the actual cost of these sprawling programs and to ensure the politics for passage.

Basically, Democrats want to use the so-called "budget reconciliation" rules to cram all the spending together in bills that can be passed by as little as a single-vote majority – something that is a real prospect in the Senate. In the House, there was an eight-vote majority for this measure, which is likely the maximum it can achieve in an up-and-down vote for final approval.

Politico and others have attempted to revisit all the back-and-forth conversations and late-night haggling between Pelosi and her closest minions and the group of nine, headed by Rep. Jeff Gottheimer (D-NY). It was a serious enough effort to force delay, and to put the outcome in doubt.

To summarize, it turns out that Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Mad.) and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) were able to separate and exploit individual concerns among the nine and to persuade them that they all need to pull in a single direction. We'll never know if there were individual promises.

Afterward, Pelosi praised the rebel group for its "enthusiasm" while announcing her commitment to pass the infrastructure bill it had opposed.

Topping off the 220-212 vote on the eventual spending bill was approval for a voting rights measure that the House passed soon after.

Our Focus

This House showdown reminds us of the power of just a handful of people to hold up approval of legislation – or court decisions, or even who's giving advice within the White House.

We keep thinking that we go to the polls every two or four years with the idea of setting an understandable direction for our democracy. But then we keep tripping up over those one- or two- or even nine-vote groups that decide that they are smarter than the rest of us.

We will go through this same discussion over what constitutes a fitting social services safety net for America when this big Biden spending package comes back to the Senate, and we must depend on the peculiar waverings of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, and Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz.

We think we're voting for an agenda when we cast ballots for Biden or Donald Trump only to re-discover daily that there always is a single vote over in the corner of the House or Senate that insists on standing in the way of popular support, whether the issue is more gun control, abortion, environmental rules, or economic issues.

It's bad enough that we have gridlock resulting from near-equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. It seems worse when one side or the other can't line up its own folks – or free them from party commitments to specific legislative agendas. We expect that democracy is messy, but not daily.

How the Afghanistan debacle is exploding right-wing heads

For a few moments, I wondered if the Republican opposition, which is so reveling in the discomfort that Joe Biden's decision-making on Afghanistan has evoked, actually was expressing concern about the fate of myriad Afghans who helped the American and coalition cause.

Naturally, a certain hypocrisy in messaging from the Right took only another day to kick in.

The heart-breaking images of those who helped repel terrorism in Afghanistan for 20 years realistically reflect the near impossibility of removing the anti-terrorists in large numbers.

'We will see many refugees from Afghanistan resettle in our country, and over the next decade, that number may swell to the millions. So first we invade, and then we are invaded.' Tucker Carlson, Fox News

Nevertheless, the moral thing for America to do, insist veterans, diplomats, pundits, women and non-governmental humanitarian groups, is for massive airlifts to rescue upward of 90,000 now-refugees at risk for what looks to be certain death, rape, forced marriages and a return to an anti-human rights campaign of immediate, if misinterpreted, Islamic justice. We heard leading Republicans bang away at Biden's failures to make the Taliban takeover a calm affair and to have accelerated visa rescues for Afghans who want out five months ago or more.

The case is a strong one to aid those who helped us, to stand by our word and to uphold American humanitarian values.

It was heartening to hear that even conservative hardliners, including those in Congress, were putting the fate of so many individual Afghans on a pedestal for us to rescue. Even the likes of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who hates everything Biden does, told Afghans to call his office for individual help, as if they could do so.

Circumstances and Afghan demands not to do so aside, Biden alone owns the disastrous picture was the message.

It was overlooked that predecessor Donald Trump had made the no-conditions announcement of withdrawal; that the built-up Afghan army just refused to fight; and that the Afghan president fled the country altogether.

But wait. Doesn't doing the right thing here mean moving and taking in all those Afghans and families?

Aren't they immigrants seeking refuge from persecution just like the hordes that conservatives insist are massing at our Southern border? Aren't they "non-white," and from a country with under 2% Covid vaccination rate? Where would they all go, anyway?

Dealing with Reality

As it turns out, of course, taking out that many Afghans is proving difficult for anyone not already among those swarming the Kabul airport. Women are being stopped, and Taliban patrols are reported to be seeking out Afghans on U.S. or allied database lists.

From all reports, the situation remains chaotic.

The needed forms are complicated and all in English, of course, and there is no one left in Kabul to process would-be immigrants.

However the practical side of this works out – it will take many days to know – some people are getting out to go to third countries to await further processing. But most can't leave, despite some Taliban promises to allow exits.

There is a lot of loose talk about why America is insisting on so much paperwork in the middle of chaos – as if the same thing is not evident and true throughout the immigration system and, in particular, at the Southern border.

We've heard nearly daily from Republicans from Trump to Republican governors about the failures of strong immigration barriers, if not outright walls, to stop immigrants from invading the United States, legally or not, with lots of emphasis on the Biden-authorized import of vaccine-less migrants carrying Covid (most who cross and in Border Patrol custody actually are quarantined for two weeks), crime, drugs and more. What is needed, they say, are total bans, years' worth of wait and processing and review, and deportations.

So now, it is OK for other specific war-related Afghans to simply show up and be whisked away? How does the Right square this contradiction?

No problem, apparently. Here was conservative stalwarts Stephen Miller, the Trump immigration whisperer, tweeting:

"It is becoming increasingly clear that Biden & his radical deputies will use their catastrophic debacle in Afghanistan as a pretext for doing to America what Angela Merkel did to Germany & Europe."

On his Fox News broadcast, Tucker Carlson added:

"If history is any guide, and it's always a guide, we will see many refugees from Afghanistan resettle in our country, and over the next decade, that number may swell to the millions. So first we invade, and then we are invaded."

Laura Ingraham succinctly put it:

"Is it really our responsibility to welcome thousands of refugees from Afghanistan?"

Indeed, there was one Proud Boys Telegram account cited by Vice's Ben Makuch:

"I think Islam is poisonous. But, these farmers and minimally trained men fought to take their nation back from [world governments]. They took back their national religion as law, and executed dissenters. Hard not to respect that."

You get the idea. To the Trump Right, saving refugees is good, but saving ourselves from immigrants is more important.

Next Worries

It is mostly disingenuous to draw conclusions in a situation this chaotic and fluid. But we do know that the Afghan meltdown is consequential for a variety of international concerns, American prestige is on the line, even with allies and with potential in-nation helpers in the next terror war zone.

We can communally worry that Afghanistan will return as a safe home for terrorist training, and the elimination of effective intelligence and diplomacy to monitor developments in that country.

There are open questions about whether the Taliban actually directs or controls its most militaristic rebels, and whether any word from a new government about safe passage out can be believed.

There are a ton of unresolved questions about American immigration policies as they apply to a rescue on this scale. Given Biden's forceful self-defense this week about his own decisions, it is unlikely that we will see any widespread changes in leadership of U.S. intelligence services.

The actions of the Chinese and Russians are under review to determine just how they will work with the Taliban. In Europe, Biden is coming under heavy criticism for seeming to abandon 10s of thousands to a brutal group.

There are domestic U.S. political fallouts to resolve from decision-making across multiple presidencies, but finally by Biden, based on faulty assumptions about Afghan resolve and failures to defend themselves when called upon.

Republicans won't let go of images of helicopters on the embassy roof and declarations of disaster that they were either silent about or in support of when the same words were uttered by Trump. No one is talking about deploying more American troops in Afghanistan for another 20 years.

As MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace noted, there is no stomach among Americans for more Afghan war, though there is serious distaste for the images of desperate Afghans holding onto the sides of military aircraft to escape the country.

Here is TalkingPointsMemo.com:

"With both the Biden administration and the Taliban promising to offer protection, for millions of Afghans the future promised only more uncertainty. Despite assurances of safe passage, the Taliban are not only known to operate with brutality, but also have a dismal history of managing a vast nation largely dependent on foreign aid."

How the Afghanistan debacle is exploding right-wing heads

For a few moments there, I was wondering if the Republican opposition, which is so reveling in the discomfort that Joe Biden's decision-making in Afghanistan has had, actually was expressing its caring about the fate of tens of thousands of Afghans who helped American and coalition efforts as translators, drivers, among other ways.

Naturally, a certain hypocrisy in messaging from the Right took only another day to kick in.

The outpouring of heart-breaking images of those who helped repel terrorism in Afghanistan over 20 years realistically reflect the near-impossibility of removing them in large numbers as the Taliban takeover squeezes the country for retribution against anyone who worked with the Westerners.

Nevertheless, the right thing for America to do, insist veterans, diplomats, pundits, women and non-governmental humanitarian groups, is for massive airlifts to rescue upwards of 90,000 now-refugees at risk for what looks to be certain death, rape, forced marriages and a return to an anti-human rights campaign of immediate, if misinterpreted Islamic justice. We were hearing leading Republicans bang away at Biden's failures to make the Taliban takeover a calm affair and to have accelerated visa rescues for Afghans who want out five months ago or more. The case is a strong one to aid those who helped us, to stand by our international word, and to uphold American humanitarian values.

It was heartening to hear that even conservative hardliners, including those in Congress, were putting the fate of so many individual Afghans on a pedestal for us to rescue, with even the likes of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who hates everything Biden does, telling Afghans to call his office for individual help (as if they could do so).

Circumstances and Afghan demands not to do so aside, Biden alone owns the disastrous picture was the message, overlooking that Donald Trump had made the no-conditions announcement of withdrawal and that the built-up Afghan army just refused to fight the takeover, with the Afghan president fleeing the country altogether.

But wait, isn't doing the right thing here – even in retrospect – mean moving and taking in all those Afghans and families?

Aren't they immigrants seeking refuge from persecution just like the hordes that conservatives insist are massing at our Southern border? Aren't they "non-white," and from a country with under 2% covid vaccination rate, and where would they all go, anyway?

Dealing with Reality

As it turns out, of course, taking out that many Afghans is proving difficult for anyone not already among those swarming over the Kabul airport. Women are being stopped, and Taliban patrols are reported to be seeking out Afghans on U.S. or allied database lists, and from all reports, the situation remains chaotic. The needed forms are complicated and all in English, of course, and there is no one left in Kabul to process would-be immigrants.

However the practical side of this works out – it will take many days to know – some people are getting out to go to third countries to await further processing, but most can't leave, despite some Taliban promises to allow exits. There is a lot of loose talk about why America is insisting on so much paperwork in the middle of chaos – as if the same thing is not evident and true throughout the immigration system and, in particular, at the Southern border.

We've heard nearly daily from Republicans from Donald Trump to Republican governors about the failures of strong immigration barriers, if not outright walls, to stop immigrants from "invading" the United States, legally or not, with lots of emphasis on the Biden-authorized import of vaccine-less migrants carrying covid (most who cross and in Border Patrol custody actually are quarantined for two weeks), crime, drugs and more. What is needed, they say, are total bans, years' worth of wait and processing and review, and deportations.

So now, it is OK for other specific war-related Afghans to simply show up and be whisked away? How does the Right square this contradiction?

No problem, apparently. Here was conservative stalwarts Stephen Miller, the Trump immigration whisperer, tweeting, "It is becoming increasingly clear that Biden & his radical deputies will use their catastrophic debacle in Afghanistan as a pretext for doing to America what Angela Merkel did to Germany & Europe." On his Fox News broadcast, Tucker Carlson added: "If history is any guide, and it's always a guide, we will see many refugees from Afghanistan resettle in our country, and over the next decade, that number may swell to the millions. So first we invade, and then we are invaded."

Laura Ingraham succinctly put it, "Is it really our responsibility to welcome thousands of refugees from Afghanistan?"

Indeed, there was one Proud Boys Telegram account cited by Vice's Ben Makuch: "I think Islam is poisonous. But, these farmers and minimally trained men fought to take their nation back from [world governments]. They took back their national religion as law, and executed dissenters. Hard not to respect that."

You get the idea. To the Trump Right, saving refugees is good, but saving ourselves from immigrants is more important.

Next Worries

It is mostly disingenuous to draw conclusions in a situation this chaotic and fluid. But we do know that the Afghan meltdown is consequential for a variety of international concerns, American prestige is on the line, even with allies and with potential in-nation helpers in the next terror war zone. We can communally worry that Afghanistan will return as a safe home for terrorist training, and the elimination of effective intelligence and diplomacy to monitor developments in that country.

There are open questions about whether the Taliban actually directs or controls its most militaristic rebels, and whether any word from a new government about safe passage out can be believed.

There are a ton of unresolved questions about American immigration policies as they apply to a rescue on this scale. Given Biden's forceful self-defense this week about his own decisions, it is unlikely that we will see any widespread changes in leadership of U.S. intelligence services.

The actions of the Chinese and Russians are under review to determine just how they will work with the Taliban. In Europe, Biden is coming under heavy criticism for seeming to abandon tens of thousands to a brutal group.

There are domestic U.S. political fallouts to resolve from decision-making across multiple presidencies, but finally by Biden, based on faulty assumptions about Afghan resolve and failures to defend themselves when called upon.

Republicans won't let go of images of helicopters on the embassy roof and declarations of disaster that they were either silent about or in support of when the same words were uttered by Trump. No one is talking about deploying more American troops in Afghanistan for another 20 years. As MSNBC host Nicholle Wallace noted, there is no stomach among Americans for more Afghan war, though there is serious distaste for the images of desperate Afghans holding onto the sides of military aircraft to escape the country.
Here is TalkingPointsMemo.com: "With both the Biden administration and the Taliban promising to offer protection, for millions of Afghans the future promised only more uncertainty. Despite assurances of safe passage, the Taliban are not only known to operate with brutality, but also have a dismal history of managing a vast nation largely dependent on foreign aid.

The blame game begins as Afghanistan falls to the Taliban

And now, with the inevitable, but quickened, collapse of Afghanistan, comes the blame game and the need to use national embarrassment for political gain.

Call it mistaken national pride or a constant need for a fall guy, Americans always seem to need to personify their collective distaste, particularly if the messages along the way never fully matched the reality.

We see it all the time: When the baseball team drops out of contention, people call to fire the manager. When covid starts to spread again after substantial anti-vax resistance, you hear that it is time for Dr. Anthony Fauci to go. And now after four presidents have threatened to leave Afghanistan, and one finally does, keeping the deal his predecessor made, now it is Joe Biden who is taking the political heat.

As David Sanger of The New York Times notes, "Biden will go down in history, fairly or unfairly, as the president who presided over a long-brewing, humiliating final act in the American experiment in Afghanistan," in particular for the imagery of a chaotic departure from the embassy Kabul that all-too-familiarly recalls another flight from Saigon in an earlier generation.

Just days after Biden promised last week that we would not be seeing rooftop evacuations by helicopter, there were exactly those images. The declaration that the Taliban would not overrun Kabul was dead wrong.

And so, despite declaring the end of a 20-year war that Americans and friends could never win, Biden now is tagged as the guy who did it badly. Republican opponents are already crowing for Biden's political punishment, even for his resignation.

As Sanger notes, "After seven months in which his administration seemed to exude much-needed competence — getting more than 70 percent of the country's adults vaccinated, engineering surging job growth and making progress toward a bipartisan infrastructure bill — everything about America's last days in Afghanistan shattered the imagery."

Targets for Blame

Want to blame someone for Afghanistan? It's not hard to find plenty of others to stand by Biden.

How about an Afghan army that just laid down its guns or ran off in mass numbers rather than face Taliban fighters emboldened by the prospects of takeover? There was nothing new here. The tendency to overestimate the value of an effective Afghan national defense has been with us since 2001.

What about Afghani President Ashraf Ghani simply leaving town and fleeing the country rather than leading a military stand against the Taliban or refusing all along to participate in negotiations with the Taliban?

How about blame for a U.S. and allied intelligence set-up that never has seemed able to properly judge a realistic response by either the Taliban or the Afghan leadership? The evidence seems plain that assessments have been wrong for years, and that we were throwing American lives and dollars at serious risk for two decades.

What part does an Afghan history of taking American money for illicit purposes play in the ultimate breakdown, for Americans to have paid local warlords to rent their armies and loyalties until they weren't?

What part of blame falls to American allies who pulled out early, to Russian and Pakistani under-the-table help for the Taliban, for international jihadist movements who have kept the Taliban in the game, for all the mysterious sources of income for the Taliban through 20 years of exile?

What part of blame falls to an American public that insists that we conduct wars without lives lost, that wrap up neatly after a few months and that will not stand for anything that looks like Americans serving as the world's police? What part of blame falls to Congress members of both parties and every politicians running for office in the last 20 years for either ignoring Afghanistan or being willing to withdraw immediately or keep American troops there for another 50 years? There's been no goal, no policy, no end – till now.

Then there was the part played by Donald Trump who invited the Taliban to Camp David as if he alone could solve the Afghani puzzle, and, instead, authorized the pullout with specific dates. To hear Biden, it was Trump who is mostly to blame for the pictures we're seeing from Kabul, and to hear Trump, Biden forgot the basic rules of letting the U.S. military set ground rules for withdrawal from the field.

Of course, of the two presidents, it was Trump who treated. Pentagon generals with disdain. Of course, Trump set no conditions of the sort he now insists were in place.

What we got this week was a speedy denouement in Afghanistan for a host of reasons. If you need to blame someone, there are plenty of candidates.

Bad Intelligence All Around

Mostly, the Biden White House apparently thought they had time, maybe 18 months or so, based on what have turned out to be very bad intelligence assessments. The U.S. "wildly overestimated the capabilities of an Afghan Army that disintegrated, often before shots were even fired." What the Taliban lacked in numbers, they made up for in strategy, determination and drive.

That's on Biden and U.S. intelligence, of course, because he is in the job right now.

But for 20 years, it's been true of anyone sitting in the White House. To train partisan political blame on Biden alone is hardly worthwhile nor honest. If Trump were in the White House, this would have been the same. If this were six months from now, it would be the same.

With better intelligence, could we have stepped down our withdrawal better? With a reliable partner in Afghanistan, would we be able to have seen a more orderly pullout? With an actual Afghan army response, would this end to two decades of war for Americans have looked any better?

With better information, would Biden have provided a better solution?

What we're responding to is surprise that it all went south so fast, and that the evacuation now is happening in chaos.

There is a lot to mourn here about leaving people in Afghanistan to an incoming Islamic government that may well prove even worse in the long run than we are assessing now. The human costs, the specific impact on women, the failure to properly account for those who have helped us along the way all weigh heavily, as do open questions about whether the Taliban will be open to protecting a new generation of international terrorists.

Blame ourselves for misconceptions of reality. And then, maybe take a look at the array of other problems we face at the same time, from covid to climate to an systems that keep unfairness alive: Expect a realistic assessment for them, too, rather than magic for solutions.

Kevin McCarthy plays his partisan cards -- and folds

There was another skirmish on the floors of Congress this week that made no sense other than the endless outpouring of partisanship.

This time it was a vote forced by Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), to drop Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California, from the House Intelligence Committee over allegations that a Chinese spy had raised funds for his congressional campaign – in 2015. The measure lost, with all Democrats and Republicans voting on party lines.

It's not a vote that would change anything—Speaker Nancy Pelosi would appoint a potential replacement--or would fix any of the myriad problems facing this country, or even that would be a timely expression of justice. Apart from the idea that it was a futile effort if you are the minority party, it was simply a partisan slap that follows the pattern of knocking the other guy.

Just what passes as Republican ideology other than saying 'No' has become massively unclear.

But in this case, the underlying thought – that a foreign power is trying to have an influence on choosing our leadership – struck as particularly galling, since we also had that declassified national security assessment that Russia, and to a lesser degree, Iran, had a huge campaign underway to use U.S. legislators and members of the Donald Trump campaign team to funnel disinformation to the American public.

Those figures include Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who openly talked loudly about information fed him by an identified Russian agent Andrei Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker, and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the ranking minority Intelligence Committee member, for work to spread disinformation about then-candidate Joe Biden and family. Both Johnson, who also has repeatedly offered his racist defense of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and Nunes, who has opposed Biden's certification as president, remain active in their public damnations on behalf of Trump.

These people have drawn no response from McCarthy.

I'm not big on "whataboutism" as tit-for-tat partisanship is termed, but the coincidental timing here seems unusually gross.

The Swalwell Case

McCarthy sponsored his resolution to oust Swalwell over the fact that he has not denied "public reporting that a suspected Chinese intelligence operative helped raise money" for his campaign and helped interns seek potential positions in his congressional office. Since the fall, McCarthy has targeted Swalwell, one of the Trump impeachment managers, after Axios published information about Swalwell's relationship six years ago with a suspected Chinese operative known as Fang Fang or Christine Fang.

According to the story, Swalwell was among several California politicians reportedly pursued by Fang, who did fund-raising work for his campaign and was photographed alongside Swalwell at a political function and reports that they had dated. When the FBI reported its suspicions in 2015, Swalwell cut off contact. House leaders were also told in 2015, and Swalwell was allowed to serve on the Intelligence Committee. There was another review with McCarthy and Pelosi last year, with opposing views from the two.

McCarthy charged that based on what has been publicly reported, Swalwell "cannot get a security clearance in the private sector" — and thus had no business being on the intelligence panel.

"Only in Congress could he get appointed to learn all the secrets of America — that's wrong," McCarthy told reporters. "If you can't meet that bar, you shouldn't be able to meet a bar to serve on the intel committee." McCarthy tweeted out a picture of the form upon which individuals are required to disclose relationships with foreign nationals.

Hmm. Then what are we to make of Johnson and Nunes, their staff members, and non-congressional figures like Michael Flynn, who served as national security adviser despite foreign entanglements, Paul Manafort, Trump campaign chair despite his foreign contacts, among others, including Jared Kushner for not always reporting their contacts with foreigners.

Republican Outliers

Naturally, Swalwell and Democratic defenders noted that McCarthy failed to mention that Swalwell changed his behavior after the FBI alert to him – unlike Johnson, Nunes and the others.

Of course, all this may be in response to the vote by Democrats and 11 Republicans last month to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) from two committees for her extremist QAnon ideologies and threats to other members of Congress. A new effort was introduced yesterday to oust her altogether.

McCarthy wrote on Twitter that "Every Democrat is now on the record. They chose politics over national security."

Well, yeah, as Republicans have been doing as well. And as these guys seem to do on every question, real or not.

A dozen Republicans voted this week to oppose honoring police from the Capitol and the city for defending the Capitol on Jan. 6 because the resolution contained the work "insurrection," to which they objected. Then, yesterday, 172 Republicans voted against renewing the so-called defense against violence to women act —it passed the House after elapsing two years ago – finding the bill unneeded even in the week following the shooting of two men and six women massage parlor workers in Georgia. The act did have an anti-gun ownership clause for boyfriends found guilty of domestic violence.

Just what passes as Republican ideology other than saying "No" has become massively unclear.

Even on a straight partisan basis, how does knocking Swalwell off this committee make anyone more likely to vote Republican than Democratic?

My question: What has been gained here? If anything, shouldn't we be thanking Swalwell for heeding an FBI alert, and asking Johnson and Nunes why they continued to carry water for identified Russian agents despite intelligence warnings? How does anything in all this help with coronavirus, economy, the border, education, environment or anything that we actually care about?

These 43 radical GOP senators stand with Trump, Capitol rioters and cop killers

Despite late-inning impeachment drama, our Senate voted to drop charges against Donald Trump. Yes, it was a 57-43 majority that pinned the blame for the incitement of the Jan. 6 insurrection on Trump, but not the two-thirds needed for conviction. Seven Republicans supported conviction.

We'll have to listen to Trump exclaiming exoneration, but after these days, few could have any real question about the central role Trump played in bringing about an attack on his own government in a riot that killed five, left 140 police injuries, put lawmakers in fear of their lives and threatened an end to American democracy.

In the end, no one got what they wanted – but they were able to push off the worst of what they did not want.

Indeed, the airwaves would suddenly fill with the spin to make the most political hay for the outcome. The gold star winner was Mitch McConnell, who despite voting to acquit, absolutely trashed Trump, insisting that while Trump was practically and morally at the heart of the violence, Trump was beyond the narrow reach of impeachment for a former president.

Donald Trump, of course, got what he most wanted – a no-convict verdict, not exoneration, but non-conviction – but he won a permanent scar of double impeachment, widespread acceptance of belief that he indeed summoned, assembled and incited rioters to attack the US. Capitol and notoriety that he deserves to be nowhere near elected office.

  • House prosecutors won their argument but lost the vote, and defenders managed to further debase any sense of honor for lawyers who will say anything, including untruths, to win the day for their client.
  • Senate Republicans may now be more confident of political success in any pending primaries, but flipped off American democracy, to say nothing of their oaths, their responsibilities to do their jobs properly and anything resembling empathy for the dead and injured.
  • By not speaking up to rebut contentions by Trump lawyers, House Minority Leader Kevin D. McCarthy was somehow able to swallow any responsibility for continuing to protect Trump from the obvious – that in the midst of the insurrection, Trump was more interested in delaying election certification than in the safety of Congress members and Vice President Mike Pence. Selected Republican senators like Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham and Mike Leegot away with canoodling with the defense team in open violation of oaths they took.
  • Democrats and Joe Biden got the trial out of the way, to allow for a focus on working with those very same Republicans on legislation that continue to be points of partisan, not need-based, contention.

The country may have advanced to a verdict, but did little either towards bridging the divides, about interest in truth or about protecting the fragility of our democracy. As the House prosecutors warned in exhaustive presentations connecting Trump speech and actions towards a declaration of official state authoritarianism we're going to have more of the same as a prize for non-conviction.

The Surprise Call for Witnesses

For 90 minutes, some participants in the Senate trial showed that they actually wanted a window on truth rather than bluster – and, second surprise – they represented that same bipartisan majority in calling for a minimal number of witnesses. Naturally, the way out of that stickiness was a side agreement to enter remarks in the record rather than actually hearing witnesses.

But it did kick off quite an entertaining ruckus. Lead prosecutor Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., wanted to call Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wa., to confirm news reports that Trump told House Minority Leader McCarthy in a phone call in the midst of the riot that the rioters were more upset about the election than McCarthy himself. Beutler had crossed party lines to vote for impeachment, willing to say out loud what McCarthy has not.

Beutler's testimony was further evidence that Trump cared more about overturning the election than the fate of lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence at the hands of insurgents.

On some level, it was refreshing to see a roadblock to the inexorable march towards a pro-Trump vote by recalcitrant Republicans and a slapdown of the sharpest-edged member of the Trump defense team, Michael T. van der Veen, who sarcastically threatened to call 100 witnesses for his side.

But ending the trial seemed the bigger priority. Calling even a limited number of witnesses raised the specter of delay and of more contention over what is fact and what is just hot air. Even closing arguments could not proceed without ugly charges of distortion among the lawyers. The vote showed the trial changed few of any minds, and that political loyalties remade rules, fact-patterns and interpretations.

There is little more frustrating to voters than Senate debates over internal rules.

But then, there was a mixed environment for taking in anything resembling right and wrong over airing partisanship.

Where Are We?

While disputed, rocky closing arguments finally passed despite strange objections, setting up the vote, I wondered what the same facts all look like now to actual federal and local prosecutors in Washington, Georgia and maybe Michigan and Pennsylvania where Trump sought to intimidate state officials. After all, the defense here claimed that Trump was now a former president, and beyond the reach of impeachment.

But that means, as for any other American, Trump is subject to answer legally for any criminal matters. In Atlanta, Fulton County Dist. Atty. Fani T. Willis already has trained an investigation on actual criminal charges arising from seeking to lean on state officials to "find" votes for him to overturn election results.

Maybe what the impeachment process has taught us again is that we need a real trial, with actual rules of evidence, witnesses, facts and some skin in the game if you lose.

Somehow, actual militia members and Trump supporters who heeded Trump's provocations are in jail or facing serious criminal charges. There are no charges against Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn and others involved. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., who spoke at the same rally, is in good standing in the House, along with dozens of legislators who continued to call for overturned election results even once the riot abated. There are avowed followers of conspiracy theories in Congress and in state offices.

We are being promised candidacies of Trump clones if Trump himself does not make a return, and there are at least 165 proposals under consideration in 33 states to restrict voting access by limiting mail-in ballots, implementing new voter ID requirements and slashing registration options. Republican state legislators around the country are clamoring for Census results to redraw gerrymandered election district lines.

Prosecution team member Rep. Ted Lieu warned that Trump can do it again, especially if it looks as if he might lose in a future election.

Indeed, we already can see the deleterious scars of Trump's insistence on winning at any cost.

House prosecutors may lose the vote -- but they've won the case

Now it is all out there, an obvious and indelible stain for the nation and its 45th president—even if 17 Republican senators don't want to vote to convict. As a friend noted, it may be rare but important that the probable losing side is writing the lasting historic record.

Let's hope, whatever the outcome, that a huge majority of Americans now recognize that Donald Trump was at the center of unleashing a broad attack on democracy and on his own government, and sitting on his hands as people got killed and injured—all for his own glory. And that he would do it again, as prosecutors told us.

The ugly messages of Trump's tweets, actions taken to provoke and actions not taken to halt the fatal attack on the Capitol will outlive this trial.

As Trump's weak impeachment defense starts re-airing arguments about process, free speech and, incongruously about Black Lives Matter protests, there will be no answer for the detailed calls, campaign and incitement laid out by House prosecutors. The ugly messages of Trump's tweets, actions taken to provoke and actions not taken to halt the fatal attack on the Capitol will outlive this trial. Though it may not matter to pro-Trump senators, the prosecutors successfully persuaded that while they were anti-Trump, they weren't Democratic partisans; the victims in the riot included Republicans as well, particularly Vice President Mike Pence.

Still, as has now become custom, it is troubling that we all don't see the same horrible fact pattern, beyond the single last speech on Jan. 6, regardless of what to do about it. A check of right-leaning news sites shows serious discounting of the video-heavy presentations; Michigan's top Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, calling the video a "hoax"; Republican Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and others denouncing the presentations as a waste of time.

Creating a Record

Of all things, this impeachment was not a waste of time; it was an attempt to make sense of Trump's triumphant egotism and abuse of the Oval Office for personal gain—something that may still attract attention from actual criminal prosecutions once this political trial ends in a few days. Even as the trial unfolded, the House was readying legislation for coronavirus aid, another 1.5 million vaccines were delivered on each of the three days, three Cabinet members advanced towards approval, and Joe Biden was talking to Xi Jinping of China about bilateral relations.

By contrast, the impeachment arguments highlighted that governing under Trump halted after the November elections, with all efforts in increasing intensity directed towards overturning results—leading inexorably to the Jan. 6 insurrection attack.

Still, as an example of how out of whack this all was, Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) did not even seem to see the significance of telling reporters that when he got that misplaced phone call from Trump amid the rioting, he had told Trump that he couldn't talk because Vice President Mike Pence was being hustled away at that moment for his family's safety from Trump's mob. Ten minutes later, Trump tweeted trash about Pence not living up to his expectations. That single act confirmed personal obsession over national interest, protecting people or the Constitution.

This, like so many other moments, illustrated that the situation was yet more dangerous than we had understood, and deeply tied to the Trump obsession with overturning election results—and American elections as we know them.

The prosecutors called all this incitement; it is a stand-in word for doing Trump, who had claimed the Law & Order mantle, to do everything for himself to win reelection by legal or illegal hook, crook or revolution over doing nothing for the health, safety or well-being of the rest of us, including the Capitol and D.C.'s Metropolitan Police officers who were injured or killed.

The Wrap-Up

There was yet more video and argument to sew up the last of the prosecution arguments. In truth, their full day Wednesday had made the case, emotionally touching most in the chamber, but likely not changing enough votes for conviction.

They attempted not only to align timelines of the Stop the Steal effort with the actual riot, but to intimidation attempts in the states, coordination with racist militia groups and supremacists and to the failure to intervene once the riot had run amok. In general, they sought a broad view of "incitement" to include the special responsibilities of a president to defend and uphold the Constitution.

In the same fashion that had proved effective in two previous days, they used video and clips to show that rioters themselves saw themselves following instructions from Trump; that there was a long history to Trump indifference or promotion of violence at rallies and at statehouses; that Trump never fully condemned the Capitol attack or took responsibility for any role in having provoked a response that went awry; that the attack has invited aggressive enemies to look at how they too can attack the Capitol.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the chief prosecutor, offered a strong argument against the defense's claim of free speech protection.

And now?

The presentations struck repeatedly at the theme that the attack was foreseeable as a result of Trump's statements and actions, sometimes marrying more general statements with the outcome of this particular outbreak of violence.

The managers tried to hang that central question posed by a Black police officer pelted with racist taunts and actual physical weapons—"Is this America?"—over the proceedings.

Prosecutors made clear that voting in this matter for a Trump who called anyone who opposed Trump an "enemy of the people" was endorsing an authoritarian view floated first by Josef Stalin. They noted that domestic terrorism is rising, that the spread of inflammatory information is growing, that political divisions are more subject to a single inciting match. Prosecutors basically argued that conviction was important not only for Trump's accountability but as a warning against future attacks on democracy and our capitals.

Regardless of the outcome of this stilted Senate impeachment trial, we finally will have a cohesive record of treachery to the American political experiment led by Donald Trump, who put himself before his oath. The Wall Street Journal says the prosecution case makes clear Trump will never live this incitement down, regardless of the vote; The Washington Post says the conviction is necessary. It's hardly the stuff of "insult and absurdity," the line that Sen. Lindsey Graham took.

Having the history recorded properly by itself may make America a little greater.

The missing man at the impeachment trial

Missing from the Senate's impeachment trial yesterday was any sense of remorse from Donald Trump or any meaningful denunciation of violence undertaken in his behalf.

Instead, all that came away was a rumbling anger over the path on which House prosecutors led us in re-watching the wrenching events of the Jan. 6 Trump mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.

As the prosecutors pressed their case, tracing the timeline of election fraud obsession that had led to this ultimate attack on democracy, the questions hung in the air: Where was the effort to stop it all? Where was Donald Trump to say he was sorry? Why did Trump insist that he loved the rioters?

Instead, prosecutors continued to build a persuasive case that Trump had developed a pattern, a multi-pronged campaign through court and state challenges, the White House bully pulpit and a team of like-minded supporters that reached from Congress to local militias, all leading inexorably to the attack on the Capitol.

Unless you were one of those Republican senators looking away and already predisposed to clearing Trump of impeachment – or accountability – compelling arguments again led only to the one question: If Trump didn't endorse the riots, why did he not step in with the deployment of National Guardsmen? He didn't and deserves conviction.

Even after the trial's opening day, Trump himself, watching from Mar-a-Lago, fumed not about the riots, but about the ruinously random performance of his attorneys towards his defense.

That's not remorse -- the one element that would make the seemingly inevitable result of intransigence by Republican senators feel more palatable.

More Video

Though the Senate is known for its love of orations, prosecutors continued to make their point through video and social media posts. First, they have hours of it, some not seen before. Secondly, video is effective – if Republican senators bother to raise their eyes to look at it. And third, video and social media have been the exact tools of Trump – and the promotion of the Stop-the-Steal campaign.

The challenge that prosecutors faced: Using that video and social media to conclusively link Trump's words and action to the actual rioting.

The arguments -- more than a bit anti-Trump tinged at times -- that Trump had "summoned, assembled and incited" walked through months of speeches, tweets, court challenges and acts to undercut state elections with the singular focus on stopping certification of Electoral College results that had gone against him – the heart of pro-Trump arguments. And there were references to pouring money towards a huge gathering in Washington on Jan. 6.

Managers took turns tracing posts, rally calls, intimidation attempts and coordination with supremacist groups like Proud Boys to build towards the events of the Jan. 6 riot, the rallying of Trump's responsive "cavalry" targeting the Capitol. There were a lot of references from Trump's supporters talking of fighting, combat and all-out war on anyone opposing Trump, Democrat or Republican. There was a particular note that Trump did nothing to intervene even after televised threats to hunt down Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others and attacks on the Capitol police.

Interspersing Trump promises of a "wild time" in Washington on Jan. 6 with actual video of the results proved effective; reports that Trump had watched all on television, taking glee that people were fighting on his behalf, and doing nothing to stop it were bracing all over again. Overall, the quotes, tweets and clips to show rioters saying they had acted at Trump's behest and from former White House personnel saying that Trump knew all along to whom he was speaking.

As predicted, the video presentations of the attack itself were both emotional and damning. To the point, however, it was impossible not to follow the prosecution argument that this was the logical outcome of the Trump-obsessed campaign to overturn democratic ways.

Prosecutors may not have persuaded enough recalcitrant Trump-supporting senators to vote their way, but they certainly showed that Trump had not just offered a free speech opinion or two, but rather was deep in the calls that led to the day of insurrection.

That's the opposite of remorse.

What of a Defense?

As we all have heard by now, the Trump defense, which will follow, however limp, is based on two thoughts: The trial should not take place because Trump is out of office, and whatever Trump or his teammates said was "free speech," even if the rest of us don't believe it. To the first, the Senate voted that the trial could proceed; to the second, the defense seems to have no interest in looking at actual actions, just relying on the bromide that the literal words from Donald Trump in the hour before the riot were not literal incitement.

Of course, as the prosecution was arguing, there were three months or more of actions here that created a pattern – all insisting there was election "fraud," all endorsing outbreaks of intimidation or violence underscoring the perceived campaign to steal the election from Trump's 74 million voters – without noting that total was fewer than Joe Biden's 82 million. Those included working to get state legislatures to squash popular vote totals from cities with sizable Black populations and likely illegal, taped attempts to interfere with George election officials to "find" sufficient votes to overturn that state's results.

Still, a sufficient number of Republican senators are standing pat on opposing conviction. This is about politics, of course, not justice or public accounting or anything about the defense of democratic values. Comments from a few of the stalwart Republicans, including Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-ND, even suggested that they would prefer that Trump face possible criminal charges as a private citizen than impeachment as a former president.

Not that I disagree, but Statement One in such a proceeding would be a claim by Trump that he was president at the time, immune from federal charges.

We may get our chance to find out: Georgia prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the Trump calls to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger towards overturning state results – potential state charges that sidestep the federal shield for the White House. Meanwhile, the watchdog group OpenSecrets reported finding "more than $3.5 million in direct payments from Trump's 2020 campaign, along with its joint fundraising committees, to people and firms involved in the Washington, D.C. demonstration before a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol."

As the trial unwinds, just keep listening for anything that sounds like remorse.

House Dems win first round of Trump impeachment trial

There probably is a good time before most contests to discuss the rules, whether in sports, chess or civil trials. Trying to do so in the middle of the game almost never works.

Holding a formal, if emotional Constitutional debate to open the impeachment trial for Donald Trump's inciting actions that built to the climax of a mob attack on the U.S. Capitol over whether the trial is exactly what envisioned 250 years ago only underscored that this contest is a baldly partisan political match, not anything regarding justice.

The Senate had voted previously to proceed with the trial on a procedural vote, so replaying the same questions, this time with hours of precedent-citing debate and powerful video clips, was sure to come out the same way: Yes, the trial is Constitutional – as voted by a bare majority of the senators present.

Republican senators wanted to look anywhere but at the events of Jan. 6.

Let's face it. Almost along straight partisan party lines, 56-44, with six Republican defectors, the bulk of Republican senators doubled down yesterday towards insisting that by the rules alone, there should be no accounting for rioting insurrectionists, no chance to assess Trump's responsibility – all foreshadowing their inevitable vote against conviction when the trial comes to an end days from now.

Of course, the Republican bloc vote, a loser in this rules discussion, is likely to "win," since conviction requires two-thirds of the Senate.

Republican senators wanted to look anywhere but at the events of Jan. 6.

Following the Rules

On some level, the Constitutional debate only helped prove that this whole impeachment trial is about following rules.

Had Trump followed the rules of the election, he would have conceded losing, and we would have proceeded to a transition to Joe Biden without the daily spew of Big Lies about perceived election fraud and the rattling of militia weaponry and conspiracy theories. Had he accepted the rules that extended mail ballots during a pandemic, Trump would have had no beef with the outcome.

Waging a months-long bleat against the outcome, Donald Trump, still president, whistled his followers to Washington for the Jan. 6 formal acceptance of certified Electoral College votes, heated them up and pointed them to the Capitol. As the mob violently stormed our center of democracy and hunted lawmakers, Trump retreated to the White House to watch on television, declining to call in National Guardsmen to halt it. The House voted to impeach – while Trump was still president.

But because Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell manipulated the Senate schedule to delay a trial until after the Trump departure from office, the trial raised Constitutional questions of whether a "former president" could be tried.

Thus, we witnessed a day of debate that included lawyers for Trump misstating the position of scholars on the question, a slew of legal opinions across the political landscape decrying the Trump position, senators who simply want to move on, and endless discussion over a Constitutional ambiguity that was being settled by raw political power.

Actually, the House impeachment managers made clear, using arguments of conservative lawyers and judges, that they actually had done their homework that impeachment is an instrument to defend democracy, while the Trump team, relatively speaking, had started with an opposite answer and looked for or created arguments to support their version. And then Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., put the emotional cherry on the pie with his personal story of his family hiding beneath desks – though television reported that some Republican senators refused to even look at the video.

The prosecution case on the narrow Constitutional case was smashing on all levels, and undercut the whole of the Trump defense.

"The president of the United States sided with the insurrectionists," Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) argued. "He celebrated their cause. He validated their attack. He told them, 'Remember this day forever,' hours after they marched through these halls looking to assassinate Vice President Pence, the speaker of the House and any of us they could find."

Winners?

Playing football, the game America so loves, depends on accepting rules and rulings from umpires. But yesterday showed a Trump argument that the rules apparently are for chumps, not champs. Trump would argue that maybe the Buccaneers didn't win the Superbowl even though we all saw the game, that referee calls were biased; in that telling, the Chiefs just forgot to change the results of the game.

This trial is showing that Republicans want to start with the outcome in hand, and work backward to what the rules should say.

In truth, there will be no "winners" from this impeachment. Based on the vote on the Constitutional question, it is easy to presume that there will be no conviction.

No conviction means Democrats will have lost time towards their now-majority agenda and any chance of working with Republicans in the Senate. No conviction will mean the return of a boastful Donald Trump, who will loudly exclaim exoneration and who will refuse to leave the scene. No conviction will mean a Republican party still under the control of Team Trump, retribution against party defectors, and a growing public move towards armed conspiracists and militia members.

We'll have more Marjorie Taylor Greene and conspiracy theorists in office, more divisiveness, more attacks on the Biden agenda, deserved or not. We'll see a spread of violent threats to the states. We'll see more targeting of anything that happens not to comport with a streak of perceived "populism" that is increasingly racist, misogynistic and, strangely, anti-coronavirus masks.

Sure, there will be prosecutions against now 150 or so actual insurgents, many of whom are saying they entered the Capitol because Trump told them to do so. But once again, it is the "forgotten," exactly those whom Trump had promised to represent, who are paying his bill at the Justice bar.

What we won't do is stop the militaristic language of politics – "fighting," "combating," "crushing," and the like for the opposition. There is a chance here to cool the rhetoric just a bit.

And, when we don't like the outcome, we can always blame the rules.

You wouldn't teach that to your kids.

Democrats are the new senate majority -- so why is Mitch McConnell still running the place?

Days into the new government, it's clear that Joe Biden is running an energetic, activist White House while new Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is still stuck in the same stalled Senate that he served in the ever-victimized minority.

Whatever else you want to say about Schumer, he's no Lyndon Baines Johnson, who dominated as a Senate majority leader, or even Harry Reid.

From the outside, it looks like majority leading by pleading, not arm-twisting. You don't hear that other senators fear Schumer as much as hope that he can stand up to the ever-manipulative tactics of a crafty Mitch McConnell, who has lost the majority leader title, but not its magic to set the agenda.

Schumer got to this day in a plodding manner, using congressional rules and his ever-present microphone rather than any sense of authoritative aggressiveness.

It could be because Schumer's gotten the majority leader office by the barest of margins – the potential tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris when it will be needed. Or perhaps it is because the real majority leader emerging is centrist Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who seems repeatedly to forget that he is a Democrat, and who doesn't mind hanging Schumer and Democratic goals in thin air. It might even be because Biden himself, a longtime senator, has personal relationships in the chamber to pursue himself.

Whatever.

Somehow, everyone in the House knows that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with her narrowed Democratic majority, is still the swaying voice for everything from impeachment votes to requiring that members leave their guns at the door to the chamber. It is the deference of others to her power that we are examining.

We recognize in Schumer a certain caution in trying to get the most from a split, now-stuck Senate, someone who got to this day in a plodding manner, using congressional rules and his ever-present microphone rather than any sense of authoritative aggressiveness. Maybe it is his speaking voice, which borders on annoying rather than one inspiring attention, or his pleading tone. Maybe he was just better at offering obstructions as a minority leader than serving at the front of the Senate.

Of course, maybe he'll settle in and be more effective, but right now, the focus for political wins in the Senate still seems to be on McConnell.

Deftness?

On ABC News recently, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, commenting on the continuing Schumer-McConnell wrangles over the timing of the impeachment trial, the makeup of Senate committees and the rules governing a 50-50 Senate split said, "The one thing Chuck isn't is deft. Definitely not deft."

"Chuck Schumer has finally realized his dream of becoming majority leader. And given the circumstances, it's a bit of a nightmare," noted Politico. Without an agreement on new rules, for example, Republicans maintain most of the committee chairmanships, reviewing confirmations and legislation.

What does seem apparent are that there is a lot to get done at once in a Biden presidency both to reverse what are seen as bad mistakes from the Donald Trump years and to be aggressive about taking advantage of the next two years until another election will put the Senate majority on the ballot again.

The healthy argument between Schumer and McConnell about whether to eliminate filibuster rules – rules that effectively require 60 votes for any substantial legislation rather than a simple majority are going McConnell's way – in part because Schumer does not have the votes of Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). The impeachment trial for Trump has been delayed – just as McConnell had asked, though a week earlier. The committees needed for confirmation hearings and to review the immediate demands for Biden-proposed legislation on COVID-19 aid, on extending jobless benefits and immigration changes are being held hostage to the inside game in the Senate.

Again, filibuster rule debates are inside baseball, they don't get jobs or food or vaccines done.

From the outside, it looks as if what drives Republicans' votes in the Senate is fear – from McConnell over life as a senator and from Trump, whose continuing influence is in aiming his insults and primary threats for reelection. By contrast, what seems to drive Democratic votes is a general plea to reason rather than the use of power.

As the opposition party, Republicans, of course, already are lining up to give Trump a pass on impeachment conviction and a permanent bar to run for office again, and, while open to approving Biden's cabinet, generally are vocal about a too-large investment in anti-COVID efforts based on the new-found need to care for the national debt.

Title Without Authority

The new heavyweight in the Senate is the center, with Manchin from Democrats meeting up with Susan Collins (R-Maine), and a smallish group from Republicans. Somehow, they want to buck both parties with their insistence on moderation and politeness – even as the Capitol is assaulted, even as the coronavirus deaths soar again, even as hunger is growing.

Schumer himself is up for reelection in 2022 and could face a long-shot primary challenge from the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

"The talks of bipartisanship are quickly getting ensnared by must-move Senate business, not the least of which is getting an agreement on how the Senate will be run over the next two years. It seems simple, but it's a big deal and it's proving far harder to secure than anyone had anticipated," noted CNN.

Schumer is seeing pressure from his left to dump the filibuster to make it easier to pass improvements in health, infrastructure, environment and national security issues. Biden, again, thinks that bipartisanship can be made to work, but needs a strong Schumer.

So, Schumer's time is short to prove effectiveness. He did not win his title until Georgia improbably elected two Democrats on Jan. 5, and it has been a race to get the new rules in place at a time of simultaneous public tidal waves. Succeeding as majority leader has meant going toe-to-toe with McConnell over arcane rules.

McConnell simply is acting as if he gets a veto over all that passes to the Senate. He is still acting as majority leader without the title.

Schumer needs to step up to his new job.

The Pentagon could use a course in basic citizenship

The more we look at the Jan. 6 Insurrection at the Capitol, the more we see attackers with military experience.

A National Public Radio (NPR) analysis of the 140 arrested to date says one in five was a military veteran who clearly had sworn in the past to protect the Constitution and democracy. By comparison, veterans represent about 7% of Americans altogether.

That there are strains of political extremism in the military, outward expressions of support for white supremacy and racism is hardly new. But participation in a violent attack on our Capitol raises questions anew.

Participation in a violent attack on our Capitol raises questions anew.

Simply put, the military needs to teach basics to our volunteer army to ensure that the troops know what they are defending.

It's a situation serious enough to prompt Defense Secretary-designate Lloyd Austen to start his testimony in Senate confirmation hearings by committing to investigating and uprooting extremism, racism and sexism in the military before he was asked a question.

Of course, others who should know better, including some Republican members of Congress and state officials, also find themselves targets for re-education about basic civics. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) had to be told, for example, that the inauguration date could not be postponed; it is mandated in the Constitution.

NPR reporters reviewed military records, social media accounts, court documents and news reports of those arrested so far. They found that at least 27 of those charged, or nearly 20%, served or are serving in the U.S. military. Several face charges of violent and disorderly conduct at the Capitol. The charges may be upgraded to felonies, including domestic terrorism and sedition.

We've seen the many videos showing people in military-style helmets carrying zip-tie restraints and makeshift weapons. Some rioters appear to have links to groups like the Oath Keepers, a far-right paramilitary group that includes many retired military and law enforcement personnel.

These reports came as prosecutors filed their first serious conspiracy charges, accusing three members of the Oath Keepers with plotting the riot in advance.

It's Not New

A year ago, The Military Times polled military members. It said more than a third of active-duty troops and more than half of minority service members said they witnessed examples of white nationalism or ideological-driven racism within the ranks in recent months. Those numbers were higher than in the previous year.

The military outlet said it was a "troubling snapshot of troops' exposure to extremist views while serving despite efforts from military leaders to promote diversity and respect for all races."

Troops said they saw "swastikas being drawn on service members' cars, tattoos affiliated with white supremacist groups, stickers supporting the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi-style salutes between individuals."

By contrast, the military has imposed rules for gang members joining our volunteer army. As far back as 2008, according to the FBI, 1% to 2% of the U.S. military belonged to gangs, which is 50 to 100 times the rate in the general population. Upon joining, the military insists on removal of gang tattoos, for example.

The military, which over years has been a model for training and education efforts, is active in training officers to recognize foreign terrorism efforts. However,, it readily acknowledges lagging behind at examining its own ranks for such disturbing trends.

Indeed, the Pentagon had developed programs aimed at increasing understanding the roots of Islamist terrorism, only to find itself surprised by the emergence of lone-wolf outbreaks at home, as in the killings by a rogue Army officer at Fort Hood in Texas in 2013.

Still, that is a long way from seeking to root out affinity within its ranks or among its veterans for the kind of anti-democratic riot that hit the Capitol over a basic desire to declare election fraud and nullification.

Disturbing Images

Air Force veteran Larry Rendall Brock Jr. was photographed in his tactical gear in Senate chambers. According to court documents, he said on Facebook that he was preparing for a "Second Civil War," and that "we are now under occupation by a hostile governing force."

Jacob Fracker, 29, was an infantry rifleman in the Marine Corps, deployed twice to Afghanistan and is a member of the Virginia National Guard and a police officer. He and Thomas Robertson, 47, an Army veteran, also face charges.

Right-wing militias and anti-government groups are targeting the military and veterans, federal officials say.

General Austin, who would be the nation's first Black defense secretary, said he would fight hard "to rid our ranks of racists." He added, "The Defense Department's job is to keep America safe from our enemies. But we can't do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks."

Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow with the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, told NPR that the military's efforts are largely "haphazard" and "it's not like the military is just tolerating white supremacists."

But efforts to address the problem need to be more systematic. "Not only does there need to be training," Pitcavage said. "But there also need to be clear expectations coming down from on high about what you should do when you encounter an extremist in your unit, at your base or whatever the circumstances are, and that here are the procedures that need to be followed."

After Jan. 6, the Defense Department said there were 68 notifications of investigations by the FBI last year of former and current military members pertaining to domestic extremism.

In his inaugural address, Joe Biden pledged to combat "a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism."

It sounds as if teaching the basics of democracy and civics for the military ought to be high on that list.

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