December 16, 2021
As Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, testified before Congress, Trump was famous for never texting, never using email, and never actually saying he wanted criminal actions taken; rather, he would suggest a course of action that others carried out. As Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey, and Jacqueline Alemany of the Washington Post pointed out today, this puts Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in a tight spot, since he was the one standing between his boss and the world, the one people would call and text with messages for the president, whose fingerprints stayed off damning material.
For his part, Trump is not returning Meadows’s loyalty. He has called Meadows—and presumably his initial willingness to turn over documents to the the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol—“f**king stupid.”
Today, the January 6th committee subpoenaed retired army colonel Phil Waldron, who wrote the PowerPoint explaining how Republican members of Congress could throw the election to Trump by refusing to recognize Biden’s electors. Waldron claimed he met with Meadows six to eight times. He must turn over all relevant documents by January 10 and appear for a deposition on January 17.
Democrats have shelved the Build Back Better Act for the moment, although in a statement today President Biden committed to working out a way forward with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who insists on keeping the plan at or below $1.75 trillion and who believes the year-long extension of the child tax credit should actually be scored for a longer period, since he believes it will be so popular it will be extended further.
Biden highlighted in his statement the piece that is often missing in discussions of the bill: Republicans are united against it, despite the fact its components are very popular. “Build Back Better is urgently needed to lower the cost of prescription drugs, health care, child care, and elder care,” Biden said. “Notwithstanding the unrelenting Republican obstruction—not a single Republican is willing to move forward on the bill—I am determined to see this bill enacted into law, to give America’s families the breathing room they deserve. We also need urgent action on climate change and other priorities in the Build Back Better plan…. We will—we must—get Build Back Better passed, even in the face of Republican opposition.”
“At the same time,” he said, “we must also press forward on voting rights legislation, and make progress on this as quickly as possible…. Our democracy is at stake.”
With Build Back Better on the back burner, Democrats are pushing hard on voting rights. After all, the ability to vote, and to have our votes counted by nonpartisan officials, is the whole game.
Nineteen Republican-dominated states have changed their election laws since the 2020 election to hamstring the Democrats in a power grab that echoes that of Democrat-dominated states after the Civil War, which created an anti-democratic one-party political system for three generations.
A system that is rigged for the Republicans is rigged for Donald Trump, since the Republican National Committee (RNC) is now working for him. Washington Post reporters Josh Dawsey and David A. Fahrenthold underscored this reality yesterday when they broke the story that the RNC is covering up to $1.6 million of Trump’s private legal bills incurred as he fights investigations of his business practices in New York.
The Republicans’ executive committee voted “overwhelmingly” to approve the payments last summer. Finance experts say it is legal for them to choose to spend donors’ money this way, but it is “highly unusual,” according to observers (including a historian of the Republican Party), because, as the article’s authors say, “the spending has nothing to do with promoting the GOP’s policy agenda or political priorities, dealing with ongoing party business, or campaigning—and relates to investigations that are not about Trump’s time as president or his work in the White House.”
Restoring the normal operation of our voting machinery is vital to our democracy. NBC News congressional reporter Frank Thorp V tweeted today that President Biden and Vice President Harris met with a number of senators this morning over Zoom to discuss voting rights. Those participating included Senators Manchin, Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jon Tester (D-MT), Angus King (I-ME), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Raphael Warnock (D-GA).
According to Kaine, Biden was pressing the “urgency of getting something done, & asking us the progress that we're making.”
Today, Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), who is up for reelection in 2022 in a swing state and has stayed quiet about the filibuster, came out in favor of changing the rule in order to pass laws protecting voting rights. “Without free, fair, and impartially-administered elections, the United States of America as we know it would cease to exist. But right now, our right to vote is under attack,” she said. “We must change the rules, to allow a simple majority of this body, as our Founders intended, to pass laws that will protect the right to vote and protect American democracy.”
Tonight, Klobuchar took the floor of an almost-empty Senate to urge her colleagues not to go home for the holidays until they protect voting rights. Speaking for the Freedom to Vote Act, the compromise bill hammered out this summer with Manchin and a team of collaborators, she called for changes to the filibuster that would enable the Senate actually to do the work the American people want it to do, rather than having debate as well as legislation stifled by Republican filibusters.
She warned that voting, the “fundamental right that is the very foundation of our system of government[,] is under attack. Since the 2020 election, we have seen a persistent and coordinated assault on the freedom to vote in states across the country.” “Our nation was founded on the ideals of democracy,” she said, “and we’ve seen for ourselves in this building how we can’t afford to take it for granted…. We must stand up for the salvation of our democracy, and each day that we delay, it gets harder and harder to undo what is being done.”
In the midst of Republican obstruction of laws to protect our democracy, the Senate unanimously passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. This measure prohibits all imports from the Xinjiang region in the far west of China “unless U.S. Customs and Border Protection certifies by clear and convincing evidence that goods were not produced with forced labor.” This is the first major pushback against the Chinese government's human rights abuses.
Since 2014, the Chinese government has forced 1 million Uyghurs, members of a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority in Xinjiang, into internment camps for “reeducation,” a process that has included forced sterilization and forced labor. The Biden administration has called China’s treatment of the Uyghurs a genocide. China’s government has called the system “vocational training programs.”
The measure will impact U.S. supply chains, including the polysilicon used to make solar panels. The region produces nearly half of the world's supply of it.
Also today, the Treasury Department barred U.S. investment in eight Chinese companies that are developing technologies to spy on and track Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities using biological data. A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy said the ban was “groundless” and that “China’s development of biotechnology has always been for the well-being of mankind.”