December 2, 2021
Tonight both the House and the Senate passed a measure to fund the federal government until February 18, 2022. The new legislation will prevent a government shutdown. The measure passed the House by a vote of 221 to 212 with only one Republican, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, voting yes. “This government should be shut down,” Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) said. “You want to know why it should be shut down? Because the people in here. The people in here cannot control themselves.”
In the Senate, some Republicans tried to load the measure up with a provision to end President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates, but an amendment that would have defunded vaccine mandates failed. Then the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 69–28. It now goes to Biden to be signed into law.
The news that Congress is willing to protect our finances reinforces the most effective weapon we have in the ongoing struggle to force Russia back from its threat to invade Ukraine. Russian president Vladimir Putin has built up military forces along Russia’s border with Ukraine in what Ukraine’s defense minister has called an attempt to test the unity of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a defensive military alliance designed to resist first Soviet and now Russian aggression.
Ukraine, which became independent from the old U.S.S.R. in 1991—December 2 is the anniversary of Poland and Canada becoming the first to recognize its independence, actually—is not part of NATO. It had begun the process of applying for membership in 2008, but in 2010, Russia-allied oligarch Viktor Yanukovych, whose campaign was being handled by Paul Manafort, won the presidency and turned the nation away from NATO and toward Russia.
In 2014, Ukrainians rose up and overthrew Yanukovych, who fled to Russia (thus putting Manafort out of a job and freeing him to run Trump’s 2016 campaign). Later that year, Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimea, prompting the U.S. economic sanctions that Putin desperately wants lifted. Ukraine’s interest in joining NATO jumped.
Now, Russia is amassing troops at the Ukraine border. While no one knows the end game, at the very least the Russian military presence is a threat aimed at keeping Ukraine from joining NATO. It is also likely aimed at elevating Putin’s visibility by getting a personal meeting with Biden. Trump’s deference to the Russian president enhanced his strength at home, and Biden’s refusal to treat him in the same way likely stings. If he can get Biden to sit down with him, cutting Ukraine out of the talks, it elevates him on the world stage, and thus at home.
Former president Trump had weakened NATO, but Biden has worked to strengthen it again. At the same time, Belarus’s recent forcing of migrants over the Polish border with Putin’s support has brought NATO countries closer together, while the autocratic actions of Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko are driving young people in Belarus to turn away from Russia and toward Europe. As Russia’s power in those states weakens, observers are focused on whether NATO would go to war to protect Ukraine.
Part of this discussion at home needs to be based on the understanding that U.S. military engagement appears to have changed recently. According to Airwars, which keeps tabs on violence in war zones, while Trump dramatically escalated the use of drones, President Biden has virtually stopped using them. Instead, it appears that the U.S. is trying to keep international peace through the country’s economic might.
New economic sanctions against Russia are already on the table. Yesterday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the former prime minister of Norway, told Reuters that ''we all made it very clear that there will be a high price to pay and sanctions is one of the options'' if Russia continues its aggression against Ukraine. “NATO Allies have demonstrated before and actually demonstrate now that we are able to impose a heavy economic cost on Russia…. [T]his can be economic sanctions, it can be financial sanctions, it can be political restrictions and also, as we saw after the illegal annexation of Crimea, that actually triggered the biggest reinforcement of NATO’s collective defence in a generation….”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken was pithier. After he and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov talked today in Stockholm, Blinken told reporters that there would be “serious consequences for Russian aggression toward Ukraine, including high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from taking in the past.” “We’ve been, will continue to be, very clear about those consequences,” he continued. “I think Moscow knows very well the universe of what’s possible.”
The struggle in Ukraine illustrates the deep connection between the strength of the U.S. economy and our national security—something to keep in mind when former president Trump calls for Republicans to refuse to lift the debt ceiling and force the country to default on our debts in order to try to kill the Democrats’ agenda.
At home, the threat to our democracy continues to become clearer. We have learned that Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows not only tried to use the Department of Justice to push false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, but also tried to get top national security officials at the FBI, Pentagon, National Security Council, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence to chase down allegations that, for example, China had hacked the election. Sources told Zachary Cohen, Paula Reid, and Sara Murray of CNN that Meadows didn’t necessarily believe the stories, but wanted to please Trump.
Today, in Texas, S.B. 1 went into effect, reducing access to voting. Passed in September, the law was a response to the false allegations that Democrats stole the 2020 election. It is designed to keep voters believed to be Democrats from the polls. It bans 24-hour voting and drive-through voting, makes it harder to vote by mail, lowers the penalty for illegal voting, and bans local measures to make it easier to vote.
But legal repercussions for participation in the Big Lie are beginning to mount. A federal judge in Michigan has ordered nine lawyers, led by Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and L. Lin Wood, to pay about $150,000 to Detroit and $22,000 to Michigan to cover the costs incurred when the lawyers launched a frivolous lawsuit in the so-called “Kraken” cases over the 2020 election. A federal judge in Colorado made a similar decision last week, ordering two lawyers who sued frivolously over the 2020 results to pay about $187,000 to the officials and companies they sued.
And today, two election workers from Fulton County, Georgia, the county on which Trump focused his attention in his quest to overturn the 2020 election there, sued the right-wing website The Gateway Pundit, along with publishers James and Joe Hoft, for repeatedly lying that the two women had helped to “steal” the election. The workers were forced to flee their homes for their own safety.
People will soon be able to hear at least some of the stories of the Big Lie for themselves. Today, Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), the vice chair of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, announced that the committee will hold public hearings next year to lay out “exactly what happened every minute of the day on Jan. 6 here at the Capitol and at the White House and what led to that violent attack.”