January 20, 2023 (Friday)
Tonight’s letter was supposed to be a photo, but then it turned into just a few things I didn’t want to miss, and now it’s a sort of roundup of a whole lot of stories. TGIF, I guess.
After last night’s sanction of almost a million dollars in a frivolous lawsuit, Trump dropped a similar lawsuit today against New York attorney general Letitia James. That lawsuit has been widely interpreted as his attempt to make James abandon the $250 million civil lawsuit against Trump and the Trump Organization. But it, like the one that yesterday cost him and his lawyer close to a million dollars, was assigned to Judge Donald Middlebrooks, and as MSNBC legal analyst Lisa Rubin put it, Trump “folded. That decision was perhaps driven by lawyers who can’t afford a massive sanctions award either reputationally or financially. But it’s weird to see Trump basically concede.”
Trump also backed off on his previous threats to use the debt ceiling to extract concessions from Democrats. Yesterday, he released a video warning House Republicans not to cut Social Security or Medicare, although those are the main things Republicans have thrown on the table. Trump is clearly bowing to popular support for those programs, but he is abandoning House Republicans after pushing them to take this stand.
The troubles of the House Republicans continue to mount. Just as Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced the House would end proxy voting, Representative Greg Steube (R-FL) fell 25 feet from a ladder at his home and is now in the hospital, cutting McCarthy’s already slim majority.
Representative George Santos (R-NY) is still in Congress, for the moment anyway, and he continues to embarrass the Republicans. After insisting that reports he was a drag queen in Brazil were lies, it turns out that Santos himself apparently posted that information on Wikipedia. The party that has spent months grabbing headlines by attacking drag queens is now represented by one in Congress.
In the same Wikipedia article, he appeared to claim he was an actor on the Disney Channel show Hannah Montana.
Representative Bill Foster (D-IL), an award-winning physicist who holds a PhD from Harvard, trolled Santos today in a way that powerfully demonstrated the current difference between the two parties. In response to the news that House speaker Kevin McCarthy has put Santos on the House Science Committee, Foster tweeted: “As the only recipient of the Wilson Prize for High-Energy Particle Accelerator Physics serving in Congress, it can get lonely. Not anymore!... I’m thrilled to be joined on the Science Committee by my Republican colleague Dr. George Santos, winner of not only the Nobel Prize, but also the Fields Medal—the top prize in Mathematics—for his groundbreaking work with imaginary numbers.”
Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) has celebrated his elevation to the chair of the House Judiciary Committee with a flurry of requests to the Department of Justice for information about the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the investigation of the events of January 6, 2021, in which Jordan himself was implicated. But a response today from the DOJ reminded Jordan that the department could not share information about ongoing investigations and that it would need clear information about what, exactly, he hoped to investigate rather than blanket demands. Then Assistant Attorney General Carlos Uriarte assured him that the department “stands ready to provide expertise as the Committee considers potential legislation,” an apparent suggestion that Jordan recall what his constituents elected him to do.
“The Administration’s stonewalling must stop,” Jordan tweeted after receiving the letter, but it is notable that Jordan himself refused to answer a subpoena from the bipartisan House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. McCarthy ignored one too.
The White House today followed up on McCarthy’s posturing over the debt ceiling with a statement that while Biden “looks forward to meeting with Speaker McCarthy to discuss a range of issues,” “raising the raising the debt ceiling is not a negotiation; it is an obligation of this country and its leaders to avoid economic chaos. Congress has always done it, and the President expects them to do their duty once again. That is not negotiable.”
It went on to say that while the president looked forward to learning more about the Republicans’ plans to cut Social Security and Medicare and impose a 30% national sales tax, he was interested in telling McCarthy and his allies about strengthening retirement plans, investing in key priorities, and funding it all by “making the wealthy and big corporations pay their fair share.”
“We are going to have a clear debate on two different visions for the country—one that cuts Social Security, and one that protects it,” the White House said, “and the President is happy to discuss that with the Speaker.”
Finally, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is in Africa for a ten-day visit during which she will urge greater connection between African countries and the U.S., hoping to build stronger ties with the continent than it develops with China or Russia. Africa has about 30% of the world’s reserves of minerals that are crucial to helping the modern world transition to green energy. So far, the Biden administration’s offer of partnership appears attractive, especially in the face of what appears to be a more exploitive model exercised by China and Russia. Both countries have sent representatives to travel around the continent while Yellen is there.