Wow. Remember yesterday, when Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah was so furious at the congressional briefing about the attack on Qassem Soleimani, calling it “insulting” and “probably the worst briefing I’ve seen, at least on a military issue, in the nine years I’ve served in the United States Senate,” and complaining: “What I found so distressing is one of the messages was do not discuss, do not debate appropriateness of further military intervention against Iran”?
Today, on the Fox News Channel, he did an about face, reiterating how much he applauds and respects Trump for his restraint as commander-in-chief, and blaming the briefers for misrepresenting the president.
Wow. Just wow.
Lee seems to have discovered the dangers of questioning the president. As anger over what increasingly appears to have been an illegal attack rises, Republican Trump stalwarts are digging in on their argument that you either support the president or you are an enemy. In an interview on the Fox News Channel, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who took Russian money from indicted political operative Lev Parnas, argued that the attack on Soleimani was the fault of Adam Schiff (D-CA) who has been leading the impeachment investigation. If Schiff had been focusing on Iran rather than impeachment, McCarthy said, Trump would not have had to kill Soleimani. Representative Doug Collins (R-GA) went further, accusing Democrats of being “in love with terrorists.” And Trump made the death of Soleimani a centerpiece of his rally tonight in Toledo, Ohio, saying: “I see the radical-left Democrats have expressed outrage over the termination of this horrible terrorist.”
A number of pundits have pushed back on those comments, saying, for example, that it is not unAmerican to question the president, especially when it appears that his actions might have been illegal. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) who lost both her legs and some of the use of her arm during her service in Iraq was incensed at Collins’s comment. “I’m not going to dignify that with a response,” she said. “I’m disgusted. I would never, ever use … military men and women or their families as any pawn in any political game. Let me tell you something: This issue is about America’s national security. It is not a partisan political issue.”
Former Senator and Reagan’s Navy Secretary Jim Webb asked: “How did it become acceptable to assassinate one of the top military officers of a country with whom we are not formally at war during a public visit to a third country that had no opposition to his presence?” Webb notes that if we want to start defining other country’s governments as terrorist, as was the case here since Soleimani was part of the Iran government, Congress simply must have a bipartisan debate of this drastic step.
But the Republican attacks on Democrats for their quite reasonable concerns about the fact the president dragged us to the point of a hot war with Iran for no apparent national security reason actually has me thinking in a different way. It reminds me of Roger Stone’s comments when he was part of the Brooks Brothers Riot that stopped the Florida recount in 2000, sending the election to the Supreme Court and handing victory to George W. Bush.
Stone told a reporter: “It’s attack, attack, attack. Al Gore thought the recount was a high-minded policy debate. He didn’t understand that it was an extension of a war….” Stone, of course, pushed Trump’s presidential bid and has been convicted of witness tampering, obstructing an official proceeding, and making false statements, all in connection with his apparent collaboration with WikiLeaks in its attempts to discredit Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton with information stolen by Russian spies.
Since Stone’s victory in 2000, putting Bush into the White House by short circuiting the recount while Democrats tried to honor our longstanding American tradition of accepting the outcome of an election, the GOP seems to have focused more and more at simply winning at all costs. But to what end? They have given up the norms of democracy and are now throwing all their weight behind a man who came perilously close to starting another war entirely on his own.
You know, we get all tangled up in the details of the daily events (and yes, the House can continue to investigate Trump; yes there can be more articles of impeachment; yes he can be impeached again even if acquitted, for those of you who have asked), but between Lee’s 180 and the accusations at the highest levels of government that if you do not toe the GOP line you are disloyal, it seems like a good time to step back and look at the larger picture. If the GOP has abandoned democracy and our security… why exactly are they so determined to hold power?
When parties behaved this way in the 1850s and the 1890s, the answer was quite simple: Democrats in the 1850s and Republicans in the 1890s each fervently believed their opponents would hurt business and thereby destroy America. To stay in power, they increasingly limited the vote, and accused those who wanted to level the playing field between those at the top of the economic ladder and those at the bottom of wanting to destroy individualism by redistributing wealth. They were, in short, socialists. In the 1850s, the Civil War stopped the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a rich elite; in the 1890s, the elite consolidated power and took the vote from people of color and wage laborers.
Aren’t we looking at pretty much the same conflict right now? GOP voters want power just to dominate people of color and women, while GOP leaders want power to consolidate wealth?
Sure looks like that to me.
Under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrats are pushing back against this GOP. Today the House passed a war powers concurrent resolution requiring Trump to get permission from Congress before any further military action against Iran. Three Republicans joined the Democrats to vote for the measure, while eight Democrats voted against it. A similar measure is in the Senate, and allegedly Republicans are expressing a willingness to sign it (I am unspeakably tired of Maine Senator Susan Collins’s deep concerns), but because it is a concurrent resolution, it simply expresses the sense of Congress, it is not legally binding. Pelosi says it is a strong rebuke; McCarthy (who took Russian money from Lev Parnas) says: “This is a meaningless vote that only sends the wrong message that the House Democrats would rather stand with the socialist base than stand against Iran.” (There’s that cry of socialism again.)
In other news:
--Noah Bookbinder pointed out today that, contrary to what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says as he tries to justify a Senate impeachment trial without witnesses, “The Senate has heard testimony from witnesses at every trial it has completed in its 231-year history.” While media is faulting Pelosi for failing to hand over the articles of impeachment to the Senate, the blame falls far more accurately on McConnell, who is refusing to permit the Senate to do its job.
--Yet another investigation into Hillary Clinton has wrapped up without finding any evidence of wrongdoing. In 2017, then Attorney General Jeff Sessions started an investigation into the Clinton Foundation and Uranium One, as well as her emails. It has quietly ended, having found nothing worth pursuing.
--Today the New York City Bar Association asked Congress to investigate Attorney General William Barr. They are concerned that he is using the Justice Department and its prosecutors as “political partisans willing to use the levers of government to empower certain groups over others.”
I’m sick, and falling over with exhaustion, so will leave this as is, unedited. I hope it is not too incoherent, but if so, please bear with me until I’m up and around again.
And finally, do so in your own way, but let’s acknowledge that the 176 people who died on the Ukraine passenger jet that apparently was accidentally shot down by Iranians expecting an American attack are forever linked to us, and to what we have allowed our politics to become.
Preet Bharara on Collins: https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/09/opinions/doug-collins-remark-crosses-line-preet-bharara/index.html
Concurrent resolution: https://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/kaine-republicans-war-powers-resolution