July 21, 2021

The story that grabbed headlines today was that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) rejected two of the five people House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) chose to put on the House select committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection. McCarthy immediately withdrew all of the five people he had appointed, accusing the Speaker of partisanship.

But let’s call this like it is. The Republicans killed a bill to create a bipartisan select committee to investigate the insurrection. Then, when Pelosi set up a select committee instead on the exact same terms that Republicans had used to set up one of their many Benghazi committees, McCarthy tried to sabotage the process by naming as three of his five picks men who bought into former president Trump’s Big Lie and challenged the votes on the night of January 6. 

One of those men, Jim Jordan (R-OH), is known for disrupting hearings; another, Jim Banks (R-IN), after being selected to sit on the committee, said that Pelosi “created this committee solely to malign conservatives and to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.” Banks has repeatedly tried to blame Pelosi for the response of the Capitol Police on January 6, when, in fact, it is overseen by a three-person Capitol Police Board. It is likely that McCarthy chose Jordan precisely to push Pelosi into rejecting him: McCarthy did not make Jordan the ranking member on the committee despite his seniority. 

Pelosi refused to accept Jordan and Banks but did accept Troy Nehls (R-TX), who also voted to challenge the results of the 2020 election. Nonetheless, McCarthy made a show of pulling all his appointees from the committee, saying “this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth.” 

But, of course, one of Pelosi’s own picks is Republican Liz Cheney (R-WY), who voted with Trump 92.9% of the time, but who recognizes the insurrection as one of the most dangerous threats to our democracy in our history. She responded today to McCarthy, her party’s leader, supporting Pelosi’s decision and telling reporters that the Speaker had “objected to two members and the rhetoric around this from the minority leader and from those two members has been disgraceful. This must be an investigation that is focused on facts, and the idea that any of this has become politicized is really unworthy of the office that we all hold and unworthy of our republic.” 

Cheney said she is "absolutely confident that we will have a nonpartisan investigation."

On January 13, of course, McCarthy said: “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by [Trump] to accept his share of responsibility.” Now, six months later, Republicans have lined up behind the former president and are seeking to sabotage the investigation into the January 6 insurrection, clearly unhappy about what that investigation will reveal. 

In the Senate, a vote to advance the $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill failed today, but 11 Republicans eager to make the deal work delivered a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) indicating their intention to vote for such a bill once it is hammered out. Schumer has promised to bring the procedural process up again if it has the votes to pass. If Republicans refuse to join the measure, Democrats can simply fold it into the larger bill they’re hoping to pass through reconciliation without the Republican votes necessary to break a filibuster.

McConnell has taken a stand against the Democrats’ infrastructure plans. In a speech on July 6, he focused on the larger package, saying: “The era of bipartisanship on this stuff is over....This is not going to be done on a bipartisan basis. This is going to be a hell of a fight over what this country ought to look like in the future and it's going to unfold here in the next few weeks. I don't think we've had a bigger difference of opinion between the two parties.” But many Republicans recognize that the infrastructure package is popular, and they would like to have their names on it rather than giving another win to the Democrats. Schumer has given them more time but has made it clear he will not let them run out the clock. 

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters today that no Republican senators will vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling when a deal cut two years ago to suspend the ceiling ends on July 31. McConnell wants to see spending cuts to bring down the deficit. (It is worth noting that the Republicans just demanded that funding to beef up the IRS to catch tax cheaters be stripped from the new infrastructure bill, although the commissioner of the IRS, Charles Rettig, estimates we lose $1 trillion a year in unpaid taxes.) 

During the Trump administration, Congress voted at least three times to raise the debt ceiling. Under Trump, the nation added $7.8 trillion to the national debt, about $23,500 for every person in the country. The bulk of this debt came before the coronavirus pandemic. Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, which chopped the federal tax rate from 35% to 21%, hurt revenues at the same time that administration spending increased dramatically. And then the pandemic hit. 

Under Trump, the deficit rose 5.2%. The only presidents to raise it faster in their terms were George W. Bush, under whom the deficit rose 11.7% as he cut taxes and started two wars, and Abraham Lincoln, under whom it rose 9.4% as he paid for the Civil War. 

The Democrats are treating McConnell’s threat to shut down the government as political posturing. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: “We expect Congress to act in a timely manner to raise or suspend the debt ceiling, as they did three times on a broad bipartisan basis during the last administration,” and Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) tweeted: “We are not going to have a ‘big fight’ over the debt ceiling. We are just going to handle our business like grownups.” Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) added: “We don't bargain over the debt ceiling. We just do our jobs. And if you choose not to do your job, then you answer for the consequences.”

The takeaway from today is that McConnell and McCarthy seem to have lost control of their caucus, while the Republicans’ posturing is increasingly out of step with the national mood. Pelosi called McCarthy’s bluff, Schumer warned his Republican colleagues that he will not let them sabotage Democratic priorities by running out the clock, and Democratic lawmakers are taking advantage of the erratic behavior of Republican lawmakers to suggest that they, the Democrats, are currently the only adults in the room.

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Notes:

https://www.politico.com/newsletters/playbook/2021/07/20/rip-bif-493649

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/05/07/cheney-was-more-loyal-trumps-agenda-than-stefanik-trump-only-cares-about-loyalty-him/

https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/21/politics/january-6-committee-jim-banks/index.html

https://www.politico.com/news/2021/07/21/congress-bipartisan-infrastructure-deal-500408

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/07/20/democrats-may-soon-wage-ultimate-kitchen-table-campaign/

https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/561720-mcconnell-vows-hell-of-a-fight-over-biden-infrastructure-plan

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/13/business/irs-tax-gap.html

https://www.propublica.org/article/national-debt-trump

https://www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2021/07/21/republicans-debt-ceiling/

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