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July 28, 2022
Today saw widespread outrage that Senate Republicans sank the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) bill—a bill they had already agreed to by a strong margin—out of spite over the resurrection of a reconciliation package that would make drugs cheaper, plug tax loopholes for corporations and the extremely wealthy, and invest in switching the economy away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy. The PACT bill would provide medical benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins during their military service.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed that he would not permit the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) bill, which appropriates $280 billion to speed up the manufacturing of semiconductors in the U.S. and to invest in scientific research and development in computers, artificial intelligence, and so on, to pass unless Democrats gave up their larger plan. Yesterday, the Senate passed the CHIPS bill, and shortly after, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced that he and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had agreed to much of what McConnell objected to. They introduced a new bill, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, to pass through reconciliation.
Although the CHIPS Act was a popular bipartisan bill, Republicans claim the Democrats’ political hardball in passing it before turning to other, also popular measures like lower prices on prescription drugs, was a betrayal of the Republican Party.
In retaliation, besides blocking the PACT bill, Republican leaders whipped their caucus in the House against voting for the CHIPS bill. In addition, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), who has been working to find votes in the Senate to protect gay marriage, told Jonathan Nicholson of HuffPost that Senate Republicans now would be unlikely to agree to that protection. That bill reflects the fact that 70% of Americans support gay marriage. It seemed as if the Senate might agree to it (the House has already passed it), but Republicans seem to be backing away from it out of anger that the Democrats want to pass measures that are actually quite popular.
Trying to demonstrate a party’s power to kill popular legislation is an interesting approach to governance. Right now, the Republicans are getting hammered, primarily for their refusal to repass the PACT bill, which is a real blow to veterans. Veterans’ advocate and comedian Jon Stewart has been especially vocal today, calling out Republican senators at the Capitol and then on a number of media shows, going “nuclear,” as the Military Times put it, over the undermining of medical treatment for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. “[I]f this is America First,” he said, “then America is f*cked.”
At the end of the day, it is still possible that the bill will pass, but it will not come up until Schumer reschedules it, meaning the Republicans are simply going to have to endure the hits they are taking for this fit of pique until he decides to give them some cover.
Indeed, the demonstration that Republican leadership wants power to kill popular legislation creates an opening for Democrats and Republicans eager to break away from the party’s current extremism.
That showed in today’s vote in the House on the CHIPS bill, when 187 Republicans voted no but 24 Republicans, including Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), both of whom sit on the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, joined the Democrats to vote yes. The 24 representatives did so despite the fact that Republican leadership was urging them to vote no, and although the Democrats all hung together and therefore Republican votes were not necessary to pass the measure.
The momentum growing behind the Democrats as Republicans begin to buck House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) seems as if it might reflect the realization that more information will be coming from the January 6th committee and that it is unlikely to be the sort of information that reinforces faith in the Republican Party.
News broke today that U.S. Secret Service director James Murray, who resigned with a plan to leave at the end of the month, has now delayed his retirement from the force as it is under investigation. Washington Post reporters Carol D. Leonnig and Maria Sacchetti also broke the news that it is not just the texts of Secret Service agents that are missing from the days before January 6. Also gone are text messages from Trump’s acting secretary of homeland security Chad Wolf and acting deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli, also lost in a “reset” of their phones.
CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elie Honig noted: “Every federal law enforcement agency—including DHS / Secret Service—is fully aware that it must retain emails and texts, and has internal policies and technology to ensure compliance. You don’t get to say ‘technology upgrade’ and just toss everything out. They know this.”
Those who can get out in front of the January 6 mess are doing so. Members of the January 6th committee are interviewing Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and are negotiating with Trump’s Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as well. As legal analyst Joyce White Vance noted: “At this point, it’s becoming a race to get to testify in front of the January 6 Committee.”
Vance explained: “[Representative] Liz Cheney said during last week’s hearing that the dam is breaking. Prosecutors recognize that moment in a long-term investigation. It’s when the bad guys realize they have lost and begin to try to cut their losses.”
Tonight, Kyle Cheney reported in Politico that the January 6th committee is handing 20 witness interviews over to the Department of Justice, and yesterday, we learned that the Department of Justice has obtained a warrant to search the phone of John Eastman, who wrote the memo outlining the plan for Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to recognize certified electors for President-elect Joe Biden.
Today, Katelyn Polantz and Evan Perez of CNN reported that a former Department of Justice staffer who worked with Jeffrey Clark, the man whom Trump considered installing as attorney general to further his attempt to overturn the election, has been fully cooperating with the Department of Justice. The staffer is Ken Klukowski, and he has turned his electronic records over to the Justice Department.
Perez and Polantz also reported that prosecutors from the Department of Justice are planning court fights to get former White House officials to testify about Trump’s actions around January 6.
Vox correspondent Ian Millhiser, who is a keen observer of American politics, commented tonight: “This was a good week for the United States of America and I may be coming down with a case of The Hope.”