May 18, 2021

Today President Joe Biden traveled to Dearborn, Michigan, to sell his $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan. Visiting Ford’s Rouge Electric Vehicle Center, he tested an electric version of the classic F-150 pickup and urged Americans to use the race to dominate the market in electric vehicles as a way to create jobs. The American Jobs Plan provides $174 billion to switch the nation’s car industry away from fossil fuels and toward renewables, and Ford’s electric F-150 could help sell the idea.

Union leaders support the idea of constructing the nation’s new electric fleet despite their concern that the new vehicles need less human labor than vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. (Ford says that building the new electric truck—the Lightning—will add jobs.) But Republican lawmakers, especially those whose states produce oil, remain skeptical.

Biden is quietly and deliberately trying to rebuild the American economy, which has been gutted in the years since 1981. Yesterday, he announced that the Treasury would deposit the benefits of the child tax credit, expanded in the American Rescue Plan Congress passed in March shortly after Biden took office, directly into people’s bank accounts on the 15th of every month, beginning in July. The child tax credit will amount to at least $250 per child every month, up to an annual amount of up to a maximum of $3600 per child. About 90% of all families with kids—about 39 million of them—will receive the money; the program is expected to cut child poverty in half. It is a tax cut, but one that benefits ordinary Americans.

Biden appears to be gambling that restoring the economy and rebuilding the middle class will weaken Trump’s hold on the dispossessed voters who cling to his racist nationalism out of anger at being left behind in today’s economy. He gives the impression of a president who is above the fray, simply trying to do what’s best for the nation.

But it seems hard for him to get media attention as the Republicans continue to make more dramatic news.

Today’s headlines were dominated by the fight in Congress over a commission to investigate the events surrounding the January 6 insurrection. Last week, Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and John Katko (R-NY), the top Republican on the committee, hammered out a deal to create an independent commission patterned on the one that investigated the 9/11 attack. Katko was one of the ten Republican representatives who voted to impeach Trump after the January 6 insurrection.

According to Politico, McCarthy authorized Katko to negotiate and gave him a list of demands, including equal representation for Republicans and Democrats on the committee, power for both parties to subpoena witnesses, and a final report before the end of the year so it wouldn’t still be active before the 2022 election.

Thompson conceded these three big points to the Republicans. And then, this morning, McCarthy came out against the deal. “Given the political misdirections that have marred this process, given the now duplicative and potentially counterproductive nature of this effort, and given the Speaker’s shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America, I cannot support this legislation,” he said.

Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) has repeatedly called for McCarthy to be subpoenaed to testify about his contact with Trump around the time of the insurrection, and Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) says that McCarthy dismissed him when Kinzinger warned before January 6 that the party’s rhetoric would cause violence.

“McCarthy won’t take yes for an answer,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said. “He made three requests—every single one was granted by Democrats, yet he still says no.” A senior Republican House aide told Politico: “I think Kevin was hoping that the Democrats would never agree to our requests—that way the commission would be partisan and we can all vote no and say it’s a sham operation.... Because he knows Trump is going to lose his mind” over the commission.

Indeed Trump later weighed in, saying the deal was a “Democrat trap.” This afternoon, in yet another illustration of how determined House leadership is to protect the former president, it began “whipping” House Republicans—that is, trying to get them to hold the party line— to oppose the creation of the commission. Nonetheless, Politico reported tonight that dozens of Republicans are considering supporting the commission despite how much it would infuriate Trump, because it would provide them political cover in 2022.

The measure will come to the floor of the House on Wednesday and should pass. The real question will be how it fares in the Senate, where seven Republican senators voted to convict Trump of inciting an insurrection in January. Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD), who voted to acquit the former president, told Sahil Kapur of NPR News that he wanted a bipartisan commission that would focus on January 6. “We clearly had an insurrection on that particular day, and I don’t want it to be swept under any rug,” he said.

While Republicans try to avoid a reckoning over January 6, there are signs that the hold of Trump loyalists is weakening. Yesterday, the Maricopa County, Arizona, Board of Supervisors sent a spectacular letter to Karen Fann, the president of the Arizona Senate that authorized the “audit” of the ballots cast in Maricopa County by the private company Cyber Ninjas. The 14-page letter tore apart the entire project, pointing out that the Cyber Ninjas are utterly ignorant of election procedures.

It is a devastating take down, saying, for example: “You have rented out the once good name of the Arizona State Senate to grifters and con-artists, who are fundraising hard-earned money from our fellow citizens even as your contractors parade around the Coliseum, hunting for bamboo and something they call ‘kinematic artifacts’ while shining purple lights for effect.” It concludes by begging Fann “to recognize the obvious truth: your ‘auditors’ are in way over their heads. They do not have the experience necessary to conduct an audit of an election. They do not know the laws, nor the procedures, nor the best practices. It is inevitable that they will arrive at questionable conclusions. It is time to end this. For the good of the Senate, for the good of the Country and for the good of the Democratic institutions that define us as Americans.”

Perhaps sensing blood in the water, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie this morning hinted he was considering a presidential run in 2024. He said he would make that decision without deferring to “anyone.” Still, his repeated claim that the party must stop being “reckless” seemed aimed specifically at the former president, whose refusal to acknowledge the danger of Covid-19 led to Christie’s own hospitalization with the disease.

Tonight offered more bad news for the former president. A spokesperson for New York Attorney General Letitia James said: “We have informed the Trump Organization that our investigation into the organization is no longer purely civil in nature. We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA.” Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., has been conducting a criminal investigation of the former president and his family for more than a year, focusing on finances. Now the New York attorney general’s office will be collaborating.

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Notes:

https://www.politico.com/news/2021/05/18/mccarthy-opposition-capitol-riot-commission-489250

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/18/business/biden-ford-electric-truck.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-ford-infrastructure/2021/05/18/efa05bdc-b7f6-11eb-96b9-e949d5397de9_story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/05/18/biden-welcomes-fight-over-tax-cuts/

https://www.politico.com/newsletters/playbook/2021/05/17/mccarthy-has-another-trump-problem-on-his-hands-492870

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/18/nyregion/trump-ny-ag-investigation-vance.html

https://www.maricopa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/68972/20210517-Response-Letter-to-Senate-President-Fann---FINAL

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