May 30, 2022
Outrage continues over the Uvalde massacre of last Tuesday, May 24, in which 21 people were killed and 17 wounded. The assault on this elementary school stands out for many reasons: the youth of the victims, the apparent mishandling of the situation by law enforcement officers, and the heroism of the parents, for example. After all, there have been at least 14 mass shootings in the U.S. since the Uvalde murders, killing at least 10 people and wounding another 61, and they have gotten much less attention.
But the response to the Uvalde massacre reminds me of the response to the murder of George Floyd under the knee of then-officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020, almost exactly two years before the crisis at Uvalde.
Caught on video by then-17-year-old Darnella Frazier, Mr. Floyd’s murder represented more than the killing of one man: it illustrated the abuse of power by the government.
After almost four years of an administration in which the president and his advisors had openly uprooted governmental guardrails and claimed the right to impose their will on the country unchecked, the message that the government was abusing its power was one that lots of Americans were ready to hear. That new awareness included those who might not have paid particular attention to the longstanding abuse of power by police officers toward Black people, or to the dramatic militarization of our police forces since the government began transferring unneeded or outdated military equipment from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to police departments. Mr. Floyd’s murder seemed to personify that societal anger.
The fury of the response to the Uvalde murders, after many years in which many in the country seemed to move on from dramatic mass murders seems to me a reflection not only of the unspeakable carnage in this country, but also of the political corruption that permits it to take place.
That the modern-day Republican Party has managed repeatedly to stop the commonsense gun regulations that the vast majority of us want, even when their stubbornness means our children die at school, seems finally to have sparked a reaction against the party’s skewing of the political system across the board.
Texas governor Greg Abbott boasted last year of signing at least 7 new laws to make it easier to get guns, including a law allowing people to carry handguns without permits. When Abbott visited Uvalde on Sunday, people booed him. Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, both Republicans, pulled out of personal appearances at the National Rifle Association conference meeting in Houston on Friday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) seems to fear the power of this fury. He told CNN on Thursday that he has encouraged Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) to meet with Democrats to try to hash out a bipartisan solution in response to the Uvalde school shooting. If I had to guess, I’d say McConnell is simply trying to buy time until the furor calms a bit, just as he did with Trump’s second impeachment. As Ashley Parker and Michael Scherer detailed on Saturday in the Washington Post, McConnell “has spent his career working to delay, obstruct or prevent most major firearms restrictions from being approved by Congress.” His approach has consistently been to suggest vague support for a solution, then to undercut any action. And Cornyn boasts an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association, suggesting his enthusiasm for gun safety reform might be well under control.
But regardless of what happens with gun safety regulation in the next few weeks, Americans unhappy with Republican manipulation of our political system are unlikely to be reassured. On June 9, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol will begin six televised hearings to explain to the American people what happened on and around that day.
That story is unlikely to reflect well on Republican leadership, who are trying to discredit the committee itself by claiming it is illegitimate. Their wiggling doesn’t look great for those who are supposed to be responsible for writing our laws.
The story is that the House tried to set up a bipartisan commission, and Senate Republicans used the filibuster to kill it (almost exactly a year ago today, actually). Then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used precisely the same model Republicans had used to set up their 2014 Benghazi probe. Pelosi had the power to name the chair and 13 members, five of them in consultation with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). McCarthy’s picks included Representatives Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Jim Banks (R-IN), both of whom were closely linked to Trump and had already expressed opposition to the committee. When Pelosi refused to add Jordan and Banks to the roster, McCarthy withdrew all the Republicans he had chosen. Pelosi then added Republicans Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), and kept the committee at 9 people.
When asked to cooperate with the committee or respond to subpoenas, Republicans have since tried to argue that it is illegitimate. But early this month, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly—appointed by former president Trump—dismissed all those claims.
That decision came in a case about a committee subpoena for the Republican National Committee’s email marketing data from Salesforce, Inc., the company that handled fundraising emails in the weeks after Trump lost the election. The committee asked for the emails in February, wanting to determine to what degree they asked for donations by claiming that the election results were fraudulent. It could have seen who coordinated the emails, how many people opened the emails that spread false information, and whether any of those folks were eventually among those who stormed the Capitol. The RNC sued Salesforce, its own email vendor, in March to stop the production of those documents. Yesterday, though, the committee said that the case has been held up so long that it recognizes it no longer has time to analyze the information before the hearings, even if it were to get that data.
There are other subpoenas also being stonewalled. The committee subpoenaed Representatives McCarthy, Jordan, Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Scott Perry (R-PA), and Mo Brooks (R-AL) earlier this month. Their responses are coming in now, and they indicate that these members of Congress continue to reject the legitimacy of the committee.
On Wednesday, May 25, Biggs’s lawyers said his subpoena had not been properly served, the committee is not valid, and anything Biggs did is protected because it was part of his legislative duties. Jordan told the committee the same day that he would not comply with a subpoena until it told him all the evidence—documents, videos, or anything else—it has about him beforehand.
On Friday, McCarthy’s lawyer sent an 11-page letter to the committee denying its legitimacy and attacking the ability of Congress to investigate a potential crime because its mandate is only to make laws. And on Sunday, Brooks claimed to Fox News Sunday guest host Sandra Smith that he had not been served with a subpoena, and he said he wanted to talk with his subpoenaed colleagues before responding.
Meanwhile, Perry has simply said the whole committee effort is a charade, but on Thursday, May 26, he was in the news when someone told Politico reporters Betsy Woodruff Swan and Kyle Cheney what Cassidy Hutchinson, who worked under then–White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, had told the committee. Hutchinson apparently testified that Meadows burned papers in his office following a meeting there with Perry after Election Day 2020.
The New York Times had previously reported that Meadows had burned papers in his office fireplace.
If Americans are concerned that the Republicans have gamed the system, the January 6 committee hearings seem unlikely to provide much reassurance.