October 27, 2021
At a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Republican senators accused Attorney General Merrick Garland of “siccing” the FBI on parents who are simply concerned about their child’s education.
The backstory is that there has been a coordinated effort across the country to whip up protests at school board meetings over mask mandates and opposition to teaching Critical Race Theory in K–12 schools (where it is not taught), and they have gotten heated enough that protesters have threatened the lives of school board members, teachers, administrators, and school staff.
In response, the National School Board Association (NSBA) wrote to the administration asking for federal help in addressing the increasing threats. Garland issued a memo calling for federal law enforcement to work with local law enforcement as necessary to protect school board members.
Under pressure from Republican state representatives, the NSBA apologized for some of the language it had used in its initial letter—it suggested the protesters were engaging in domestic terrorism, for example—and today senators tried to get Garland, too, to apologize for his memo.
He refused. "I wish if senators were concerned about this that they would quote my words," he said. "This memorandum is not about parents being able to object in their school boards. They are protected by the First Amendment as long as there are no threats of violence, they are completely protected."
It was painfully obvious that the Republicans, especially Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), were trying to create sound bites for right-wing media, and perhaps to undermine Garland’s credibility should the Department of Justice bring charges against high-ranking lawmakers over the events of January 6. They portrayed Garland as part of a conspiracy to crush American liberty and demanded his resignation.
It appears to be the new conspiracy theory of the Trump Republicans to say that the administration is hunting them: Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson is advertising an upcoming special that appears to suggest that the Democratic-controlled government is launching a war on right-wing Americans.
But that increasing hysteria feels as if it has desperation behind it. We learned recently that 18 members of Trump’s White House staff are cooperating voluntarily with the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. Only Stephen K. Bannon is not. These voices not only are likely to turn up valuable information, but also indicate that White House staffers are less worried about the wrath of the former president than the wrath of Congress.
If Trump has lost control of his team, it’s a whole new ball game. Anyone who can get out from under the wreckage will do so, and fast. That will make those remaining desperate to regain power. And Trump himself is facing more trouble. Today his lawyers asked a judge to block the IRS from giving his taxes to the House Ways and Means Committee.
Another indication of desperation today came from Georgia, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell endorsed Herschel Walker for the Republican nomination for the Senate. Although he brings to the table name recognition as a famous football player, Walker is a deeply problematic candidate. First of all, it is not even clear he can run in Georgia since he lives in Texas—he switched his voting registration to an Atlanta home owned by his wife in August. Walker has a history of domestic violence and questionable business dealings, as well as a history of mental illness. Walker’s ex-wife said he pointed a gun at her and said: “I’m going to blow your f---ing brains out.” Walker’s ex-girlfriend told police he made a similar threat to her.
But Walker has said the 2020 election in Georgia was fraudulent, and Trump strongly endorsed him.
McConnell opposed Walker’s candidacy this summer and, just a week ago, suggested to CNN that the former president should stay out of the midterms. But on Monday, Senator John Thune (R-SD), the second-ranking Republican senator, endorsed Walker. Today Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), the Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference—the third-ranking Republican senator—endorsed him, too. And so did McConnell, bowing to the recognition that the Republicans need Trump’s voters to win so badly that they must let Trump call the shots.
“I am happy to endorse Herschel Walker for U.S. Senate in Georgia,” McConnell said. “Herschel is the only one who can unite the party, defeat Senator [Raphael] Warnock, and help us take back the Senate.” Conservative editor Bill Kristol noted on Twitter that McConnell said nothing about Walker being qualified for the position.
The Republicans want power.
Already, Republican lawmakers are using unprecedented measures to dictate to the Democratic president.
Today, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) called out Cruz for blocking all but four of President Joe Biden’s picks for ambassadorships (he let through former senators or their relatives). By this time in Trump’s presidency, the Senate had confirmed 22 of his ambassadors, 17 by a simple voice vote.
Cruz is putting holds on all Biden’s appointees until the president agrees to do as Cruz wants with regard to sanctions on a Russian company that is supplying gas to Germany. The construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline began during the Trump administration, meaning that Biden inherited a mess: our key ally Germany had committed to the pipeline, and sanctioning the company behind it would destabilize that relationship. When Secretary of State Antony Blinken concluded that it was “inevitable” that the pipeline would be finished, Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel reached a deal saying that if Russia used the pipeline for political pressure, the U.S. would slap sanctions on it.
Cruz wants sanctions now, and he is sabotaging the State Department until he gets his way.
This morning, the conservative magazine The Bulwark and the liberal magazine the New Republic jointly published “An Open Letter in Defense of Democracy.” Written by Todd Gitlin, Jeffrey C. Isaac, and Kristol, and signed by writers, scholars, and pundits from all political backgrounds, the letter deplores the efforts of the Trumpers to take control of our government and calls for Congress to pass voting rights legislation, by adjusting the filibuster if necessary.
The letter was a wake-up call. “[W]e urge all responsible citizens who care about democracy—public officials, journalists, educators, activists, ordinary citizens—to make the defense of democracy an urgent priority now.”
“Now is the time for leaders in all walks of life—for citizens of all political backgrounds and persuasions—to come to the aid of the Republic.”