The day after: Pence’s integrity, Cheney’s revenge and Cipollone’s weakness

Mike Pence. Photo (cc) 2016 by Gage Skidmore.

Three quick thoughts on Thursday’s hearing by the Jan. 6 commission.

• I know a lot of people on my side of the ideological divide who give Mike Pence little credit for his actions during the attempted violent coup. I disagree. Look, he’s a religious-right Republican who was attached to Donald Trump at the hip from the moment Trump picked him as his running mate. But when everything was on the line, Pence didn’t hesitate to act with courage and integrity. He deserves our gratitude.

• Like everyone, I laughed at the video of Josh Hawley hightailing it away from the insurrectionist mob. But my reaction to the slo-mo replay was one of awed appreciation. It struck me as Liz Cheney’s handiwork — a giant “screw you” to a highly deserving target. She learned at the feet of the master. She can’t waterboard Hawley, although she’d probably like to. But she can humiliate him. Well done.

• I am weirdly fascinated by former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who is either the best of the bad guys or the worst of the good guys. He’s certainly no hero. Yes, he may have been among the last people in Trump’s inner circle who was giving him rational, reality-based advice, but so what? And he’s still protecting Trump, refusing to answer questions about what Trump told him under the guise of attorney-client privilege.

While NPR throws softballs, the ‘PBS NewsHour’ is showing some spine

Liz Cheney takes the oath of office in 2017. Photo in the public domain.

It wasn’t too many years ago when NPR was a bold, truth-telling news organization and the “PBS NewsHour” was a bastion of timidity. But at some point during the Trump era, their roles reversed. “NewsHour” anchor Judy Woodruff and the program’s two most prominent reporters, White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor and congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins, became much more assertive, challenging the powerful and demonstrating a willingness to call a lie a lie.

Rarely, though, do you get as clear-cut an example of what I’m talking about as what played out on Wednesday following U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney’s removal from the House Republican leadership. NPR anchor Mary Louise Kelly, a journalist I respect, never pressed two young Republicans she interviewed. Woodruff, meanwhile, pinned Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, up against a wall and wouldn’t let go until it was clear that he wasn’t going to answer her questions.

Kelly’s guests were Republican strategist Antonia Ferrier and Hoover Institution fellow Lanhee Chen, both of whom were intent on pretending that the elephant in the room — the implosion of their party into a tangle of lies and conspiracy theories — didn’t actually exist. Here, for instance, is how Chen responded to Kelly’s question about what it all means:

Well, I think it’s about alternate visions, maybe not alternate, but certainly two different visions of what the future of the Republican Party looks like. Will the party be a party that is fundamentally about ideas, about concepts? Or is it going to be an idea — a party focused on one personality? And I think, you know, Liz Cheney is articulating one pathway, and others are articulating another. It’s not mutually exclusive necessarily to the extent that there are some who might believe, for example, that former President Trump should have some role or some who believe that there ought to be more of a focus on policy.

But I think what Cheney is doing is setting out a very clear contrast, and, you know, that’s sure to irk some of her colleagues. But it is, I think, an important question that Republicans need to ask, which is, what is the direction that those of us who are self-identified Republicans want to see the party go in? And what’s the best way to get there?

No, what Cheney is doing is pointing out, over and over, that Joe Biden won the November election and that Donald Trump helped incite violence on Jan. 6 in an attempt to reverse the results. That has nothing to do with “two different visions of what the future of the Republican Party looks like.”

And how did Kelly respond? “Well,” she said, “it has very clearly irked more than a few of her colleagues.” It went no better with Ferrier, who talked around the real issue at length — again, never mentioning Trump’s big lie or the insurrection. Kelly reacted by telling Ferrier that “it’s a complicated subject with a lot of nuance there. So I appreciate your laying some of that out for us.”

Meanwhile, Woodruff was politely laying into Portman, who started off by saying that “Republicans here in the House and the Senate do not question the legitimacy of Joe Biden as president.” Woodruff’s response:

Senator, as you know, there’s a contradiction, because I hear what you’re saying and I hear what Kevin McCarthy is saying about, yes, we accept Joe Biden.

But, as we all know, former President Trump does not accept that the election was held legitimately. And Liz Cheney was saying that out loud, and she’s being punished for it. So, the message is that it’s fealty to President Trump, rather than issues, that are driving the Republican Party.

Is that the right message for the future?

“No,” Portman replied before dissembling some more. Woodruff also challenged him on Republican opposition to tax hikes and to include child care and elder care in President Biden’s infrastructure bill.

Now, I will grant that there’s always a problem in trying to draw these comparisons. No doubt NPR could point to plenty of examples when they’ve been much tougher than Kelly was on Wednesday. As I said, I respect her, and maybe she’ll take a completely different tack the next time I hear her. Maybe she didn’t want to badger two young, relatively powerless interview subjects — though I hardly think that asking them the most pressing questions of the day constitutes badgering.

Overall, though, I think Wednesday’s interviews fit into what I’ve observed — that NPR and the “NewsHour” have switched roles over the past few years.

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Some truth-telling from Paul Krugman about those April jobless numbers

Paul Krugman. Photo (cc) 2011 by 00Joshi.

No doubt you’re aware that the media have been mindless repeating the phony Republican talking point that the April job numbers fell short because the unemployment benefits in President Biden’s rescue package are too generous.

“The disappointing jobs report makes it clear that paying people not to work is dampening what should be a stronger jobs market,” according to chamber’s chief policy officer, Neal Bradley, who was quoted by Business Insider.

So it was bracing to encounter some reality in today’s New York Times column by Paul Krugman, surely the only full-time pundit with a Nobel Prize in economics. Here are some facts:

  • The economy actually added more than 1 million jobs in April, not the 266,000 officially reported. What explains the discrepancy? The number was “seasonally adjusted,” with the true number revised downward “because the economy normally adds a lot of jobs in the spring.” That’s standard practice, so it is in fact true that the April numbers were disappointing. But we are only just now coming out of the pandemic. Let’s see what happens in the following months.
  • “The expiration of the $600-a week-benefit introduced in March 2020,” Krugman says, “didn’t lead to any visible rise in overall employment; in particular, states with low wages, for whom the benefit should have created a big incentive to turn down job offers, didn’t see more employment than higher-wage states when it was removed.”
  • “If unemployment benefits were holding job growth back,” Krugman adds, “you’d expect the worst performance in low-wage industries, where benefits are large relative to wages. The actual pattern was the reverse: big job gains in low-wage sectors like leisure and hospitality, job losses in high-wage sectors like professional services.”

The Republicans are tearing themselves apart, trying to pump up their white rural base by attacking transgender kids and preparing to toss Liz Cheney off the House leadership team for having the temerity to tell the truth about Donald Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Meanwhile, Biden’s approval rating has hit 63%.

Biden has made a big bet that he can build a winning Democratic coalition by proving that government can work again. Republican criticism of his economic policies less than four months into his presidency is a sign that they fear he might succeed.

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Trump’s five years of incitement finally reach their logical end point

I half-expected to wake up this morning hearing martial music on the radio and an announcement from the Joint Chiefs of Staff that President Pence would be speaking soon.

Instead, Donald Trump is still president. In the early-morning hours, he finally conceded the race and promised an orderly transition of power to Joe Biden, though he refused to abandon his false assertion that he actually won the election — a toxic lie that led directly to Wednesday’s insurrection.

What led Trump to back down? We can be pretty sure what it wasn’t. Even the rioting and the fatal shooting of a Trump supporter in the Capitol weren’t enough to stop him from releasing an incendiary video in which his call for calm was completely overshadowed by his words of support for the insurrectionists. It was so horrifying that Twitter and Facebook both took it down.

It seems more likely that Trump’s change in tactics came as the result of what The Washington Post described as serious talk among “some senior administration officials” to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove him from office before his term expires on Jan. 20. Something like that may have begun Wednesday evening, when Vice President Pence but not Trump was consulted on whether the National Guard should be called out — a clear violation of the chain of command, but understandable under the circumstances.

Trump should be removed anyway. As we saw Wednesday, he is far too dangerous to leave in power even for another day. “The president needs to be held accountable — through impeachment proceedings or criminal prosecution — and the same goes for his supporters who carried out the violence,” The New York Times editorialized. The Post called for Trump’s removal under the 25th Amendment, arguing: “The president is unfit to remain in office for the next 14 days. Every second he retains the vast powers of the presidency is a threat to public order and national security.”

Naturally, the radical Republicans who continue to support Trump are pointing their fingers at anyone but themselves. Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, Brit Hume and others have tried to blame the violence on left-wing infiltrators from antifa groups, an absurd and offensive proposition for which there is zero evidence. As Molly Ball of Time magazine put it, “The amazing thing about ‘it might have been antifa’ is that Trump literally summoned these people to DC, spoke at their event, offered to walk them over to the Capitol and then praised them afterward.”

One of the more interesting questions today is whether Trump might face criminal charges for inciting violence, as the Times editorial suggests. Of course, Trump has been inciting his followers for months — for years, even. But the key to criminal charges would be the speech he delivered to the mob shortly before it began its rampage through the Capitol.

According to the Times’ account of his speech, he did not explicitly call for violence, although he indulged in incendiary rhetoric such as “you will never take back our country with weakness.” On the other hand, Rudy Giuliani called for “trial by combat” and Donald Trump Jr. — speaking of Republican members of Congress who were not supporting the effort to overturn the election — said, “We’re coming for you.”

An investigation might well conclude that they had crossed the line, and of course it was the president himself who was aiding and abetting such calls. “There’s no question the president formed the mob,” the Times quoted U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., as telling Fox News. “The president incited the mob. The president addressed the mob. He lit the flame.”

There’s so much more that we need to know. I’ve heard a lot of criticism that the police essentially enabled the violent Trumpers just months after a massive show of force put down Black Lives Matter rallies. From what I’ve seen, the problem Wednesday is that the police were vastly outnumbered. An overly aggressive response in such a situation could have led to an even greater disaster. But why were they outnumbered? Why was the planning for Wednesday so poor given that we all knew a Trumper mob was descending upon the city?

Needless to say, we also need to know more about Ashli Babbitt, the Air Force veteran and Trump supporter who was fatally shot inside the Capitol, reportedly by a Capitol Police officer. Three others also died after experiencing “medical emergencies, according to reports.

Wednesday was a day that will live in infamy as five years of Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric reached its logical end point. “What happened at the U.S. Capitol today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.

What we need, I suspect, is a new conservative party untainted by Trumpism and led by people of conscience like Romney. The notion seemed absurd even a few days ago. But just as the Republicans supplanted the Whigs in the 1840s and ’50s, it may be time for the Republicans to be supplanted by a party committed to principle and democracy.

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