The Senate majority leader is prioritizing the Republican Party rather than the American people during this crisis.
American states are abruptly facing their worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that more than 25 percent of state revenues have evaporated because of the pandemic. Demands on state health-care budgets, state unemployment systems, and state social-welfare benefits are surging. By the summer of 2022, the state budget gap could total half a trillion dollars.
States need help. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell does not want to provide it. On The Hugh Hewitt Show on April 23, McConnell proposed another idea. Instead of more federal aid, states should cut their spending by declaring bankruptcy:
I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route. It saves some cities. And there’s no good reason for it not to be available. My guess is their first choice would be for the federal government to borrow money from future generations to send it down to them now so they don’t have to do that. That’s not something I’m going to be in favor of.”
McConnell expanded on the state-bankruptcy concept later that same day in a phone interview with Fox News’s Bill Hemmer:
We’re not interested in solving their pension problems for them. We’re not interested in rescuing them from bad decisions they’ve made in the past, we’re not going to let them take advantage of this pandemic to solve a lot of problems that they created themselves [with] bad decisions in the past.
McConnell’s words instantly attracted attention, criticism, even some derision. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo blasted the idea as “dumb,” “irresponsible,” and “petty”:
How do you think this is going to work? And then to suggest we’re concerned about the economy, states should declare bankruptcy. That’s how you’re going to bring this national economy back? By states declaring bankruptcy? You want to see that market fall through the cellar? … I mean, if there’s ever a time for humanity and decency, now is the time.
Cuomo’s fervent rebuttal grabbed the cameras. It did not settle the issue. State bankruptcy is not some passing fancy. Republicans have been advancing the idea for more than a decade. Back in 2011, Jeb Bush and Newt Gingrich published a jointly bylined op-ed advocating state bankruptcy as a solution for the state of California. The Tea Party Congress elected in 2010 explored the idea of state bankruptcy in House hearings and Senate debates. Newt Gingrich promoted it in his run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
To understand why Republicans want state bankruptcy, it’s necessary to understand what bankruptcy is—and what it is not.
A bankruptcy is not a default. States have defaulted on their debts before; that is not new. Arkansas defaulted in the depression year of 1933. Eight states defaulted on canal and railway debt within a single year, 1841. The Fourteenth Amendment required former Confederate states to repudiate their Civil War debts
A default is a sovereign act. A defaulting sovereign can decide for itself which—if any—debts to pay in full, which to repay in part, which debts to not pay at all.
Bankruptcy, by contrast, is a legal process in which a judge decides which debts will be paid, in what order, and in what amount. Under the Constitution, bankruptcy is a power entirely reserved to the federal government. An American bankruptcy is overseen in federal court, by a federal judge, according to federal law. That’s why federal law can allow U.S. cities to go bankrupt, as many have done over the years. That’s why the financial restructuring of Puerto Rico can be overseen by a federal control board. Cities and territories are not sovereigns. Under the U.S. Constitution, U.S. states are.
Understand that, and you begin to understand the appeal of state bankruptcy to Republican legislators in the post-2010 era.
Since 2010, American fiscal federalism has been defined by three overwhelming facts.
First, the country’s wealthiest and most productive states are overwhelmingly blue. Of the 15 states least reliant on federal transfers, 11 are led by Democratic governors. Of the 15 states most reliant on federal transfers, 11 have Republican governors.
Second, Congress is dominated by Republicans. Republicans controlled the House for eight of the last 10 years; the Senate for six. Because of the Republican hold on the Senate, the federal judiciary has likewise shifted in conservative and Republican directions.
A state bankruptcy process would thus enable a Republican Party based in the poorer states to use its federal ascendancy to impose its priorities upon the budgets of the richer states.
When Cuomo protested McConnell’s bankruptcy idea, the New York governor raised the risk of chaos in financial markets. But McConnell does not advocate state bankruptcy in order to subject state bondholders to hardship. Obviously not! When McConnell spoke to Hewitt about fiscally troubled states, he did not address their bond debt. He addressed their pension debt. State bankruptcy is a project to shift hardship onto pensioners while protecting bondholders—and, even more than bondholders, taxpayers.
Republican plans for state bankruptcy sedulously protect state taxpayers. The Bush-Gingrich op-ed of 2011 was explicit on this point. A federal law of state bankruptcy “must explicitly forbid any federal judge from mandating a tax hike,” they wrote. You might wonder: Why? If a Republican Senate majority leader from Kentucky is willing to squeeze Illinois state pensioners, why would he care about shielding Illinois state taxpayers? The answer is found in the third of the three facts of American fiscal federalism.
United States senators from smaller, poorer red states do not only represent their states. Often, they do not even primarily represent their states. They represent, more often, the richest people in bigger, richer blue States who find it more economical to invest in less expensive small-state races. The biggest contributor to Mitch McConnell’s 2020 campaign and leadership committee is a
- PAC headquartered in Englewood, New Jersey. The second is a
- conduit for funds from real-estate investors. The third is the
- tobacco company Altria. The fourth is the
- parcel delivery service UPS. The fifth is the
- Eli Lilly pharmaceutical corporation. The sixth is
- the home health-care company, LHC Group. The seventh is the
- Blackstone hedge fund. And so on and on.
A federal bankruptcy process for state finances could thus enable wealthy individuals and interest groups in rich states to leverage their clout in the anti-majoritarian federal system to reverse political defeats in the more majoritarian political systems of big, rich states like California, New York, and Illinois.
No question, many states face serious problems with their unfunded liabilities to state retirees. Illinois’s liability nears $140 billion, and its municipalities are liable for additional billions. California’s state and local unfunded liabilities amount to $1.5 trillion.
Those liabilities are often described as “pension” liabilities, but they are driven above all by faster-than-expected increases in retiree health-care costs. They need to be addressed, and addressing them will be a tough policy challenge. It will be a tough legal challenge, too, since those liabilities are often—as in Illinois—inscribed into the state’s constitution.
Difficult and important as these problems are, they are not urgent problems. They existed 24 months ago; they will remain 24 months from now. From a strictly economic point of view, McConnell’s schemes for state bankruptcy are utterly irrelevant to the present crisis. Reducing future pension liabilities will not replenish lost revenues or reduce suddenly crushing social-welfare burdens.
But McConnell seems to be following the rule “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” He’s realistic enough to recognize that the pandemic probably means the end not only of the Trump presidency, but of his own majority leadership. He’s got until January to refashion the federal government in ways that will constrain his successors. That’s what the state-bankruptcy plan is all about.
McConnell gets it. Now you do, too.
<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/ynXfwzb1Aw4″ frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen></iframe>45:51Giller ISM in America and so I think45:53that obviously did lend an added sense45:57of urgency to the 2016 election and let46:00me answer your first question by46:02mentioning somebody else who’s vital to46:04this entire narrative arc and that’s46:06Mitch McConnell because let let me say46:10this and and you certainly you’re46:13certainly free to disagree but but we46:16would not have president Donald Trump46:18today he would not have won the election46:19in 201646:20had that Supreme Court seat not been46:23dangled out in front of voters in46:26November of 2016 by blocking hearings on46:29on Merrick garland President Obama’s46:32nominee to fill that Supreme Court seat46:34when Antonin Scalia very unexpectedly46:35died in 2015 by by blocking hearings and46:40not allowing Merrick garland to be46:42confirmed Mitch McConnell helped Donald46:46Trump to mobilize untold numbers of46:48voters who may not have been willing to46:50turn out and vote for Donald Trump46:52otherwise and Mitch McConnell’s the46:53first person to realize that he and I46:55had a discussion about this in detail46:56when you think about the fact that46:58Donald Trump won the presidency by three47:01states Michigan Wisconsin and47:03Pennsylvania by a combined margin of47:06seventy seven thousand seven hundred and47:07forty four votes and when you look at47:10the exit polling in those states and the47:12issues that were most important to47:13people and when you see that somewhere47:15between 18 and 22 percent of the47:17Republican voters in those states said47:19that their number one issue was judges47:21do the math Mitch McConnell whether you47:25love him or hate him whether you are a47:26die-hard liberal or a bleeding-heart47:27conservative Mitch McConnell47:31absolutely delivered the white house to47:33Donald Trump by holding open that47:35judicial vacancy and traditionally I47:36think we all can recognize those of us47:39who pay a lot of attention to politics47:40those nerds among us that conservatives47:43traditionally are much more invested in47:45the judiciary than our Democrats and47:48that is a big source of concern right47:51now on the left you have some ascendant47:53groups now trying to match on the left47:54sort of the apparatus that has been47:56built out on the right with the47:57Federalist Society and others but to47:59answer your question absolutely the48:01judiciary was critical to the outcome in48:03twenty48:04Dean yes sir I’m curious if during your48:08reporting you you spoke to any Democrats48:11who had some some regret or even just48:14self-reflection about the attacks they48:16leveled on John McCain and Mitt Romney48:18in o8 in 2012 in the sense that when48:22they leveled largely the same attacks48:23against Donald Trump they sort of came48:25off as the boy who cried wolf that is an48:28excellent excellent excellent question48:31and the answer is yes look folks48:35MIT Romney in 2012 Jake Tapper at CNN48:39said said this to me once and I thought48:41it was perfectly put at least through48:45the prism of the mainstream media and48:47the media perception of MIT Romney in48:492012 he was the dog torturing robber48:52baron and by 2016 he was the white48:55knight of the Republican Party and what48:57changed right what changed during that48:59period48:59look Mitt Romney like any candidate for49:01high office should be held to a high49:03standard but the obsessive coverage of49:06Mitt Romney’s sort of weirdness his49:09other nests49:10you know he irons his jeans he said that49:13his wife owns a couple of Cadillacs you49:16know look we all get it that you know he49:19as he said self-deprecating Lee when he49:21was wearing a tuxedo at one of these49:22white tie dinners he said finally I get49:25to wear something out in public that we49:26wear around the house right and he got49:29it right but it was almost to the point49:32it was almost to the point of absolute49:33absurdity by the end of the 201249:35campaign and as you may recall there was49:37this presidential debate with Barack49:39Obama in which Mitt Romney was asked49:41about needing to diversify the federal49:44workforce and specifically why there49:46aren’t more women in high-ranking49:47government positions and Romney offered49:50this very very interesting well thought49:52answer about how when he was governor of49:55Massachusetts he had made that a top49:56priority and that it heard him how49:58whenever he was attempting to fill a top50:00staff position that all these resumes on50:02his desk were men and so he went to his50:04chief of staff who was a woman and he50:06said look I want to get more qualified50:08women into these positions and as he’s50:11answering this question50:12Romney then says and she did and she50:14wanted bringing me these whole binders50:16full50:16women now to any reasonable person who50:20was listening to that you think man50:23that’s good for him it was a really50:24thoughtful substantive answer and for50:27the next 96 hours all you heard was Mitt50:30Romney as a misogynist and Mitt Romney50:32doesn’t know how to talk to women and50:34Mitt Romney is weird and awkward and50:36look folks I am just sitting here50:37telling you I travel to 38 states in50:392016 covering the campaign I’ve talked50:41to a lot of voters I will tell youbeyond a shadow of a doubt that thedesensitisation people have begun tofeel especially conservatives who feellike the media is always beating up ontheir guysthey have been numbed to it and when2016 came around these criticisms ofDonald Trump oh he’s immoraloh he’s unethical oh he’s a hypocritehe’s a womanizer he does and says thesedisgusting vulgar things they fell ondeaf ears for a lot of voters they tunedus out and that is something I alsotouch on in the book I think it’s reallyimportant to understand the role that51:14the media and public perception plays in51:17all of this and this book is not meant51:20to hold up a mirror just to Donald Trump51:22and just to the Republican Party it’s51:23meant to hold up a mirror to all of us51:24because I think every single person51:26sitting in this room can probably do a51:28little bit of soul-searching and a51:29little bit of reflecting on how we got51:31to this point the role that we all may51:33have played in it either individually or51:35collectively I I have two related51:37questions one is to what degree did in51:41terms of victory and moving forward will51:43vote suppression and gerrymandering be a51:46factor in keeping the Republican51:48majority moving forward or not not51:52majority but being able to hold the51:54White House and the Senate second is51:57what accounts for the Republican Party52:01which has been chronicled in books like52:03chain reaction and Nixon land you know52:06maximizing racial resentment in52:08dog-whistle racism to the now bullhorn52:11races and we have with Trump what52:13accounts for that transition boy two two52:17good and complicated questions the52:19simple answer I can give to the first52:20one is that obviously Republicans were52:23able to move right pretty systematically52:26as a party after 2010 not just because52:28of the takeover in Congress but52:30because of the takeover in state52:31legislatures across the country and52:33rebuy regaining the ability to draw the52:35maps in many of these states they were52:37able to structurally get a foothold and52:39solidify their power now the 2020 census52:43is coming and there will be an52:45opportunity for Republicans and52:46Democrats alike to fight for the ability52:48to draw those maps and that is a huge52:50focus right now obviously for Democrats52:53who feel as though they have been52:54targeted systematically and very52:56effectively by these Republican52:58gerrymanders I should remind everyone53:00that political power but political53:03parties exist to promote and protect53:05their own power and the Democrats have53:07been known to do a little bit of53:08gerrymandering themselves and as53:11high-minded as I would like to be about53:13this process in these calls for reform I53:16will believe that Democrats after53:18winning back some of these state houses53:19will not abuse the gerrymandering power53:21when I see it because if you look at53:23some states like Maryland it’s a bit of53:25a Picasso painting I if I were king for53:29a day I’d wave a magic wand and we would53:31have a nonpartisan redistricting53:32commission every state in America we53:34would redraw as many of these lines as53:36close to 50/50 as possible not because53:38it would give us a bunch of mushy53:40moderates53:41but because we could actually have a53:43debate of ideas let me say this really53:46quickly because it shocks people when I53:47say it I give talks all the time about53:49Congress and when I say this it blows53:51people away53:52Democrats flipped 40 seats last November53:55right that’s a wave election by53:57anybody’s metric 40 seats is a big deal54:00it is a sweeping rebuke to the54:01president’s party and yet how many54:04voting members are there in the House of54:06Representatives anybody for 35 what is54:1040 out of 435 but eight and a half54:12percent okay you go back to 2010 biggest54:17wave election we’ve seen in our54:18lifetimes anybody remember how many54:19Republican pickups there were in 2010 6354:25oh man 63 Republican pickups in 201054:28biggest wave election we’ve ever seen in54:30our lifetimes54:30what’s 63 out of 435 s about 14% I54:34cheated I’m not that good at math I54:36promise I’ve memorized these things the54:37point I’m trying to make to you is that54:38in the biggest wave election we’d ever54:40seen in our lifetimes in 201054:4386% of the seats in the US House of54:46Representatives remained loyally54:48partisan locked down by one of these two54:50parties and in 2018 went another big54:53wave election 92% of them roughly54:55remained locked down by one or the other54:58party what does that tell you it tells55:00you that the overwhelming majority of55:02the elected officials we send to55:03Washington are not chosen in November55:05they are chosen in their primaries and55:07what do we know about primary turnout55:09well in your average off your55:12congressional primary election turnout55:14is gonna be somewhere between seven and55:16fourteen percent and who are the seven55:18to fourteen percent who are turning out55:19to vote in those primaries are they the55:21very reasonable persuadable moderates in55:23the middle of the electorate who just55:25want you know competent governance and55:27who are willing to listen to arguments55:28on both sides generally not into your55:30uncle who sends the weird emails and55:32your colleague who posts the crazy stuff55:33on Facebook right and God bless them55:35because at least they’re engaged with55:36the process but why aren’t the rest of55:38us we keep sending these people back to55:40Congress and expecting a different55:42result Congress has a huge personnel55:44problem and a big reason why is because55:46so many of the people we send there the55:48overwhelming majority of the people we55:49send there are elected in primaries and55:52when you never face a general election55:54thread in your district55:55what is the only incentive you have it55:57is to protect yourself in a primary and55:59when you are oriented as a lawmaker56:01toward protecting your flank and a56:03primary every day you wake up it’s gonna56:06have some really bad results for the56:07country and as more’d as we are you got56:10me on a tangent here but as worried as56:12we all may be about the executive branch56:15and some of its unsteadiness right now56:18the legislative branch in my opinion is56:20a much bigger concern because the56:22presidency is a transient office Trump56:24will come and go but the legislative56:26branch of the federal government is is56:28structurally in deep deep trouble and it56:31there’s no end in sight for it to the56:33second question really quickly about the56:35racial dog whistling look I just56:37mentioned what happened last night as56:38you said it’s not a dog whistle at this56:40point it’s just not and Donald Trump is56:44obsessed with the base Jonathan you know56:46this better than anybody if you talk to56:47people around the president he talks56:49incessantly about the base and when he56:51talks about the base he is talking56:53generally very narrowly56:55about the core people in his who come to57:01his rallies who wear the maggot hats57:03these typically tend to be your57:05blue-collar your more rural and exurban57:08middle and working class Americans white57:11evangelical in many cases and they are57:13the true believers right they are the57:15people who are with Trump no matter what57:17as he said if he shot somebody on Fifth57:18Avenue they’d still be behind him but57:20what Trump is missing is that with57:22incidents last night with every one base57:25voter who he may be mobilizing he’s57:28probably also alienating a suburban57:31college-educated57:32socially moderate Republican who wants57:35tax cuts and they may even want57:37conservative judges but they’re scared57:38out of their mind by what they saw last57:40night you know there’s an old saying in57:42Republican campaigns why would a57:45Republican ever go address the57:46n-double-a-cp a Republican presidential57:48candidate dress the n-double-a-cp57:51because you’re not gonna pick up any57:53more black votes and the answer is57:55always it’s not to pick up black votes57:57it’s to pick up the votes of white57:58suburban nights who want to see you58:00engage with the n-double-a-cp58:02politics is a coalition business and58:05Donald Trump won the presidency in 201658:07not just because of his base that we all58:09love to read about and all of these58:11stories from middle America about the58:13you know auto mechanic in the diner in58:15Ohio somewhere those people matter58:17obviously and they are you know big58:19supporters of the president but the58:20president won his campaign because he58:23had overwhelming support of these58:26traditionally Republicans suburban58:28moderates and what do we know we know58:30that in 2016 they voted for him and we58:32also know that in 2018 by virtue of this58:34Democratic takeover at least a58:36significant chunk of those traditionally58:39Republican suburban moderates they58:40flipped they voted for Democrats in the58:42suburbs from Salt Lake City to Orange58:44County to Detroit to Atlanta all across58:46the country so Donald Trump is playing58:48with fire here and it’s not just because58:50he’s mobilizing the Democratic base it’s58:52because he is potentially alienating58:53that other half of his coalition that he58:56needs to win in 2020 thank you so much58:58sure we are running out of time but I59:01want to take these last three questions59:03here if that last two questions here if59:06that’s I’m sorry I’m giving very long59:07answers59:09hi this may be beside the point at this59:12point but during the campaign I always59:16thought that Donald Trump’s hope for59:20outcome would be to win the popular vote59:22and lose the electoral vote and he could59:25go back to his business and say he was59:27cheated and you know not be worried with59:31the running of the government because he59:32didn’t obviously prepare anything for a59:35transition and election night he looked59:38pretty shocked and like he didn’t want59:41this well I would draw a distinction and59:44I want you to weigh in this also I would59:46draw a distinction between not wanting59:48to win and not expecting to win because59:51I did an awful lot of reporting on this59:54and I was never able to find anybody who59:57could credibly tell me that he did not59:59want to win Donald Trump is a very60:01competitive guy and we had to listen for60:0318 months to all of these talking heads60:05on cable tell us that this was just to60:07promote his hotel that this was just to60:09get his name back in the news that he60:11just loves the reality TV glare that60:13Donald Trump was gonna drop out before60:15the Iowa caucuses he didn’t actually60:16want to be President what all of that60:19missed is that Trump is a fiercely60:20competitive individual and that he loves60:22the grind of competition I don’t think60:26that Donald Trump expected to win and60:28matter of fact all of my reporting tells60:30me that he did not expect to win as I60:31say in describing election night in the60:33book Trump had to pretty quickly rewrite60:36his election night speech because he did60:38not have a victory speech prepared60:40and when Reince Priebus whispered in his60:42ear in one of their little war rooms I60:44think you’re gonna win everybody in the60:46room sort of stopped and time Stood60:48Still and Trump said okay we got to go60:50upstairs we got to go to the residence I60:52don’t have a speech so Donald Trump from60:58everything I know was certainly not61:00expecting to win the presidency because61:02he could see the same polling that we61:04all saw and not just the public polling61:06anybody inside of his campaign who tells61:09you that they thought that Donald Trump61:10was going to win is lying to you I’m61:12telling you that straight up and that61:13includes Steve man and who loves to go61:14around telling everybody the Trump was61:16gonna win he knew it from day one it’s61:18nonsense okay the war61:20Republican I did not interview for this61:22book with Steve Bannon and Swann gave me61:24a high five for that the other day61:25because for crying out loud61:27talk about an unreliable source so that61:29is that is the distinction I would draw61:32but you tell me what you think about61:34that shout it out I don’t know what’s61:47going on there he 100% wanted to win and61:52you know I remember being in a barn in61:55Virginia on Falls Church Virginia on61:58like 1:00 a.m. or I think Sun Monday62:02morning I guess last few days of the62:04campaign and Donald Trump was doing his62:06eighth rally of the day or something and62:08he wanted to win he really wanted to win62:10as much as anything he hates to be62:12humiliated people close to him believe62:14that he entered the campaign really is a62:17promotional vehicle one person close to62:19him told me he described it as the62:21world’s greatest infomercial but I think62:24one of his more revealing interviews62:26early on he says I think it’s worth62:28maybe mark Harper and he says he thinks62:30maybe it’s not on the record maybe62:33they’ve said that subsequently in public62:35that he thought he gave himself a 20%62:37chance of winning as time went on a62:41couple of things happened he got62:42addicted to the crowds and I don’t know62:44if people in this audience have been to62:45Trump rallies but I’ve been to a lot of62:48them and the only thing I can explain62:50I’ve covered politics in two countries I62:52have never seen a politician have such a62:55visceral connection with a crowd and the62:59only thing I can compare to is like63:00being in a Rolling Stones concert they63:02know the lyrics they know the lyrics63:05it’s call and response63:06you know he’ll say Hillary and the crowd63:08will just immediately start chanting63:10lock her up he’ll say the media the63:12crowd will immediately start chanting63:14CNN sucks it’s a drug for him and he was63:17intoxicated and he loved it and then as63:20time went on he thought well maybe I can63:22win I guess I’m down to the last two63:23Tim’s right none of them thought they63:25can win Steve Bannon does like to remind63:28me he did send an email which I still63:30have two weeks before the election where63:31he did predict all the states63:33I tend to think it was bluster more than63:35anything but he really was saying behind63:37the scenes that he was gonna win if that63:39makes any different but other staff were63:42like pre briefing us as reporters and63:44saying here are all the reasons why he63:46lost this is before the election and63:48here’s the way you can spin it etc so63:51you know that that would that’s the63:54reality yeah to add a final really quick63:57thought to that I spent the final week64:00of October I spent that week on the64:03campaign plane with Vice now vice64:05president pence then governor pence and64:07I can tell you as surely as I know that64:10I am sitting here with you that nobody64:13on that plane save for maybe Mike Pence64:16believed that they were going to win and64:18it was really interesting because they64:20were all beginning to spin me64:21essentially on Mike Pence 2020 right64:24they were all attempting to sort of you64:27know polish pence as the guy who was the64:30stable figure in the campaign and who64:31rejected the ugliness and the guy who64:33was going to come out of this looking64:34good and something really interesting64:36happened and it happened the day after64:40as you may recall64:42Pence’s plane went off the runway at64:45LaGuardia and I was on that plane64:47and it was kind of a remarkable scene as64:49the Secret Service jumped up with their64:51pistols and hovered near pence and64:52nobody quite knew what the hell to make64:54of any of it everyone on that plane that64:58I was with for almost a week64:59all of Pence’s top staffers said the65:02same thing no way that we’ve seen all65:04the numbers he cannot win Trump cannot65:06win on the last day I was with them we65:10had to get on a different plane that65:12didn’t have Wi-Fi because of the earlier65:14night’s incident and just as our plane65:17was coming down into Pennsylvania65:19dipping into cellphone range every65:22single person’s plane on the phone blew65:24up with an alert that James Comey had65:28sent a letter to Congress reopening the65:32investigation into Hillary Clinton’s65:33emails and I will tell you it’s65:35indelible in my mind I can see it today65:38there weren’t many of us on the plane65:40there were five reporters I believe in65:41four or five Secret Service and the Vice65:43President and five or six of his staff65:45were all65:46they’re clustered and I’m telling you65:48kid on Christmas morning does not begin65:50to describe the looks on the faces of65:52the pants people because for the first65:54time in the entire campaign there was a65:56flicker of hope however fleeting but a65:59flicker of hope that oh my goodness can66:01you believe our luck we might actually66:03win and I will remember that until the66:05day I die yes sir it’s my recollection66:08on the day the Access Hollywood tapes66:10were released the emails for John66:14Podesta were released like half a day66:17later I think so that that was another66:18factor in place but my question is why66:21is my conservative brother forgotten66:23that he’s an anti-communist you’re66:24suspicious of Russia66:26you know the Russia thing is actually66:28really fascinating because you will hear66:31a lot of Republican defenders of the66:33president say you know focus on what66:35this administration does not on what he66:38says and I think that by and large66:42that’s nonsense66:43I think that as I explained a minute ago66:45what the president says is of enormous66:47importance it moves markets it moves66:49military personnel at the president is66:52the most powerful person in the world66:54Russia is actually a pretty interesting66:57example of what they are talking about66:59however because if you were to examine67:01on a policy basis the administration’s67:04approach to Russia not his personally67:06but the administration’s and most67:08Republicans in Congress you would think67:11that it is a pretty typical Republican67:13you know cookie cutter Republican67:15approach to Russian relations in in67:18terms of sanctions in terms of some help67:21for allies in the region67:23the president’s relationship with67:26Vladimir Putin is so bizarre that I’m67:29not sure we will ever get to the bottom67:30of it and I’m not trying to be funny and67:32saying that it’s just the truth I don’t67:33know that we will ever understand look67:35and it’s not just Putin right the Donald67:38Trump has this affinity for strongmen67:40across the globe we have seen it time67:42and again and it is vexing not just to67:44us but to people in the administration I67:46don’t think that it will ever be67:48thoroughly explained but with Russia in67:52particular there is a huge chasm between67:55the president sort of playing footsies67:57with Vladimir Putin67:59and joking with him about election68:00interference and how he locks up68:02journalists ha ha isn’t that hilarious68:03all that stuff contrasted against the68:06administration itself and and the State68:09Department and the Republican Congress68:10and how they have approached Russia it68:12has been much more traditional so it’s a68:15little bit odd in that respect thank you68:19for coming out tonight everybody and68:20thank you so much for thank you guys68:24[Applause]
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo is tired of the NRA and its corrupt politicians. Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian, hosts of The Young Turks, break it down. Tell us what you think in the comments below.
“A Texas police officer who was killed while responding to a domestic violence call may have been struck by a bullet that penetrated his ballistic vest, authorities said Monday. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo made the disclosure about Sgt. Christopher Brewster’s killing Saturday in a note to officers, just hours after he denounced Republican Senators who he said have not reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act. Acevedo also berated pro-gun advocates who oppose new provisions in the law.”
WASHINGTON — One of the most totemic pictures of the Obama era was a White House photo showing the president bowing to let a 5-year-old black boy touch his hair.
As Jackie Calmes reported in The Times, the boy, the son of a departing National Security Council staffer, had shyly told Barack Obama, “I want to know if my hair is just like yours.”
“Touch it, dude!” the president instructed the child.
It was a moment that summed up all the giddy dreams about race and modernity and a gleaming American future that propelled a freshman senator with an exotic name into office.
Now, one of the most totemic pictures of the Trump era has been tweeted by Melania from the El Paso hospital visited by the first couple amid the blood-dimmed tide of back-to-back gun massacres in Texas and Dayton.
The first lady is holding 2-month-old Paul Anchondo, whose parents, Jordan and Andre, died shielding him from a shooter who confessed to the police that he drove from his home in Allen, Tex., to El Paso to kill Mexicans with an AK-47-style rifle. A manifesto he posted on 8chan, an online forum that’s a haven for white nationalists, stated that he wanted to stop the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
President Trump, standing next to Melania and the baby in the picture, is grinning and giving a thumbs-up.
The infant’s uncle, Tito Anchondo, told reporters that he brought Paul to the hospital to meet Trump, while other victims refused to do so, because he wanted to tell the president about the pain of the family. His slain brother, he said, was a Trump supporter. He told The Washington Post that he felt consoled by Trump.
But still, there is something sickening about the photo. The picture of Obama with a child was luminous with hope and idealism. The one of Trump with a child was dark with pain and shattered ideals.
Devoid of empathy and humanity, Trump is mugging with an infant who will never know his parents. They were shot by a psychopath whose views echoed Trump’s dangerous and vile rants painting people with darker skin — like the baby’s father — as the enemy, an infestation and invasion aiming to take something away from real Americans. It is the same slimy chum thrown out by other Republicans, only more brutally direct and not limited to campaign season.
Even as we absorbed the grotesque image from the hospital, we had to watch the heart-rending footage of Hispanic children sobbing and stranded in Mississippi because their parents, many working at a chicken processing plant, had been rounded up by ICE.
The Post featured a disturbing headline on Monday about a new study: “Risk of Premature Birth Increased for Latinas After Trump’s Election.” The story said, “Researchers have begun to identify correlations between Trump’s election and worsening cardiovascular health, sleep problems, anxiety and stress, especially among Latinos in the United States.”
The shining city on a hill is an ugly pile of rubble.
Even on this most tragic of weeks for so many families, Trump was obsessing on himself, on his crowd size compared with Beto, and on whether he was getting enough obeisance from Ohio pols.
It defies one’s faith in the good sense and decency of America that we cannot stop the deluge of shooting rampages — even at a time of unprecedented weakness for the N.R.A. and the loathsome Wayne LaPierre, with the gun lobby awash in coup attempts and corruption.
Gun control has the aspect of an intractable problem when it is anything but. Inexplicably and abhorrently, we have decided to live with periodic human sacrifices. That became clear in 2012 in Newtown after the slaughter of the “beautiful babies,” as Joe Biden called the dead first graders. If that didn’t shock the soul enough to act, what could?
We’ve heard Trump talk about talking sense into N.R.A. officials three times now, during the 2016 campaign and after the Parkland shooting and again Friday after his sympathy calls in Dayton and El Paso. The first two times, he caved to the N.R.A. quickly.
Yet temperamentally, Nixon-to-China, Trump is suited to that job. Even though he’s a belligerent, he’s not so enamored of war and guns. “My sons love hunting,” he once tweeted. “I don’t.” He’s no gun nut; he’s a former Democrat from New York who likes to golf.
If he wanted to lead a crusade to get real background checks — or even a ban on assault weapons, which he said in a 2000 book that he favored — he would be formidable.
There is some movement now because the Republicans are scared — not of the shooters but of suburban voters.
For the most part, Republicans are gun owners and Democrats aren’t. But Republican voters are more supportive of common-sense gun control than elected members, who are wallowing with the swamp creatures at the N.R.A.
Mitch McConnell, Dr. No, won’t want to do anything; his spokesman was backing away on Friday. That same day, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, John Barrasso, pumped the brakes on possible inroads, background checks and red-flag laws.
If the president and Republicans come up with anything at all, it will be a remedy just marginal enough to give themselves cover, denying Democrats a powerful campaign issue.
Moscow Mitch and Dreadful Donald will keep talking compromise and hope that things settle down by September, when Congress gets back.
But point-blank: Our Republican leaders are cowards.
We shouldn’t let things die down. Because people keep dying.
Senator Mitch McConnell is usually impervious to criticism, even celebrating the nasty nicknames critics bestow on him. But Mr. McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is incensed by the name “Moscow Mitch,” and even more miffed that he has been called a “Russian asset” by critics who accuse him of single-handedly blocking stronger election security measures after Russia’s interference in 2016.
Democrats had been making the case for months, but it was supercharged last week by the testimony of Robert S. Mueller III, the former special counsel, who told the House Intelligence Committee that the Russians were back at it “as we sit here.”
Mr. McConnell cites several reasons for his opposition — a longstanding resistance to federal control over state elections, newly enacted security improvements that were shown to have worked in the 2018 voting and his suspicion that Democrats are trying to gain partisan advantage with a host of proposals.
Republican colleagues say that Mr. McConnell, a longtime foe of tougher campaign finance restrictions and disclosure requirements, is leery of even entering into legislative negotiation that could touch on fund-raising and campaign spending.
“Democrats want more aggressive legislation to protect America’s elections after Robert Mueller’s stark warning about Russian interference,” began one report aired on a Louisville television station last week. “Mitch McConnell blocked it.”
Even President Trump felt compelled to come to his defense — as only he could.
“Mitch McConnell is a man that knows less about Russia and Russian influence than even Donald Trump,” the president told reporters Tuesday as he was leaving for a speech in Jamestown, Va. “And I know nothing.”
That did not relieve the heat on the majority leader, who on Monday had appeared to open the door ever so slightly to doing more on election preparedness.
“I’m sure all of us will be open to discussing further steps Congress, the executive branch, the states and the private sector might take to defend our elections against foreign interference,” he said as he seethed on the Senate floor over what he described as McCarthy-style attacks on his integrity and distortions of both his position on election security and his hawkish history of challenging Russia.
Throughout his political career, Mr. McConnell has made opposition to the Kremlin a hallmark of his foreign policy stands.
For once, Democrats seemed to be getting to a man who has embraced his portrayal as Darth Vader and the Grim Reaper overseeing a Senate graveyard for legislation that he opposes. When an unsubstantiated West Virginia Senate campaign ad in 2018 called him “Cocaine Mitch,” he began answering his Senate telephone with that identifier.
“Moscow Mitch”? Not so much: “I was called unpatriotic, un-American and essentially treasonous,” he fumed on the Senate floor.
Democrats pressed their advantage. And why not? The hashtag #MoscowMitchMcTraitor was trending on Twitter, and Senate Republicans of all stripes were being asked about the blockade.
“So long as the Senate Republicans prevent legislation from reaching the floor, so long as they oppose additional appropriations to the states, so long as they malign election security provisions as, quote, partisan wish lists, the critics are right to say Leader McConnell and Republican senators are blocking election security,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said on the floor Tuesday.
Mr. Schumer has in the past suggested that another potential reason behind Mr. McConnell’s position is the thought that interference emanating from Russia could aid Republicans. “I hope it’s not because he thinks it will benefit him, because Putin could turn around in a minute, and then do things that he doesn’t like,” Mr. Schumer said in June.
Lawmakers in both parties have election security proposals waiting on the sidelines, and the furor has caused some to step up demands for Congress to take up their bills.
Senators Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, and Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, wrote on Monday to colleagues reconciling the annual House and Senate military policy bill to request that they include stalled sanctions legislation meant to deter Russia or other foreign actors from interfering in American elections. House lawmakers included a similar provision in their military policy bill, but the senators want to see it strengthened to slap Russia’s economy with intense sanctions if it is found to interfere in a future election.
“This conference committee represents this Congress’ best — potentially last — opportunity to enact meaningful legislation aimed at deterring Russia from a repeat performance of its 2016 presidential election interference,” the senators wrote. “We ask that you seize this opportunity and include the provisions outlined above in the final conference report.”
On Tuesday, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, signed on to a measure by Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee’s top Democrat, that would require campaign officials to report to federal authorities any offers of campaign assistance from foreign entities.
“Russia’s efforts to interfere in our elections remain relentless,” said Ms. Collins, who is also up for re-election next year, in a statement.
Mr. McConnell’s opposition to any and all election legislation has bottled up the bills in the Senate Rules Committee. The panel’s chairman, Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, has hesitated to advance any of the measures since they would go nowhere on the floor.
Mr. Blunt said he repeatedly had been assured by the F.B.I., the Department of Homeland Security and the federal intelligence agencies that they were not lacking resources to combat election interference.
“They always say, ‘No, we don’t need anything,’” Mr. Blunt said Tuesday. A former state elections official himself, Mr. Blunt said he agreed with Mr. McConnell that the federal government should not gain more authority over state elections.
“Mitch would not want to see us further federalize the process and that’s where I am, too,” Mr. Blunt said.
Proponents of the bills say they are devised to keep the states in the lead. A Democratic measure approved by the House would send more than $1 billion to state and local governments to tighten election security, but would also demand that states use the money for machines with backup paper ballots and require a national strategy to protect American democratic institutions against cyberattacks. States would be required to spend federal funds only on federally certified “election infrastructure vendors.”
A bipartisan measure in both chambers would require internet companies like Facebook to disclose the purchasers of political ads. Another bipartisan Senate proposal would codify cyberinformation-sharing initiatives between federal intelligence services and state election officials, speed up the granting of security clearances to state officials and provide federal incentives for states to adopt backup paper ballots.
Backup paper ballots got an endorsement Tuesday from an unlikely source: Mr. Trump. He took to Twitter to call for “Paper Ballots as backup (old fashioned but true!).”
We should immediately pass Voter ID @Voteridplease to insure the safety and sanctity of our voting system. Also, Paper Ballots as backup (old fashioned but true!). Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2019
With the focus on the issue intensifying, Mr. McConnell and Senate Republicans will face more pressure to act.
If they do, the most likely result would not be advancing stand-alone bills but instead using the annual spending bills that must pass this fall to funnel more money to states to secure their elections and to make certain they have a paper-ballot trail that can be audited if questions arise about the legitimacy of an outcome. Ten states now lack full capacity to do so, according to the Rules Committee.
Mr. Schumer encouraged that idea Tuesday. “If McConnell wants to address election security in the appropriations process, we would welcome his support on an amendment to send more funding to the states,” he said. “We want to get something done on election security because this is not about party, this is a matter of national security.
Mr. McConnell said Monday that he would not be intimidated into acting on election interference.
He also will probably not be answering his phone “Moscow Mitch.”
As a Democratic Senate aide for the past seven years, I had a front-row seat to an impressive show of obstruction. Republicans, under then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, decided they would oppose President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at every turn to limit their power. And it worked: They extorted concessions from Democrats with threats of
- fiscal cliffs and
- financial chaos.
I know firsthand that Democrats’ passion for responsible governance can be exploited by Republicans who are willing to blow past all norms and standards.
Now we have a president who exemplifies that willingness in the extreme. Partly, this explains why he faces more questions about his legitimacy than any president in recent history and why he drew three times as many protesters as inauguration attendees last weekend. But in something of a mismatch, Republicans’ unified control of government means that the most effective tool for popular resistance lies in the Senate — the elite, byzantine institution envisioned by the founders as the saucer that cools the teacup of popular opinion.
Senate Democrats have a powerful tool at their disposal, if they choose to use it, for resisting a president who has no mandate and cannot claim to embody the popular will. That tool lies in the simple but fitting act of withholding consent. An organized effort to do so on the Senate floor can bring the body to its knees and block or severely slow down the agenda of a president who does not represent the majority of Americans.
The procedure for withholding consent is straightforward, but deploying it is tricky. For the Senate to move in a timely fashion on any order of business, it must obtain unanimous support from its members. But if a single senator objects to a consent agreement, McConnell, now majority leader, will be forced to resort to time-consuming procedural steps through the cloture process, which takes four days to confirm nominees and seven days to advance any piece of legislation — and that’s without amendment votes, each of which can be subjected to a several-day cloture process as well.
McConnell can ask for consent at any time, and if no objection is heard, the Senate assumes that consent is granted. So the 48 senators in the Democratic caucus must work together — along with any Republicans who aren’t afraid of being targeted by an angry tweet — to ensure that there is always a senator on the floor to withhold consent.
Because every Senate action requires the unanimous consent of members from all parties, everything it does is a leverage point for Democrats. For instance, each of the 1,000-plus nominees requiring Senate confirmation — including President Trump’s Cabinet choices — can be delayed for four days each.
While the tactic works well, as we’ve seen for the past eight years, there remains the question of strategy. Should Democrats be pragmatic and let Trump have his nominees on a reasonable timetable, so as not to appear obstructionist? So far, this has been their approach to some of Trump’s Cabinet picks.
But it’s also fair to say that, by nominating a poorly qualified and ethically challenged Cabinet, Trump forfeited his right to a speedy confirmation process, and Democrats should therefore slow it down to facilitate the adequate vetting that Trump and Senate Republicans are determined to avoid by rushing the process before all the questionnaires and filings are submitted. Four days of scrutiny on the Senate floor per nominee, even after the committee hearings, is a reasonable standard for fulfilling the Senate’s constitutional responsibility of advice and consent.
Democrats can also withhold their consent from every piece of objectionable legislation McConnell tries to advance. With 48 senators in their caucus, they have the votes to block most bills. But even when Democrats don’t have the votes, they can force McConnell to spend time jumping through procedural hoops. This is the insight McConnell deployed against Reid to manufacture the appearance of gridlock, forcing him to use the cloture process more than 600 times.
Finally, Democrats can withhold their consent from Trump until they feel confident that foreign governments are not interfering in our elections. Credible reports hold that U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating whether Trump’s campaign cooperated with the Russian government on Vladimir Putin’s personally directed meddling. Withholding consent from Trump’s agenda until an independent, bipartisan probe provides answers is not just reasonable; it’s responsible. If Democrats withhold consent from everything the Senate does until such a process is established, they can stall Trump’s agenda and confirmation of his nominees indefinitely. Sen. Richard Durbin has been a leader in demanding an independent investigation. But unless Democrats back their calls with the threat of action, McConnell will steamroll them and never look back.
Of course, it would be unwise to deploy this strategy blindly. The kind of universal obstruction pioneered by McConnell during Obama’s presidency is not in Democrats’ nature: They believe in the smooth functioning of government.
But Democrats’ concern with delivering results for their constituents is also part of who we are and something we should embrace. Even for innately cautious Democrats, some issues demand dramatic action. If Trump wants to put their concerns about his legitimacy to rest, he can reach out with consensus nominees and policies, and come clean about his ties to Russia and his tax returns (which may show whether he has compromising financial debts to Russian interests). Until then, Democrats can stand up for America by withholding their consent.