Thursday Reads

Max Beckman, Woman in Chair Reading at Beach, 1939

Max Beckman, Woman in Chair Reading at Beach, 1939

Good Morning!!

Yesterday Joe Biden got another big win when his infrastructure bill got more than 60 votes to begin consideration in the Senate.

The Washington Post: Bipartisan infrastructure pact clears key Senate vote after breakthrough in talks.

Senate Democrats and Republicans banded together on Wednesday to advance a roughly $1 trillion proposal to improve the country’s aging infrastructure, overcoming months of political deadlock on one of President Biden’s signature economic policy priorities.

The day of breakthroughs began with news of a deal, as a bipartisan bloc of 10 negotiators coalesced around a package to upgrade the nation’s roads, bridges, pipes, ports and Internet connections. The announcement from some of the group’s leaders, including Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), capped off a series of frenetic talks that nearly collapsed amid behind-the-scenes battles about the new spending and how to pay for it.

With that once-elusive agreement finally in hand, the Senate hours later then took its first formal legislative step. Lawmakers voted 67-32 to put themselves on track to begin debating infrastructure reform this week, clearing the first of many hurdles toward adopting a proposal that the White House has described as historic.

The twin developments marked an early victory for lawmakers who have struggled for years to turn their shared enthusiasm for infrastructure into actual investments in the country’s inner-workings. Several past presidents had called for robust, new public-works spending to replace old pipes and fix cracked bridges, yet only on Wednesday did the Senate actually move toward delivering on those promises….

The news sparked jubilation at the White House, where Biden this spring put forward a roughly $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan funded largely through tax increases that Republicans swiftly rejected. But the administration’s top aides ultimately proved willing to be flexible in the months that followed in how they pursued some of the president’s priorities. Asked about the deal while traveling in Pennsylvania, Biden sounded a hopeful note, telling reporters: “I feel confident about it.”

The infrastructure bill that started moving forward again Wednesday is undeniably large: It calls for new federal spending of about $550 billion, an amount roughly equivalent to the cost of the Interstate Highway System, after adjusting for inflation.

Irving R. Wiles, Sunshine and Shadow Woman

Irving R. Wiles, Sunshine and Shadow Woman

But the bipartisan deal is less than a quarter the size of the $2.6 trillion plan that President Biden proposed in March, which included $2.2 trillion in spending and around $400 billion in tax credits. It’s also significantly smaller than the counteroffer the White House proposed in May, which scaled back spending by $500 billion, and it leaves out many of the Democrats’ biggest ambitions.

Democrats have also put forward a $3.5 trillion budget proposal that they intend to pass through a process known as budget reconciliation, which requires fewer votes.

This budget is expected to contain some of the pieces that were left out of the bipartisan infrastructure agreement — including investments in housing and education; child care; research and development; manufacturing; and clean energy. But moderate and progressive Democrats currently disagree on what will be included.

There were six major areas in Mr. Biden’s original infrastructure proposal: transportationutilitiespollutioninnovationin-home care and buildings. Almost all these areas were scaled back or eliminated in the bipartisan plan, with one exception: pollution cleanup.

Three major areas of President Biden’s original proposal were not included in the bipartisan deal: buildingsin-home care and innovation. The bipartisan plan also left out $363 billion in clean energy tax credits.

Trump Crimes Breaking News

Josh Dawsey and Devlin Barrett at The Washington Post: As Trump pushed for probes of 2020 election, he called acting AG Rosen almost daily.

President Donald Trump called his acting attorney general nearly every day at the end of last year to alert him to claims of voter fraud or alleged improper vote counts in the 2020 election, according to two people familiar with the conversations.

The personal pressure campaign, which has not been previously reported, involved repeated phone calls to acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen in which Trump raised various allegations he had heard about and asked what the Justice Department was doing about the issue. The people familiar with the conversations spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive legal and political issues that are not yet public.

Rosen told few people about the phone calls, even in his inner circle. But there are notes of some of the calls that were written by a top aide to Rosen, Richard Donoghue, who was present for some of the conversations, these people said.

David Brayne Woman reading

David Brayne, Woman reading

Donoghue’s notes could be turned over to Congress in a matter of days, they added, if Trump does not file papers in court seeking to block such a handover. In addition, both Rosen and Donoghue could be questioned about the conversations by congressional committees examining Trump’s actions in the days after the election.

The Justice Department recently notified Rosen, Donoghue and others who were serving there during the end of Trump’s presidency that the agency would not seek to invoke executive privilege if they are asked about their contacts with the president during that period.

That posture — which the letter to Rosen calls a departure from normal agency practice — means that individuals who are questioned by Congress would not have to say the conversations with the president were off-limits. They would be able to share details that give a firsthand account of Trump’s frantic attempts to overturn the 2020 election and involve the Justice Department in that effort.

January 6 Investigation News

Politico: Jan. 6 select-panel Dems confident they can corral ex-Trump aides.

Lawmakers on the Jan. 6 select committee describe their probe’s reach as still undefined, saying in interviews that they have yet to formalize the confines of an already closely watched and fast-moving investigation. Minutesbefore the panel’s first hearing on Tuesday, however, its members scored a key win thanks to a legal opinion from President Joe Biden’s Justice Department that allowed them to freely seek witness statements from former Trump administration officials.

“That means the likelihood of any resistance from the committee’s work from former [Trump] employees or current employees is not an impediment,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who chairs the Jan. 6 probe, said in an interviewThe Biden DOJ’s decision “expedites” the panel’s work digging into the insurrection, he added….

The panel only recently hired its senior staff and launched its website — and it has more work to do before it can seek out potential Trump-adjacent witnesses such as Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) or Gen. Mark Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Woman Reading at a Dressing Table, Henri Matisse, 1919

Woman Reading at a Dressing Table, Henri Matisse, 1919

“I think the true scope of the investigation is still under development,” Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), a member of the select panel, said in a brief interview. “I know that we will build on work that’s already been done by other committees.” [….]

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), another select committee member, echoed Luria and Thompson about the still-undefined scope of the investigation. But he said it was critical that the panel examine coordination efforts by the extremist groups that marched on the Capitol that day — a process that includes studying the hundreds of criminal prosecutions helmed by the Justice Department.

“[We] want to know who was the ultimate organizer and who paid for all of this action and how did it come about and are they still out there,” Raskin said.

Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, who on January 6 told the insurrectionists to “start taking names and kicking ass,” has been busy destroying his own defenses for his actions on the day of the attempted coup.

Mark Joseph Stern at Slate: Mo Brooks Accidentally Gave Up His Immunity From Eric Swalwell’s Insurrection Lawsuit.

On Tuesday, the Department of Justice announced that it would not shield Rep. Mo Brooks from Rep. Eric Swalwell’s lawsuit against the fomenters of the Jan. 6 insurrection. The DOJ’s decision may seem surprising: After all, Attorney General Merrick Garland has continued to protect Donald Trump from E. Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit, signaling a broad view of elected officials’ immunity from civil suits. In Swalwell’s case, however, the Justice Department seized upon comments demonstrating that, at the Jan. 6 rally, Brooks was acting not as an elected official, but as a politician seeking to influence future elections. Ironically, it was Brooks himself who made these statements, under oath, in an effort to evade this very lawsuit. The congressman’s legal defense has turned into a legal liability.

Frédéric Soulacroix (1858-1933), a French painter.

Frédéric Soulacroix (1858-1933), French painter.

Swalwell’s lawsuit marks a serious effort to hold Brooks, Trump, and Rudy Giuliani accountable for their conduct at the rally that preceded—and incited—the Jan. 6 insurrection. He sued all three defendants for civil rights violations, as well as more garden variety misdeeds known as torts. In this case, Brooks’ alleged torts included negligence, aiding and abetting common law assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and bias-related crimes. Brooks sought to dismiss these tort claims by invoking the Westfall Act. Under this statute, a federal official facing a civil suit can ask the Department of Justice to certify that they were acting within the scope of their employment when the alleged tort occurred. If the DOJ agrees, the United States is substituted as the defendant. And because the U.S. cannot be sued for a wide range of torts, that substitution usually ends the case.

Predictably, Brooks asked the Justice Department to certify that he was acting as an employee of the federal government carrying out his official duties at the Jan. 6 rally. This argument is hard to swallow. Then again, so was Trump’s assertion that defaming E. Jean Carroll was a presidential act, yet Garland’s Justice Department still endorsed his theory. What appears to have made the difference in this case is Brooks’ own inadvertent admission that he was acting as a campaigner, not a congressman, on the morning of Jan. 6.

This admission was prompted by a claim at the heart of Swalwell’s lawsuit: that Brooks urged the crowd to commit violence at the Capitol. Central to Swalwell’s theory was a segment of Brooks’ speech in which he declared: “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass!” Brooks continued:

“Now, our ancestors sacrificed their blood, their sweat, their tears, their fortunes, and sometimes their lives, to give us, their descendants, an America that is the greatest nation in world history. So I have a question for you: Are you willing to do the same? My answer is yes. Louder! Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America? Louder! Will you fight for America?”

In a long, rambling affidavit, Brooks tried to counter this allegation by reframing his call to begin “kicking ass.” He testified that, in this passage, “I am talking about ‘kicking ass’ in the 2022 and 2024 ELECTIONS!” [….]

This narrative provides perhaps the most self-defeating explanation Brooks could possibly muster at this stage in litigation. As the Justice Department pointed out in its Tuesday filing, “activities specifically directed toward the success of a candidate for a partisan political office in a campaign context” are “not within the scope of the office or employment of a Member of the House of Representatives.” That’s because it is not the “business of the United States to pick sides among candidates in federal elections.” Representatives thus cannot invoke the Westfall Act’s protections when they are engaged in “campaign efforts.”

Jim Newell at Slate: Turns Out Mo Brooks Was Wearing Body Armor to Trump’s Very Peaceful Jan. 6 Rally.

Igor Morski, Polish Artist, 1960Back in December, Brooks was the first House Republican to say ahead of the congressional Electoral College certification that he would object to certain states’ electors. On the day of the certification, Jan. 6, he then gave a fiery speech at President Donald Trump’s rally at the Ellipse where he told the assembled crowd that “today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass!” Months later, he still argues that Trump would have won the election if only “lawful votes” were counted.

Brooks, like Republican leaders who tried to counterprogram the hearing with a press conference yesterday, thinks a proper investigation would look at why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office wasn’t “doing a better job with respect to the Capitol Police and their level of preparation.”

Then, to prove his point about preparation, he revealed a new detail to me: that because of a tip he’d received about potential violence, he’d been wearing body armor at the very same Ellipse speech in which he encouraged rally attendees to “start taking down names and kicking ass.”

“I was warned on Monday that there might be risks associated with the next few days,” he said. “And as a consequence of those warnings, I did not go to my condo. Instead, I slept on the floor of my office. And when I gave my speech at the Ellipse, I was wearing body armor.

“That’s why I was wearing that nice little windbreaker,” he told me with a grin. “To cover up the body armor.”

Who was this source? The Committee is probably going to want to hear from Brooks about all this.

Could it have been this guy?

I have a few more links to add in the comments. What’s on your mind today? This is an open thread.


Tuesday Reads: AWOL Trump Plots With Congressional Crazies

Good Afternoon!!

Trump is getting crazier and crazier, and we still have 29 days to get through before Biden’s inauguration. Here’s the latest:

Jonathan Swan at Axios: Trump turns on everyone.

President Trump, in his final days, is turning bitterly on virtually every person around him, griping about anyone who refuses to indulge conspiracy theories or hopeless bids to overturn the election, several top officials tell Axios.

The latest: Targets of his outrage include Vice President Pence, chief of staff Mark Meadows, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Secretary of State Pompeo and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Why it matters: Trump thinks everyone around him is weak, stupid or disloyal — and increasingly seeks comfort only in people who egg him on to overturn the election results. We cannot stress enough how unnerved Trump officials are by the conversations unfolding inside the White House.

Top officials are trying to stay away from the West Wing right now.

  • Trump is lashing out, and everyone is in the blast zone: At this point, if you’re not in the “use the Department of Homeland Security or the military to impound voting machines” camp, the president considers you weak and beneath contempt.
  • Trump is fed up with Cipollone, his counsel. Some supporters of Cipollone are worried that Trump is on the brink of removing him and replacing him with a fringe loyalist.

A source who spoke to Trump said the president was complaining about Pence and brought up a Lincoln Project ad that claims that Pence is “backing away” from Trump. This ad has clearly got inside Trump’s head, the source said.

  • Trump views Pence as not fighting hard enough for him — the same complaint he uses against virtually everybody who works for him and has been loyal to him.

Pence’s role on Jan. 6 has begun to loom large in Trump’s mind, according to people who’ve discussed the matter with him.

  • Trump would view Pence performing his constitutional duty — and validating the election result — as the ultimate betrayal.

20201219edbbc-aMore from Jonathan Swan: Trump trashes McConnell to fellow Republicans.

President Trump lashed out at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday night for acknowledging Joe Biden won the election, sending a slide to Republican lawmakers taking credit for saving McConnell’s career with a tweet and robocall.

Why it matters: It’s an extraordinary broadside against McConnell by the sitting president and most popular Republican in the party, ahead of a crucial runoff election in Georgia on Jan. 5 that will determine control of the Senate.

  • “Sadly, Mitch forgot,” reads the top of the slide sent to Republican senators by Trump’s personal assistant, written in red for emphasis. “He was the first one off the ship.”

Between the lines: While both the message and its delivery targeted McConnell, they also carried a subtle warning to other Republicans who may follow suit as the president grasps at the last straws of his election-fraud claim.

  • Trump’s remaining power over the GOP is not his waning authority as president, but the perception of his lingering ability to make or break politicians in their re-election campaigns.
  • Many Republicans have been loath to criticize the president despite a string of court losses, including at the Supreme Court, because of their private fears that an enraged Trump will attack them and turn his band of loyal followers against them in a primary campaign.

The New York Daily News: ‘Ultimate betrayal’: Trump questions loyalty of Pence as GOP hardliners push to overturn election results.

President Trump is reportedly questioning the loyalty of Vice President Mike Pence as the commander-in-chief pushes ever more extreme measures to overturn his election loss.

“Trump (views) Pence performing his constitutional duty — and validating the election result — as the ultimate betrayal,” Axios reported.

The increasingly paranoid president mentioned a Dec. 8 television ad from the #NeverTrump Lincoln Project that predicted Pence would eventually dump Trump and seal President-elect Joe Biden’s win.

The ad, which Axios reported has rattled Trump, said the conservative veep is “running away from you Donald. And on January 6, @VP will preside over the vote proving @joebiden beat you.”

The Washington Post: Trump assembles a ragtag crew of conspiracy-minded allies in flailing bid to reverse election loss.

With his baseless claims of widespread voter fraud rejected by dozens of judges and GOP leaders, President Trump has turned to a ragtag group of conspiracy theorists, media-hungry lawyers and other political misfits in a desperate attempt to hold on to power after his election loss.

The president’s orbit has grown more extreme as his more mainstream allies, including Attorney General William P. Barr, have declined to endorse his increasingly radical plans to overturn the will of the voters. Trump’s unofficial election advisory council now includes a pardoned felon, adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory, a White House trade adviser and a Russian agent’s former lover.

Members of the group assembled­ in the Oval Office on Friday for a marathon meeting that lasted more than four hours and included discussion of tactics ranging from imposing martial law in swing states to seizing voting machines through executive fiat. The meeting exploded into shouting matches as outside advisers and White House aides clashed over the lack of a cohesive strategy and disagreed about the constitutionality of some of the proposed solutions….

Barr, who is set to leave his post Wednesday amid multiple disagreements with Trump, is the latest administration official to head for the exits or fall out of the president’s favor after not backing his baseless allegations.

In their place, Trump has welcomed figures from the political fringes who have offered him optimism and ideas for how to stay in power. Their brazen proposals have rankled some of the president’s aides and allies, who have warned that attempting to invoke the military or challenge states’ election processes through executive power would violate the Constitution and backfire politically, according to officials who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy.

Read more about Trump’s delusions at the WaPo link.

CNN: House conservatives strategize with Trump and Pence in push to challenge Biden’s win.

Alabama GOP Rep. Mo Brooks and fellow House conservatives met privately on Monday with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence as the lawmakers prepared to mount a long-shot bid in January to overturn the Electoral College results that made Joe Biden the official winner of the election.

cjones12222020The discussion focused on Trump’s baseless claims and conspiracies that the election was stolen from him, participants said, and lawmakers emerged confident that there were would be a contingent of House and Senate Republicans who would join the effort and prompt a marathon debate on the floor on January 6 that would spill into January 7.

Pence’s involvement in the meeting is significant because he will preside over the joint session of Congress that would count the electoral votes that day. Brooks said that Pence attended “different parts” of the meeting.

“I believe we have multiple senators and the question is not if but how many,” Brooks said, something that would defy the wishes of Senate Republican leaders who are eager to move on and urging senators not to participate since doing so could force them to cast a politically toxic vote against Trump.

Brooks told CNN on Monday night that they would seek to challenge the election in at least six battleground states, saying he needs to coordinate “as many as 72” five-minute speeches that GOP lawmakers would make that day. “That’s a significant task,” he said.

The effort is doomed to fail but would create a spectacle that Senate GOP leaders want to avoid. And if a House member and a senator object to six states’ results, it would lead to at least 12 hours of debate, in addition to the time for casting votes on each of the motions, potentially prolonging the fight until the next day.

More on this meeting from Politico:

In addition to the “dozens” of House Republicans who are committed to objecting to the election results, Brooks said there are “multiple” Senate Republicans who are now receptive to the effort, though he declined to name names. Sen.-elect Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), whom Trump has repeatedly praised on Twitter recently, has said he is considering the idea.

More and more congressmen and senators are being persuaded that the election was stolen,” Brooks said, who claimed that momentum for the effort is growing.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), however, told reporters Monday that the House GOP’s effort is “going down like a shot dog.”

Other members who were in attendance include some of Trump’s staunchest allies on the Hill, such as Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

On a more serious note, CNN’s Barbara Starr reported yesterday that Pentagon insiders are worried about Trump’s nutty behavior: Pentagon anxiety rises as officers wait for Trump’s next unpredictable move.

It’s like a low murmur just below the surface. “We don’t know what he might do,” says one officer in the Pentagon. “We are in strange times,” says another officer. Some senior military officers are trying to steer clear of the White House for the next month, rather than be in the President Donald Trump’s orbit.

246734_rgb_768With just some 30 days to go before the US military watches its current commander in chief leave office, there is growing anxiety in the ranks about what Trump might do in these remaining days. Will the President order some unexpected military action, such as a strike on Iran, or will he somehow draw the military into his efforts to overthrow the election results?

It’s a troubling enough scenario that military leaders have taken the unusual step of publicly stating that they will not play a role in deciding an American election.

CNN has spoken to nearly a dozen currently serving officers either in senior roles or with direct knowledge of how senior commanders feel right now. Not all are in the Pentagon.

No one will allow their names to be used. Currently serving military personnel are not allowed to speak against the president of the United States — but opinions are divided. Some say don’t talk about it, it only fuels the fire. Others say drag the quiet talk into the sunshine of public debate.

Read the rest at CNN.

One more from The Bulwark: The Military Would Not Participate in a Coup. Trump Can’t Understand Why.

The president of the United States considered using the military to overturn an election, according to press reports. Clearly, any president—any person—who would suggest such a thing doesn’t understand the whole point of American democratic politics. But more than that, the president clearly doesn’t understand the American military….

Since the election, Michael Flynn—retired Army general, Trump’s first national security advisor, a former lobbyist for the government of Turkey, recipient of a recent Trump pardon, and now a crackpot conspiracy theorist—has suggested that the president should invoke martial law (not “marshall law,” Senator Rubio, sheesh). How, in Flynn’s mind, martial law would prevent Biden from taking the oath of office or extend Trump’s term past its constitutionally mandated date of expiry is unclear….

Senior Defense Department leaders have already expressed that there is no role for the military in domestic political disputes. Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said as much in October—and repeated the point last week: “We do not take an oath to a king or a queen, a tyrant or a dictator. We do not take an oath to an individual. No, we do not take an oath to a country, a tribe or a religion. We take an oath to the Constitution.”

Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville also issued a joint statement on Friday that “there is no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of an American election.”

mrz121920daprGranted, none of these three men is in the chain of command between the president and combat troops, but they all represent the view of the military, including the combatant commanders who are in the chain of command.

In the unlikely scenario that Trump were to issue an order to use the military to prevent the transfer of power, the order would go to the secretary of defense. In the unlikely scenario that the secretary were to decide to enforce the order (which, it should go without saying, would be illegal), he would relay the order to commander of the Northern Command, Gen. Glen VanHerck. There, VanHerck would consult with his team of legal advisers, who would inform him that the order was a grotesque violation of the Constitution, and VenHerck would refuse the order and send it back to the secretary of defense. Because, as Gen. Milley said, VenHeck’s loyalty lies with the Constitution, not a king or queen, and certainly not Donald Trump.

That’s great news, but I’m still anxious about what Trump will do next. I can’t forget that he is in control of the launch codes for nuclear weapons. Maybe someone has made plans about how to handle a situation in which Trump really goes off the deep end and tries to blow up the world. The rest of us have to deal with the Christmas and New Year holidays in the midst of the pandemic.

Take care everyone, and have a nice Tuesday.