Mike Pence lays down the marker for 2024
Sometimes, wisdom comes from the strangest people in the strangest places. It happened again this week - when Mike Pence, of all people, speaking at the annual Gridiron Dinner, of all places, set the bar for the defining issue of 2024.
I did not attend this year's dinner, but I've been to three previous dinners, most recently in 2018, the only Gridiron dinner attended by President Donald Trump. Going to the Gridiron is like stepping into a time machine. It's Washington's only white-tie event. It's invitation-only. It's been around since 1885, and I swear some of its founding members are still there. You walk around looking at most guests, politicians or journalists, thinking "Oh, I thought he/she was dead!"
By tradition, club members, all journalists, perform musical skits mocking the politicians they cover. Then one member of the administration, one leading Republican, and one leading Democrat take turns doing their best at stand-up comedy, poking fun at themselves and the opposition party.
The whole point is, for one night in the year, to just have a few laughs and not make any news. Except for this year. When Mike Pence broke the mold.
Pence started out in true Gridiron tradition, joking that he'd heard that "some of the classified documents they found at Mar-a-Lago were actually stuck in the president's Bible. Which proves he had absolutely no idea they were there." He also pledged to "wholeheartedly, unreservedly support the Republican nominee for President in 2024 ... if it's me!"
But then Pence stunned his audience by segueing into a powerful jeremiad on Jan. 6, laying the blame squarely on his former boss. "History will hold Donald Trump accountable for Jan. 6," Pence said, then making it personal: "President Trump was wrong. His reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day."
In a direct slap at Fox News, the former VP declared: "Make no mistake about it. What happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way." Repudiating host Tucker Carlson's assertion that rioters on Jan. 6 were actually nothing but "orderly and meek" sightseers, Pence snarled: "Tourists don't injure 140 police officers by simply sightseeing. Tourists don't break down doors to get to the speaker of the House. Tourists don't threaten public officials."
True, Pence waited a long time to say it. But so what? What's important is that Mike Pence did say it. And, in so doing, Pence, wittingly or unwittingly, set the bar for what will be the signature issue of the 2024 campaign. It won't be crime, the economy, abortion, education, foreign policy or climate change. The first test any candidate for any office in 2024 will face is simply this: Do you condemn the attack on the United States Capitol on Jan. 6 and those responsible for it? Yes or no?
Given the overwhelming evidence on Jan. 6 - we watched it on television! - it's amazing we're even having this debate. But House Republicans, led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, won't let it go. It was McCarthy who released the entire 41,000 hours of videotape of Jan. 6 exclusively to Fox News host Tucker Carlson, knowing he'd cherry-pick clips of the tapes to make his case that Jan. 6 was no big deal. And it's McCarthy who's responsible for sending a congressional delegation led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to D.C. jails - to make sure that those already convicted and serving time for assaulting the Capitol are being treated properly. McCarthy is speaker. Without his OK, that visit would never take place.
Mike Pence will never be president, and I'd never vote for him. But, no matter what I think of his politics, I give Pence credit for having the guts to tell the truth. He barged in where no other real or potential 2024 GOP contender has yet dared to go, unequivocally condemning what happened on Jan. 6 and placing the blame right where it belongs: on Donald Trump personally.
This should be an easy test. For all Americans. Simply to admit that Jan. 6 was a direct attack on our government and that, starting with Donald Trump, those who inspired, planned or carried it out must be held accountable. It should be a no-brainer. Yet it's stunning how many Republicans still fail what must be the first test for anybody running in 2024.
Here are four words I never thought I'd hear from my own lips: "Thank you, Mike Pence."
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No how, no way, No Labels
Twenty-twenty four is already filling a lot of Democrats with fear. They're afraid Donald Trump will get the Republican nomination, and possibly get re-elected. Or they fear Ron DeSantis will be the GOP candidate, who'd be tougher to beat and more dangerous than Trump if, God forbid, he were ever re-elected.
But Democrats are wrong. They're not wrong to worry. They're wrong on what they're worrying about. It's not Trump or DeSantis who pose the greatest threat to Joe Biden in 2024. It's a misguided gang of once-upon-a-time Democrats who've naively set out on a plan that will only guarantee the re-election of Donald Trump.
They call themselves the "No Labels" organization, but "No Clue" might be more apt. In theory, it sounds good. They claim their mission is to support centrist, bipartisan policies and politics, which is something all of us can only hope for in this hopelessly divided political age. They deserve credit for creating the "Problem Solvers Caucus" in the House, where Republicans and Democrats hammer out legislative solutions together.
So far, so good. No Labels has been around since 2010, but I'll admit I never took them seriously. Until now. I always dismissed them as a little nutty but harmless, like those who show up dressed like early-American colonists at Fourth of July parades. But no longer. Because the No Labels crowd now poses a real threat to our democracy. If successful, they will destroy Joe Biden and guarantee the re-election of Donald Trump, the worst and most divisive president in our history.
According to No Labels, the Democratic Party has moved too far to the left and the Republican Party has moved too far to the right, leaving all centrists behind. Therefore, they've long argued, the American people deserve a third choice for president, a "Centrist" candidate. But now they're no longer just pining about how nice it would be to have a third choice, they're determined to make it happen.
No Labels has committed to raising $70 million to put a third-party candidate on the ballot in 2024. They've scheduled a national convention in Dallas on April 23, 2024 to nominate their candidates for president and vice president. They're working to get their third party on the ballot in all 50 states, and they're already making progress. Colorado was first to put them on the ballot. Last week, they also qualified for the ballot in Arizona.
No Labels piously insists that their third-party candidate would only serve as an "insurance policy," giving voters a choice in case either party nominates a candidate who's too extreme. Who do they think they're kidding? It's pretty clear the Democratic Party's going to re-nominate Joe Biden. If Republicans do, in fact, nominate Donald Trump, voters will already have a centrist choice on the ballot: Biden.
As the independent think tank "Third Way" pointed out in a memo last week, first reported by Politico, a third-party candidate would not be an "insurance policy," but a "spoiler" - in effect, handing the election to Donald Trump. And Third Way provides the numbers to back up their claim.
In 2020, Biden won big with those who four years earlier had voted for third-party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. In 2024, a No Labels candidate could peel away enough voters to hand the election to Trump, especially in a state like Arizona, which Biden only won in 2020 by 10,500 votes.
In 2020, Biden won so-called "double-haters," people who don't like either party, by 15 points. Giving them a third choice in 2024 would only take votes from Biden and give them to Trump.
In 2020, Biden won six of seven states where the margin was three points or less: Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Michigan. Even a weak third-party candidate in 2024 would put 79 potential electoral votes for Biden at risk.
And then, of course, there's the ultimate reality: a third-party candidate can't win nationwide. But, as Democrats learned with Ralph Nader in 2000, they can sure do a lot of damage. In 2024, Democratic strategist Paul Begala warns, far from bringing voters together in the center, a No Labels candidate could "reward the most extreme, most divisive, most angry forces in our politics."
Voters beware! Don't be fooled. Heed what Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson says: "No Labels is a Trump Re-Election Committee." No Labels deserves no time, no support, no money, and no votes. Every vote for No Labels is a vote for Donald Trump.
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Now it's official: Fox is fake news!
From its creation by Rupert Murdoch in 1996, Fox News has always been considered an outsider. Late-night comics mocked its initial slogan "Fair and Balanced" as "Neither." But most people were willing to accept Fox for what it was: a right-wing television network, the conservatives' answer to left-leaning MSNBC, with CNN somewhere in the middle.
In fact, in 2009, when the Obama administration announced they were going to "treat them the way we would treat an opponent" and deny Fox News the same access other news outlets enjoyed, members of the White House press corps, myself included, protested. Fox might lean right, we argued, but they were still fellow journalists reporting the news, and deserved the same access enjoyed by CBS, ABC, CNN and other networks.
But that was then, and this is now. Over the years, Fox devolved into ever more of a right-wing voicebox, in both commentary and news gathering, until, during the Trump years, they became nothing more than the propaganda arm of the Republican National Committee.
Yet now we know it's even worse than we thought. Documents released in the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox show that Fox News was not only repeatedly broadcasting Donald Trump's "Big Lie" about actually winning the 2020 election, they were also trumpeting their own "Big Lie" about rigged voting machines.
Documents filed by Dominion show: that Fox News on-air talent and senior executives knew that claims by Sidney Powell and other Trump attorneys that Dominion voting machines had been rigged (in Venezuela!) in order to switch votes from Trump to Biden were false; that Fox News hosts nevertheless continued to book Powell and others on their programs and directly or indirectly supported their claims; that Fox anchors were privately trashing Powell and others, while publicly lionizing them; that Fox executives knew their on-air talent were lying, yet did nothing to stop them; and that Fox's entire motivation for broadcasting lies and refusing to tell the truth was to preserve their ratings and protect their bottom line. In a nutshell: They knew it was false, but they said it anyway, to stop loyal viewers from changing the channel.
How do we know all of that? From the words of Fox anchors and executives themselves in emails and depositions contained in a 212-page legal brief filed by Dominion in a Delaware state court last week. The evidence is devastating.
Privately, here is some of what Fox personnel were saying about Sidney Powell. Laura Ingraham, in an email to Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity on Nov. 15, 2020: "Sidney Powell is a bit nuts. Sorry, but she is." On Nov. 16, 2020 Carlson to producer Alex Pfeiffer: "Sidney Powell is lying." Senior Vice President Raj Shah to Pfeiffer: "So many people openly denying the obvious that Powell is full of it." Lou Dobbs producer John Fawcett worried that Powell "could be losing her mind" and might also be doing "LSD and cocaine and heroin and shrooms."
Publicly, it was another story. On his program, Lou Dobbs hailed Powell as a "great American" and "one of the country's leading appellate attorneys." Maria Bartiromo welcomed her back with praise: "Attorney Sidney Powell is leading the charge against Dominion and she says she has enough evidence of fraud to launch a massive criminal investigation." Even Carlson, who alone among Fox hosts did question Powell's claims on air, added he was still "hopeful" she would come up with some hard evidence.
And why would Fox executives continue to allow their on-air talent to broadcast conspiracy theories they knew were false? Again, the emails and depositions released by Dominion leave no doubt. Fox was afraid its Trump-crazy viewers would switch to even-more extreme right-wing outlets like One America News and Newsmax.
The most damaging testimony came from Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch himself, who admitted under oath that Fox News hosts had not only aired false reports about vote machine fraud, but had "endorsed" them; that "I could have, but I didn't" order Fox hosts to stop spreading the lie; and that he had personally given Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner inside information on ads the Biden campaign would be running on Fox.
I'm no lawyer. I don't know whether Dominion will succeed in winning its lawsuit. But I do know this. Dominion's already succeeded in destroying any shred of credibility Fox News had left. Call it propaganda. Call it Fake News. Call it Pravda. But don't call it a legitimate news organization.
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Kevin McCarthy flies false flag over Capitol
Ever since, on the 15th ballot, Kevin McCarthy finally rounded up enough votes to become Speaker of the House, we've all been wondering what he promised to give away in order to get the job. Now we know.
This week, McCarthy delivered just what Marjorie Taylor Greene and other crazies demanded. Overriding security concerns of the Capitol Police and others responsible for protecting the Capitol, McCarthy released all 41,000 hours of video of the January 6 attack on the Capitol complex.
Not only that. McCarthy released the tapes, not to the media in general, but only to Fox News. And not even to everybody on Fox News, but only to one prime-time host, Tucker Carlson, who has long suggested - and even hosted a prime-time documentary series "Patriot Purge" which asserted - that the January 6 insurrection was actually a "false-flag" operation staged by the government or leftist agitators to make Trump supporters look bad.
This is not rocket science. By what he did and the way he did it, McCarthy made it clear. His reason for releasing the tapes was pure political payback. And his motive was to perpetuate the insane and very dangerous idea, still spread by several House Republicans, that the armed assault on the Capitol was nothing more than a "normal tourist visit."
Any doubt about who and what was driving McCarthy's action vanished when Marjorie Taylor Greene immediately tweeted: "For all of you that doubted we would release the tapes. Here you go! I'm very happy to be right again in my support for Kevin McCarthy for our Speaker." Which is enough to make you wonder: Who's really the Speaker? McCarthy or Greene?
Yes, this is the same Marjorie Taylor Greene, now de-facto Speaker, who this week suggested that red states should secede from the Union. In response to which Kevin McCarthy, Speaker-in-name-only, said nothing.
There's so much wrong with what McCarthy did, it's hard to know where to begin. But let's start with this: For House Republicans - 21 of whom, remember, immediately after January 6, voted against awarding Capitol Police officers the Congressional Gold Medal - this is one more poke in the eye to those whose job it is to protect the Capitol. There's a good reason why law enforcement did not want these tapes released: Because they're like a blueprint to any other organization which might want to attack the Capitol: showing what areas are vulnerable and which are not.
That's why the January 6 Select Committee only played clips of the tapes that had been first cleared by law enforcement officials. That's why the Justice Department limits what portions of tapes they play in trials of those facing charges for their involvement in January 6. Release of the total tapes jeopardizes the safety of the United States Capitol and everybody who serves there. No Speaker has the right to do that.
Defending his decision, McCarthy piously told the New York Times, "I think sunshine lets everybody make their own judgment." But, of course, that's not what he's doing. Thanks to McCarthy, this sun will only be allowed to shine through the filter of Fox News and what Tucker Carlson and his producers decide to show, out of 41,000 hours of tape, in order to buttress their insane theory, with not one shred of evidence, that those who assaulted the Capitol on January 6 were actually Antifa activists dressed up in MAGA garb. By so doing, as Senate Leader Chuck Schumer warned, McCarthy "will only embolden supporters of the Big Lie and weaken faith in our democracy."
It's still early in his term, but any hopes that McCarthy would rise to the level of his office and exercise independent leadership and judgment have already been quickly forgotten.
To me, it's all so painfully familiar. I remember similar claims made after September 11 that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were actually a "false flag" operation staged by the Bush administration. As a radio talk show host, I'd immediately cut off anybody who tried to spew such nonsense, refusing to give that garbage any airtime.
But I never thought I'd see the day when the same insane conspiracy theory was raised about the terrorist attack on our Capitol on January 6. The big difference is, those September 11 "false flag" claims were made by a few, nameless, nut jobs. Today's January 6 "false flag" lie is being fed and spread by the Speaker of the House of Representatives. God save the Republic!
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Dianne Feinstein: A sad ending to remarkable career
California's senior U.S. senator, Dianne Feinstein, waited too long to make it, but in the end she made the right decision. Admitting "the time has come," Feinstein finally announced this week that she will not run for reelection in 2024. It's the right decision for California, for the country, for the Senate -- and, especially, for her.
With the end of speculation about her future plans, hopefully the media will now focus less on her age, ability to do the job and obvious short-term memory loss, and more on what Feinstein's accomplished in a remarkable career of public service, which I've observed since its beginning.
I first met Dianne Feinstein in 1969, during her first political campaign, when I was running a campaign against her. A young lawyer and member of a criminal justice reform commission, Feinstein was the only woman in a large field of candidates running for an open seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. I was campaign manager for Roger Boas, one of several veteran board members running for reelection.
The real goal of that campaign was not just to get elected, or reelected, but to lead the pack -- because, under San Francisco law, the top vote-getter automatically became president of the Board of Supervisors, and next in line in case anything happened to the mayor. Feinstein was a terrific candidate. By the end of the campaign, I was secretly hoping she'd win, and she did. To everyone's surprise, political novice Dianne Feinstein trounced all the gray suits and became president of the board.
In 1978, with the assassination of George Moscone, Feinstein became mayor of San Francisco. She was reelected twice, after which she ran unsuccessfully for governor. In 1992, the "Year of the Woman," she was elected to the United States Senate, California's first female senator and now the longest-serving female U.S. senator in history -- just two of many glass ceilings she has shattered.
With failing health, the loss of her husband and a few bad judgment calls, the last few years have been rough for Feinstein. Top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, she was roundly criticized for not immediately revealing a letter she had received accusing then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. She was edged out as ranking Democrat on Judiciary after praising Lindsey Graham's leadership of Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearings. She came under increasing pressure to resign.
Feinstein's day has come and gone. But it's important to remember that, at the top of her game, Feinstein had no equal. In a club of over-achievers, she was the most articulate, most driven, hardest-working (and hardest to work for!), and most effective of all. One of her first achievements was passage of landmark desert protection legislation that preserved over 3 million acres of Southern California desert lands and created the new Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks. As chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she forced release of a report documenting the CIA's detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects and called it what it was: torture!
Pity the poor committee witness who had to endure Feinstein's relentless grilling, or the fellow senator who dared take her on, as the hapless Larry Craig, R-Idaho, discovered in the 1994 Senate floor debate over Feinstein's proposed assault weapons ban. Perhaps "the gentlelady from California needs to become a little bit more familiar with firearms," Craig suggested. Feinstein, who had herself survived two assassination attempts, fired back: "I am quite familiar with firearms. I became mayor as a product of assassination. I found my assassinated colleague and put a finger through a bullet hole trying to get a pulse." The assault weapons ban, her greatest achievement, expired in 2004. Sadly without success, she's fought hard ever since to get it renewed.
But, just as significant as Feinstein's many legislative accomplishments, is the example she set for women across the country: not only running for and winning high elective office, but proving that a woman could do the job as well as, if not better than, any man. There were six women senators when Feinstein took office in 1993. Today there are 25. Republican or Democrat, she's a role model for every one of them.
To be fair, Dianne Feinstein's record must be seen in its entirety. Los Angeles Times columnist Mark Barabak summed it up best: "Feinstein's already made history many times over. Nothing that's happened in recent years will change that or take away from all that she accomplished."
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Probably the best State of the Union ever!
When it comes to State of the Union addresses, this was hardly my first rodeo. I've covered dozens of them. But this week's was my all-time favorite.
By their very nature, State of the Union speeches are designed to bore. Have you noticed? They're all the same. Republican or Democrat, the president always starts out by declaring the state of the union is "Strong!" Then he brags about all the things he's accomplished, or says he has. Next, he tosses out a list of priorities for the next year, most of which are going nowhere. For everybody involved, starting with the president, the biggest challenge is staying awake until it's over.
Not this year. Biden's second SOTU was as close as we've ever come to the lively debates in the British House of Commons. It was wild. It was unruly. It was rowdy. I loved every minute of it. And, so, apparently, did President Biden.
We'll never know whether Biden and his team planned it this way. If not, they should have. Biden laid a perfect trap for hapless Republicans - and they walked right into it. After winning applause for citing highlights of the 300 bipartisan pieces of legislation enacted in his first two years, Biden observed that "some Republicans" - not "all," but "some" Republicans - had called for cuts in Social Security and Medicare in return for raising the debt ceiling. Whereupon the House exploded. Republicans loudly booed. Several flashed thumbs down. And Marjorie Taylor Greene, wrapped in a white fur coat, shouted the one word forbidden in the House of Commons: "Liar!"
Now, let's be clear: It's MTG, not Joe Biden, who's the liar. Republicans have long proposed cutting entitlements. When he was Speaker, Newt Gingrich famously proposed that Social Security be allowed to "wither on the vine." President George W. Bush campaigned on a promise, soon abandoned, to "privatize" Social Security. And this year, Republican Senators Rick Scott, Ron Johnson, Lindsey Graham and Mike Lee, as well as many GOP Members of the House, have all put forth proposals to cut Social Security and Medicare.
But, rather than derail Biden, Republican heckling had the opposite effect: It set him on fire. He gave back as much as he got. "Check it out," he taunted. "Contact my office. I'll give you a copy." When they persisted in denying any intentions to cut Social Security, he teased: "I enjoy conversion." And then triumphed: "We got unanimity. Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right?"
It was a great moment. On national television, President Biden exposed the perfidy of congressional Republicans and embarrassed them into backing down from their long-held dream of cutting the two government programs that protect millions of Americans from living in utmost poverty. Totally unscripted, Biden challenged: "Let's stand up for seniors!" And every Republican, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy, had no choice but to stand and join in applause.
No matter how entertaining the theatrics of the speech, however, what really counts is the power of Biden's overall message. The first part was very straight-forward. "Look, folks" - to borrow a Bidenism - we actually got a lot of big stuff done in the last two years. "If we could work together in the last Congress, there's no reason we can't work together and find consensus on important things in this Congress as well," he added. As long as we recognize that "fighting for the sake of fighting gets us nowhere." So, Biden urged repeatedly, "Let's finish the job!"
The second part of his message is equally important. Biden proposed a host of measures to help working-class Americans who've disproportionately suffered from Covid, inflation, and higher prices: creating new manufacturing jobs, expanding access to health care, capping the cost of prescription drugs, providing a living wage. "Let's offer for every American the path to a good career whether they go to college or not," he summed up. Smart move. Let Republicans focus on culture wars. Biden's right to focus on the economy.
Biden hit all the right notes. But, in the end, I must admit that Sarah Huckabee Sanders had the best line of the night. In her GOP rebuttal to the State of the Union, she noted: "The dividing line in America is no longer between right or left. The choice is between normal or crazy."
As was on full display at the State of the Union, Huckabee's absolutely right. And there's no doubt who's normal and who's crazy.
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Beware the Great White Hope from Florida
You must admit that, for all anti-Trumpers - Democrat, Republican, or Independent - it's delicious watching the tit-for-tat between Donald Trump, the only as-yet-announced GOP candidate for 2024, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the man everybody expects to announce and, clearly, the primary opponent Trump fears the most.
There's good reason for Trump to be nervous. DeSantis can match Trump in mouth-to-mouth combat. When Trump accused him of being "weak," DeSantis immediately snapped back: "At least, I got re-elected. You didn't."
And DeSantis is showing early strength among Republicans nationwide eager to move on from Trump. Two days before Trump held his first two campaign events last week, in New Hampshire and South Carolina, DeSantis trumped Trump in both states. According to the University of New Hampshire, DeSantis led Trump by 12 points among Republican voters, 42 to 30. In South Carolina, Spry Strategies gave DeSantis an even bigger edge, 52 to 33.
But Democrats gleeful over the prospect of seeing DeSantis knock out Trump would do well to remember the adage from Aesop's Fables: "Be careful what you wish for. You may get it." And regret it. DeSantis would be harder to beat than Trump and, as he's evidenced lately, on public policy he may be even more dangerous.
His latest hat trick: Defunding all diversity programs in Florida colleges and universities. Which not only contradicts traditional conservative principals of letting school districts, not the state or federal government, run our schools, but abruptly ends long-standing efforts to make sure taxpayer-funded colleges are accessible to children of all American families, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Ron DeSantis is the new George Wallace.
His ban on college diversity programs comes just two weeks after DeSantis announced he was prohibiting public high schools from offering a new advanced placement course in African-American history. Florida schools will no longer teach students about the history of slavery or racism in this country, he ordered, because it "lacks significant educational value." In his view, it's better to lie and keep them in the dark.
Of course, if Florida kids don't learn about racism in the classroom, they won't learn about it in books, either. Not in school libraries. Under the governor's so-called "Don't Say Gay" law and "Stop Woke Act," schools are required to remove all books from library shelves containing any talk of "sexual orientation or gender identity" or any discussion of systemic racism. That includes, for example, novels by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. Parent "volunteers" are encouraged to raid school libraries and make sure that any books they deem offensive are no longer on shelves. Librarians and teachers who fail to comply risk firing or felony prosecution.
Unfortunately, DeSantis has already had an impact. The College Board dumbed down its AP course to remove any discussion of the Black Lives Matter movement (so much for the memory of George Floyd). And Axios reported this week that, following Florida's example, nearly 30 percent of educators in red states report they've scrapped Black history lessons for fear of being fired or shamed on social media. Which is, of course, the best way to create a whole new generation of ignorant racists.
While fighting the culture wars, DeSantis' actions on health care have been equally harmful. One of the last governors to impose a lockdown under Covid and one of the first to lift it, DeSantis also opposed mandates on vaccines and masks recommended by President Biden's chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, remarking, "Somebody needs to grab that little elf and chuck him across the Potomac."
DeSantis is also one of 11 governors who have refused to enlist in the expansion of Medicaid offered as part of the Affordable Care Act, leaving 2.6 million Florida residents as of 2021 without any health insurance at all. That's 12 percent of the state's population, well above the national average of 8.6 percent.
Yet, despite his open attacks on Blacks and gays, presiding over higher costs for housing and health care, and raising taxes on consumers by over $1 billion, DeSantis won re-election by 19 points. Because he knows how to play the culture wars, famously insisting that "Florida is where woke goes to die" - whatever that means. And that's what makes DeSantis more dangerous politically than Trump. He combines Trump-esque populism with more political know-how.
Because it's such fun to see anybody get the best of Trump, some Democrats are almost rooting for DeSantis. Big mistake. Better to run against Trump in 2024. He'd be easier to beat.
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All classified documents are not the same!
After months of outrage, surprise, chagrin, despair, or glee (depending on whose ox is being gored), it's time to settle down, take a deep breath and add up what we've learned from the Great Classified Documents Scandal.
First lesson. It's obvious that there are too many government documents stamped "Classified," a majority of which are undeservedly so. Several members of recent administrations have told me that most of the so-stamped documents that crossed their desks contained nothing they hadn't already read in the Washington Post that morning. For the most part, their accidental or purposeful release might prove embarrassing, but would have no impact on national security.
Second lesson. It's equally obvious that no formal process exists for controlling the flow of paper during a presidential transition to prevent classified documents from either accidentally or on purpose ending up in boxes of papers being shipped from the White House to the home or office of a now-former president and vice president. Technically, the National Archives is in charge. But no one from the Archives is on the job when occupants of the White House flee the coop. It's up to the president, vice president and their staff to make sure no confidential documents end up in the moving van.
Given such an unorganized process, it's no surprise that some classified documents would end up not in the National Archives, where, by law, they belong. But that's the fork in the road. That's where things change. That's where it's important to make distinctions, which so many in the media have failed to do.
Third lesson. There's a big difference - no, a HUGE difference - between knowingly stealing hundreds of classified documents and unknowingly discovering a handful of them in your closet. And there's no doubt about it: Joe Biden and Mike Pence are on one side of that equation, and Donald Trump is on the other.
Which, I hasten to add, is not meant to give Biden a free pass. There's no excuse for having discovered classified documents in his Washington office last November but not revealing it until January. No excuse for not waiting a couple of months before inviting a search of his Wilmington home. And no excuse for insisting this is no big deal. The White House could not have bungled their handling of this issue worse than they did.
But the truth remains: Other than the fact that classified documents are involved, there's no comparison between the case of Donald Trump and what happened with Joe Biden and Mike Pence. Last September, trying to downplay the importance of Donald Trump's theft of classified documents, Trump attorney Jim Trusty told a federal judge that the whole controversy amounted to nothing more than failing to return an "overdue library book."
As is usually the case with Trump attorneys, he's got it backward. What matters is not learning you have an "overdue library book," but what you do about it. Biden and Pence are like the guy who forgot about checking out the book, discovered it a year or so later, and immediately returned it to the library, apologized and paid the fee. Trump's the guy who stole the book from the library in the first place and then refused to return it when the library asked for it back.
It's the same difference, at every level, with those classified documents. Biden and Pence ended up with a relatively small number of documents which, in the rush of leaving the White House, ended up in a pile of other stuff. Trump cherry-picked hundreds of documents he wanted to keep as his own and personally directed that they be shipped to Mar-a-Lago. They ended up with classified material by accident; he stole them.
Once discovered, Biden and Pence immediately notified the National Archives, returned the documents, and invited further searches of their property. Trump never informed the National Archives. And, once contacted by the Archives, refused to return the documents for an entire year - until the FBI, at the request of the Archives, conducted its search of Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8, 2022.
The difference could not be more clear: Biden and Pence committed an error; Trump committed a crime. And both cases should be handled accordingly. Biden and Pence should get the slap on the wrist they deserve. Donald Trump should face criminal charges.
Meanwhile, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. FBI agents just completed their search of Mount Vernon and Monticello. No classified documents were found.
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Kevin McCarthy has no soul. He believes in nothing and stands for nothing - except, no matter what it takes, the greater glory of Kevin McCarthy.
To that end, McCarthy embraced Marjorie Taylor Greene for Congress, even though she proposed the assassination of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He was one of 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the 2020 election on January 6, even after an armed mob of Trump supporters sent him running for his life. After spending one minute blaming Donald Trump for the insurrection, he quickly changed his tune, voted against impeaching Trump, and rushed to Mar-a-Lago to kiss an especially large part of Trump's anatomy.
Yet nothing reveals McCarthy's lack of moral compass more than his embrace of serial liar George Santos, or whatever his name is. For the last three months, reporters have been digging hard to find anything Santos says is true. So far, they've found nothing: not his name, heritage, family, religion, sexuality, education, career, wealth, home address - or, most likely, what he had for lunch.
Among many whoppers, Santos said he graduated from Baruch College, where he played on the varsity volleyball team. (He did neither.) He claimed to have worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. (He did not.) He boasts of owning 13 properties. (He does not).
Santos also lied about his family. He said his family name was Zabrovsky. (It's not). He said his mother immigrated from Belgium. (She did not.) He said she was in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11 (She was actually in Brazil on that day) and died a few years later. (She died in 2016.) He said his grandparents were Ukrainian Jews who survived the Holocaust. (They were not. They were born in Brazil.) He claimed that his family was Jewish, but later said he only meant they were "Jew-ish."
That's just for starters. In Brazil, Santos now faces renewed criminal charges of fraud for allegedly using a stolen checkbook in 2008. He's under federal and state investigation for financial irregularities, including loaning more money to his campaign than he made on his job or had in his bank account. And this week, in the how-low-can-you-go category, he was accused of stealing $3,000 he'd fraudulently raised for life-saving surgery for a poor veteran's service dog. Without surgery, the dog died.
In any other profession - attorney, doctor, CEO, chef, journalist - anybody who told such a string of lies would be summarily tossed out of their job. Were any Democrat so guilty, Republicans would be holding impeachment hearings. But what has happened to George Santos? Nothing! Despite his pack of lies, he was sworn in as a Member of Congress and awarded seats on the House Small Business and Science, Space and Technology Committees.
McCarthy claims his hands are tied. "I try to stick by the Constitution," he piously told reporters on January 11. The voters elected him to serve, he insisted, so it's up to the voters to make another decision two years from now. In the meantime, there's nothing he can do about it.
And that's as big a lie as any lie George Santos has told so far. There are at least three things Congress could do to hold Santos responsible. At the very least, they could block him from sitting on any committees. Democrats did that to Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar in 2021. And Republicans stripped one of their own, Iowa's Steve King, from all committees in 2019.
The Constitution gives Congress a second option: Censure. It requires only a majority vote, and forces a Member to stand in the well of the House while the Speaker reads the bill of charges against him. It's been used 24 times since 1832, most recently in 2021, when the House censured Paul Gosar for tweeting an animated video in which he killed Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Third option? What Congress should do - and would do under a Speaker with any moral compass: Expel George Santos from the House. This is the ultimate punishment, requiring a two-thirds vote of the House. It's only been used 20 times. It's reserved for those who've proved themselves utterly unworthy of serving in Congress.
If anybody fits that bill, it's George Santos. But this Congress will do nothing about Santos - only because Kevin McCarthy is desperately afraid of losing just one Republican vote. What Santos has done is disgusting. Even more disgusting is that he has the full faith and support of the Speaker of the House.
Credit: Tribune Content Agency
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