Joe Biden and the Democratic-controlled 117th Congress will benefit from what freshman Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., did at the end of the 116th. It and Hawley will soon recede into the mists of memory, but this should be remembered: Before Hawley immolated his brief political career (see the photo of his clenched-fist salute of solidarity as he walked past the mob that was about to sack the Capitol), he seemed certain to be a presidential candidate in 2024. Which probably explains his performance during the December auction in the Senate.
In late December, President Donald Trump, who was thinking that Hawley and kindred congressional spirits could deliver to him a second term, decided that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., were right to demand that pandemic relief-cum-stimulus legislation should feature $2,000 checks showered evenhandedly on those in need and on scores of millions who are not. Three senatorial mini-Trumps — Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; and Hawley — promptly joined the Pelosi-Schumer-Trump Axis of Generosity.
Rubio had favored $600 checks when he tweeted the requisite (for Republicans) six words, and then pirouetted to the predictable seventh: “I am concerned about the debt, but ...” Regarding Rubio as a potential rival for the 2024 presidential nomination, Hawley increased the bidding to $2,000, joined, of course, by Graham, who, after golfing with Trump, proclaimed $2,000 “reasonable” and said: “Let’s go big for the American people.” Hawley tweeted an argument for $2,000 that made up in concision what it lacked in precision: “There’s obviously plenty of $$ to do it.”
Brevity is the soul of Twitter, as well as of (thank you, Dorothy Parker) lingerie, so Hawley could not dwell on details. Perhaps he meant that there always is “plenty” of money — even though the national debt increased $4.2 trillion in fiscal 2020 — because any sum can be borrowed or printed. Hawley avoided specifics, but populists often advocate diverting foreign aid to finance domestic largess. Polls show that Americans consistently believe that foreign aid is about 25% of the federal budget. In fiscal 2020 it was $40 billion, less than 1% of the budget. Hawley’s $2,000 checks would have added $464 billion to the deficit.
The Pelosi-Schumer-Trump-Hawley-Rubio-Graham collaboration was a taste of the bipartisanship for which Americans say they hunger. Indeed, 44 Republican members of the House — 22% of the Republican caucus — voted with Pelosi’s members for $2,000. The Senate auction, however, was truncated before the collaborators could ask, “Why not $3,000?” Adult supervision, in the form of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., intervened.
He noted that The Washington Post, New York Times, Larry Summers (treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton and head of President Barack Obama’s National Economic Council) and many other liberal voices have opposed non-targeted checks not linked to need. The measure that McConnell blocked was slightly progressive in that the flow of money from the federal spigot would have slowed until it stopped by fully excluding families of five earning above $350,000. Such a family is in the top 2% of household incomes. So, presumably, the desperate bottom 98% of households need what Democrats were calling “survival checks.”
The geyser of “stimulus” checks approved in March did not stimulate because the money was mostly saved or used to pay down debt. The Manhattan Institute’s Brian Riedl reports that the overall personal-savings rate soared from 8% to 32%: People are avoiding air travel and restaurants not because they are impecunious but because they are prudent. And the Wall Street Journal’s Greg Ip notes that “aggregate wages and salaries were just 0.4% lower in November than before the pandemic. Thanks to past stimulus, total income was actually 2% higher.”
If Hawley, Rubio and Graham squint, they can see a silver lining on the dark cloud of Democratic control of the Senate: Majority Leader Schumer will soon give them an opportunity to vote for $2,000 disbursements. The national debt has increased almost 40% in the past four years. But when congressional Republicans rediscover (the rhetoric of) frugality, as surely they will at noon Jan. 20, Biden can cite Hawley’s assurance that there “obviously” is “plenty” of money.
Until late December, the shapeshifting Graham — John McCain is my hero; no, Donald Trump, McCain’s despiser, is; stay tuned for Act 3 — had a lock on the title of most ludicrous senator. Then Hawley, auction bidder and mob inciter, pounced. Graham’s lock has been picked. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Following the 9/11 attacks, it took a few days for the full horror of what had happened to set in. So it has been with President Donald Trump’s assault on the Capitol building.
Trump’s part was obvious from the start, because he intended it to be. He called his followers to gather in Washington on the day of the electoral vote count, fed the raging fire of their victimhood, urged them to overturn a core constitutional process, turned them against Vice President Mike Pence, ordered them to intimidate reluctant members of Congress, challenged them to demonstrate “strength,” directed them toward the Capitol and refused to intervene when the violence began. Those who now claim Trump’s motives were somehow unclear are not raising reasonable doubts; they are contending the sun is not hot and the sky is not blue. The irrationality of their claim points to a defect in their motives. They have set out to whitewash sedition.
In the days since the attack, however, our picture of the event itself has evolved. From long-distance camera lenses, it might have looked like a protest that grew out of hand. But many of the insurrectionists came prepared with tactical gear and communications equipment. They roamed the halls with zip ties hunting for Pence and congressional leaders. At a distance, they carried crosses. Close up, they built gallows and chanted death threats. At a distance, they carried “thin blue line”banners. Close up, they savagely beat police officers who resisted them.
One moment captured on video stands out to me for its brutality and symbolism. An insurrectionist pulls a police officer down the steps of the Capitol, where he is stomped and beaten with the pole of an American flag. The crowd chants “USA, USA.”
Some elected Republicans, such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, advise that we avoid the full legal and political implications of these events in the cause of national unity. He said impeachment would “only divide our country more.” Having accommodated radicalism in the GOP for years — and fresh from encouraging the election denialism at the heart of the violent revolt — McCarthy has a vested interest in ignoring sedition. So he is not, perhaps, the best source of advice on events moving forward.
The problem with McCarthy’s approach is that it assumes that the threat has passed. On the morning of the Capitol attack, newly seated Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., tweeted, “Today is 1776” — comparing a revolt of treasonous misfits and conspiracy theorists to the conduct of a justified revolution. “There’s a lot of people calling for the end of violence,”said Rush Limbaugh. “I am glad Sam Adams, Thomas Paine, the actual tea party guys, the men at Lexington and Concord didn’t feel that way.” Violent insurrectionists are still being fed the lie that their cause is equivalent to the American founding. And they know that Trump — whatever halfhearted criticism of the revolt he was forced to make — still has their back.
Trump’s attack on the Capitol was not an isolated event. It was the logical outcome of an ideology of resentment, hatred and violence that Trump and his right-wing media allies have placed at the very center of U.S. politics. This conspiracy against the constitutional order has grown strong in an atmosphere of Republican appeasement. Those who want to continue that appeasement are inviting further disorder and violence.
Stopping this rot in the political order will require accountability. That begins with the president, who deserves every legal and constitutional consequence our system offers. He should be impeached for sedition. He should be prevented from holding any further elective office. He should be stripped of all the perks of the post-presidency. He should be prosecuted for insurrection against the U.S. government.
But the responsibility does not end with a single man. Many elected Republicans enabled the president’s political rise. Trump could only attempt the occupation of the Capitol because he had already occupied the Republican Party — in that case, with little resistance. Elected Republicans who cheered that takeover deserve to lose, and lose, and lose, until their party is either destroyed or transformed.
There are also harder cases. Some elected Republicans did more than spread the lies that empowered the insurrection. They voted to confirm those lies after the Capitol had been assaulted. Not even physical danger — not even the humiliation of their country and the attempted murder of their colleagues — could overcome their moral cowardice and political ambition.
That justifies ethics investigations of people such as Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., and McCarthy, leading to their possible expulsion. These legislators urged surrender to the pernicious lies and seditious demands of violent insurrectionists who had just left the building. That is the betrayal of the oath they took to defend the Constitution.
This is the sad reality of our beleaguered democracy: If the United States does not punish sedition, we will see more of it.
It was telling that one of the first people to call for the resignation of Delegate Derrick Evans, R-Wayne, after Evans videoed himself participating in the riot at the U.S. Capitol, was Sen. Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha.
Nelson clearly grasped that anyone participating in a violent attempt to overthrow this country’s democracy was unfit to hold public office in West Virginia. Other Republicans, including Gov. Jim Justice, joined with Democrats in denouncing Evans and amplifying the call for resignation. Evans resigned and has been arrested on federal charges related to the riot.
This moment of national alarm and tragedy offers all Americans, West Virginians and especially those who hold public office, a choice. They can recognize the need to set the country on a path toward recovery and renewal for the good of America. Or they can continue to fight a lost cause based on claims one court after another — including the highest in the land — has found to be specious.
The GOP in West Virginia is at a pivotal point. If it wants to reform itself into a party based in the real world that serves the people, more will have to follow Nelson’s example in standing up for the truth and for the good of America. That will take individual courage, because there’s no real political pressure for change, with Republicans holding a supermajority in both the House of Delegates and state Senate.
State GOP Chairwoman Melody Potter resigned Monday. Potter was one of the most caustic Republicans in the state. She wholeheartedly supported and spread President Trump’s lie that he won the November election. She was one of the earliest practitioners of Jimbothink, immediately embracing Gov. Jim Justice once he switched to the Republican Party, and deleting swaths of her social media posts that attacked the governor. She was the epitome of blind fealty (though even Potter released a statement condemning Evans’ actions). The state party now has a chance at a better way forward.
Many Republicans nationally and in West Virginia viewed last week’s attack as a moment of clarity. But not everyone.
Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, was also at last week’s riot, though he said he did not participate in storming the U.S. Capitol. In an interview with MetroNews, Azinger characterized the event as a run-of-the-mill, old fashioned American protest. Never mind that the Capitol was breached with the purpose of overturning a presidential election. Never mind five people, including a Capitol Police officer, were killed. Never mind the evidence showing many planned on harming members of Congress. Azinger said he hopes Trump calls citizens back again for another event soon.
The West Virginia Democratic Caucus has called for Azinger and his Republican colleagues to condemn the violence that took place. Will they listen? Should anyone who viewed a violent attempt to overthrow an election as “quintessentially American” be allowed to hold office in West Virginia without censure? Will anyone with the power to do something make it happen?
The Democrats can release as many statements and calls to action they want, but it’s not up to them. West Virginia Republicans have to search their souls and decide what is right for their state and country.
Abraham Lincoln, one of the Republicans depicted on Mount Rushmore, famously declared: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Not since Lincoln’s day have the stakes been higher. Will Republicans stand as Lincoln did for the preservation of the Union, or will they, in the name of a lost cause, stand with a president who’d rather see the Union torn asunder than concede the simple fact of his defeat?