Monthly Archives: January 2021

Trump’s Second Impeachment

On Wednesday, January 13, 2021, the House of Representatives voted 232-193 to impeach Trump, making him the only president ever to be impeached twice.  Most Republicans in the House voted against the measure, but ten Republicans voted with the Democrats to impeach, making this the most bipartisan vote on a presidential impeachment in the country’s history.  Some other Republicans, even while voting against impeachment, had sharply critical words for the president.  House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that he would support a censure resolution.

“Impeach,” of course, merely means accuse.  There still has to be a Senate trial.  In this instance, the Senate trial will begin when Trump is already out of office, the first time this has happened in a presidential impeachment.  The big point of that trial is that if a two-thirds majority can be mustered up to convict Trump (which would take 17 Republicans voting with the 50 Democrats), the Senate can then vote by a simple majority to disqualify Trump from holding office again.

It remains to be seen whether 17 Republicans in the Senate can be persuaded to vote to convict Trump.  However, Senate Minority Leader (formerly Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell has said that he will make his decision after he hears the evidence, which is more than he was willing to say and do last year, in Trump’s first impeachment.  Back then, he said it was “dead on arrival” (McConnell’s own words) and that he was going to “coordinate with the president (also McConnell’s own words).  It should be noted that back on Wednesday, January 6, only six Republicans voted against accepting the results of the electoral vote.

And what, exactly, did Trump do?  Let’s start with what he had been doing for the past two months, ever since the election.  He had been declaring, not even that the results were questionable and should be investigated, but that it was an absolute fact that the results were fraudulent and he was the rightful winner of the election.  He thus encouraged his base–a base that we know includes (though is by no means limited to) militant extremists, a subset of whom are hard-core ideological racists, members of groups that make the Ku Klux Klan look like the Rainbow Coalition–to feel that something had been stolen from them and to feel enraged about it.  During those two months, he also contacted numerous Republicans in positions of authority or influence in the swing states that he had lost (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia), tried to manipulate them into finding some loophole or technicality with which to change the results and make him the winner, and lobbed attacks on their character when he did not get what he wanted from him.

January 6 was the day that the House and the Senate, in joint session, counted the electoral vote, which is usually a very routine and mundane ceremonial act.  It should be noted that none of the states submitted conflicting returns or registered any dispute over the results. Mike Pence, as president of the Senate, would be presiding.  Pence had previously made speeches supportive of Trump’s claim that the election was stolen from him, which apparently got Trump’s hopes up that Pence would try to change the outcome (even though he couldn’t).  On the eve of the count, he told Pence that he would go down in history as either a patriot or a pussy, and that morning he sent out a tweet that he hoped Pence would do the right thing.  Later in the day, he sent out a vicious tweet blasting Pence for not coming through.

Now, about the rally:  Trump organized that rally, calling it the “Save America Rally.”  He sent out repeated reminders on Twitter, and many tens of thousands showed up.  He delivered a 75-minute speech in which he repeatedly said that the election was fraudulent and that his listeners had good reason not to “take it.”  He referred again and again to “weak Republicans.”

“All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by a bold and radical left Democrats which is what they are doing and stolen by the fake news media. That is what they have done and what they are doing. We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore, and that is what this is all about.”

He then dispatched them to the Capitol.  His words suggest that what he wanted them to do was shout: just stand outside the Capitol, in the area where they had the right to stand, and shout, let their feelings be known.  If we look at it in the light most favorable to Trump–assuming that that really was all he wanted them to do–we’re still left with the fact that he was showing complete complete contempt for the independence of Congress and for the judgment of individuals–including many Republicans–who had decided that the vote was legitimate and that Biden had won.  What is more, if Trump was confident that all they were going to do was shout from outside, then he was completely disregarding the obvious fact that there were militant extremists in the crowd.  With that in mind, it should still be clear how Trump’s own words could easily be taken as encouragement to do more than shout.

“We’re going to walk down. Anyone you want, but I think right here, we’re going to walk down to the Capitol– And we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated. Lawfully slated.”

And now, let’s consider what Trump’s first message to the rioters was, when it became clear that there was a riot.

“I know your pain, I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt.

“It’s a very tough period of time. There’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened where they could take it away from all of us — from me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election, but we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil.

“I know how you feel, but go home, and go home in peace.”

He had changed his tune by Thursday evening.  At that point, he made a video in which he totally condemned the attack on the Capitol and said that the perpetrators would be punished.  He also announced that there would be a peaceful transition of power on January 20.  He appeared to have been a bit chastened, warned that he was going to be in serious trouble for the events of January 6.

Now, there are reports that more violence is feared, and that security on inauguration day–which even under normal circumstances would be very tight–is going to be considerably tighter, with a huge military presence guarding the area of the Capitol.

It’s very abnormal for the president of the United States to be encouraging insurrection, or even encouraging a crowd to protest with their voices a proceeding on Capitol Hill.  What is more, the claims that Trump is making about the election are false by any reasonable standards.  There will always be some who would say that I should be “objective” on the subject, maybe suggest that there are two schools of thought as to whether the election was fair and two schools of thought as to whether Trump’s efforts to pressure Republicans into finding a way to declare him the winner are justified.  Sorry, I can’t.  I would be lying.  And there’s enough lying going on already.

Article in Politico about the impeachment vote, January 13, 2021

Transcript of Trump’s speech at the rally

Transcript of Trump’s message after the riot began

The Stakes in Georgia This Tuesday

Tuesday, January 5, under an unusual set of circumstances, there are two runoff elections in the state of Georgia for U.S. Senate.  If the Republicans win even one of those races, the Republicans will have the majority in the Senate.  If the Democrats win both of them, then there will be 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats (or Independents who caucus with the Democrats) in the Senate, a perfect tie, in which case Vice-President Kamala Harris, as president of the Senate, will be the tie-breaker, giving the Democrats the majority by just one vote.

For both parties, the stakes are high.  Both parties have been doing massive fundraising and pouring millions into the campaigns.  The Democrats, of course, want a majority in the Senate to work with the Democratic majority in the House (razor-thin as it is) and with the Biden administration.  The Republicans, meanwhile, are telling voters that a Republican majority in the Senate will be the only thing blocking the radical socialist agenda that they associate with the Democrats.

But Republicans in Georgia have been getting mixed signals from Trump.  He’s telling them they should turn out and vote Republican, of course (and he’s holding a rally in Georgia Monday night), but he’s also saying that these runoff elections are illegal, invalid, and rigged.  Democrats are delighted; they’d love to see the Republicans boycott the polls that day.  That isn’t likely to happen, though, and while the races could go either way, I’m definitely not betting any money on the Democrats winning both of them.

If the Democrats do get a majority in the Senate, they will still have to abolish the filibuster if they want to get any major legislation passed without Republican cooperation.  They may well be reluctant to do that, though without abolishing the filibuster it will take 60 votes to pass most bills in the Senate.  And which party has the majority will make a big difference in whether Biden can appoint the people he wants as cabinet officers and federal judges.  For a number of reasons, both parties consider the stakes to be very high.

Article in Politico, January 3, 2021

Trump and Congress at the Dawn of the New Year

In the final days of 2020, there were two significant bills from Congress:  one that Trump threatened to veto and then signed, another that Trump vetoed and Congress passed over its veto.

The bill that Trump threatened to veto, or at least grumbled about on Twitter, was the COVID relief package.  After months of haggling between Republicans and Democrats, it was passed with a direct relief disbursement of $600, an extension of supplemental unemployment benefits, and other measures designed to infuse money into the sagging economy.  Trump, after having kept himself out of the negotiations with his treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin representing the White House, suddenly announced–after both chambers of Congress had already passed the bill–that the relief payment should be $2,000.  The Democrats were quick to embrace that idea, but Republican leaders shot it down, and Trump grudgingly signed the bill.

The bill that Trump vetoed was the National Defense Authorization Act.  Most of it was the usual routine funding, including raises for military personnel, but there were two things about it that troubled our president.  One was that he wanted an amendment in it (though completely unrelated to defense spending) repealing the provision of the Communications Act of 1996 that protects social media outlets from liability for content that users post in their channels.  Trump has been irate at companies like Facebook and Twitter since they started posting fact-checking notes on some of his tweets.  His point of view is that if they’re going to exercise any control over content, then they should be responsible for exercising complete control over it.  He was not able to get that included in the bill.

The other aspect of that bill that Trump didn’t like was the renaming of military bases that currently have the names of Confederate generals.  In the early twentieth century, the federal government and the North felt the need to make all kinds of conciliatory gestures to the South–that is, the White South–and that included honoring officers who served in the Confederacy in the Civil War of 1861-65.  The trouble with that is, the Confederacy was defending slavery, and thus these generals were defending the idea that persons of African descent should not have the rights of human beings and as Americans, but rather should have the status of property to be trafficked and exploited for their unwilling labor.  The trend toward rethinking the use of Confederate names on federal military property has been happening for some years already but got an extra push this year from all the racial justice protests following the killing of George Floyd and others.  Again, Trump objected to the renaming of those bases, and objected enough to those two aspects together to veto the bill.

It’s rare that Congress overrides a president’s veto with a two-thirds vote in both chambers, and it’s rare in the present climate in Washington for Republicans and Democrats to agree on anything, but that rarity happened.  On New Year’s Day, that vote was finalized and the bill was passed.

But there’s another action coming up in Congress that Trump will undoubtedly be paying more attention to.

To review a key point, Biden won the presidential election by any reasonable standards.  Ted Cruz is undoubtedly right when he says that there were “unprecedented allegations of voter fraud,” but there isn’t unprecedented proof, or any proof at all, of voter fraud happening to anywhere near the level that it would take to change the results of the election, and anybody who understands how elections work should understand how hard it would be to produce such a massive level of fraud.  What is more, in several of the states involved, the officials who oversaw the election were Republicans–people who wanted Trump to win.  But this has not stopped Trump from demanding that Republicans do whatever they can–find strings they can pull and loopholes and technicalities they can use–to declare him the winner, and he has openly attacked the character of anyone who wouldn’t do that, including the secretary of state and the governor of Georgia, both Republicans.  And nationwide, the majority of Republicans in the electorate seem all too happy to join Trump in this nonsensical fantasy world he’s living in.

That brings us to what’s about to happen on Wednesday, January 6.  That’s the day when the two chambers of Congress come together, under the ceremonial leadership of Vice-President Mike Pence (in his constitutional role as president of the Senate) to count the electoral votes.  According to prevailing statute, if at least one representative and at least one senator challenge the electoral votes that have been submitted, Congress has to debate that challenge for up to two hours and then take a vote.  Now, there is no realistic chance that this is going to change the outcome, but what it is going to do is force every Republican in the House and Senate to take a position.  From the point of view of Trump and his loyal base, that means every Republican in Congress has to go on record as being either loyal or disloyal to Trump.

Indeed, that is what the Republican Party has turned into since Trump got the nomination in 2016: the party of personal loyalty to Trump.  Republican primary elections in 2018 and 2020 were largely contests of which candidate was most personally loyal to Trump.  And more and more, being loyal to Trump has meant buying into narratives that simply are not true, in this instance the narrative that the election was stolen and that Trump is the rightful winner.  Republicans who go against Trump are likely, in the next congressional election cycle, to be challenged in the primaries by hard-core Trump loyalists.

We’re living through bizarre times, and in terms of his influence over the Republican Party in Congress, we may well still be in the Trump era long after Trump leaves office.

Article about the defense bill in Space News, January 1, 2021

Article about the outlook for January 6 in Politico, January 3, 2021