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A weekly review of the rogues and scoundrels of American politics

The Fourteenth Amendment Scolds Abetting Trump’s Return

The pundit class has finally found a section of the Constitution they can’t abide. By coincidence, it’s the part that’s designed to protect the nation from an insurrectionist.

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The media spent a large part of Donald Trump’s presidency waiting for the moment that he might become presidential. Like fools, they manned this post in spite of the fact that Trump had very specifically refused to comport with one of the central notions of the constitutional order: that there are reasonable limits on presidential power. Trump was hardly the first to abjure the notion that the chief executive was in any way constrained, but he was perhaps the most flamboyant occupant of the Oval Office at flouting this norm—the weeks he spent cultivating and then inciting an attack on the Capitol being the ne plus ultra of his misrule.

A lack of accountability since then has served our nation poorly. Three years on from the January 6 insurrection, but before the primary elections have even begun, Republican lawmakers are already refusing to commit to certifying this November’s winner. I suppose the silver lining here is that there won’t be much violence a year from now—there’s no need to ransack a Capitol whose occupants have provided for its pillage in advance.

This week, however, Trump’s lawyers upped the stakes considerably, contending that the president could not be prosecuted for ordering SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political opponent, unless he was swiftly impeached by Congress and convicted for the crime in the Senate first. That’s cold comfort to Trump’s murdered rival, to say nothing of any impeachment-minded lawmakers, who in this infernal thought exercise would obviously be the next under the gun of Trump’s mercenaries.

We are, however, not completely unarmed against Trump’s thuggery: Article 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment lays out a fail-safe, disqualifying anyone who played a part in inciting an insurrection from holding office again. Unfortunately, while it is rare for the Supreme Court to disarm anyone, it will, in all likelihood, deny the American people this protection. But the Roberts court has been vastly aided and abetted by our political media, who after waiting so long for Trump to discover virtue, have quickly declared the Article 3 tool to be a vice—either searingly unfair to use in this instance or invalid on its face. When the decision eventually comes, the press will have created an environment in which the Supreme Court’s disregard for the Constitution’s text won’t be viewed as a radical act.

That this consensus was reached so quickly is something of a surprise, as the dominant mode of the pundit class is to venerate the Constitution as a peerless document, the final answer to all questions. As The New Republic’s Osita Nwanevu has written, this reverence may be unearned. But the media has gone to strange lengths to specifically discount this one part of the Constitution that was designed to prevent the crisis we now face.

An indelible example of this rough treatment was published in The New York Times on December 28, the day that Maine’s secretary of state decided that a plain reading of Article 3 compelled her to remove Trump from her state’s ballot. The Times could not let the matter pass without injecting opinion into what purported to be a straight news story, referring to Article 3 in derogatory terms: “an obscure clause of a constitutional amendment enacted after the Civil War.” The Fourteenth Amendment, in toto, is about 400 words long. There are no “obscure” parts to it—no small-print footnotes stuffed away in the back pages or lost-to-memory secret lore that requires Nicolas Cage’s help to unearth.

Those who’ve been more up front about their opinion-mongering haven’t been any less meretricious in their treatment of Article 3. Writing for his newsletter, Indignity, Tom Scocca provides a concise survey of those who’ve recently endeavored to “pretend” that the Fourteenth Amendment doesn’t say what it says, from the “half-baked excuses” from pundits to the “feeble political claims” of legal experts doing business as Constitution doubters.

One example that stands out for its sheer mendacity comes from Yale Law professor (and it’s almost always a Yale Law professor) Jed Rubenfeld, who pooh-poohed Article 3 for The Wall Street Journal’s opinion section, admonishing those who might wield it to save the country from harm that while the “Colorado Supreme Court didn’t exactly get the law wrong” when it plucked Trump from its ballot, the “problem” was “there was no law to get right,” on account of the fact that “almost no case law exists on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.”

Indeed, one of the big reasons that there’s precious little case law on that particular part of the Fourteenth Amendment is that it’s hitherto proven to be such an adequate bulwark against a president ordering an insurrection that hardly any presidents have tried it. It’s generally pretty hard to generate case law when everyone agrees not to break a law. But Rubenfeld’s reprimands ring pretty hollow if we must, at the first instance of this law being broken, concede that the plain text of the Constitution is invalid.

The most idiotic case against the Fourteenth Amendment solution is the one that’s been made the most often: the idea that the people, and not judges, must decide Trump’s fate. As Kurt Lash recently scolded from the New York Times opinion page, this battle for the Republic must take place in voting booths or not at all: “Let the people make their own decision about Donald Trump.”

But where did Article 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment come from, if not “the people?” These words were ratified through the same democratic process as every other amendment to the Constitution. They weren’t put there by gods or monsters. Moreover, as The New Republic contributor Andrew Koppelman pointed out, “The people” have, on two occasions now, unambiguously rejected Trump. In 2016, their decision was thwarted by the Electoral College; in 2020, Trump reacted to his Electoral College loss by trying to overthrow its decision through the corrupt means that this Constitutional amendment was specifically written to prevent. How many times do “the people” have to render a decision before they’re allowed to use the Constitution to enforce it?

There is every possibility that, this November, the American people will, for a third consecutive time, do exactly what Lash demands and again decide that Trump is unfit to rule. It will be well within the realm of possibility that the popular vote will once again be overruled by the Electoral College—or there may simply be enough Republicans on hand to deny the American people the right to the decision they’ve rendered. How will those chiding the effort to forestall this fate through lawful means account for themselves, should this come to pass? What is it about the broken America they’re helping to usher in through their empty, repetitive screeds that they find so appealing? Are the clicks really that good?

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

This Is How the Right Is “Rebranding” the Pro-Life Movement

If you want to know what the post-Dobbs future looks like, look at what the state of Texas did to Kate Cox.

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks outside the U.S. Supreme Court on November 1, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Ever since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Republican Party has gotten a crash course in what it feels like to be the dog that caught the car. To the surprise of no one who’s spent the past few decades warning what might happen if the abortion rights protections offered by the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade perished at the hands of a conservative court, the Dobbs ruling rather swiftly unleashed dystopia across the land and brought a voter backlash with it—so severe that GOP elites, when last we checked in, were contemplating a “rebranding” of the pro-life movement.

That task will become all the more impossible given the persecution this month of a pregnant woman in Texas, which tells you all you need to know about the Republican vision of a post-Roe America.

In late November, Kate Cox learned that her unborn child had a dire genetic disorder called trisomy 18 that typically leads to a stillbirth or, in rare instances, a very short and unhappy life. Making matters worse, Cox had previously delivered two children by C-section, which created potentially life-threatening consequences for her delivery. And so, understandably, she wished to end her pregnancy.

But Cox lives in Texas, where it is illegal to perform an abortion except in some “narrow exceptions”—to save the life of a pregnant patient or prevent a “substantial impairment of major bodily function.” Her doctor, playing by the new rules of the road and having determined that Cox qualified for such an exception, obtained a ruling from a judge that would have permitted her to have an abortion. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton then went to elaborate lengths to thwart her. Beyond merely getting the Texas Supreme Court to intervene, he sent threatening letters to area hospitals warning of the legal consequences of treating Cox. He also made sure to invoke Texas’s infamous abortion bounty law and sic the Lone Star State’s anti-abortion vigilantes on her and anyone else who might help her obtain the procedure. Cox ended up having to flee the state just to get the care she needed.

It’s worth underscoring some basic facts. Cox was no libertine, seeking to use abortion as a form of birth control in the popular caricature of abortion-seekers that the right likes to promulgate. She has two children and very much wanted a third. Doctors were able to offer her doomed child mercy and keep alive the possibility of her adding to her family at some point in the future. Paxton, however, took the position that the only just outcome would be for her to run the risk of leaving her children without a mother and her spouse without a wife, all for the sake of a warped ideology that’s already failed on its own terms.

The pro-life rebranding is thus proceeding exactly as I predicted it would, with the most extreme elements of the anti-abortion movement driving policy forward and grabbing headlines for the fringe ideas they’re birthing and the militancy by which they carry them to term. 

Texas Senator Ted Cruz is running scared from this story. Meanwhile, among the Republican presidential candidates, who have the most at stake when it comes to putting lipstick on the party’s anti-abortion pig, mealy mouths are the order of the day. As NBC News reported, none of the candidates “were willing to outright say they disagreed with Texas’ decision to deny Kate Cox an abortion, but they also weren’t jumping to defend the Republican politicians in the state.” There never were such sterling examples of courage and conviction. Nikki Haley, who has strained herself trying to locate a middle position on this issue, offered this nonsense: “We have to humanize the situation and deal with it with compassion.”  

What Haley doesn’t grasp is that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Humanity and compassion are qualities that were ever-present in the pre-Dobbs status quo. How do we know this? We know this because prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, whenever people like Kate Cox needed humanity and compassion, they got it from their doctors. Humanity and compassion just ran seamlessly in the background, and these women never ended up in the news, fleeing their states, fearing for their lives, or watching their state’s attorney general try to destroy their families. Humanity and compassion didn’t just vanish by accident—the anti-abortion movement is hunting it to extinction.

I don’t personally believe that Republicans have any deeper thoughts to their extreme hostility to reproductive rights beyond a simple but deeply held belief that women are chattel. But you can judge for yourself. Their talk of humane exceptions to abortion bans is bunkum. Their talk of leaving abortion restrictions to the states: hogwash. Their talk of compromise is a lie. They even lie to themselves about how unpopular their position is. Left to their own devices, they will identify people like Kate Cox—a loving mother who played by the rules—and subject them to stupefying cruelty. And there will always be a next Kate Cox; there already are some next Kate Coxes in the news. The rebranding is well underway.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

Trump Is Coming for Your Health Care—Again

The Republican Party’s “repeal and replace Obamacare” zombie is back, and it’s even more brain-dead than before.

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The possibility that we might, as The New Republic’s editor Michael Tomasky put it, “sleepwalk” into a second Trump presidency is very real, which is all the more shocking given the mounting evidence that Trump Redux could well end America as we know it. The New Republic’s Matt Ford capably laid out how few guardrails remain in place, including, as Brian Beutler noted in his Off Message newsletter, “the likelihood that Trump will have carte blanche if not active participation from Congress.” The Atlantic, our doughty journal of ruling-class opinion, has even dedicated an entire upcoming issue to the topic.

That Trump poses a unique threat to our civic fabric and our democratic institutions is an important argument to make—and as Democrats proved in the recent midterms, it’s a winning argument as well. Still, it’s important to remember that in addition to being a wannabe despot, Trump is also an extremely conventional Republican politician with very stupid and harmful policy ideas. And lately, he’s been reminding us about one in particular: his plan to throw people off of their health insurance and make coverage worse and more expensive.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Trump announced his plan to revive one of the Republican Party’s less-liked vaudeville routines, the two-step known as “repeal and replace Obamacare.” “I’m seriously looking at alternatives,” he wrote on Truth Social. Despite the fact that reports immediately pointed out what a political loser the issue has been for the GOP, which essentially gave up on the idea of scuttling the Obama-era law in the most recent midterms, Trump has done nothing but push it even harder. “I don’t want to terminate Obamacare,” he wrote, “I want to REPLACE IT with MUCH BETTER HEALTHCARE. Obamacare Sucks!!!”

Okay, we get the point. For a long while, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act was among the Republican Party’s biggest priorities and also one of its most prolonged failures. Its failure was largely due to Obamacare’s ever-growing popularity but also to Republicans’ inability to propose a better replacement. Republicans view health care as a privilege won by those who rise to the top of the free market. Economic dislocation of any kind, in their view, is the result of individual moral failings. The Affordable Care Act, by contrast, literally redistributes taxpayer money to subsidize health care for those who can’t afford it. This is the bill’s cardinal virtue and the thing that enables all of its most popular components. That makes it complete anathema to Republicans.

This is probably why Trump’s own push to replace Obamacare ended up producing the American Health Care Act, which I once described as not so much a health care plan as “the opening salvo in a multi-part revenue baseline manipulation scheme that was supposed to pave the way for a massive tax cut for the wealthy.” While the bill was touted as the Republican alternative to Obamacare, its main feature was to guarantee worse coverage at higher costs—and throw millions of people off of their insurance to boot. In other words, it was a Republican health care plan. In fact, it was so effective at accomplishing standard Republican health care goals that when the White House tried to counter the Congressional Budget Office’s dire estimations of the damage the bill would do, the administration’s own analysis found that the CBO left off an additional two million people who were going to lose their insurance.

Republicans have mostly greeted Trump’s calls for repealing and replacing Obamacare with exasperation. The Hill reported that his renewed interest in gutting the law caused “new political headaches for Republicans locked in a highly competitive battle to win back the Senate majority.” Most Republicans admitted that the legislative margins were too tight to contemplate taking the matter up again and that there was a lack of consensus among members as to what a replacement might look like. Still, Ron DeSantis has also made Obamacare repeal a central plank in his campaign. And at least one Republican vying to flip a Senate seat from blue to red, Tim Sheehy, followed Trump’s call by coming out in favor of the “full privatization” of health care.

Trump may have only opened this political Pandora’s box a crack, but Democrats should pry it open with a crowbar. They have made this a winning issue before and could easily do so again. Obamacare is very popular; as Politico noted last week, roughly three in five Americans like the law. Many undecided voters may be unsure that a second Trump term spells doom for American democracy, but it may be enough to remind them that he and the GOP could spell doom for their health care.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

Billionaire Philanthropy Is a Scam

A new study describes in grotesque detail the extent to which the ultrarich have perverted the charitable giving industry.

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Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Money gets a bad rap in some quarters. It’s said that it “isn’t everything,” that it cannot “buy you happiness,” that loving it is “the root of all evil.” But if there’s one thing that money is absolutely stupendous at doing, it’s solving problems. Naturally, the more money you have, the more problems you can solve. Which is why the fact that we’ve allowed a large portion of an otherwise finite amount of wealth to become concentrated in the hands of an increasing number of billionaire plutocrats is something of a crisis: Since they have all the money, they call the shots on what problems get solved. And the main problem they want to solve is the public relations problem that’s arisen from their terrible ideas.

Naturally, the ultrarich put on a big show of generosity to temper your resolve to claw back their fortunes. Everywhere you look, their philanthropic endeavors thrive: They’re underwriting new academic buildings at the local university, providing the means by which your midsize city can have an orchestra, and furnishing the local hospital with state of the art equipment. And a sizable number of these deep-pocketed providers have banded together to create “The Giving Pledge,” a promise to give away half of their wealth during their lifetimes. It all sounds so pretty! But as a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies finds, these pledgers aren’t following through on their commitments—and the often self-serving nature of their philanthropy is actually making things worse for charitable organizations.

As the IPS notes, the business of being a billionaire—which suffered nary a hiccup during the pandemic—is booming. So one of the challenges that the Giving Pledgers face is that the rate at which they accrue wealth is making their promise harder to fulfill. The 73 pledgers “who were billionaires in 2010 saw their wealth grow by 138 percent, or 224 percent when adjusted for inflation, through 2022,” with combined assets ballooning from $348 billion to $828 billion.

According to the report, those who are making the effort to give aren’t handing their ducats over to normal charities. Instead, they are increasingly putting their money into intermediaries, such as private foundations or Donor Advised Funds, or DAFs. As the IPS notes, donations to “working charities appear to be declining” as foundations and DAFs become the preferred warehouses for philanthropic funds. (As TNR reported recently, DAFs are a favorite vehicle for anonymous donors to fund hate groups—while also pocketing a nice tax break.) This also has spurred some self-serving innovations among the philanthropic class, “such as taking out loans from their foundations or paying themselves hefty trustee salaries.” More and more of the pledgers are conflating their for-profit investments with their philanthropy as well. And wherever large pools of money are allowed to accrue, outsize political influence follows.

The shell games played by billionaire philanthropists are nothing new. The most common of these are the two-step process by which the ultrarich make charitable donations to solve a problem that their for-profit work caused in the first place. It’s nice that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Institute for Integrative Cancer Research exists, but it’s soured somewhat knowing that the $100 million gift David H. Koch seeded it with was born from a profitable enterprise that included the carcinogens sold by Koch subsidiary Georgia-Pacific. In similar fashion, Mark Zuckerberg’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative “handed out over $3m in grants to aid the housing crisis in the Silicon Valley area,” a problem that, Guardian contributors Carl Rhodes and Peter Bloom note, Zuckerberg had no small part in causing in the first place.

And at the top of the plutocratic food chain, a billionaire’s charitable enterprise can become a philanthropic Death Star. This week, The Baffler’s Tim Schwab took a deep dive into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and discovered that the entity essentially exists as a public relations stunt to justify Gates’s own staggering wealth. One noteworthy highlight involved Gates reaching out to his upper-crust lessers during the Covid pandemic, seeking additional money on top of the foundation’s own commitment, creating a revenue stream that could tie an ethicist into a knot. “During a global pandemic, when billions of people were having trouble with day-to-day expenses even in wealthy nations,” Schwab asks, “why would an obscenely wealthy private foundation start competing for charitable donations against food banks and emergency housing funds?”

As the IPS study notes, perhaps the worst aspect of all of this is that ordinary taxpayers essentially subsidize these endeavors: According to their report, “$73.34 billion in tax revenue was lost to the public in 2022 due to personal and corporate charitable deductions,” a number that goes up to $111 billion once you include what “little data we have about charitable bequests and the investments of charities themselves,” and balloons to several hundreds of billions of dollars each year “if we also include the capital gains revenue lost from the donation of appreciated assets.”

The IPS offers a number of ideas for reforming the world of billionaire philanthropy to better serve the public interest. There are changes to the current regime of private foundations and Donor Advised Funds that would ensure that money flows to worthy recipients with greater speed and transparency. Regulations could ensure that such organizations aren’t just another means by which billionaires shower favors on board members—and that would give foundation board members greater independence to act on their own ideas and prevent the organization from being used as one rich person’s influence-peddling machine. But for my money, the one way we could solve this problem is to institute one of the most popular policy positions in the history of the United States, and tax the rich to the hilt.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

Poor Josh Hawley Can’t Help Himself

The Missouri senator’s dumb Citizens United stunt is the epitome of his political career.

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Missouri Senator Josh Hawley

Josh Hawley is at it again. Over a brief career in Washington, the elfin senator from Missouri—when he’s not egging on and then fleeing from insurrectionists—has attempted one pseudo-populist or culture-war gimmick after another to propel him to a higher level of celebrity than he currently enjoys. Alas, while his ideas have gained some prominence on the right, Hawley’s own star isn’t ascending at nearly the same rate. But he is nothing if not undaunted, and this week he unveiled a plan to “overturn Citizens United.” I’m putting that in scare quotes for a reason. Hawley’s latest legislative burlesque is wholly fake—and threadbare even by his gutter standards.

There are many—mainly on the left—who’d like to somehow overturn Citizens United v. FEC, the execrable 2010 decision that unleashed a tidal wave of funny money into our politics and demonstrated that the Supreme Court didn’t need to have a 6–3 conservative tilt to cock up the entire country. It would be great if we could pass a law and set things right, but here’s the rub: Congress can’t fix it, sorry! As MSNBC’s Jordan Rubin explained, overturning the decision would require one of two unlikely events: the Supreme Court choosing to reverse itself or the successful enactment of a constitutional amendment. “That’s because the 2010 case was decided on constitutional grounds—under the First Amendment—as opposed to statutory grounds,” writes Rubin.

The fact that Hawley, even with the assent of Congress and the president, literally cannot “overturn” Citizens United makes this matter done and dusted. But it’s still worth prodding his proposal to assess the full measure of his ambitions—which turn out to be appropriately deceptive. You see, for all of Hawley’s bluster, he’s only targeting one sliver of the boodle that the Supreme Court’s allowed to come sluicing through the gates: corporate money. For all this posturing, Hawley would leave unchecked the flood of dark money.

If you’re authentically aggrieved by the Citizens United decision, this is where the profound misrule lies: Political nonprofits—mainly 501(c)(4)s—can accept unlimited donations and don’t have to disclose their donors, even when the nonprofit then sends the money to super PACs, which do have to disclose donors. As Open Secrets has documented, contributions from shell companies and dark money sources have ballooned in the last two election cycles, with more than $612 million flowing into federal political committees in 2022. Rubin reports that “the nonprofit One Nation donated $53.5 million to the GOP-aligned Senate Leadership Fund, the largest political contribution of any organization that election cycle.”

“Safe to say,” Rubin concludes, “leaving nonprofits out of the equation wouldn’t solve the dark money problem.” But this is what Hawley’s proposal pointedly does.

It really doesn’t take a ton of spelunking to get to the bottom of what Hawley’s trying to do with this sudden stance against Citizens United: This is just a new layer of the senator’s song and dance against what he terms “woke” corporations, and of the broader project of conservative nationalism that TNR contributing editor Osita Nwanevu characterized as “Trumpism for intellectuals,” in The New Yorker back in July 2019.

TNR’s Matt Ford saw a similar level of playacting in a previous Hawley proposal to belatedly jump into the right’s war against Disney with a stunt bill purportedly aimed at reducing the value of the entertainment conglomerate’s valuable copyrights. As Ford pointed out, however, not only was that proposal extremely unlikely to pass constitutional muster, it would very likely “lead to taxpayers giving a multibillion-dollar payout to Disney for its property losses” if it was successfully enacted.

It’s extremely unlikely that Hawley doesn’t understand the fatal flaws in the ideas he’s going to such flamboyant lengths to promote. The senator, after all, has degrees from the two schools that are locked in tight competition to be America’s Slytherin—Stanford University and Yale Law. As Rubin notes, Hawley also used to clerk for Chief Justice John Roberts, so surely he understands the difference between constitutional and statutory grounds.

But even if Hawley’s anti–Citizens United measure is a complete joke, he’s probably getting exactly what he wants out of the effort: favorable headlines from credulous media outlets such as Real Clear Politics, which announced “Sen. Josh Hawley To Introduce Bill Reversing Citizens United,” or Above the Law, which took the cake with “Unlikeliest Of Heroes Josh Hawley Takes On Mitch McConnell To Get Big Corporate Money Out Of Politics.” Even some liberals fell for it: a DailyKos poster titled their blog post, “I agree with … Josh Hawley?” (Don’t worry, “Greg from Vermont,” you really don’t!)

The political press has been on a recent tear of ignominy lately. Media Matters’ Matt Gertz caught multiple outlets selling the GOP’s recent proposal to pay for the proposed Israeli aid package with deficit-ballooning cuts to the IRS as an “offset” this week, in another example of a framing that could have been avoided if anyone bothered to acquire some basic literacy about the legislative process and operating budgets. That Hawley’s sham of a bill has no chance to “overturn Citizens United” doesn’t take a deep dive into the particulars to figure out. To be honest, many of the ruses perpetrated by George Santos, who survived an expulsion vote on Wednesday, were a lot harder to penetrate than Hawley’s latest caper, if only anyone would bother to try.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

Kyrsten Sinema’s Delusional Exit Interview

The Arizona senator believes she single-handedly saved the U.S. Senate.

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Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema

What does the future hold for Kyrsten Sinema? The Arizona senator, who’s best described as a dull person’s idea of an interesting person, famously flounced from the Democratic Party last December. While she’s remained a part of the Democratic caucus since then, she’s now seeking reelection outside of its auspices and against a more institution-minded member of her former party, in the form of Representative Ruben Gallego—who’s not been subtle about his antipathy for the incumbent. So for the first time in a long while, Sinema’s been forced to consider the possibility that her time in Washington may be coming to an end.

But if remarks attributed to her in a new book by McKay Coppins are any guide, she seems sanguine about her future and determined to go out with her trademark delusions of grandeur. As Insider reported this week, Sinema makes a cameo in Coppins’s Romney: A Reckoning, in which she’s totally not mad about her dim reelection prospects. “I don’t care. I can go on any board I want to. I can be a college president. I can do anything,” she apparently told Mitt Romney. “I saved the Senate filibuster by myself. I saved the Senate by myself. That’s good enough for me.” She is, sadly, correct about her chances of cashing out. But the idea that she “saved the Senate” raises a rather obvious question: “From what, though—and for who?”

Beyond the fact that Sinema’s claim to have been the sole savior of the filibuster is significant Joe Manchin erasure, depriving the West Virginia senator of the recognition he’s earned for hurting West Virginians, children, and the planet, she’s incorrect on the merits: You can’t simultaneously be a Senate institutionalist and support the filibuster, which is a parliamentary aberration that flies in the face of the Framers’ designs. The fact that so many have come to think of it as some sort of legitimate Senate tradition is the constitutional equivalent of the Mandela effect, where people end up convinced that their false memories, such as the famously incorrect collective belief that Sinbad starred in a movie called Shazam!, are real.

As The New Republic’s Matt Ford has explained on multiple occasions, Sinema distinguished herself in one way regarding the filibuster: for her willingness to provide a continual stream of ahistorical and utterly gobshitted rationales for why supermajority rule in the Senate actually serves some noble purpose. But chief among Ford’s observations was that the filibuster almost exclusively impedes the Democratic Party from governing: “For Democrats to achieve any of their policy priorities … they have to navigate a 60-vote gauntlet and the assent of 10 GOP senators. Republicans, on the other hand, can cut taxes, slash the federal budget, and stuff the courts with right-wing judges with a simple majority.”

There’s the answer to the question of who she saved the filibuster for. As for the matter of what she accomplished by doing so … well, there we find more disrepute. Among Sinema’s more vaunted accomplishments is her role in blocking Democrats from passing a measure to shore up voting rights during a time when Democratic voters were facing a well-funded, nationwide effort by Republicans to deny them the ability to participate in our democracy. As Ford pointed out, her rationale in this instance was wholly illogical from the standpoint of self-preservation: “Sinema’s refusal to let her party wield its majority power may, ironically, hasten the end of that power—including her own as a senator who’s up for reelection in 2024. Who knows how many of her voters will be disenfranchised by then?”

Sinema cannot lay claim to having been left behind by a party that moved to a radical new place, either, given that the intensity of her opposition to the Democratic Party’s designs hit a fever pitch once a dyed-in-the-wool centrist took charge of the White House. Even as Biden brokered truces with progressive lawmakers, Sinema broke away, taking a leading role in helping to water down the Build Back Better Act. Worse still was her hand in helping to kill off the pandemic-era expanded child tax credit, where her steadfast opposition to taxing corporations and the wealthy cut off the one funding mechanism that Manchin was willing to countenance to keep it running.

A Sinema aide has disputed the accuracy of the remarks attributed to her in Coppins’s book, but the fact that she comes across as being self-aware about becoming a fully vested sellout who’s now eligible to level up her buckraking game completely tracks, seeing as she spent the twilight of her Senate career denying children a fraction of the largesse that the country’s plutocrats have carted off for themselves. Her evolution, famously characterized by the Associated Press’s Brian Slodysko as from “Prada socialist to corporate donor magnet,” has long been on full display, as has her comical antipathy to actually communicating with her constituents.

With all that in mind, no one should really be surprised if the Arizona voters who put her in power come out next year to kick her to the curb. In the end, Sinema’s career in Washington was hampered by the fact that she was stuck having to represent the Grand Canyon State in the Senate, instead of just being what she clearly wanted to be: the personal valet to hedge funders and the private equity industry on Capitol Hill. May the voters now send her on her way to serving these masters.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

Editor’s Picks

The GOP’s Brand Is Chaos

The Republicans have spent years perfecting their dysfunction.

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Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan

By the time you read this, the House of Representatives may have a new speaker. It also might not have a new speaker. I can’t say for certain what world you’ll be living in, sorry.

The new speaker won’t be Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, whose gangly effort to crowbar his way into the role was sunk after multiple efforts to secure enough votes from his own caucus this week. It’s probably a safe bet that former Speaker Kevin McCarthy won’t be making an all-is-forgiven return to the role—though it can’t be completely ruled out. It could be that North Carolina congressman and current fill-in Speaker Patrick McHenry will end up the anointed one, but that’s looking less likely as well. For that to happen, however, McHenry would have to be formally and further empowered, as the speaker pro tempore position he’s currently holding has very limited constitutional authority, owing to the fact that no one really imagined a temporary speaker doing much more than presiding over the chamber as it selected an actual speaker. Republicans will take another shot at doing this next week; Tom Emmer, who may or may not be a maniac, is considered the frontrunner.

Alas, not for the first time, we must observe that among the many things the Framers could not have foreseen is the state of today’s Republican Party: devoid of any respect for institutions and hell-bent on writing blank checks to the biggest extremists in its midst. That the GOP has made a farce of such a basic task as electing a leader should really come as no surprise to anyone. It’s been quite some time since Republicans have shown any kind of interest in performing the basic functions of a majority party in the legislature.

Forget their weird lust for government shutdowns and debt ceiling breaches; this gang of freaks can go months without putting their majority to any productive purpose at all. So let’s be realistic about their current struggles. The Republicans’ basic problem isn’t that they broke the House of Representatives—the problem is that they’ve finally perfected their approach to (not) running the joint.

That so many of the people who claim to cover politics seem surprised at the way Beltway Republicans have ended up here only demonstrates what short memories they have. Anyone who was paying attention during the Obama era knew that the brine that the GOP of today soaks in was already well into its fermentation stage then. And long before McCarthy’s pale eminence seized the gavel, an older version of his antagonists was doing then-Speaker John Boehner dirty. As Ryan Lizza wrote for The New Yorker, way way back when Ryan Lizza was on staff at The New Yorker:

[Boehner’s] tenure was marked by an increasingly futile effort to control a group of conservatives that Devin Nunes, a Republican from California and an ally of Boehner’s, once described as “lemmings with suicide vests.” In 2013, to the bafflement of some colleagues, Boehner supported the shutdown, in the hope that the public backlash would expose the group as hopelessly radical. It didn’t work. The group continued to defy Boehner. He tried to regain control as speaker by marginalizing its members, and they decided that he must be forced out.
Savor the memory of Devin Nunes being lumped on the reasonable side of the GOP, because it didn’t last! He and Boehner alike were among the casualties of the Republican Party’s long-running project to indulge and empower the fringiest members in their midst. With the aid of their brightest think tank minds and the deepest-pocketed donors, the Tea Party movement helped numerous far-right ideologues make their way to Washington, which in turn begat the Freedom Caucus—and all of the showdowns, shutdowns, and near misses on the way to a debt ceiling apocalypse that became their stock-in-trade. This miasma of extremism and dysfunction ultimately crescendoed with the advent of Trumpism and the full flower of that authoritarian project.

Jim Jordan, whom Boehner once assailed as a “
legislative terrorist,” is as pure a product of this political project as you can find anywhere—a 180-proof distillation of the GOP’s turn toward nihilism and unhinged self-regard. (It’s little wonder that his attempt to ascend has come with the threat of political violence toward his opponents that has become so au courant in the Trump era.) Despite his stated belief that “America wants him” to be speaker, Jordan owes his existence in Congress entirely to the fact that he can’t be held accountable by Americans: He’s stuffed into a ridiculously gerrymandered district and hasn’t had to deploy any kind of political skill to retain his seat in years. For all intents and purposes, he’s the electoral equivalent of a welfare queen.

The Ohio congressman brings little more to the table than utterly lycanthropic rhetoric, an extreme lack of legislative prowess, and a gaping void where an interest in governing should be. I’ve written previously on his only accomplishment of note: his creation of a perverse House subcommittee that’s entirely dedicated to backfilling the Fox News Extended Universe of weird culture-war lore with something that resembles a threadbare factual basis. (A task at which, I might add, he has failed spectacularly.)

I have found it darkly hilarious to hear so many Republicans whine about their struggle to elect a speaker, given that this episode is just a big demonstration that their rickety-ass, claptrap version of “governing” is going exactly the way they designed it to work. It’s the exact same feeling I get watching so-called “Never Trump” Republicans express extreme disaffection with the state of their party, as if they didn’t have a strong hand in the creation and cultivation of the shitty and cynical political project that’s now firing on all cylinders.

So many Republicans are scuttling around the news cycle, full of worry that their failure to emerge from the speaker chaos will result in a slew of bad outcomes. Nothing might get done legislatively. There’s a strong possibility of a government shutdown. The longer the House can’t function, the greater the chance that the economy gets wrecked or the United States loses standing around the world with our allies and partners. Well, let me give Republican lawmakers some much-needed succor: Their party is going to accomplish all of these things whether they elect a speaker or not.

This article was adapted from Thursday afternoon’s edition of Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

Hey, Democrats—Here’s a Winning 2024 Message on a Silver Platter

Why the party should go big on protecting consumers from corporate crooks

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Senator Elizabeth Warren and President Joe Biden during a debate in 2019

I’m not the sort of person to wager money on Supreme Court rulings based on the tenor of oral arguments, but TNR contributor Matt Ford was one of many high court observers who thought there was reason to believe the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—which has served as an advocate for ordinary Americans against a slew of fast-fingered corporate crooks—may just survive its day in court. Should the CFPB prevail, it will buck some significant trends: one being the recent Supreme Court’s antipathy toward Democratic governance and the administrative state in general, the other being the longer-running winning streak that corporate interests have enjoyed at the high court for as long as anyone can remember.

But whether we’re poised to celebrate the CFPB’s unlikely survival or soon to mourn its demise, it’s worth reflecting on the agency’s mission and urging Democrats not just to continue it but to make the idea of protecting ordinary people from corporate thieves and cheats even more central to the party’s identity. Obviously, that work will only be more difficult if the CFPB goes down—should the Roberts court do the deed, liberals must add its demise to the larger portfolio of complaints that have driven public esteem of the court to new lows. But even if it emerges unscathed, a passion for protecting the little guy from a universe of crooks should be fomented and channeled with renewed vigor, as should a commitment to making consumer protection a vital avenue of the party’s policymaking zeal and its political fury.

As the Public Interest Research Group recently recounted, the CFPB has some hefty accomplishments to its name. The agency, which is often referred to as Elizabeth Warren’s brainchild, has recouped $17.5 billion worth of consumer money. This year alone, it’s prevailed against a slew of foes, from big banks to shady data brokers, and offered guidance to help ordinary people avoid pitfalls and hang onto their hard-earned money. These are victories that Democrats should savor and tout, in the same way cops do when they force scofflaws to do a public perp walk, their seized assets left on a table as Instagrammable trophies.

There’s a simple idea here: It should be politically toxic to rip people off. One suspects that everyone who opposes the CFPB’s mission is aware of how it looks to throw in with plutocratic con men, which is probably why Big Business has confronted the agency in crab-walk fashion, sidling up to the supposed cracks in its constitutional edifice rather than challenge it frontally by going to bat for every unreliable fiduciary and financial scam artist in Christendom.

It’s somewhat significant that in this most recent case, it’s the ultimate financial bottom-feeders serving as plaintiffs: payday lenders, who I once described as being fit for only two purposes—“to encircle the working poor in inescapable cycles of crushing debt, and to continually generate plausible-sounding reasons for why a civilized society should continue to allow [them] to exist.” I suppose you can add “front-running for the entire financial services sector against the country’s consumer watchdog” to that brief—an advantage seized from having a toilet reputation in the first place.

Democrats, of course, haven’t always walked the right side of the street where consumer protection is concerned. Scofflaws of all varieties, from payday lenders to big banks, have found allies on the left side of the aisle far too often. This needs to change: The CFPB is an important part of the Democratic Party’s legacy. The taxpayers who ponied up billions of dollars to bail out the banking industry after the 2008 financial crisis got little thanks and almost nothing in return for their generosity. The CFPB is the only monument to their sacrifice; the only gift they got in return.

This is a ripe time to renew this past promise. Democrats will go into the 2024 election seeking once again to define Trump as an illiberal force bent on soiling our civic fabric, thus building on the pro-democracy message of the 2022 midterms—which pundits pooh-poohed but voters embraced. Democrats will also likely make hay out of the GOP’s antipathy to abortion rights and the post-Roe dystopia it engendered and is now trying to avoid talking about. But there’s room for Democrats to diversify their portfolio of enemies, and consumer protection allows them to take on targets that are less partisan but just as political—adding some “right versus wrong” to a message that’s already full of “left versus right.”

Moreover, consumer protection is a cause that provides ample opportunity to freeze Republicans in disadvantageous positions: It’s pretty effective politics to campaign against the crooks who are plundering everyone’s American dream one dime at a time. If Democrats invite Republicans to weigh in on whoever ends up in the consumer protection crosshairs, they can either agree and help Democrats forge bipartisan consensus or they can disagree and get implicated as enablers. Democrats can tether their consumer protection zeal to their pro-democracy arguments as well: Certainly the clear consequences of a Trump win will be an executive branch that’s not just hostile to consumer interests but likely to pervert the cause of consumer protection as a weapon against its political enemies.

As former TNR contributor Brian Beutler noted, in a recent edition of his Off Message newsletter, Democrats have recently struggled to recover the “confidence and combative energy they’d developed by the end of George W. Bush’s second term,” their “fighting spirit” replaced by a data-driven, poll-tested “spirit of timidity.” Well, the quickest way to get back in the ring is to start naming foes and picking fights. President Joe Biden has seeded the terrain by making the purveyors of junk fees one of his administration’s enemies. But this is a fun fight everyone should join.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

Democrats Are Wasting Tens of Millions of Dollars in California’s Senate Race

The primary campaign for Dianne Feinstein’s seat has become a donor sinkhole. That money is better spent elsewhere.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
California Governor Gavin Newsom

There’s a new senator in Washington, D.C., this week: Laphonza Butler, a former president of Emily’s List, was tapped by California Governor Gavin Newsom to fill out the term of the late Dianne Feinstein. Butler’s path to the Senate—where she will be the lone Black woman in the upper body and the first to call that chamber home since Vice President Kamala Harris—was partly due to a set of baroque promises Newsom made in advance of Feinstein’s death: to select a Black woman for the post and to not select any of the Democrats already running for the seat in 2024, so as to not play favorites.

It is perhaps in furtherance of that latter pledge that Newsom roamed rather far afield to tap Butler, who resides in Maryland as opposed to California. But his apparent intention to pick a placeholder seems not to have been made clear to Butler herself, as she has not ruled out running to retain the seat.

So that’s something of a whoopsie! But it’s not the main reason that Newsom perhaps should have put his finger on the scale: The California primary for U.S. Senate has become a black hole of Democratic donor money, to the exclusion of what could be more consequential races.

Opportunities to become California’s senator have been in short supply in recent years, so it’s not a surprise that this race, in a state known for pricey political contests, was expected to become the most expensive Senate race in history. But now, as a result of Feinstein’s death, there will be not just the usual primary and general election next year but also special elections—meaning that donors normally constrained by maximum allowances will be permitted to double-dip for their favored candidates.

California Representative Adam Schiff already has raised what I would charitably call an unreasonable—perhaps even unspendable—amount of money. Axios reported in July that Schiff had almost $30 million in hand—“more than any other federal candidate, including for president.” After that figure ticked up slightly in the most recent fundraising quarter, Aaron Kleinman, the director of research at the States Project, made a canny observation: “In other words he has more cash on hand for a race Democrats are guaranteed to win than every single Democrat running for the Virginia House (which either party could control after November) has combined.”

The importance of the Virginia elections is clear: Democrats could stop the political career of Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin—who is term-limited in the Old Dominion and said to be weighing a presidential run based on how Virginia Republicans fare in November—in its tracks. Democrats also have a generally daunting Senate map in 2024, and a highly competitive gubernatorial contest in Kentucky on the wing.

This is not to say that the California primary isn’t worth Democrats’ attention. People have some passionate, principled, and well-informed opinions of who among that field—which Schiff has largely led over Katie Porter and Barbara Lee, according to the scant polling that’s been done—should be Feinstein’s successor. I’ve no doubt that I could develop my own ideas on the matter if I took as much time as those with a vested interest. That doesn’t really change the fact that Democrats are going to retain this seat and that the differences between these candidates will largely fade into the grayscale once a winner is seated.

Which is why I wish Newsom, who seems to harbor ambition about becoming a national leader of his party, had taken a stab at ending this primary himself. He could have given the nod to Schiff and called a halt to the implacable donor arms race. Barring that, he could have just fully honored his commitment to upping the representation of Black women in the Senate by tapping Lee, who was already running. That might not have sent a strong enough signal to turn off the money spigot, but it would have sent a worthy message to the backbone of the Democratic Party.

Realistically, Newsom is too calculated to have seriously considered doing all that. His pledge to stay out of the fray was probably less about keeping the spirit of fair competition alive than about not wanting to stick his neck out, only to have California voters chop it off. But those who are, or aspire to be, Democratic standard-bearers ought to be thinking about the party’s needs across the country, and that means not encouraging a donor sinkhole in their own backyard. There are more critical elections and bigger prizes on which that boodle is better spent.

Democrats have, in recent years, demonstrated the tendency to dream a little too big and pile untold sums of campaign cash in the coffers of a litany of no-hopers. That’s not what’s going on here. But if Democrats are not careful, they could screw up from the opposite direction, denying critical resources to winnable races in the service of a seat they’re destined to get anyway. It’s time to stop emptying your wallets on this Senate primary and let these wannabe senators from California fend for themselves.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

The Looming Government Shutdown Is Not the Fault of Dysfunction

There’s only one culprit for the chaos gripping Capitol Hill—the Republican Party.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy grimaces as he walks to another meeting with the House Republican caucus.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy grimaces as he walks to another meeting with the House Republican caucus.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tends to get a lot of grief whenever she offers her opinion about how the country needs a “strong Republican Party,” but I think that what’s currently happening on the GOP side of the House of Representatives is probably what she had in mind. There, the scene has devolved over the past week into the parliamentary equivalent of a Superfund site. It’s become rivetingly clear that Kevin McCarthy’s charges are hurtling toward a spectacular self-own—and a government shutdown. A slew of inconveniences and vaporized economic activity are about to land, hard, on ordinary Americans.

If history is any guide, it also means that political woe is on the way for the GOP. As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters this week, shutdowns have “always been a loser for Republicans—politically.” But McConnell, who is clearly still capable of dispensing effective strategic advice in between his harrowing health episodes, is likely to go unheeded.

What help can be offered to a party that can’t help itself? Democrats partially powered their 2020 presidential campaign on the notion that Joe Biden cast a long, collegial shadow over Washington and was just the figure to help a wayward Republican Party break the fever that had engulfed it during the Trump years. But as Biden became more familiar with the Republicans he’d be working with, his opinions on the matter shifted rather dramatically. He ended up helping to author a successful midterm message that captured the GOP as they are: autocratic and beyond redemption. As McCarthy’s untamed hooligans steer the ship of state toward the chop, Democrats would be wise to stick with this instinct. They’re already doing the best thing they can do in this situation—nothing at all.

If there’s anything that Democrats should emphasize about the looming government shutdown, it’s the essential Republican-ness of it all. This shutdown is the pure product of the modern GOP, packed with antisocial weirdos and redolent of their inability to govern themselves or anyone else. Here, Democrats may have to joust with a media that vastly prefers to pin this kind of dysfunction on mushy concepts like polarization, or point the finger of blame—more nebulously—at “Congress,” as The New York Times did in a limp headline last week. More recent reporting has, happily, hit the ball more squarely, properly identifying “Republican infighting” as the proximate cause of the impending calamity.

To say that the GOP has lost the plot is perhaps an understatement. As The American Prospect’s David Dayen pointed out this week, the debate that Republicans are having with themselves has lapsed into pure abstraction, in which members of the party are now “arguing with each other over how much funding to cut in a one-month stopgap continuing resolution—not the budget itself.” Meanwhile, every sentient life-form knows that cuts of any kind make it a nonstarter with Democrats in the Senate, and the Oval Office.

But the prospect of Republicans troubling Democrats with some fruit of their legislative labors is a long way off, as their blockheaded negotiations have yet to yield anything that’s not a nonstarter with one another. Here, the GOP has flopped in operatic fashion: a Freedom Caucus–wrought deal immediately got spiked this week as a “giveaway to Joe Biden” by other members of the Freedom Caucus. How, exactly, is a budget proposal that Biden would veto instantly a “giveaway” to him? Don’t worry: No one in the GOP knows the answer to that question!

This entire exercise in self-torture really has little to do with line items on a budget spreadsheet. This is all just a primate dominance ritual: a steroidal sequel to the government shutdowns of the Obama era, in which Republicans convinced themselves that bringing Washington to a crashing halt could break the White House’s will. The only new twist on this old formula is that I’m pretty sure that, as far as the Republicans driving us into a ditch are concerned, Joe Biden is a secondary concern, if not an afterthought. Republicans are well and truly into their Lord of the Flies era, fully engulfed in the internecine purity-test battles I predicted were on their way. But not even McCarthy promising an impeachment inquiry was able to buy him enough goodwill to simply keep the government running.

It’s hard to see how any of this ends. Republicans seem bent on playing stupid games for the privilege of winning stupid prizes, with the most stupid prize of all being the poisoned chalice of the House speakership. Yes, Kevin McCarthy may finally be forced out of what has become the worst job in all of Washington—and the biggest problem that those threatening to knock McCarthy from his perch face is that one of them will have to take his place.

What Democrats should do now is simple: Do not interrupt this. There’s no need to get involved. What Republicans are enduring can’t be solved by rational people appealing to better natures that don’t exist. The only way out is for the GOP to eat shit, every day, until their bellies are full. Yeah, it’s possible that some dumb pundit will come along, afflicted with a terminal case of what Dayen calls “Washington brain,” to try to convince Democrats to “blink and offer concessions to avoid a shutdown.” The only thing Democrats should throw Republicans’ way is the old military acronym, KMAGYOYOKiss my ass, guys, you’re on your own.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.