Friday Talking Points -- What Next? Food Fights In The Cafeteria?
Over 20 years ago -- right around when Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of our state -- we were fond of shocking people by pointing out: "Politics has become indistinguishable from show business." The entertainment industry and our political system had been slowly merging, ever since the ascension of B-movie actor Ronald Reagan to the White House in the 1980s. But we have to say, we never foresaw the day when politics would become completely replaced by entertainment and entertainment alone. And we seem to be fast approaching that point.
Part of this evolution has been the shift in power away from the party machinery to individual politicians. These days, doing outrageous (but entertaining) things in politics means you get instantly rewarded -- you get invited onto news shows to be even more entertaining while explaining your outrageousness, your name gets known because of all this exposure, people who enjoy your antics begin directly donating to your campaign, and so you acquire money and with it, political power. You will notice that the party apparatus plays zero role in this equation. Which is one big reason the parties are now so toothless to police their own ranks.
Of course, this evolution was put into overdrive with the ascension of Donald Trump to the White House. He showed Republicans the way to ignore the party while still wowing the base with all manner of amusements. Trump truly has no core political ideology (other than, perhaps, xenophobia), instead he's all about the entertainment factor. If he makes liberals angry, then he's done his job (as far as both he and his followers are concerned). It simply does not matter what he says or does, as long as he "owns the libs" by doing so.
So those who are now beginning to follow in Trump's political footsteps aren't bound by any overarching theory of government. Instead, they live and die by Trump's favorite metric: audience ratings. As long as they are getting their name out there and ranting and raving on rightwing television, the base is delighted and the campaign contributions keep flowing in.
Which led, inexorably, to this week. The best write-up we have read about this entire rather crazy week in Washington attempted to answer the question of which Republican member of Congress had been the most unreasonable this week:
Was it Sen. Markwayne Mullin? At a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the Oklahoma Republican challenged one of the witnesses to "stand your butt up" and fight him then and there in the committee room. "In a fight, I'm gonna bite," the senator said in a podcast after the incident. "And I don't care where I bite, by the way."
Was it James Comer? The Kentucky Republican, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, exploded at an otherwise sleepy hearing on the General Services Administration, repeatedly shouting "bulls---" at a junior Democratic member of the committee and telling him: "No, I'm not going to give you your time back!... You look like a Smurf!"
Was it perennial winner Marjorie Taylor Greene? After eight fellow Republicans thwarted her attempt to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, one of them said Greene lacks "maturity." Greene responded by telling her 2.8 million followers on X that the man who called her immature was a "p---y" who does not have testicles.
And that was before the article even got around to mentioning George Santos. This is actually a very good article, because it provides an overview of not just each one of these dustups, but also what was and was not accomplished this week in Washington.
The news that got buried by all this junior-high-school bickering was that Congress not only did its job, but it actually did so two days early! Well, sure, this wasn't really all that big an accomplishment in the grand scheme of things -- after all, they didn't actually "do their job" so much as "successfully punt doing their job until January" (which isn't quite as impressive a feat). Nonetheless, they did beat the clock for once, meaning we aren't sitting here on Friday biting our nails wondering if the government will shut down or not tomorrow. So we will give credit where credit is due, we suppose.
We're not going to go into each of these dustups in detail, since these Friday columns are already long enough. Again, read that link above if you missed out on any of the juvenile behavior from the GOP this week, it'll catch you up.
Instead, we're just going to very quickly run down what else was happening in the world of politics this week. President Joe Biden had a pretty good week, as he met with China's leader and made modest progress on fighting fentanyl and getting some communication lines reopened between the two countries' militaries. Also, inflation fell to 3.2 percent last month, down a half a point from the month before. Biden really needs this number to fall below three percent before he can really claim victory on the inflation front (remember, for context, it spiked up to nine percent last year, so this is indeed a lot of progress towards the goal of 2.0 percent).
The Supreme Court put out an ethics code for the first time, but it is entirely toothless since it has no enforcement mechanism whatsoever other than "we will police ourselves." Nobody was very impressed with their woefully inadequate effort, to say the least.
Representative George Santos is still a member of Congress, but that may not be true two days after the House returns from its Thanksgiving holiday (which they began a week early, just to avoid food fights spontaneously breaking out in the congressional cafeteria, one assumes). The House Ethics Committee released its report on Santos and to say it was damning is an understatement. Santos grifted as much money as he could from his donors, he spent it on luxury shopping sprees, casinos, Botox treatments, and an adult-content site (just for good measure). So a motion to expel him has been filed... again. The earlier ones failed because some House members (on both sides of the aisle) were wary of booting him out before he had had some due process, but with the Ethics Committee investigation complete, that doesn't apply anymore. A two-thirds vote will be necessary to kick him out, so we'll have that to look forward to after the break. Unless he resigns first, of course.
In the Republican presidential primary race, Nikki Haley is rising fast while Ron DeSantis continues to flame out. The week began with Senator Tim Scott bowing out of the race, so all the other candidates have been hoping to pick up what tiny support he had among Republican voters.
Of course, even Haley is far behind Trump in the polls, whether national or early-voting state polls. Trump is actually starting to be attacked on his bizarre gaffes and other stupid statements he's been making, from both the left and the right, but like everything else so far it hasn't seemed to have any appreciable effect.
The New York Times (and a few other media outlets) has been doing yeoman's work exposing what plans Trump and his team have for his second term in office, which includes some frightening stuff on immigration, on taking full control of the civil service, and of using executive power in all sorts of new ways, including fully weaponizing the Justice Department to go after Trump's political enemies.
However, the Times fell far short on reporting what Trump had to say for Veterans Day, which was downright Hitlerian. Think that's an exaggeration? We don't, and neither did the Washington Post, who ran the story under the headline: "Trump Calls Political Enemies 'Vermin,' Echoing Dictators Hitler, Mussolini." While the Times missed the boat completely with their snoozer of a headline: "Trump Takes Veterans Day Speech In A Very Different Direction." We also wrote about all this earlier in the week, because everyone really needs to be aware of how dangerously radical Trump's rhetoric is getting.
Various things happened in all of Trump's legal trials, but it all somehow seems like small potatoes compared to the rest of the Trump news this week. Most involved motions or rulings on his various cases that are all still ongoing, although (to be fair) Trump did chalk up a win in Michigan, where he will be allowed to stay on the state's primary ballot, after a judge rejected the argument that the Fourteenth Amendment means he should be barred.
That's about it for important political events this week. The big news was Congress averting a possible government shutdown at midnight tonight, but it just got buried in all the shoving-in-the-halls Republican-on-Republican violence stories. Sorry, but it's been that kind of a week, folks.
President Joe Biden met with China's leader this week in San Francisco, and made moderate progress on a few of the issues between the two countries (including maybe even getting some of those giant pandas back).
And House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries made the right decision this week to throw the Democrats' support behind the continuing resolution that kept the government open and punted the budget deadline to January and February this week -- since other than the "two-step ladder" gimmick, the C.R. was otherwise a "clean" one, without any GOP poison pills at all.
But this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Representative Jared Moskowitz, for attempting to make a very salient political argument in a committee meeting chaired by Republican James Comer. If we were writing this up as detective fiction, we would have to call it "The Case Of The Subcutaneous Smurf," because Moskowitz certainly did get under James Comer's skin in a big way.
Here's how HuffPost reported what happened in the House Oversight Committee this week:
"That is bullshit," Comer said in response to Moskowitz, using unusually indecorous language from the committee dais.
Moskowitz is "financially illiterate," Comer added, and he looks like a Smurf.
No, really. He said that. Or "screamed it," more like, because he was trying to shut down what Moskowitz was trying to say by sheer volume.
The article continued:
The Daily Beast reported this week that Kentucky property records indicate the Comers engaged in land swaps related to their family's farming business, including one transaction involving a "shell company" in which Comer channeled $200,000 to his brother.
Which Moskowitz was trying to point out -- pot, meet kettle, in other words. The Daily Beast article began by pointing out that Comer had just subpoenaed James Biden, who Comer has accused of "shady business practices," along with the rest of the "the Biden family." And they helpfully provided the details:
But if Comer genuinely believes these transactions clear the "shady business practices" bar, he might want to consider a parallel inquiry into his own family.
According to Kentucky property records, Comer and his own brother have engaged in land swaps related to their family farming business. In one deal -- also involving $200,000, as well as a shell company -- the more powerful and influential Comer channeled extra money to his brother, seemingly from nothing. Other recent land swaps were quickly followed with new applications for special tax breaks, state records show. All of this, perplexingly, related to the dealings of a family company that appears to have never existed on paper.
But unlike with the Bidens, Comer's own history actually borders a conflict of interest between his official government role and his private family business -- and it's been going on for decades.
This is all going to be a very potent thing for Democrats to keep reminding Comer of, since the Biden loan repayment is being touted as some sort of "smoking gun" which will justify the impeachment of Joe Biden (spoiler alert: it is nowhere near any sort of thing). And it's looking like the House Republicans will be moving to impeach Biden (despite an utter lack of any proof of any wrongdoing whatsoever) as early as January. Hyping a $200,000 loan between family members as some sort of international cabal (when Joe wasn't even in office, mind you) has always been a stretch, but when Democrats respond with: "So what about your own $200,000 loan to family members, Chairman Comer?" it does kind of tend to point out the sheer hypocrisy.
For being the first out of the gate to do so -- and for being called a Smurf and then responding later on social media: "Gargamel was very angry today" -- Jared Moskowitz is easily our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. Democrats on Comer's committee should follow Moskowitz's lead and bring the subject up whenever they can, from this point on.
[Congratulate Representative Jared Moskowitz on his House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
With all the juvenile nonsense coming from the other side of the aisle, we're not even going to bother with naming a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week. After all, no Democrat challenged anyone to a fistfight or elbowed anyone in the back all week long! Because Democrats so easily cleared the bar of "be more adult than the Republicans" this week, we're just going to put the award back on the shelf for another week... or two....
Volume 731 (11/17/23)
Which brings us to a program note: there will be no FTP column next week, as we enjoy a long weekend off to eat turkey and watch football and generally do a whole lot of nothing.
Before we get to our talking points this week, though, we have a bonus story that just didn't seem to fit anywhere else, due to its overwhelmingly disgusting nature. Politico reported this story, but (sadly) it was too late for the late-night comics on television to make jokes about it before week's end. But we felt it did deserve at least some attention, so we had to stick it in (pun intended, as you will see) somewhere.
In the Politico column's irrepressive gossip-column style (yes, we left in all the gratuitous emphasis and capitalizations), they relate the story of a former congressman, Dave Trott, who served with now-Senator Markwayne Mullin, while both were in the House of Representatives. He contacted Politico to tell his bizarre story -- or rather, so his wife could. Here's their snarky report of what they were told:
At this point, he handed the phone over to Kappy. She told us about the flight to Israel, which was hampered by layovers and delays. Though they were promised a quick shower in the hotel upon arriving, that schedule was revised on the fly: Instead, they'd immediately board buses to see an Iron Dome installation and a kibbutz.
"We were in the clothes we'd been wearing for like 24 hours," Kappy says. "We get on this bus, and it's a couple-hour bus ride and people were kind of leaning on their spouse's shoulder and falling asleep. And this idiot starts walking up and down the bus with his camera and anyone who fell asleep, he would put his finger in their nose and take a picture."
"I said [to myself, 'If] that idiot comes near me when I fall asleep, I'm going to punch him,'" Kappy told us. "And I said to Dave: 'This is a U.S. congressman?'"
That congressman? Markwayne Mullin.
"Some people were mad, and some people were laughing. There were a couple of women who were mad," Kappy said. "You're trying to fall asleep, somebody you don't know has his finger.... It was just middle school. And we were in Israel, and we're going to go see the Iron Dome and go to a kibbutz. Just didn't seem appropriate."
That's really the cherry on top of the type of week it has been, really. This is the type of person Republicans deem to be worthy of a U.S. Senate seat these days.
With that nit um... picked (sorry, we couldn't resist)... let's just move right along to the talking points, shall we?
We always thoroughly enjoy it when Republicans provide every Democrat running for Congress with a ready-made campaign ad. This week it was Representative Chip Roy who obliged, in a lengthy rant castigating his fellow House Republicans for essentially getting nothing at all done all year. We should mention that the ellipses in the following quote was when Roy challenged any of his fellow Republicans to come on down to the House floor and explain -- but, of course, he got no takers.
We've been using it for weeks, but it was rather amusing to hear the metaphor come out of the mouth of a Republican. This quote was prefaced, in the story it appeared in, with the introduction: "Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), who compared Republicans' infighting to grade school bullying, said Johnson was doing his best with the party's slim margins, but the party is still a mess." After which, she was quoted as saying:
"The first rule of Republican Fight Club is: 'Talk about Fight Club! As much as you can! Pick a schoolyard fight with someone (another Republican, usually) and then immediately go running to the rightwing media and talk about Fight Club as much as possible! Get snarky! Pick more fights! Hurl insults! Anything to keep the campaign cash coming in from all the rubes!' Seriously, this is what the so-called 'Grand Old Party' has devolved into. What's next? Hair-pulling? Face-slapping? Wedgies? Pantsing? Food fights? It's really anyone's guess, at this point. Maybe they should all get together in a big gymnasium and have a spirited round of dodgeball. Maybe that'd get some of their juvenile angst out. Hey, at this point, it's certainly worth a try...."
Echoes from the past
Meanwhile, Donald Trump is not making us laugh even a little bit.
"The frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president is echoing Hitler and Mussolini, and his fellow Republicans don't even seem to care. Trump -- on Veterans Day no less -- decided to call his political opponents 'vermin.' And 'a threat from within' our country. He promised to 'root out the communists, Marxists, fascists, and the radical-left thugs' and his campaign spokesman further clarified that this would mean 'their entire existence would be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.' This is beyond dehumanizing, it is frightening. Or it should be, to any rational American. The White House denounced this language, and the timing of it use, by stating: 'Using terms like that about dissent would be unrecognizable to our founders, but horrifyingly recognizable to American veterans who put on their country's uniform in the 1940s.' They're right. American veterans fought against strongmen who promised to 'crush' the 'vermin' within their own societies. We were proud to defeat Hitler and Mussolini. We certainly don't want to see someone echoing their vile words elected to lead this country."
The Biden campaign had another good statement this week, in reaction to an article detailing what a second Trump administration would do about immigration. They would round up as many undocumented immigrants as they could find, they would concentrate them in 'camps' near the border, and they would kick them all out without any due process. To which the White House responded:
Beware the purge
This is a warning shot across the bow of any Republican too craven to denounce what Trump is calling for.
"Strongmen always get into power promising to wipe out their opposition. But you know what always happens first when they do get into power? They purge their own ranks. They go after those in their own movement who are deemed insufficiently loyal to the Dear Leader. And they are more vicious in rooting out these supposedly disloyal followers than they ever are against their political enemies. Look at Trump -- he halfheartedly rips into Joe Biden, but his real rage is reserved for those who served in his own administration who he thinks failed him in some way. Ask Mike Pence. Ask Bill Barr. And my guess is that they'll be on top of Trump's list for the 'retribution' he's openly promising on the campaign trail. So I'd like to warn all my Republican friends: be very careful in what you say and do, because if Trump starts his purge, you really don't want to be on his list."
And finally we end with a real head-scratcher of a question: what's the difference, really?
"I have to admit, I don't understand the Republican Party these days. I mean, you have two GOP politicians who are very similar, but who are being treated very differently by their party. They both physically resemble the Pillsbury Doughboy (although in an evil-twin sort of way, since if you poked them in the stomach they wouldn't utter a delightful giggle, they'd probably snarl at you and maybe bite your finger off). They both lie at the drop of a hat -- they'd even lie about a hat dropping, in fact. 'Did you just see that hat drop? It was magnificent... such a beautiful hat, dropping gently to the ground. You didn't see it? Everyone else saw it! It was amazing, I can't believe you didn't see that hat drop....' They both lie like a rug about everything and anything. They both grift their followers for every bottom dollar, and then spend the money on whatever they want (no matter what they promised to spend it on), which includes Botox treatments and OnlyFans.com. They both lie about being financial whizzes and being successful businessmen. They both buy luxury goods with other people's money. They're both hopeless narcissists who never admit they're ever wrong. One of them instigated an attempt to overthrow a presidential election, while the other wore white pants after Labor Day. So which one do you think the Republicans are about to kick out of office and which one do they still support today? For the life of me I can't figure out what the difference is between George Santos and Donald Trump, but I suppose to Republicans there is one."
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
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