Brett Bachman

RNC officially labels Jan. 6 attack on Capitol 'legitimate political discourse'

The Republican Party on Friday officially censured two of its members, Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, for their role in investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and the events leading up to it. In its resolution, the Republican National Committee also declared the riot, whose stated goal was to delay the certification of President Joe Biden's electoral victory, as "legitimate political discourse."

The section in question reads: "WHEREAS, Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger are participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse, and they are both utilizing their past professed political affiliation to mask Democrat abuse of prosecutorial power for partisan purposes ..."

It was a stunning statement of support for the deadliest attack on the U.S. Capitol in more than two centuries, and the furthest anyone in the party has gone in endorsing the tactics of the attackers who injured hundreds of police officers, caused several deaths and racked up millions of dollars in damage. The resolution itself was passed without any discussion in the Republican caucus, The New York Times reports.

"We've had two members engage in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse," Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told the Washington Post. "This has gone beyond their original intent. They are not sticking up for hard-working Republicans."

Following widespread outrage, McDaniel later amended her statement to say the Jan. 6 committee is "a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse that had nothing to do with violence at the Capitol."

Republicans have been batting around the idea of a censure vote against Cheney and Kinzinger for weeks now, as the party continues to downplay the seriousness of the Capitol attack and keep secret the details of a sustained campaign by former President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election using a variety of questionable methods. A number of far-right members have also called for the duo to be kicked out of the party conference, a push that is sure to gain steam following Friday's censure.

The vote also comes just days after Trump himself came close to openly endorsing the attempted insurrection — offering to consider pardons for the attackers should he be re-elected in 2024 and releasing a statement that his ultimate goal was indeed to "overturn" the election (though he did attempt to walk back the language in a subsequent statement, saying he instead wanted to "send back the votes for recertification or approval").

Friday's censure resolution also shows a remarkable about-face for Congressional GOP leadership, who in the hours after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol almost unanimously denounced the rioters — and Trump's role in egging them on to carry out violence on his behalf.

"The President bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said during a floor speech that night. "He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump."

When asked by reporters about the censure resolution, a number of House Republicans demurred, either ignoring the questions or labeling the entire thing a "distraction." Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas told the Times it was "dumb stuff," while Rep. Mark Green of Tennessee said the focus should instead be on "this abysmal administration's record."

Democrats seemed to have a more fully formed opinion on the matter.

"The Republican Party is so off the deep end now that they are describing an attempted coup and a deadly insurrection as political expression," said Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a member of the Jan. 6 committee. "It is a scandal that historians will be aghast at, to think that a major political party would be denouncing Liz Cheney for standing up for the Constitution and not saying anything about Donald Trump's involvement in the insurrection."

The RNC's Democratic counterpart, the Democratic National Committee, put out a statement blasting McDaniel on Friday.

"The Republican Party has no shame. Donald Trump incited his supporters to storm the Capitol, attack police officers, smear feces on the wall, and try to overturn an election — in no world is that 'legitimate political discourse.' Ronna McDaniel and the GOP keep reminding voters that there is no low they will not go to to protect Donald Trump and his chaos.

Kinzinger, who is retiring from Congress following the end of his term this year, said in a statement that he has no regrets over his participation in the Jan. 6 investigation.

"I have no regrets about my decision to uphold my oath of office and defend the Constitution," he wrote. "I will continue to focus my efforts on standing for truth and working to fight the political matrix that's led us to where we find ourselves today."

Cheney, for her part, blasted her own party before the vote Thursday, saying that they had become "willing hostages to a man who admits he tried to overturn a presidential election and suggests he would pardon Jan. 6 defendants, some of whom have been charged with seditious conspiracy."

Lauren Boebert makes a bizarre comment to a group of Jewish visitors at U.S. Capitol

Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., made a series of bizarre remarks to a group of Jewish visitors at the U.S. Capitol Thursday morning, BuzzFeed reported, asking them if they were doing "reconnaissance" while stopping to look them over "from head to toe."

"You know, I'm not sure to be offended or not," one rabbi present for the incident told the outlet, adding that he was "very confused."

The people in question were meeting with Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., to commemorate the 41st anniversary of the Iran Hostage Crisis, and wearing yarmulkes, a traditional Jewish headwear. The person coordinating the visit was also Orthodox and wears a traditional beard, according to BuzzFeed.

Boebert claimed that she was making a joking reference to her own mysterious Capitol visit, which came just three weeks before the attempted Jan. 6 insurrection. Salon exclusively reported at the time that Boebert hosted several guests on a Dec. 12, 2020 tour of the complex — despite the fact that she was not yet a member of Congress, and the building was closed to visitors at the time.

In the months since Jan. 6, Boebert has repeatedly denied rumors that she hosted "reconnaissance tours" to would-be rioters, which were fueled by accusations from Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and others.

As for Thursday's events, she said: "I saw a large group and made a joke."

"Sadly when Democrats see the same they demonize my family for a year straight," she added. "I'm too short to see anyone's yarmulkes."

Suozzi, for his part, denounced the comments — saying that Congresspeople can't be "cavalier" in their public comments.

"The bottom line is that everyone, especially members of Congress, have to be very, very thoughtful in the language they use," Souzzi said in a statement. "Because when you're a member of Congress, you have an important role to play in society. You can't be cavalier in the comments you make especially if they could be perceived as being antisemitic, or discriminatory."

Washington's new bipartisan issue

It's about the only thing garnering bipartisan support these days in Washington: A ban on stock trading for active members of Congress.

Though it's still unclear whether the idea has the majority support it needs to pass, it does have purchase on both the Republican and Democratic sides — with Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., announcing competing bills earlier this week to accomplish roughly the same goal: stopping Congresspeople in both chambers from cashing in on their powerful positions by placing their stocks in a blind trust and outlawing any future investment in individual companies.

"Members of Congress should not be playing the stock market while we make federal policy and have extraordinary access to confidential information," Ossoff said in a press release. His bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., who added that the measure would "put an end to corrupt insider trading."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Punchbowl News this week he was considering pushing the measure if Republicans were to re-take Congress in 2022, though it was unclear by what mechanism. McCarthy has previously said he'd abstain from trading individual stocks while in office.

Not one to be outdone, even Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is rumored to be considering a similar bill of his own.

And it's a sentiment that was also echoed Friday by one of President Joe Biden's top economic advisers, Brian Deese, who called both Hawley and Ossoff's proposals "sensible" and something that would "restore faith in our institutions."

"I can tell you, the restrictions on [employees in] the executive branch are quite significant," said Deese during an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box". "There's no engagement on individual stock transactions."

"I think [banning Congress from trading individual stocks] is certainly sensible. It's a rule that we all operate by and live by in the executive branch, and [it] doesn't put any real practical burden on our ability to do our jobs."

The dueling bills come only after talks between the two senators' offices broke down in recent weeks, Axios reported. Hawley previously tweeted that it was a "good idea" when news of Ossoff's bill broke, and told POLITICO that he was open to co-sponsoring the measure. But the Missouri firebrand ultimately decided to introduce his own bill, further complicating the issue.

The difference between the two bills come in their enforcement mechanisms. Hawley's, called the "Banning Insider Trading in Congress Act," would give the Government Accountability Office oversight of Congressional investment, and require lawmakers (or their spouses) to repay all profits to the U.S. Treasury.

Ossoff's bill, meanwhile, would leave oversight to the congressional ethics committee and fine violators the entirety of their salary. It also includes dependent children of congressional members, something Hawley's bill does not.

Calls to rein in congressional stock trading have crescendoed in recent months after a slew of headlines about members who have violated the STOCK ACT, an Obama-era law requiring prompt reporting of any trades, and reports of potential insider trading from several Congresspeople.

An investigation from Insider last year revealed that at least 52 members of Congress and 182 top staffers had violated the STOCK Act, an act with a comically small fine for rule-breakers: $200.

Recent reports here in Salon — and elsewhere — have also exposed trades that appear to violate conflicts of interest.

For example, Rep. Pat Fallon, who dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars in Microsoft stock just weeks before the company's $10 billion Pentagon contract was scrapped. Fallon sits on the House Armed Services Committee's brand new Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems, which has oversight of the deal in question. He's just one of 15 Congressional members in both parties with key roles in shaping defense policy who have actively invested in military contractors.

But the idea of banning Congresspeople from trading stock has at least one high-profile opponent: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She's also one of Congress' most prolific traders, with her husband in recent months gobbling up millions in blue-chip stocks like Google, Disney, Salesforce and Roblox.

The entire situation, critics say, has given Capitol Hill an irreconcilable image problem. Deese alluded to the problem during his CNBC interview, saying, "There's a lot of distrust and mistrust around how politics works, around the political process."

"One of the things that we need to do across the board is restore faith in our institutions, whether that be Congress and the legislative branch, whether that be the Fed and otherwise and so anything we can do to try to restore that faith, I think makes a lot of sense," he added.

Ex-Pence aide Stephanie Grisham gave Jan. 6 committee 'a number of names' they hadn't heard before

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot is now looking into "a number of names" that had not been previously mentioned after a revelatory interview with former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said Sunday morning.

"She had a number of names that I had not heard before, and she had some new ways of looking at it," Raskin said during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," adding that she had "identified some lines of inquiry that had never occurred to me."

Grisham's interview with the committee happened Wednesday, just ahead of the one-year anniversary of the deadly attack at the U.S. Capitol building by hundreds of Trump supporters seeking to stop the certification of President Joe Biden's election victory. During Trump's term, she served as both White House press secretary and communications director for First Lady Melania Trump, before resigning from the Administration following the attempted insurrection.

During her testimony, Grisham also revealed several moments from inside the White House during the chaos of that day — including the fact that Trump "gleefully" rewound footage from the riot. She called his response to the violence "almost giddy."

"All I know about that day was that he was in the dining room, gleefully watching on his TV as he often did, 'look at all of the people fighting for me,' hitting rewind, watching it again — that's what I know," Grisham said during an interview on CNN following her appearance on Capitol Hill.

Grisham added that she "answered every question they asked of me," and said she "will continue to cooperate with them."

Earlier this week, she also spoke of a group of former administration officials — "about 15" of them — who are actively meeting with the goal of "stopping" Trump from promoting further right-wing extremism and violence committed in his name.

The ex-Trump aides plan to "talk about how we can formally do some things to try and stop him and also, you know, the extremism, that kind of violence and rhetoric that has been talked about and continues to divide our country," Grisham said, according to The Hill.

Fauci says CDC is considering changes to COVID-19 isolation guidance after backlash

White House COVID-19 adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said during an interview Sunday that the Centers for Disease Control may amend its isolation guidance for Americans who test positive for COVID-19 — again — following backlash over recent changes that some saw as unduly deferent to business interests that have been clamoring for more lenient guidelines.

Fauci, speaking with host George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week," said there "has been some concern" from public health officials over the CDC's decision to shorten the amount of time it advised positive but asymptomatic people to isolate. Last week, the agency cut the quarantine period from 10 days to five, a policy that mirrored requests made by red-state governors and business leaders who were worried about the effects of a new COVID-19 surge on commerce.

Many Americans subsequently questioned why the guidance wouldn't at least require a negative test — a criticism that Fauci addressed during his conversation with Stephanopoulos.

"You're right, there has been some concern about why we don't ask people at that five-day period to get tested. That is something that is now under consideration," Fauci said.

"I think we're going to be hearing more about that in the next day or so from the CDC," he added.

In a separate interview on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday, Fauci explained the rationale behind the CDC's decision, saying, "the likelihood of transmissibility is considerably lower" after five days of your body battling the virus.

Twitter permanently bans Marjorie Taylor Greene's account for spreading COVID misinformation

Twitter has permanently suspended one of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's accounts for "repeated violations" of its COVID-19 misinformation policy, a spokesperson for the service confirmed Sunday.

The suspended account, @mtgreenee, was her personal and more prolific account. She will still be allowed to post from her official Congressional page, @RepMTG.

Her final tweet falsely referenced "extremely high amounts of Covid vaccine deaths" — a phenomenon with no basis in reality that nonetheless has been often repeated across right-wing media. The social media giant called it her fifth and final "strike."

The controversial representative has been suspended from Twitter temporarily in the past for spreading false information about COVID-19 and conspiracies related to the 2020 election. The company warned her back in August that it would permanently take down her account if she violated its policies again, calling a post about vaccines "failing" her fourth "strike." She was also suspended from the platform less than a month earlier for another post that claimed COVID-19 was not dangerous to anyone unless they are obese or elderly.

"We've been clear that, per our strike system for this policy, we will permanently suspend accounts for repeated violations of the policy," Katie Rosborough, a Twitter spokeswoman, told The New York Times in a statement.

Twitter's decision to permanently ban a sitting congressperson comes just one year after it decided to hand down a similar ban to then-President Donald Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

In response to the ban, Greene released a statement on alternative social platform Telegram, a favorite of the far-right for its lax moderation strategies.

"Social media platforms can't stop the truth from being spread far and wide. Big Tech can't stop the truth. Communist Democrats can't stop the truth. I stand with the truth and the people. We will overcome!"

Wife of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones arrested for domestic violence on Christmas Eve

Alex Jones' wife was arrested Friday for domestic violence after an incident the prominent conspiracy theorist said stemmed from a "medication imbalance," according to reports.

It's unclear whether Jones himself was injured or what circumstances led to the altercation, though jail records show Erika Wulff Jones faces a misdemeanor for assault causing bodily injury to a family member and resisting arrest.

"It's a private family matter that happened on Christmas Eve," Jones told The Associated Press. "I love my wife and care about her and it appears to be some kind of medication imbalance."

The right-wing provocateur and founder of conspiracy network "Infowars" added the situation "doesn't concern my politics ... it wasn't some kind of personal hateful thing or anything."

Jones also went to court this week in an attempt to fight subpoenas from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. He spoke at a pro-Trump rally prior to the attempted insurrection alongside an Infowars colleague, Owen Shroyer, who was subsequently charged with several crimes for his alleged participation in the riot.

Shroyer maintains his innocence, and Jones has since made several public statements of support.

Veteran anchor Chris Wallace leaving Fox News after 18-year run

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, the longtime broadcaster who has moderated two presidential debates and earned accolades for his evenhanded coverage while at the conservative network, announced Sunday he is stepping down from his post.

As for next steps, Wallace says he plans to become an anchor at the CNN-hosted streaming service, CNN+, which will likely debut at some point next year.

Wallace has been a staple at Fox News during his 18-year run at the Rupert Murdoch-owned network, after being hired to host the influential Sunday morning political show "Fox News Sunday." He made the announcement at the end of this week's program, saying: "It is the last time, and I say this with real sadness, we will meet like this."

"I want to try something new, to go beyond politics to all the things I'm interested in; I'm ready for a new adventure," Wallace said. "And I hope you'll check it out. And so for the last time, dear friends, that's it for today. Have a great week. And I hope you'll keep watching Fox News Sunday."

Wallace spent time during his farewell address lauding management at Fox News, who have slowly drifted toward a more partisan approach to journalism over the past few years, for never interfering with his program. Even as Tucker Carlson and others gained notoriety for spreading falsehoods and distortions about the 2020 election, vaccines and other news events, Wallace said he was given room for his own signature style of asking difficult questioning of public figures, regardless of party.

"The bosses here at Fox promised me they would never interfere with a guest I booked or a question I asked and they kept that promise," he said. "I have been free to report to the best of my ability, to cover the stories I think are important, to hold our country's leaders to account," he explained.

Wallace began his career covering the Reagan White House for NBC before being hired away by Roger Ailes, who co-founded the network.

The New York Times reports that Wallace's contract was up at the end of the year, and that Fox wanted to keep him on board, citing an anonymous source familiar with the discussions.

Without its longtime host, "Fox News Sunday" will be anchored by a rotation of the network's other stars including Bret Baier, Martha MacCallum, John Roberts, Neil Cavuto and others, according to the Times.

Turmoil at influential Koch-backed right-wing advocacy group Americans for Prosperity

One of the United States' most influential right-wing political advocacy groups, Americans for Prosperity, is in turmoil after its soon-to-be departed leader was caught in the middle of an alleged affair at the same time it deals with an exodus of donors and board members, as well as the repercussions from a gender discrimination lawsuit, a new report found.

Earlier this week, the group's longtime president Tim Phillips announced his resignation due to what he called "challenging personal matters" — though subsequent reporting from several outlets pinned the reason as an extramarital affair with a Republican official that one AFP insider told CNBC "was a matter of integrity that violated our principles."

Phillips said in a statement first reported by the Washington Examiner: "This morning, I announced my resignation as president of Americans for Prosperity in order to focus on some challenging personal matters that require my full attention. It is difficult to leave this organization, but doing so now is in everyone's best interest."

AFP is the powerful Virginia-based libertarian advocacy organization backed by the industrialist Charles Koch and his late brother David, which has more than three million volunteers spread across the country.

Phillips' departure comes on the heels of three other high-profile resignations late last year from the group's previous six-member board — which leaves just two members left to helm AFP through a crucial midterm election year: Chairman Mark Holden and the group's CEO, Emily Seidel, who also holds a seat on the board, according to the group's required 990 tax disclosures.

A spokesperson for AFP, Bill Riggs, downplayed any lingering turbulence from the leadership exodus.

"AFP has grown into a world-class organization with hundreds of staff across 35 state chapters with more donors and more resources than we've ever had before. In 2020, AFP and AFP Action engaged in – and won – more races than ever before, and we fully expect to exceed those numbers in 2022," he said in a statement to CNBC.

Indeed, though a number of notable Republican donors have backed away from the group as it attempted to readjust its messaging during the Trump years, it doesn't seem to have affected AFP's bottom line. Tax forms show $64 million in revenue in 2020 — an increase from the $54 million in cash it managed to raise in 2019. Like most similar 501(c)(4) political advocacy groups, AFP does not disclose the names of its donors or the amounts of individual donations.

Despite its ability to stay flush with cash, there have been other challenges for the libertarian group — CNBC also uncovered a recent settlement in a lawsuit filed by a female employee in the group's North Carolina Branch, after she was allegedly passed over for a promotion and fired by a man who she claimed was clearly less qualified for the role. The former AFP official, Anna Beavon Gravely, sued the group last year for gender discrimination, retaliation and wrongful discharge.

A spokesperson for AFP told the network: "We reached an amicable resolution in each matter. AFP is committed to a respectful, rewarding, and inclusive work environment."

Gravely's lawsuit also mentioned a separate class-action workplace discrimination case against AFP, though details of that suit were not immediately apparent.

Stunning analysis reveals you’re nearly 3 times more likely to die of COVID if you live in a pro-Trump county

A new analysis of U.S. vaccination data shows the staggering toll that COVID-19 continues to take on the areas of America that voted heavily for former President Donald Trump — a discrepancy that's largely due to media illiteracy and misinformation that have spread rampantly in right-wing circles over the course of the pandemic.

In fact, data analysts at NPR determined that people living in counties that voted for Trump last year are nearly three times as likely to die from the virus, a statistic that also gets worse as the vote share percentage increases.

The publication looked at the death rate in roughly 3,000 counties across the country, starting in May 2021, when vaccines became widely available to the general public. Specifically, counties that voted at rates higher than 60% for Trump had a COVID-19 death rate that was 2.7 times higher than equivalent counties that swung for Biden.

After the vaccines became available earlier this year, political affiliation has been by far the strongest indicator of vaccination status — more than any other demographic data point, including age, race or gender. For a time during the first few months, other groups like African Americans expressed hesitancy, but by now those differences have largely been erased, according to NPR.

"An unvaccinated person is three times as likely to lean Republican as they are to lean Democrat," Liz Hamel, vice president of public opinion and survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told NPR. "If I wanted to guess if somebody was vaccinated or not and I could only know one thing about them, I would probably ask what their party affiliation is."

Georgia election workers sue far-right website 'The Gateway Pundit,' citing 'campaign of lies'

A far-right website known for spreading 2020 election conspiracies is being sued by election workers in Georgia who say they became the target of harassment and death threats as a result of the outlet's campaign to sow doubt about the legitimacy of President Joe Biden's victory.

The Gateway Pundit, a fringe political site run by two brothers named Jim and Joe Hoft, falsely claimed last year that Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Shayne Moss, had manipulated ballots last November as part of their duties as poll workers for the Fulton County elections board, which covers the Atlanta metropolitan area. The conspiracies quickly spread after then President Donald Trump himself called them out by name last December — mentioning Freeman at least 18 times during his infamous call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Now, the pair is suing the outlet for running the evidence-free claims — following similar lawsuits by election equipment companies against right-wing publications, including Fox News, Newsmax and One America News. Freeman and Moss, both of whom are Black, are two of the first individuals to take on the influential and oftentimes conspiratorial far-right media machine that gained outsize power during Donald Trump's time in the White House.

"I want the defendants to know that my daughter and I are real people who deserve justice, and I never want them to do this to anyone else," Ms. Freeman said in a statement to The New York Times.

The pair outlined the way their lives have been upended by The Gateway Pundit's conspiracies in a lengthy report published by Reuters Wednesday, claiming that they had been deluged with threatening phone calls and even people showing up at their doors late at night in an apparent attempt to intimidate them. The wire service cited several 911 calls Freeman made after these incidents:

Freeman made a series of 911 emergency calls in the days after she was publicly identified in early December by the president's camp. In a Dec. 4 call, she told the dispatcher she'd gotten a flood of "threats and phone calls and racial slurs," adding: "It's scary because they're saying stuff like, 'We're coming to get you. We are coming to get you.'"
Two days later, a panicked Freeman called 911 again, after hearing loud banging on her door just before 10 p.m. Strangers had come the night before, too. She begged the dispatcher for assistance. "Lord Jesus, where's the police?" she asked, according to the recording, obtained by Reuters in a records request. "I don't know who keeps coming to my door."
"Please help me."

According to the lawsuit, a large group of Trump supporters even surrounded Freeman's Georgia home on Jan. 6 — just as another group was storming the U.S. Capitol building in a last-ditch attempt to stop the certification of President Joe Biden's victory. Luckily Freeman had already fled her home on the advice of FBI agents, who predicted accurately that the day would become volatile. She apparently did not return home for more than two months following the incident.

Freeman and Moss' lawsuit was filed Thursday in a Missouri circuit court in St. Louis, where Jim Hoft maintains a residence. According to the Times, the pair is being represented by a nonprofit called Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan group "focused on resisting authoritarianism in the United States."

The lawsuit does not indicate a sum Freeman or Moss is seeking — instead, they are asking for damages to be "determined at trial."

Republicans vow revenge against Democrats if — or when — they regain power in Washington

As member after member of the House Republican caucus took the dais Wednesday to speak during debate over whether to censure fellow Rep. Paul Gosar, the topic of conversation quickly turned from what the Arizona Republican did — post an anime video in which an animated version of himself brutally murdered Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — to all the ways a conservative majority would retaliate against Democrats and reward its own members who had stood strong in the face of harsh public criticism.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the likely future House speaker if Republicans retake the majority next year, doubled down on the us-versus-them rhetoric Thursday during a press conference — even adding at one point that he planned to reinstate the committee assignments of both Gosar and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who was stripped of hers earlier this year after similarly endorsing violence against Democratic politicians. McCarthy even suggested he might reward the right-wing duo with better assignments for their refusal to apologize or equivocate.

"They'll have committees," McCarthy vowed. "The committee assignment they have now, they may have other committee assignments, they may have better committee assignments."

Another idea floated by former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Thursday was to elect Donald Trump as speaker of the House — which is not outside the realm of possibility, since the speaker doesn't have to be an elected member of Congress. (Though all of them have been so far.) Meadows didn't even bother framing that as a good idea for the country or the House — just as a way to seek revenge against Democrats.

"You talk about melting down," he said during an appearance on Steve Bannon's "War Room" podcast. "I mean, people would go crazy!"

These statements underline a troubling trend for those invested in a functioning American democracy — top-level Republicans are increasingly embracing a scorched-earth brand of opposition-based politics, in which Democrats are an enemy to be fought and defeated, rather than a governing partner with competing ideas and proposals.

That became immediately apparent during a conspiratorial tirade delivered Wednesday by Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., who said on the House floor that Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali immigrant and Minnesota Democrat, was part of a "jihad squad," while implying that Omar had married her own brother and supported terrorism against the United States.

Even the House's so-called "moderates" appeared to endorse this behavior — Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota was quoted as saying threats of violence are something that all members of Congress will have to get used to — even if those threats are directed by fellow members. "Unfortunately, in the world we're in right now, we all get death threats, no matter what the issue is," he said.

None of this is new, even if Republican threats of revenge after a potential 2022 victory reached a fever pitch this week.

Boebert herself threatened to call for "politically motivated investigations" last week in response to the news that former Trump adviser Steve Bannon had been indicted for contempt of Congress after refusing to cooperate with a subpoena from the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

"Now that Democrats have started these politically-motivated indictments for Contempt of Congress, I look forward to seeing their reactions when we keep that same energy as we take back the House next year!'" she wrote on Twitter.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio echoed the threat: "There are a lot of Republicans eager to hear testimony from [White House chief of staff] Ron Klain and [national security adviser] Jake Sullivan when we take back the House."

McCarthy even made vague threats of retaliation against telecommunications companies who were reportedly cooperating with the House select committee's request for documents, which members have said could shine a light on possible coordination between members of Congress and the organizers of the Jan. 6 rally preceding the deadly Capitol riot.

"If companies still choose to violate federal law, a Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable under the law," he wrote in a statement.

And Rep. Jim Banks, an Indiana Republican who was appointed to serve on the Jan. 6 committee before being blocked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi over his pledge to obstruct the group's investigation, promised to strip each member of their own assignments in much the same way Gosar and Greene had been treated.

"When we win back the majority next year, we have a duty as Republicans to hold every member of this committee accountable for this abuse of power, for stepping over the line, by preventing them from being in positions of authority," Banks said during an appearance on Fox News.

So far, it does not appear that Democrats in Congress are changing their approach in response to these threats.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., described McCarthy's threats against telecom companies as "treasonous."

When asked whether the Gosar vote could put prominent Democrats in jeopardy of losing their committee assignments come 2023, Pelosi responded: "Democrats don't threaten the lives of other members."

Whether that will save them from retribution remains to be seen.

GOP candidate claims Michael Flynn hoped to blackmail US officials into pro-Trump 'audits'

Republican Senate candidate alleged over the weekend that Michael Flynn, the retired general and former national security adviser, has sought damaging information on elected officials in a number of states, with the apparent goal of blackmailing them into supporting conspiratorial election audits meant to reinforce Donald Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent.

Everett Stern, a businessman who owns a private intelligence firm called Tactical Rabbit and is running for the open U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, held a press conference Saturday to share his purported findings, later tweeting out a link to the video of his remarks titled, "Everett Stern Releases New Evidence of Ongoing Domestic Terror Threat Links to General Michael T. Flynn."

"I'm here today not as a candidate running for U.S. Senate, I'm here as a citizen who is genuinely concerned about our country, sincerely concerned about the undermining of our democracy," Stern said in the opening moments of his statement. He also claimed to be in touch with federal law enforcement about the situation.

Stern claims that at least two people representing a Flynn-linked group called "Patriot Caucus" approached him earlier this year after a public speech, offering to hire his firm to gather "dirt" on officials and recruit others to assist in the plot. One of the men allegedly told Stern that they had retained the services of active intelligence officials "both domestic and foreign."

"They wanted to gather intelligence on senators, judges, congressmen, state reps, to move them towards the audit," Stern said. "The word 'move' was emphasized tremendously. It was clear to me what they wanted was not traditional opposition research — what they wanted was to extort and to literally move people towards the audit with dirt."

Stern claimed he was targeted because of his political ties in Pennsylvania, a key swing state targeted by election conspiracy theorists who longed to overturn Joe Biden's 2020 electoral victory there. Patriot Caucus apparently wanted Stern to focus on two Republican state officials in particular: Sen. Pat Toomey and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick. (Toomey is retiring, and Stern is now a candidate for his seat).

"He said to me, 'PA GOP better move towards the audit, or we will crush them,'" Stern said, alleging that he feigned interest in order to gather documents and audio recordings that could be used to expose the group.

Beyond the goals that Patriot Caucus was chasing, Stern claimed, it was the methods Flynn's group encouraged Stern that made him uncomfortable.

He claims that he was told to "accomplish the mission even if you have to use domestic terrorism."

"I believe that Gen. Flynn has committed treason against the United States," Stern said on Saturday. "Based on what I have seen and witnessed, I truly believe that's the case."

Stern said he was moved to expose Flynn's alleged plot out of a moral imperative — something he said he was also familiar with as a corporate whistleblower at HSBC, where he exposed the bank's billion-dollar money-launderin scheme. The case ended with a $1.92 billion fine against HSBC.

This is just the latest controversy around Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general who once headed the Defense Intelligence Agency and was later pardoned by Trump after his conviction on charges of lying to the FBI. He was pictured last summer purportedly swearing allegiance to QAnon, the conspiracy theory positing that a group of cannibalistic, pedophile Satanic elites control much of the U.S. the government. (Flynn's family later denied the video in question had anything to do with QAnon.)

He also appeared to advocated the violent overthrow of the U.S. government, saying that a military coup like the one in Myanmar-style coup "should" happen here following Trump's loss to Joe Biden last November. (Flynn later claimed he had been misunderstood.)

Flynn did not respond to Salon's request for comment.

Watch Stern's full remarks here via YouTube:


Election integrity? Glenn Youngkin's 17-year-old son tried to vote in Tuesday's election — twice

Virginia governor-elect Glenn Youngkin's teenage son tried to vote in Tuesday's election — twice — despite being clearly too young to legally cast a ballot, election officials said Friday.

The statement released by Fairfax County said the 17-year-old, who is not being identified because he is a minor, did not break any election laws and will not be charged with a crime.

He apparently walked into a voting site at the Great Falls Library in Great Falls, Virginia, and handed over his drivers' license to election officials when asked for identification, according to a precinct captain who spoke with the Washington Post.

It didn't take long for the woman, Jennifer Chanty, to notice who the teen was — after which she informed him that Virginia law stipulates that voters must be at least 18 years old on election day in order to legally vote. The only time a 17-year-old may cast a ballot is in a primary election, and even then they must provide proof that they will turn 18 before the general election.

Chanty told the Post that she offered to register him for the next election, but he refused and left the polling place.

Then, roughly 20 minutes later, Youngkin's son returned to insist that he be allowed to vote, citing another 17-year-old friend who had done so earlier in the day.

"I told him, 'I don't know what occurred with your friend, but you are not registered to vote today. You're welcome to register, but you will not be voting today,' " Chanty said.

Making the situation even more strange was the fact that the Youngkin family was registered to vote at a different election site.

"It was just weird," Chanty added.

A Youngkin campaign official, Devin O'Malley, released a fiery statement following reports of the incident being made public, calling them "opposition research" pitched by his "political opponents."

"It's unfortunate that while Glenn attempts to unite the Commonwealth around his positive message of better schools, safer streets, a lower cost of living, and more jobs, his political opponents — mad that they suffered historic losses this year — are pitching opposition research on a 17-year old kid who honestly misunderstood Virginia election law and simply asked polling officials if he was eligible to vote; when informed he was not, he went to school," O'Malley wrote.

For months, a key pillar of Youngkin's campaign was "election integrity" — the now governor-elect went so far as to promise an "election integrity task force" that would monitor elections for fraud and advocated several times for audits of election machines, something that is already mandated under Virginia law.

Still, Chanty told the Post she believes the incident was simply a mistake.

"Teenagers do stupid things," she said. "I'll chalk it up to that. I'll believe that first before anything else."

Of course multi-level marketing companies are showering Kyrsten Sinema with cash

What do Amway, Isagenix, Nu Skin Enterprises and Herbalife have in common?

For starters, they're all multi-level marketing businesses, engaged in the oftentimes-disparaged industry of convincing their customers to become salespeople. They're also all recent donors to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the iconoclastic Arizona Democrat whose campaign donations, in lieu of direct statements on her political priorities, have become scrutinized in recent months as tea leaves of sorts for the Washington set interested in swaying her powerful vote in the evenly-divided chamber.

All four of the above companies gave Sinema $2,500 at various points this year, as did USANA Health Sciences and the executive chairman of Mary Kay, Richard Raymond Rogers, according to POLITICO, which first reported the donations.

The outlet notes that Sinema is one of the only national-level politicians the companies, all connected to the trade group Direct Selling Association, have made donations to.

It's perhaps not all that surprising, given Sinema's direct connection to the industry — her mother was involved in multi-level marketing at various points in her own life.

When asked by POLITICO, the Direct Selling Association deflected, saying, "contributions to candidates from DSA's political action committee are based on a variety of factors." But it would appear the donations have at least some connection to Sinema's labor organizing stance — specifically, her position as the only Senate Democrat hostile to the union-friendly Protecting the Right to Organize Act, better known as the PRO Act.

The bill would restrict businesses' ability to classify workers as independent contractors, which presents a challenge for MLM businesses that rely on non-traditional employees.

Sinema's recent enthusiasm for bucking the Democratic Party's consensus has earned her a number of allies across a number of industries, raking in more than $1.1 million in the third quarter of this year, according to POLITICO. Most recently, her blockbuster campaign donations from the pharmaceutical industry have come under fire after she jockeyed to kill a prescription pricing reform bill that proved wildly popular in opinion polls across nearly every demographic.

New report on the Manhattan DA's  investigation reveals the danger for Trump is still very real

Another long-term grand jury, created with the intention of hearing evidence against former president Donald Trump's business empire (and potentially vote on criminal charges), was convened by the Manhattan district attorney recently, according to a report.

These proceedings, the second grand jury formed in Manhattan DA Cy Vance's ongoing probe of the Trump Organization, are expected to examine whether Trump's company valued its assets in a way that allowed it to criminally skirt tax liabilities, according to a source who spoke with The Washington Post.

This differentiates the current grand jury from a previous one Vance had convened this past spring to handle allegations that the Trump Organization dodged millions of dollars on their taxes by hiding their compensation from the IRS using assets and apartment payments, among other things. That probe ended with charges against the company's former Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg and other executives.

For their part, both Weisselberg and the Trump Organization have pleaded not guilty.

Vance is set to leave office by the end of the year following Tuesday's election — leaving the new Manhattan DA, Alvin Bragg, to inherit the investigation into the twice-impeached former president's business dealings. Vance declined to speak with the Post about his investigation, while Bragg has also repeatedly declined to make a statement about the matter while on the campaign trail.

The new grand jury is set to meet at least three days a week over the next six months, the Post reported, and will be shunted off to a courtroom normally reserved for estate disputes due to the crush of post-pandemic trial activity.

Trump and his family have blasted Vance's probe in the past, saying the investigation — as well as another spearheaded by New York Attorney General Letitia James — is motivated strictly by political animus.

"This type of targeting and harassment violates every ethical guideline of a prosecutor," Eric Trump previously told the Post. "It's wrong."

This isn't the first time the Trump Organization is facing allegations that it manipulated the valuation of its assets in order to avoid taxes — in court filings James has indicated that her investigation is focusing in part on the valuations of a Trump golf course in Los Angeles, an office building he owns on Wall Street in Manhattan and a suburban New York estate called Seven Springs.

Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen also made similar accusations during Congressional testimony in 2019.

"It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed amongst the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes," Cohen said at the time.

It is unclear whether Vance's second grand jury will return any charges — it remains possible that the proceedings end without issuing any indictments.

Republicans have a new idea to fix the labor shortage: Loosen child labor laws

Republican-controlled legislatures in several states have come up with a novel way to stem the effects of an ongoing labor shortage: loosen child labor laws governing the number of hours and times that teenagers are allowed to work.

It's not exactly a new strategy. Businesses hiring minimum-wage employees across the country have advertised their use of teenagers to plug the holes in their workforce for months, especially fast-food chains like Chipotle, Burger King and McDonalds, among others. Seasonal work in tourism-heavy industries like amusement parks have also doubled-down on the strategy.

But at least two states, Wisconsin and Ohio, are now pushing for new laws that would allow 14- and 15-year-olds to work longer hours — the most brazen attempts to expand American businesses' use of teenage labor in decades.

In Ohio, the Republican-controlled state legislature took up a measure last month to allow businesses to keep teenagers under the age of 16 at work until 9 p.m., with a parent's permission. Previously, they had only been allowed to work until 7 p.m. The bill was introduced by two Republicans and one Democrat.

Likewise, the Wisconsin Senate last month also passed a bill which would allow businesses to hire 14- and 15-year-olds to work from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on weeknights or 11 p.m. on weekends. The measure would only apply to businesses which run less than $500,000 in sales annually and aren't governed by a federal statute known as the Fair Labor Standards Act.

If approved by the state Assembly, which appears likely, its fate will lie with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. It remains unclear whether he will veto the measure or not.

It's just the latest attempt in a long line of Republican-led changes to the state's child labor code over the last decade, according to an analysis in The Guardian. In 2011, Wisconsin eliminated limits on the number of hours — and days — that minors aged 16-17 could work, and even replaced the phrase "child labor" in state law with "employment of minors" in 2017.

The most recent changes have attracted support from a number of powerful service-industry lobbies, such as the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, who say it will help to solve businesses' staffing issues and teach teenagers a healthy work ethic.

On the other side, the measure has attracted ire from the AFL-CIO and a number of the state's high-profile Democrats, who uniformly appear to oppose the bill.

"It's a nice workaround," state Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, told WISN-TV last month. "I think in reality if those employers are looking for workers, what frankly the market should dictate is they should be raising wages, offering additional benefits."

A number of high-profile progressives have echoed those sentiments — with some even pushing back against the mainstream narrative that a widespread worker shortage exists in the first place. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said on her Instagram recently that what America is confronting isn't a labor shortage, but a "dignified job shortage."

Sylvia Allegretto, a labor economist and co-chair of the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics, told Salon that the larger issue at play is why kids would have to work in the first place.

"A lot of families are in such dire economic conditions that they might agree to send their kids to work because of necessity." she said. "But that's the problem. If you get up and go to work every day, you shouldn't be living in poverty, you shouldn't be living in such dire situations."

The increasing reliance on American teenagers to work more hours is also leading to a number of negative outcomes for children who are forced into the labor market at younger ages — including increasing rates of substance abuse and high school dropouts, research shows.

In an op-ed for the Bucks County Courier Times, a local Pennsylvania newspaper, high school junior Darcy Leight wrote that she and her peers were experiencing burnout at much higher rates due to the increasing pressure to work longer hours in recent months.

"A job I intended to work strictly during the summer has somehow found its way into my fall schedule and has become almost equivalent to academics on my priority list. And I don't even know how it happened," she wrote. "The coupling of a job anywhere from five to 35 hours a week along with being a student is extremely stressful."

Fox News host prasies Jen Psaki 'one of the best press secretaries ever'

Former White House correspondent and current Fox News host Chris Wallace had some high praise for President Joe Biden's press secretary, Jen Psaki, this week, calling her "one of the best press secretaries ever."

He made the comments on Friday while talking about an especially heated back-and-forth between Fox News reporter Peter Doocy and Psaki, that he referred to as "two people at the top of their game."

"I think that [Doocy] has become the Sam Donaldson of this White House press corps," he said, referring to the ABC News White House correspondent known for his tough questions during the Ronald Reagan Administration. "And Jen Psaki, I think, is one of the best press secretaries ever."

"I don't know that anything was particularly accomplished, but they both gave and got pretty good," Wallace added.

Wallace also said he gave the comments "grudgingly," since he knew Donaldson personally and worked as a White House correspondent during the Reagan years at NBC News.

Republicans rush to mock Alec Baldwin in wake of tragic film set accident

Less than 24 hours after a tragic New Mexico film set accident involving Alec Baldwin claimed the life of a cinematographer and injured the movie's director, Republicans were already making light of the incident and cracking jokes about Baldwin, a longtime right-wing boogeyman.

The A-lister was reportedly rehearsing for a scene in the western, "Rust," when he fired a prop gun that was loaded with a "live single round." The shot killed the film's 42-year-old director of photography, Halyna Hutchins, and injured director Joel Souza, 48, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 44 said in an email to its members.

Just hours after news of the incident broke, Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance was already online and gloating about the situation.

"Dear @jack," he wrote, tagging Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. "Let Trump back on. We need Alec Baldwin tweets."

The message was not received well, and drew criticism from Vance's prospective Democratic opponent, Tim Ryan, who replied: "Someone died, you assh*le."

But he wasn't the only one deriding Baldwin in the wake of the tragedy — conservative commentator Candace Owens added in a since-deleted Tweet that "what has happened to Alec would be poetic justice if it weren't for the actual innocent people that were murdered by him."

She later added: "Will correct that last tweet to say Alec Baldwin *killed* someone— not murdered someone, as murder carries a different legal definition."

A number of other pundits and right-wing personalities also jumped on a tweet of Baldwin's from the first round of Black Lives Matter protests, in 2014, which read: "I'm going to make bright, banana-yellow T-shirts that read: "My hands are up. Please don't shoot me." Who wants one?"

Even Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., got in on the action, posting a screenshot of Baldwin's tweet with the caption: "@AlecBaldwin are these still available? Asking for a movie producer…"

The comments horrified a number of Twitter users, who flooded the Congresswoman's replies with admonitions.

"Have you no shame? Remove this tweet. It's utterly disrespectful to the victim & her family," one person wrote.

"I'm sorry you are so broken inside," another added.

Baldwin released his first statement Friday since the incident occurred, saying the he was cooperating with authorities and that he has spoken with Hutchins' family.

"There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours," he tweeted.

"I'm fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred and I am in touch with her husband, offering my support to him and his family. My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna."

The 'War on Christmas' rhetoric began on Oct. 4 with a Fox & Friends segment — and it won't stop anytime soon

Christmas is still more than two months away — but that hasn't stopped President Joe Biden from ruining the holiday, at least in the minds of Republican lawmakers and right-wing pundits.

"This is the guys who is trying to steal Christmas," the House Republican caucus tweeted this week, typo and all, alongside a strangely framed picture of Biden's back as he walked away from a podium. "Americans are NOT going to let that happen."

This sort of holiday culture war sentiment is, of course, nothing new for high-profile conservatives. The "War on Christmas" as a rhetorical concept dates back to at least 2005, with the release of a book written by the right-wing radio host, John Gibson, appropriately titled, "The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought."

Since then, it has become an annual yuletide tradition of sorts for Americans to debate whether the country is sufficiently deferential to the plurality of its citizens who celebrate the Christian holiday, and a favorite topic for conservative-leaning news outlets like Fox News as the end-of-year news cycle slows. But this year's histrionics are notable for one reason, at least — they're starting months earlier than normal.

he outrage du jour this time around is centered around rising inflation and a growing supply-chain crisis, which is causing a number of shipping bottlenecks that have slowed the modern economy's system of just-in-time delivery and threaten to roll back the dizzying array of consumer choices Americans have come to expect around the holidays.

Though there are myriad issues causing the current snarls — with an ongoing pandemic deserving most of the blame for all of them — Fox News and other right-wing outlets have seized on the idea that Biden's policies are what's causing the situation. It's not exactly an unpopular opinion, with an October Quinnipiac poll showing that just 29% of Americans think the economy is in "good" condition.

But some outlets have taken the argument a step further, seeming to suggest that Biden and in some cases public health health authorities are actively conspiring to stifle Christmas celebrations for some reason.

The "War on Christmas" rhetoric began this year on Oct. 4, to be exact, with a segment on Fox & Friends that also managed to work in a shot on right-wing boogeyman Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House COVID-19 adviser under both Biden and former President Donald Trump.

"No wonder Dr. [Anthony] Fauci is about to cancel Christmas," host Brian Kilmeade lamented, apparently referring to a statement of caution Fauci had made weeks earlier about planning large family gatherings in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. "We're not going to have any presents anyway, so it's going to really work out," Kilmeade added.

The segment was full of these sentiments, from host Greg Gutfeld calling 2021 America a "dystopia" to Dana Perino's insistence that the Biden Administration was entering a "crisis of confidence danger zone" over his handling of the situation.

Over the last week, it has quickly become a Republican talking point that Biden is "stealing" or "ruining" Christmas — even Trump got in on the action, blasting out a mass email through "Save America," his PAC, dubbing this year's holiday "Biden's Blue Christmas."

The House Republican caucus even tweeted out a picture Thursday of Biden's face superimposed on Dr. Suess' iconic Christmas-hating character "The Grinch."

The Biden White House, for its part, doesn't dispute that things like slow shipping and marginally higher prices for consumer goods are happening. Instead, officials have taken to pointing out that a lot of the problems impacting the economy right now began last year while Trump was president, and have defied the easy solutions championed by Republicans, like ending enhanced pandemic-era unemployment insurance.

The Biden Administration this week announced it would move several California ports to a 24-7 schedule that will hopefully speed up supply chain delays, though it remains to be seen whether the effort will have an impact.

"There will be things that people can't get," a senior White House official told Reuters this week when asked about holiday shipping. "At the same time, a lot of these goods are hopefully substitutable by other things."

"I don't think there's any real reason to be panicked, but we all feel the frustration and there's a certain need for patience to help get through a relatively short period of time."

Feud between GOP and pro-business groups explodes into view after spat over infrastructure bill

After being closely aligned for decades, it appears that Republicans and top business lobbying groups are having a very public falling-out over conservative lawmakers' lack of support for a bipartisan infrastructure deal currently languishing in Congress.

According to digital politics site The Hill, every major business group in Washington, D.C. — including Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers, among others — has expressed some measure of support for the bill, which was crafted by a group of lawmakers in both parties alongside the White House.

Business groups have long been a key constituency for Republicans, who worked closely with K Street lobbyists to craft a 2017 tax cut that offered hefty benefits to both corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Yet no more than a small handful of Republican members of Congress have agreed to vote for the legislation favored by these groups this time around.

In a conference call with reporters last month Michael Johnson, CEO of the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, a longtime conservative-leaning lobby that stands to gain heavily if the bill passes, seemed flabbergasted by Republicans' refusal to vote for such a popular piece of popular piece of legislation, which polls well across most demographics, including conservatives.

"That's why it boggles the mind that the progressives in the House have decided to take a very popular hostage and Republican leadership has decided to not rescue that very popular hostage when they easily could," Johnson said.

So what's behind this right-wing change-of-heart?

Neil Bradley, the executive VP and chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, blamed "misinformation" surrounding the bill during an interview with CQ Roll Call last month — adding that some House GOP members have privately told him that they'd like to vote for the infrastructure deal but feared angering Trump and the new constellation of ultra-conservative groups that were empowered during his tenure.

"I think there are some unfortunate things going on, and I'm being generous with the term unfortunate," Bradley said.

"If this vote today was occurring on the merits of the bill, the outcome wouldn't be in doubt and we'd have a supermajority," he added. "It's not the substance that people are disagreeing with here."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in particular has become a flashpoint of conservative ire after endorsing a small number of Democratic candidates in Congressional races last year. The group, along with a number of other influential pro-business organizations, also stopped PAC donations to hundreds of Republican lawmakers who voted to overturn the 2020 election results on the evening of Jan. 6.

Following that news, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has taken to saying the U.S. Chamber "sold out" and that he no longer considers it an ally.

"I didn't even know the Chamber was around anymore," McCarthy told the political newsletter Punchbowl News.

The feud reached a head this week when Republican leaders kicked representatives for the U.S. Chamber off its conference calls.

Brett Horton, the chief of staff for House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., didn't hold back when asked about Republicans shunning the pro-business group.

"People care what their local Chambers of Commerce and business owners have to say, not the U.S. Chamber," Horton told The Hill. "If the U.S. Chamber sent me a meeting request right now, I wouldn't even staff that meeting out to an intern, and I don't see that changing."

In response to being iced out of the Republican inner circle, Axios reported this week, the group abruptly reversed its support for the bill. The Chamber disputed the report by arguing that it still supports the bill "as a stand-alone bill unlinked to the proposed tax and spend reconciliation bill" that it has been linked to from its inception — which makes its support for the infrastructure package merely theoretical.

In addition to the Republicans' beef with business groups over the pending infrastructure legislation, the two sides also clashed over their differing opinions on raising the U.S. debt ceiling this past week. Business groups saw the writing on the wall if Congress decided to default on the country's sizeable debts, and feared catastrophic consequences if the limit was not raised.

But most Republican lawmakers, especially Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, instead concluded that their responsibilities to their constitutents lay in obstructing the Democratic agenda — no matter what.

"Democrats have the full ability to raise the debt ceiling as a part of reconciliation," Cruz told POLITICO on Thursday. "They want political cover."

After a last-minute deal brokered by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the debt ceiling was ultimately raised Thursday night — though only for a few months. McConnell said Saturday that he does not intend to make another deal come December, when the deal will likely expire — regardless of what business groups say.

McConnell's justification for the obstruction appeared to be rooted in a statement Sen. Chuck Schumer made after the Thursday vote, blasting Republican efforts to stymie any change to the debt ceiling.

"I am writing to make it clear that in light of Senator Schumer's hysterics and my grave concerns about the ways that another vast, reckless, partisan spending bill would hurt Americans and help China, I will not be a party to any future effort to mitigate the consequences of Democratic mismanagement," McConnell said in a statement.

Four more GOP Reps. under scrutiny for potential stock trading violations

After a year full of headlines about Congressional scrutiny over members' stock trading practices, it appears four more GOP representatives may have run afoul of laws meant to prevent insider trading on Capitol Hill — in addition to a fifth Republican who has already seen scrutiny for the same trading activity earlier this year.

According to an analysis of financial disclosure documents compiled by Insider, the four members of Congress — Reps. John Rutherford of Florida, Rick Allen of Georgia, Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania and Victoria Spartz or Indiana — all failed to file paperwork for stock trades within the 45-day federal deadline required under the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act of 2012.

In addition, Rep. Blake Moore of Utah missed the deadline by several days on at least three trades — two involving the electric car company Tesla and another involving Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant — the second stock-trading scandal this year involving the freshman Congressman.

The transactions Allen failed to report were by far the largest, worth as much as $200,000 in all. During its analysis Insider identified at least seven stock holdings the four-term Georgia representative listed in 2019 but disappeared on his 2020 disclosures — despite the fact that any sales would have to be disclosed.

Up to $65,000 in Walmart and Home Depot stock were also listed on Allen's 2020 disclosures, but there was no record of the corresponding purchases at any point in his Congressionals tenure.

Rutherford also missed the mandatory reporting deadline on at least five trades made by her husband worth up to $75,000, while Spartz failed to disclose the purchase of up to $50,000 in Simon Property Group, Inc., a commercial real estate firm.

"This transaction was made by Rep. Spartz's husband's IRA and reported within 45 days of the transaction, as Mr. Spartz was informed to do," Spartz's spokesperson Micah Bock told Insider. "Based on our review of the code, we've inquired with the nonpartisan House Ethics Committee to clarify the definition of 'notification' to eliminate any ambiguity."

Rutherford's spokesperson, Alex Lanfranconi, also told Insider that the Congressman had rectified the situation and would not be facing a fine for the situation.

"Any late periodic transaction reports have been submitted in full and accepted by the House, without fine," Lanfranconi said. "Rep. Rutherford is in regular contact with the House Ethics Committee to confirm all disclosure requirements are met in full."

Kelly, for his part, reported late one purchase made by his wife over the summer, worth up to $15,000 in Beauty Health Company, which Insider notes is known for a popular skin-care treatment.

These stock-trading issues are one of the rare points of synergy this year in a deeply divided Washintgon, with at least 34 Congresspeople — in both parties and both chambers — identified by news organizations as potentially violating the STOCK Act.

These include Sen. Tommy Tuberville and Reps. Pat Fallon and Blake Moore, who Salon reported earlier this year had failed to disclose dozens of trades worth up to $22 million.

Salon also discovered in July that Fallon had dumped $250,000 worth of Microsoft stock just weeks before the company's high-profile cloud computing deal with the Pentagon, valued at up to $10 billion, was abruptly cancelled. He sits on the House Armed Services Committee's brand new Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems, which has oversight over the deal in question.

"When members of Congress trade individual stocks and fail to disclose those trades, they break the law and diminish the public's trust in government," the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center wrote in ethics complaints against the three lawmakers.

Still, fines for stock trading misconduct are incredibly low — often as little as $200 — and complaints are rarely forwarded to the Justice Department or the Securities and Exchange Commission for criminal investigation.

"The recent prevalence of STOCK Act violations in the House shows that merely the threat of a fine is not deterring members of Congress from breaking the law; real accountability is necessary," the CLC added in its complaints.

'You f-ed up your presidency': The surprising reality check Lindsey Graham gave to Donald Trump

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., apparently told former President Donald Trump at one point that he "f'd up" the presidency during a conversation earlier this year in which Graham tried to convince Trump that he had actually lost the 2020 election.

Author and Washington Post legend Bob Woodward shared the anecdote, pulled from his new book "Peril," during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, outlining the tough love that Trump reportedly got over the phone from his South Carolina colleague.

"We quote conversations between Sen. Graham and Trump in which Lindsey Graham says to Trump, 'You f'd up your presidency' at one point just a couple of months ago," Woodward said, adding that Trump hung up shortly after.

The next day, Trump apparently called Graham back, at which point Graham said: "I would have hung up too."

The incident seems a far cry from Graham's public statements about the former president, in which he is nothing but supportive. As recently as Saturday night, the South Carolina Republican told a Michigan GOP conference that he hopes Trump runs again.

"I don't think Trump is listening. He might be," Graham said. "I hope President Trump runs again."

You can watch the segment below via Twitter:

Abbott offers to staff his own armed force with fired Border Patrol agents if Biden punishes horsemen for inappropriate conduct

Even as a dual pair of infrastructure and spending bills dominated the Sunday morning cable news shows, the situation at the southern U.S. border took up a hefty amount of oxygen on Fox News Sunday — particularly during an interview with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Host Chris Wallace asked Abbott at one point what he thought of recent images of border patrol agents on horseback this week physically intimidating migrants seeking asylum from Haiti, prompting Abbott to double down on his vision of the border as an apocalyptic, lawless place. He even offered to thumb his nose at President Joe Biden's authority by staffing his own law enforcement force on the border with employees the administration fires for inappropriate conduct.

"If he takes any action against them whatsoever — I have worked side by side with those Border Patrol agents — I want them to know something. If they are risk of losing their job by a president who is abandoning his duty to secure the border, you have a job in the state of Texas. I will hire you to help Texas secure our border," Abbott said.

Wallace followed up by asking if that exceeded his authority as governor — a criticism echoed by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland this week, after he threatened to sue Abbott over the state's border policies.

Despite the legal threat, Abbott did not moderate his response.

"Because the Biden administration is refusing to do its duty to enforce the laws of the United States, they have left Texas in no position other than for us to step up and do what we have to do," Abbott said. "I'm going to step up and do whatever I have to do to make sure that I protect the people of Del Rio, as well as all these other communities in the state of Texas that the Biden administration is ignoring."

Regardless of the Texas governor's rhetoric, the Biden Administration appears to be holding the course on its immigration plans, despite a recent influx of new asylum seekers hailing from Haiti.

During a separate interview on the same program, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the most recent spike in migrants was "nothing new," and cautioned people from using the sort of alarmist rhetoric parroted by right-wing media outlets in recent months.

"This is nothing new," Mayorkas said, responding to Abbott's comments. "We've seen this type of irregular migration many, many times throughout the years. I don't know if Governor Abbott said the same thing in 2019, when there were more than a million people encountered at the southern border.

Wallace did at one point ask — prefacing the question with "forgive me" — whether or not the administration would be better served reprising the Trump Administration approach of building a "wall or a fence."

"It is the policy of this administration: we do not agree with the building of the wall," Mayorkas responded. "The law provides that individuals can make a claim for humanitarian relief. That is actually one of our proudest traditions."

In addition to his questions on the topic of migrants, Wallace also grilled Abbott on his bizarre pledge to "eliminate" rape — a vow he made in response to criticism of a recent, near-total abortion ban he signed into law that does not carry any exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

"Is it reasonable to say to somebody who was the victim of rape and might not understand that they are pregnant, you know, until six weeks, 'Don't worry about it because we are going to eliminate rape as a problem in the state of Texas?'" Wallace asked.

"There's multiple things I have to say in answer to this but the first thing obviously is that survivors of sexual assault, they deserve support, care, and compassion and Texas is stepping up to make sure that we provide that by signing a law and creating in the governor's office a sexual assault survivors task force — separately from that, Chris, I got to point out about the ways that I have fought to go to arrest and apprehend and try to eliminate rape. I sought the death penalty."

Wallace tried — repeatedly — to pin Abbott down on the question of whether he would sign an exception to the current law for rape or incest if such a bill were to come across his desk.

Abbott never gave a definitive "no" — saying only that the law was "consistent" with the Supreme Court precedent, which asserts "states have the ability to make sure that we protect the health and safety of both the mother and the child."

"Chris, you're making a hypothetical that's not going to happen because that bill is not going to reach my desk," he said. "Again, the goal is to protect the life of every child with a heartbeat."

Bill Maher spars with Whoopi Goldberg in ongoing feud over 'Black national anthem'

Talk show host Bill Maher hit back at Whoopi Goldberg Friday night during an episode of his HBO show "Real Time," the latest in an ongoing feud between the two television personalities over the NFL's new pregame ritual of playing "Lift Every Voice and Sing," known as the Black national anthem, in addition to the actual national anthem.

"New rule," Maher said Friday, the phrase marking a longtime segment on the show. "the only time there should be two national anthems is when the other team is from Canada."

He then addressed Goldberg's comments specifically, which she made earlier this week on the popular daytime TV juggernaut "The View."

He said the women-led talk show "devoted a lot of time" to the topic, with Goldberg talking about the history of the song itself "while somehow avoiding what I actually said."

"When it comes to an anthem, it doesn't have to be the one that we currently use, but it has to be just one. You know, because it's a national anthem," Maher said.

"Symbols of unity matter," he continued. "And purposefully fragmenting things by race reinforces a terrible message that we are two nations hopelessly drifting apart from each other. That's not where we were 10 years ago, and it shouldn't be where we are now."

The feud began earlier this month when Maher said that the addition of a separate anthem segregated by race, in addition to similar trends on college campuses, essentially heralded a return to segregation "under a different name."

A few days later on "The View," Goldberg lamented having to "re-educate people" on the need for parallel institutions for people of color. "We have gone backwards a good 10, 15 years," she said.

Maher, needless to say, disagrees.

"We need to stop regarding this new woke segregation as if it's some sort of cultural advancement," Maher said Friday. "It's not."

Watch the entire segment below via HBO:

New Rule: Don't Segregate the Anthem | Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO) www.youtube.com

The Matt Gaetz legal saga just keeps getting stranger

The legal saga of Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., just keeps getting stranger — even by Florida standards.

Just three days before news broke publicly of a federal probe into the Congressman's alleged child sex trafficking, Scott Adams — the Trump acolyte and creator of the popular newspaper cartoon "Dilbert" — was apparently discussing "inside knowledge" of the investigation with an employee of the Israeli consulate in New York City, according to a new report from POLITICO.

Jake Novak, who the publication identifies as the director of broadcast media at the Consulate General of Israel, and Adams were reportedly friendly on social media and spoke sometimes. But during this conversation, Novak apparently indicated that he was involved in a plot to convince Gaetz' father, a longtime Florida politico himself, to give $25 million as part of a plan to free a U.S. hostage in Iran.

"Scoop I can't report: Rep. Gaetz is the subject of a sex with minor…. I trust the source. Charges/accusations apparently 'very credible'," Novak wrote to Adams, according to text messages first reported by the American Conservative. After the news became public several days later, Novak followed up with another message: "told ya."

There was no indication Novak believed the scheme to be a crime, POLITICO reported — though another man, the Florida real estate developer Stephen Alford, was indicted late last month for attempting to defraud Gaetz' father. Court documents allege that Alford claimed he could broker a presidential pardon for Gaetz in exchange for freeing the hostage, named Bob Levinson, who most intelligence officials believe to be dead.

The Israeli consulate told the outlet that neither it nor the state of Israel were involved in the plot.

"Jake Novak is a staffer at the Israeli Consulate in New York, and is not serving in any official diplomatic capacity. His correspondence mentioned in this story was not in any way, shape or form a part of his role at the consulate," Itay Milner, a spokesperson for the consulate, told POLITICO. "After this matter was brought to our attention, it was made clear to Mr. Novak that this is not acceptable by the consulate general, he must never be involved in such matters again and that he must cut immediately all his connections to the issue."

Gaetz has been accused of participating in drug-fueled orgies and paying for sex with an underage woman — as well as funding a trip for that underage woman across state lines. Many of the allegations were corroborated by a series of confession letters penned by Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg, an ex-Florida tax collector, and obtained by The Daily Beast.

The salacious details of the case have enraptured Washington, D.C. and beyond — with Law and Order even featuring an episode Thursday night with a Congressman storyline eerily similar to the Gaetz saga.

Adams, a cartoonist best known for creating the office comedy strip Dilbert, likely entered the story because of his connections to Trumpworld.

"People with connections to Israel had a high interest in me during the Trump days. Presumably to influence me," Adams told POLITICO. "Jake and I shared an interest in the mechanics of persuasion, and in interesting business/political stories in general. Most often the stuff with a persuasion or Israel angle. That was our initial connection … people often tell me their scoops before they hit the news just to build credibility. Might have been that."

After the text messages between the two parties became public, Adams also added that he did not know how reporters had gotten the information.

"We have not communicated since," Adams told POLITICO. "I'm just as confused as you about why Jake had any involvement and why he thought he needed to tell me."

Anti-mask FL GOP bookkeeper dies of COVID — and leaves party without access to finance software

After spending months railing against COVID-19 precautions and criticizing Dr. Anthony Fauci, a Republican Party official in Florida passed away this week — leaving his county-level GOP organization without access to critical financial accounts.

Gregg Prentice, 61, served as accountant for the Hillsborough County GOP and also chaired the organization's committee for election integrity. A software engineer by trade, Tampa Bay's local Patch outlet reported that he built and maintained the local Republican party's campaign finance software last year and was responsible for filing its monthly reports to the Federal Elections Commission.

A FEC filing from the surviving members of the organization claims that Prentice died without sharing login information for these accounts, or any sort of instructions for how to use them. The letter also tells the regulatory agency it will likely need more time to complete a report on its August fundraising numbers, and foreshadows trouble compiling the local party's financials for future months as well.

As a Political Party Committee, we file our FEC reports on a monthly basis. For several years we have been submitting the reports electronically, and for over a year we have done this with software developed by one of our members, Gregg Prentice. Gregg's software converted data from our Quickbooks accounting software to supply the information needed by the FEC.

Unfortunately, Gregg passed away suddenly from Covid 19 on Saturday, September 11, 2021. Gregg did not share the software and instructions for its use with our officers. We will have to enter the August data manually, and according to the information we have received from our FEC analyst, Scott Bennett, we may likely have to re-enter the data from our first 7 months of 2021. We will be struggling to get all of this entered in the proper format by our deadline on September 20, but we will try to do so with our best effort.

In addition to his role compiling the Hillsborough County GOP's financials, Prentice spent most of the past year fearmongering about COVID-19 vaccines, mask mandates and other pandemic safety measures. Like many other conservatives in public life, he took aim in particular at White House COVID-19 adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, writing on Facebook that America needed to "End Faucism." He also argued that "we need more socialist distancing than we do social distancing."

Prentice's death has also opened up a firestorm of conspiracy theories from other local Republican Party officials, including one who called COVID-19 a "medically engineered virus" and suggested — without evidence — that his death was the result of wrongdoing on behalf of the hospital he was being treated at.

Jason Kimball, a fellow Hillsborough County GOP member and close friend of Prentice, even suggested that Tampa General Hospital was performing intubations illegally, Patch reported. Kimball, whose LinkedIn profile says he is a pharmacy technician at a local Walmart, called the procedure a "high-fatality protocol" in comments to the Tampa City Council.

"ER and ICU doctors are criminals and murderers," Kimball wrote on Facebook. "They intubate everyone and stick them on a ventilator for no reason, just 'out of precaution' as the doctor told me — without consent from the family. Tampa General Hospital is evil."

At least one council member interrupted his comments to denounce the conspiracies.

"I rarely chime in when it comes to people's comments, but that one I think is extremely dangerous," John Dingfelder said. "I think it's a dangerous comment to be spreading to this community, telling people they shouldn't go to Tampa General Hospital."

"That was a very dangerous comment from that individual. People listen to ridiculous comments without doing the right research."

Ex-Rep. Beto O'Rourke is planning a 2022 run against Greg Abbott in Texas governor's race: report

Former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke is planning a bid to unseat Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in 2022, according to a report.

The news comes on the heels of new polling that shows increasing support among likely voters for an O'Rourke run — with numbers from a Dallas Morning News survey showing that Abbott's hard-right turn in recent months has turned off voters in the state. O'Rourke has narrowed the polling gap to 37%-42%, up from 33%-45% in the same poll earlier this summer.

Political operatives in Texas told Axios that the onetime challenger to Sen. Ted Cruz plans to announce his gubernatorial run later this year. The outlet also reported that O'Rourke has been calling around to high-profile Democrats both locally and nationally for advice — leaving many with the impression that he's made up his mind to challenge Abbott.

But O'Rourke denied the news in a statement to Axios through a spokesperson.

"No decision has been made," David Wysong, the three-term Congressman's former chief of staff and a longtime adviser, told the outlet. "He has been making and receiving calls with people from all over the state."

Democrats in Texas see Abbott as vulnerable after a barnburner of a legislative year in which Republicans have passed hundreds of laws that will fundamentally change Texans' lives in ways both big and small. The most high-profile of these is a controversial ban on abortions after six weeks, before the vast majority of women know they're pregnant. Abbott also signed into law a series of restrictive voting rights measures that critics say will disproportionately disenfranchise poor and minority populations, as well as a vaguely worded bill that bars teachers from creating lessons on concepts related to systemic racism or sexism.

Abbott's virulent pushback against COVID-19 safety measures has also emboldened Democrats, according to Gilberto Hinojosa, the state chair of the Democratic Party.

"We hope that [O'Rourke] is going to run," Hinojosa told Axios. "We think he'll be our strongest candidate. We think he can beat Abbott, because he's vulnerable."

How the banking industry is using social media to kill Biden’s efforts to tax the rich

One key provision of President Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan is causing confusion amid a sustained lobbying campaign from banks both big and small — and a big signal-boost from right-wing media personalities.

A flurry of headlines about a proposed Internal Revenue Service reporting requirement for banks, which would require financial institutions to report net annual inflows and outflows on accounts with more than $600 — or that same amount in transactions — seem to be based on the false premise that the Biden Administration would be "snooping" or "monitoring" individuals' finances, or otherwise tracking all transactions a person makes.

"Fury as Biden tries to let IRS SNOOP on your bank accounts," one headline from the Daily Mail reads.

A number of viral posts on social media, many from prominent conservative pundits, seem to hold this misconception as well.

"The Biden Administration is attempting to empower the IRS to monitor every single withdrawal, deposit, and transaction you make from your personal banking accounts," the right-wing commentator Candace Owens wrote on Twitter this week.

"If you have $600 or more, the bank will have to report ALL your banking info to the IRS! #governmentcontrol #bidenadministration #communistusa" one post on TikTok reads.

Another widely-shared Facebook post shared by a community bank in Oklahoma and flagged by Snopes this week even called the provision an "unprecedented invasion of privacy." The fact-checking service rated the claim "mixed."

While it is true the proposal would beef up already-existing reporting requirements for banks, the actual policy would only require banks to report the total annual inflows and outflows on a given account, not individual transactions — information the administration says would allow the IRS to better target its audits on high earners. The White House estimates the provision would generate close to $460 billion over the next decade, a sum that officials say would help pay for an expansion of key social programs, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Advocates for the provision also point out that much of the information that banks would be required to report are already collected elsewhere.

"Only the prior year's total inflow and total outflow would be reported on annual forms," Center for American Progress researchers Seth Hanlon and Galen Hendricks write. "No one would say that the IRS 'monitors' you on your job because it receives a W-2 from your employer with your total wages every January."

But the industry appears to be winning the public relations campaign in a big way.

Amid sustained pushback, House Democrats this week scrapped the measure from their wishlist of tax policy changes — not a total death blow, but a sign that the new reporting requirement will likely not survive the next round of talks between Congressional leaders and White House officials. Democrats acknowledged as much Wednesday in comments to reporters.

"There was a lot of concern expressed by members about the impact on relatively low-income people suddenly being subjected to this, and we get that," Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., told the Journal. "I don't think the issue is completely gone, but we were not ready to move forward on it."

Treasury Department officials, including Secretary Janet Yellen, however, aren't ready to give up on the provision just yet. Yellen and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig sent a series of letters to lawmakers Wednesday in an attempt to press them into keeping the new reporting requirement — and correct misconceptions that the IRS would use them to spy on individuals or target ordinary Americans with audits.

They also added that research shows tax compliance increases when individuals are aware the government has independent information about their finances — using workplace W-2s as an example.

"A reporting regime that is broad-based will better assist the IRS in targeting enforcement priorities on the high-end who accrue income in opaque ways," Ms. Yellen wrote in one of the letters. "Any suggestion that instead this reporting regime will be used to target enforcement efforts on ordinary Americans is wholly misguided."

Newsmax tricked by pranksters into fake Paul Wolfowitz interview — twice

A group of pranksters tricked Newsmax into interviewing a fake Paul Wolfowitz Saturday for the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — the second time the exact same ruse has worked on the right-wing cable network.

Host Tom Basile first fell for the ploy roughly three weeks ago when a group of professional pranksters called the "Yes Men" organized an interview under the guise that they were colleagues of Wolfowitz' at the American Enterprise Institute, where he is a senior fellow, according to a report in Mediaite. Wolfowitz was also the Deputy Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush, where he served as a primary architect of the war in Afghanistan.

The Yes Men describe themselves as "laughtivists" who "destroy brands, create public illusions, work with communities, disrupt events, and impersonate nefarious entities in order to bring attention to critical issues, cheerlead activists, and, sometimes, galvanize communities into more action," according to their website.

One of the members, Andy Bichlbaum, described the incident in a blog post:

Andy's plan was to switch "Wolfowitz" with a "colleague" from the American Enterprise Institute at the last minute — and that would be Andy under an assumed name, wearing big silly glasses like all of the guests on Basile's show seem to do.

But when, two minutes before the 12:04pm EST Saturday slot, Andy logged on and told producers that Wolfowitz was having internet trouble and wanted him to do it instead, the producers refused, and suggested just patching Wolfowitz through on the phone — which is how this became the very first time the Yes Men impersonated an actual person, rather than simply inventing one.

The interview promptly went off the rails, with Bichlbaum describing the war in Afghanistan as a colossal waste of money — a sentiment very different, needless to say, from the views held by the real Wolfowitz.

"It's very clear $2 trillion could have gone to things that Americans could now be proud of, instead of a 20-year unwinnable war," he said, according to a transcript shared by the Yes Men. "The next time we have two trillion dollars lying around, let's spend it on something useful like health care or education."

["Americans] can be proud of a war, even if it's unwinnable, even if it lasts 20 years, even if it's been a failure from day one. That's what we've lost and that is truly tragic, Tom."

The interview was particularly absurd for the fact that Bichlbaum never even attempted to impersonate Wolfowitz' voice — but Basile, who claimed during the interview to know Wolfowitz personally, never even noticed.

Which is why, on Sept. 11, Newsmax producers again reached out to the group to set up another interview with Wolfowitz. Only this time, the Yes Men said they were "determined to stop [Newsmax] from calling again."

Bichlbaum quickly began a rant about "new master terrorists" that "make those old hijackers look like rank amateurs," before calling out Newsmax specifically:

"As a friend of this station I've got to tell you, Newsmax is a much bigger threat to America than the hijackers of 9/11," he added.

The network cut the interview short after these comments, but the panelists still seemed to think they were speaking with the real Wolfowitz.

"He was at the Pentagon that day and you would think that he wouldn't choose this moment to be, frankly, hateful and intolerant," Basile said after cutting off the prankster's audio.

On Sunday, Newsmax seemed to acknowledge that it had been duped in a statement to The Daily Beast.

"While we were covering special 9/11 remembrances and honoring those who had lost their lives, including heroic police officers and firefighters, horribly there were others whose only goal is to lie, deceive, and destroy. They dishonored the memories of true heroes."

Watch the full video below via The Yes Men:


Satanists may be the last, best hope to save abortion rights in Texas with this last-ditch legal maneuver

As pro-choice and reproductive health groups are scrambling to make sense of Texas' new, near-total abortion ban that went into effect this week, it appears their efforts to skirt the law are getting an unexpected boost from one organization in particular: The Satanic Temple.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday night allowed the state to implement a ban on the procedures after six weeks, before most women know they are pregnant, with no carve-outs for rape or incest. Until it is blocked or overturned, the law effectively nullifies the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision — which established abortion as a constitutional right — in Texas.

Enter The Satanic Temple.

The "nontheistic" organization, which is headquartered in Salem, Massachusetts, joined the legal fray this week by sending a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration demanding access to abortion pills for its members. The group has established an "abortion ritual," and is attempting to use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which was created to allow Native Americans access to peyote for religious rituals) to argue that its members should be allowed access to abortion drugs like Misoprostol and Mifepristone for religious purposes.

"I am sure Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton—who famously spends a good deal of his time composing press releases about Religious Liberty issues in other states—will be proud to see that Texas's robust Religious Liberty laws, which he so vociferously champions, will prevent future Abortion Rituals from being interrupted by superfluous government restrictions meant only to shame and harass those seeking an abortion," Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves told the San Antonio Current.

"The battle for abortion rights is largely a battle of competing religious viewpoints, and our viewpoint that the nonviable fetus is part of the impregnated host is fortunately protected under Religous Liberty laws," he added.

It's unclear whether the Satanic Temple's strategy of appealing to the Biden Administration will work. Last year, the group tried to overturn abortion restrictions enacted in the state of Missouri, but the Supreme Court declined to hear their case.

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