Joan McCarter

Another infrastructure week begins with excuses from Republicans to create even more delays

Another infrastructure week begins just like all the other ones have, with Republicans saying they're "optimistic" but Democrats laying out issues yet to be resolved in this bipartisan "hard" infrastructure proposal: "highways/bridges, water funding, broadband, Davis-Bacon [prevailing wages for projects using federal funds], using unspent Covid [money] as [a] payfor, infrastructure bank and transit."

Which is, well, most of it really. That leaves negotiators in essentially the same place they were Friday and, shockingly, not where Republican Sen. Susan Collins insisted they would be Monday: ready to vote.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tried to push Republicans with a vote last Wednesday to kick off a legislative process on this bipartisan infrastructure bill, and Republicans unanimously filibustered it because they just weren't ready after something like six weeks of "working" on it. On Friday, Republicans were trying to change the standard 80/20 funding breakdown between highway/transit programs. And were calling Democrats unreasonable for assuming that this standard funding formula was a given. One could say Republicans are not necessarily acting in good faith on that. Nonetheless, the White House and Democrats offered what they're calling a global deal—on every outstanding issue—Sunday.

The time crunch hasn't changed. If this isn't done this week, at least part of the August recess—now set to begin Aug. 9—will be rescinded, but this process has to play out to get the Democrats who insist on this bipartisan fiasco to be reassured that they've done everything possible with Republicans so they'll support the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill that contains the rest of President Joe Biden's economic priorities, in which the human infrastructure parts include education, paid leave, child tax credits, and expansion of health care—all potentially transformational programs.

The bipartisan bill, for lack of a better description of what still seems to be cocktail napkin scribblings, is a number—$579 billion in "new" spending—that was agreed to weeks ago, and nearly a trillion in total spending. Where it's coming from and where it will be spent beyond the broad categories of infrastructure—water systems, highways, maybe transit, broadband—seems to continue to be in discussion. Details are scarce other than Republicans saying it's too much public transportation.

Their argument, according to Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, is that transit got plenty of COVID-19 relief money. "Nobody's talking about cutting transit," Toomey said Sunday. "The question is, how many tens of billions of dollars on top of the huge increase that they have already gotten is sufficient? And that's where there is a little disagreement."

That funding was to keep transit programs afloat during the pandemic, allowing them to essentially survive. New funding is necessary for public transit to meet future requirements. That's where House Transportation Committee Chair Peter DeFazio—an Oregon Democrat—and 30 of his committee members come in. They've warned the Senate in a letter that they won't accept less than the $715 billion in the infrastructure bill, which they have already passed.

Public transportation groups agree. "The historical share for public transit from the Highway Trust Fund is 20%," Paul Skoutelas, president of the American Public Transportation Association, said Sunday. "It is the absolute minimum acceptable level to help sustain our nation's public transportation systems. It is imperative that we make robust, forward looking investments to modernize and expand public transit that will assist in our economic recovery from the COVID pandemic and get Americans back to work."

As of Monday morning, Republicans are rejecting that global offer from Democrats, saying it "goes against" what had already been agreed to, but since anything they've already agreed to hasn't been released to the public (if it has even been written down anywhere), no one outside the negotiations has any way of verifying that. A Republican source told Punchbowl News: "The 'global offer' we received from the White House and Chuck Schumer was discouraging since it attempts to reopen numerous issues the bipartisan group had already agreed to."

In other words, when Collins said last Wednesday that they "are making tremendous progress, and I hope that the majority leader will reconsider and just delay the vote until Monday," she was lying. Republicans insisted they had to have a bill before they could vote, even though last week's vote was purely procedural, an agreement that eventually there would be a bill to consider on the floor. Collins insisted that they could have that much by Monday—today. They don't. Surprise, surprise.

This is climate change: Burnt parts of Pacific forests are landing on the Atlantic

The nation's largest wildfire, the Bootleg fire in southern Oregon has merged with the smaller Log fire and as of Friday, has burned more than 400,000 acres. It's one of 83 fires burning around the country, that have burned more than 1.3 million acres. All those acres burned are floating in a huge cloud blanketing much of the nation, stretching coast to coast.

"It's mid-July and already nearly 450,000 acres have burned across the state," Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Tuesday in a press conference. Since then, the area on fire in Oregon leapt to 522,680 acres. "It's shaping up to be another difficult wildfire season and unfortunately we're responding to new fires as we're still recovering from last year's devastating wildfire season," Brown said. "The amount of resources we've deployed, how many times we've deployed, in a three-week period we've deployed to six conflagrations," she said. "This is the earliest and most significant mobilization to date."

Climate change "is playing out before our very eyes" she continued. It's not just playing out in fire. It's playing out in drought. The small town of Oakley, Utah, made national news this week when it imposed a construction moratorium, halting a boom in growth because it does not have enough water to sustain any more people. "Why are we building houses if we don't have enough water?" said Wade Woolstenhulme, the mayor. "The right thing to do to protect people who are already here is to restrict people coming in."

In Idaho, a dry spring and prolonged heat wave through most of June and July dried up what would have otherwise been an adequate, if not abundant, snow pack that would have seen the state's farmers and residents through the year. "What we're seeing is not at all common," said David Hoekema, a hydrologist with the Idaho Department of Water Resources. "This is a drought that nobody's ever witnessed before." The state has received on average just under 4.4 inches of precipitation this year, the second worst water year to date in the state's recorded history and less than half of what used to be normal. There are 23 fires currently burning in Idaho, on 183,868 acres.

No part of the West is experiencing what used to be known as a "normal" water year, with the drought extending into the upper Plains states.

While all this is playing out, while New York and D.C. experiencing the same sore throats and stinging eyes that have become the standard affliction for Western states denizens every summer, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin is still playing coy about supporting the Democrats $3.5 trillion infrastructure reconciliation package.

He thinks the plan is too aggressive in fighting carbon emissions, he said. "The timing of what they're proposing would make it almost impossible … unless you just eliminate a lot of things." Manchin has said previously that climate provisions are a big problem for him.

"I know they have the climate portion in here, and I'm concerned about that," Manchin said last week after meeting with President Biden and other Democrats. "Because if they're eliminating fossils, and I'm finding out there's a lot of language in places they're eliminating fossils, which is very, very disturbing, because if you're sticking your head in the sand, and saying that fossil (fuel) has to be eliminated in America, and they want to get rid of it, and thinking that's going to clean up the global climate, it won't clean it up all. If anything, it would be worse."

Perhaps Manchin could spend a weekend in southern Oregon, on the fire lines to get a little whiff of reality.

Biden continues nominating a diverse slate of federal judges at a rapid pace

President Joe Biden announced his fifth round of judicial nominees Wednesday, with nine candidates. These nominees "continue to fulfill the President's promise to ensure that the nation's courts reflect the diversity that is one of our greatest assets as a country—both in terms of personal and professional backgrounds," the White House said in a statement announcing the slate.

Among those nominees, per the White House:

  • A woman who would be the first federal judge of South Asian descent in Michigan
  • A labor lawyer and former union organizer who would also be the first AAPI judge from Oregon on the Ninth Circuit
  • An Assistant U.S. Attorney who would be the second woman of color to ever serve on the federal bench in Virginia
  • A former prosecutor with the Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section who would be the first Hispanic judge on the Court of Federal Claims

Thus far, Biden has tapped 32 judicial nominees, maintaining a rapid pace for both nominations and confirmations that is putting even what Sen. Mitch McConnell did on behalf of the Federalist Society and Donald Trump to shame. "That number is notable for its historical context: It puts Biden on the fastest pace for judicial confirmations in a first presidential term in more than 50 years. The last president to have seven confirmations by this point was Richard Nixon in 1969, according to a White House official," CNN reports.

That barely makes a dent in the disaster McConnell and Trump have created in the federal judiciary, with the 230 judges they jammed onto courts, including three Supreme Court seats, but it's critical nonetheless to get every vacancy available filled. Biden has also prioritized installing a diverse slate of judges with varied professional experience, including as public defenders, labor lawyers, and civil rights attorneys.

That's crucial. But so is making sure that the courts—including the Supreme Court—are balanced and responsive to the reality of 21st century America. Niko Bowie, assistant professor at Harvard Law and a member of Biden's commission on Supreme Court reforms, testifies to that.

"It harms our careers to alienate judges and it helps our careers to praise them. In this respect, asking lawyers and law professors to testify about reforming the Supreme Court is liking asking a worker to testify about whether their boss is doing a good job," Bowie says. "But I think our commitment to democracy demands that we be honest about the harm the Supreme Court as an institution causes. We are all harmed when some of us can't afford health care because the court declared the expansion of Medicaid unconstitutional. We are all harmed when some of us cannot vote because the court rendered the Voting Rights Act ineffective. […] Democratizing the Supreme Court will be hard, but we must do it."

New and diverse voices on the courts—and most of Biden's nominees are that—are essential. But so is recognizing that the courts have been adulterated by a massively partisan effort—funded by the Federalist Society's network of dark money organizations—to seize the judiciary. Court expansion, including the Supreme Court, is at this point as existential to our democracy as any reform.

In the meantime, though, good on Biden for the commitment he's demonstrating on filling seats. This round of nominees include Toby Heytens, the solicitor general for the Commonwealth of Virginia, to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Jennifer Sung, a member of the Oregon Employment Relations Board, to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

This round of district court nominees includes: Patricia Tolliver Gates, an assistant U.S. attorney, to become the second woman of color on the federal bench in Virginia; Jane Beckering, a Michigan Court of Appeals judge, to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan; Shalina Kumar, the chief judge on the Oakland County 6th Circuit Court, to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan; and Michael Nachmanoff, U.S. magistrate judge for the Eastern District of Virginia, to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

In addition, he's nominating two federal claims court judges: Armando Bonilla, the vice president of ethics and investigations at Capitol One, to be the first Hispanic judge on the court if confirmed; and Carolyn Lerner, the chief circuit mediator for the U.S. Courts of the D.C. Circuit, to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

More than half of House Republicans stand with Confederate traitors in the US Capitol

The House voted 285 to 120 on Tuesday to remove statues of Confederate leaders from the U.S. Capitol and to replace the bust of the author of the 1857 Dred Scott decision with one of the first Black Supreme Court justices, Thurgood Marshall. Of the 211 Republicans, 120—well over half—decided to perpetuate the Civil War and stick with the losing, racist side. Another 24 didn't bother to vote.

Debate on the issue was passionate. "My ancestors built this building," Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat, said in her remarks ahead of the vote. "Imagine how they would feel, knowing that more than 100 years after slavery was abolished in this country, we still paid homage to the very people that betrayed this country in order to keep my ancestors enslaved."

"The halls of Congress are the very heart of our democracy," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in her remarks. "The statues that we display should embody our highest ideals as Americans, expressing who we are and who we aspire to be as a nation. Monuments to men, or people who advocated cruelty and barbarism to achieve such a plainly racist end are a grotesque affront to those ideals."

Rep. Joyce Beatty, an Ohio Democrat and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, tweeted her statement calling for a bipartisan vote. "Let's join together as Democrats and Republicans to send a stronger message that the people's House should reflect the very best of America."

"It's time to stop glorifying white supremacists in black robes and Confederate traitors who defected from the union and took up arms against the United States," Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland said. "It's one thing to remember the nation's Confederate traitors, it's another thing to glorify them."

There was also some deep stupidity on display, exemplified by Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who just couldn't resist the opportunity to tout the Republican outrage de jour and insist that it's the Democrats who are racist because they're pointing out racism. "All the statues being removed by this bill are of Democrats," McCarthy said. "Democrats are desperate to pretend their party has progressed from their days of supporting slavery, pushing Jim Crow laws, and supporting the KKK," he continued. "But today, the Democrat Party has simply replaced the racism of the past with the racism of critical race theory."

In addition to specifying that the bust of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney be removed from the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol, the bill directs the architect of the Capitol to identify and remove all of the statues and busts that depict members of the Confederacy within 45 days of the resolution's enactment. It specifies just three other individuals, defenders of slavery and segregation: Charles Brantley Aycock, John Caldwell Calhoun and James Paul Clarke.

This presents yet another test for Mitch McConnell's Senate Republicans, and for Democrats still defending the Jim Crow filibuster in that body. The House passed a version of this same legislation last year, but McConnell as then-majority leader refused to bring it to the floor for a vote, saying it was unnecessary and the states should choose whether or not to have the statues representing them in the U.S. Capitol removed. He—and his whole conference—can't avoid this vote now, but whether there are 10 Senate Republicans willing to reject white supremacy and break a filibuster is unclear.

GOP admits they're plotting to kill Biden's infrastructure plan — with help from Manchin and Sinema

It's not at all surprising that Republicans are using President Joe Biden's willingness to engage them in infrastructure negotiations to drag the process out until it dies under the weight of lost momentum. It's slightly surprising that they are talking about it out in the open, basically gloating over the fact that they've peeled Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema away, coopting them into doing their dirty work.

Minority Whip John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, explained to Politico all about how it's going to work. Republicans agree to spend a lot of money—"a massive amount of new spending on infrastructure"—in order to draw Democratic support away from a potential reconciliation bill coming together on a second track. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have started work on that effort, a way that Democrats can pass Biden's larger agenda without Republicans. Republicans think they can make a deal on physical infrastructure, pull Democratic votes to that, and then pull the rug out from everyone.

"It'll be awful hard to get those moderate Democrats to be for that," Thune said. "The stars are kind of lining up for an infrastructure bill. And if you do do something bipartisan on that, then I think doing something partisan on reconciliation—in some ways, with certain Democrats—it gets a lot harder." Walking right into that trap is Joe Manchin, who declined to say whether he would support a reconciliation bill for the ambitious part of Biden's agenda. He would just say that "there's a lot more that needs to be done, so we need to work it the same way we're working this one."

Note that there's no promise from Thune that in the long run, there will be 10 actual Republican votes for the deal that is supposedly being worked on now by the Sinema-led gang. But he's going to pretend that it could happen, telling CNN "I think there would be substantial Republican support" for a bill that looked something like what some of the group last week said was an agreement. That agreement of course didn't have much in the way of specifics and certainly didn't have a means of raising revenue that is real. Republicans are still talking about putting fees on electric car drivers—which would raise a tiny fraction of what's needed—and stealing money from COVID-19 relief, which has been rejected already by the White House.

Note also that Mitch McConnell hasn't actually said whether he supports these negotiations, lending more credence to the theory of a trap. Never mind that he's already made clear exactly where he stands: "100% of my focus is on stopping this new administration … 100% of my focus is on standing up to this administration." If he doesn't say anything about this specific effort, everyone can continue on with it as if McConnell would allow it to actually happen. As if he weren't poised to upend the whole enterprise at the last minute.

Democrats do seem to get what's going on here. For example, liberal Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut says they would need an "irrevocable" commitment from the moderates—the Democrats in Sinema's "gang"—to agree to use budget reconciliation for a larger bill. Blumenthal considers what he's seen from the gang "very, very paltry and disappointing" and said he's "running out of patience" over all this bipartisan foot-dragging. If, however, there's an "irrevocable commitment" on the next reconciliation package, then, "I could hold my nose and vote for this package."

Democratic leadership is there as well, apparently. "Will the Democrats who are part of this be with us on reconciliation on what is not included? I think that's an important question. … That's a question that's come up with several times and it's a legitimate question," Majority Whip Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said. One of those five, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, told CNN she would back reconciliation, and believes the others would as well. "It's my understanding that everybody has said that they can support reconciliation in some form. Now the devil is in the details as we know," Shaheen said Monday. That might be overstating things. Manchin has been cagey on the issue, Sinema hasn't spoken publicly about it.

As far as anyone knows, the gang's agreement, that may or may not actually have been agreed to depending on who you ask, includes $1.2 trillion over eight years, with just $570 billion in new spending. In the previous failed negotiations between President Joe Biden and Republican Shelley Moore Capito, he set a floor of $1 trillion in new spending. The Senate group would spend $974 million of the total over the first five years on "core, physical infrastructure," would not raise taxes, and "[m]any of the specific details still need to be ironed out."

The White House has informed the Senate "gang" that they have just a week to 10 days to come to some kind of deal. That's plenty of time for Republicans to blow this all to hell, especially since we're just a few weeks away from recess for July 4 and then August.

How a new ruling from the Senate parliamentarian could hamstring Schumer and Biden on infrastructure

Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate Parliamentarian, snuck in a new ruling last Friday before the Senate took off for Memorial Day recess—a bizarre ruling. McDonough, an ostensibly nonpartisan official who is in charge of deciding what falls within the current Senate rules, seems to have exceeded her authority in declaring what is and isn't off limits for Democrats in enacting President Biden's agenda by basically telling Democrats they can't use budget reconciliation to pass bills to avoid the filibuster.

Which raises many questions. Like how does the parliamentarian decide when it's being done just to avoid filibuster? And how does that have any bearing at all on whe

The biggest hurdle she throws in Schumer's way is saying it would have to go through a committee process and pass out of committee—getting Republican votes—before it could move to the floor. Democrats would need at least one Republican on the evenly split Budget Committee to support revising the fiscal 2021 resolution to pass Biden's agenda using budget reconciliation. Which is not going to happen with this Republican conference.

Regular budget resolutions can be automatically discharged from the committee to the floor without a committee vote anytime after April 1. Now she's saying that any revised budget resolution with reconciliation instructions to pass new stuff, like infrastructure, has to go through committee—where Republicans can block it. She also now says that the process should be reserved for situations involving "sharp revisions in the revenue or spending estimates or major developments in the economy."

That's a pretty big departure from what she told Schumer in April. It puts Biden's infrastructure proposals—both the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan—in jeopardy, given Sen. Mitch McConnell's 100% commitment to blocking Biden from doing anything. Apparently MacDonough hasn't been asked to rule on whether a filibuster that doesn't actually contain any debate actually counts as "extended debate" in parliamentary terms, and should be allowed. Particularly when it's not about debate but about obstruction. Maybe Schumer can get her to make a ruling on that next.

Meanwhile, President Biden met with Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito again on Wednesday to discuss infrastructure, after Capito got her marching orders from McConnell. There's no indication that she, or fellow Republicans, will move away from their stance that taxes on the wealthy and on corporations can't be hiked to help pay for it, or that the money has to be taken from already appropriated coronavirus relief funding.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, and National Association of Counties have weighed in on that idea. They hate it. In a letter sent to leadership and every member of Congress, they write: "Local governments are using these critical recovery funds to invest in public safety, vaccine distribution, housing and rental assistance, local economic support, economic and workforce development, broadband expansion, social safety-net services, hospitality and tourism development, and hazard pay for public employees.

"Despite the obvious and critical need for these dollars, there have been recent Congressional proposals to clawback these funds. We oppose these proposals, both in general and as a pay-for for infrastructure," they continue. "In order to help our economy further recover and compete globally for decades to come, we continue to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive infrastructure package that addresses our nation's transportation, water, clean energy, broadband and workforce development needs, but not at the expense of reducing funds already authorized under the American Rescue Plan Act."

That's going to be damned hard to achieve now, unless something in the Senate breaks. That means Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema waking up to reality on the filibuster, Schumer ignoring or firing MacDonough, or all of the above. Because nothing good is going to happen for the country as long as McConnell has the power to stop it.

ther a bill fits budget reconciliation rules? Like if a bill completely adheres to all the budget reconciliation rules but she thinks Democrats are deciding to push it through because Republicans are going to filibuster it, she's going to declare it out of order? That would definitely be overstepping her bounds by making political judgments on legislation. If Republicans were in power, they'd fire her for that. They've done it before.

This new guidance is supposedly meant to clarify her ruling from early April, when she said that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could have at least two more opportunities this year to use budget reconciliation to pass infrastructure or other legislation. Budget resolutions have special rules that allow them to pass with a simple majority vote, bypassing the 60-vote majority filibuster.

Pelosi sees four options for moving forward on Jan. 6 investigation. Only one makes any sense

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats held a conference call Tuesday to discuss a path forward for an investigation of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, after Senate Republicans filibustered legislation creating an outside, bipartisan commission. She offered four options, only one of which is likely to be effective: push for another Senate vote on commission; create a select committee; allow existing committees to probe Jan. 6; or make one committee, likely the Homeland Security Committee, responsible for conducting the investigation.

The first choice, which apparently she believes is actually real, is folly as long as the Senate clings to the filibuster. At most, there are 57 votes for a bipartisan commission. There were 54 on Friday. Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Kyrsten Sinema were absent, as were nine Republicans. Among them, only Sen. Pat Toomey indicated potential support for the commission. That's 57 votes, a compelling enough number for some filibuster-reforming advocate in the Democratic conference to push the issue, but it's not clear there's any hope of success there. Mitch McConnell wants to cover up Republican complicity in Jan. 6, and he's going to ferociously fight an investigation.

Having the standing committees conduct the investigation along with their regular course of business likewise seems ineffective. They have stuff to do. Republican members of those committees already make life hell for their Democratic counterparts on committees, and adding this investigation to the regular business of them would likely grind everything they're needing to accomplish to a halt. So either option of sending it to the regular committees seems unworkable.

The only real choice among them is the select committee. It has pitfalls, as do all of the options, but handled properly is a better option than what had been settled on—in negotiations with the very Republicans who have opposed it—in the bipartisan commission. The structure that House lawmakers had settled on for that commission were problematic in that it gave McConnell and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy too many opportunities for sabotage. They could have made their half of the commission rabid Trumpers if they wanted. Their pick for vice chair would have had power to veto subpoenas. The commission had a Dec. 31, 2021 deadline—a far too truncated scope of time. All of which are more reasons why it's ridiculous of Pelosi to even consider trying to push it through the Senate again, especially given how much more time would be eaten away in that process.

From just a time standpoint, the select committee is the best option, and the sooner the better. While she would have to give McCarthy the ability to appoint Republicans to serve on it, there's nothing compelling her to give Republicans more than a few seats. The rules for select committees don't dictate how many members of each party serve. Pelosi can create the committee with a simple majority vote, and she could move quickly to do it. That committee can be granted subpoena powers just like all the standing committees. Though House subpoenas aren't as enforceable as Department of Justice subpoenas, the committee would have them. Likewise, the House could set a more reasonable deadline for the committee's work, giving it more than six months to complete it. It could stand through the remainder of this session of Congress, through 2022.

One very good thing about the select committee, even if subpoenas aren't as powerful in Congress, is that it has special privileges to access documents from the Trump administration that are at the National Archives, including White House documents. Trump doesn't have control over those documents, the National Archives do. While they are officially under seal for several years, Congress has the power to break the seal. We don't know what records the White House has for what was going on that day—or in the days preceding it—but whatever records there are would be pretty easily accessible to the House, and would require Trump to sue to prevent their release.

Like every option, the select committee will be subject to screams of "partisan" from McConnell and crew. That's going to happen no matter what—there is no option that will avoid it. Even the bipartisan commission that was engineered to give Republicans maximum input was declared partisan. McConnell called it "a purely political exercise that adds nothing to the sum total of information."

McConnell and McCarthy don't want the nation to learn exactly how Jan. 6 happened. They don't want their complicity in the Big Lie and the violence that Trump fomented with it—and is still trying to foment with it—to be exposed. It's that simple. Worrying about what Republicans are going say about any investigation is pointless. Countering what Republicans say with the hard facts of what they allowed to happen on Jan. 6 is everything.

A select committee is, at this point, probably the fastest way to get started. And urgency is the point here. It's too late to nip the Big Lie in the bud and too late to prevent many Republican states from enacting egregious voter suppression laws using the excuse of the Big Lie. But that makes it even more critical that the work exposing what happened to our democracy start now.

McConnell's blatant cover-up of Republican complicity on Jan. 6 forces Pelosi's hand on select committee

The bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection is not going to happen, thanks to the machinations of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. That opens the possibility for an inquiry that could actually be more effective than that commission: a select House committee appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. That seems to be precisely what Pelosi will now do, having left that door wide open before the Senate Republicans ended up tanking it. Which, by the way, they did despite the fact that a good majority of those voting wanted the commission—54 senators in favor to 35 opposed. Only in the American Senate could a majority vote that large be the losing vote. Thanks, filibuster.

Anyway, before the Senate took this action, Pelosi said, "I certainly could call for hearings in the House, with a Majority of the Members being Democrats, with full subpoena power, with the agenda being determined by the Democrats. But that's not the path we have chosen to go." However, she added, "It's a question of if they don't want to do this, we will." Meaning that she was fully prepared to do this in the House if need be, and now it needs be. "Republican Senators surrendered to the January 6 mob assault" Pelosi said Friday, after the Senate vote.

"Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans' denial of the truth of the January 6th insurrection brings shame to the Senate. Republicans' cowardice in rejecting the truth of that dark day makes our Capitol and our country less safe," Pelosi said. "Democrats worked across the aisle, agreeing to everything that Republicans asked for. We did this in the interest of achieving a bipartisan Commission. In not taking yes for an answer, Republicans clearly put their election concerns above the security of the Congress and country." More like: Republicans are actively trying to cover up the complicity of the likes of Republican instigators Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz and the other six GOP senators who voted to overturn the election results.

McConnell was rolling the dice here. The commission legislation before the Senate had been so watered down in negotiations in order to get the actual vote on it in the House, that he and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy had real opportunity to sabotage it from within. McConnell could have installed five Seb Gorkas or Stephen Millers on the commission. He could have made sure that his half of the commission was committed to monkey-wrenching the proceedings to the maximum. He apparently decided that taking his chances with a House select committee was the way to go.

McCarthy, and by extension McConnell, would have some ability to sabotage a House select committee as well, but potentially a little less power. Congressional scholar Norm Ornstein talked through the alternatives to the commission with Greg Sargent last month, when it become clear that McConnell was going to oppose it. He pointed out that when it comes to the resolution creating the select committee, Democrats could weight it in their favor—"there's nothing that mandates that a select committee have equal Democrats and Republicans," he said. McCarthy would, however, choose the Republican members on it. As Ornstein says, he'd do his best to "stack it with members designed to turn it into a farce."

The advantage for Democrats would be that the chair of the select committee could have unilateral subpoena power. In the way the commission was formulated, the vice chair (a Republican appointee) could veto subpoenas. On the other hand, House subpoenas can be—and regularly have been—fought, resulting in prolonged legal battles. Democrats could use all the Republican resistance to efforts to allow a real process to their political advantage, by pointing out that that's just what Republicans are doing. That, however, could give McConnell et al. more fodder for declaring the whole thing a partisan farce. Granted, no matter what happens with an investigation of Jan. 6, Republicans are going to scream 'partisan farce,' but that's a real pitfall of the select committee.

It was the case with the scrupulously bipartisan commission the House created, as well. That was McConnell's primary excuse for opposing it, and his members fell in line. Sen. Marco Rubio, doing his part to keep the cover-up going, tweeted that the commission "isn't designed to produce a serious inquiry," but "It's designed to be used as partisan political weapon [sic]." That's the majority Republican line, and they're sticking to it.

The best alternative investigation might be one Ornstein suggested: one that would put the attorney general in charge of "pick[ing] a group that uses the power of the Justice Department—not like a special prosecutor that can itself bring actions against people, but that could make recommendations where action by prosecutors was warranted or not." He pointed out that "Justice Department subpoena power is a completely different matter" than House subpoenas, and much harder to fight. The Justice Department "has the responsibility to look at potential criminal violations, especially those that involve sedition," he explained. "So doing it in an innovative fashion makes sense. […] The attorney general under the regulations of the Justice Department has some ability to create groups like this."

As of now, Pelosi seems likely to create the new select committee. "That's her next move," one senior House Democrat told CNN Friday. Her words indicate that as well. "Honoring our responsibility to the Congress in which we serve and the Country which we love, Democrats will proceed to find the truth," Pelosi said Friday.

McConnell proves once again there's no 'good faith' among Senate Republicans

Weeks ago, President Joe Biden gave Senate Republicans a deadline. They had until Memorial Day to prove they were serious about participating in government by working with him on infrastructure. Biden could have taken Sen. Mitch McConnell at his word when the latter declared he is "100% committed" to blocking Biden's agenda and has "total unity from Susan Collins to Ted Cruz in opposition to what the new Biden administration is trying to do to this country."

Biden either wanted to give the Senate Republicans benefit of the doubt—to let Susan Collins prove that she's not really McConnell's puppet (she is)—or he has been setting about proving to Senate Democrats like Joe Manchin, Tom Carper, and Kyrsten Sinema that Republicans are really who McConnell says they are. But what's happened is much of the momentum from passing the truly groundbreaking American Rescue Plan is petering out. Now Congress is facing the usual tightening of timelines ahead of must-pass budget and debt ceiling deadlines.

That means that all of a sudden, time is very short for getting that American Jobs Plan—Biden's $2+ trillion (unless he's officially whittled it down to $1.7 trillion) infrastructure initiative—out the door. In fact, despite the Memorial Day deadline, Senate Democrats are just now beginning discussions with the Senate parliamentarian on putting together a budget reconciliation package to pass it without Republican votes.

Republicans who are supposedly negotiating with the White House "sounded dour notes on Monday evening and are mulling whether to even make a counteroffer to President Joe Biden's proposal last week," according to Politico. The White House is giving the Republicans another chance, with Press Secretary Jen Psaki saying that they're "not quite there" when it comes to closing the door on talks.

Because, apparently, "moderate Democrats" think there's hope. That includes Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, and Jon Tester of Montana, who all say there's hope of bipartisanship and should all know the hell better. Even Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat who has never been accused of being a progressive partisan, is raising an eyebrow at these guys. He told Politico that this group of Democrats who continue to push bipartisan negotiations "need to be more clear about their patience and timeline."

As if to put a point on how they should all know the hell better, there isn't even bipartisan agreement on putting together a bipartisan commission to figure out how to prevent violent mobs from attacking them in the future. As of now, Mitt Romney is the lone Republican in the Senate who says he'll support the Jan. 6 Commission legislation. That's 51 votes. The bill needs 60.

But this is the headline: "Filibuster fight looms over Jan. 6 commission." Republicans are filibustering the legislation, co-authored by a Republican House member, to investigate a threat to all of their lives and an insurrection that intended to overthrow them. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could try to bring the bill to the floor this week ahead of the Memorial Day recess.

"I'm sorry that some Republicans believe that a bipartisan investigation of the attack on our democracy is inconvenient for the midterm campaigns, but the Democratic-led Senate … is not going to sweep Jan. 6 under the rug," Schumer said. "We're going to vote on the Jan. 6 commission in the Senate, and the American people will see where every member stands—on the side of truth or on the side of Donald Trump's big lie."

With Ipsos polling showing that a majority of Republicans—53%—believing the Big Lie and actually say Donald Trump is the real president, it's not much of a stretch to see where Senate Republicans are going to land on that one.

While Schumer is figuring out the timing of that one, he's got another bill on the floor: the Endless Frontier Act that was supposed to have bipartisan support and in fact advanced to the floor last week on a 86-11 vote. The legislation is primarily intended to advance U.S. scientific and research efforts and strengthen the U.S. tech sector as it competes against China. McConnell, of course, is gumming up the works on that, too. As of now, there's a fight over how many amendments to allow. As long as this bill is on the floor, Schumer would have to get unanimous consent to bring up the Jan. 6 commission bill. Which Republicans will not allow.

So that is probably going to be pushed back to the week of June 7 when the Senate returns from Memorial Day recess. Infrastructure could be pushed until the fall, when it might be tied in with government funding and debt ceiling fights just like McConnell wants it. It's almost as if Democrats don't have the Senate majority after all.

Schumer may as well push it and try to get the Jan. 6 commission bill on the floor this week and show the Manchins and Sinemas and all the rest of the moderates where they stand. This week is as good as any to to make them decide the limits of their patience with the filibuster.

The clock is ticking on Biden's 'bipartisan' infrastructure efforts

Despite the fact that Senate Republicans have now repeatedly shown up to supposed infrastructure negotiations with the White House with absolutely nothing new for weeks, President Joe Biden made a counteroffer last Friday, negotiating with himself as the only "countering" done was with his previous $2.3 trillion plan. The White House told Republicans they would cut $550 billion from that proposal, bringing the total down to $1.7 trillion. Republicans scoffed.

"This proposal exhibits a willingness to come down in size, giving on some areas that are important to the president—otherwise they wouldn't have been in the proposal—while also staying firm in areas that are most vital to rebuilding our infrastructure and industries of the future," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at the press briefing on Friday.

A spokesperson for lead Republican negotiator Shelley Moore Capito responded "Based on today's meeting, the groups seem further apart after two meetings with White House staff than they were after one meeting with President Biden. Senate Republicans will further review the details in today's counteroffer and continue to engage in conversations with the administration." Sure they will.

Meanwhile, The New York Times goes to remarks from Sen. Susan Collins over the weekend, for commentary on the state of things, because they still believe she's "one of the Republicans most willing to cross party lines." Apparently the Times has not cottoned onto the favorite game of Mitch McConnell and Collins, where he sends her out to dangle the thread of bipartisanship long enough to fully poison the well, so she can come back later to express her dismay and concern and regrets over either having to oppose something or support it, safe in the knowledge that her vote will make no difference because McConnell has enough votes to kill it.

Anyway, Collins told ABC's This Week that "I think we're still pretty far apart, but this is the test. This will determine whether or not we can work together," and by "this" being the "test" she means how many more hundreds of billions Biden will shave off of his proposal. "I was glad that the president put a counteroffer on the table, but if you look closely at it, what he's proposing to do is move a lot of the spending to a bill that's already on the Senate floor."

Which is true—there's a "compete with China" bill in the Senate that has a good chance of passing, that would fund new research and development in scientific and technological innovation. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans want to steal from already-passed legislation, funding their version of infrastructure with money earmarked for COVID-19 relief and recovery that hasn't been spent yet.

The White House informed Senate Republicans, when making this "counteroffer," that the administration expects them to cough something up in return, like perhaps agreeing that money should be spent on something other than bolstering the fossil fuel industry with more roads and bridges. "We remain concerned that your proposal excludes entirely some investments that are key to our competitiveness and have garnered bipartisan support," administration officials wrote to the Republicans.

Speaking for Republicans, Sen. Roy Blunt said that the "biggest gap is not the money." He went on to describe the problem. "Our biggest gap is defining what infrastructure is, and if we get to a definition of infrastructure that the country would have always accepted, that becomes a much narrower space than it appears to be right now." Which is essentially tearing up that letter from administration officials asking the GOP to consider broadening their infrastructure horizons. In other words, here's where they are with Republicans right now, pithily summed up by Capitol Hill reporter Sahil Kapur:

At least everyone seems to be in agreement that there's a metaphorical table at which negotiations would theoretically take place, and there are no arguments over what shape that table should be. But, yeah, they're still fighting over simple definitions of "infrastructure," that thing that on a physical and social level props the country up and keeps it functioning at some level. That level at the moment is not barely mediocre, where Republicans like it.

Another Capitol Hill reporter, NBC's Leigh Ann Caldwell, perhaps hit on the larger truth here in a bit on MSNBC Monday morning, in which she characterized the situation as "extremely stalled."

Her Democratic and Republican sources, Caldwell said, are telling her that the Biden White House is "engaging in these negotiations on infrastructure for an audience of one, and that is Sen. Joe Manchin," who has said "over and over again he doesn't want to go down the partisan path on infrastructure unless things don't work out with Republicans." That very well may be true.

Here's Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent chair of the Budget Committee. He told the Times that the infrastructure bills—both the American Jobs Plan and the follow-up American Families Plan—will "probably" have to be done through budget reconciliation with Democratic votes alone. "We would like bipartisanship, but I don't think we have a seriousness on the part of the Republican leadership to address the major crises facing this country," Sanders said. "If they're not coming forward, we've got to go forward alone."

It's not just infrastructure, obviously. It's something as profoundly simple and crucial as the commission to investigate how Jan. 6 happened and what the government might do going forward to make sure that a violent mob doesn't descend on the Capitol to try to overthrow the Congress again, possibly killing some of them in the offing. If Republicans aren't willing to work with Democrats to save their own goddamned institution, they're not going to stretch to fix anything else.

Time is ticking down and urgent legislative needs are piling up, with a debt ceiling and a budget hanging out there along with everything else. Everything else includes passing election laws reforms to make sure that 2022 and 2024 aren't already fixed for Republicans by Republicans.


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