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Speaker In Name Only

Imagine McCarthy does something wrong in the eyes of the fascist fringe— more wrong than just defending the policeman who shot MAGA martyr Ashli Babbitt. Gaetz or some other fringe nut— but probably Gaetz— makes the motion to vacate the chair. Assume all 212 Democrats vote to vacate— although that might be a stretch— so… Gaetz makes 213. Boebert (CO) makes 214. Bob Good (VA) makes 215. Biggs (AZ) makes 216. Perry (PA) brings count to 217 to 217. At that point any single Republican— for whatever reason— could end McCarthy’s speakership. Vern Buchanan (FL) hates his guts; he’d probably do it. There’s about a dozen who would jump, depending on what McCarthy’s offense was: Gosar (AZ), Roy (TX), Rosendale (MT), Ogles (TN), Clyde (GA), Norman (SC), Traitor Greene (GA), Miller (IL)… Hern or Jordan might see it as their opportunity to grab the gavel for themselves. And wouldn’t it be hilarious— and historical— if George Santos cast that deciding vote?

Yesterday, Philip Bump wrote that there will always be a fringe litmus test that McCarthy— a putative leader in a party predicated on rejecting leadership— will fail. Bump noted that he’s “the manifestation of the institutional establishment for an institution that rejects its own establishment. He is a member of the D.C. elite representing a party that loathes few groups more energetically than elites from D.C.”

McCarthy, he wrote, “obviously views the party’s right-wing fringe as something apart from himself, something to be managed. McCarthy secured the speakership by figuring out how to retain a Spider-Man-like grip on both the surprisingly small part of his caucus that is traditional and centered largely in reality and on the surprisingly large part of his caucus that is focused on conspiracy and centered largely on disliking the other part. He will always be more successful at this strenuous task when he’s not asked to pick between the two sides, since he will generally side with the former. And because there will always be some test posed by the fringe that he simply can’t pass.”

The evolution of how Babbitt is viewed on the right is a great example of how Republican politics works in general. The facts are straightforward: There was a massive riot, triggered by Donald Trump’s false claims about the election and his encouraging people to come to Washington that day and then to march to the Capitol. Babbitt was part of a group that was first to reach an antechamber to the House floor and was herself the first person to attempt to climb through a broken window to enter it. A nearby police officer drew his firearm and warned the mob to stop pressing forward. When Babbitt climbed into the window, he fired, hitting her. She died soon after.
Rep Andrew Clyde (R-GA)-- official congressional portrait
In the immediate aftermath of the riot, there was a halfhearted effort to cast the day’s violence as a function of left-wing actors but, generally, it was seen for what it was, including by McCarthy. Soon, though, the effort to recast the riot as something else— a false flag by the FBI, a protest that got out of hand, a protest that didn’t really get out of hand— gained steam. After all, consider who we’re talking about here: The central actors in the riot and their defenders are a group that embraced obviously false claims about a stolen election and who were acting in service of a president, Trump, who centered his politics on combating the “elites” and the “deep state.” Any official statement, then, is suspect, even ones that state obvious truths.
As the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wrote a few months after the riot, it took a bit for the revisionism of the riot to extend to Babbitt. Fox News chatterboxes such as Tucker Carlson were earlier proponents of framing Babbitt’s death as an injustice or as something even more nefarious. Fringe elected officials such as Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-AZ) realized that championing the idea that there was an overreach by law enforcement— the enforcement arm of the deep state— could both generate attention and centralize anger once again at the D.C. elites. That the officer was cleared after an investigation was a sign not that he acted appropriately but, instead, of a coverup. Because this is how it works.
This week, Greene responded to the release of footage showing the beating of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police by comparing the scene to Babbitt’s death.
“There’s a woman in this room whose daughter was murdered on January 6th, Ashli Babbitt,” Greene said, apparently having invited Babbitt’s mother to attend the hearing. “As a matter of fact, no one has cared about the person that shot and killed her,” Greene continued, which isn’t true: After his identity was leaked online, the officer who pulled the trigger felt the need to speak out publicly, explaining his side of the incident and defending his actions.
It was this comment to which McCarthy was asked to respond.
“I think the police officer did his job,” McCarthy said, which is the consensus of objective observers — a pool of people dismissed by many in McCarthy’s party as corrupt, dishonest elites.
McCarthy’s relationship with Jan. 6 is unique, of course. He was at the Capitol and aware of the threat posed to members of Congress; he infamously got into a heated argument with Trump in the middle of the violence, with the president chastising McCarthy for not agreeing with the rioters’ position. McCarthy knows what Jan. 6 was, which is reflected in his response to Greene’s comments.
But many in his party don’t want to hear what it was; they want to hear what it wasn’t. Like Trump, for example, who hopped on Truth Social to disparage McCarthy.
“I totally disagree with the Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy,” Trump wrote, “in that the Police Officer ‘Thug,’ who has had a very checkered past to begin with, was not just ‘doing his job’ when he shot and killed Great Patriot Ashli Babbitt at point blank range.”
If you are curious about the use of “thug” there, Trump’s tipping his hand a bit: The officer is Black, part of the subtext to the period during which he became a focus of attention by the fringe right.
There’s no reason to treat Trump’s assessment of what happened in the Babbitt incident as considered or accurate. But it is representative of the traps he and his allies set for others in their party. There is no reason to think that Babbitt’s death was a function of anything other than her illegally entering the Capitol and then trying to gain access to a part of the building near where members of Congress had been evacuated. But since any official articulation of what happened is necessarily suspect and since there’s an eternal instinct for Trump and others to cast themselves and their allies as victims, Babbitt becomes one. And then this becomes a litmus test.
It is good that McCarthy didn’t side with the fringe on this point, certainly. But it’s easy to see why he probably wishes he hadn’t been asked to weigh in on it at all.

My guess is that McCarthy will “evolve” of the question and eventually agree with the Traitor-Greene/Trump perspective. Just look at how “evolved” he is on on the pandemic. Just look at how effortlessly the far right fringe got him to turn the House COVID Subcommittee into a hive of crackpot conspiracy theorists— as well as big time allies of the insurance industry. Bulwark columnist Joe Perticone wrote that “Some of the subcommittee’s Republicans have said they believe COVID vaccines are causing swathes of athletes to die (this is entirely false). Some have said the vaccines are to blame for nearly every new instance of heart problems across the United States (after all, it’s not like this is a country with a long history of poor cardiovascular health brought on by lifestyle, diet, and other factors). In reality, studies have demonstrated that there is a bigger risk of sudden heart problems in getting a severe case of COVID itself than in taking the vaccine. The members elevating these misdirections, lies, and conspiracies include:

  • Marjorie Taylor Greene (Georgia), who claimed last week that “we have no idea what is in Covid vaccines” (the full list of ingredients for each type has been publicly available for years), misled the public last year about polio vaccine procedures, falsely said that 7-8 percent of people who receive the vaccine have to go to the hospital (it is closer to 0.03 percent, with zero hospitalizations for children ages 5-11), and back in 2021 referred to proposed vaccine “passports” as the “mark of the beast.”

  • Debbie Lesko (Arizona), who herself has been vaccinated, also sounded the alarm back in 2021 on proposed vaccine passports and inquired with the Centers for Disease Control about vaccine death count theories.

  • Ronny Jackson (Texas), the former White House doctor who reportedly over-prescribed opioid medications and drank on the job, recently said Dr. Anthony Fauci has “the blood of millions of Americans” on his hands.

  • Rich McCormick (Georgia), a physician who was at one point a fierce advocate of vaccines and the success of Operation Warp Speed, but upon announcing a bid for Congress in 2021, pivoted to a position of vaccine skepticism and said, “If a 12-year-old or 15-year-old doesn't want to get the vaccination, and their parents don't want them to get the vaccination—who really cares?”

  • Michael Cloud (Texas), derided the vaccine as “experimental” in his quest to remove legal protections for vaccine manufacturers.

Perhaps more important— and what holds Congress together even with characters like Traitor Greene, Boebert, Gaetz and that lots screeching through the halls— is that “There are several other members— on both sides of the aisle— who arguably pose a different sort of threat to the integrity of the subcommittee’s work: members who regularly receive sizable campaign donations from the corporate political action committees of the major health insurance companies. Across three major corporate PACs operated by insurance giants UnitedHealth, Humana, and Cigna, four Republicans and two Democrats on the subcommittee received thousands in primary and general election donations in the most recent election cycle. According to Federal Election Commission filings:

  • Brad Wenstrup of Ohio, chairman of the subcommittee and co-chair of the GOP Doctors Caucus, received $7,500 from Humana, $5,000 from Cigna, and $2,500 from UnitedHealth.

  • John Joyce of Pennsylvania received $2,500 from Humana, $6,000 from Cigna, and $8,000 from UnitedHealth.

  • Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa received $6,500 from UnitedHealth.

  • Nicole Malliotakis of New York received $1,500 from UnitedHealth.

  • Democratic ranking member Raul Ruiz of California received $5,000 apiece from Humana and Cigna, plus $9,000 from UnitedHealth.

  • Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell received $2,500 from Cigna.

“These corporate PACs,” he wrote, “donate to key members across both parties in the House and Senate, increasing the volume when a lawmaker’s legislative priorities align with their own. It’s hard to find a member of Congress who does not accept corporate PAC donations, particularly from industries relevant to their committee work. Companies and their respective lobbyists, who are both in-house and contracted out to specializing firms, maintain alliances with lawmakers to keep their business from facing policies that may hurt their bottom line and ability to do business.

The donations in this case are noteworthy because right now the health insurance industry, which made a fortune during the first two years of the pandemic, has experienced increased tensions with vaccine makers and medical providers.
Aventus, which conducts COVID testing and other lab services, filed a class action lawsuit in December against United Healthcare for failing to reimburse for 34,000 COVID tests. Aventus and its co-plaintiffs, several other Florida-based healthcare providers, argue that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act required the insurance giant to cover the costs.
This is as the cost burden of COVID vaccines shifts from taxpayers to insurance plans, a move experts say is likely to cause premiums to increase. Pair that with depletion of the federal supply of vaccines, and both Medicare and private plans could see for the first time out-of-pocket costs for COVID vaccines, treatments, and tests— and potential disruptions to availability— according to a recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health-focused nonprofit.
The COVID Subcommittee is expected to work on a host of important pandemic-related subjects, including abusive business practices, economic impact, executive branch policies, and preparedness for future crises. But it’s reasonable to worry that, under its new Republican leadership, the subcommittee may take a sharp turn toward conspiracy theories and policies that favor certain industries over others.

Now we’re talking McCarthy’s language-- and the GOP's in general. In his new book, Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away With It, former prosecutor Elie Honig wrote that in 2012 front-line prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office favored indicting Ivanka and Don Jr on criminal fraud charges. The charges were dropped by the district attorney himself, Cyrus Vance Jr., after a visit from Señor Trumpanzee’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, who made a $50,000 donation to Vance’s reelection campaign a few weeks later." And that's the real bipartisanship that plagues American politics (and holds it together).

1 Comment

Feb 04, 2023

last paragraph is the only part of this that is even worthwhile. you cannot write anything bad enough about mccarthy and the nazis that could even approach the reality of their evil.

the last paragraph kind of illustrates, tangentially, why the nazis can get away with it... and why the democraps just don't give a shit.

omitted from this column is the diagnosis of the 155 million voters that elect this shit year after year... who are dumber than shit.

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