Friday Talking Points -- Shutdown Follies

[ Posted Friday, September 29th, 2023 – 17:08 UTC ]

Welcome back once again to the Shutdown Follies! Today's entertainment will be provided by the House Republicans, who will all be driving clown cars in a demolition derby, for your enjoyment.

That's what it feels like, at any rate. Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Jellyfish) is caught in a vortex of political posturing, from which there is no apparent escape. No escape for the country, as we all get sucked into a completely pointless government shutdown in its wake, and no escape for Kevin McCarthy, whose only way out is to commit political hara-kiri (or, if you prefer, seppuku). The "Chaos Caucus" of MAGA lunatics is in full control of the House now, and they are content to head the ship of state at full speed directly into a gigantic (and eminently avoidable) iceberg. And there's nothing anyone can do but sit back and watch the disaster unfold, it seems.

McCarthy is mightily trying to appease the hardcore members of his caucus with increasingly-Draconian budget bills that serve no purpose outside of the House of Representatives. They are messaging bills. They are political posturing, plain and simple. None have any chance of ever becoming law. None will ever survive to become the federal budget. So it really doesn't even matter what is in them, which is why McCarthy keeps giving in to the increasingly bizarre demands of the Chaos Caucus. Want support payments to poor women with infants slashed 30 percent? Sure! Heck, why not 75 percent! Hey, let's throw in Trump's border wall, that'd be cool! Want to cut somebody you don't like in the executive branch's salary to one dollar a year? Yeah, let's put that in too, that'd be a hoot!

If this weren't laughable enough, there's actually a secondary level of this posturing, a measure posturing as some sort of way forward. It isn't. It too is never going to make it through the Senate. McCarthy concocted his own "continuing resolution" (C.R.) to kick the can down the road by funding the government for another month. It is just as heinous as the actual budget bills McCarthy is working on, and will never be agreed to by the Senate. And -- here's the kicker -- McCarthy couldn't even pass that. Today, his messaging C.R. bill, meant to strengthen his hand in the eventual negotiations with the Senate, only got 198 votes. A full 21 Republicans voted against it (as did all 211 of the Democrats). This was purely a messaging bill, staking out some sort of ground for McCarthy to fight from, and he couldn't even pass that through his fractious caucus.

The biggest problem is that (as some are starting to call it) this is the "Seinfeld Shutdown," meaning it is a shutdown "about nothing." There is no overarching issue that is driving it (such as, in a previous shutdown: "repeal Obamacare," just to give one example). The Chaos Caucus doesn't know what it wants. Every time McCarthy gives them what he thinks they want, they make new demands. And they're far from unified (being pro-chaos and all). Each lunatic member has their own loony demands, and any one of them can change their own personal goalposts at any time. This more than anything is what is preventing McCarthy from just giving them everything they want -- because nobody really knows what that actually is. So we get a shutdown about nothing.

Of course, there is the world of political posturing and then there is reality. The reality of the situation is that a C.R. is going to have to pass the House, and it's going to have to pass with Democratic votes. That's what McCarthy just proved to the world -- there is no other way out of this. But that's where the ritual disembowelment comes in, because if McCarthy does make this move and puts any sort of compromise C.R. on the floor for a vote, he will immediately face a vote of no-confidence from his own Republicans -- who might just kick him out of the speaker's chair for the effrontery of actually acknowledging reality. That's that one thing that does not go over well in the MAGAfied Trumpian Republican Party these days.

The Senate, meanwhile, is working on an actual bipartisan C.R. which would kick the can down the road for a month and a half. It is going to pass with huge bipartisan support (although Rand Paul is having one of his hissy fits and as of this writing will be singlehandedly delaying this vote until after the government actually does shut down). If this bill does pass, it may become the only vehicle to reopening the government after the shutdown. If the House gets a chance to vote on it as-is, it would likely get the support of almost all the Democrats and the few dozen Republicans who still have some sort of contact with reality. But to save McCarthy's hide, they may have to use an arcane parliamentary procedure that would force the bill to the floor for a vote without the speaker's help. Even this might not save McCarthy, since some of the people who want him gone seem to be on a rather personal vendetta. Meaning parliamentary niceties aren't going to matter to them.

Of course, while the Senate is displaying much more adult behavior in all of this, it too is not above going down some rabbit holes as well. This week a minor pearl-clutching crisis was ended, as the Senate voted to once again require men to wear a business suit in order to be allowed on the Senate floor. This was in reaction to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer deciding that it would be OK to let John Fetterman wear his traditional hoodie-and-shorts combo when he casts his votes. This led to an uproar (see that "pearl-clutching" description) among style mavens everywhere. The horrors! Oh, the humanity!


So it's not like the House cornered the market on political silliness this week, or anything.

But they certainly gave it their best shot. With a government shutdown looming, the House Republicans took time out of their busy schedule to open the impeachment inquiry into Hunter Biden. Hunter, of course, cannot be impeached since he is not now nor ever has been a government employee. So the Republicans will continue their attempts at linking Hunter to his dad Joe, who is indeed president and therefore can be impeached. Want to know how that's going? Not well. Their first hearing's witnesses not only had zero evidence of Joe doing the slightest thing wrong, but they actually refuted the idea that he should be impeached. Here's what one of the GOP witnesses had to say:

The House Oversight Committee's first hearing for the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden got off to a rocky start Thursday as the Republican witnesses' testimony appeared to hurt the committee more than help and frustration set in in the chamber.

In his written testimony to the committee, Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University Law School professor pulled by Republicans as a key witness for the hearing, called into question the evidence Republicans have claimed to gather against Biden, who they allege benefitted from his son, Hunter Biden's, overseas business dealings during his vice presidency.

"I have previously stated that, while I believe that an impeachment inquiry is warranted, I do not believe that the evidence currently meets the standard of a high crime and misdemeanor needed for an article of impeachment," wrote Turley, who has testified at impeachment hearings for former Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, and, as he noted in the document, substantiated the two articles of impeachment during the latter's inquiry that the House later adopted.

Of course, these hearings aren't about uncovering facts, they are about political posturing and smearing Joe Biden, and in the right-wing media echo chamber, nobody actually cares that the witnesses undermined the Republican case. And we were just informed today that the government shutdown won't affect this crucially important business:

But House Republicans did take action to protect and insulate one crucial government function from the ravages of a shutdown. They have designated their impeachment inquiry into the president an "essential" operation, CNN's Annie Grayer and Melanie Zanona report, so vital to the national interest that it must continue undisturbed during a shutdown.

How's that for a set of priorities? The troops won't be paid and infants won't be fed -- but the pursuit of Hunter Biden must go on.

As we began by noting, welcome to the clown car demolition derby, folks!

While the Shutdown Follies occupied the center ring in this week's political circus, there were two other big political events as well this week. The second Republican presidential debate was held, and President Joe Biden and Donald Trump essentially began their general election campaigns against each other.

The GOP debate, just like the first one, did not include the frontrunner in the primary race, Donald Trump. Trump doesn't want to debate. He's pretty confident he's going to beat all the others without having to subject himself to impertinent questions or criticisms, and he's probably right about that. He's leading the rest of the pack by a clear 40 points in the polls, which is absolutely unheard of in presidential polling (for a non-incumbent). Trump is now openly calling for all the remaining debates to be cancelled, and has stated that he won't be attending the third one next month. The ratings for the second debate were down from the first one, but the Republican National Committee is plowing ahead with their plan anyway. (We wrote our full take on Wednesday's debate in yesterday's column, if you want to hear more of our reactions.)

President Biden made history this week, becoming the first sitting United States president to join striking workers on their picket line. Biden flew to Michigan and appeared with the leader of the United Auto Workers at a plant being picketed. Biden let the Union boss speak and only added a few comments of his own, but the symbolism was the important thing. Biden has long styled himself "the most Union-friendly president ever," and this photo op seemed to cement that legacy for him.

As we said, this truly kicked off the general election campaign, since Biden was pressured to go to Michigan by the fact that Donald Trump decided to speak to a Michigan audience on the same night as the GOP debate (in order to steal their thunder). Trump's speech was (of course) almost all about himself, and was not "given to an audience of striking autoworkers," as it was sold to the media. Instead, Trump spoke in a non-Union plant to people who were waving pro-Union signs who were not actually Union members. There may have been a few actual Union members in the audience, since apparently anyone could just show up and walk in. But there was zero outreach by the Trump campaign to any U.A.W. locals, and the crowd was a lot smaller than Team Trump predicted.

Trump spent his time chiding the U.A.W. leader for not endorsing his candidacy. He didn't address the striking workers' demands at all, and instead all but begged for the U.A.W. endorsement.

Biden, later in the week, gave a speech announcing the creation of a library in John McCain's honor, and stressed the theme of doing what's right and fighting hard for democracy -- themes that Biden struck during his first presidential campaign, and directed straight at Donald Trump (more on this in the talking points segment of our program). Which, as we said, means that while we're still months away from the first actual primary, the rematch between Donald Trump and Joe Biden has really already begun.

For all the ink that has been spilled over Joe Biden being old, it never ceases to amaze us how little the media cares when Donald Trump shows obvious signs of mental impairment. Just in the past few days, Trump has: (1) stated that Jeb Bush was president and got us into a Middle East war, (2) said that he beat Barack Obama to win the presidency, and (3) warned that Joe Biden was about to get us all into World War II. That's right: two. And yet Biden's the one too old to serve?

Speaking of Trumpian idiocy, it was immediately hushed up, but Donald Trump apparently tried to buy a gun, while visiting the gun shop that sold a mass shooter his weapon. It should come as no surprise that the handgun caught Trump's eye because it came with his own picture emblazoned on it. The only problem is that if Trump did indeed try to buy the gun, he should have been prevented from doing so. Because to buy a gun means to fill out the paperwork and do a background check. And Trump's under federal indictment, which means he should be barred from purchasing a gun. If this transaction did actually occur (details are sketchy), then Trump would be guilty of exactly the same crime as Hunter Biden -- lying on an application to buy a gun. That would indeed be ironic, n'est pas?

There were, of course, some developments in the "Trump legal woes" department, all of it bad for Trump. The judge in the federal elections-interference case against Trump turned down his request that she recuse herself. An appeals court allowed the civil case against Trump's business practices to go forward as scheduled in New York (it is scheduled to begin next week).

But there were two big pieces of news for Trump from the courts. The first is that the judge in that New York business case issued a summary judgment that said Trump did indeed commit massive fraud in overvaluing his properties, so therefore that won't even be an issue at the trial. Trump is liable, we just don't know the full extent of that yet. But the judge did cancel the business licenses he needs to do business in the state, and several of his properties -- including Trump Tower! -- will now be handed over to a court receiver. They may ultimately be auctioned off, depending on how the rest of the case goes. Trump, before the trial even began, has already lost on the biggest accusation against him, the rest of it is mere details, really.

Down in Georgia, the news just keeps getting worse and worse for Trump. Jeffrey Clark was denied in his motion to move his trial to federal court, as the judge essentially told him attempting to overthrow an election was not actually in his job description, therefore he wasn't acting as a federal agent. But then things went from bad to worse for Trump, as today the first of Trump's co-defendants worked out a plea deal with the prosecutor. The guy who was central to the scheme to illegally steal election-machine data in Coffee County will now plead guilty. This means he will be a witness for the prosecution. And he can point the finger directly at two other co-defendants who are also rumored to be talking plea deals with the D.A.: Sidney Powell and Jeff Clark. This could be absolutely devastating to Trump's defense.

Which is where we will leave this wrap-up -- with the warm thought that all of Trump's (legal) chickens are finally coming home to roost.


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

We had our differences with her and we did disagree with many of the things she did and stood for, but for all of that Dianne Feinstein was our senator for an astounding 31 years.

So today we're going to remember all the good things she did, and all the things where we did agree. Feinstein could be a champion when she sunk her teeth in an issue, and she was indeed a fighter for the causes she believed in. That is an honorable thing.

Feinstein leaves a legacy behind that speaks for itself. She was groundbreaking, or (more accurately) glass-ceiling-breaking in her political career. She was a role model for women in the political world.

She will be missed, both in California and elsewhere. So we hereby posthumously bestow a Most Impressive Democrat (Lifetime Achievement) award upon her.

Requiescat In Pace, Senator Feinstein.

[Leave condolences for Senator Feinstein on her Senate contact page (while it still exists), to let everyone know you appreciated her efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

Both awards were easy to select, this week.

Senator Bob Menendez needs to go. He needs to resign his Senate seat to spend more time with his legal team.

We saw the phrase used today (in a totally unrelated political news article) "so corrupt it would make a New Jersey senator blush." That pretty much sums up the personal status of Bob Menendez, right now. In fact, we don't even feel the need to review what he has now been federally charged with, since by now everyone has already heard.

So we say to Senator Menendez:

Dude, you got caught. Red-handed. It's pretty obvious to everyone that you took bribes.

You need to go.

Will this help make your mind up?

Here you go -- this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. (And we're sorry, but the little statuette is just painted gold, it's not made of solid gold.)

[Contact Senator Robert Menendez on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 724 (9/29/23)

We are back again after a one-week hiatus (full disclosure: we played hooky to go see the Steve Miller Band, and it was absolutely awesome -- we had never seen him before and despite being 79 years old, he put on a fantastic show!).

This week's talking points is an odd one, but then again it's been an odd week. We start off with a very long "talking point" (truth be told it is actually more of a "speech excerpt"). President Biden gave a stirring speech while dedicating a new library in John McCain's memory, and he spoke at length about fighting to preserve American democracy. And this time, he named names, so we had to include the best parts of it.

Then we detour over to the smoking wreckage that is the House of Representatives, just to take a few shots at "Republicans in disarray." We then return to another (shorter!) excerpt from Biden this week (his brief remarks to the striking United Auto Workers on the picket line) and wrap things up with a taunt to Republicans who still have hope that Donald Trump won't be their party's nominee next year.

So let's get on with it all, shall we?


   MAGA extremists

Biden's speech honoring John McCain was the most pointed attack on both Donald Trump and the "MAGA extremists" he's given since before the midterm elections. It's a shame it didn't get more press coverage, as the entire speech is well worth reading. Here is the meat of it, where Biden rips into the MAGA extremists for what they want to do if they take power again:

They're pushing a notion the defeated former president expressed when he was in office and believes applies only to him. And this is a dangerous notion: This president is above the law, with no limits on power.

Trump says the Constitution gave him, quote, "the right to do whatever he wants as president," end of quote. I've never even heard a president say that in jest. Not guided by the Constitution or by common service and decency toward our fellow Americans but by vengeance and vindictiveness.

We see the headlines. Quote, "sweeping expansion of presidential power." Their goal to, quote, "alter the balance of power by increasing the President's authority over every part of the federal government," end of quote.

. . .

Just consider these as actual quotes from MAGA -- the MAGA movement. Quote, "I am your retribution." "Slitting throats" of civil servants, replacing them with extreme political cronies. MAGA extremists proclaim support for law enforcement only to say, "We…" -- quote, "We must destroy the F.B.I."

It's not one person. It's the controlling element of the House Republican Party.

Whitewash attacks of January 6th by calling the spearing and stomping of police a leg- -- quote, a "legitimate political discourse."

Did you ever think you'd hear leaders of political parties in the United States of America speak like that? Seizing power, concentrating power, attempting to abuse power, purging and packing key institutions, spewing conspiracy theories, spreading lies for profit and power to divide America in every way, inciting violence against those who risk their lives to keep America safe, weaponizing against the very soul of who we are as Americans.

This MAGA threat is the threat to the brick and mortar of our democratic institutions. But it's also a threat to the character of our nation and gives our -- that gives our Constitution life, that binds us together as Americans in common cause.


   A shutdown about nothing

We have to admit, this one's pretty good.

"You know what people are calling what's about to happen due to the Republicans in Congress being out of control? The 'Seinfeld Shutdown' -- because it is a shutdown about nothing. What do the radical rightwingers want? Who knows? What are their demands? Well, they're different for each one of them. Are they shutting the government down for some grand ideological reason, such as repealing Obamacare? No, they are not. They are shutting the government down because a small group of radical MAGA extremists know that they can. They are the tail wagging the sad dog named Kevin McCarthy. And this dysfunction is going to mean military servicemembers will have to work with no paycheck in sight. All for nothing. All just because they can."


   Support our troops

Hit them hard with this one, because it hurts.

"The extremist Republicans who are shutting the government down in a temper tantrum are going to have a very real-world effect on those Americans who are serving their country. Every soldier and sailor and pilot in the military is going to have to go to work knowing their paycheck is at risk. They have to trust that sooner or later saner heads will prevail in Congress. I'd like to hear what Kevin McCarthy has to say to an Army private trying to provide for her family by putting her life at risk for this nation when she asks whether she's going to get paid or not. I want to see if he can answer that question, because it should be a shameful question to ever be asked. This is not some academic exercise, Mr. McCarthy. People's lives and livelihoods are being affected. Get your job done! Make sure they get paid!"



Make the case to the voters directly.

"Next year, the voters will head to the polls to elect a new Congress and the next president. I'd like to point out to all of them that a vote for a Republican is a vote for this sort of chaos happening over and over again. It's all they know how to do. They do not know how to govern. They have no clue what they're even fighting for. All they know how to do is toss bombs and destroy the workings of government. So when you go into that voting booth next year, please remember that a vote for a Democrat is a vote to get things done. A vote for a Republican is a vote for utter chaos. It's your choice, really."


   Weakest speaker ever?

Hit McCarthy as hard as you like, he deserves it.

"Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy is quite possibly the weakest person ever to hold that job. He has absolutely no control over his caucus, and his caucus is holding him hostage so he can't work with others across the aisle who want to do their constitutional duty. He is trapped, like Gulliver, tied down by a bunch of tiny little strings. He does the bidding of the most extreme members of his caucus in a desperate attempt to stay in power. I'm not sure exactly why he works so hard to save his position as speaker, since he is completely powerless in that position. We've had some weak speakers before, but for the life of me I cannot think of any speaker of the House of Representatives who was weaker than Kevin McCarthy. In fact, I wonder whether he'll still be speaker, this time next week...."


   Unions built the middle class

Shifting gears back to Biden, his remarks to the striking autoworkers were brief (he let the Union leader speak instead), but they were a powerful statement of support from a United States president, so they deserve to be quoted here. (Note: the break in this excerpt is where the Union leader spoke, Biden's remarks were given before and afterwards.)

Folks, look, one thing is real simple -- I'm going to be very brief-- the fact of the matter is that you guys, the U.A.W. -- you saved the automobile industry back in 2008 and before. You made a lot of sacrifices. You gave up a lot. And the companies were in trouble.

But now they're doing incredibly well. And guess what? You should be doing incredibly well too. It's a simple proposition.

Folks, stick with it, because you deserve the significant raise you need and other benefits. Let's get back what we lost, okay?

We saved them; it's about time for them to step up for us.

. . .

You've heard me say it many times. Wall Street didn't build the country. The middle class built the country, and unions built the middle class. And that's a fact. So, let's keep going.

You deserve what you've earned, and you've earned a hell of a lot more than you're getting paid now.



Finally, a comment to taunt Republicans wishing for someone other than Trump to win their party's nomination.

"Oh, sure, there's a way to beat Donald Trump in the primaries. All it would take would be for all the other GOP candidates but one to drop out of the race and throw their support behind one person. That way, that candidate might have an actual shot of beating Trump. But you know what? The problem with this is that every GOP candidate thinks he or she is the one who should remain to take on Trump head-to-head. They're all waiting for each other to clear that path for them. Which means what will happen is exactly what happened in 2016 -- the anti-Trump vote will be split, and Trump will waltz to victory. Because I'm not exactly holding my breath waiting for an outbreak of altruism and selflessness among the Republican presidential candidates any time soon."

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground


9 Comments on “Friday Talking Points -- Shutdown Follies”

  1. [1] 
    andygaus wrote:

    And somehow Republicans hope to blame the shutdown on Biden? Any idea how that will go? "Biden wasn't willing to consider the reasonable proposals we put before him. Oh right, we didn't get that far."

  2. [2] 
    italyrusty wrote:

    "Kevin McCarthy (R-Jellyfish)" - LOL

  3. [3] 
    italyrusty wrote:

    I pay little attention to New York City politics, but the articles I've seen about the mayor paint him as less-than-welcoming to immigrants. He certainly deserves a MDDOW this week:
    'The inundation – which has left huge swaths of the city swamped, closed roads and rendered several subway lines inoperable – came a day after the city’s mayor, Eric Adams, said he believed migrants should be excluded from New York’s right-to-shelter mandate. The mandate requires the city to provide shelter beds to anyone in need of them.

    On a Thursday appearance on WABC’s Sid & Friends In the Morning talkshow, Adams said: “I don’t believe the right to shelter applies to a migrant crisis.”'

  4. [4] 
    italyrusty wrote:

    I have no idea of his political leanings, but we'll assume he's a Democrat, thus deserving of at least an honorable mention for MIDOW (or perhaps a new award for "courage in public service"?)

    NB: Why are IRS declarations NOT public records, except to hide information about the ultra-wealthy from the other 99%?
    '...ProPublica said it had obtained a massive trove of information about the taxes and incomes of wealthy people, many of them well known, going back some 15 years. It published a series of stories showing many of them paid little or nothing in taxes.'

  5. [5] 
    italyrusty wrote:
  6. [6] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Oxidized Italian [4]

    Re "A series of stories showing many of them (wealthy people) paid little or nothing in taxes."

    There is no tax on wealth. We only tax income, and being wealthy does not automatically imply current income. I suppose it's a fact that most wealthy people do normally have income, but that's not invariable nor inevitable. We scream and rend our garments when the price of the stock in the companies highly productive people create shoots thru the roof making them gazillionaires, but believe it or not, that's not considered income in our system.

  7. [7] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    I know capital gains isn't classified as income, but that doesn't necessarily mean it oughtn't be. One rationale for that classification is that corporate income is taxed already, so it oughtn't be taxed as income twice. I'm honestly not sure where I land on that question, but the system certainly could stand to become more equitable than it is currently.

  8. [8] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    at least in theory, corporations themselves probably shouldn't be taxed at all. but as long as the SCOTUS continues to insanely grant them the first amendment rights associated with personhood, they should also be subject to government taxation based on the sixteenth, as should each of their investors. "capital gains" is a dumbass compromise tax that benefits nobody.


  9. [9] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    Actually in normal accounting terminology, capital gains definitely is "classified as income" (and taxed), but the main problem, and what most people forget, is, it only becomes capital gains when it (the appreciated shares of stock) is sold. If the guy (Musk, Bezos, etc.) just sits on his sky-high stock, it isn't even capital gains!

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