Friday Talking Points -- A Seinfeldian Impeachment Inquiry

[ Posted Friday, December 15th, 2023 – 18:40 UTC ]

President Joe Biden now has an official impeachment inquiry investigating him in the Republican-held House of Representatives. It is the most singular such inquiry in American history, since nobody -- not even the people who have been pushing the idea -- can say precisely what crime Biden has supposedly committed. So for now, they're just investigating him for the crime of (take your pick): being Joe Biden. Or being a Democratic president. Or beating Donald Trump. Or (most likely, given the Republican monomania on the idea) being Hunter Biden's father.

None of these things are actual crimes, it bears pointing out. But that simply doesn't matter to the House. They're merrily on their way to impeaching Biden for one reason and one reason alone: because Donald Trump wanted them to. Trump is still miffed (to put it mildly) that he's the only U.S. president to have been impeached not one time but twice. So, as far as he is concerned, Republicans have a duty to turn the tables and impeach the man who beat him at the polls, to try to weaken him for the presidential rematch that is shaping up for next year.

This has led to some (unintentionally) hilarious moments of idiocy from Republicans desperately trying to explain why they're moving forward with impeachment. James Comer, one of the committee chairs who is overseeing the multifaceted investigation into all things Biden, tried to refute the charge that his investigation is not transparent (a charge spectacularly made by Hunter this week, which we'll get to in a moment) with an epic Freudian slip: "This has been, I think, the most transparent, political -- er, congressional investigation." Talk about saying the quiet part out loud! Representative Ralph Norman, who had already accused Biden of being "cognitively gone," turned the entire concept of the American judicial system on its head by stating: "You cannot, just not, uh, say you are innocent and not have to prove it." Um, well... yes you can, here in America, where we have this little thing called "innocent until proven guilty."

They're tying themselves in knots trying to obfuscate the obvious political nature of what they're doing. Here is the best example we've seen:

Republicans didn't really try to conceal that they were acting out of vengeance for Trump's impeachments. "You can't say that what was good enough for President Trump is no longer good enough for President Biden," said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (Pa.). "So the Democrats shifted the standard. Frankly, now, impeachment -- you could view it as almost a political exercise." He later elaborated: "Now we have a situation where impeachment, the standard of impeachment has been lowered to such a degree that, again, it's merely, at this point, a political exercise. Not that this is a political exercise."

Of course not!

Pressed by [Democratic Representative Joe] Neguse to say which specific crime the Biden inquiry was investigating, Reschenthaler had no answer.

As usual with Republicans, all the loudest voices calling for others to be punished are themselves guilty of precisely what they are accusing others of doing. Donald Trump feels free to profit off of foreign money flowing into his pockets, his offspring have reaped rewards in the billions of dollars from foreign entities, and James Comer -- who has been darkly insinuating that the "Biden crime family" (as he calls them) is using "shell companies" for nefarious purposes -- appears to have his own shell company, which was created to hide assets from public disclosure. He owns six acres of land together with one of his political donors. You just can't make this stuff up -- Republicans seem to almost always be guilty of projection, when the facts all come to light.

This Congress, and the Republican House in particular, has been possibly the least-productive one in all of American history. They're on their second House speaker already, having ousted the one it took them 15 rounds of votes to install, and we still feel the current speaker's chances of still being in the job by Valentine's Day to be roughly 50-50. The Washington Post ran an excellent deep-dive article (which is well worth reading in full) that examines what little Congress has accomplished this whole year, which began with:

The year began with chaos and incompetence. It ended with chaos and incompetence. In between were self-created crises and shocking moments of fratricide -- interspersed with more chaos and incompetence.

. . .

What do House Republicans have to show the voters for their year in power? A bipartisan debt deal (on which they promptly reneged) to avoid a default crisis that they themselves created. A pair of temporary spending bills (both passed with mostly Democratic votes) to avert a government-shutdown crisis that they themselves created. The ouster of their speaker, nearly a month-long shutdown of the chamber as they sought another, and the expulsion of one of their members, who is now negotiating himself a plea deal.

You'll have to forgive us for the abrupt segue here, but as we were writing this some rather jaw-dropping news just broke. The jury in Rudy Giuliani's defamation case just returned with a unanimous judgment. The two Georgia elections workers Rudy falsely accused of being the masterminds behind "stealing" the presidential election from Donald Trump had asked for $48 million in direct damages ($24 million each). The jury didn't award them quite this much... in direct damages. But they did slap Rudy with $20 million (each) for emotional distress and a whopping $75 million in punitive damages to boot. All told, the final price tag that Rudy is on the hook for now: a whopping $148 million, which is $100 million more than what the women were requesting.

So that particular chicken has come home to roost, in a very big way. Rudy didn't exactly help himself during the trial, when he spoke to reporters publicly before deciding not to actually take the stand himself (which led to HuffPost running the amusing headline: "Rudy Giuliani Leaves Defamation Trial To Defame Some More Outside") and uttered the same exact falsehood that got him into trouble in the first place: "I told the truth. They were engaged in changing votes." Since this comment happened after the case was filed, the two women would be entirely justified to sue Rudy again for his comments during the case, but we're guessing with that jury award they won't even bother.

Rudy Giuliani (and others, including Donald Trump) made these two women's lives a living Hell. They testified to this during the trial, about how they started getting death threats after Rudy went after them, as well as having to abandon their home and livelihood in fear. They didn't deserve any of this, as they were just doing their job. Now we know what the price for ruining two people's lives is -- which (hopefully) will serve as a deterrent for others contemplating engaging in such character assassination in the future.

For those of you keeping score at home, Trump's Big Lie has now cost those who propagated it an astounding $935.5 million (when you add in the Fox News settlement). But it's undoubtedly going to go much higher than that, as there are plenty of other cases working their way through the legal system on the same subject.

Since we're on the subject of legal woes, we might as well zip through all the developments in Trump's cases too, just for the record. The week began with the special counsel looking into Trump at the federal level, Jack Smith, essentially calling Trump's bluff. Trump's motion to declare himself immune from all charges in the January 6th case was rejected by the judge, so Trump wanted to move it along the appeals process as slowly as possible, to delay the start of the actual trial as long as he could. Smith decided not to play Trump's game, however, and appealed directly to the Supreme Court for an emergency intervention. His reasoning is that the case is eventually going to wind up in front of the Supreme Court anyway (since it deals with constitutional questions that have never been ruled on previously) so why bother with all the intermediate steps? The court responded by asking Trump to file his response by next Wednesday. The court can actually move at lightning speed when it wants to, so they could indeed hear arguments and issue a judgment before the trial is set to open, in early March.

Trump lost another claim to immunity in an appeal in a different case, which means the second defamation case against him by E. Jean Carroll can now move ahead. It is scheduled to begin next month, and Trump has already essentially lost this case -- the jury (as in Rudy's case) will only have to consider how much Trump must pay in compensation.

In the case currently underway in New York, over Trump's fraud in the operation of his businesses, both sides wrapped up their presentations to the judge and final arguments will happen after the holiday break, in mid-January. It has already been determined Trump committed fraud in this case, so things don't look especially good for Trump. Maybe this is why he decided at the last minute not to take the stand for a second time, letting his lawyers rest their case early.

Out on the Republican campaign trail this week, there was a gaffe of epic proportions from one candidate's wife. Casey DeSantis, speaking in Iowa, somehow mistakenly thought that people who lived outside of Iowa could just show up on the night of the Republican caucuses and take place in the proceedings. She called on women nationwide to make the journey to do so, in fact.

This led to the Iowa Republican Party (in horror, no doubt) putting out a clarifying statement that said (we are paraphrasing, here): "Um, no... that would not be a good idea.... Jeez, we can't believe we have to say this, but only Iowa residents can take part in the Iowa caucuses, just like always...."

Trump gleefully got in on this action by accusing DeSantis of trying to engineer some massive voter fraud. Because that is what he does best, right? But in this one tiny instance, he's not actually wrong!

In other Florida-based Republican news, the state party chair -- who has been accused of rape and tried to explain it away by saying the woman accusing him had willingly participated in threesomes with his wife -- is still refusing to step down. But he may have floated the idea that he could be persuaded to do so if the party would give him a golden parachute to the tune of $2 million. Because Republicans are absolutely beyond shame in the age of Trump.

And finally, we have to point to an article we wrote earlier in the week that highlighted how many Republicans simply have no grasp whatsoever on what the United States Constitution actually means. It involves (as is traditional for this time of year) a holiday display put up in the Iowa statehouse by the Satanic Temple. Which seemed like a good place to wrap up our political roundup not just for this week but for the entire calendar year.


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

We have to give this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, for forcing the senators to actually do their job for another week.

They were scheduled to go on a three-week break for the year-end holidays, which -- for them -- is rather restrained (they take five weeks or more off in the middle of the summer, just because they can). But Schumer used the best political tactic in his quiver -- one used with greatest effect by Harry Reid in the past -- by denying the senators their extended break because they still had stuff left to do.

The Senate has been working towards voting on a supplemental appropriations bill which will give military aid to Ukraine and Israel and also was intended to shovel some money towards the southern border, to appease the Republicans. Sensing an opportunity, they decided to demand sweeping changes in immigration policy in exchange for their support. A bipartisan group has been trying to hammer out an agreement that enough Democrats and the White House can live with. Whether this effort will succeed or not is anyone's guess (the odds differ depending on who you ask), but they seemed close enough for Schumer to give them another week to try to finish up. Voting on the measure before the end of the year would be a big accomplishment.

It may or may not happen, as we noted. But if they had all gone home last night, it definitely would not have happened. Using the pressure of giving up their vacation time is a tactic which has worked wonders in the past, so this week for giving it a try, Chuck Schumer is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

[Congratulate Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

We have to admit, in the entire history of this award, we've never had such a bizarre candidate for it. Not personally bizarre (we've had a passel of weirder Democrats in that regard), but more her situation.

George Santos was kicked out of the House of Representatives for, well, for being George Santos ('nuff said...). So the seat is empty and there will be a special election in New York next year to replace him. So the two parties are deciding on their candidates. And the Republican announcement had one jaw-dropping footnote attached:

Republicans battling to hold onto the New York House seat vacated by George Santos chose on Thursday another relatively unknown candidate with a remarkable biography but a thin political résumé to run in a special election next year.

After extensive vetting, Republican leaders selected Mazi Melesa Pilip, a local legislator who was born in Ethiopia, served as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces and first ran for office in 2021 vowing to fight antisemitism.

An interesting choice, for them, you've got to admit. But their choice gets a lot more interesting. After mentioning Tom Suozzi, the candidate the Democrats have settled on, the article goes on to explain:

The two candidates do have at least one thing in common: They are both registered Democrats. Republicans who have supported Ms. Pilip twice in elections for a Nassau County Legislature seat representing Great Neck and Manhasset said they were fully aware that she maintained that registration, calling it "irrelevant."

In her first interview as a candidate Thursday afternoon, Ms. Pilip would not say whether she planned to switch party affiliations, and she declined to discuss her policy positions in depth. As a county legislator, much of her work has been nonpartisan or local in scope: funding roads, administering grants and overseeing police.

We can't even begin to wrap our heads around the Republicans running a registered Democrat for a House seat, and will have to wait until some further developments appear in this story. But just on the face of it, we have to admit we are left dazed and confused.

So just given the bare facts of the case, we have to award Mazi Pilip this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. How could we not? We cannot think of another Democrat who has run -- while still remaining a registered Democrat -- on the Republican ticket for a congressional race.

Seriously, which party would she even caucus with if she wins? It just staggers the mind....

[Contact Nassau County Legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip via her official contact page (which does not have an email address or online form), to let her know what you think of her actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 733 (12/15/23)

A quick reminder that this column will not appear for the next two weeks, as instead we bring you our annual year-end awards columns. You can go to the nominations page for both installments of these if you've got any ideas for who deserves an award for 2023.

And of course, we will see you all back here in 2025, so here's wishing everyone has the happiest of holidays!

For this week, we had fully intended to use all our talking points to absolutely ridicule the Republican impeachment inquiry, but there's one other event from the past week which demanded Democrats respond, so we stuck that one in there in the first position (because it is a very serious matter, and a very important point for Democrats to make).


   A cruel lie

Democrats have already begun making this political case. This is good, because nothing points out the sheer cruelty of the Republican position like a personal example of the consequences of their agenda.

"A woman in Texas who very much wanted a healthy baby had to file a lawsuit in an attempt to get an abortion, because her fetus had a genetic condition that could have impacted her future fertility if it was brought to term, and was guaranteed to be fatal for the child. This decision, of course, should have been made between Kate Cox and her doctor, but in Texas it is a decision not for them but for the attorney general and the state supreme court instead. After getting a judge to rule that she did indeed qualify for one of the exceptions written into the Texas abortion ban law, the state's attorney general threatened her doctors and hospitals and then the supreme court overturned the ruling. Republicans try to sell their forced-birth agenda by stating that they are in favor of 'exemptions' that usually include the health of the mother. But as we can all plainly see, these so-called 'exemptions' are nothing more than a cruel lie. They do not protect women, or the doctors who care for them. And this is what Republicans want nationwide -- what happened to Kate Cox to happen to woman after woman after woman. Cox was able to travel to another state to obtain an abortion, but if the Republicans get their way that won't even be an option in the future."


   An impeachment about nothing

This one's kind of a choose-your-metaphor talking point.

"The Republicans have announced what can only be called a 'Seinfeldian' impeachment inquiry, since it is an impeachment inquiry 'about nothing.' It is a fishing expedition plain and simple. Republicans can't even tell you what crime they are supposedly investigating. As Gertrude Stein so aptly put it: 'There is no there there.' Or maybe Alice's Red Queen is more appropriate: 'Sentence first, verdict afterwards!' They've got nothing, they're not going to find anything, and they'll probably wind up trying to impeach Joe Biden for the crime of not being Donald Trump. The entire thing is absolutely ridiculous on the face of it."


   Hunting Hunter

The president's son Hunter is, of course, not a public official and never has been, so it would be impossible to impeach him. But that's not stopping the Republicans! Hunter showed up at the Capitol on the day the Republicans had subpoenaed him, but refused to testify unless it happened in a public hearing -- something the chair of the committee had proposed earlier, in fact. But the Republicans insisted it had to be behind closed doors and when Hunter refused that option, they darkly warned of contempt of Congress charges. Notably, this was all way too much for one prominent personality on Fox News to swallow. Here is just some of what Steve Doocy has had to say -- on the Fox airwaves -- about the situation of late:

The Republicans at this point don't have -- they've got a lot of ledgers and spreadsheets -- but they have not connected the dots. They've connected the dots, the Department of Justice did, on Hunter [Biden], but they have not shown where [President] Joe Biden, you know, did anything illegally.

Now, here’s the other breaking news, and that is the Republicans are threatening contempt of Congress if Hunter does not show up for a closed-door deposition. Ultimately, on this show, we've been calling for Hunter to go and sit in a chair on Capitol Hill in front of the TV cameras for the last year. Now, Hunter's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, says he will do that, but [Representatives James] Comer and Jim Jordan say, no, it's not negotiable, he's got to be in private.



The media have, in general, been doing a pretty good job on this front.

"When you hear Republicans on rightwing media talk about their impeachment investigation, they boldly accuse Joe Biden of all sorts of nefarious crimes and misdeeds. They say he took bribes and offered foreigners quid pro quo arrangements in return. They say he's the kingpin of what they call the 'Biden crime family.' They say a lot of stuff. But when you actually try to check all these accusations out, it turns out they are all completely and utterly false or, at best, misleading in the extreme. You can't even really call it 'fact-checking' because they don't rely on facts for any of it. You'd have to call it 'insinuation-checking,' and so far none of it has panned out at all. It's a fact-free investigation, but that hasn't stopped them from wildly tossing around unsubstantiated accusations."


   No fire, no smoke

We're going to go back to getting metaphorical for this one.

"The Republicans saw a fluffy little white cloud on the horizon and went around screaming that it was a huge plume of smoke. 'Look at all that smoke!' they cried. When anyone tried to contradict them by saying, 'That's not smoke, it is a fluffy little cloud,' they doubled down and insisted there was a giant fire raging beneath it. But no matter how much they rant and rave, there's nothing there but an innocent little cloud. There is no smoke, and there is no fire, period."


   Guilty until proven innocent

We have to return to this one, because it is so outrageous that it demands highlighting.

"Representative Ralph Norman certainly got his cart before his horse this week, showing he fails to grasp the most basic understanding of the system of American justice. Speaking in favor of voting to formalize a House impeachment inquiry on the floor of the chamber, Norman said, and I quote: 'You cannot, just not, uh, say you are innocent and not have to prove it.' Well, actually, Congressman Norman, that is exactly what you can do here in America. Every single person is considered -- stop me if you've heard this phrase before -- innocent until proven guilty in a court of law in this country. That's a bedrock part of what it means to be an American, in fact. He should really be ashamed of himself for not understanding this basic concept which is taught in elementary-school history classes, but I suppose that Republicans these days are incapable of feeling ashamed about much of anything."


   Masters of projection

'Twas always thus, with Republicans.

"Republicans are absolute masters of projection. According to them, it is disqualifying for any politician to have any family members who profit off their famous last name, especially when the money comes from China or any other foreign country. Like, you know, if the crown prince of Saudi Arabia handed the son of an American politician two billion dollars to play around with. Or getting China to enter into business dealings with any member of the family. I mean... have these people met the Trump family? Seriously? Or how about the chair of one of the impeachment committees darkly insinuating that shell companies are always evil and nefarious while he uses one to hide ownership of a plot of land he owns with a political donor?!? Whenever I hear a Republican make a wild accusation against any Democrat, my go-to reaction is to just automatically assume that whoever is making the accusation is quite likely guilty of exactly what they are accusing others of doing. It's usually a pretty safe bet."

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground


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