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Cup of Joe – January 14, 2023

“The Treasury Department on Friday said that it will begin ‘extraordinary measures’ next week to prevent the United States government from defaulting on its payment obligations, as lawmakers in Washington prepare for a potentially devastating fiscal showdown,” the Washington Post reports.

“In a letter to congressional officials, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the administration would on Jan. 19 begin repurposing federal funds to extend the date by which the government will run out of money. Congress must pass a law raising the debt limit from its current total of $31.4 trillion or the Treasury can’t borrow any more, even to pay for spending lawmakers have already authorized.”

“The U.S. has never defaulted on its debt in its history, and economists warn that doing so could trigger a panic on Wall Street and lead to millions of job losses. Many leading Republican lawmakers are demanding that their new House majority use the debt limit as leverage to force the Biden administration to accept sweeping spending cuts that Democrats oppose, creating an impasse with no clear resolution at hand.”

Politico explains why the debt ceiling crisis has moved up many months before we expected it: “These Treasury ‘X date’ estimates tend to be conservative and are frequently revised as new federal revenue and spending data comes in. But Yellen’s missive appears likely to accelerate a showdown that many on Capitol Hill have been expecting in late summer or early fall.”

Some news reports of the classified documents found at Joe Biden’s home and office are implying that it’s similar — or even the same — as the case of classified documents found at Donald Trump’s beach club. It’s lazy reporting at best. The two episodes are obviously very different:

  • Biden’s staff found the documents and immediately reported it to the Justice Department, while Trump ignored multiple requests to return the documents. A search warrant was ultimately needed to take back the documents in Trump’s possession.
  • Biden said he was “surprised” he had the documents and returned them, while Trump continues to insist they were his property. Trump also made up some nonsense about declassifying them in his mind.
  • Trump had 184 documents with classification markings, while Biden had a much smaller number. We still don’t know the total number of documents found in Biden’s home and office but it may be less than 20.

Those are the substantive legal differences between the two cases. That may matter in the special counsel investigations. But the politics are another matter, as the New York Times notes: “Whatever the legal questions, as a matter of political reality, the discovery will make the perception of the Justice Department potentially charging Mr. Trump over his handling of the documents more challenging…

Moreover, the discovery will fuel the fires on Capitol Hill, where Republicans who have just taken the House majority were already planning multiple investigations of the Biden administration, including the decision to have the FBI search Mar-a-Lago.”

That’s annoying to Democrats since the intent of the two men was clearly not the same.  But two things can be true: The cases are very different and it’s a political headache for the White House.

The appointment of Robert Hur as special counsel to investigate the Biden classified documents matter is another example of the extreme imbalance between Democrats and Republicans in the politics of national security and law enforcement.

We’ve talked here before about the most glaring example of that imbalance: Every FBI director in history has been a Republican. Republican presidents nominate Republican FBI directors, and Democratic presidents nominate Republican FBI directors.

Now Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed as special counsel a man whose resume screams conservative legal movement: clerk to former Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, worked as an assistant to Chris Wray in the George W. Bush Justice Department, served as an official in the Trump Justice Department before being appointed by Trump as Maryland’s U.S. attorney. The main man running around yesterday vouching for Hur was former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whom Hur served under as liaison to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

This doesn’t mean Hur is necessarily a partisan hack or that he’s part of some anti-Biden conspiracy or that Democratic attorney generals must always appoint Democratic special counsel. It’s just fascinating that Democrats operate under such stringent constraints – imposed by themselves and by the political environment – while Republicans do not.

The consequences of the imbalance are more subtle and indirect that the narrow confines of this one investigation of Biden. For all the abuse and scorn that will be hurled at Hur as special counsel, it’s still a feather in the cap, a resume line, a boost into the national spotlight that is denied a passed-over Democratic prosecutor. It contributes to Republicans having a strong bench of leading legal stars and Democrats lacking one. It cedes the terms of the public debate over law and order and national security to Republicans and like-minded professionals.

It’s a systemic and long-running dynamic that is so baked in that even sophisticated observers take it for granted now. And Merrick Garland more than most seems to fully embrace and be prepared to perpetuate the double standard.

“I don’t think Biden has legal worries here, I don’t think he has political worries. The main benefit for Republicans is Trump is breathing a sigh of relief because it makes it hard for Merrick Garland to authorize a prosecution of Donald Trump, even if it is merited.” — Brian Fallon, a former Clinton adviser who worked at the Department of Justice, quoted by the Washington Post on the classified documents found at President Biden’s home.

Playbook: “For the White House, it’s a burgeoning political nightmare that comes just as Biden tries to draw a contrast with the new House Republican majority, which the administration is eager to cast as chaotic and irresponsible.”

“For the GOP, it’s a belated Christmas gift, and Republicans are positively giddy. While the White House has done its utmost to distinguish Biden’s and Trump’s situations — both in terms of the breadth of documents as well as the manner in which both men cooperated with investigators (or not, in Trump’s case) — Republicans are confident they can chalk up those up to semantics.”

“They’re already adding this new line of inquiry to their mountain of ‘must-probe’ leads — and alleging that Trump is being held to a ‘double standard’ when compared to the justice system’s treatment of Biden.”

Tweeted Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): “Where’s the raid?”

Jonathan Bernstein: “There is still much that we don’t know about the Biden incidents, and it certainly deserves a thorough investigation. But the crucial difference is plain: Trump has claimed to be above the law when it comes to classified materials, while Biden has said that he will fully cooperate with an investigation into the matter.”

“Trump has publicly attacked the process from the start. He didn’t voluntarily hand over anything to the National Archives and instead has fought the agency every step of the way to retain documents the government knew were missing. Biden’s team, in contrast, voluntarily turned over items that the archives weren’t aware of. And Trump appears to have retained far more documents, and handled them far more cavalierly, than Biden did.”

“I won’t speculate on the legal consequences. But presidents swear to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution’ and have the responsibility to ‘take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.’ The core principle of constitutional government is the rule of law; that’s why the presidential oath is to protect the Constitution, not the nation or the land or its people.”

“For a former president (and now presidential candidate) to publicly claim that the law doesn’t apply to him is a far worse offense, and far more disqualifying for future office, than almost anything that could be done with classified information. And that is what Trump has repeatedly done…”

Punchbowl News: “This burgeoning scandal is a major embarrassment for Biden and Democrats. They’ve pounced all over the investigation into former President Donald Trump’s mishandling of classified material but must now reckon with a similar incident of their own.”

“It also distracts from some good economic news for the White House, while providing another opening for Hill Republicans to hit Biden…”

“Although Biden’s allies swatted away comparisons to Trump’s warehousing of classified documents at his Florida home, the situation is only getting worse for Biden — just as Republicans are ramping up their oversight machinery in their new House majority.”

“From a congressional oversight standpoint, these new Biden document revelations take away a substantial Democratic talking point — that Republicans are seizing on non-issues and conspiracy theories to investigate the president.”

“Multiple aides who worked for President Joe Biden in the final days of the Obama administration have been interviewed by federal law enforcement officials reviewing how classified documents ended up in his Delaware residence and a Washington office,” NBC News reports.

“Kathy Chung, who was Biden’s executive assistant while he was vice president and helped pack up his vice presidential office in January 2017, is among those who have been interviewed.”

Biden said his administration is “cooperating fully,” according to Reuters.

Rep. Max Miller (R-OH) became one of the first House Republicans outside of New York to call for Rep. George Santos (R-NY) to resign his office.

Rep. George Santos (R-NY) “was lobbed softball questions during an appearance on Steve Bannon’s podcast on Thursday—but he still managed to struggle painfully to answer a simple question on his campaign financing,” the Daily Beast reports.

“Santos personally loaned his campaign $700,000 despite reporting in 2020 that he had just $55,000 to his name… Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who was filling in as host while Bannon appeared in court on money laundering charges, twice asked Santos where the $700,000 came from.”

Said Santos: “Well, I’ll tell you where it didn’t come from, it didn’t come for China, Ukraine, or Burisma, how about that?”

Rep. George Santos (R-NY) told NBC News on Thursday that “if 142 people ask for me to resign, I will resign.”

“Santos made the comment while getting into an elevator on Capitol Hill and did not specify which 142 people he was referring to. It’s also possible he misspoke and was referring to the more than 142,000 votes he received when he defeated Democrat Robert Zimmerman in November’s race for New York’s 3rd Congressional District.”

Kim Wehle: “For Santos, the threat of FEC action on the CLC’s complaint carries only monetary fines, which his magical funding source could presumably cover. But the Department of Justice has authority to prosecute violations of the federal election statutes criminally, as well, if the offenses were committed ‘knowingly and willfully’ and involve certain monetary thresholds.”

“Too bad that for Kevin McCarthy and his cast of January 6th enablers who remain in Congress, the commission of crimes is not an impediment to carrying out the duties of federal public office, including House members who vowed under the Constitution’s express terms to ‘be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.’”

Rep. George Santos (D-NY) said a company later accused of running a “Ponzi scheme” was “100% legitimate” when it was accused by a potential customer of fraud in 2020, more than a year before it was sued by the SEC, CNN reports.

“Once the company, where he worked, came under federal scrutiny, Santos claimed publicly that he was unaware of accusations of fraud at the firm.”

Mother Jones: “As multiple investigations—federal, state, and local—envelope Santos and local Republicans demand he resign, one person who might be able to provide answers about his puzzling money trail is a veteran GOP operative named Nancy Marks, who was the the treasurer of Santos’ two congressional campaigns.”

“Not only was she a key part of his political machine—and deeply tied into Republican politics locally and nationally—she was a business partner of Santos. Her story, which has yet to draw much public examination, is an important component of the Santos tale.”

“The Supreme Court is allowing New York to continue to enforce a sweeping new gun law banning guns from ‘sensitive places’ such as schools and playgrounds for now while a court challenge plays out,” the AP reports.

“The justices on Wednesday turned away a plea by the law’s challengers. The gun owners wanted the high court to lift a federal appeals court order that temporarily put on hold a lower court decision blocking portions of the law. The appeals court hasn’t finished its review of the case, and justices are often reluctant to weigh in under those circumstances. The justices could still consider the case and the law more generally in the future.”

The last two years showed how hard it is to govern.  With very narrow majorities in the House and Senate, Democrats had to carefully balance competing interests — from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) on the right to the House Progressive Caucus on the left — to cobble together the votes to actually pass legislation.

Those divisions within the majority party make legislating difficult. Being in the minority is much easier.

Former Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) told the Associated Press that the splits we’ve seen within the House GOP should make it easier for Democrats to find common ground.  Said Israel: “I expect that House Republicans will pursue a vitriolic agenda that pleases their own base and that will keep Democrats united for the next two years.”

That’s a big shift in the political dynamics heading into the 2024 national elections. And Republican rifts will only widen as the party tries pursues their agenda — especially since the House leadership has empowered its most extreme members. Democrats will find it much easier to simply oppose what Republicans are doing. That unity is critical. Because in politics, the side that’s more divided usually loses.

Theodore Schleifer interviewed Sam Bankman-Fried, who is under House arrest at his parent’s house.

“During our time together — about one-third on the record, two-thirds off — Sam evinced his loneliness and his isolation, but also a hint of mysterious confidence, as if he could somehow wiggle his way out of his current predicament as he had in the past. He spoke carefully and repentantly when on the record, and loosely and almost gamely when off it.”

The Verge: “Parlement Technologies, the parent company of ‘censorship-free’ social media platform Parler, has laid off a majority of its staff and most of its chief executives over the last few weeks. The sudden purge of staff has thrown the future of Parler, one of the first conservative alternatives to mainstream platforms, into question.”

“Behind closed doors in 2017, President Donald Trump discussed the idea of using a nuclear weapon against North Korea and suggested he could blame a U.S. strike against the communist regime on another country, according to a new section of a book that details key events of his administration,” NBC News reports.

“Trump’s alleged comments, reported for the first time in a new afterword to a book by New York Times Washington correspondent Michael Schmidt, came as tensions between the U.S. and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un escalated, alarming then-White House chief of staff John Kelly.”

“The Republican-controlled Missouri House of Representatives used its session’s opening day Wednesday to tighten the dress code for female legislators, while leaving the men’s dress code alone,” the Washington Post reports.

“The changes were spearheaded by state Rep. Ann Kelley (R), a co-sponsor who was among the Republicans seeking to require women to wear a blazer when in the chamber. She was met by swift opposition from Democrats who called it ‘ridiculous.’”

“Western officials increasingly fear that Ukraine has only a narrow window to prepare to repel an anticipated Russian springtime offensive, and are moving fast to give the Ukrainians sophisticated weapons they had earlier refused to send for fear of provoking Moscow,” the New York Times reports.

The wife of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny said he was being held in a small prison cell with a sicker person to infect him, and was not allowed to lie down throughout the day despite having a fever, the New York Times reports.

“Republicans used their new power in the House on Wednesday to push through legislation that could subject doctors who perform abortions to criminal penalties, underscoring their opposition to abortion rights even as they stopped short of trying to ban the procedure,” the New York Times reports.

“The measure, the second policy bill Republicans have brought to the floor since taking control, has no chance of passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate.”

“Its consideration was an early effort by the G.O.P. to appeal to its conservative base, which has made opposition to abortion rights a litmus test, without alienating a broader group of more moderate voters that recoiled last year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, helping Democrats hold off an expected red wave.”

“Stephen Bannon has been ghosting his defense lawyers in his ‘We Build The Wall’ charity scam case for months, those lawyers said in a court appearance in Manhattan state court Thursday,” Insider reports.

“Prosecutors and the judge presiding over the case complained in court that Bannon’s ongoing refusal to speak directly to his previously-chosen legal team risks delaying the case, which has sputtered along in the months since his September arraignment on charges of money laundering, conspiracy, and scheme to defraud.”

Former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) told CNN the Republican party is moving past Donald Trump.

Said Ryan: “He’s fading fast. He is a proven loser. He cost us the House in ’18, he cost us the White House in ’20, he cost us the Senate again and again.”

He added: “I can’t imagine him getting the nomination, frankly.”

“The wife of an Iowa Republican who ran for Congress in 2020 was arrested Thursday and accused of casting 23 fraudulent votes on behalf of her husband,” Insider reports.

Elon Musk has set a Guinness World Record for the largest lost of personal fortune in history — about $182 billion, CBS News reports.

ABC News: “Pentagon data show a simple, troubling trend: Fewer and fewer young Americans want to serve, and due to obesity and other problems, fewer are qualified.”

Sen. Joe Manchin’s chief of staff, Lance West, is joining the American Petroleum Institute as vice president of federal affairs, Axios reports.

Within hours of being sworn in as the new governor of Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed an executive order Tuesday banning the term “Latinx” from official use in the state government, NBC News reports.

“Less than 40 percent of people over 65 have taken the updated booster shot that became available in the fall, according to the CDC, leaving millions with little protection against the latest strain sweeping the U.S.,” Politico reports.

Members of the House of Representatives now can get paid back for food, lodging and other expenses they incur while they’re on official business in Washington, D.C., Bloomberg Government reports.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) will undergo surgery this week after injuring his hip, The Hill reports.  It’s unclear how long Grassley will be out.

Authorities are investigating five separate shootings that appeared to target elected Democrats in New Mexico between Dec. 5 and Jan 5.

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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