Republican divisions were on full display Friday.
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”
Today's topic: 11 minutes.
Republicans censured Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. Plus, a question about the Democratic senator who is now in the hospital.
On Friday, we published a subscribers-only post on how Biden can get his approval rating back above 50%. It generated a lot of conversation and responses, so I wanted to plug it here in case you missed it. Give it a read and let us know what you think!
- Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) took the unusual step of endorsing each other during a joint interview on CNN. (The endorsements)
- The massive trucker protest against Covid-19 mandates in Canada is entering its second week, with demonstrations shutting down Ottawa, leading the mayor to declare a state of emergency. (The protests)
- Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who once represented adult film star Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against Donald Trump, was convicted of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in an attempt to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from Daniels. (The charges)
- Dozens of episodes of Joe Rogan's podcast were removed from Spotify after users dug up clips of him repeatedly using a racial slur on his show. Rogan apologized for the episodes in a video to fans over the weekend. (The apology)
- After weeks out of public view, Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai announced her retirement and again recanted her claims of sexual assault against a top Chinese official. (The announcement)
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The Republican censures. On Friday, the Republican party censured Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), marking a banner day for showcasing the party’s deepest fractures.
First, the Republican National Committee voted to censure Cheney and Kinzinger for their roles in the Jan. 6 investigation. Cheney and Kinzinger are the only Republicans on the congressional committee tasked with investigating the events of, and leading up to, that day. The RNC has accused them of being engaged in the "persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse," which RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said had "nothing to do" with the violence at the Capitol.
While the censure doesn’t formally expel Cheney and Kinzinger from the party, it does resolve to cut off support for them as politicians. The censure says the party will “immediately cease any and all support of them as members of the Republican Party for their behavior which has been destructive to the institution of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republican Party and our republic, and is inconsistent with the position of the Conference.”
Cheney responded to the censure by saying, "I do not recognize those in my party who have abandoned the Constitution to embrace Donald Trump… history will be their judge."
The censure drew criticism not just from Democrats, but also from Republicans. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney both condemned the censure, and Sen. Bill Cassidy tweeted: "The RNC is censuring Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger because they are trying to find out what happened on January 6th - HUH?" Rep. Don Young (R-AK) also criticized the censure, as did Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
On the same day, former Vice President Mike Pence rebuked former President Donald Trump, who has continued to claim Pence had the power to overturn the 2020 election and keep Trump in office. “President Trump is wrong,” Pence said at a gathering of the conservative Federalist Society in Florida. “I had no right to overturn the election.”
"Just saw Mike Pence’s statement on the fact that he had no right to do anything with respect to the Electoral Vote Count, other than being an automatic conveyor belt for the Old Crow Mitch McConnell to get Biden elected President as quickly as possible," Trump responded.
The censure and the back-and-forth between Trump and Pence set off commentary on the state of the party. With such a unified front against Democrats, and so much focus on the divisions inside the Democratic party since Biden took office, the day was a reminder about some real intra-party battles happening on the other side, too.
Below, we'll take a look at some reactions from the left and right, then my take. You can see our previous coverage of the Cheney-Trump dynamic here.
What the left is saying.
- The left says the censure is proof of Trump's complete ownership of the party.
- Many warn about what it means for the future of democracy.
- Some say Republicans are officially mired in Trump's lies about the election.
Greg Sargent said the punishment of Cheney was "vile" and shows Trump's impact on the party.
"In recent days, we’ve learned that Donald Trump fully intended to get the 2020 election 'overturned,' that he suggested law enforcement agencies could seize voting machines, and that, if elected in 2024, he might pardon those who violently attacked our seat of government, resulting in five dead and scores wounded," Sargent wrote. "So how is the GOP’s central committee responding to these developments? With new efforts to punish the two Republicans who most prominently think this conduct should be disqualifying to lead their party and should call forth a serious national reckoning and institutional response in defense of U.S. democracy.
"The censure resolution is explicit on why Cheney and Kinzinger are seen as such heretics. It declares that they want to 'destroy' Trump rather than help Republicans win the majority and that their committee is engaged in the 'persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.' This is an extraordinary and revealing set of claims," Sargent said. "The Republican Party’s official, openly declared position is that its long-term prospects are inextricably bound up with securing total impunity for an effort to overthrow our political order at its very foundations."
In The New Republic, Michael Tomasky said the Republican party can't be saved.
"We don’t always grasp the historic importance of events in real time, but rest assured that future historians, assuming the United States remains enough of a democracy to have honest ones, will point to Friday, February 4 as a pivotal day in the party’s war on democracy," Tomasky said. "Why? What makes the statement, passed by the Republican National Committee at its winter meeting in Salt Lake City, so special? There are many factors. It was passed by voice vote, without debate or discussion; the decision was made in about one minute’s time... As near as I can tell, it looks like two RNC members have gone on the record saying they shouted no: Bill Palatucci of New Jersey and Henry Barbour of Mississippi. Remember those names. I wonder what fate awaits them.
"In addition, the resolution was accompanied by the passage of a change to Rule 11, which stipulates that the party can’t take sides in a competitive GOP primary," Tomasky wrote. "That rule was changed specifically so that the party could officially endorse, and provide money and other support to, Harriet Hageman, one of several challengers Cheney will face in the Wyoming primary—and the one who has Donald Trump’s backing. So, a longstanding party rule has been changed specifically to destroy the career of one person. That, too, has a very Eastern bloc ring to it."
The Washington Post editorial board said the Republican party is taking an official stand against "truth and democracy."
"Over the past year, Republican leaders have chosen a different course, putting in their lot with the insurrectionists. Since Jan. 6, 2021, senior party officials have gone from acknowledging Mr. Trump’s guilt to punishing those, such as Ms. Cheney, who continue to speak up about a tragedy that no American should forget," the board wrote. "It remains to be seen what punishment former vice president Mike Pence will endure following a Friday speech in which he rebuked Mr. Trump’s claims that he could have overturned the election on Jan. 6.
"Republicans assailing Ms. Cheney and siding with Mr. Trump and his lies about the 2020 election are the ones who imperil the republic," they added. "By asserting, as their censure resolution did Friday, that truth is fiction and patriots are turncoats, they have exposed the dark, festering core of what their party is becoming: an unruly revolt against fact and reason that betrays the principles [that] leaders, such as former president Ronald Reagan, championed."
What the right is saying.
- The right is clearly divided.
- Many voters and pro-Trump pundits support the censure, hoping to oust Cheney and Kinzinger from the party.
- Some more traditional Republican voices view it as self-destructive and frightening.
In The Federalist, Jonathan Tobin said Cheney marks "the last stand" of the ancient Republican regime.
"Cheney has essentially burned her bridges to the party she grew up in by falsely claiming to be the ranking member of the [Jan. 6] committee and enthusiastically participating in its fishing expedition that seeks to drag in for questioning a wide array of former Trump administration officials, conservative media figures, and even Republican House colleagues who had nothing to do with the riot," Tobin wrote. "The race is being spun by the liberal mainstream media as a case of a brave, principled conservative standing up against an army of GOP zombies who have sold their souls to Trump... But as in the rest of the country, Wyoming conservatives understand that Trump’s populist defense of the working and middle class is a better fit for the party than one that seemed more in line with the interests of Wall Street.
"Republicans understand that Cheney’s acceptance of Democrats’ branding of not just the Capitol rioters or even Trump but all Republican voters as insurrectionist traitors targets them and their beliefs," he added. "Even if they aren’t still questioning the 2020 presidential election results, most Republicans seem to comprehend that the real threats to democracy are the McCarthyite tactics of the Jan. 6 Committee that Cheney is helping to lead and her Democratic allies’ attempts to silence dissent on the Internet."
On the Cheney censure, the Wall Street Journal editorial board said not to underestimate Republicans' ability to "blow" the November midterms.
"This kind of ritual purification is bad politics," the board wrote. "Republicans should be talking about President Biden’s $5 trillion spending plan, 7% inflation, and the Americans who are still trying to flee Afghanistan. Now the media is crowing because the RNC says Ms. Cheney and Mr. Kinzinger’s role in investigating Jan. 6 amounts to 'persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.'"
On Pence, the board said "Mr. Trump claims that Congress’s current talks to rewrite the Electoral Count Act of 1887 show Mr. Pence had the power to overturn electoral votes. But Congress isn’t debating this law because it agrees with Mr. Trump’s mistaken interpretation of what we and many others believe is an unconstitutional statute. The Members want to make sure that no one can pull Mr. Trump’s stunt again and misread the Electoral Count Act to use Congress and the Vice President to overturn an election despite losing in November."
In The Spectator, Jeffrey Lord said Kinzinger and Cheney are standing up for stolen elections.
When you consider that "the January 6 committee... has subpoenaed over 100-plus American citizens, scooping up the records of 'tens of thousands of moms, children, clergy, reporters, and Republican and conservative influencers who were in touch with everyone from White House aides to prominent activists' — all of this done with the consent of Kinzinger and Cheney — it is perfectly crystal clear who is on the side of voter integrity and the Constitution — and who is not," Lord wrote. "Additionally, Cheney has even released the private correspondence of members of the media — Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham — in a flagrant violation of the First Amendment.
"What amazes here is the chutzpah of both Kinzinger and Cheney," he added. "Turning facts upside down and inside out. Ignoring the most flagrant of examples of voter fraud right here in my own state of Pennsylvania and, in essence, saying that if you, at a minimum, have serious problems in an election, then the answer is to do nothing, deny the problem, and accuse the opponents of voter fraud who insist on respect for the Constitution of being opponents of the Constitution and voting integrity."
One day, I'm certain this entire episode will be used as a case-study in how political affiliations stick — and how polarization functions via ostracization and information bubbles.
It's hard to re-tell this story in short form, but if I tried it would look something like this: Republican voters send Trump to the White House to give the political establishment the middle finger for decades of malfeasance. Trump obliges, embracing a new grievance every day and making enemies of anyone who tries to stand up to him. For millions, he represents a president finally willing to say the quiet part out loud who is capable of withstanding the pressures that usually constrain conservative populism. Every victory was proof that he was underestimated and that you didn't need a career politician to get things done. Every failure was a result of interference by Democrats, establishment Republicans, shadowy government, and the corporate and institutional powers who loathed him and his supporters. The "deep state."
When Trump lost in 2020, it was easy for his supporters to see the hand of those powerful corporate and institutional powers at play once again. The events of January 6th and Trump's loss cleaved some of his more tenuous supporters (including, apparently, his own vice president), but also hardened support in other places. Now we are seeing one side going all in on Trump — the election was stolen, the "insurrectionists" were well-intentioned, the Republican party better move toward Trump or lose his base. The other side — the smaller, barely living remnants of Ronald Reagan’s GOP — views January 6th as the obvious conclusion to a Trump-like leader, and sees the threat of a repeat in 2024 if the party continues to embrace him.
I haven't been shy about Jan. 6, or my feelings on Trump, or the risk of his running again in 2024. If he runs — and especially if he runs on his current platform, which is that he can only lose if the race is stolen — it will be a frightening and combustible time for the country. Either outcome, a win or a loss, seems destined for political violence and instability. For those reasons alone I dread watching how this unfolds in the Republican party.
Cheney is not someone I'm inclined to defend. Kinzinger's pre-Trump record is a lot more admirable. But both get plaudits from me for sticking to their principles despite unbelievable pressure from their own party. Like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), they seem to have a fairly clear political ideology they are trying to represent, whether you agree with it or not. Unlike Manchin, their tack here is almost certainly going to end their political careers for good. I think censuring them is an absurd response and a self-destructive move for a party that could be winning on legitimate issues but is instead spending their political capital on this. That seemed apparent to some GOP leaders almost immediately.
GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel spent most of Friday defending the censure, saying she has repeatedly condemned political violence and "legitimate political discourse" had nothing to do with the violence at the Capitol. But the Jan. 6 committee isn't investigating legitimate political discourse. It's investigating the events that led up to the Capitol being breached and the violence that took place. For the party that still talked about Benghazi for a decade to attempt to wave away the need for an inquiry here stinks of pure hackery. For McDaniel to take the position that Cheney and Kinzinger are prosecuting legitimate political discourse and to then claim the Jan. 6 riots are not what she is referring to is a textbook case of talking out of both sides of your mouth.
What's frightening is that the litmus test for entry into the Trump-led GOP seems to be getting more extreme by the day. Heading into 2016, it was viewing the Clintons as a criminal family, supporting a border wall and loathing the Bush-era establishment Republicans. This was a natural outgrowth of the Newt Gingrich era. In 2020, it was a belief that the Trump-Russia investigation was a witch hunt, that the impeachment was a farce, and that the Biden family was hiding its own foreign criminal enterprise.
Now, it appears that unless you are willing to claim Biden was unlawfully elected, the election was stolen, and Jan. 6 is being overblown by the liberal media and Republicans like Cheney and Kinzinger, you can no longer count on the support of the Republican kingmakers. This isn't just another escalation, but it does beg the question what comes next. If this is the litmus test now, heading into the 2022 midterms when Trump isn't even on the ballot, what happens in 2024 when he is?
And what happens after that?
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Your questions, answered.
Q: Is Sen. Ben Ray Luján's absence a big deal? Why aren't more people talking about it?
— Alyssa, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Tangle: Frankly, I'm shocked it isn't the talk of the town. In case you don't know: Sen. Luján is a Democrat from New Mexico who just had a stroke and underwent surgery. The 49-year-old is still in the hospital, and while he is expected to make a full recovery it could be weeks until he is back in the Senate. Which, not to be insensitive about Luján's situation, is a huge issue for Democrats.
They only have a 50-50 majority in the Senate with Harris as the tie breaking vote. Now they are effectively a minority party. First and foremost it means their effort to appoint a successor to Stephen Breyer will be on hold until Luján returns.
It also means Democrats have to adjust their schedule. They can't push through a smaller Build Back Better via reconciliation with 49 votes, even if they had them. They can't push forward new judicial nominees on the federal circuit. It will, in many ways, force whatever priorities exist over the next few months to be those that can garner bipartisan support. And that's assuming Luján is well enough to return in a few weeks, which is no sure thing. I am definitely keeping an eye on this.
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A story that matters.
In a move toward "normalcy," New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D) is planning to end student and school employee mask mandates. Murphy is set to announce the end of the mandates on Monday afternoon, and the new policy will take effect the second week of March. The announcement comes after a similar move from Pennsylvania's Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. “The overwhelming sentiment on both sides of the aisle,” Murphy said on Wednesday, “is we want to get to a place where we can live with this thing in as normal a fashion as possible.” New Jersey is among 11 of the country's most populous states that have made mask wearing mandatory for all students. Some 65% of the country's largest 500 school districts have full or partial mask requirements. The New York Times has the story.
- $2 million. The amount of money Liz Cheney raised over the final three months of 2021.
- $443,000. The amount of money Harriet Hagemen, Cheney's Trump backed challenger, raised over the final three months of 2021.
- 1.3%. The percentage of Cheney's money ($25,830) that came from individual in-state donors.
- 43%. The percentage of Hageman's money ($188,850) that came from individual in-state donors.
- 70.4%. The percentage of the vote in Wyoming that was won by former President Trump in the 2020 election.
Have a nice day.
Arizona resident Robert Taylor was playing the slot machines at Treasure Island Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas when he won the jackpot. But he never even knew it. Thanks to a "communications error" in the machine, Taylor wasn't made aware that he had hit the jackpot and the machine did not dispense his winnings. So when the Nevada Gaming Control Board realized what had happened, it began an investigation to track Taylor down and award him his prize. "The investigation to find Taylor involved reviewing multiple hours of surveillance video, interviewing witnesses, reviewing electronic records and analyzing ride-share information," Yahoo News reported. Taylor was finally found and, 20 days after leaving the casino, was alerted that he had won $229,000.
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