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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

WASHINGTON — Why is this political crisis different from all the others?

It’s different because Republicans are badly divided over the government shutdown while Democrats are united. President Obama and his party want to say, firmly and unequivocally, that they will never again give in to the Republicans’ abuses of the governing process — or to their willingness to risk catastrophe. In the GOP, by contrast, there was buyer’s remorse about the party’s current adventure even before it began.

It’s different because the Republicans are causing fiscal chaos over an issue quite apart from normal budget wrangling, and making a demand — for gutting the Affordable Care Act — that they know Democrats, especially the president, cannot meet.

It’s different because the new health care system got up and running on the very day the shutdown began. Conceding to the GOP would take health insurance away from people and ruin a program for which we now know there is a public appetite. It’s not going to happen.

It’s different because Obama is different. In the past, he was always ready to negotiate and typically went out of his way not to cast showdowns in partisan terms. This time, he’s freely calling out “House Republicans” as the culprits. He’s confident in asserting that serious talks can take place only if Republicans stop using threats to the country’s well-being as bargaining levers.

And it’s different because the Republicans have no coherent strategy. Their leaders, as one Republican put it to me, have been laying track just ahead of the train as it roars forward.

They are making insulting offers — for example, proposing to fund a few parts of the government that they cherry-pick while allowing the rest to languish. House Speaker John Boehner’s approach has been driven by fear: fear of the most right-wing House members, fear of rabid talk-show hosts, fear of the Frankenstein monster of fanatical organizations the party has relied upon to gin up the faithful.

The greatest insult Republicans issued was to the men and women who work for them. The GOP’s claim that members of Congress and their employees have an “exemption” from Obamacare is a lie. On the contrary, they are the only people in the country with an existing employer health plan who have been required to buy insurance on the ACA’s exchanges.

These are people who labor daily to make their bosses look good. Now Republicans have actually proposed that among the people in the country who already have insurance, these tireless souls become the only ones to give up the employer contribution to their premiums. This amounts to a pay cut ranging from about $5,000 for individuals to $12,000 for those with family coverage. I guess this is a pittance to politicians who spend their time thinking about millionaire “job creators.”

Maybe House Republican staffers should form a union.

This cynical attack on the living standards of their own really does show how entirely phony and political (in the very worst sense of that word) Republicans have been in creating this crisis. The government is shut for only one reason: Boehner wants to keep his job. This is not a sufficient cause for throwing hundreds of thousands of other people out of theirs. “This is the conservative right versus the reckless right,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Budget Committee Democrat. “The country should not become the victim of the Republican civil war.”

Which is why the only way out is for the growing number of Republicans on the responsible side of the skirmish to insist that the whole charade be called off. There should be negotiations all right, but on real budget issues, and for the long term — after the government is opened and the debt ceiling is raised. The House and Senate could then engage in the kind of normal compromise-seeking discussions that the GOP has so far resisted.

The right-wing minority that has plunged government into chaos should be treated for what it is: a narrow slice of public opinion whose power has been amplified by gerrymandered districts and a far-right echo chamber. It cannot expect to dictate to the nation’s majority.

The last election should have set the Republican Party on a more constructive path. Unfortunately, the governing wing of the GOP is still intimidated by the apocalyptic wreckers. This embarrassing chapter can only end when the wreckers are pushed to the sidelines. There, they will be free to spin their fantasies without endangering the republic.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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