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By David Lauter, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Little noticed amid the will-they-or-won’t-they speculation over who will run for the 2016 Republican nomination, leading figures in both parties now agree to a surprising extent about what economic problem will top the next president’s agenda. Whether either side can come up with a convincing solution remains to be seen.

Marco Rubio’s description of the problem sounds a lot like the way Hillary Rodham Clinton or even Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts would put it:

“Something structural has shifted” in the U.S. economy, Rubio writes in his new book, American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone. “For most Americans, wages are stagnant. Old jobs have been outsourced or automated …. Middle-class families are living paycheck to paycheck, juggling bill payments to stay one step ahead of debt collection agencies.” And, he adds, “the blame for this failure belongs to both parties in Washington, D.C.”

The bipartisan — although by no-means unanimous — agreement that wage stagnation has become America’s paramount economic problem draws on powerful evidence. An American family whose income lies at the middle of the scale made less in 2014 than in 2000 when inflation is considered. Although the overall economy has grown, the lion’s share has gone to those at the top of the pyramid.

The persistence of the problem through the presidencies of Democrats and Republicans alike mocks any plan that proposes to just pursue previous policies with more vigor. And so both sides have cast about for new — or at least new-seeming — ideas.

That search fits well with Rubio, the youthful, energetic conservative who has been the subject of presidential speculation almost since the moment he won a Florida Senate seat in 2010. At age 43, he would very much like to present himself as a fresh alternative to a more senior generation of Republicans that includes Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush.

His book seems aimed at bolstering his claim, if he decides to run, that he is the new ideas candidate of the 2016 Republican field. Borrowing heavily from white papers produced by “conservative reform” intellectuals who include Yuval Levin, Peter Wehner and Reihan Salam, the book consists of a series of policy proposals leavened by anecdotes about people Rubio has met in his career and tales of his family history, which readers of his previous book, a memoir, will find familiar.

Several of Rubio’s ideas have potential for bipartisan support. Expanding wage supplements for low-income workers through the tax system, for example, broadly resembles an idea that President Obama outlined in last year’s budget, although Democrats would object to Rubio’s plan to pay for it by cutting benefits elsewhere.

Similarly, Rubio’s support for legalizing many of the millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally leaves him much closer to the White House than to the rejectionist majority in the House Republican caucus, even though he now says reform must be accomplished through three separate bills rather than all at once.

Other ideas, such as a “regulatory budget” to limit new rules, increasing the Social Security retirement age or revamping Medicare with a voucher system, hew closely to conservative orthodoxy and have been denounced by Democrats for years.

What none of the ideas do is add up to a plan that clearly seems capable of overcoming powerful trends that have held down wages — globalization, technological change, the decline of unions, a waning of the U.S. edge in education. If tax cuts and restrictions on government regulations were the answer, 20 years of Republican presidencies under Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes presumably would have solved the problem long ago.

Still, Rubio has crafted an appeal aimed directly at the concerns of voters at the center of the U.S. electorate.

The same cannot be said for Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and Fox TV commentator. His new book, God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, could easily be subtitled “My side’s better than yours.”

Unlike Rubio, Huckabee preaches only to the choir — the Southern, white, churchgoing conservatives who inhabit what he labels “Bubba-ville.” The book feeds their sense of grievance that they are looked down upon by the residents of Los Angeles, New York and Washington (“Bubble-ville”) even as it stokes feeling of moral superiority.

Although a charitable and generous man in much of his career, Huckabee has written a somewhat mean-spirited book.

Those who enjoy watching the back-and-forth on cable television will find the style familiar and some of the one-liners too.

Commenting on Beyoncé’s appearance with her husband, Jay Z, at the 2013 Grammys, for example, he has this to say: “Jay Z is a very shrewd businessman, but I wonder: Does it occur to him that he is arguably crossing the line from husband to pimp by exploiting his wife as a sex object?”

“Liberals,” he writes, hypocritically allow “such hateful and exploitative treatment of women” to go unchallenged “when it’s performed by ‘cool’ people like Jay Z and Beyoncé.” But, he adds, “they’re contributing to a culture that is abrasive, rude, obnoxious and just plain mean,” one that “is not that far a journey to believing that some people are not fully human, that they’re disposable and expendable.”

That’s “the same root evil that created slavery, genocide, ‘honor killings’ and the Holocaust,” he says.

From Beyoncé to the Holocaust in under two pages. That takes some skill. Whether it’s a skill voters look for in a president is questionable.

And, speaking of “contributing to a culture that is abrasive, rude, obnoxious and just plain mean,” consider the title Huckabee gives the chapter in which he denounces the Transportation Security Administration and the National Security Agency for infringing on American freedoms: “Bend Over and Take It Like a Prisoner!” Apparently, he finds references to anal rape amusing or at least suitable as an attention-getting metaphor for submission to authority.

Campaign books don’t necessarily say much about how a politician would govern, but they do tell a lot about how author/candidates hope to be perceived by voters.

Rubio clearly hopes to balance his relative inexperience — less than one full term in the Senate, much like Obama — with a heavy emphasis on ideas. And while remaining true to his conservative roots, he has embraced some proposals that could allow him to reach beyond the Republican base.

Huckabee, by contrast, seems content to rally his core supporters. It’s a strategy that could, perhaps, win an early primary or two — particularly with a crowded field — but that ultimately seems aimed more at increased notoriety than ultimate victory.

Photo: jbouie via Flickr

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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.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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