The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

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

By David Hawkings, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Unlike most of his Republican analogues, Sen. Bernie Sanders is overtly trying to harness his senatorial work this fall to the service of his presidential campaign.

The evidence goes beyond his presence on the Senate floor, though on that front he stands out. Of the five senators trying to win the White House, the Vermont independent running as a Democrat has missed the fewest votes: just 14 this year, as of Tuesday, for a 95 percent attendance rate. Three of his colleagues running for the GOP nomination have missed 75 or more roll calls. (The exception is Kentucky’s Rand Paul, who’s only skipped five more ballots than Sanders.)

Merely showing up for work is hardly a predictor of success, of course. (Barack Obama made only 62 percent of the Senate votes the year before winning the presidency.) But it’s part of what helps Sanders to ward-off the sort of the criticism that has dogged Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida, who’s missed the most votes by far, and Ted Cruz of Texas, whose campaign has emphasized his disdain for the Senate’s ways under the management by his own party.

In contrast, Sanders is using the power of Senate incumbency to advance causes that highlight themes of his national campaign — that the Washington game is rigged to benefit the moneyed heavyweights at the expense of the little guy, and he’s the candidate to turn that balance of power on its head.

“That’s kind of what I’m paid to do,” he said on MSNBC last week about his attendance, adding that, “while it is difficult and very time-consuming to be a full-time candidate and to be a full-time senator, that is at the moment what I’m trying to do.”

To that end, fresh off a campaign rally in Cleveland on Monday afternoon, Sanders was on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee dais Tuesday morning, injecting a note of populist drama into what’s expected to be the relatively straightforward promotion of Robert M. Califf to head the Food and Drug Administration.

“People are dying and not buying the food they need because they have to pay outrageous prices for medicine,” Sanders told Califf, reiterating opposition he announced last month. “We have been extraordinarily weak at taking on the pharmaceutical industry that has been ripping off the American people. I believe we need a commissioner who is going to stand up to the pharmaceutical industry and protect American consumers. You are not that person.”

Califf became deputy FDA commissioner in February, after running a center at Duke University that conducts clinical trials for drug companies. It’s a background Sanders views as disqualifying, though almost all Democrats disagree and look highly likely to provide sufficient votes for confirmation.

The senator has more senatorial allies for the other cause that’s won him a spurt of “earned media” from the congressional press corps in recent weeks: His effort to obtain higher wages and union representation for the cafeteria workers on the Senate side of the Capitol.

Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour is a centerpiece of the Sanders platform, and when selling that idea he often points to the economic hardship of Senate food service workers trying to live on less in the Washington area.

And last week, he got 32 Democratic senators to sign his letter urging the Compass Group — which owns Restaurant Associates, the company that runs the food service _ to embrace unionization without requiring the workers to complete the usual petitioning process.

The past year of protests by the cafeteria workers “against low wages and poor working conditions,” the Sanders letter said, “have attracted negative publicity not only to your company but also to the institution of the Senate.” He added that the Senate “should serve as a model employer, and the workers who support the work of the U.S. Senate must be given the respect and opportunities they deserve.”

The senator has also used the bully pulpit of the Senate floor on several occasions in the past month to highlight differences with his main rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, mainly to position himself to her left on social issues.

In late October, only hours after Clinton told a New Hampshire town hall she supports the death penalty in “certain egregious cases,” Sanders went to his desk in the well and declared “the time is now for the United States to end capital punishment” because the government “should itself not be involved in the murder of other Americans.”

And two weeks ago, Sanders introduced a bill to end the federal criminalization of marijuana and permit states to decide whether to legalize its recreational or medicinal use. Clinton has proposed loosening federal restrictions and increasing research into pot’s medical benefits, but she remains opposed to legalization.

On that front, the former secretary of state and senator from New York remains closer to the sentiment of Senate Democrats, not one of whom has endorsed the Sanders legislation. None of the Vermonter’s Senate colleagues has endorsed his presidential campaign, while 33 of the 45 others in the Democratic caucus are formally backing Clinton. (So are 124 House Democrats, compared with just two in the Sanders camp, Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Raul M. Grijalva of Arizona.)

Those rosters of supporters underscore a continuing truth about the Sanders campaign: He’s a lifelong political independent who’s running as a Democrat for entirely practical reasons, and all his efforts to use his standing as a congressional insider to promote his personality as an establishment outsider may only carry him so far.

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders pauses to talk to the media before the start of the Milford Labor Day Parade in Milford, New Hampshire September 7, 2015. REUTERS/Mary Schwalm

Advertising

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

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.

Keep reading... Show less

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.

{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}