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By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) rejected blame for an impasse in Congress that threatens to cut off funds for the Department of Homeland Security, saying Sunday that it was up to House and Senate leaders to chart a path.

“This was not my plan. This was leadership’s plan,” Cruz said on ABC’s This Week, referring to the stalled legislation that would fund the department while attempting to undo President Barack Obama’s recent immigration programs.

In December, “I said this plan doesn’t make sense,” Cruz said. “It gives away all our leverage, and it’s a plan that is designed to fail. So, I would ask leadership, this is their plan they designed. Let’s see what their next step is.”

Cruz’s comments on a pair of Sunday news shows extended a round of Republican finger-pointing over who is responsible for the showdown over the department’s budget and Obama’s immigration policies. Homeland Security funds are set to run out Feb. 28.

The showdown began in November, when conservative lawmakers demanded legislative retaliation for Obama’s executive action deferring deportation for up to 5 million people living in the U.S. illegally. Republican leaders sought unsuccessfully to win support for a plan to fund all government departments through the end of the government’s fiscal year. The two Republican factions agreed on a compromise that provided money for most of the government for the full year, but funded Homeland Security for just three months.

The idea of the compromise was that the GOP would have leverage to fight Obama anew this year. But so far, that plan has not worked.

In January the House passed a bill to fund the department and included amendments that would undo not only the actions Obama announced last fall, but a 2012 initiative that allowed more than half a million young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to temporarily remain in the U.S. Some Republicans in both the House and Senate argued that measure went too far.

Senate Democrats have blocked multiple attempts by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to open debate on the proposal, reflecting the limits of the conservative strategy.

Many in Washington call Cruz the instigator of the conservative plan. As Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH) urged the Senate to approve the House-passed bill, for example, he took the rare step of singling out Cruz as needing to do more to get the measure approved.

But the Texas senator sought to disavow the plan Sunday. Efforts to label him as the plan’s author were a “talking point for people who want to shift blame,” he said.

On CNN’s State of the Union, Cruz also sought to turn attention to Democrats, saying they were “holding national security hostage for partisan political objectives.”

“I’ve been willing to … take on my own party when my own party is not standing for the principles we’re supposed to stand for. It is time to see some Senate Democrats willing to take on their own president, but right now they’re putting partisan politics ahead of principle and that’s why they’re filibustering the funding for Homeland Security,” he said.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, in a separate interview on CNN, said the long-running uncertainty over his department’s budget has limited its ability to fulfill its mission.

If the funding runs out, most border security and transportation security officials would be required to work without pay. The department also would need to furlough 80 percent of the workforce for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Johnson warned.

“This is not a situation to make light of,” he said. “In these challenging times, we need a fully funded Department of Homeland Security right now.”

Democrats have echoed Johnson’s call for a so-called clean funding bill — one that would provide the money without any immigration provisions. Congress is scheduled to be in session for just two weeks before the deadline.

Asked Thursday if he knew what the Senate’s endgame was on the measure, Boehner bluntly replied: “No.”

“Listen, he’s got a tough job,” Boehner said, referring to McConnell. “God bless him and good luck.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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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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