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Trey Gowdy Joins Record Number Of GOP Lawmakers Leaving Capitol Hill

Just minutes before South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy announced that he would forego a bid for reelection to the House of Representatives, a train carrying several GOP lawmakers crashed into a truck in Virginia.

The accident killed the truck’s driver and injured several members of Congress, making it no laughing matter. But it’s hard not to notice the symbolism of a Republican party on track toward disaster in November.

Gowdy tweeted on Wednesday morning that he intends to leave Capitol Hill, quoting the Bible and expressing a desire to return to the judicial branch. “Whatever skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than in Congress, and I enjoy our justice system more than our political system,” he wrote.

That makes sense on a few levels. The 53-year-old is a former prosecutor who has driven colleagues to frustration with a stubborn resolve to beat investigatory dead horses, including Benghazi, since winning South Carolina’s Fourth District in 2011. He is currently chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and chaired the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which blew up as an embarrassment to the Republican leadership.

Taken in context, Gowdy’s decision underscores a trend of House Republicans dropping out of midterm races before they can even begin. By January 31, a total of 33 incumbent GOP lawmakers have announced that they will not run for reelection in 2018, compared to just 15 Democratic reps who will not seek another term. Nine of them are committee chairs, another extraordinary statistic.

On average, only 22 members of the U.S. House of Representatives decide not to defend their seats in a given election cycle.

Other GOP incumbents who are retiring or otherwise not seeking midterm reelection include Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona,Orrin Hatch of Utah and that state’s Rep, Jason Chaffetz.  Hatch is currently the longest-serving Republican in the Senate.

Is there a Trump effect? Saddled with a President whose job approval ratings have hit several historic lows, speculation is rampant that Republicans in Congress are quitting while they’re ahead. Generic polling for November favors Democrats, and the president manages to inflame the public with harsh rhetoric and blundering policy moves each time the GOP begins to gain ground.

Republicans seem to be running scared. As Russell Berman of The Atlantic writes, “If you want to see a political wave forming a year before an election, watch the retirements…2018 is shaping up ominously for Republicans.”

Gowdy might be misled from an ideological point of view, but nobody can accuse him of being a dummy. Like a record number of fellow GOP members, “The Bulldog” is finding an exit door before Trump burns the whole house down.

Trump’s One Great Accomplishment? Implicating The Entire GOP In Potentially Impeachable Crimes

You don’t have to be a foreign agent to work for Donald Trump.

You don’t need decades of association with a Nazi-allied group.

You don’t even need to be a liar, though that is necessary if you’re going to say that Trump “has given more financial disclosure than anybody else” when he hasn’t even released one tax return, after promising to release them dozens of times, becoming the first president not to make this bare minimum of disclosure in more than 45 years.

The only absolutely necessary qualification to work for or with Trump is a willingness to abet his potentially impeachable crimes. And the good news for Trump is that nearly his entire party is proving that their prime concern is covering up his potential wrongdoing — even from themselves.

Last week, only one Republican in the House voted for a measure that would have required Trump disclose his tax returns and the official visitor logs to the White House. The Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into Russia’s interference with our elections is still being run by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), a member of Trump’s transition team, who is reportedly slow-walking the entire process, ideally into irrelevance.

But despite their best efforts, the weight of the evidence demanding scrutiny of Trump’s campaign and presidency hasn’t been squelched.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who led the House investigation until it became obvious even to Republicans that he was more interested in abetting Trump’s abuses of power than examining anything Russia or Trump did, had to recuse himself. As did Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), whose sudden decision to retire from the House and his roost as chairman of the House Oversight Committee this term suggests that his imagined job of inventing Hillary Clinton scandals is nowhere near as much fun as concealing Donald Trump scandals.

Since Chaffetz made that announcement, he is suddenly doing some oversight into Trump’s possible violations of the Emoluments Clause and General Michael Flynn’s lack of disclosures of foreign payments in his background checks. But he’s still echoing the White House’s ridiculous accusation that Flynn’s background check can all be blamed on the Obama administration.

Trump is arguing that he didn’t trust Obama to vet refugees or his own birth certificate, but relied on his earlier endorsement of a general whom Obama later fired?

Abetting this nonsense is one thing. But when Trump repeatedly rejects the consensus opinion that Russia interfered in our elections after parroting Russia propaganda and celebrating the disclosures of Wikileaks, an organization his CIA director now calls “a hostile intelligence agency” — and his party fails to rebuke him en masse — then the choice made by that party is clear.

The GOP as a whole may not have been a part of the (alleged) crimes, but it’s all in on the coverup.

The question isn’t whether there is a case to be made for the impeachment of Donald Trump, but which case is the most compelling.

On Slate’s Trumpcast, Harvard law professor Noah Feldman convincingly argued that there are actually three cases for impeachment: corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of democratic norms, all potentially impeachable crimes.

Corruption is pretty obvious. You’re not supposed to use the presidency as a pop-up ad for the hundreds of businesses you still own and from which you directly benefit.

“In this constitutional sense, using the perks and tools of government to enrich the president personally is an impeachable offense, an offense that would grow out of a pattern of such acts of corruption,” Feldman wrote, noting that the odd advertisement for the president’s Mar-A-Lago resort that showed up on a State Department site this week could fit this pattern.

Is there an honest person alive who doesn’t believe Trump is using this office to enrich himself right now?

Abuse of power comes when you, say, accuse a former president of impeachable crimes with no proof or understanding of the law you suggest he broke. Or it could be from targeting the press as enemies of the people.

The Russia stuff, which has convinced many on the left that treason occurred in the Trump campaign, is the most complicated case to make, given that the alleged wrongdoing took place before the president took office. But the White House’s refusal to participate, for instance, in disclosing Mike Flynn’s entanglements or communication as National Security Advisor suggest that there could be a case for potential high crimes in office. Likewise, any attempt to reward a foreign interest for interfering in the 2016 election would be impeachable, Feldman suggests.

Democrats in Congress will be reluctant to mention the “I” word for fear of turning off “moderates.” This clinging to past propriety lingers on the left, despite America electing a birther who called Mexican immigrants rapists and couldn’t identify his own health care bill with the help of Google.

Yet it’s clear the GOP is rotting from the head. So the “I” word Democrats need to stress is independent investigation.

Two out of three Americans want such to see a commission that seeks the facts about Russia’s involvement in the Trump campaign, without the skew of partisanship. Conceivably, such a process could end in full absolution for Trump, but the public senses that something is amiss and is being hidden from them. And that alone is an indictment of the entire Republican Party.

 

Better And Cheaper Health Coverage? Not Very Likely

For all their claims to morality, family values, and Christianity, members of the Republican Congress show a troubling hostility to the poor. Despite their professed piety — House Speaker Paul Ryan wears his Catholicism like a neon badge — they seem ignorant of the precepts of the New Testament.

Just look at the GOP’s approach to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The bill that is making its way through the House would, among other things, pare back Medicaid, which provides health insurance for those in poverty. The ACA encourages the expansion of Medicaid, and, as a result, millions of poor people now have health insurance for the first time in their lives.

But Republicans are aghast at the concept of caring for those in need; they view compassion as weakness and generosity as wasteful. While the GOP has been the party of the haves for generations, its recent incarnations have added a walloping dose of contempt for the have-nots.

The sainted Ronald Reagan spread the notion that poor people had less because they were lazy and that helping them just made them worse off. The ultra-rich Mitt Romney, for his part, characterized half the country as takers who didn’t pay their fair share.

Romney’s assertion included, by the way, not only the poor, but also many of those white working-class voters who gave President Donald Trump his electoral margin of victory. Those Trump supporters are in for a bitter awakening: They will also suffer in the new order, as some will learn when they lose their newly acquired health insurance.

Of course, very few lawmakers are impolitic enough to publicly voice their contempt for the less affluent. But every now and then, one of them is caught saying what he thinks (as Romney was when he was secretly recorded).

Just the other day, U.S. Rep Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, shared his condescension in an interview with CNN: “Americans have choices, and they’ve got to make a choice. So rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.”

Well, there’s a problem with Chaffetz’s comparison. First, most poor people don’t own iPhones. But if they did, the fancy cellphone would be a lot cheaper than health insurance.

According to Health Pocket, a website that helps consumers navigate the health insurance marketplace, the cheapest insurance plan available to a 30-year-old costs about $311 a month, or $3,732 a year. (Under Obamacare, government subsidies brought that cost down substantially.) The iPhone 7 can be purchased for less than $700.

Still, Chaffetz’s disturbing response panders to the racial resentment that has long been the animating force behind widespread opposition to Obamacare. Many GOP voters believe incorrectly that people of color benefit more than whites from the ACA.

Indeed, several researchers have studied the relationship between racial bias — much of it implicit or subconscious — and opposition to Obama’s policies, especially Obamacare. One study found that white voters who said they didn’t like the ACA were supportive of exactly the same plan when it was associated with Bill Clinton.

The fact is that more white Americans have gained insurance through the ACA than black Americans. White Americans, moreover, constitute the largest single ethnic group who benefit from Medicaid. Nationwide, 41 percent of those who receive Medicaid are white, while 22 percent are black and 25 percent are Hispanic, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. (The remaining recipients are “other,” Kaiser says.)

Trump managed to persuade a lot of those white Americans that he would give them better and cheaper health insurance.

“Everybody’s got to be covered,” he told 60 Minutes in 2015. “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”

That’s not going to happen. Trump was too smart to ridicule the have-nots while he was on the campaign trail, but his policies are still going to give them the shaft.

Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.

IMAGE: Don Ariosto / Flickr

5 Republican Disgraces You Missed This Week

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Every day in Donald Trump’s America is seemingly dumber, crueler, and more exhausting than the one that preceded it. This week alone saw the president’s pick for labor secretary withdraw his name from consideration, a story that was all but eclipsed by the still greater scandal of Michael Flynn’s resignation from the National Security Council amidst charges of collusion with the Russian government.

While it’s tempting to believe the centrifugal force of Trump’s cracked brand of authoritarianism will pull his presidency apart, the reality is that he remains enormously popular with Republican voters and the party’s craven politicians are unlikely to take any kind of action that could alienate them. Even if he were miraculously impeached or removed from office through the 25th Amendment, America would be left with President Mike Pence, arguably an even darker fate than the dystopian timeline in which we find ourselves.

What is clear is that to a man, from the preening “mavericks” to the proud white supremacists, the GOP is entirely complicit in the horrors of this administration. Every unconstitutional executive order, every denigration of the country’s citizenry and press comes with the party’s seal of approval. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may not like what the president is saying, but he likes what he’s doing.

What follows are five Republican disgraces you might have missed this week watching Donald Trump combust:

1. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) huddles with National Front Leader Marine Le Pen

The Iowa congressman has been one of Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters since the Republican primary. He’s also infamously argued that white people have contributed more to civilization than any other “subgroup.” Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that he sat down Monday with Marine Le Pen, a French reactionary making her own bid for president on a campaign of unapologetic xenophobia.

Le Pen made headlines of her own last week when she called on French Jews to renounce their dual citizenship with Israel and abandon use of yarmulkes in public spaces — part of a larger ban on religious attire primarily targeted at French Muslims. That didn’t stop King from glowing about the two countries’ “shared values” on Twitter, although with Steve Bannon’s liver pulsing in the West Wing, it’s safe to wonder if the congressman’s words contain more than a flicker of truth.

2. Rep. Jason Chafetz (R-UT) won’t even mask his villainy

The Utah congressman, who once said he wouldn’t be able to look his daughters in the face if he continued to support Donald Trump, began the week by accusing rowdy demonstrators at a recent town hall of being paid protesters. But he was only getting warmed up. Three days later, on the heels of Michael Flynn’s stunning ouster from the National Security Council, the chairman of the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform declared there was no need for further inquiry. “It’s working itself out,” he told reporters with a smirk.

Chaffetz finally called for an investigation on Thursday — not of the national security advisor who could have shared sensitive intelligence information with a hostile foreign government, but of the leakers responsible for his resignation. And yet the coup de grce arrived the following morning when he announced that he would be seeking criminal charges against the State Department employee who helped Hillary Clinton set up her server.

If America emerges from Trump’s authoritarian regime mostly intact, Chaffetz may be remembered as his single greatest enabler.

3. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) lets the truth slip

Rep. Jason Chaffetz makes no apologies about putting party over country, but he’s hardly alone. Sen. Rand Paul echoed the Utah congressman by suggesting that membership in the GOP itself should preclude an elected official from public scrutiny. “I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party,” he droned to the “Kilmeade and Friends” radio show. “We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense.”

Paul has no interest in the Trump administration’s possible ties to a violent autocrat. He just wants to get down to the hard work of stripping tens of millions of Americans of their health insurance, if you don’t mind.

4. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) says he’s committed to fighting authoritarianism with a straight face

The Arizona senator was in Germany this week as part of party-wide blitz to assure Western Europe that the U.S. is still committed to its alliances — a campaign that has, incidentally, proven largely unsuccessful. “[The founders] would be alarmed by an increasing turn away from universal values and toward old ties of blood and race and sectarians,” he told the Munich conference. “They would be alarmed by the growing inability — and even unwillingness — to separate truth from lies. They would be alarmed that more and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent.”

Noble sentiments one and all. If only John McCain hadn’t endorsed a proto-fascist who openly mocked his war record; or waited until the release of an audio tape cataloguing his sexual abuses before retracting said endorsement; or taken literally any action to impede the rise of the very politician he now coyly refuses to identify by name. Let’s give Gizmodo’s Alex Pareene the final word on the maverick who isn’t.

5. The Senate Committee confirms Scott Pruitt to the EPA

By a vote of 52-46, a Republican-controlled Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt as the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency Friday — four days before the release of emails between Pruitt and fossil fuel companies ordered by a federal judge in Oklahoma. The two Democratic votes belonged to Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), hailing from oil-rich and coal-rich states respectively.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt has challenged the existence of man-made climate change and sued the EPA over its efforts to limit carbon emissions, regulate smog pollution ,and protect wetlands and streams, all of which apparently qualifies him to lead the federal agency itself. In a related story, scientists warn Arctic ice melt could trigger uncontrollable climate change at a global level.

Jacob Sugarman is a managing editor at AlterNet.

IMAGE: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul speaks at the Growth and Opportunity Party at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, October 31, 2015.  REUTERS/Brian C. Frank