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Washington (AFP) – Bitter infighting between centrists and die-hard conservatives has shaken the Republican Party to its core, leading to a bruising battle that played a critical role in the government shutdown.

The Republican leadership was sparring with President Barack Obama and his Democrats over a path forward on funding government, but they were also fending off a challenge by a band of Tea Party Republicans hell-bent on unraveling Obama’s health care law.

With Democrats holding the White House and the Senate, many conservatives concluded they needed to hold their ground in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, or risk getting steamrolled by Obama’s agenda.

In recent weeks, as the clock ticked toward the end of the fiscal year on September 30, the die-hard conservatives made their stand: defund or delay so-called “Obamacare,” at virtually any cost.

The Tea Party faction includes 50-odd House conservatives who have largely thumbed their nose at the Republican establishment and camped out on the far right of party doctrine.

But behind closed doors they swing a big stick, leaning heavily on party leaders. They are often in opposition to mainstream Republicans on key votes.

They have been accused of stalling once-in-a-generation immigration legislation in the House, after it passed with bipartisan support in the Senate.

Many of them were swept into office in the 2010 election, following passage of the health care law, which they derided as socialized medicine. Constituents elected them as a counterweight to centrist — and, in their view, ineffectual — Republicans.

At the center of the storm is House Speaker John Boehner, the mostly-unruffled party leader whose style is at odds with the rebellious heart-on-their-sleeve ideology of the Tea Party.

Boehner was first elected to Congress in 1990, patiently climbing through the ranks to finally earn the Republican leadership mantle in January 2011.

Since then he has struggled to keep the right-wing faction at bay as he engaged in one fiscal standoff after another with the president.

Boehner was routinely criticized for his weak hold on the caucus, even for being “held hostage” by the far-right in such negotiations.

In the run up to the October 1 budget deadline, Boehner said he wanted to pass a stopgap government funding measure without any firm anti-Obamacare conditions attached.

But the strategy imploded thanks to a revolt by the Tea Party faction, who essentially forced Boehner to link Obamacare’s defunding or delay to the spending bill.

Boehner agreed, neither Republicans nor Democrats blinked, and the government lurched into shutdown.

This past week’s strategy has backfired so far, with several Republicans blaming the hard right for causing the shutdown and openly worrying that the legislative approach could harm the party’s chances in next year’s elections.

“It was never realistic to tie Obamacare to” government funding, Republican Senator Jeff Flake told AFP, expressing concern over possible lasting damage to the party brand. “I don’t think it ends well for us.”

Regardless of Republicans’ near-universal desire to repeal Obamacare, tensions within the party ranks soared over the strategy of pushing government to the brink over opposition to the health law.

On Monday, hours before the shutdown was to begin, Republican lawmaker Devin Nunes pulled no punches, describing his colleagues who were willing to force a shutdown over Obamacare as “lemmings with suicide vests.”

Republican Senator Bob Corker has also berated Tea Party senators for their positions.

“I think Speaker Boehner has a tough job,” said Corker. “Box canyons weaken us and we need to unite, we need to use our heads and we need to pull together.”

Tim Huelskamp, a second-term Tea Party Republican who once earned a rebuke from Boehner for his excessive criticism of leadership, dismissed the suggestion that the speaker was under the thumb of the hard-right.

“He’s been held hostage by 225 members,” Huelskamp said, referring to the overwhelming majority of House Republicans who voted Monday to delay Obamacare.

“At the end of the day it’s pretty hard to go home, particularly in a Republican primary, and say ‘Hey, I just let (Democratic Senate leader) Harry Reid get his way.'”


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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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