Washington Whispers: Wanted for Attempted Murder—the GOP
By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
It is time for some straight talk. Democracy is being murdered right in front of us. Its assailants are coming at it from all directions at once.
Democracy is being drowned by means of voter suppression laws proposed and/or passed by Republican-controlled legislatures in a myriad number of states. Legislatures are inflicting deadly blows with phony election audits.
Democracy is being strangled by Mitch McConnell-led filibusters including the one on May 28, killing bipartisan legislation to establish an independent commission that would investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol and inform an effort to prevent it from happening again.
And on Memorial Day weekend, Trump’s disgraced former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, in plain language, advocated a Myanmar-style coup; that is, violent overthrow of the U.S. government. If Flynn and Trump’s other coup-mongers have their way, anything left of democracy after the filibusters, phony audits and voter suppression will be trampled to death by an anti-democratic mob.
While Flynn and his ilk rile up the QAnon true believers with lies and conspiracy theories, their compatriots in Congress are aiding and abetting them by denying the January 6 attack on the Capitol was a violent assault, and stalling investigation that could help prevent the next one.
Meanwhile, Putin, who is well acquainted with the playbook for killing democracy, and may even have instructed Trump & Co. in it, cheers them on from afar. As recently as June 4, Putin defended the insurrectionists, saying, “these are not looters or thieves, these people came with political requests.”
Absent 100 smoking guns, it’s difficult to find anyone who will stop addressing the danger of these manifold offensives individually, and instead argue that they are coordinated. But, how can they not be?
The Set-up and First Try at a Coup
Trump prepared the ground for a coup by whining loudly and often, for months before the election, that it was going to be stolen from him. In the September Trump-Biden debate, when asked by moderator Chris Wallace whether he would urge white supremacist groups that caused violence at protests to “stand down,” Trump publicly said the Proud Boys, a violent hate group, should “stand down and stand by.” In December, Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio visited the White House, claiming he was invited. When the press reported that fact, White House spokesman Judd Deere said Tarrio was on a public White House Christmas tour, and that he did not have a meeting with the President. The New York Times reported on March 5 that the FBI determined there was call record data tying a Proud Boys member to someone within the Trump White House in the days just before the January 6 assault, though the FBI had no information on what was discussed.
On January 4, a judge banned Tarrio from D.C. based on charges that he had vandalized an historic church’s Black Lives Matter banner in December and had been caught in possession of two high-capacity firearm magazines when returning to Washington in January. So Tarrio himself was not present on January 6. But his Proud Boys were in the vanguard of the Capitol attack.
According to CNN, at an Oval Office meeting in the last weeks of Trump's presidency, Michael Flynn suggested that Trump could invoke martial law to overturn the election.
At Trump’s January 6 “Save America” rally, he had Rudy Giuliani whipping up the thousands of pro-Trumpers with exhortations to conduct “trial by combat” against lawmakers as those lawmakers prepared to vote to certify the electoral College results for Biden. Meanwhile, their cohorts inside the Capitol were busy challenging and slowing that process.
Anyone with eyes and a TV set was able to see the vicious attack on the Capitol in real time. We also know of the calls for aid, President Trump’s long public silence, and the delay of his handpicked Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller to permit deployment of the D.C. National Guard. There were reports that right wing members of Congress may have given the attackers tours of the Capitol the day before the assault, and that Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado was texting about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s movements during the onslaught. How could this not smell of a possible setup? How could it not scream INVESTIGATION NEEDED?
But Mitch McConnell cannily prevented any impeachment trial for Trump’s role in the attack until after the President was out of office. Then McConnell used the fact Trump was no longer president as an excuse for refusing to convict—despite the plethora of damning evidence presented by House Impeachment managers. Likewise, McConnell has blocked creation of an independent commission to investigate the assault.
If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again
A mere four months later, propagandists like Senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Andrew Clyde of Georgia, and Representatives Pat Fallon of Texas and Paul Gosar of Arizona are claiming there was no insurrection at all. That those entering the Capitol on January 6 were well-behaved tourists strolling calmly through the Capitol taking photos.
Meanwhile, at the Memorial Day For God & Country Roundup in Dallas, Flynn was rousing the rabble to further insurrection, advocating violent overthrow of the United States government. Specifically, an audience member asked, "I wanna know why what happened in Myanmar can't happen here?" Flynn replied, "No reason. I mean it, it should happen here." The right-wing crowd roared its approval, and Flynn added, “That’s right.”
Myanmar, formerly called Burma, suffered a coup d’état in February, in which the military deposed the democratically elected members of the National League for Democracy, and prevented the Parliament from swearing in the members elected in their 2020 election. The military detained the president and state counsellor along with ministers, their deputies and members of the Parliament. Subsequently, the military regime, operating under a self-proclaimed state of emergency, has murdered, tortured, or detained those protesting its takeover. This is the type of coup that Flynn was saying should happen here.
The next day, in a written statement on Telegram, a social media network used by right-wing extremists, Flynn claimed that he had not said it, that reporters were “manipulating” his words, and pretended to backtrack, saying that there is no reason for a coup in America. But his words were on video.
A day earlier at the same event, attorney Sidney Powell, who had been on Trump’s post-election legal team (until taken off it because of her outlandish conspiracy statements) claimed that former President Donald Trump could "simply be reinstated" as president and fill the rest of President Joe Biden's term. Powell said, "It should be that [Trump] can simply be reinstated, that a new inauguration date is set."
Subsequently, according to the New York Times, Trump has been telling some people he expects to be reinstated to the presidency by August.
MSNBC’s Steve Bennen opined that “there is literally no scenario in which Trump will return to the White House unless he runs and wins again in 2024. The election cannot be ‘undone.’ The former president cannot be ‘reinstated.’ This entire line of thought is stark raving mad.”
Bennen’s reaction dangerously dismisses what is happening. While there is no lawful way in which the legitimate 2020 election can be “undone,” plenty of madmen have attempted coups, and many of them have succeeded.
In furtherance of the stolen election lie, Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature ordered a new phony election audit by Cyber Ninjas, a company owned by Trump supporter Doug Logan. Logan, who promoted conspiracy theories about the election, has never done this work before, and isn’t certified by the federal government to test voting systems. Cyber Ninja’s audit has ruined Arizona’s voting machines for future use and tainted ballots. But Republican legislators from Pennsylvania nevertheless toured the operation on June 2 with the intent of doing the same in their state, and other states’ Republican-controlled legislatures may soon be following suit. Apparently, Trump’s acolytes will not stop recounting until, by hook or by crook, they get the result they want. But it is even worse than that.
Marc Elias, an attorney specializing in election law, voting rights, and redistricting
told MSNBC that lawsuits alone against phony audits and restrictive voting laws will not be enough, that “we win lawsuits and they pass new laws.” In continuing to challenge these laws in court, Elias sees his role as “buying time for democracy.” He warns that the danger to democracy is not just that a Big Lie is being perpetuated by these faux audits, but that, with the state legislatures’ involvement, this fabrication has become “a pillar of the State,” giving it the “veneer of officialness.” This institutionalizes the Big Lie.
In addition, under the guise of protecting “voting integrity,” Republican-controlled legislatures in numerous states have passed or are in the process of passing a variety of laws to limit who can vote. These laws include restrictions on the use of ballot drop boxes as well as who can collect and drop off ballots; the removal of people from early voting lists if they don’t cast a ballot at least once every two years; and the criminalization of the distribution of food or water to those waiting to vote at polling stations.
They also provide for heavy civil fines and criminal penalties—including possible prison sentences—for elected officials who send absentee ballots to voters who haven’t requested them (but no fine or penalty for officials who wrongly deny voting access to eligible voters). Some states are shortening the voting hours on Election Day. And where the Secretary of State is a Democrat, some Republican legislatures have replaced the Secretary’s authority over elections with their own.
Furthermore, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, Republican lawmakers in 20 states have introduced at least 40 bills expanding the powers of poll watchers. Many of these laws would replace nonpartisan poll watchers with partisan poll watchers who can intimidate both voters and election workers.
During the 2020 election, Donald Trump partisans targeted Democratic and Black communities, such as those in Detroit, trying to storm polling places where election workers were counting votes. The Republican-controlled legislature in Michigan is now proposing to exacerbate the disruption by barring nonpartisan observers from acting as poll watchers, allowing only partisan challengers to do so.
A bill in Texas would also institute criminal penalties for officials who limit the movements of poll watchers in the polling areas. And, according to The Intelligencer, the Texas bill would lower the evidentiary bar for judges to find elections fraudulent.
How Can These Attacks on Democracy Be Countered?
There are some Democratic politicians in Washington, D.C. who are flagging the danger of these various offensives. But they are not raising the alarm on this real danger with an intensity equal to that of the Republican rabble-rousers.
Why is no one pointing out that while right wing QAnon adherents insanely accuse Democrats of being Deep State Satan-worshipping pedophiles, it is Trump and associates who partied with Jeffrey Epstein, an accused child sex-trafficker?
Why isn’t Proud Boy Enrique Tarrio’s visit to the White House a month before the January 6 attack being investigated? Why is the Trump White House statement that he was a mere tourist taken at face value?
Why isn’t there a hue and cry to have Sidney Powell disbarred for her irresponsible statements that Trump can be reinstated and serve out the rest of Biden’s term—in contravention of the Constitution?
Why isn’t there a clamor to prosecute Flynn for advocating a coup? Why is there no indignant call for investigation under the Smith Act, which made advocating violent overthrow of the government a criminal offense?
But no. Most of the Democrats in Washington try to remain judicious, speaking in moderate language and measured tones. They essentially wring their hands over the misdeeds of their Republican counterparts, and propose curative legislation that the Republican minority uses the filibuster to block.
The Texas House Democrats are the exception. On May 30, they staged a walkout to break a quorum, and thus prevent passage of a restrictive voting bill, the Election Integrity Protection Act. Texas Republicans, who control the legislature, vow to revive the legislation.
“This is Texas, this is the Alamo,” Democratic State Representative John H. Bucy III said at a news conference. “We will do everything we can to stop voter suppression.’’
As Bucy correctly noted, they are at their Alamo, and begging the Federal Government to stop this massacre.
As reported by the New York Times, State Representative Michelle Beckley, a member of the Texas House Elections Committee, said, “I’m asking Joe Biden, you need to help Texas. … We have done everything we can. The Democratic senators, you need to pass the voter bills.”
President Biden called the Texas bill “an assault on democracy,” and urged federal lawmakers to pass HR1 and HR4 that would override the states’ voter suppression laws. These bills have been passed by the House, but are being blocked in the Senate.
HR1, the For the People Act, would expand voting registration, early voting, voting by mail, and limit gerrymandering. It would also make Election Day a federal holiday, require the use of paper ballots and their preservation for recounts or audits; and require presidents, vice presidents and candidates for those offices to publicly disclose ten years of income tax returns.
HR4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, would restore federal oversight of discriminatory practices that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority threw out in 2013 in Shelby v. Holder, and put a stop to the Republican-controlled state legislatures’ anti-democratic push.
But to prevent the state evisceration of voting rights, HR1 and HR4 must be passed before the midterm elections, and that requires overcoming a Republican filibuster. Given how tight the Democrats’ majority is in the Senate, there is no hope of getting the 60 votes needed. So, reform or elimination of the filibuster is urgently needed. That could be accomplished by a simple majority vote.
Two Democratic Senators—Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema—stand in the way of that reform. Sinema has argued that the Senate has a responsibility to put politics aside and reach compromise on legislative issues. Perhaps Sinema should try that line on Mitch McConnell. I’m sure he’ll get a good chuckle out of it.
Manchin has said he’s not willing to take away the involvement of the minority and has claimed that he will not pass bills without bipartisan support. On Sunday, he said, definitively, that he will not vote for HR1, and will never end the legislative filibuster. He wrote in the Charleston Gazette-Mail (the newspaper in his state’s capital), “Do we really want to live in an America where one party can dictate and demand everything and anything it wants, whenever it wants?” Someone should ask him: do we really want to live in an America where the minority can dictate whatever it wants whenever it wants? And block anything it doesn’t want regardless of the will of the majority? If that is how Joe Manchin defines democracy, he needs to look the word up in a dictionary.
In his Charleston Gazette-Mail statement, Manchin also recites that absolute power corrupts absolutely and complains about partisanship, suggesting that in HR1, the Democrats are trying to wield such power. But what is more partisan than all of the voter suppression bills the Republicans are passing in the state legislatures in which they have total control? So in the name of being against absolute power, Manchin is taking the side of absolute power. In the name of protecting the people’s right to vote, he personally is weighing in to help the Republicans deny that right.
Manchin had previously told ABC News that he intends to support the narrower John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and that he believes it could obtain bipartisan support. He reaffirmed this in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, writing that he has been joined by Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska in “urging Senate leadership to update and pass this bill in regular order.”
Maybe Manchin, like Kyrsten Sinema, needs to talk to Mitch McConnell since, whether proposed legislation is bipartisan or not—whether Murkowski joins him in “urging” Senate Leadership to pass it or not—it will not get past McConnell’s veto. The filibuster of the bipartisan commission on the Capitol insurrection should have made that clear.
In a video shared on Twitter, Manchin said of the Republicans who filibustered the commission, "Choosing to put politics and political elections above the health of our Democracy is unconscionable. And the betrayal of the oath we each take is something they will have to live with." The Republicans clearly live with it just fine. The question is—will Manchin be able to live with his role in destroying our democracy through the very means by which he pretends to defend it?
Manchin has claimed that even a one-time change to the Senate filibuster rule will “basically destroy the Senate as we know it.” This illogically equates preserving Senate rules with preserving democracy. But preserving Senate operations that favor minority rule grievously harms democracy.
We are left with the choice that Manchin is either a fool living in a dream world or a phony trying to pretend he acts on principle while having it both ways—that is, being able to publicly support a bill like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and yet feel assured it will not pass. In any event, if we remain stuck with Manchin’s idea of how to protect democracy, there will be no democracy left to protect.
Recently, President Biden has expressed an understanding of the danger our democracy faces, as well as the intent of the many state Republican bills to target minorities. As relates to the Texas bill, Biden said to the Texas Tribune, “It’s part of an assault on democracy that we’ve seen far too often this year—and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans.” Biden also attacked it as un-American and said we should be making it easier, not harder, for every eligible voter to vote.
In his June 1 speech in Tulsa, President Biden called on Congress to pass HR1 and HR4, saying that he will fight for them with every tool at his disposal, and that June should be a month of action on them. But Biden also took notice of the Manchin and Sinema problem, stating, “I hear all the folks on TV saying, ‘Why didn’t Biden get this done?’ Because Biden only has a majority of effectively four votes in the House and two in the Senate, with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends.” (It is not clear that Manchin and Sinema vote more often with Republicans, but their obstinance on the filibuster renders the same result.)
Biden’s statements, though heartfelt, are not strong enough, given the urgency of our situation. This is not a time for Mr. Nice Guy. We need Give-‘em-Hell Harry—a Truman who will decry the do-nothing Republicans and appeal loudly and plainly to the American people, telling them straight out that if they want anything to happen they have to give him more Democrats to work with. We need an LBJ who can twist Manchin’s arm (metaphorically, of course) to get him to join his party. And Sinema’s arm too.
Some say the Democrats are afraid that if they pressure Manchin, he will switch parties and give McConnell back the majority. But what is the difference if, in this dire circumstance, he stands by the filibuster that permits McConnell to block all Democratic legislation? Furthermore, a recent poll by the political action committee End Citizens United found (within a plus or minus 4 point margin of error) that HR1 is favored by 79 percent of West Virginia voters—81 percent among Democrats, 79 percent among Independents, and 76 percent among Republicans. Perhaps the Democrats should take a page out of the Tea Party’s handbook and primary Manchin, or at least threaten to do so.
If the President must remain above the fray, he needs surrogates who will serve the Give-‘em-Hell function for him. In Tulsa, Biden did announce that Vice President Harris will lead the push for voting rights. The Vice President said she would meet with voting rights groups, community organizations and the private sector in the coming weeks. When Harris was in the Senate, she was not only smart but a tough and logical interrogator. Perhaps that skill will enable her to make Manchin and Sinema face the contradiction between their position on the filibuster and democracy, and persuade them to truly protect democracy as opposed to Senatorial trappings.
Joe Scarborough, a former hardline Republican who served in Congress, once said on his “Morning Joe” program that Republicans have a fighting mindset which they live 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and that Democrats need to have that mindset too.
There is a fighting spirit among many grassroots Democrats, state Democratic leaders and progressives. But they need help. Where is the fighting spirit among the national Democratic leadership? Those who have the ability to be heard widely across the country when they speak? Where is it in the Senate? While Republicans attack and attack and obstruct and obstruct, the Democrats respond like polite Victorian ladies taking tea. Being reasoned is all well and good, but sometimes, to reach people, you need to get good and mad along with your delivery of reason and show it if you are going to rouse the public to your truly righteous cause—in this case, the saving of our democracy.
Jessie Seigel is a fiction writer, an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. She has twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her work. But, Seigel also had a long career as a government attorney, in which she honed her analytic skills. Of this double career, Seigel would say, “I guess my right and left brains are well balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.