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Saturday, April 22, 2023

Opinion Republicans follow their new leader, Marjorie Taylor Greene

Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) takes a photo with U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) after McCarthy was elected Speaker of the House on Jan. 7. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“This is the price America pays for Kevin McCarthy’s ambition.

To understand the consequences of the many concessions the House speaker made to get his job, look at what has happened to the House Committee on Homeland Security. Created in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, it used to be a place where lawmakers took pride in overcoming partisanship for the sake of national security.

Then came the GOP takeover of the House this year. In his wisdom, McCarthy agreed not only to restore Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s committee assignments(she had been stripped of them for glorifying violence against colleagues) but also to give her a seat on Homeland Security.

Last week, the Georgia Republican used her elevated status to praise Jack Teixeira, the National Guard airman and suspected leaker of highly classified U.S. intelligence about Ukraine, China and more. “Jake (sic) Teixeira is white, male, christian, and antiwar. That makes him an enemy to the Biden regime,” Greene tweeted, adding, “Ask yourself who is the real enemy? A young low level national guardsmen? Or the administration that is waging war in Ukraine, a non-NATO nation, against nuclear Russia without war powers?”

But Greene wasn’t content merely to label the American president “the real enemy.” Next came a hearing Wednesday at which the panel was to grill Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas about the Biden administration’s proposed 2024 budget. Midway through the session, after Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) questioned Mayorkas about the effects of calls from GOP officials such as Donald Trump and Greene to “defund the FBI,” Greene began her five minutes of questioning with a sweet smile and a breathtaking libel.

“That was quite entertaining from someone that had a sexual relationship with a Chinese spy, and everyone knows it,” she said.

It was the very definition of slander. Democrats demanded that her words be “taken down.” Swalwell was one of several officials targeted a decade ago by a Chinese spy, but no evidence of a sexual relationship came to light.

Follow Dana Milbank's opinions

Yet Republicans jumped to Greene’s defense. Chairman Mark Green (R-Tenn.) ruled that Greene’s slander was “not going to be stricken from the record.” He went so far as to suggest the unsubstantiated innuendo was a “statement of fact.” And, when Democrats challenged the ruling, Republicans on the panel voted unanimously, in an 11-9 party-line tally, to defend Greene’s defamation of her colleague.

This is why extremists such as Greene can’t be dismissed as gadflies. They are central to the new majority. Greene was given a position of prominence by McCarthy, she raises prodigious funds, which her GOP colleagues gladly accept, and they defend her indefensible behavior.

Greene, thus bolstered by the unanimous vote of her GOP colleagues on the committee, turned her attention to Mayorkas, blaming him for “killing people” with fentanyl. When Mayorkas tried to defend himself, Greene cut him off, shouting: “You’re a liar!”

Democrats objected again. This time, finally, Chairman Green silenced her for the rest of the hearing.

But it was the chairman himself who set the ugly tone. According to an audio recording obtained by the New York Times, the chairman told donors last week: “On April 19, next week, get the popcorn — Alejandro Mayorkas comes before our committee, and it’s going to be fun.” (He later claimed he was somehow misquoted.)

Popcorn? Fun? This is the nation’s security.

I asked Mayorkas, who arrived 20 minutes early for the hearing, why he hadn’t heeded the chairman’s instructions to bring popcorn.

“Wrong movie,” he replied. He was determined not to give his tormentors the satisfaction of getting under his skin — and he mostly succeeded.

Chairman Green opened with a bit of Great Replacement theory. “You have not secured our borders, Mr. Secretary, and I believe you’ve done so intentionally,” he alleged, saying the administration policy is all about “moving people into the country,” to welcome “illegal aliens” and “settle them into the interior of our country.”

Epithets flew: “Reckless.” “Insult.” “Insane.” In the hearing room, the decibel app on my iPhone at one point found the chairman’s volume to be equivalent to a food processor. “Not only have you lied under oath, you just admitted your own incompetence!” (At least he didn’t call Mayorkas a “liar.”)

Mayorkas endured the shouting, finger pointing, table pounding and impeachment talk with eyes straight ahead. Invited by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) to respond to one Republican’s insults, he replied: “I’ve chosen not to, thank you.”

It brought to mind the old admonition not to wrestle with a pig: You’ll both get muddy, and the pig enjoys it.

What a lovely spot for a default, Mr. Speaker!

McCarthy has little to show for his first 100 days in charge. But he has excellent venues from which to show it!

The new speaker has been sampling various backdrops for his public appearances in the Capitol. In Statuary Hall. In the small rotunda outside his office. Near the Will Rogers statue. This week, he led his Republican colleagues on an expedition, out the West side of the Capitol, down the stairs and onto the upper terrace for a celebration of the House GOP’s first 100 days in power.

“See, it’s a new place!” he gushed to his leadership team. “You like it?”

Tom Emmer, the majority whip, hurried to indulge him: “I like it! Very nice!”

“I like it too,” chimed in Elise Stefanik, chair of the conference.

But there were a couple of problems with the celebration.

First, the 100-day mark had passed four days earlier, unobserved. For this, McCarthy had a nifty workaround: He would celebrate 100 days since lawmakers were sworn in – a helpful reminder that it took him 15 rounds of voting over several days and countless IOUs to get elected as speaker.

The larger problem, though, was that McCarthy’s Republican majority hasn’t done much in its first 100 days, or even its first 104 days. So they made stuff up.

“We defunded Biden’s army of 87,000 IRS agents,” Emmer boomed. “We stopped the selling of strategic petroleum oil in our reserve to China. We tackled inflation with the Rein in Act. We defended parents’ rights with the Parents Bill of Rights Act. And we lowered energy costs with our signature legislation, the Lower Energy Costs Act.”

Um, no. They actually didn’t do any of those things. The House did pass bills on all those subjects, but not one of them has become law. That would require bipartisan negotiation and compromise with the Senate and the White House — which this new majority doesn’t do. The only legislation that did become law in the first 100 days was small stuff: Officially declaring the pandemic over, declassifying information about the coronavirus’s origins and rejecting D.C.’s revamp of its criminal code.

“Today is a historical day,” McCarthy began. (He apparently meant to say “historic,” unless he meant that the day itself was somehow occurring in the distant past.) He rattled off some statistics (182 roll call votes!) and, in his inimitable way with words, said this “shows a great contrast to the difference to the last Congress to this one.”

“It becomes a new, effective House,” he elaborated. “An effective House looks very different than a Senate that Schumer has become unproductive.”

This is as nonsensical factually as it is linguistically.

By this time in the last Congress, seven bills had already become law, including major legislation such as the American Rescue Plan and the Paycheck Protection Program extension. In late December, incoming House Majority Leader Steve Scalise released a “floor schedule” listing 11 bills that would be brought to the House floor within the new majority’s first two weeks. But close to four months later, House Republicans have passed only six of the 11, as Politico’s Daniella Diaz noted, a casualty of “internal struggles” among Republicans.

And that was the easy stuff. Now, McCarthy is taking hostage the full faith and credit of the United States and demanding that Biden pay him a ransom of $130 billion in spending cuts. Even then, his plan calls for another debt-limit showdown in a year.

This raises an important question: Which exciting new backdrop will McCarthy use when he buries the U.S. economy with default?

I suggest the Capitol Crypt.

Protocols of the Elders of Judiciary

Chairman Jim Jordan took his House Judiciary Committee on a field trip to Manhattan this week in his capacity as unofficial cheerleader for Trump’s legal defense. The plan was to hold a hearing showing that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the man who indicted Trump, has, in just one year on the job, single-handedly turned New York City into an apocalyptic hellhole of violent crime.

But, as with seemingly all things Jordan touches, the proceedings quickly devolved into chaos.

Audience members heckled Democrats on the panel: “You’re a scumbag! … You guys are scumbags, all of you!” As one demonstrator was being led out by police, he shouted at the ranking Democrat, Jerry Nadler: “You’re utterly disgraceful, Ralph Nader!”

Republican witnesses joined in the disruption, interrupting Democrats (one of whom, Georgia’s Hank Johnson, referred to the protesters as “props in a MAGA Broadway production”). “Don’t insult my intelligence!” one witness screamed at Democrats, adding, “That’s why I walked away from the plantation of the Democratic Party.”

Members of the majority were barely more temperate. Rep. Harriet Hageman of Wyoming said of the Nashville school shooter: “Clearly, she was suffering from a psychosis. She claimed that she was a boy when she was a girl.”

Rep. Troy Nehls (Tex.) recommended that people use deadly force if they fear for their lives. “I would encourage residents … to defend yourself. You are given that God-given right, and that means pulling out a weapon and put two at center mass,” he said, pointing at his chest. “You’ll reduce recidivism, won’t you? And you won’t have a repeat offender.”

His recommendation came just days after a Kansas City, Mo., man opened fire on a Black teenager who rang his doorbell after accidentally going to the wrong address to pick up his siblings.

And of course there were the regular insinuations that Bragg was “handpicked and funded by George Soros,” as Trump has put it. Dozens of Republicans — including at least 10 on the Judiciary Committee, by my count — echoed the false charge (Soros merely contributed to a PAC that helped Bragg and others).

If the antisemitic implications weren’t clear enough in the constant charge that the Jewish billionaire manipulates the district attorney with his money, those attending the hearing were greeted on their way into the building by a man holding a large poster with two dollar signs, a Star of David and the word “Soros” on it. After that greeting, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) referred four times to Soros and spoke of Bragg as “bought and paid for by George Soros,” and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) denounced the “Soros-ization of the U.S. justice system.”

Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), who is Jewish, reminded the assembled that many consider such “smears” to be antisemitic.

Soon after, Rep. Wesley Hunt (R-Tex.) let it be known what he thought of that. “Why do these Soros-funded district attorneys put criminals first and victims last?” he asked. “It’s what they believe. It’s who they are.”

And after the hearing, three Republicans on the panel — Dan Bishop (N.C.), Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin and Hunt — fired off tweets repeating the Soros smear. “Today in New York,” Hunt tweeted, “we heard the heartbreaking stories of Americans who mourn a loved one lost to the rising violent crime brought to you by Democrats and paid for by George Soros.”

So now Soros money is killing people? There really is no bottom.“

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