War Breaks Out over Capitol Riot Committee

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi takes part in an enrollment ceremony for the ‘VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021’ on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 21, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

On the menu today: Pelosi goes full-partisan on the January 6 House select committee, Republicans vote to block the infrastructure bill after Chuck Schumer forces an early vote, and Joe Biden serves up a mix of confusing and boring talking points at last night’s CNN town hall.

Pelosi Spikes GOP Members of January 6 Committee

In an unprecedented move yesterday afternoon, House speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she was blocking two of Republican leadership’s five nominees to the select committee on the Capitol riot.

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House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) had selected five members of his caucus to join Democrats on the committee: Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio, Rodney Davis of Illinois, Jim Banks of Indiana, Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota, and Troy Nehls of Texas.

But Pelosi said yesterday that she’d spike two of those selections, Jordan and Banks, suggesting that they had made concerning statements rendering them unable to serve on the committee. In response to Pelosi’s move, McCarthy pulled all five of the Republican appointments to the committee, calling the speaker’s decision an “egregious abuse of power.”

Here’s Pelosi’s statement on her decision:

The Select Committee on the January 6th Insurrection will investigate and report upon the facts and causes of the terrorist mob attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. With respect for the integrity of the investigation, with an insistence on the truth and with concern about statements made and actions taken by these Members, I must reject the recommendations of Representatives Banks and Jordan to the Select Committee.

What’s especially odd about the House speaker’s choice to spike two of the five nominees is that she permitted Nehls to stay in the group. Nehls, like Banks and Jordan, voted not to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election — and some Democrats have argued that no Republicans who voted not to certify should be allowed on the investigative panel. McCarthy’s other selections, Armstrong and Davis, did vote to certify the results.

Despite attempting to justify her decision as necessary for a legitimate process — though without offering very clear reasons — Pelosi has received some criticism even from allies on the left, some of whom argue that she’s given Republicans cover to write off the select committee as a partisan project dominated by Democrats. Judging from the GOP response, those critics are correct.

“I’m a sitting member of Congress and served my country in Afghanistan and the Speaker knows how hard I will fight for my country,” Banks said in a statement after the news broke. “We said all along that this was a purely partisan exercise by the Democrats and Nancy Pelosi’s rejection of me and Jim Jordan shows once again she is the most partisan figure in America today.”

Armstrong called the decision ““bulls***,” adding that Banks and Jordan “have every right to serve on any committee Kevin appoints them to. Whenever Speaker Pelosi uses the word ‘unprecedented’ it is code for her consolidation of absolute power. She is willing to do anything and everything to maintain control over her conference for the next 18 months.”

McCarthy, for his part, referred to the select committee as a “sham process” and threatened to begin a separate GOP investigation of what happened on January 6 unless Pelosi agrees to reinstate the spiked Republican members.

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Though this might be a satisfying PR win for Republicans, who now can legitimately argue that Democrats have set up a starkly partisan committee rather than a balanced one, the major downside is that Democrats on the panel will have total control over the proceedings. Where once Republicans might’ve offered some needed perspective, only left-wing politicians remain, and they’ll be free to subpoena whomever they wish and conduct the investigation without any moderation from conservatives.

That is, aside from Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney, who not only remains on the panel at Pelosi’s behest but also publicly defended the speaker’s decision to block her own GOP colleagues from membership.

Democrats almost certainly will try to point fingers and accuse Republican politicians of writing off what happened on January 6, but from this moment forward, it’s pretty clear that Pelosi should get the lion’s share of the blame for turning the investigative process into a purely partisan one.

Schumer’s Infrastructure Gamble Fails

After several days of back and forth over the bipartisan infrastructure plan’s initial vote, which Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer scheduled for yesterday afternoon, Republicans were as good as their word, voting en masse against the legislation because the draft wasn’t ready. Without the necessary 60 votes, the bill failed to proceed to debate.

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When news broke over the weekend that Schumer was gearing up to file cloture on the bill, a procedural move to advance to debate, Republicans working on the legislation insisted that they needed more time to draft the bill’s text. Several of them publicly promised to vote against their own bill unless the majority leader backed off and allowed them first to finish haggling over the specific provisions that were still in flux.

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But Schumer didn’t, arguing for several days that the Senate could vote to proceed to debate and then continue hammering out the specifics. “This vote is not a deadline to have every final detail worked out. It is not an attempt to jam anyone,” Schumer said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote.

Republicans, already growing a bit wary of Democratic leadership, weren’t interested in that solution. The result? A failed vote and a bipartisan working group that seems to be headed right back to work, essentially ignoring Schumer’s attempt to vote on a bill that wasn’t ready and trying to force him to call a second vote on it later.

“We’re optimistic that once we get past this vote today, that we’re going to continue our work and that we will be ready in the coming days,” Susan Collins (R., Maine) said yesterday, noting that the group expects to “be largely ready on Monday.”

The other Republicans working across the aisle seemed to agree with Collins’s assessment. “This is not a deal breaker. This is just making sure that we have an agreement in place, among all the parties, before we actually vote to move to the bill,” Mitt Romney (R., Utah) said. “We need to move as fast as we can. I’m not critical of the pressure to move. That’s the nature of the job.”

Republicans determined to come to an agreement on the bill might not mind being patient, but Schumer’s rush is almost certainly due at least in part to his fear of losing his own coalition while they wait. The New York Times has more on Democrats who are growing impatient and don’t seem too interested in compromise:

Since announcing their agreement on an initial framework, a bipartisan group of 10 senators and top White House officials have haggled over the details of an overall package set to provide $1.2 trillion over eight years, with $579 billion in new funding for roads, bridges, broadband and highways on top of the continuation of existing transportation programs, which committee leaders have largely agreed to outside the talks.

But the failed vote still frustrated some liberal Democrats, who have repeatedly warned against what they view as the mistakes of 2010, when they delayed votes on the Affordable Care Act in hopes of Republican votes that never emerged. They have argued that Democrats can easily slip the new spending for roads, bridges, broadband and highways into the broader spending package set to take shape in the coming weeks.

“It’s been too long — we’ve wasted several months,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, the chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, on Tuesday ahead of the vote. “The plan is always delay, delay, delay and wait until you get to an August recess.”

Meanwhile, as Politico Playbook points out this morning, the progressive wing of the party has little time for playing games on bipartisan infrastructure. They want to move ahead on the Democrats’ own $3.5 trillion spending bill, and if they don’t get what they want from infrastructure, they intend to up the ante in their own bill, which they seem ready to attempt to pass without Republican support:

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has yet to indicate when exactly he’ll move forward on the $3.5 trillion price tag that fellow Democrats have backed for a party-line plan to tackle prized liberal priorities, from health care to climate change.

But as bipartisan talks on a separate, smaller infrastructure bill remain in flux, liberal Democrats in both chambers are already signaling that the bigger bill’s top line will need to increase if a cross-aisle deal falls apart. Not every Democrat agrees: Some centrists are flatly rejecting the idea of adding even a single more dollar to the party’s already-hefty plan that’s on tap to pass without GOP votes through what’s known as budget reconciliation.

These rumblings on the left are yet another warning signal to the Republicans working on infrastructure, who, despite all available evidence to the contrary, appear convinced that compromising with Democrats will somehow redound to their benefit. Judging from the growing discontent among progressives gearing up to do some serious spending, there’s little indication that’ll be the case.

Biden’s Incoherent Town Hall

President Biden made an appearance yesterday evening at a CNN town hall in Ohio, where he discussed everything from the stalled infrastructure bill to the COVID-19 pandemic to inflation. On most questions, his responses ranged from mildly incoherent to downright confusing.

On the filibuster, Biden had this to offer: “There’s no reason to protect it other than you’re going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done. Nothing at all will get done. And there’s a lot at stake.”

Alrighty, then.

Our own Jack Butler has more:

Biden, as president, must appear to be in touch with the national mood, a nigh-indecipherable metric that this format wants us to believe a president, aided by television, can discern. COVID is on everyone’s mind again, which is why Biden saw fit to stress his supposed commitment to “science.” “I do not tell any scientists what they should do,” he said. Asked by one questioner how he was going to restore America’s faith in science, Biden said he was going to “listen to the scientists . . . and not interfere, just let the scientists proceed.” This all sounds nice. . . . Perhaps recognizing the emptiness of such deference, Lemon, in a surprising and welcome turn of journalistic probity, prodded Biden for specificity on questions relating to the return of children to school in the fall; his reply was that, “the CDC is probably gonna say everyone under the age of 12 should be wearing a mask in school, so that’s probably what’s gonna happen.” So there you go: That’s science for you. . . .

When one audience member introduced an idea dissenting from this national will Biden sought to invoke through the town hall — the prospect of inflation — Biden trotted out another one of his platitudes du jour: Citing the ubiquitous Moody’s, Biden claimed his bill will “reduce inflation, because we’re going to be providing good opportunities and jobs and people who in fact are gonna be reinvesting that money in all the things we’re talking about, driving down prices not raising prices.” He treated similarly the discordant notes of a restaurateur, who claimed to be having trouble finding people to work. Biden ambiguously blamed the man for possibly not offering enough, suggested unemployment benefits may play a role, but then, pressed on this by Lemon, said he had “seen no evidence” that they had an effect. And anyway, the economy was recovering so well that people wouldn’t want to be waiters, especially once we got them free community college.

The event largely proceeded in this manner. If you’ve paid attention to recent debates and news cycles, it would all have been familiar: Republican bills at the state level to bring voting laws away from pandemic-era exigencies are “Jim Crow on steroids.” Democrats don’t want to defund the police, they want to give the police more money. Etc. It was all papered over with pre-rational invocations of contrived pathos, or a weird ironic affection on Biden’s part that conveyed a sense that we should take him seriously (“I’m being deadly earnest”/“No, I’m serious”/“I’m not being facetious”/“Not a joke”/“All kidding aside”). . . .

The event was an excellent summation of Biden’s presidency thus far: not especially forthright or clarifying, vacillating wildly between meaningless platitudes and obvious falsehoods, and often quite boring.

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ADDENDUM: If you have yet to check out the BuzzFeed News investigation into China’s massive network of prison camps for detaining Uyghurs, the latest installment in the series is worth a read.

To put together a visual of exactly how large the internment and reeducation camps are, BuzzFeed calculated the floor areas of compounds in the region — obtained via satellite imaging — and compared them with China’s typical prison-construction methods to estimate how much space each detainee is allotted.

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The result, which doesn’t even account for the overcrowding that former detainees have described, estimates that there are 206 million square feet in the compounds, enough to hold 1 million people by Chinese imprisonment standards.

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