Everything, Everywhere, All at Once
Ukraine, the border, abortion, Jack, Hunter, and impeachment
Zelensky’s in Washington; high stakes border talks; Jack goes Supreme; Hunter gets slapped with a new indictment; Texas justices say no to emergency abortion; higher ed’s wokepocalypse spreads; and the Biden impeachment limps forward.
I know you wanted deep thoughts today, but you’ll have to settle for the firehose.
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Ukraine on the brink
The visit — less than three months after Zelensky’s last trip to Washington — comes at a critical time for the supplemental appropriations bill that Biden first asked Congress to pass in October, which includes aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, as well as humanitarian aid for Gaza and more money for the U.S.-Mexico border.
Republicans have demanded that the package include border policy changes, and some Democrats criticized the White House on Monday for being willing to give up too much in those negotiations after Biden said he was willing to agree to “significantly more” to strike a deal.
Congress seems very likely to leave for the holidays without passing any new Ukraine aid. That means Zelensky won’t have any clear commitment from his nation’s most important ally as he heads back to Europe for even more talks on his country’s future.
This is what Zelensky faces today as he makes the case that Ukraine is at a life-or-death moment. It’s almost as if he’s being set up to fail.
“If there’s anyone inspired by unresolved issues on Capitol Hill, it’s just Putin and his sick clique,” Mr. Zelensky told national security officials at the National Defense University in Washington.
The remarks represented a message to Congress, even as its chances of passing an aid deal have become increasingly bleak.
And in the Bulwark: “Don’t Bury Ukraine.” Cathy Young writes:
THIS MONTH HAS SEEN A TANGIBLE VIBE SHIFT on the war in Ukraine. Between Republicans in the House and Senate blocking a $110 billion package that includes military aid to Ukraine as well as Israel and Taiwan by tying it to border-security measures, dire warnings that U.S. aid may have to stop without new funding by the end of the year, and media reports detailing the purported failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive this fall, the narrative that the wheels are falling off the U.S.-backed Ukrainian war effort is spreading.
And, predictably, it is being met with downright glee in some quarters. Tech venture capitalist and foreign policy dilettante David Sacks, a loud voice in the anti-Ukraine chorus from day one, is crowing:
Searching for a border deal
During his impassioned speech in the White House’s Roosevelt Room on Wednesday, Biden said he felt Republicans haven’t been willing to make a deal, though some have since expressed optimism about the direction of negotiations.
“I am willing to make significant compromises on the border. We need to fix the broken border system, it is broken. And thus far, I’ve gotten no response,” he said as he made a fresh appeal to lawmakers, adding that failure to reach a compromise would serve as a “gift” for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But, he added, “This has to be a negotiation.”
“Republicans think they can get everything they want without any bipartisan compromise,” the president said. “That’s not the answer. … And now they’re willing to literally kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield and damage our national security in the process.”
On Monday, the lead GOP negotiator conceded that time was almost up on the talks.
Asked if the border talks are set to spill into the new year, Sen. James Lankford (Okla.) responded, “At this point, yeah.”
“The clock’s been running out over the weekend,” he added.
The Senate is scheduled to leave town by the end of the week, and the House departs a day earlier, giving negotiators only days to strike a deal — something both sides see as a massive, if not impossible, hill to climb even after weekend talks.
Jack’s Supreme Play
This is the big one; the one ruling to rule them all.
"It is of imperative public importance that respondent's claims of immunity be resolved by this Court and that respondent's trial proceed as promptly as possible if his claim of immunity is rejected," the special counsel wrote in his filing Monday.
In October, Trump's legal team filed its first motion to dismiss the case, citing what Trump's lawyers claim is his "absolute immunity" from prosecution for actions taken while serving in the nation's highest office.
Trump’s lawyers are now in effect arguing that it is a permanent immunity. That puts them in the position of arguing to a Supreme Court that has rejected a Trump claim of absolute immunity that a president can do literally whatever he wants in office and never face criminal consequences.
In effect, Smith is asking a conservative-leaning Supreme Court — one third of which consists of Trump-nominated justices — to decide that crucial threshold question early and to decide against Trump.
If the court expedites the case and rules in Trump’s favor, a conviction was never going to stick anyway and we’ll have surely entered a new era of presidential power.
If it rules against Trump — again — what many legal experts regard as an attempted delay tactic might no longer look like such a smart gambit.
The free speech fight in higher ed
In recent years, U.S. colleges have indeed focused more on restricting speech that upsets liberals than conservatives. That inconsistency — which Jewish students and their allies have highlighted — has put university leaders in an awkward position. Whatever their own politics, they are uncomfortable publicly defending one standard for one ideology and another for a different ideology.
The real problem was that none of these university leaders made a clear, coherent case for their institutions’ values. So when they did invoke academic freedom, they came across as insincere or hypocritical—an impression only reinforced by their record of failing to stand up for those on their campus who have come under fire for controversial speech in the past.
Meanwhile, in Texas…
Cox's attorneys on Dec. 5 [had] requested an emergency hearing in a Travis County District Court to seek permission for an abortion after she had been admitted to emergency rooms three times within a month for symptoms including cramping and fluid leaks. Her doctors advised her that due to her fetus' trisomy 18 diagnosis, the unborn baby had "virtually no chance of surviving." More than 95% of babies with the condition do not make it to birth, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Cox's doctors also advised her that continuing the pregnancy posed serious risks to her health and fertility, according to the complaint, including increasing her chances of developing gestational hypertension, gestational diabetes, uterine rupture from Caesarean section and post-operative infections.
Biden’s Hunter problem
Hunter’s legal troubles are getting worse. On Friday, three months after he was charged in Delaware with making false statements while buying a handgun, a federal court in California indicted the younger Biden with nine alleged tax crimes, including three felonies.
The indictment contains eye-popping descriptions of Hunter’s lurid lifestyle between 2016 and 2019, and while in some respects it raises more questions than it answers—how exactly does a person manage to spend $188,960 on adult entertainment?—it’s easy to get the gist. Hunter, prosecutors allege, spent millions on “drugs, escorts and girlfriends, luxury hotels and rental properties, exotic cars, clothing, and other items of a personal nature, in short, everything but his taxes.” (That isn’t quite true: He was fighting to avoid paying child support at the time as well.)
[There’s] a reason Democrats breathed a heavy sigh of relief this summer when Hunter signed a (short-lived, as it turned out) plea deal. The whole sordid no-upside affair was, they hoped then, over.
“It makes it ‘asked and answered,’ while Trump’s saga will play out for who knows how many more news cycles,” one Capitol Hill Democratic insider told us then. “It’s like pulling off a Band-Aid.”
With the Band-Aid’s status back in question, Democrats are left hoping nothing has changed.
“I think people separate Hunter from his dad,” this same insider told Dispatch Politics this morning. “It’ll be hard for Republicans to ‘whatabout’ this. They already seem desperate in trying to move forward with an impeachment [that] members of their own party are calling a sham. Instead of dealing with their Trump problem, they’re looking for the shiny object to distract. I don’t think Hunter will prove to be the shiny object they hope he is.”
Our Delusional Politics
On Monday’s podcast: Kevin swears that Trump will stop with the retribution talk. Meanwhile, the aspiring dictator says it’s a hoax that Democrats call him a threat to democracy. Plus, the Arab Americans who claim they won’t back Biden, and the Texas abortion case. Will Saletan joins me for our weekly chat.
You can listen to the whole thing here. Or watch us on YouTube.
‘Scaffold Commander’ and the Manufacture of Delusion
Bill Lueders in the Bulwark: Just when you thought the crazed conspiracy theories couldn’t get any more crazy.
In a discovery motion filed November 15, attorneys for former President Donald Trump formally asked the U.S. government to produce “all documents regarding Ray Epps, the ‘scaffold commander,’ John Nichols, or any similar persons who encouraged or participated in any illegal activities on January 6th.” The filing was made in the case brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith against Trump for conspiring with others to steal the 2020 election.
Nichols, a journalist in Madison, Wisconsin, is the associate editor of the local Capital Times newspaper, a national affairs correspondent for the Nation magazine, and a regular contributor to The Progressive, where I, for several years, was his editor. He is the author or coauthor of more than a dozen books; most recently, he worked with Senator Bernie Sanders on a book called It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism. He is someone I have known for four decades and consider a friend.
It turns out he is suspected of being one of the key figures in the assault on the U.S. Capitol that took place nearly three years ago. Online sleuths have identified Nichols as possibly being the so-called Scaffold Commander, who conspiracists believe was a government plant. They also believe this about Trump supporter and January 6th participant Epps (who’s suing Fox News over this assertion, which he insists is false, simply because there is no evidence to support it) and an additional cypher known as “Fence Cutter Bulwark.”