Discover more from The Bulwark
Kevin McCarthy's Chaos Agenda
Plus: Durham's epic fail
Programming note: on today’s podcast (which will posted this afternoon), I’ll chat with Punchbowl’s Jake Sherman, who broke the story about Kevin McCarthy’s plans on the debt crisis and aid to Ukraine.
And, a reminder that tomorrow night we’ll all be in D.C. for a live Bulwark event with special guest, Officer Michael Fanone, one of the heroes of January 6th, followed by a live panel with Sarah, Tim, and Amanda. Bill will be our MC… Stay tuned for upcoming events.
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We already knew that a GOP-controlled House would mean:
Endless investigations (starting with Hunter Biden)…
Votes to impeach Joe Biden for TBD. (Even though McCarthy says he doesn’t think it’s a good idea, he might not be able resist the pressure, because…)
All of this was known. But yesterday, the Man Who Would Be Speaker added a few wrinkles. In an interview with Punchbowl, McCarthy:
“Signaled that additional aid to Ukraine, now in the ninth month of war with Russia, is unlikely if Republicans have a House majority,” and…
McCarthy explained to Punchbowl how the GOP might play chicken with the debt ceiling:
“You can’t just continue down the path to keep spending and adding to the debt. And if people want to make a debt ceiling [for a longer period of time], just like anything else, there comes a point in time where, okay, we’ll provide you more money, but you got to change your current behavior. We’re not just going to keep lifting your credit card limit, right? And we should seriously sit together and [figure out] where can we eliminate some waste? Where can we make the economy grow stronger?”
We reminded McCarthy that he didn’t pitch these debt limit battles during the Trump era, during which the GOP ran up $7 trillion in new debt in only four years, including pandemic relief funding. Congress raised the debt ceiling three times during Trump’s presidency. Republicans only hold the borrowing cap hostage when Democrats are in the White House. McCarthy countered that President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats have spent too much money, in his view.
A quick reminder that the debt ceiling has nothing to do with spending; it’s about paying for what we’ve already spent. The Wapo’s Rampell compares the refusal to raise the debt ceiling to “going to a restaurant, ordering the lobster and a $500 bottle of wine, and then declaring yourself financially responsible because you skipped out on the check.”
“Actually,” she writes, “it’s worse than that.”
If lawmakers dine-and-dash on behalf of Uncle Sam, they tarnish the creditworthiness of the United States and can make it more expensive for the federal government to borrow in the future because investors don’t trust us. Worse, they might accidentally blow up every other financial market on Earth, too.
That’s because U.S. debt is now viewed as the safest of safe assets. Virtually all other assets around the world are benchmarked against U.S. Treasury securities. If we default on our debt obligations — or even come close to default — that raises the question of the riskiness of everything else investors buy and can send shockwaves of panic through every other market.
Boom, financial crisis.
And, while McCarthy is vague about his policy demands, his caucus of bomb-throwers is less reticent.
In a Bloomberg Government article last week, the four Republican lawmakers interested in serving as House Budget Committee chairman in the next Congress all said they’d refuse to raise the debt ceiling next year unless Democrats agree to entitlement cuts and work requirements on safety-net programs — that is, measures Dems would find abhorrent. This would set the stage for another high-stakes showdown….
Forcing a debt limit crisis, as the world teeters on the verge of recession, is the opposite of what you would pursue if you care about strengthening the economy. But no matter: Just look at the context-free polls! Surely, under GOP stewardship, the economy will be in good hands.
And then there was Ukraine. McCarthy told Punchbowl that “getting additional aid from the House for Ukraine would be difficult. “
“I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine. They just won’t do it. … It’s not a free blank check. And then there’s the things [the Biden administration] is not doing domestically. Not doing the border and people begin to weigh that. Ukraine is important, but at the same time it can’t be the only thing they do and it can’t be a blank check.”
In signaling the possible abandonment of Ukraine, McCarthy is echoing a common theme in right-wing media circles and among MAGA candidates like J.D. Vance, Blake Masters, et al. And the central dynamic of a McCarthy speakership will be his utter inability to defy the GOP’s new id. MTG made that abundantly clear to the NYT’s Robert Draper in his fantastic new book, Weapons of Mass Delusion:
In Greene’s view, a Speaker McCarthy would have little choice but to adopt Greene’s “a lot more aggressive” approach toward punishing Biden and his fellow Democrats for what she sees as their policy derelictions and for conducting a “witch hunt” against former President Trump. “I think that to be the best speaker of the House and to please the base, he’s going to give me a lot of power and a lot of leeway,” she predicted in a flat, unemotional voice. “And if he doesn’t, they’re going to be very unhappy about it. I think that’s the best way to read that. And that’s not in any way a threat at all. I just think that’s reality.”
Obviously that applies not just to the investigations, impeachments, and assorted crazy stuff that the fever swamps will demand, but also to the likelihood that McCarthy would trigger a debt crisis and cut off Ukraine.
So, what we have here is McCarthy telegraphing two possible — and quite plausible — policy disasters.
But, but but…. they can both be averted by the lame duck Congress. As Jake Sherman notes, the Biden Administration and Congress could avoid the debt crisis by extending the limit through 2024.
And McCarthy’s threat to tank Ukraine aid, “could prompt the Biden administration to push for a full year of Ukraine aid during the lame duck, should Republicans win control of either chamber. McCarthy may privately welcome this, in fact."
Durham’s Epic Fail
So many hopes, so much hype, so little to show for it. Via the Wapo:
Trump predicted [special counsel John] Durham would uncover “the crime of the century” inside the U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies that investigated his campaign’s links to Russia. But so far, no one charged by the special counsel has gone to prison, and only one government employee has pleaded guilty to a criminal offense. In both trials this year, Durham argued that people deceived FBI agents, not that investigators corruptly targeted Trump.
Yesterday was the final blow.
Igor Danchenko, an analyst who provided much of the research for a notorious dossier of unproven assertions and rumors about former President Donald J. Trump and Russia, was acquitted on Tuesday on four counts of lying to the F.B.I. about one of his sources.
The verdict was a final blow to the politically charged criminal investigation by John H. Durham, the special counsel appointed by Attorney General William P. Barr three years ago to scour the F.B.I.’s inquiry into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia for any wrongdoing.
But, as David Corn reports, it was even worse than that. During the trial, he writes, Durham ended up presenting “evidence that blew up Trump’s claims of a Deep State conspiracy and that even undermined Durham’s own Trump-friendly statement.”
[When] Auten was on the stand, Durham asked him about the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe. As CNN reported, “Auten confirmed what has been known for many years: the probe was launched after the US government got intelligence from a friendly country that a Trump campaign aide had bragged to one of its diplomats that the Russians had offered to help Trump beat Hillary Clinton.” CNN added:
The situation was all the more interesting because Trump has repeatedly acted as a cheerleader for Durham and has said Durham will validate his suspicions about massive government misconduct regarding the Russia probe. On Tuesday, Durham inadvertently affirmed a basic truth about the Russia probe that Trump has lied about for years.
Read that again. Durham, the last great hope of Trump and all the Russian-hoax hoaxers, presented evidence that blew up Trump’s claims of a Deep State conspiracy and that even undermined Durham’s own Trump-friendly statement. It was almost as if Durham was waving a white flag of surrender….
For years, Trump has claimed that he was the target of a phony investigation concocted by the Deep State. Barr essentially appointed Durham to find evidence of this. And Durham publicly suggested in 2019 that he had unearthed information that backed the notion that something was fishy about the origins of the FBI’s probe. Yet in what seems to be the final prosecution of his investigation, Durham produced testimony that supports the opposite and debunks Trump’s Big Lie about the Russia investigation. Oops?
A (fired) NYT editor has some things to say
You may remember the story. In 2020, the NYT published an op ed by Tom Cotton (R-AR), that called for sending the military into cities to suppress riots that had broken out after the murder of George Floyd. After an internal uproar over the decision to give Cotton a platform, the paper’s opinion editor, James Bennet, was unceremoniously defenestrated.
Now, in his first published comments since his ouster, Bennet is blasting his old paper. In a conversation with Semafor co-founder Ben Smith, Bennet describes how the Times “set me on fire and threw me in the garbage.”
It’s pretty remarkable stuff.
The former Opinion Editor and onetime heir apparent to run the Times spoke to me Saturday in his first on-the-record interview about the episode.
Bennet believes that Sulzberger, the publisher, “blew the opportunity to make clear that the New York Times doesn’t exist just to tell progressives how progressives should view reality. That was a huge mistake and a missed opportunity for him to show real strength,” he said. “He still could have fired me.”
Bennet, who now writes the Lexington column for The Economist, signed off on an editor’s note amid the controversy that the column “fell short of our standards and should not have been published.”
“My regret is that editor’s note. My mistake there was trying to mollify people,” he said.
The Times and its publisher, Bennet said, “want to have it both ways.” Sulzberger is “old school” in his belief in a neutral, heterodox publication. But “they want to have the applause and the welcome of the left, and now there’s the problem on top of that that they’ve signed up so many new subscribers in the last few years and the expectation of those subscribers is that the Times will be Mother Jones on steroids.”
1. Attack Ads Are Darkening the Skin Tone of Black Candidates
It’s working. Once ahead in the polls, Democrat Mandela Barnes, the lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, is now trailing Republican incumbent Ron Johnson in the state’s race for U.S. Senate, a shift also seen recently in other important races. One factor is an onslaught of negative messaging that seeks to paint Barnes as a crime-loving radical. A key word here is “paint.”
One of the ads, from the National Republican Senate Committee, ends with a shot that brands Barnes, who is black, as “different” and “dangerous” as it pictures him alongside three congresswomen of color who are members of “The Squad,” none of whom has campaigned with him. For good measure, the state Republican party sent out a mailer in which the color of Barnes’s skin has clearly been darkened. Here’s a side-by-side comparison that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
2. Michael Anton Agonistes
I’ve had more than one acquaintance tell me I shouldn’t respond to Michael Anton’s recent over-the-top takedown of several “former friends,” including Gabe Schoenfeld, Bill Kristol, Christian Vanderbrouk, Charlie Sykes, Jonathan Last, and me. The advice is sensible. If the response comes off as defensive, it runs a risk of giving the author the satisfaction of knowing he struck a nerve. The response might also end up confirming the charges in the eyes of readers who were predisposed to side with the accuser. Then there’s the fact that Anton’s piece was published in American Greatness, a marginal pro-Trump website. Why risk bringing his claims to a wider audience?
Despite these reasonable concerns, I’ve nonetheless decided to go forward with writing a response—for three main reasons. First, because Anton is a former member of the Trump National Security Council and will be on a short list for a top job the next time a Republican wins the White House, making him a pretty powerful guy who shouldn’t be spreading calumnies uncontested. Second, because Anton’s account of our past interactions is riddled with errors that I would like to correct in the public record.