We’ll get to the rest of the week’s worst actors in a moment, but can we talk about what just happened in Tennessee?
In a fit of partisan pique, Republicans used their super majority to expel two young African American state legislators. Republicans fell one vote short of expelling a third legislator, a white woman.
At one point during the protest, the trio stood at the well of the House chambers, leading chants with a megaphone. The demonstration came in the wake of the deadly Covenant School shooting in Nashville on March 27, where a former student fatally shot three children and three adults, police have said.
As Jeff Greenfield notes, “the legislature has never imposed before so severe a penalty for rules violations, and over the past few years, a number of legislators have kept their posts even after being charged with serious sexual misconduct.”
The Republican good old boys could have fined the three, censured them, written a toughly worded letter of reprimand, or perhaps even ignored the whole thing and focused on the murder of the three children and three adults.
Instead, they rushed ahead with resolutions to expel the elected representatives.
The stupidity. At ramming speed.
Not only was this is a horrific look for the GOP, it was also a case of rank political malpractice. By expelling the two Democrats, the Republican super majority accomplished the exact opposite of what they intended: As members of the minority party in the lower House of Tennessee’s undistinguished legislature, the three Democrats —State Reps. Justin Jones, Justin J. Pearson, and Gloria Johnson - had been obscure, local political players.
By martyring them, the GOP has turned them into national stars. All three are impressive and eloquent, and they are about to be a ubiquitous presence on television.
So instead of disgracing or silencing them, the GOP’s naked retaliation amplified their message beyond anything the three could have done themselves.
Idiocracy on steroids.
Bonus: Make sure check out this rundown from Axios: “The GOP's epic losing streak.”
By the way, it’s Good Friday.
The Deplorables of the Week
I’m not sure this will be a weekly feature, but it seemed appropriate for this particular unholy week. One quick caveat: the list is hardly comprehensive, because it does not include such evergreen deplorables as MTG, Kevin McCarthy, Lauren Boebert, or anyone from Fox News. Suffice it to say, their time in the barrel will come.
1. Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton.
The deplorable speaker compared last month’s peaceful protests of gun violence to the January 6 Insurrection:
During an interview on the Hallerin Hilton Hill radio show, Speaker Sexton described the efforts of three House representatives to disrupt the session with a megaphone to ‘incite riots or violence’ as comparable to the siege at the U.S. Capitol.
“Two of the members, Representative Jones and Representative Johnson, have been very vocal about January 6 in Washington D.C., about what that was, and what they did today was equivalent, at least equivalent, maybe worse depending on how you look at it, of doing an insurrection in the capitol.”
State Rep. John Ray Clemmons responded to Sexton’s comparison:
“That is a blatant lie, and it’s offensive. You show me the broken windows. You show me anyone who went into the Speaker’s office and put the chair up on his desk and trashed his office. You show me where a noose was hanging anywhere on the Legislative Plaza...to refer to yesterday as an insurrection is an offense.”
2. Congressman James Comer
“I had two calls yesterday, one from a county attorney in Kentucky and one from a county attorney in Tennessee,” Comer (R-Ky.) told “Fox & Friends.” “They were Republican, obviously, both states are heavily Republican. They want to know if there are ways they can go after the Bidens now.”
Comer is leading a House Republican investigation into Joe Biden’s role in his family’s international business dealings in countries such as China and Ukraine.
3. Jim Jordan
More obstruction of justice from the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Via Rolling Stone:
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) is doing his best to undermine Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case against the former president. The Trump sycophant issued a subpoena to former New York County Special Assistant District Attorney Mark Pomerantz on Wednesday, demanding testimony regarding his resignation from Bragg’s office….
Bragg responded to the subpoena by rebuking Jordan for meddling in a state investigation by a federal lawmaker. “The House GOP continues to attempt to undermine an active investigation and ongoing New York criminal case with an unprecedented campaign of harassment and intimidation,” he wrote. “Repeated efforts to weaken state and local law enforcement actions are an abuse of power and will not deter us from our duty to uphold the law.”
4. Dan Kelly
As the conservative former justice walked to the podium on election night, Kelly’s body was taut with disappointment and rage.
He had just lost the most expensive juridical election in American history, losing in a landslide to his liberal opponent, Janet Protasiewicz.
The election flipped control of the state’s high court, giving progressives a majority for the time in a decade and a half, handing the pro-choice movement one of its most important victories since Roe v. Wade was overturned.
Kelly wasn’t about to go quietly or graciously.
“I wish, in a circumstance like this, I would be able to concede to a worthy opponent,” Kelly said, “but I do not have a worthy opponent to which I can concede.”
“This was the most deeply deceitful, dishonorable, despicable campaign I have ever seen run for the courts. It was truly beneath contempt.”
“My opponent,” he said. “is a serial liar. “She has disregarded judicial ethics. She has demeaned the judiciary with her behavior.”
“I wish Wisconsin the best of luck. I think it will need it.”
Thus ended one of the bitterest races in state history.
Kelly’s rant was fraught with irony. Kelly himself had been paid $120,000 by the state Republican Party, and advised them on the fake elector scheme after the 2020 election. His campaign had peddled allegations that his opponent had engaged in elder abuse 30 years ago, and that she had used the N-word decades ago. His well-heeled backers had been forced to remove a misleading television ad after a rape victim said she felt revictimized. And in week before the election, as state residents were preparing for possible tornadoes, Kelly’s campaign blasted out a text that looked like an emergency weather alert, warning that his opponent was “a soft-on-crime politician with a long history of letting dangerous criminals go free.”
Bonus: I have a lot more to say about Angry Wisconsin over at The Atlantic: How serious is the GOP chatter about using their super majority to impeach a liberal justice?
Legislators I spoke with downplayed the idea, citing Protasiewicz’s double-digit margin. They also noted that in Wisconsin, the Democratic governor could appoint an immediate replacement to the court without having to go through a confirmation process. The exercise would be pointless.
Nevertheless, according to the legislators I interviewed—who requested anonymity to speak freely—some Republicans believe the threat of removal should be “held over her head” as the high court takes up issues such as abortion, redistricting, and Act 10, the Scott Walker–era legislation that stripped public employees of many of their collective-bargaining rights.
Even if Republican leaders ultimately want nothing to do with the chaos that an attempted impeachment would unleash, the wild card is the smoldering rage of the base, which is every bit as angry as Kelly—not to mention Donald Trump. As one of the Republican legislators told me, “It takes only one email from Mar-a-Lago calling us RINOs and asking why we weren’t impeaching her.”
The dynamics of a possible impeachment fight—in which elected Republicans may feel the need to do something futile and chaotic to satisfy the grass roots—speak to the state GOP’s larger problems.
Republicans have lost four major statewide elections since 2018, and this year’s supreme-court election exposed their growing vulnerability, especially on the abortion issue….
You can read the whole thing here.
5. Clarence Thomas
Ethics? We don’t need no stinking ethics. We’re Supreme Court justices. ProPublica commits a flagrant act of journalism:
For more than two decades, Thomas has accepted luxury trips virtually every year from the Dallas businessman without disclosing them, documents and interviews show. A public servant who has a salary of $285,000, he has vacationed on Crow’s superyacht around the globe. He flies on Crow’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet. He has gone with Crow to the Bohemian Grove, the exclusive California all-male retreat, and to Crow’s sprawling ranch in East Texas. And Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks.
The extent and frequency of Crow’s apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court.
These trips appeared nowhere on Thomas’ financial disclosures. His failure to report the flights appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to disclose most gifts, two ethics law experts said. He also should have disclosed his trips on the yacht, these experts said.
And, of course…
6. Donald Trump
My colleague, Amanda Carpenter, connects all the dots:
At the broadest level, the Manhattan district attorney’s indictment of Trump regards the same subject as the ongoing investigation by the Fulton County district attorney in Georgia and one of the investigations now being led by the special counsel in the Department of Justice. In fact, the case even strikes the same theme as the Mueller investigation and both of Trump’s impeachments.
What would that be? Election criminality.
That’s the throughline of most of Trump’s corruption since 2016. He covered up hush money to his mistresses, made overtures to Russia “if you’re listening,” held up funding for Ukraine, put the squeeze on Georgia election officials to “find the votes,” and incited the January 6th insurrection all in pursuit of the same goal: to win presidential elections—and then, when he lost in 2020, to overturn the results.
Sweeping election criminality is the element that elevates Trump’s actions from tawdry scandals to weighty cases worthy of being brought to trial either in the courts or, via impeachment proceedings, in Congress.
Treating these investigations and indictments separately as unrelated incidents is necessary as a matter of law, but as a matter of politics, ethics, and public understanding, it diminishes how intentional Trump and his allies are when it comes to disrespecting the foundation of our democracy, our elections. None of these terrible events was a one-off; they are part of Trump’s established pattern of behavior. The investigations may be led by different prosecutors in New York, Georgia, and Washington, D.C., but they’re all seeking accountability for election-related schemes.
Scenes From a Slow Civil War
On yesterday’s Bulwark podcast, journalist and author Jeff Sharlet discussed his new book, “The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War.”
You can listen to our whole conversation here.
1. The Bizarre Life and Even More Bizarre Death of a Russian War Propagandist
Cathy Young in today’s Bulwark:
Until his assassination, Tatarsky, a 40-year-old Donetsk native, had one big moment in the annals of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Last September, a viral video clip from a livestream he did from the Kremlin after Vladimir Putin’s speech on the annexation of four Ukrainian provinces showed the gleeful voyenkor making a startlingly candid declaration: “We’ll defeat everyone, kill everyone, rob all the right people, and everything is going to be just the way we like it.” In a grimly hilarious touch, he added, “That’s it, God be with you” before signing off.
2. David Koresh, the KKK, and Donald Trump
Bill Lueders writes that two new books help explain the phenomenon of cult figures.
I’ll come right out and say it: Part of what makes these two books about terrible episodes in U.S. history relevant is the insight they offer on an important contemporary subject—namely, the persona and phenomenon of Donald Trump and other authoritarians who continue to find their way onto the world stage.
Let me be clear, since there is an entire cottage industry of wags devoted to distorting comments like the one I just made: I do not think Donald Trump is exactly like David Koresh or D.C. Stephenson. Trump is obviously a racist, but I don’t think his heart is full of hatred for others based solely on the color of their skin. (I think that, on some level, he is a classic misanthrope, hating everyone but himself.) And I don’t think he is a cult leader so much as a “cult of personality” leader.
But the parallels are worthy of attention.
The fact that a large number of folks will enthusiasticly agree that speaking out of turn in the TN legislature is worse than Jan 6 is why our democracy is on life support. If the citizens can't see through such blatant nonsense, it's over.
The fact that Scott Walker thinks that women wanting control over their own bodies is the result of "radical indoctrination" tells you everything you need to know about not only where the GOP is today but WHY they are there.