Kentucky senator who has clashed publicly with Dr Anthony Fauci champions lab leak theory in remarks at rally
The Kentucky senator Rand Paul promised on Saturday to wage a vigorous review into the origins of the coronavirus if Republicans retake the Senate and he lands a committee chairmanship.
Speaking to supporters at a campaign rally, the senator denounced what he sees as government overreach in response to Covid-19. He applauded a recent judge’s order that voided the federal mask mandate on planes and trains and in travel hubs.
“Last week I was on an airplane for the first time in two years and didn’t have to wear a mask,” he said, drawing cheers. “And you know what I saw in the airport? I saw at least 97% of the other free individuals not wearing masks.”
Paul has clashed repeatedly with Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, over government policies and the origins of the virus.
Paul, who is seeking a third term, said he was in line to assume a committee chairmanship if the GOP wins Senate control. The Senate has a 50-50 split, with the vice-president, Kamala Harris, the tie-breaking vote.
“When we take over in November, I will be chairman of a committee and I will have subpoena power,” Paul said. “And we will get to the bottom of where this virus came from.”
The senator, an ophthalmologist before politics, continued to offer his theory about the origins of the virus.
“If you look at the evidence, overwhelmingly, not 100%, but overwhelmingly the evidence points to this virus being a leak from a lab,” Paul said.
Many US conservatives have accused Chinese scientists of developing Covid-19 in a lab and allowing it to leak.
US intelligence agencies remain divided on the origins of the coronavirus but believe China did not know about the virus before the start of the global pandemic, according a Biden-ordered review released last summer.
The scientific consensus remains that the virus most likely migrated from animals. So-called “spillover events” occur in nature and there are at least two coronaviruses that evolved in bats and caused human epidemics, SARS1 and MERS.
At the Kentucky rally, the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, the state’s senior senator, also pointed to Paul’s opportunity to lead a committee. If that occurs, he said, Paul would become chairman of “one of the most important committees in the Senate – in charge of health, education, labor and pensions”.
McConnell was upbeat about Republican prospects in November.
“I’ve never seen a better environment for us than this year,” said McConnell, who is in line to again become majority leader.
The rally featured other prominent Kentucky Republicans, including several considering running for governor in 2023, when Andy Beshear, a Democrat, will seek a second term.
In his speech, Paul railed against socialism, saying it would encroach on individual liberties. The senator was first elected to the Senate in the Tea Party wave of 2010.
“When President Trump said he wanted to ‘Make America Great Again’, I said, ‘Amen,’” Paul said. “But let’s understand what made America great in the first place, and that’s freedom, constitutionally guaranteed liberty.”
Charles Booker is by far the best known Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for Paul’s seat in the 17 May primary. Paul is being challenged by several little-known candidates. A general election campaign between Paul and Booker would be a battle between candidates with starkly different philosophies.
Booker, a Black former state lawmaker, narrowly lost a bid for the Democratic nomination in 2020. He is a progressive who touts Medicare for all, anti-poverty programs, a clean-energy agenda and criminal justice changes.
Paul, a former presidential candidate, has accumulated a massive fundraising advantage.
Kentucky has not elected a Democrat to the US Senate since Wendell Ford in 1992.
The Supreme Court has voted to strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, according to an initial draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito circulated inside the court and obtained by POLITICO.
The draft opinion is a full-throated, unflinching repudiation of the 1973 decision which guaranteed federal constitutional protections of abortion rights and a subsequent 1992 decision – Planned Parenthood v. Casey – that largely maintained the right. “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” Alito writes.
Tonight, news broke of a leaked draft of what appears to be Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s majority decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision establishing access to abortion as a constitutional right.
That news is an alarm like the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford decision declaring both that Black Americans had no rights that a white man was bound to respect and that Congress had no power to prohibit human enslavement in the territories. The Dred Scott decision left the question of enslavement not to the national majority, which wanted to prohibit it from western lands, but to state and territorial legislatures that limited voting to white men.
According to law professor and legal commentator Neal Katyal, the draft appears to be genuine and shows that in a preliminary vote, a majority of the court agreed to overturn Roe v. Wade. It takes a hard-line position, saying that states can criminalize abortion with no exceptions for rape and incest. This is a draft and could change before actually being handed down, but it has already stirred a backlash. As soon as the draft hit Politico, which published it, security put up fences around the Supreme Court in expectation of protesters and counterprotesters.
We are in a weird moment, in which Democrats are trying to shore up democracy while Republicans are actively working to undermine it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) issued a statement after the draft leaked, calling the draft “one of the worst and most damaging decisions in modern history.” They noted that the justices lied to senators to get confirmed, saying they considered Roe v. Wade settled law, and are now—if the draft is confirmed—stripping away from American women a constitutional right they have held for 50 years.
“The party of Lincoln and Eisenhower has now completely devolved into the party of Trump,” Pelosi and Schumer wrote. “Every Republican Senator who supported Senator McConnell and voted for Trump Justices pretending that this day would never come will now have to explain themselves to the American people.”
Democrats are also shoring up Democracy abroad. Yesterday we learned that on Saturday, a congressional delegation led by Speaker Pelosi visited Kyiv, Ukraine, and met with President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials. Their goal, the delegation later said, was to “send an unmistakable and resounding message to the entire world: America stands firmly with Ukraine.”
The delegation consisted entirely of Democrats, although Jason Crow (D-CO), who was on the trip, told NPR that Pelosi invited Republicans, but they “were unable to join.” So the delegation included Crow, Bill Keating (D-MA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), and Adam Schiff (D-CA). It was on the ground for about three hours.
Pelosi is the highest-ranking U.S. official to meet with Zelensky in person since the Russian invasion began on February 24, 2022. Zelensky shared a video of the visit. The clip begins with the delegation walking toward Zelensky and his team. After introductions, the party walks up the stairs and into the presidential office. The clip cuts to formal photos and then a conversation around a conference table including Pelosi’s statement: "We…are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom, that we're on a frontier of freedom and that your fight is a fight for everyone. And so our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done."
After the conversation, which Pelosi later said focused on security, assistance, and the eventual rebuilding of Ukraine, Zelensky awarded to Pelosi the Order of Princess Olga, a civil honor given to women who have achieved significant distinction in their chosen field. “When we return to the United States, we will do so further informed, deeply inspired and ready to do what is needed to help the Ukrainian people as they defend democracy for their nation and for the world," the delegation later said.
While the Democrats are staking out their position as defenders of democracy, associates of the former president are under increasing scrutiny for their role in overturning it.
Last night, a federal judge—a Trump appointee—rejected a plea from the Republican National Committee (RNC) to block its mass-marketing vendor from releasing materials to the January 6 committee. The committee had subpoenaed the material on February 23 as it looked into how the Republicans used the Big Lie for fundraising. For example, in the middle of the January 6 attack, the RNC sent an email telling supporters to “FIGHT BACK,” because “This is our LAST CHANCE.”
Today, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol requested that Representatives Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Mo Brooks (R-AL), and Ronny Jackson (R-TX) cooperate with the committee voluntarily to fill in what they say are some of the remaining blanks in the story of former president Trump’s effort to overturn the 2022 election.
The committee outlined for Biggs what it already knows: he participated in planning meetings for January 6, including the plan for then–vice president Mike Pence to refuse to count the electoral votes that elected Democrat Joe Biden president. Provocateur Ali Alexander has said publicly that he, Biggs, and two other representatives came up with the idea of bringing protesters to Washington, D.C., to stop the counting of the electoral votes. The committee has information that Biggs tried to persuade state officials to overturn the election.
And, finally, “recent information from former White House personnel has identified an effort by certain House Republicans after January 6th to seek a presidential pardon for activities taken in connection with President Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.” Biggs was apparently part of those discussions. The committee asked Biggs to clarify why he thought he needed a pardon.
The committee’s letter to Brooks focused mostly on his recent statements that Trump continues to talk about “rescinding” the 2020 election. On March 23, for example, Brooks released a statement saying: President Trump asked me to rescind the 2020 elections, immediately remove Joe Biden from the White House, immediately put President Trump back in the White House, and hold a new special election for the presidency.”
The committee wrote: “[T]he Committee is examining a series of efforts by President Trump to abandon his solemn duty to support and defend our Constitution. The exchange you have disclosed with the former President is directly relevant to the subject of our inquiry, and it appears to provide additional evidence of President Trump’s intent to restore himself to power through unlawful means.”
In its letter to Jackson, the committee focused first on the recently released encrypted messages between the leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, and members of the organization asking them to act as his personal security guards. One of those messages suggested that Jackson had “critical data to protect.”
The committee noted that individual Oath Keepers have been charged with seditious conspiracy, and appeared to believe their actions would threaten the lives of members of Congress. The committee asked Jackson: “Why would these individuals have an interest in your specific location? Why would they believe you “have critical data to protect?” Why would they direct their members to protect your personal safety? With whom did you speak by cell phone that day?”
Apparently unwilling to subpoena their own colleagues, which would open up a huge can of worms if the Republicans retake control of the House of Representatives, the committee said it was a “patriotic duty” to cooperate, and asked their colleagues “to join the hundreds of individuals who have shared information with the Select Committee.”
Jackson has already answered. “I will not participate in the illegitimate Committee’s ruthless crusade against President Trump and his allies,” he said in a statement.
And so here we are. A minority, placed in control of the U.S. Supreme Court by a president who received a minority of the popular vote and then, when he lost reelection, tried to overturn our democracy, is explicitly taking away a constitutional right that has been protected for fifty years. Its attack on federal protection of civil rights applies not just to abortion, but to all the protections put in place since World War II: the right to use birth control, marry whomever you wish, live in desegregated spaces, and so on.
The draft opinion says the state legislatures are the true heart of our democracy and that they alone should determine abortion laws in the states. But Republican-dominated legislatures have also curtailed the right to vote. When Democrats in Congress tried to protect voting rights, Senate Republicans killed it with the filibuster.
Tonight's news is an alarm like the 1857 Dred Scott decision, which gave a few white men who controlled state legislatures power over the American majority.
The American Taliban appears to have won one today. The leaked supreme court decision overturning Roe v Wade is defeat for the foundation of all rights the control of your own body. In order to be confirmed to supreme court, two of the justices said that Roe V Wade was established law and they would not vote to overturn it. If Bret Kavanaugh lied about raping that girl, he would have any problem lying about Roe v Wade.
Make no mistake about it, the Christian cult in America is just like the Taliban in Afghanistan they feel it is their duty to impose 2,000-year-old ignorance, not only on their cult members, but the public at large. They plan to accomplish this by making their cult beliefs law. This is just the first. In America 60% of the people have no problem with abortion and 40% want it banned. An organized minority has been able to impose their religious ignorance on the majority. What is next? Laws that women cannot show their face in public. That is the way it was during biblical days. Why not make it a law?
When you lose the freedom to control your own you have lost the foundation of every freedom you have. They need a law that makes these Christian cult members work in a nursery and witness the babies born with half or fish tales. Bigotry is born out of ignorance. To force a mother to birth a child with a half brain that will live only a few days is abuse by the ignorant. Each one of those supreme court justices just spend a couple of weeks in a nursery and witness the deformities before they finalize their decision.
In 1985, President Ronald Reagan’s team made a conscious effort to bring evangelicals and social conservatives into the voting base of the Republican Party. The Republicans’ tax cuts and deregulation had not created the prosperity party leaders had promised, and they were keenly aware that their policies might well not survive the upcoming 1986 midterm elections. To find new voters, they turned to religious groups that had previously shunned politics.
“Traditional Republican business groups can provide the resources,” political operative Grover Norquist explained, “but these groups can provide the votes.” To keep that base riled up, the Republican Party swung behind efforts to take away women’s constitutional right to abortion, which the Supreme Court had recognized by a vote of 7–2 in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and then reaffirmed in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
Although even as recently as last week, only about 28% of Americans wanted Roe v. Wade overturned, Republicans continued to promise their base that they would see that decision destroyed. Indeed, the recognition that evangelical voters would turn out to win a Supreme Court seat might have been one of the reasons then–Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell refused to hold hearings for then-president Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. Leaving that seat empty was a tangible prize to turn those voters out behind Donald Trump, whose personal history of divorces and sexual assault was not necessarily attractive to evangelicals, in 2016.
But, politically, the Republicans could not actually do what they promised: not only is Roe v. Wade popular, but also it recognizes a constitutional right that Americans have assumed for almost 50 years. The Supreme Court has never taken away a constitutional right, and politicians rightly feared what would happen if they attacked that fundamental right.
Last night, a leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, revealed that the court likely intends to overturn Roe v. Wade, taking away a woman’s constitutional right to reproductive choice. In the decision, Alito declared that what Americans want doesn’t matter: “We cannot allow our decisions to be affected by any extraneous influences such as concern about the public’s reaction to our work,” he wrote.
The dog has caught the car.
Democrats are outraged; so are the many Republican voters who dismissed Democratic alarms about the antiabortion justices Trump was putting on the court because they believed Republican assurances that the Supreme Court justices nominated by Republican presidents and confirmed with Republican votes would honor precedent and leave Roe v. Wade alone. Today, clips of nomination hearings circulated in which Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and even Samuel Alito–—the presumed majority in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade—assured the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that they considered Roe v. Wade and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision upholding Roe settled law and had no agenda to challenge them.
Those statements were made under oath by those seeking confirmation to our highest judicial body, and they now appear to have been misleading, at best. In addition, the decision itself is full of right-wing talking points and such poor history that historians have spent the day explaining the actual history of abortion in the United States. This sloppiness suggests that the decision—should it be handed down in its current state—is politically motivated. And in a Pew poll conducted in February, 84% of Americans said they believed that justices should not bring their political views into their decision making.
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) provided key votes for Trump’s nominees and are now on the defensive. Collins publicly defended her votes for both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh around the time of their confirmation, saying she did not believe they would overturn Roe. She noted that Gorsuch was a co-author of “a whole book” on the importance of precedent, and that she had “full confidence” that Kavanaugh would not try to overturn Roe. Murkowski voted to confirm Gorsuch and Barrett.
Collins today said: “If this leaked draft opinion is the final decision and this reporting is accurate, it would be completely inconsistent with what Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh said in their hearings and in our meetings in my office.” Like Collins, Murkowski noted that the final decision could change, but ‘if it goes in the direction that this leaked copy has indicated, I will just tell you that it rocks my confidence in the court right now.” The draft is not going in “the direction that I believed that the court would take based on statements that have been made about Roe being settled and being precedent.”
Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin suggested that the Senate Judiciary Committee should hold hearings on whether the justices lied in their confirmation hearings, and call Senators Collins and Murkowski as witnesses.
This apparent shift from what they had promised is a searing blow at the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, which was already staggering under the reality that three of the current justices were nominated by Donald Trump, who lost the popular vote and then tried to destroy our democracy; two were nominated by George W. Bush, who also lost the popular vote in his first term; and one other is married to someone who supported the January 6 insurrection and yet refused to recuse himself from at least one case in which she might be implicated.
Today, Republicans tried to turn this story into one about the leak of the draft document, which is indeed a rare occurrence (although not unprecedented), rather than the decision itself. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blamed the leaker for attacking the legitimacy of the court, although McConnell’s refusal in 2016 to hold hearings for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee on the grounds that eight months was too close to an election to confirm a justice before shoving Barrett through in October 2020 when balloting was already underway arguably did more to undermine the court’s legitimacy. Echoing him, one commentator said the draft leak was worse than the January 6 insurrection.
But while McConnell and the right wing are implying that a liberal justice’s office leaked the draft, there is no evidence either way. Observers note, in fact, that the leak would help the right wing more than the dissenters, since it would likely lock in votes. Those trying to blame the liberal justices did not comment on an apparent leak from Chief Justice Roberts’s office that suggested he wanted a more moderate decision. Jennifer Rubin suggested calling the bluff of those blaming the liberal justices: she proposed agreeing that whichever office leaked the draft ought to recuse from the final decision.
Republican politicians have largely stayed silent on the draft decision itself today, but the reaction of Nevada Republican Adam Laxalt, who is running for Senate, suggested the pretzel Republican politicians are going to tie themselves into in order to play to the base without alienating the majority. Laxalt issued a statement on Twitter that said the leaked draft represented a “historic victory for the sanctity of life,” but also said that since abortion is legal in Nevada, “no matter the Court’s ultimate decision on Roe, it is currently settled law in our state.”
Democrats, though, are not only defending the constitutional right recognized by Roe v. Wade, but also calling attention to the draft’s statement that the Fourteenth Amendment under which the Supreme Court has protected civil rights since the 1950s can cover only rights that are “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.”
It seems likely that the right-wing justices, who are demonstrating their radicalism by overturning a 50-year precedent, are prepared to undermine a wide range of constitutional rights on the grounds—however inaccurate—that those rights are not deeply rooted in the justices’ own version of this nation’s history and tradition.
Protesters turned out in front of the Supreme Court and across the country today vowing that women will not go backward. As actress Ashley Nicole Black tweeted: “There's a particular slap to the face of being told we can vote for abortion rights, by the court that gutted voting rights.”
If you want a perfect encapsulation of where the anti-anti-Trump left is these days, look no further than Tulsi Gabbard’s appearance on Wednesday’s installment of Hannity.
The former Democratic congresswoman discussed a leaked draft opinion of an upcoming Supreme Court decision in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. This ruling would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision establishing the constitutional right to an abortion. Written by Samuel Alito, Dobbs declares there is no such right, and that abortion should be left for the states to decide.
Though she once introduced a bill in Congress that would have banned abortions after about five months of pregnancy, Gabbard has said, “Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.”
Moreover, in a response submitted to a Vote Smart questionnaire ahead of the 2020 presidential election, then-candidate Gabbard stated, “The very real possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned terrifies me. I am sick of women’s bodies being used as pawns so politicians can score cheap political points at the expense of their freedom and safety.”
So, of course, Gabbard did exactly as you’d expect. She went on television two days after it’d been reported that the Supreme Court is on the brink of overturning the very precedent whose elimination “terrifies” her, and she said so in no uncertain terms.
Gabbard said she supports the court’s decision.
“I think when you look at the different efforts to assault our freedom and democracy, it continuously points to the fact that they’re afraid of the people,” she told Sean Hannity. “They’re afraid of us, they are afraid of this question being put to the people through their state legislatures for the people’s voices to be heard.”
“Us” seemingly includes her, a person who is on record defending the court’s decision in Roe, but is now apparently reversing course to own her fellow libs.
And of course, Gabbard attacked the leaker as well.
“This person is a thief who stole this information, released it with a very specific intent to try to when incite protesters and intimidate and pressure our Supreme Court justices to make a political decision rather than a decision that is based on the Constitution,” Gabbard stated.
She called the act a “crime,” even though the consensus among legal scholars appears to be that it is not, however fireable the offense may be.
Gabbard has been a fixture on Fox News primetime shows in recent months, where she has agreed with the hosts’ criticisms of various liberals while also firing her own broadsides at them on a variety of topics. I can recall only one notable exception to this pattern, which was an argument she had with Hannity over U.S. military aide to Ukraine.
Gabbard has cultivated a role as a so-called liberal who seems to relish telling conservatives just how awful her side is. This is hardly unique to her. There’s a small but loud Substack/Twitter universe of liberals and ex-lefties who’ve either gone all-in on Trumpism or espouse only opinions they know their audience wants to hear, lest they hemorrhage paying subscribers.
This sort of phenomenon isn’t exclusively the province of disaffected liberals, as the number of Never Trump conservatives on MSNBC will attest, not to mention the ludicrous popularity of the Lincoln Project among the left. People of this ilk aren’t really listened to because of what they say, but because of who they are. After all, having someone from across the political aisle trashing their own side can be incredibly validating for the target audience – and potentially lucrative for the person doing the trashing.
It’s called audience capture. And unless Tulsi Gabbard has undergone some kind of radical and genuine change in her views on say, abortion, climate change, and Medicare-for-All – which by the way, she has said she supports – she’s simply performing a minstrel show in the court of Fox News.
While most eyes were on the leaked draft of the Supreme Court decision this week, the Biden administration continued its work to move the country forward, demonstrating that investing in ordinary Americans creates a strong economy.
Since the 1980s, Republicans have insisted that the way to establish strong economic growth is to cut business regulations and taxes in order to free up innovation and capital for investment. Rejecting the system in place since 1933 that used the government to keep the economic playing field level and protect the rights of workers, Republicans argued that the economy worked best when business leaders ran it. Government should support the employers on the supply side of the economy rather than the workers and consumers on the demand side.
In response to those who challenged this “supply-side” economics on the grounds that government deficits would explode as tax receipts fell, Reagan Republicans argued that tax cuts would pay for themselves with economic growth, so Americans could have both lower taxes and continued services. And, although Reagan tripled yearly deficits and nearly tripled the national debt—from $995 billion to $2.9 trillion—the idea that tax cuts paid for themselves by boosting investment in the economy, became gospel on the right. At the same time, supply-side economics never delivered the extra growth it promised.
As soon as he took office, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, President Joe Biden rejected traditional supply-side economics and launched a policy that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called “modern supply-side economics.” Biden’s plan, Yellen explained, focuses on “labor supply, human capital, public infrastructure, R&D, and investments in a sustainable environment.” Rather than focusing on putting money into the hands of the “demand side” of the economy—consumers—it focuses on developing a strong labor force in a strong democracy to create growth through hard work and innovation.
That system has paid off with the fastest economic recovery since the pandemic of any of the wealthiest liberal democracies that make up the Group of Seven (G7) countries: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The U.S. job market has bounded back from the depths of the pandemic at an astonishing rate. Today’s job report showed that employers added another 428,000 jobs in April. For the past year, the economy has added, on average, more than half a million new jobs a month, for a total of 8.3 million since Biden took office. Unemployment is at a 50-year low at 3.6% (this number counts only those who are unemployed and are actively looking for a job). Since there are currently 1.9 vacancies for every unemployed person, giving workers leverage over employers, wages grew 5.5% in April.
That upward pressure of wages might be part of what is driving soaring inflation. Over the past 12 months, the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index, which is a method of measuring how much it costs for an ordinary consumer to buy goods and services, has risen 6.6%. If you take fuel and food out of that index, it’s still 5.2%, and the Fed likes inflation to be no more than 2%.
Supply chain issues have also driven up prices, both because of shortages and because the ten shipping companies that dominate the global trade have jacked up prices so astronomically that U.S. importers have asked the U.S. government to intervene (this year container companies will pocket $300 billion in profits, up from $23 billion before the pandemic).
The skyrocketing price of oil, which has translated into soaring gasoline prices, has also driven up prices: the American Automobile Association says the average price of a gallon of gas nationally today is $4.279 a gallon (prices are significantly cheaper in the South than in the West, where in some places they are more than $5.75 a gallon). Higher gas prices drive up the price of everything by increasing the costs of shipping even further.
Global oil production dropped dramatically during the pandemic, with oil-producing nations cutting production by about 10% globally. Producers have been slow to increase production to keep up with the global recovery, not least because they are making record profits. Yesterday, Shell, which is Europe’s largest energy company (and which did, in fact, begin its business in the early 19th century importing decorative seashells from Asia to England), reported its largest quarterly profit ever, at $9.1 billion. It said it will use the windfall to buy back shares of the company, increasing the value of the company’s stock.
The Biden administration has asked Saudi Arabia to increase production, but the Saudis have resisted that request, joining the rest of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and their allies, including Russia, in saying global shortages are the West’s fault because of their sanctions on Russia. Indeed, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions have badly disrupted oil supplies, driving prices up further.
But there is also a foreign policy story here: Saudi Arabia crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was close to the Trump administration and is close to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, with whose new investment firm he has recently invested $2 billion despite Kusher’s lack of experience in investing. In contrast, in February 2021, Biden released a U.S. intelligence assessment that MBS had approved the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. And while presidents have tended to downplay the idea that the 9/11 hijackers—15 of whom were Saudi out of 19 total—had any connection to the Saudi government, Biden ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigation to declassify documents that suggest there may have been a Saudi spy involved.
It seems unlikely MBS is losing sleep over Biden’s popularity sinking as gas prices rise.
The administration has undertaken steps to curb inflation. Although it does not have control over either Chinese supply chains—stressed by a surge in Covid—or the Russian war on Ukraine, there are domestic levers it can use. At the end of March, the administration began releasing a million barrels of oil a day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a policy it expects to continue for 6 months.
To counter Republican claims that the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which Democrats passed in March 2021 and which jump-started the economy, was a failure because it was so expensive, Biden this week pointed out that increased tax revenues have in fact reduced both the deficit and the national debt, both of which went up significantly under former president Trump. (Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama also cut budget deficits—Clinton actually produced a surplus—and the Republicans who followed them used those savings for tax cuts.) This year’s budget deficit will drop by $1.5 trillion, the biggest decline in a single year, easing inflationary pressures by keeping the government from borrowing.
Today, Biden called for Congress to pass the Bipartisan Innovation Act, which focuses on building goods in the United States to avoid future supply chain crises and would provide new manufacturing jobs in small and medium-sized companies (the country has added 473,000 manufacturing jobs since he took office). It would bring home production that the U.S. has ceded to China and, Biden suggested today, rebuild the Rust Belt. Currently, the House and the Senate are in the process of merging two bills, one passed by each chamber, into a final bill.
“This is a bipartisan bill,” Biden told workers at United Performance Metals near Cincinnati, Ohio, accompanied by the state’s senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rod Portman. “Senators Brown and Portman are working hard to get it done.” “Pass the damn bill and send it to me,” he urged. “If we do, it’s going to help bring down prices, bring home jobs, and power America’s manufacturing comeback.”
On Wednesday, Jerome Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve Board, announced an interest rate hike of a half percent, the biggest hike since 2000. Their hope is to cool down the heated economy enough to slow inflation without throwing people out of work.
Stocks rallied immediately after the announcement, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (one of the indexes for gauging the movement of the stock market) gaining about 900 points. The next day wiped out those gains and more, and today was similarly rocky. It seems the switch from a policy of heating up the economy to cooling it down has made investors jittery.
In other news today, a new book coming out by Mark Esper, former secretary of defense under Trump, reveals that the former president wanted the military to recall to active duty retired General Stan McChrystal and Admiral William H. McRaven in order to court-martial them for disloyalty to him. It also says that Trump wanted to have the U.S. military launch missiles at Mexican drug labs, quoting him as telling Esper that “[w]e could just shoot some Patriot missiles” into our neighbor and ally, Mexico, and no one would know it was the U.S. because Trump could just deny it.
Esper pointed out that such an attack on a sovereign nation would be an act of war.
Weeks of speculation that Russian president Vladimir Putin would use the May 9 Victory Day celebration to announce he was escalating his war on Ukraine were incorrect. The celebration went off—subdued this year—and Putin delivered a speech, but it simply covered his usual topics. During the day, hackers broke into Russian televisions with the message: “The blood of thousands of Ukrainians and hundreds of murdered children is on your hands…. TV and the authorities are lying. No to war.”
Instead, the powerful speech of the occasion came from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, filmed outside walking down Khreshchatyk Street, the main street in Kyiv, where normally there would be a Victory Day parade. Zelensky claimed Ukrainian ownership of victory against the Nazis in World War II, then turned to the story of the present.
Ukrainians are fighting, he said, “[f]or our freedom. For our independence. So that the victory of our ancestors was not in vain. They fought for freedom for us and won. We are fighting for freedom for our children, and therefore we will win…. And very soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine. And someone will not even have one left. We won then, we will win now, too! And Khreshchatyk [Street] will see the parade of victory—the victory of Ukraine.”
At home, a big story broke over the weekend, reminding us that the ties of the Republican Party to Russians and the effect of those ties on Ukraine reach back not just to former president Trump, but at least to the 2008 presidential campaign of Arizona senator John McCain.
Late Saturday night, political strategist Steve Schmidt, who worked on a number of Republican political campaigns including McCain’s when he ran for president in 2008, began to spill what he knows about that 2008 campaign. Initially, this accounting took the form of Twitter threads, but on Sunday, Schmidt put the highlights into a post on a Substack publication called The Warning. The post’s title distinguished the author from those journalists and members of the Trump administration who held back key information about the dangerous behavior in Trump’s White House in order to include it in their books. The post was titled: “No Books. No Money. Just the Truth.”
Schmidt left the Republican Party in 2018, tweeting that by then it was “fully the party of Trump. It is corrupt, indecent and immoral. With the exception of a few governors…it is filled with feckless cowards who disgrace and dishonor the legacies of the party's greatest leaders.... Today the GOP has become a danger to our democracy and our values.” Schmidt helped to start The Lincoln Project, designed to sink Trump Republicans through attack ads and fundraising, in late 2019.
The apparent trigger for Schmidt’s accounting was goading from McCain’s daughter Meghan McCain, a sometime media personality who, after years of slighting Schmidt, recently called him a pedophile, which seems to have been a reference to the fact that a colleague with whom Schmidt started The Lincoln Project was accused of online sexual harassment of men and boys. Schmidt resigned over the scandal.
Schmidt was fiercely loyal to Senator McCain and had stayed silent for years over accusations that he was the person who had chosen then–Alaska governor Sarah Palin as McCain’s vice presidential candidate, lending legitimacy to her brand of uninformed fire-breathing radicalism, and about his knowledge of McCain’s alleged affair with a lobbyist.
In his tweetstorm, Schmidt set the record straight, attributing the choice of Palin to McCain’s campaign director and McCain himself, and acknowledging that the New York Times had been correct in the reporting of McCain’s relationship with the lobbyist, despite the campaign’s angry denial.
More, though, Schmidt’s point was to warn Americans that the mythmaking that turns ordinary people into political heroes makes us unwilling to face reality about their behavior and, crucially, makes the media unwilling to tell us the truth about it. As journalist Sarah Jones wrote in PoliticusUSA, Schmidt’s “broader point is how we, as Americans, don’t like to be told the truth and how our media so loves mythology that they work to deliver lies to us instead of holding the powerful accountable.”
Schmidt’s biggest reminder, though, was that the director of the 2008 McCain campaign was Richard (Rick) Davis, a founding partner of Davis Manafort, the political consulting firm formed in 1996. By 2003, the men were representing pro-Russia Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Yanukovych; in July 2004, U.S. journalist Paul Klebnikov was murdered in Moscow for exposing Russian government corruption; and in June 2005, Manafort proposed that he would work for Putin’s government in former Soviet republics, Europe, and the United States by influencing politics, business dealings, and news coverage.
From 2004 to 2014, Manafort worked for Yanukovych and his party, trying to make what the U.S. State Department called a party of “mobsters and oligarchs” look legitimate. In 2016, Manafort went on to lead Donald Trump’s campaign, and the ties between him, the campaign, and Russia are well known. Less well known is that in 2008, Manafort’s partner Rick Davis ran Republican candidate John McCain’s presidential campaign.
Schmidt writes that McCain turned a blind eye to the dealings of Davis and Manafort, apparently because he was distracted by the fallout when the story of his personal life hit the newspapers. Davis and Manafort were making millions by advancing Putin’s interests in Ukraine and eastern Europe, working for Yanukovych and Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Schmidt notes that “McCain spent his 70th birthday with Oleg Deripaska and Rick Davis on a Russian yacht at anchor in Montenegro.”
“There were two factions in the campaign,” Schmidt tweeted, “a pro-democracy faction and…a pro Russia faction,” led by Davis, who—like Manafort—had a residence in Trump Tower. It was Davis who was in charge of vetting Palin.
McCain was well known for promising to stand up to Putin, and Palin’s claim that she could counter the growing power of Russia in part because “[t]hey’re our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska” became a long-running joke (the comment about seeing Russia from her house came from a Saturday Night Live skit).
But a terrific piece in The Nation by Mark Ames and Ari Berman in October 2008 noted: “He may talk tough about Russia, but John McCain’s political advisors have advanced Putin’s imperial ambitions.” The authors detailed Davis’s work to bring the Balkan country of Montenegro under Putin’s control and concluded that either McCain “was utterly clueless while his top advisers and political allies ran around the former Soviet domain promoting the Kremlin’s interests for cash, or he was aware of it and didn’t care.”
Trump’s campaign and presidency, along with Putin’s deadly assault on Ukraine, puts into a new light the fact that McCain’s campaign manager was Paul Manafort’s business partner all the way back in 2008.