The Week Ahead
November 12, 2023
As we head into Monday, consider extending your personal observance of Veterans Day, which fell on Saturday this year (the World War I armistice was signed at 11:11 on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 and the commemoration is always on that date), by making a call this week to Alabama Senator “Coach” Tommy Tuberville’s Washington, D.C., office. Make sure he knows how upset you are that he’s blocking military promotions, which he’s doing because he thinks he’s entitled to dictate what kind of medical care women who serve our country in the military can have access to. When I called earlier this weekend, his voicemail box was full, but you can always leave yourself a reminder to call later in the week. Here’s his office number: 202-224-4124
Monday is the start of the Trumps’ lawyers’ turn to present their case in response to the New York Attorney General’s fraud lawsuit. Expect to hear arguments about why Judge Arthur Engoron should walk back his earlier decision finding the Trumps liable for fraud and why they shouldn’t have to pay any damages, or at least not as much as the AG is asking for, as well as lots of rhetoric designed for the audience of one that is the former president. Fortunately, these proceedings are taking place in a court of law where the facts and the evidence matter, not in the court of public opinion where Trump is free to spin his fantasies and spread lies. We are undoubtedly in for more drama in the courtroom before it’s over.
If you haven’t seen it before (or recently), this might be a good time to watch the spectacular legal film My Cousin Vinny, as you contemplate the way Trump’s lawyers conduct themselves in court (and out of it). Laughing is always better than crying.
Later this week, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, is expected to testify at the criminal trial of David DePape, the man who viciously attacked him with a hammer. DePape was there for Speaker Pelosi, who was not at home. In opening statements, prosecutors said they will show that DePape had a list of Democratic officials he planned to attack, including California Representative Adam Schiff and California Governor Gavin Newsom.
DePape’s lawyer told the jury she wouldn’t dispute the attack. Instead, she planned to show that her client believed scores of crazy conspiracy theories and thought he was fighting child abuse and corruption. DePape, a Trump supporter, bought into a whole host of QAnon conspiracy theories. The charges against him are assault and kidnapping, and the apparent defense strategy is to dispute whether the DePape intended to prevent Nancy Pelosi from carrying out her official duties, which is an element of the federal kidnapping charge against him.
The defense will have an uphill battle establishing even that limited defense. In their opening statement, prosecutors played a tape recording of a jailhouse call DePape made to a reporter. “I have an important message for everyone in America: You’re welcome,” DePape said. “I would also like to apologize. ... I’m so sorry I couldn’t get more of them.” He said he should have gone to Pelosi’s home more prepared.
Meanwhile over the weekend, Donald Trump continued with his careless about the risk of provoking more violence, laughing and joking about the attack on Paul Pelosi and saying things like, “the only terror we had was Nancy Pelosi,” and calling her a “crazed lunatic.” Trump asked the crowd, “what the hell was going on with her husband? Let’s not ask,” before imitating the kind of comment lawyers make in courtrooms by saying dramatically with his arms raised, “I’ll withdraw the statement.” (He meant I’ll withdraw the “question;” apparently, he didn’t pay close enough attention in the courtroom.) Trump went on to “joke” that the Pelosis had a wall around their house, before laughingly saying, “It didn’t work very well.” That, friends, is the Republican Party’s leading contender to be president in 2024.
Another threat of government shutdown looms over the rest of this week’s events. Funding for the government runs out Friday at midnight. Despite the inevitable jokes about being better off without the government, even the prospect of a shutdown is a real threat to our stability. It means that tens of thousands of career folks as well as political appointees across the country are forced to divert from the work at hand and engage in shutdown planning. It speaks to instability and inability in the Congress. Last Friday Moody's lowered its outlook on the U.S. credit rating to "negative" from "stable," citing, in part, the instability in Congress.
An actual shutdown, especially in this unsettled moment in the world, could be highly damaging. If it happens, it will impact myriad federal services and more than 3 million civilian and military employees of the federal government. Vital services like the U.S. mail and provision of social security checks to existing beneficiaries would continue, but most services would shut down. Government offices would close. National parks could become inaccessible. Pay to federal workers, even those deemed essential and who must stay on the job (and pay for childcare and transportation), would be delayed until the shutdown ended. Federal inspections that ensure food and water safety would be disrupted. Medical research, including work in progress on lifesaving cures and innovations, would come to a halt. Need to renew your passport for international travel? The shutdown will delay if not interfere with that. Federal programs that provide support for people with financial needs, including help with childcare, food, financial aid for higher education, and housing could only be able to continue for as long as existing funds hold out, possibly leaving people without aid they rely on as we enter the coldest part of the year.
The fiscal year ends on September 30. Every year. The deadline is not a surprise. Congress must pass a new budget before that date to keep the government operating. But the House has been unable to do that this year. Congress kicked the can down the road for another 45 days on September 30 with a “continuing resolution,” which continued funding for that period of time to give House Republicans the opportunity to get their act together. Instead, they used the first 20 of those 45 days to fire, fight over, and finally elect a new speaker. Mike Johnson, the Louisiana representative who landed the job, has abandoned, at least for the coming deadline, any prospect of passing a budget. He’s only trying for another continuing resolution that would fund the government until after the first of the year. His proposal involves a “laddered” resolution that would extend some funding through January 19, 2024, and other funding until February 2, 2024. But many Democrats, and even some Republicans, are opposed to this approach.
Johnson, meanwhile, told the public to “trust us.” It’s the budgetary version of hopes and prayers. MAGA-publicans in the House, confident of their power as deal killers and despite agreements made earlier this year, are on track to reject any budget that doesn’t include steep cuts, which, of course, are not acceptable to Democrats. And Republicans don’t seem very good at coming up with effective cost cutting measures, as the recent push to fund aid to Israel by making cuts at the IRS showed. That measure, which Johnson billed as cost cutting, would have increased the national debt by about $12 billion (yes, with a “b”) more than simply sending the aid would have in the long term, because it would have led to uncollected taxes as a result of cuts to the IRS.
Passing the budget every year is one of Congress’s most important, if not the most important, job. Leadership means finding way to bridge the political divide so the country can move forward. A failure to act on funding the country is simply not an option, and yet, here we are.
The piece I wrote last week about the importance of being aware of Trump’s plans for his second term seemed to resonate with a lot of people. I’m linking it here again in case you want to share it with others. Alerting as many people as possible to Trump’s words and the reporting on his plans to—let’s not beat around the bush—end democracy as we know it, is critical to the future of the country. We have less than a year now to make sure everyone understands democracy really is on the ballot in 2024, so let’s get to work.
We’re in this together,