There was a Republican debate this week, and I want to give it all the attention it deserves so let’s ignore it. Let’s talk about something that matters like the looming government shutdown instead.
It looks increasingly likely that the government will run out of money this weekend. There’s one reason for that. The Republican MAGA faction is holding the process hostage. In fact, there is every indication that MAGA wants a government shutdown.
One tell is that Donald Trump has endorsed the idea of a shutdown. In a Truth Social post (an Orwellian moniker if there ever was one), Trump wrote, “The Republicans lost big on Debt Ceiling, got NOTHING, and now are worried that they will be BLAMED for the Budget Shutdown. Wrong!!! Whoever is President will be blamed. UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN! Close the Border, stop the Weaponization of ‘Justice,’ and End Election Interference.”
There’s some truth to that. Blame for shutdowns is usually apportioned to both parties, but the party screaming “SHUT IT DOWN!” usually bears the brunt.
Of course, Trump has an ulterior motive. The Former Guy previously called on Republicans to use the crisis as an opportunity to defund the federal prosecutors who are bringing cases against him. Make America great or something or other.
Trump’s minions in Congress received their marching orders and got in step. A second tell is the focus of Republican negotiations in recent days.
The Republicans in the House approved an amendment from Marjorie Taylor Greene - MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE! - that would reduce Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s salary to $1. This is not an amendment that is intended to become law. This is a poison pill that is designed to kill the appropriations bill to which it is attached. You don’t try to kill appropriations bills with nonsensical garbage two days before the government runs out of money unless you want the government to shut down.
A second tack that MAGA is taking is to use the threat of a shutdown to cut off aid to Ukraine. Senator Rand Paul, who never ceases to underwhelm me, threatened on Twitter to only support a continuing resolution to keep the government open if it did not contain aid to Ukraine.
“To avoid a government shutdown, I will consent to an expedited vote on a clean CR without Ukraine aid on it,” Paul wrote. “If leadership insists on funding another country’s government at the expense of our own government, all blame rests with their intransigence.”
Remember that John McCain accused Paul of “working for Vladimir Putin” in 2017. I haven’t seen much to make me question McCain’s assessment.
And many House Republicans have taken up Paul’s rallying cry of “Whatever Putin wants!” The House resisted MAGA attempts to strip Ukraine aid from the defense appropriations bill, but Republicans were split on the issue. The amendment failed by a 104-330 vote, but the breakdown among Republicans was 104 in favor of following Putin’s wishes and 117 in favor of keeping the aid intact.
The battle over the Ukraine aid is not over, however. We haven’t seen the last of MAGA attempts to abandon our allies to their fate. There are many rationales for this position but the arguments mainly fall into two main categories.
First, is the pseudo-pacifist position that aid must end to stop the war. It won’t. Ending aid won’t end the Ukrainian desire to resist the invader who is literally raping and pillaging their land and its citizens. It will just make it more difficult and bloody for Ukraine to win.
You can also be sure that the impeachment inquiry into Hunter - I mean Joe - Biden will continue. By most accounts, the first day of hearings ended with a thud that included star witnesses that undercut the Republican narrative, allowed Democrats to shift the spotlight to Donald Trump, featured apparently falsified evidence, and led Democrats to attempt to prohibit Marjorie Taylor Greene from exhibiting pornography (two terms I’d really rather not hear together).
Second, critics of aid cite the cost. This is disingenuous because both parties can easily find money for anything they want to, despite the mountains of red ink that fill the federal ledger. If a bill to fund a border was up for a vote, those nays would quickly become yeas.
The reality is that Ukrainian aid is a tiny share of the federal budget, and it is money well spent. We don’t have boots on the ground, but we are weakening a major geopolitical foe and showing our own strength and resolve. Well, most of us are.
In my view, the anti-Ukraine wing of the GOP (still a minority!) takes that view for a couple of reasons. First, they are reflexively anti-Biden. If Biden favors it, they assume it must be bad. And they don’t want Biden to get credit for any success so they have to make sure that Biden fails, even if means handing an entire nation over to Vladimir Putin.
Further, I think a lot of these people have an axe to grind with Ukraine over Trump’s first impeachment. They blame Zelenskey and Ukraine for the problems that Trump had over his “perfect phone call” and are holding a grudge.
Finally, a lot of Republican extremists are simply pro-Putin. Right-wing propaganda has painted Putin as anti-political correctness, an enemy of homosexuality (despite his odd penchant for shirtless photos). and a defender of Christianity. This isn’t new, going back at least a decade.
So when the shutdown happens next week, remember that it didn’t have to happen. It will have happened because certain Republicans are agents of chaos who wanted it to happen. These people have no loyalty to anyone or anything except Donald Trump. That includes the Republican Party or Speaker McCarthy, who they use when it suits their purpose but are just as happy to leave him twisting in the wind.
I call this crowd the “kamikaze caucus” because they thrive on angst and destruction. They are happy to shoot themselves in the foot if it elevates their name. They really don’t care if their party loses the shutdown shenanigans because victory for them is to become more prominent among the Republican base and to be able to call other members of their party “RINOs.”
Voters should remember the shutdown when they go to the polls next year. Republicans who are serious and work for the betterment of the country should be rewarded, but MAGA radicals who toy with the national economy and are just as happy to “burn it down” as to “make America great” should never be trusted with power again.
THE DEBATE: Okay, I’ll say a few words about the debate. It was meaningless. There was little to no criticism about the elephant not in the room except for the fact that he wasn’t there. Except for Chris Christie, the hopefuls can’t bring themselves to say a mean word about Donald Trump, and without challenging him, they can’t win. Wednesday night’s event was about positioning for 2028, not 2024.
There were a few good barbs, such as Nikki Hailey’s statement to Vivek Ramaswamy that, “Every time I hear you speak, I feel a little bit dumber.” That’s a fair statement but it was directed at the wrong person. Without telling voters why they are better qualified than Donald Trump, they won’t get the votes of Trump supporters.
Chris Christie did have a memorable moment in which he tried to label Trump as “Donald Duck” for skipping the debate, but with all the problems Trump has, focusing on his no-show status seemed too easy, especially coming from Christie. Plus, it was just an awkward, cringy insult.
DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Breaking news as I write this is that California Senator Dianne Feinstein has passed away at 90. Feinstein had already announced that she would not run for re-election after extended absences from the Senate this year due to health issues.
May she rest in peace.