Of course there were many evangelical Senators, including Ben Sasse (R-NE), Tim Scott (R-SC), John Thune (R-SD), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) who did not object to the Electoral College votes. Other evangelical Senators, including Jim Lankford (R-OK), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), originally said that they would oppose the Pennsylvania results, but changed their minds after the insurrectionists broke into the U.S. Capitol.
Vacation is over. What did I miss? Here is a small taste of what has happened in American politics over the last ten days:
A bomb exploded in Nashville on Christmas morning. We are learning more every day about the suicide bomber. Fortunately, no one other than the bomber himself was killed. As far as I know, Trump did not comment publicly on the bombing. He played golf.
Trump refused to sign the Consolidated Appropriation Act. It included $900 billion for COVID-19 relief, including a $600 check for Americans making under $75,000 a year. Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin negotiated the bill on the president’s behalf while Trump was busy trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Trump’s major problem with the bill was the $600 dollar COVID relief check for individual Americans. Trump wanted to give Americans $2000.
Trump eventually signed the Consolidated Appropriation Act on December 27. Because he signed it one week late, many Americans did not receive unemployment compensation during the final week of 2021. Why didn’t Trump sign it? It is hard to tell. But he was probably upset with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell for declaring that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. While Trump held his personal grudge, millions of Americans went without federal help during the Christmas holiday. The president played golf.
Meanwhile, Democrats and some Republicans supported Trump’s claim to raise the sum of the relief checks to $2000. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, Georgia GOP Senators fighting for their political lives in tomorrow’s Georgia run-off, supported the president. But McConnell did his best to make sure that the American people would only get $600
Just before we went on break, Trump vetoed the Defense Authorization Act. This bill, which is the standard act to fund the military, had bipartisan support. In fact, this bill has passed with bipartisan support since 1961. Trump vetoed the bill because it included provisions for renaming military bases named after Confederate leaders. He also claimed it protected social media companies. On December 28, the House of Representatives overturned Trump’s veto by a vote of veto 322-87. On January 1, 2021, the Senate overturned the veto 81-13. It was the first time in the Trump presidency that Congress overturned one of his vetoes.
On the same day the Senate overturned Trump’s veto on the Defense Authorization Act, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley said that he would object to the 2020 Electoral College vote when the Senate meets to certify it on Wednesday. Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, upon hearing about Hawley’s stunt, called it a “dangerous ploy” and added: “Let’s be clear here: We have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage.” The next day, GOP senators Marcia Blackburn (TN), Mike Braun (IN), Ted Cruz (TX), Steve Daines (MT) Ron Johnson (WI), John Kennedy (LA), and James Lankford (OK) said they would join Hawley. So did Senators-Elect Bill Hagerty (TN), Cynthia Lummis (WY), Roger Marshall (KS), and Tommy Tuberville (AL). Cruz’s office issued a press release. Let’s be clear. This protest will not change the election results. Both houses of Congress will certify the votes of the Electoral College and Joe Biden will be inaugurated President of the United States on January 20, 2021. It will now just take a few additional hours. Read Peter Wehner’s recent article at The Atlantic if you want to understand what is really going on here.
If my calculations are correct, 22,715 people died of COVID-19 since my last blog post.
Yesterday, January 3, 2021, The Washington Post released part of a phone call between Trump and Brad Raffensberger, Georgia’s GOP secretary of state. The President urged Raffensberger to “find” 11,780 Trump votes in Georgia. Trump threatened Raffensberger by telling him that if he did not find the votes he might face “criminal” charges. Here is a clip from their one hour conversation:
But are they disgraces to the church of Jesus Christ?
It looks like pastor Jeffress is now a spokesperson for the Republican Party.
As Jeffress’s fellow Southern Baptist and court evangelical Richard Land put it, “the most dangerous place in Texas is between Robert Jeffress and a television camera.”
Here is Jeffress:
Jeffress also says that Biden looks like he is “aging” and does not have the energy to be president. The worst part is the way Jeffress couches this common pro-Trump political attack with biblical language.
Sen. Ben Sasse eviscerated President Trump during a phone call with constituents in which the Nebraska Republican accused the president of cozying up to dictators, mistreating women, flirting with white supremacists and irresponsibly handling the coronavirus pandemic.
Sasse’s comments were disclosed by the Washington Examiner, which obtained an audio recording of the call, a campaign telephone townhall with Nebraska voters. Sasse’s spokesman verified that the reporting was accurate, but declined to answer more specific questions such as when the call happened.
During the call, a woman asked Sasse why he’s so hard on the president. The senator has been among the Republican lawmakers willing to criticize the president from time to time, but has mostly supported him and his policies.
But in the call, Sasse unleashed a torrent of criticisms at Trump.
Earlier this month we did a post about Trump allegedly calling evangelical beliefs “bulls–t.” Many court evangelicals rejected this story because it came from former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, a convicted criminal.
But now, thanks to the reporting of McKay Coppins at The Atlantic, we know that Cohen is not the only one who claims that Trump mocks evangelicals and their beliefs. Here is a taste of his recent piece:
The conservative Christian elites Trump surrounds himself with have always been more clear-eyed about his lack of religiosity than they’ve publicly let on. In a September 2016 meeting with about a dozen influential figures on the religious right—including the talk-radio host Eric Metaxas, the Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, and the theologian Wayne Grudem—the then-candidate was blunt about his relationship to Christianity. In a recording of the meeting obtained by The Atlantic, the candidate can be heard shrugging off his scriptural ignorance (“I don’t know the Bible as well as some of the other people”) and joking about his inexperience with prayer (“The first time I met [Mike Pence], he said, ‘Will you bow your head and pray?’ and I said, ‘Excuse me?’ I’m not used to it.”) At one point in the meeting, Trump interrupted a discussion about religious freedom to complain about Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska and brag about the taunting nickname he’d devised for him. “I call him Little Ben Sasse,” Trump said. “I have to do it, I’m sorry. That’s when my religion always deserts me.”
And yet, by the end of the meeting—much of which was spent discussing the urgency of preventing trans women from using women’s restrooms—the candidate had the group eating out of his hand. “I’m not voting for Trump to be the teacher of my third grader’s Sunday-school class. That’s not what he’s running for,” Jeffress said in the meeting, adding, “I believe it is imperative … that we do everything we can to turn people out.”
The Faustian nature of the religious right’s bargain with Trump has not always been quite so apparent to rank-and-file believers. According to the Pew Research Center, white evangelicals are more than twice as likely as the average American to say that the president is a religious man. Some conservative pastors have described him as a “baby Christian,” and insist that he’s accepted Jesus Christ as his savior.
To those who have known and worked with Trump closely, the notion that he might have a secret spiritual side is laughable. “I always assumed he was an atheist,” Barbara Res, a former executive at the Trump Organization, told me. “He’s not a religious guy,” A. J. Delgado, who worked on his 2016 campaign, told me. “Whenever I see a picture of him standing in a group of pastors, all of their hands on him, I see a thought bubble [with] the words ‘What suckers,’” Mary Trump, the president’s niece, told me.
Greg Thornbury, a former president of the evangelical King’s College, who was courted by the campaign in 2016, told me that even those who acknowledge Trump’s lack of personal piety are convinced that he holds their faith in high esteem. “I don’t think for a moment that they would believe he’s cynical about them,” Thornbury said.
Evangelicals refuse to learn from history. As I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, this is not the first time evangelicals got played by politicians in this way. Richard Nixon used Billy Graham. Ronald Reagan used Jerry Falwell Sr., Cal Thomas, and Ed Dobson. George W. Bush (or more accurately, Karl Rove) used the late David Kuo.
Today, the court evangelicals are empowering a narcissist, pathological liar, power-hungry wanna-be-tyrant who has probably done more harm to this country than any other American president. Yes, they got their Supreme Court justices and their Jerusalem embassy, but history will hold them accountable for their complicity. By November 3 they may very well be the only ones still clinging to this corrupt leader.
In a previous post on whether Trump should pick the next Supreme Court justice I wrote:
Politics is not about integrity, ethics, or standing by one’s word. It is about power. And let’s not pretend that the Democrats wouldn’t do the same thing if they were in the GOP’s shoes right now. Plague on all their houses!
In 2016, the Senate would not allow Merrick Garland, president Barack Obama’s SCOTUS pick, a hearing and vote because the GOP members in the Senate, led by Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, believed that the next president should choose the next justice.
What did the court evangelicals say about McConnell’s decision in 2016?
Ralph Reed and his Faith & Freedom Coalition issued a statement on March 21, 2016:
We strongly oppose Judge Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court. We urge the U.S. Senate to await the final judgment of the American people rendered in the 2016 election before acting on any nomination to the highest court. We will undertake a muscular and ambitious grassroots effort in the states of key U.S. Senators to defeat the Garland nomination and prevent President Obama from shifting the balance of the court for a generation.”
Here is Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council:
In the end, the Senate’s position isn’t about the person — it’s about the principle. “The only reason that they’re complaining about a hearing on the nominee is because they want to make the process as political as possible,” Grassley said. “And that goes to the heart of the matter. We’re not going to politicize this process in the middle of a presidential election year.” The other 10 GOP members of his committee have already made up their minds. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) couldn’t have been clearer when he said, “We’re not going to confirm anyone. Period.” But America’s law professor-in-chief still insists: “In putting forward a nominee today, I am fulfilling my constitutional duty. I’m doing my job. I hope that our senators will do their jobs, and move quickly to consider my nominee. That’s what the Constitution dictates…”
Wrong again. As scholars like Noah Feldman remind him, “Here’s what the Constitution says about filling Supreme Court vacancies: nothing.” Yet, as they’ve done with abortion and same-sex marriage, liberals are quite content to point to its invisible ink to suit their narrative. The reality is, President Obama has the right to nominate a replacement for Justice Scalia, just as the Senate has a right to ignore it. This is exactly what the Americans people wanted when it elected a GOP majority: a Senate that would rein in the president’s unchecked powers. Now they have it. And on the biggest decision in a generation, we can all be grateful its leaders are doing their part.
I am sure, based on the above statement, Perkins sees no hypocrisy in McConnell’s decision to give Trump’s nominee a hearing in an election year.
Let’s see if Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse will meet with Trump’s appointee. He refused to meet with Garland in 2016. And what about all those “principled constitutionalists” (like Ted Cruz) who would not give Garland a hearing in 2016, but will support Trump’s nominee?
The Huffington Post has collected the comments of several GOP senators in 2016 about Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland. Here are some of those comments:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa: “Given that we are in the midst of the presidential election process, we believe that the American people should seize the opportunity to weigh in on whom they trust to nominate the next person for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina: “As I have repeatedly stated, the election cycle is well underway, and the precedent of the Senate is not to confirm a nominee at this stage in the process. I strongly support giving the American people a voice in choosing the next Supreme Court nominee by electing a new president.”
Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina: “It is essential to the institution of the Senate and to the very health of our republic to not launch our nation into a partisan, divisive confirmation battle during the very same time the American people are casting their ballots to elect our next president.”
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas: “It has been 80 years since a Supreme Court vacancy was nominated and confirmed in an election year. There is a long tradition that you don’t do this in an election year.”
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida: “I don’t think we should be moving forward with a nominee in the last year of this president’s term. I would say that even if it was a Republican president.”
Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado: “I think we’re too close to the election. The president who is elected in November should be the one who makes this decision.”
Sen. Mike Lee of Utah: “We think that the American people need a chance to weigh in on this issue, on who will fill that seat. They’ll have that chance this November, and they ought to have that chance.”
Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania: “With the U.S. Supreme Court’s balance at stake, and with the presidential election fewer than eight months away, it is wise to give the American people a more direct voice in the selection and confirmation of the next justice.”
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota: “Since the next presidential election is already underway, the next president should make this lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”
Watch Sasse mock the graduating class of 2020, take multiple shots at China, make fun of the name “Jeremy,” tell kids that they are heavier than his generation, belittle “gym teachers,” and tell students not to study psychology.
As the father of a 19-year-old, I do not think Sasse is connecting with many graduates here.
UPDATE: My 19-year-old tells me some of it was funny, but not as a commencement address.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has unanimously endorsed the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia conducted a sweeping and unprecedented campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
The heavily-redacted report, based on a three-year investigation, builds on a committee finding nearly two years ago that the January 2017 intelligence community assessment (ICA) on Russia was sound. The spy agencies also found that Russia sought to shake faith in American democracy, denigrate then-candidate Hillary Clinton and boost her rival Donald Trump.
It is worth noting that the Senate Intelligence Committee includes Republican Senators James Risch (ID), Marco Rubio (FL), Susan Collins (ME), Roy Blunt (MO), Tom Cotton (AR), John Cornyn (TX), Ben Sasse (NE), and Richard Burr (Chairman-NC).
I am proud of my U.S. Senator. Yesterday he broke with his party by voting for legislation that would ban almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. He also broke with his party by voting for a bill that would impose criminal penalties on doctors who fail to aggressively treat babies born after abortions. While I am on record saying that the overturning of Roe v. Wade is not the best way of reducing abortions in the United States, I support both pieces of legislation.
The legislation failed, but pro-life Casey (D-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) both voted in support of the bill. Doug Jones (D-AL) voted against the bill banning abortions after 20 weeks and in support of the bill protecting babies born alive.
It fell seven votes short of the necessary 60, failing by a vote of 53 to 44. Two Republicans — Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski — crossed party lines to vote against it. Two Democrats — Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania — voted in favor.
The second, the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” sponsored by Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, would require doctors to “exercise the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion.” Experts say such circumstances are extremely unusual, but the measure would apply to cases in which a baby is not viable outside the womb and doctors induce labor as a means of terminating a pregnancy. The bill would subject physicians to fines and prison time if they failed to comply.
That bill failed, 56 to 44, with Mr. Casey, Mr. Manchin and Mr. Jones joining all 53 Republicans to vote in favor. The three Democrats scheduled to participate in Tuesday night’s presidential debate in South Carolina — Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — were absent for both votes.
As we enter the 2020 election season I have been trying to do more writing for local and regional outlets here in Pennsylvania. This morning I have an op-ed on the impeachment trial at LNP/Lancaster On-Line (formerly Intelligencer Journal-Lancaster New Era). Here is a taste:
Other Republican senators, including Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Pennsylvania’s own Pat Toomey, argued that Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president was “inappropriate,” but did not rise to the level of impeachment.
This last group of senators justified their acquittal votes in two ways.
First, some of them argued that the Founding Fathers would have opposed a partisan impeachment. (No House Republicans supported impeachment.)
This is not true.
In Federalist Paper No. 65, Alexander Hamilton, one of the most prolific defenders of the Constitution during the ratification debates of 1787-1788, predicted that impeachments would always be political. As a result, the Senate should always proceed with caution, prudence and wisdom.
Moreover, the framers of the Constitution would never have referred to an impeachment trial as “bipartisan,” since at the time of its writing there were no political parties in the United States.
The second way that this cohort of Republican senators justified their acquittal vote was by claiming that “the people” should decide whether Trump should be removed from office and this should be done when they cast their ballots during the November presidential election.
The Founding Fathers would not have recognized such an argument.
Mitt Romney, the politically fickle former Massachusetts governor turned U.S. senator from Utah, is mounting an increasingly vocal opposition campaign against President Trump. In recent speeches and press interviews, Romney has staked himself out as an intraparty detractor of the Republican president, taking aim at both his policies and his character. And he’s even left the door open to supporting impeachment.
But open questions remain, among them: Will Romney keep up his steady stream of criticism and put action behind it? And if so, could he convince many other GOP members on Capitol Hill to join him, or would he remain a lone wolf?
Ben Sasse, the senator from Nebraska, has been a vocal critic of Donald Trump. Yet rarely does his opposition to Trump move beyond words. For example, when twelve GOP senators broke with their party to oppose Donald Trump’s “national emergency” declaration on the U.S.-Mexico border, Sasse supported the president. The conservative Washington Examiner called Sasse’s decision “myopic.”
But the real takeaway here is the support Trump still won from the vast majority of Republicans—and, in particular, the abject capitulation of many who had suggested or said outright that they would oppose his invocation of emergency powers. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., wrote in The Washington Post last month that “I cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress.” Yet, when the roll was called, he did exactly that, supporting Trump’s “emergency.” The Post’s Aaron Blake rightly called it “a flip flop for the ages.”
The most disappointing vote came from Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., a principled Trump opponent from the earliest days of the 2016 primaries. Sasse issued an intellectually vacuous statement saying that as a “constitutional conservative,” he thinks the president’s emergency powers are too broad. But he justified his vote to go along with Trump by trashing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and “bare-knuckled politics.” This sounded like projection, since the “bare-knuckled politics” was on Trump’s side. Sasse, like Tillis, is on the ballot in 2020.
My first encounter with Sasse was in January 2016. He was in Iowa to speak on behalf of every major Republican running against Trump. I respected his gutsy willingness to see Trump as exactly who he is. “He’s a strongman with a will to power,” Sasse told me then. “Trump has been the only guy on the Republican side of the aisle that regularly campaigns and says things like, ‘If I’m elected president, I’ll be able to do whatever I want.’”
Three years on, we know that Sasse was right from the start. But what are he and his Republican colleagues willing to do about it? For a majority of them, sadly including Sasse himself, the answer is: precious little.
This morning I praised Ben Sasse for his powerful speech yesterday during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. I still do. Sasse chided his fellow Senators for not doing their jobs as defined by the Constitution.
But where was Sasse’s constitutional principles when his party decided not to give a hearing to Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s choice to replace Antonin Scalia? Where was the Senate’s lively and engaged debate, the kind of stuff Sasse talked about in his Kavanaugh speech? At the time, Sasse didn’t say much about Garland. But as I see it, he certainly didn’t defend the Senate’s constitutional requirement to advise and consent. Sasse was complicit in this partisan attempt to undermine Obama’s appointee.
Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse has a Ph.D in American history from Yale. Here is an exchange between Sasse and Yale historian Glenda Gilmore. She served on Sasse’s dissertation committee along with Jon Butler and Harry Stout.
You have the right to protest Trump tmrw. But aren’t there better ways than kneeling before the flag soldiers died to defend?
But why does the Nebraska Senator, for all his brilliance and conviction, continue to provide a rubber stamp for Donald Trump? Ben Mathis-Lilley explores this question in an essay at Slate titled “The Wasted Mind of Ben Sasse.” It is subtitled “The Nebraska senator has urgent, persuasive ideas for saving American politics. Why won’t he act on them?”
Here is a taste:
...But at the same time, Sasse’s Senate votes have so far aligned with Trump’s wishes 95 percent of the time, the same level of support that Trump has gotten from right-wing ideologues like Ted Cruz and party loyalists like Chuck Grassley. Sasse voted to confirm ill-informed Cabinet appointees like Ben Carson and Betsy DeVos; he’s voted to steamroll the judicial filibuster and stayed silent about the secretive way the Republican health care bill was written and presented to the public. During a June 25 appearance at a conservative activist conference, as other senators in his own party were criticizing the bill and the process by which it had been constructed, Sasse asked whether his remarks would be on the record before announcing that he would not have any comments at all. It was only after the proposal had almost completely stalled that Sasse proposed an alternative.
This, in a nutshell, is the central problem of Ben Sasse. He is a performatively deep thinker, an advocate of public decency who makes a case for good-faith discourse that is both eloquent and, in the FAKE NEWS!!!!!!1! era, timely. He states that case convincingly in his new book about raising hard-working and civic-minded children, The Vanishing American Adult. “Living in a republic demands a great deal of us,” he writes in a sort of mission statement for his public persona. “Among the responsibilities of each citizen in a participatory democracy is keeping ourselves sufficiently informed so that we can participate effectively, argue our positions honorably, and hopefully, forge sufficient consensus to understand each other and then to govern.” But so far, Sasse’s practical participation in our democracy—he was elected to the Senate in 2014—has mostly advanced the interests of an increasingly authoritarian, unreasonable Republican Party. In his first remarks on the Senate floor, he argued that the body should “strengthen and clarify meaningful contests of ideas.” Four months later, he wouldn’t even give Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland a perfunctory meeting. And he certainly didn’t advocate giving Garland a hearing and a floor vote, as one would imagine he should have given his expressed desire for the Senate to become a lively forum for dramatic, legitimate debate rather than pre-written sound bites and predictable party-line votes.