For four years, we have witnessed a degradation of public discourse, a coarsening of rhetoric fueled in large part by Donald Trump’s mouth and twitter feed. It has been a never-ending barrage of lies, insults, and trash talk. He mocks women’s looks, makes false accusations, calls people childish names, and as New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb reminds us on this week’s Stay Tuned, once cruelly mocked a disabled reporter.
Once in a blue moon, a Republican official may quietly (very quietly!) comment that this or that presidential tweet was not, how to put it. . . presidential. But mostly they ignore Trump’s tweets, laugh them off, advise not to take them either literally or seriously, and even sometimes look reporters in the eye and say, “Hey look, I don’t really read tweets.” Now, I don’t expect Republican senators or House members to go to the floor of their respective chambers and commit political suicide by harshly condemning Trump every time he crosses the line in a tweet. But the virtually universal silence is support. And it has served to normalize a wholesale debasement of discourse in America.
Members of Congress themselves have joined in the fun (on both sides). In the wild west of Twitter, they crack jokes, attack rivals, make all manner of tone-deaf comments, and sometimes engage in downright hostile back-and-forth with reporters or the opposition. Speaking of tone-deaf, remember the time Senator John Cornyn joked about coronavirus by tweeting a picture of a Corona beer with a wedge of lime? That was mid-March, when lockdowns were imminent and the NBA had just canceled its season.
Twitter is a strange place. People, myself included, are more careful and traditionally respectful elsewhere. I am more measured and temperate in this space, in my book, on CNN, and on my podcasts. Certainly we tend to be more gracious face-to-face, even with bitter adversaries. Most of us were raised that way.
I try to observe certain self-imposed rules when tweeting. No comments on anyone’s looks; honest efforts to engage the substance, even if sometimes snarky; avoid cursing. But I’ve had twitter tussles myself – with the likes of Don Bongino, Dana Loesch, Jonathan Turley, Richard Grenell, Representative Doug Collins, and even Anthony Scaramucci. None of these generated any light. That’s Twitter. One night, I was especially angry about the bad faith machinations of Representative Devin Nunes. My own dad texted me to calm down.
The throwaway ease of launching a smart aleck riposte on an unregulated social media site is sometimes irresistible. It’s easy, and it’s quick. There is no waiting period or edit button. Errant and regrettable tweets fly, and everyone does it. That includes not just the President these days, but also cabinet secretaries and former Obama advisers too. It also includes, as I’ve said, sitting U.S. senators.
But therein lies the rub (and the point of this week’s Note). There is apparently a new norm! Those same senators are declaring, with self-righteous indignation, that mean tweets about them are confirmation kryptonite.
Way back on July 10th, I made this prediction on the twitter hellsite:
“I look forward to the ironic moment when Republican Senators who laughed off the crudeness, cruelty, and toxicity of this President attack a Biden nominee for some intemperate tweets.”
As I commented this week, that tweet aged well. Upon the announcement that President-elect Biden planned to appoint Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget, Senator Cornyn’s communications director posted this tweet:
“Neera Tanden, who has an endless stream of disparaging comments about the Republican Senators’ whose votes she’ll need, stands zero chance of being confirmed.”
John Cornyn doubled-down on the sentiment, saying in an interview, “I think, in light of her combative and insulting comments about many members of the Senate, mainly on our side of the aisle, that it creates certainly a problematic path.”
I should disclose that Neera Tanden is a friend of mine. She is more than qualified for the job. She is a brilliant policy wonk. She served as then-Senator Hillary Clinton’s legislative director, later as an adviser to President Obama, and now leads the Center for American Progress. As you may have seen or read, she was raised by a single mom who was an Indian immigrant and who for a time had to rely on food stamps. Neera is a graduate of Yale Law School, and she embodies the American dream. There are plenty of policy and political differences one could invoke to oppose her confirmation. But mean tweets?
My reaction to this, presaged by my own July post, is best summed up in this comment:
“I will not take lectures on Neera Tanden’s tweets from people who said nothing about Donald Trump’s relentless bullying and name-calling, and neither should you.”
Walter Shaub, former Director of the Office of Government Ethics, had his own memorable response:
There are worse hypocrisies on the horizon, of course. Republican senators will now demand, after giving lightly-credentialed Trump nominees a pass, that Biden appointees be deeply qualified. They will now remember, for the first time in four years and now that Biden is about to take the helm, that budget austerity should be a priority. And so it goes.
But at this particular moment, the hypocrisy of Trump-enablers and apologists getting on their soapbox about someone’s tweeting habits is richer than Donald Trump claims he is.
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How Can Trump Handicap Biden?
By Sam Ozer-Staton
On Tuesday, a contentious Senate Banking Committee hearing exposed a rift between the nation’s two most powerful economic officials, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Chair Jerome Powell.
The disagreement stems from Mnuchin’s decision to end several key lending programs associated with the CARES Act, the sweeping $2.2 trillion emergency stimulus package Congress passed in late March. Those programs, which include the Main Street Program and the municipal liquidity facility, are designed to keep credit flowing to medium-sized businesses and struggling state and local governments.
Mnuchin’s decision not to extend the programs effectively blocks the incoming Biden administration from accessing over $450 billion in unspent funds during what Powell has called “an extraordinarily uncertain” moment for the American economy. The stimulus money will now be moved from the Fed, which has been managing the programs, to the Treasury Department’s General Fund, which requires congressional approval to be re-appropriated.
In Tuesday’s hearing, Powell, who President Trump appointed to replace Janet Yellen (now Biden’s pick to lead Treasury) as Fed Chair in 2018, indicated that he would not have ended the lending programs, calling them “backstop to key credit markets [that] have helped restore the flow of credit from private lenders through normal channels.”
For his part, Mnuchin claims that he was only following the law. In a letter to Powell announcing his decision late last month, the outgoing Treasury Secretary wrote: “I was personally involved in drafting the relevant part of the legislation and believe the Congressional intent as outlined in Section 4029 was to have the authority to originate new loans or purchase new assets (either directly or indirectly) expire on December 31, 2020.”
Congressional Democrats do not share Mnunchin’s legal interpretation. In both House and Senate hearings this week, Democrats pointed out that the CARES Act requires that unspent funds be transferred back to the Treasury at the start of the year 2026 — not 2021.
House Financial Services Chair Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) said to Mnuchin: “The actions of my Republican colleagues belie [your] novel interpretation. Senator McConnell filed a COVID-19 bill to change the law to require the Fed to close the lending programs after January 19th, 2021. If law already required this, this law wouldn’t be necessary.”
In Tuesday’s Senate Banking Committee hearing, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) was more blunt: “You appear to be trying to sabotage our economy on the way out the door.”
To Brown and other Democrats, Mnuchin’s decision is representative of a larger effort on the part of Trump officials — most of whom still deny the legitimacy of Biden’s win — to hamper the incoming administration.
Last week, ProPublica reported that the Trump administration is preparing a slew of “midnight regulations” to lock in its policies on issues ranging from climate to immigration. The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, is on the verge of finalizing several rules that would make it harder to justify pollution restrictions and reduce the levels of particulate matter in the air.
“Midnight regulations” are not unusual. Every presidential administration attempts to shield its policies from being overturned by the incoming group. According to ProPublica’s reporting, the Trump administration is on pace to finalize 36 major rules in its final three months, a number consistent with the precedent set by the Obama and Bush administrations.
Should Mnuchin and others be blamed for using every available tool to exert their influence over policy, even as they begin packing up their offices? With the economy on the brink, does Mnuchin’s efforts to block the Biden administration’s access to CARES Act funding represent an ominous departure from conventional norms?
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Asha Rangappa is a lawyer and former FBI agent who is now a senior lecturer at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Public Affairs. She’s also a CNN contributor and an editor of Just Security, an online forum for U.S. national security law and policy. She is a must-follow on Twitter @AshaRangappa_.
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— Listen to this week’s episode of Stay Tuned, “Why Biden Won,” where Preet is joined by Jelani Cobb, staff writer at The New Yorker and The Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism at Columbia University. And, don’t miss the bonus, where Cobb talks about Kamala Harris’s potential path to the presidency, and the unique role that comedian Dave Chappelle plays in popular culture.
— Listen to this week’s episode of CAFE Insider, “Pardons, Proof, and the Pandemic,” where Preet and Anne discuss Trump’s pardon of Michael Flynn, the Trump legal team’s failed litigation efforts to overturn the election results in key battleground states, and the Supreme Court ruling that struck down New York State’s public health restrictions on religious gatherings.
— Look out for tomorrow’s episode of Cyber Space, where John Carlin is joined by James Murray, the Director of the United States Secret Service.
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The CAFE Team:
Tamara Sepper, Adam Waller, Sam Ozer-Staton, David Kurlander, Noa Azulai, Jake Kaplan, Calvin Lord, David Tatasciore, Matthew Billy, and Nat Weiner