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Happy Friday morning.
The Jan. 6 committee’s decision to subpoena five GOP members of Congress – including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy – signals a new phase of political struggle on Capitol Hill. It presents Republicans and Democrats with a set of uncomfortable questions over the future of the institution. We’re in uncharted territory now, and no one knows how this will be resolved.
Let’s start with the basics: The Jan. 6 committee issued a set of subpoenas Thursday for testimony from McCarthy, Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) over their interactions with former President Donald Trump and other senior administration officials before, during and after the insurrection. This House Republican quintet has been unwilling to cooperate with the select committee on a voluntary basis, which Democrats say leaves the panel no choice but to try to compel their testimony by subpoena. The possibility of subpoenas has been bandied about for a while now, although it was still stunning to see it happen.
Yes, it’s unprecedented to subpoena members of Congress in a non-ethics case, there’s no question about that. Or to issue subpoenas to multiple members as part of a group. But you know what else is unprecedented? An insurrection at the Capitol in an effort to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. Also unprecedented were the efforts by Trump and his inner circle to pressure state and local officials to change the results of the 2020 election, as well as the involvement of members of Congress in that episode. So the “unprecedented” argument lands light with Democrats on Capitol.
The argument that the select committee is a “sham,” voiced by McCarthy and other Republicans, is also suspect, considering the House voted for the panel’s creation and granted it subpoena power. Republicans had negotiated a deal to set up a bipartisan commission to investigate the attack, but then McCarthy rejected the framework hashed out by his own ranking member. McCarthy argued that the existing committees could handle the probe, although there was no question that precedent allowed the creation of a special panel. Think of Benghazi.
Now McCarthy, Jordan and their three colleagues are faced with a serious decision. They can either comply with the subpoena and testify, or risk a legal fight with the committee.
Should Republicans refuse to comply with the subpoena – which seems likely – the Jan. 6 committee could bring the case to the Ethics Committee. That would be fruitless, as the panel is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats can try to hold McCarthy in criminal or civil contempt. However, the Justice Department has been slow to act in some contempt cases. It’s unclear too if a federal judge or the Justice Department would want to get involved in an internal legislative branch dispute.
Let’s deal with another issue here – McCarthy came under fire last month following a New York Times report that he’d recommend Trump resign rather than risk a second Senate impeachment trial. McCarthy denied saying it, but then a tape came out proving he had. McCarthy’s response has been to more tightly embrace Trump.
McCarthy will use this subpoena to play up his pro-Trump credentials with the hardline faction of his conference that has always been wary of him. The whole subpoena incident may shore up McCarthy internally in a way that nothing else could.
The political ramifications are important to consider. McCarthy’s allies and aides always expected that the panel – led by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and McCarthy irritant Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) – would attempt to subpoena the California Republican. The panel has one shot to conduct this investigation and a compressed time frame to do it in. McCarthy has already conceded that he spoke to Trump on Jan. 6, so why would the committee pass up on an opportunity to try to compel his testimony?
Of course, an action like this will have an equal reaction by McCarthy should he become speaker next year. You can expect that a House Republican majority will be quite liberal with subpoenas. Furthermore, Jordan, who is expected to wield the Judiciary Committee gavel in a GOP majority, will be armed with subpoena power himself.
You also shouldn’t be surprised if McCarthy takes punitive action against those who issued this subpoena to him. If Cheney, the select panel’s vice chair, wins reelection and Republicans are in the majority, you can expect that she’ll be frozen out of nearly every element of legislating – including committee assignments, unless it’s with Democrats. It would be shortsighted if McCarthy tried to punish Thompson. He’s a beloved member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and McCarthy will need Democratic help to raise the debt limit and fund the government. But we wouldn’t be surprised if he took some action against several members of the panel or other Democrats. Think Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) for a start.
Let’s talk about Pelosi and the Democratic leadership.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Democrats have taken dramatic steps this Congress, using their power in a way no recent majority would have attempted.
Spurred on by the dual crisis of Jan. 6 and the pandemic, Pelosi and the Democrats have installed magnetometers around the House chamber and fined members who didn’t comply with the security policy; fined members for not wearing masks on the floor; kicked Republicans off committees; instituted proxy voting and virtual committee hearings, and kept these procedures in place even as the pandemic has waned; impeached an outgoing president without any hearings.
The select committee – which has already alleged in a court filing that Trump may have engaged in criminal behavior in trying to overturn the election – threatened to subpoena members’ emails and text messages. And now it has subpoenaed the minority leader and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, neither of whom are alleged to have violated the law or even House rules at this point.
Consider all this for a moment. Every move may be justifiable on its own merits, but together, they represent a stunning exercise of institutional power. Pelosi may be in her last term as speaker, but she sure isn’t acting like it.
“Who of us is above the law?” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer responded on Thursday when we asked him about the subpoenas. “Nancy Pelosi is subject to subpoena. Nobody is above the law. Nobody should be above the procedures of this Congress or the courts. Period.”
“If they want to subpoena me at some point in the future, I will go and I will tell the truth,” Hoyer added. “[McCarthy] can avoid the subpoena very easily. Simply agree to voluntarily come to the committee and tell the truth. That’s what they’re after – the truth.”
The gulf between McCarthy and Democrats – already pretty wide – is only going to get wider. Hoyer approached McCarthy on the floor Thursday after one of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn’s bills failed. Hoyer asked for help in getting the legislation through. McCarthy said he wasn’t going to be helping Democrats with much anymore.
All that said, Democrats have some political challenges here, too. They have a lot on their plate in coming weeks and months: skyrocketing inflation, a sluggish stock market, a stalled legislative agenda, no clear path forward on Covid aid, and a rank-and-file that’s a bit frustrated by the slow pace of legislating.
The Jan. 6 committee’s first public hearing will be in 27 days – on June 9. This is designed to grab headlines and lay out the story of the insurrection in granular detail. Balancing the two demands – curing what ails the U.S. economy and focusing on Jan. 6 – is something that some Democrats have said they’re worried about.
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INSIDE THE HOUSE GOP
What Republicans are saying about the Jan. 6 subpoenas
Here’s some of the reaction from Republicans to the subpoenas issued to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and four other GOP lawmakers:
→ Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.), a member of McCarthy’s leadership team: “It’s very destructive of the institution. And it’s the kind of stuff that’s gonna be hard for the institution to recover from.”
→ Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), who hashed out the bipartisan Jan. 6 commission that McCarthy squashed: “It was exactly my fear, it’s why we should have a balanced commission. Subpoenaing fellow members of Congress was exactly what I feared when you have unbalanced subpoena power in a commission.”
→ Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), another member of McCarthy’s leadership: “I think it’s a dangerous precedent. You’re going to turn members on each other like that. And then what does it mean for the future? We’re going to be in the majority. It’s like the Cold War. …
“You know, the U.S. and Russia had this, you know, back and forth and ultimately, it led to mutually assured destruction. So now, they’ve opened a giant Pandora’s box. I don’t know if you can close it. It’s a real concern. We’re concerned about the stability of our institutions here. And that doesn’t help.”
House will act on judicial security bill
The House will follow the Senate’s lead and take action on legislation to provide police protection for the families of Supreme Court justices, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced Thursday night.
House Democrats, though, want to go further and extend those protections to judicial clerks and court staffers if needed.
“While the Senate passed a bill this week that would extend protection to Supreme Court justices’ family members, we believe that it is critical to safeguard the families of those who choose to serve their country and their communities as judicial clerks and staff as well,” Hoyer said.
The Senate unanimously passed its bill, introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), on Monday in response to abortion rights related protests in front of justices’ homes. And Cornyn has already panned the House plan.
House Democrats say protections for clerks’ families are desperately needed given that some have been the target of violent threats and doxing by anti-abortion activists who accused them — without evidence — of leaking the draft opinion that would strike down Roe v. Wade.
But it’s unclear when exactly the House will act. We checked in with senior Democrats last night who told us they’re moving quickly to reconcile the differences between the Senate bill and House legislation introduced by Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.) that would extend security to the immediate families of justices and court staff.
More from Hoyer:
“Our Majority is determined to protect those who serve our country in the federal judiciary, and we believe that this effort must extend not only to the family members of judges and justices but to the family members of the clerks and staff who support them and have increasingly faced threats to their physical safety…
“We look forward to working closely with Republicans to resolve differences between the two bills and enact a bipartisan, bicameral bill into law that achieves these goals.”
Cornyn and other Republicans have ratcheted up the pressure on House Democrats this week, asking why they’ve yet to take up the Senate bill and criticizing the effort to expand the scope of the legislation.
Cornyn said Thursday that including the 40 Supreme Court law clerks and their families in the protections bill was a “misguided effort” by House Democrats.
“I shudder to think what might happen if the Supreme Court members and their family are denied this sort of protection, which the Senate has unanimously supported, because it gets slow-walked in the House,” Cornyn said.
That didn’t sit well with some House Democrats, particularly House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries.
“The last thing that the Senate should ever do is talk to us about delay — ever, ever, ever,” Jeffries told reporters. “I’m talking about Cornyn raising issues, are you kidding me? You want to lecture us about moving bills when that’s what you do for a living — sit on bills and kill them.”
→ 305 Fitness, a popular dance-based exercise class, has hired Morrison Public Affairs Group to lobby for “financial relief for fitness business due to losses caused by COVID-19.”
ICYMI: Catch up on The Punch Up
This week we were proud to launch The Punch Up, Punchbowl News’ ESG platform. The Punch Up is a first of its kind platform bringing together leaders in the private and public sector to focus on issues of racial equity, sustainability and the greater ESG space.
We officially kicked off the platform on Tuesday with The Social, an event bringing together members of our community working in this space. View photos from the event here.
Yesterday, we announced the Racial Equity cohort, our first of two cohorts bringing together industry experts for an open, robust and meaningful dialogue focused on our two pillars: racial equity and sustainability. Cohort participants include experts from the private sector, Capitol Hill, the administration and the nonprofit world, all with executive-level experience and recognized as leaders in their field. Meet the Racial Equity cohort here.
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→ USA Freedom Fund, which is funded, at least in part, by Club for Growth Action, has a new ad running in Pittsburgh slamming Kathy Barnette for being a “woke Republican” who wants to build a statue of former President Barack Obama. This is ironic since Barnette has a long history of attacking Obama, including repeated false accusations that he’s a Muslim.
Barnette is running in the GOP primary for the Senate in Pennsylvania against David McCormick and Mehmet Oz. The three candidates are neck in neck and the primary is next week. This spot is running in Pittsburgh.
→ Results for NC – a super PAC that got $500,000 from FTX co-CEO Ryan Salame – is running an ad sharply criticizing Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) ahead of his May 17 primary. The spot says Cawthorn voted to cut veterans benefits and accused Cawthorn of being a “playboy.”
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9:30 am: President Joe Biden will get his daily briefing.
10 a.m.: Speaker Nancy Pelosi will hold an event on the steps of the Capitol on the leaked Roe v. Wade decision.
10:45 a.m.: Biden will meet with King Abdullah II of Jordan.
1 p.m.: Jen Psaki will brief reporters.
2:30 p.m.: Biden will attend a meeting with local officials and chiefs of police whose communities benefited from American Rescue Plan funding.
3 p.m.: Biden will speak about “state and local leaders who are investing American Rescue Plan funding to make our communities safer.”
3:30 p.m.: Biden will participate in the ASEAN summit.
6 p.m.: Biden will leave for Delaware. He’ll arrive at 6:55 p.m.
→ “Russian soldiers seen shooting dead unarmed civilians,” by Sarah Rainsford
→ “A Battle Over How to Battle Over Roe: Protests at Justices’ Homes Fuel Rancor,” by Zolan Kanno-Youngs
→ “Alito reluctant to discuss state of Supreme Court after Roe leak,” by Robert Barnes and Lauren Lumpkin
→ “13 dead, dozens rescued after migrant boat capsizes near Puerto Rico,” by Hannah Knowles, María Luisa Paúl and Arelis R. Hernández
→ “Xi’s strict covid policies prompt rumblings of discontent in China,” by Christian Shepherd, Lyric Li and Vic Chiang
→ “Crypto-Market Panic Subsides With Prices, Tether Stabilizing,” by Vildana Hajric
→ “Biden Raises Pressure Over China’s ‘Horrific’ Uyghur Abuses,” by Jennifer A Dlouhy, Colum Murphy, John Harney, and Philip Glamann
→ “Kremlin warns of retaliation after Finland moves toward NATO,” by Oleksandr Stashevskyi
→ “The Entirely Predictable Tragedy of Madison Cawthorn,” by Michael Kruse in Hendersonville, N.C.
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