Every issue of the Punchbowl News newsletter, including our special editions, right here at your fingertips.
Join the community, and get the morning edition delivered straight to your inbox.
Happy Wednesday morning.
The latest indictment of former President Donald Trump is a watershed moment for Congress — especially Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Trump’s upcoming trial, one of the most important political moments in U.S. history, will be as much about the GOP’s future — and who controls it — as it is about the former president and his efforts to return to the White House.
Trump is facing four new criminal counts, including trying to block Congress’ certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory on Jan. 6, 2021. But key Hill Republicans — some of the very same members now leading the Biden investigations — played big roles in trying to keep Trump in office, the events leading up to the deadly insurrection and the subsequent rehabilitation of the 45th president’s image after he left Washington in disgrace.
From Speaker Kevin McCarthy — whose angry call with Trump on Jan. 6 is referenced in the indictment — to House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), as well as a handful of Senate Republicans, GOP lawmakers took part in many of the events that led to the former president’s indictment and remain his loyal defenders.
McCarthy called the indictment Tuesday “an attempt to distract from” recent developments surrounding Hunter Biden and to “attack the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.” MTG said she would try to defund special counsel Jack Smith’s office — sure to be a quixotic effort.
Other Republicans like House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik put out a statement declaring Trump “will be sworn in as President of the United States in January 2025.”
Politically, this indictment will be a challenge for Republicans for the next 460 days leading up the election. Instead of a laser focus on Biden’s perceived shortcomings, GOP lawmakers will be asked over and over again about the former president’s behavior on Jan. 6 and the efforts to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election, which Trump lost.
There will also be a renewed focus on what many sitting Republicans did during that period, including requests by some for pardons from Trump before he left office.
“Today’s indictment serves as an important reminder: anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be President of the United States,” former Vice President Mike Pence — a target of both the former president and angry Trump supporters on Jan. 6 — tweeted on Tuesday. Expect to hear this and read this many, many times between now and Election Day.
Unlike the classified documents case, this indictment isn’t abstract for members of Congress. Hundreds of lawmakers lived through the Jan. 6 attack — and some even joined the rally near the White House that preceded it (although no current members spoke at the event).
Some Trump allies have emphasized his statements calling for calm during the attack on the Capitol. Trump’s lawyers also suggest the former president has a First Amendment right to speak out about what he believes was election fraud.
But the indictment lays out a case that Trump’s incendiary rhetoric in the days, weeks and months leading up to the Jan. 6 attack sparked outrage among election skeptics — with intent to do so — even after he lost dozens of court cases challenging election returns in numerous states.
The indictment references numerous instances in which Trump or his allies contacted GOP lawmakers to try to rope them further into the plot to overturn the 2020 election. It cites phone calls with unnamed senators and House members who were being actively lobbied by the likes of Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman and others, even on Jan. 6.
When it came time for Trump’s impeachment trial following the insurrection, Republican senators opposed his conviction — and disbarment from future office — by arguing in part that Trump, as a former president, was no longer subject to the Constitution’s impeachment clauses.
And then there’s Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who justified his vote against convicting Trump in part by arguing that the ex-president could still be held accountable through the criminal justice system.
“President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office,” McConnell said in a February 2021 floor speech. “He didn’t get away with anything, yet.”
Ever since that speech, McConnell has studiously avoided commenting on Trump’s legal problems, from Jan. 6 to the classified documents case and so much more. It’s a stark contrast to McCarthy and House Republicans, who are making the Justice Department’s investigations into Trump a significant part of their oversight efforts.
Democrats, of course, believe the indictment on Tuesday wholly justifies their vote to convict Trump. They also view it as a validation of the Jan. 6 select committee’s work.
Here’s Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries in a joint statement:
“The third indictment of Mr. Trump illustrates in shocking detail that the violence of that day was the culmination of a months-long criminal plot led by the former president to defy democracy and overturn the will of the American people. This indictment is the most serious and most consequential thus far and will stand as a stark reminder to generations of Americans that no one, including a president of the United States, is above the law.”
It’s convenient timing for many Republicans that this indictment dropped during the first week of the summer recess.
But we must say this: This indictment likely increases the chances that Biden will face an impeachment inquiry at some point during the next year.
— John Bresnahan, Jake Sherman and Andrew Desiderio
New! Join us on Friday, Sept. 8 at 12:30 p.m. CT/1:30 p.m. ET in Bismarck, N.D., for “Small Business, America’s Future — Grow with Rural America Edition.” We’re sitting down with Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) to discuss challenges facing small business owners in rural America.
This conversation is the second in a three-part series presented by Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, and is part of a larger event hosted by Goldman Sachs that will begin at noon CT at Bismarck State College. RSVP here to join us in person or on the livestream!
PRESENTED BY WELLS FARGO
Wells Fargo is helping students across America realize their dreams of attending college. They provide funding for scholarships and programming to help promote equitable educational opportunities for diverse students. Learn More.
Senate Dems split over how to address Tuberville blockade
There are two camps among Senate Democrats when it comes to how leadership should deal with Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) unprecedented blockade of senior military promotions.
There are those who believe Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer should do whatever it takes to confirm the upper rung of military leaders whose nominations have stalled out. And then there are those who believe that anything short of forcing Tuberville to fold would amount to rewarding his tactics.
Count Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in the latter.
“It’s time for the Republicans to rein in their own member and put a stop to this,” Warren, a member of Democratic leadership, told us Tuesday. “Should Sen. Tuberville be rewarded for having already held up military nominations for five months? And the answer is an overwhelming ‘no.’ He will get nothing from this. Because if he does, this won’t be the last time it happens.”
It’s fair to say that, based on his public comments, Schumer agrees with Warren. Schumer has rejected the notion that he should force individual votes on some of the stalled promotions, arguing instead that it’s the responsibility of Republican leaders to pressure Tuberville to back off. “Theirs and theirs alone,” Schumer said of GOP leadership at a press conference last week when asked who was to blame for Tuberville’s blockade.
But as we’ve reported, other top Democrats think Schumer should play hardball by putting some nominations on the floor and building pressure on Tuberville. Some Democrats have suggested a rules change should be considered, too. The thinking behind this move is that Tuberville has shown no signs that he’d succumb to pressure from anyone — even his GOP colleagues — and the vacant positions within the military are too important not to try something different.
“We have to find a way to begin to confirm these nominations. We have to find a way to be able to do it expeditiously,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) told us, adding he doesn’t know what the best way is. “I hope what’s going to happen is that Sen. Tuberville’s Republican colleagues will be able to explain to him the damage that he’s doing.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) has suggested starting with floor votes on a few of the high-level nominees and seeing if that convinces Republicans to pressure Tuberville.
But when the Senate returns from recess in early September, FY2024 appropriations and Fed nominations will be the top priority.
At least one nomination that Tuberville is holding up will likely get a vote — but it’s one that usually gets a roll-call vote regardless of the circumstances. That would be the nomination of Gen. C.Q. Brown to replace Gen. Mark Milley as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Other senators suggest the nominee to serve as Marine Corps commandant is in that high-priority category as well. But at this point, it’s hard to see Democratic leaders caving to Tuberville, instead preferring to let the Pentagon work it out with him.
Speaking of Tuberville: The Alabamian will introduce former President Donald Trump at a rally in Montgomery on Friday.
— Andrew Desiderio
Years of mismanagement get US downgraded and starts partisan brawl
White House officials want you to know that they think Fitch’s downgrade of U.S. creditworthiness is nonsense.
“WHAT THEY ARE SAYING: Fitch Ratings Decision Called ‘Off-Base,’ ‘Absurd,’ and ‘Widely & Correctly Ridiculed,’” a White House email blared Tuesday evening after the credit-rating agency downgraded the U.S. from AAA to AA+.
Fitch even cited the Jan. 6 insurrection to White House officials as part of the “erosion of governance” that impacted the U.S. rating in a report last summer, according to a person familiar with the issue. Governance ratings fell under former President Donald Trump and rose under President Joe Biden.
Yet regardless of what the White House thinks of this specific commentary on the fiscal status of the United States, Fitch’s prognostications hit an important note — for more than two decades, Congress and successive presidents from both parties have been inept at managing the nation’s fiscal ledgers.
As he left office in early 2001, former President Bill Clinton projected the country could pay off its $3.2 trillion national debt by 2009. Now it stands at more than $32 trillion. Raising the debt limit is routinely used as a weapon to exact fiscal reforms, especially by Republicans. And the biggest driver of U.S. debt and deficits — soaring entitlement spending — is left completely untouched even as the long-term outlook for Medicare and Social Security deteriorates.
In its statement on the downgrade, Fitch said “repeated debt-limit political standoffs and last-minute resolutions have eroded confidence in fiscal management. In addition, the government lacks a medium-term fiscal framework, unlike most peers, and has a complex budgeting process.”
But we couldn’t help but notice that the White House’s messaging on this was wildly different from that of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Hill Democrats.
While the White House was blasting Fitch, Schumer and top Democrats used the downgrade as a chance to hit House Republicans for their conduct during the recent debt-limit fight. Republicans, in turn, blasted Biden and Democrats for trillions of dollars in new spending while noting that the tidal wave of red ink is getting worse, not better, under Biden.
“The downgrade by Fitch shows that House Republicans’ reckless brinksmanship and flirtation with default has negative consequences for the country,” Schumer said in a statement. “Republicans need to learn from their mistakes and never push our country to the brink of default again.”
Senate Budget Committee Chair Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) declared there’s “a straight line from Republicans’ manufactured debt crisis to Fitch’s downgrade.” Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), ranking member on the House Budget Committee, said “Fitch’s decision to downgrade rests on the shoulders of Speaker McCarthy and the extreme MAGA Republicans who openly rooted for default.”
But House Ways and Means Committee Chair Jason Smith (R-Mo.) blamed Biden for this downgrade and the 2011 action, which occurred when Biden was VP. “Once again, America’s credit has been downgraded while Joe Biden has been in the White House,” Smith asserted, leaving out that House Republicans had provoked that debt-limit showdown as well.
House Budget Committee Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) also blamed Biden and Democrats for the downgrade, pointing to a massive surge in federal spending during the last Congress.
“You can’t burn through an unprecedented eleven trillion dollars igniting an inflationary firestorm without setting off the fiscal fire alarm,” Arrington said in a statement Tuesday night.
“With annual deficits projected to double and interest costs expected to triple in just ten years, our nation’s financial health is rapidly deteriorating and our debt trajectory is completely unsustainable.”
— Jake Sherman, Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan
PRESENTED BY WELLS FARGO
THE MONEY GAME
Mega donors hosting event for NRSC on Nantucket
Top Republican donors are hosting a big-dollar fundraiser for the National Republican Senatorial Committee on Nantucket Thursday evening.
The event costs $50,000 per couple to co-host, $25,000 per couple to sponsor or $5,000 to attend.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune, Sens. Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) are the special guests at the event.
The hosts are Laura and Bob Reynolds, who made their money from Putnam Investments, and Harriet and Warren Stephens. Warren Stephens is the billionaire CEO of Stephens Inc., a Arkansas-based investment company. Also on the invite: Kellie and David Urban — David Urban is a lobbyist; Jimmy and Dee Haslem, who own Pilot Flying J Truck Stops; and Ozzie Palomo of Chartwell Strategy Group.
— Jake Sherman
WELCOME TO THE PUNCHBOWL NEWS FAMILY
We’re super excited to announce two new members of the Punchbowl News team: Olivia Iurillo and Annette Lee.
Olivia is joining us as a growth marketing manager. She was most recently at Industry Dive. A Virginia native, Olivia attended the University of Virginia.
Annette is joining us as a business operations manager. She was most recently at GLOW Social & Digital Agency. Another Virginia native, Annette went to Pepperdine University.
Interested in joining Punchbowl News? Our team is growing! Check out our available jobs here.
PRESENTED BY WELLS FARGO
President Joe Biden is in Rehoboth Beach, Del., and has no events scheduled. Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with Prime Minister Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrai of Mongolia at 1:50 p.m.
News Analysis: “Trump’s Case Has Broad Implications for American Democracy,” by Peter Baker
“Judge Tanya Chutkan is a tough Trump critic, toughest Jan. 6 sentencer,” by Spencer S. Hsu and Tom Jackman
“Treasuries Demand to Persist: What Analysts Say About US Credit Downgrade by Fitch,” by Matthew Burgess and Ruth Carson
“Why Trucking Giant Yellow’s Shutdown Could Cost Taxpayers Money,” by Andrew Duehren
“‘Wonder and Worry’: How Biden Views Artificial Intelligence,” by Sabrina Siddiqui
Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.
PRESENTED BY WELLS FARGO
Wells Fargo is helping students across America realize their dreams of attending college. They are funding over $107 million in scholarships and programming to help promote equitable educational opportunities for diverse students. Learn More.
Crucial Capitol Hill news AM, Midday, and PM—5 times a week
Join a community of some of the most powerful people in Washington and beyond. Exclusive newsmaker events, parties, in-person and virtual briefings and more.Subscribe to Premium
The Canvass Year-End Report
And what senior aides and downtown figures believe will happen in 2023.Check it out