1. Argo America
Last week following the Capitol Riot, Susan Collins said “my first thought was that the Iranians had followed through on their threat to strike the Capitol.”
This was a rather strange “thought.”
Surely, Collins knew that tens of thousands of Trump supporters had begun the day massing a short walk from the Capitol.
Surely, Collins knew what these people had been told, by the president and many members of her party, about how the 2020 election was rigged.
Surely, Collins had been informed of the words the president of the United States had said to this mob shortly before the attack.
“And you have to get your people to fight.”
“Republicans are, Republicans are constantly fighting like a boxer with his hands tied behind his back. It’s like a boxer. And we want to be so nice. We want to be so respectful of everybody, including bad people. And we’re going to have to fight much harder.”
“And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
“Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated, lawfully slated. I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
But Susan Collins is supposed to be one of the grownups in the Republican party and she is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. So she ought to be in a position to judge whether an attack occurring in those specific circumstances was most likely to be from the voters in her own party or an Iranian terrorist cell.
And her view—her Occam’s Razor explanation for what was happening on January 6—was that a bunch of brown foreigners were attacking the seat of American government.
This seems revealing, of either Collins’s candor or naïvete. I’m not sure which.
But it also made me wonder.
What if it had been Iranians? What would the world look like today?
Permit me a somewhat cliched counterfactual in order to draw out why so many of us are enraged at the response of the Republican party:
Earth 2, January 6, 2021: The United States Congress is engaging in a ceremonial, but required, passing of the torch from the Hillary Clinton administration to the incoming Marco Rubio administration. A group of Iranian militants storm the Capitol to interrupt the proceedings with the stated goal of keeping Clinton in power. They murder a police officer. They scour the building in an attempt to intercept the documents that would certify President Rubio.
They occupy our sacred halls of Congress and menace elected officials who run for cover and cower in fear. They shout “Death To The Vice President” and social media postings reveal at least some of the militants intended to assassinate Republican elected officials.
After the building is secured and a smattering of the Iranian insurrectionists are arrested, their extremist social media sites call for subsequent armed attacks in state capitols all across America on January 17th. They call it the “largest armed protest ever to take place on American soil.”
If this were the state of affairs this week, what do you think the Senate Republican majority would be doing right now?
Would they be on vacation?
Would there be a complete absence of calls for a formal response to the terrorist threat?
Now imagine one more counterfactual:
The Iranian militants weren’t acting alone. President Clinton was in on the plot. She encouraged the militants because she thought the election had been “rigged.” She puts out a video during the siege in which she says, “We love you. You are very special.” She ignores requests for military aid for hours while she watches TV and laughs. She invites one of the sponsors of the group to the White House for a meeting the following week.
Now what do you think Republican elected officials are doing?
Are they calling for national unity and understanding for the perpetrators of the attack?
Are they making excuses for why the president who incited it cannot be held accountable?
Are they saying that there just isn’t enough time on the Senate floor to hold impeachment or oversight hearings?
Are they slow-walking the confirmation of the incoming administration’s cabinet?
Are they allowing the president who sympathized with the attackers to stay in office for another two weeks and just hoping for the best?
Or do you think there is an emergency session of the Senate fast-tracking removal of the president and plotting a military strategy to prevent future attacks? A War on Domestic Terror, if you will.
Everyone knows the answer.
Despite knowing the truth, vast swaths of Washington want to wish it away and return to business as usual. At The Bulwark we will not be returning to “normal” to make things more convenient for the people who got us into this mess.
Sign up for Bulwark+ where we won’t be afraid to call out these uncomfortable truths. And you know what they say about former elephants.
2. War Games
What exactly is the chain of command in this country right now?
It would seem to me that Republican hawks would have some concern about the fact that nobody really knows the answer to what should be a rather elementary question. Because the answer to that question in normal times should be easy. The answer should be, “The president is in charge.”
But at this particular moment, the answer is not at all easy. It’s not even clear that anyone knows the answer. Instead, people seem to be averting their eyes and hoping that circumstances do not insist that our government answer the question.
Permit me another hypothetical:
Let’s say a foreign power attacks us in the next 48 hours. Or makes a move to occupy an ally that we would otherwise protect and defend.
Who is in charge of responding to that? Who is the final decider?
Is it Donald Trump?
Is the military listening to his commands? Do we want them to?
When the capitol was attacked on January 6, the unconscionably slow response of the Department of Defense lends credence to the sense that there is not a clear chain of command. It resulted in an hours-long delay that exacerbated the mayhem.
Has that problem been fixed or gotten worse in the intervening days?
The best answer I’ve heard to these questions came from Mitch McConnell in December when asked about Trump’s coup attempt: “The future will take care of itself,” he said. McConnell was right. Just not in the way he thought. We all saw how that strategy turned out on January 6: If you don’t take care of the future, then the future will take care of itself.
There are many Republicans in Congress who pride themselves on the seriousness with which they take our military operations and our security. They are all M.I.A. at the moment. Tweeting Bible quotes. Offering panglossian pablum assuring that all is well.
I’m not sure how we are supposed to take seriously future national security warnings from people who are washing their hair during one of the most dangerous periods in modern American history.
The preponderance of failures by Republican elected officials over the last two months, and especially over the last two weeks, are due to purely political calculations. They can’t engage in a War on Terror against people they believe are their own voters. They can’t convict and remove Donald Trump because, as Rand Paul said, “one-third of Republicans will leave the party” if they do so.
The political cowardice here is breathtaking. Imagine thinking that one-third of your constituents were terrorist sympathizers and not attempting to do something about it.
But while this Republican cowardice shouldn’t be excused, at least you can understand it.
What could possibly be the Republican motive for completely abdicating the basic responsibilities to protect the country during the transition between administrations at this moment of crisis?
Here is the calendar for confirmations of Trump administration cabinet officials in 2017. As of this moment four years ago John Kelly, Jeff Sessions, Jim Mattis, Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, Ryan Zinke, Rex Tillerson, and Elaine Chao had already had their confirmation hearings.
This year the Republican Senate has yet to hold a single confirmation hearing.
At a time when we have domestic terrorists threatening future attacks and an Acting-Acting (not a typo) DHS Secretary.
At a time when 4,000 people a day are dying from a plague and the HHS Secretary has offered a bizarre, face-saving resignation that goes into effect the day Biden takes office. (Note to Alex Azar: Face not saved.)
Here is a concerning fact: When Joe Biden is sworn in at noon this Wednesday, America will not have a permanent, Senate-confirmed secretary of Defense, or a secretary of State, or a DHS secretary, or a secretary of Health and Human Services. As things stand right now, the entire executive branch below the office of the president is set to be quasi-leaderless because the Republican party refused to move forward with confirmations in the normal manner. The only way out of this mess is for a “unanimous consent” resolution in the Senate on Inauguration Day. Fingers crossed.
Why are we in this position? Because before January 6 they were terrified of hurting Donald Trump’s feelings by taking any actions which suggested that Joe Biden was going to be the next president. And now they are keeping out of session so that they don’t have to confront the article of impeachment that the House has passed.
In other words: Because they were desperate to protect Trump, both then and now.
Have you heard a single Republican senator express any urgency with regard to this state of affairs? Maybe I missed it. But it seems to me every single one of them is in hiding, hoping and praying there are no more attacks on our homeland, that the madman at the helm goes away quietly, and that their voters don’t get mad because they did the bare minimum by certifying the Electoral College votes and confirming a cabinet.
As Timothy Snyder wrote this week, even the best intentioned of them are happy to game our democratic system to their advantage sitting idly by as some of their colleagues and president try to break it.
Hopefully we get through this transition, in spite of them.