White House condemns appointments of far-right Republicans

White House says investigative committee tainted by rightwing lawmakers

The Biden administration has condemned the appointment of several far-right Republicans to the House committee overseeing investigations, Axios reports.

“[I]t appears that House Republicans may be setting the stage for divorced-from-reality political stunts, instead of engaging in bipartisan work on behalf of the American people,” White House spokesman Ian Sams said in a statement obtained by Axios.

Sams singled out the House oversight committee, which under chair James Comer will take a lead role in investigating the Biden administration. “Chairman Comer once said his goal was to ensure the Committee’s work is ‘credible,’ yet Republicans are handing the keys of oversight to the most extreme MAGA members of the Republican caucus who promote violent rhetoric and dangerous conspiracy theories.”

Among the lawmakers appointed to the panel are Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene, both of whom were stripped of their committee assignments in the last Congress for making violent threats. Also serving on oversight will be Scott Perry, a Donald Trump ally whose phone was seized last year reportedly as part of the FBI’s probe into efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and Lauren Boebert, a promoter of conspiracy theories, including Trump’s false claim that his election loss was illegitimate.

Key events

Republicans have lost an election finance complaint against Google, in which they alleged the tech giant violated US law by deploying its spam filter against campaign emails, Ars Technica reports.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) rejected a complaint filed jointly by the Republican National Committee (RNC), National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee which alleged Google’s filtering of their emails represent an “illegal in-kind contributions made by Google to Biden For President and other Democrat candidates.”

Last week, the FEC ruled that there was “no reason to believe” Google had made an illegal contribution, nor that Joe Biden’s presidential campaign had accepted such a contribution.

“The Commission’s bipartisan decision to dismiss this complaint reaffirms that Gmail does not filter emails for political purposes,” Google said in a statement to Ars Technica on Tuesday.

The Republican complaint cited a study from North Carolina State University (NCSU) that found “Gmail marks a significantly higher percentage (67.6 percent) of emails from the right as spam compared to the emails from left (just 8.2 percent).”

However, the FEC rejected that assertion, saying there were several limitations to the study, and “the NCSU Study does not make any findings as to the reasons why Google’s spam filter appears to treat Republican and Democratic campaign emails differently.”

Google’s trouble with the Republicans aren’t over. In October, the RNC sued the company, saying it is “throttling its email messages because of the RNC’s political affiliation and views.”

Ramon Antonio Vargas

A woman who helped attack the US Capitol on January 6 was indeed simply following Donald Trump’s orders but that fact does not absolve her of her culpability, a federal judge found.

The opinion came in an 18-page ruling spelling out why Danean MacAndrew was guilty of violent entry and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building.

Prosecutors persuaded the judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, that MacAndrew recorded video of herself storming the Capitol along with other Trump supporters in a failed attempt to prevent certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential win.

In her ruling on Tuesday, Kollar-Kotelly found that MacAndrew traveled to Washington DC from California because Trump urged supporters to somehow overturn his defeat.

MacAndrew ignored signs on the way to the Capitol and in the building itself which warned that her actions were unlawful, and therefore she was guilty as charged, Kollar-Kotelly concluded after a three-day bench trial.

The ruling could have important implications. It echoes the central finding by the House January 6 committee which recommended Trump be charged criminally in connection with the Capital attack, because of how he urged his supporters to stage it.

Trump has not been charged but prosecutors have not said he will not face charges.

Others charged over the Capitol attack have defended themselves by saying they were following Trump’s orders. Such cases include five members of the far-right Proud Boys group currently on trial on charges of sedition who say they are being scapegoated for following Trump’s orders, because they are easier to prosecute than a former president.

Kollar-Kotelly’s ruling in effect says obeying orders from Trump is a valid argument but does not get the accused off the hook.

MacAndrew is among more than 940 people charged over the Capitol attack. About 540 have been convicted. MacAndrew’s sentence has not yet been handed down.

Martin Pengelly

Martin Pengelly

Interesting reporting from CNN about how the White House is formulating its strategy for answering Republican attacks over Joe Biden’s retention of classified documents after leaving the vice-presidency in 2017, particularly in light of claims of hypocrisy and unfair treatment of Donald Trump, who retained many more documents when he left power two years ago and was markedly less keen to return them to the National Archives when they were discovered.

A key quote, from an unnamed adviser: “He’s the president. But he also knows what people really care about – and this isn’t it.”

Another key quote, from a “person familiar with the internal White House discussions”:

I’m not sure anyone is comfortable saying they’ve put that behind them at this point. That said, there’s a pretty prevalent view that if this lands how they think, nobody will remember the mess of last week anyway.

CNN says “the clearest window” into White House thinking is a “barrage of attacks leveled from West Wing officials in the last 48 hours at House Republicans pledging their own investigations into the matter”.

Phrases targeting House Republicans that include ‘fake outrage’, ‘purely for partisan gain’ and ‘shamelessly hypocritical’ have started to animate a demonstrably more aggressive response from the West Wing.

In an example of that strategy, Ian Sams, spokesman for the White House counsel’s office, accused Republicans of ‘handing the keys of oversight to the most extreme MAGA members of the Republican caucus who promote violent rhetoric and dangerous conspiracy theories’.

Sams provided a statement to CNN. It said: “As we have said before, the Biden administration stands ready to work in good faith to accommodate Congress’ legitimate oversight needs. However, with these members joining the oversight committee, it appears that House Republicans may be setting the stage for divorced-from-reality political stunts, instead of engaging in bipartisan work on behalf of the American people.”

Martin Pengelly

Martin Pengelly

Reuters reports on a warning from the US energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, to Republicans in Congress, in which Granholm says limiting Joe Biden’s authority to tap US oil reserves would undermine national security, cause crude shortages and raise gasoline prices.

Here’s a taste of the Reuters report:

A bill called the Strategic Production Response Act, introduced earlier this month by Republican Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, would limit presidential authority in releasing oil from the strategic reserve, except in the case of a severe energy supply interruption.

McMorris Rodgers now chairs the House energy and commerce committee after Republicans took over the chamber earlier this month.

“This bill would significantly weaken this critical energy security tool, resulting in more oil supply shortages in times of crisis and higher gasoline prices for Americans,” Granholm said in the letter to the House energy panel, which was first seen by Reuters.

The administration has faced bipartisan concern over the current inventories of the emergency reserves and the letter represents the administration’s latest efforts to defend its actions and ease concerns about the state of reserves.

Some further reading about Biden and oil:

Martin Pengelly

Martin Pengelly

Speaking of the culture wars in which Ron DeSantis so gleefully fights, here’s some lunchtime reading from our columnist Jill Filipovic about a key if somewhat surprising front in those seemingly never-ending wars…

A gas burner, yesterday.
A gas burner, yesterday. Photograph: Régis Duvignau/Reuters

Of all the political issues I assumed would come to the fore in 2023, gas stoves were not on my bingo card. And yet Americans’ right to cook on an open gas flame has turned into a red-hot culture war issue. Conservatives are gearing up for a War of the Cooktops – and unfortunately, some Democrats aren’t helping.

Some five decades’ worth of studies have found that gas stoves are hazardous to human health, with a recent one suggesting that gas stoves in US homes may be to blame for nearly 13% of childhood asthma cases. Gas stoves are bad for the environment, too, powered as they are by fossil fuels.

This has led some liberal cities – Berkeley, California, and New York City – to mandate that some new buildings use electric over gas. But the blistering gas stove dispute really ignited when a commissioner at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Richard Trumka Jr, told Bloomberg gas was a “hidden hazard” and that when it came to banning gas stoves, “any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned”.

Cue rightwing firestorm.

Read on:

Martin Pengelly

Martin Pengelly

In light of the Morning Consult poll, reported by Chris Stein here, which showed Donald Trump 17 points up on Ron DeSantis in the notional Republican primary for 2024 … some interesting work from the Daily Beast.

Ron DeSantis.
Ron DeSantis. Photograph: Octavio Jones/Reuters

The site reports today on DeSantis’s decision to open a new front in his “war on woke” by going after … the NHL.

Yes, the NHL, a pro sports league where even the playing surface is white and where, the Beast points out, “the player base is 93% white, and until the hiring of Mike Grier by the San Jose Sharks earlier this month there had yet to be a Black general manager in the history of the sport” … has in DeSantis’s mind apparently “somehow become the new epitome of woke culture gone awry”.

DeSantis’s beef with the NHL is that around its forthcoming All-Star Game in Florida, it wanted to stage a jobs fair to benefit Floridians, and said it would welcome applications from employees in the following categories: “female, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, Indigenous, LGBTQIA+, and/or a person with a disability”.

On Friday, a DeSantis spokesman said: “Discrimination of any sort is not welcome in the state of Florida, and we do not abide by the woke notion that discrimination should be overlooked if applied in a politically popular manner or against a politically unpopular demographic.”

An unnamed Republican strategist told the Beast DeSantis “sees this issue as an easy one to use as an example of hypocrisy by folks on the left as well as another example of woke culture”, and insisted: “It’s a great play to make.”

But others were not so sure.

Stuart Stevens, a veteran Republican operative now an anti-Trump campaigner, told the Beast: “I’ve been in these rooms where political consultants get together, they try and say, ‘Well, what can we do to appeal to white voters without being just super-blatantly racist?’”

But, Stevens said, DeSantis’s swipe at the NHL showed “Republicans are losing culture wars at an exponential speed.

“What the NHL is doing bothers absolutely nobody in America … There was a time with Ronald Reagan, ‘Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall.’ So here’s Ron DeSantis standing in front of a hockey rink in Florida saying, what, exactly?

“I mean it’s just ridiculous. It makes him look very small.”

The day so far

The White House is continuing its counteroffensive against the new GOP majority in the Congress’s lower chamber, encouraging Democrats to attack Republican economic proposals and criticizing the appointment of four rightwing lawmakers to the panel leading its investigation campaign. Elsewhere, Donald Trump is said to be planning a return to both Twitter and Facebook, and offered up a new explanation for the classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago: they were just a bunch of cheap folders.

Here’s what else has happened today so far:

  • Trump is still the most popular man in the GOP, a new survey found.

  • “If you’re going to have a party, you have to pay the band.” So says Republican senator John Kennedy, when describing the GOP’s stance in the high-stakes negotiations over raising the debt ceiling.

  • Republicans have made cutting government spending their top priority in this Congress.

In posts on his Truth social account today, Donald Trump argued that the classified documents found last year at his Mar-a-Lago resort were merely “ordinary, inexpensive folders with various words printed on them”.

“The Fake News Media & Crooked Democrats (That’s been proven!) keep saying I had a “large number of documents” in order to make the Biden Classified Docs look less significant. When I was in the Oval Office, or elsewhere, & ‘papers’ were distributed to groups of people & me, they would often be in a striped paper folder with ‘Classified’ or ‘Confidential’ or another word on them,” the former president begins in the first of three posts arguing that Joe Biden’s possession of classified materials was more significant than his.

“When the session was over, they would collect the paper(s), but not the folders, & I saved hundreds of them,” Trump wrote. “Remember, these were just ordinary, inexpensive folders with various words printed on them, but they were a ‘cool’ keepsake.”

He then went on to posit that “the Gestapo” may have construed these as classified documents, or that “Trump Hating Marxist Thugs” would “plant” classified materials. Never one to beat around the bush, Trump concludes with, “I did NOTHING WRONG. JOE DID!”

Biden’s defenders have pointed to the substantial differences in the two cases, including that the president’s aides quickly alerted the justice department when they discovered classified materials, while Trump repeatedly dithered and only partially complied with a subpoena to turn over the secret documents in his possession.

Donald Trump remains the most popular man in the GOP, or at least among those running for president, pollster Morning Consult finds in a survey released today:

Deeper in the survey, you’ll find Florida governor Ron DeSantis the leader among second choices for the nominations, distantly followed by former vice-president Mike Pence.

Trump eyeing return to Facebook, Twitter

Donald Trump is petitioning Facebook to reactivate his account and planning a return to Twitter as he looks to ramp up his presidential campaign, NBC News reports.

The former president had his Facebook account locked following the January 6 insurrection, while Twitter did the same until its new owner Elon Musk reversed the ban after buying the platform last year.

According to NBC News, Trump’s campaign wrote Facebook’s parent company Meta, saying “We believe that the ban on President Trump’s account on Facebook has dramatically distorted and inhibited the public discourse,” and asking for “a meeting to discuss President Trump’s prompt reinstatement to the platform.”

Trump hasn’t tweeted since Musk unblocked his account on 19 November, but NBC quotes an unnamed Republican as saying, “Trump is probably coming back to Twitter. It’s just a question of how and when.”

“He’s been talking about it for weeks, but Trump speaks for Trump, so it’s anyone’s guess what he’ll do or say or when,” the Republican continued.

Facebook’s ban was supposed to be for two years till 7 January of this year, but if the company balks at reinstating him, a Trump adviser told NBC the former president could lean on Republican majority in the House to make an issue out of it.

“If Facebook wants to have this fight, fine, but the House is leverage, and keeping Trump off Facebook just looks political,” the adviser said.

Twitter and Facebook became two of Trump’s most effective tools both during his campaign and presidency. Since his banning, he has remained active on the Truth social network that he founded. NBC reports it’s possible his arrangement with the site could complicate what he posts on other social media platforms.

The Biden White House has launched something of an offensive against House Republicans over the past 24 hours.

Yesterday, it was a statement demanding Kevin McCarthy reveal the “backroom deals” he made with rightwing lawmakers to become speaker, followed by today’s condemnation of the appointment to the oversight committee of lawmakers who denied the 2020 election and have called for violence against their colleagues.

Semafor reports that the administration is now encouraging Democratic lawmakers to attack the GOP’s economic policies, with the argument that they will drive up prices for Americans:

The memo, obtained by Semafor, highlights day-one legislation that would rescind money allocated to hire more IRS enforcement. The memo also instructs members to focus on Republicans who have called for entitlement cuts, a tax reform bill backed by some conservatives that would replace income tax with a national sales tax, and the debate around using the strategic petroleum reserve to lower gas prices in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Republicans are expected to consider a bill that would restrict releases from the strategic petroleum reserve without a plan to expand domestic oil and gas production — the White House memo argues it would “tie Presidents’ hands and hamstring one of the best tools we have to protect Americans from spiking gas prices.”

Together these policies will “make inflation worse, protect rich tax cheats, increase the deficit, raise taxes on middle-class families, and cut Social Security and Medicare” the White House memo warns.

White House says investigative committee tainted by rightwing lawmakers

The Biden administration has condemned the appointment of several far-right Republicans to the House committee overseeing investigations, Axios reports.

“[I]t appears that House Republicans may be setting the stage for divorced-from-reality political stunts, instead of engaging in bipartisan work on behalf of the American people,” White House spokesman Ian Sams said in a statement obtained by Axios.

Sams singled out the House oversight committee, which under chair James Comer will take a lead role in investigating the Biden administration. “Chairman Comer once said his goal was to ensure the Committee’s work is ‘credible,’ yet Republicans are handing the keys of oversight to the most extreme MAGA members of the Republican caucus who promote violent rhetoric and dangerous conspiracy theories.”

Among the lawmakers appointed to the panel are Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene, both of whom were stripped of their committee assignments in the last Congress for making violent threats. Also serving on oversight will be Scott Perry, a Donald Trump ally whose phone was seized last year reportedly as part of the FBI’s probe into efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and Lauren Boebert, a promoter of conspiracy theories, including Trump’s false claim that his election loss was illegitimate.

Republican senator John Kennedy went on Fox News to describe the impending debt ceiling standoff with some colorful language.

He laid out the argument you can expect to hear from the GOP over the coming months: Democrats wracked up this debt, and Republicans won’t help them increase the borrowing limit unless they agree to rein in spending.

Here’s what the senator had to say:

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) describes the impending debt ceiling crisis as only he can:

“If you’re going to have a party, you have to pay the band.” pic.twitter.com/EAYDAN4u7i

— The Recount (@therecount) January 18, 2023

Keep in mind that the national debt has risen under both Democratic and Republican presidents, including Donald Trump, who presided over a massive increase even before the emergency spending approved to defend against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Guess who else is going to get to serve on committees in the House. That’s right, it’s admitted liar George Santos. Martin Pengelly has the news:

The chairman of one of two House committees on which George Santos will sit defended the decision, despite the New York Republican’s résumé having been shown to be largely made-up and amid allegations of deceitful and criminal behaviour now including bilking a disabled veteran out of $3,000 raised to save the life of his dog.

Roger Williams of Texas, chair of the small business committee, told CNN: “I don’t condone what he said, what he’s done. I don’t think anybody does. But that’s not my role. He was elected.”

Santos is also reportedly set to sit on the science, space and technology committee. CNN said requests for seats on panels dealing with the financial sector and foreign policy were rebuffed.

Santos won election in New York’s third district in November. Since then, he has been the subject of relentless media scrutiny, calls to resign from his own party and from Democrats, and multiple calls for investigations of his campaign finances.

Another consequence of the GOP’s renewed control of the House is the end of two rightwing lawmakers’ exile from committee work, the Guardian’s Martin Pengelly reports:

Two far-right members of Congress whose threatening behavior prompted their removal from committees when Democrats controlled the US House were given assignments on Tuesday by the new Republican speaker, Kevin McCarthy.

Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia will sit on the House homeland security committee and the oversight committee. Paul Gosar of Arizona was named to oversight and natural resources.

Democrats removed Greene from committees in February 2021, citing incendiary behavior including advocating the assassination of opponents and voicing support for QAnon and other conspiracy theories, including bizarre claims about 9/11 and the Parkland school shooting.

Eleven Republicans supported Greene’s removal but despite being condemned by party leaders for speaking at a white supremacist conference last February, the Georgia congresswoman has since become close to McCarthy.

The GOP is still getting its ducks in a row in the House, but has already made clear that cutting government spending will be one of its top priorities this year.

But that could make reaching an agreement with Democrats in the Senate on funding the government nigh impossible, Politico reports, particularly if the Republicans stick to their guns on demanding at least $130bn in spending cuts from every aspect of the government except the military.

Exacerbating the dynamics is the deal Kevin McCarthy struck with conservative holdouts to win their votes for House speaker, where he reportedly agreed to back their demands for the cuts, and put many of the lawmakers on committees where they could influence any deal.

But as Politico reports, some in the GOP admit they haven’t quite agreed on exactly what spending reductions they want to see. “I don’t think we’ve had a really good full-throated discussion and debate about what is politically doable,” said Steve Womack, a Republican serving on the powerful appropriations committee.

There are two issues that the House will have to act on this year that are either important business or crucial leverage, depending on who you ask.

The first is funding the government. A bill passed in the final days of 2022 paid for its operations through this September, but Congress will have to act again to ensure the money is there for everything from federal employees’ salaries to keeping offices open. Failure to do so would result in the first government shutdown since 2019.

But as serious as that would be, it’s nothing compared to the consequences if the United States defaults on its debt. And it could do so as soon as June if Congress doesn’t agree to raise the debt ceiling, which is the legal limit for how much money it can borrow to pay for the government’s needs.

Democrats say they’re ready to raise the debt ceiling without conditions, and to negotiate in good faith over another government funding bill later this year. But for Republicans, these two issues are two of the most obvious ways to extract concessions from the White House and Senate, who otherwise have little reason to say yes to their demands.

House Republicans issue demands, but Democrats wary of deadlock

Good morning, US politics blog readers. After two years of Joe Biden and the Democrats in full control of Congress, Republicans are eager to use their majority in the House of Representatives to hold his presidency to account and bend his allies to their will. From spending cuts to investigations, they have big plans to ensure Congress enacts conservative policies – plans that Democrats fear will amount to only one thing: deadlock. If the two sides can’t overcome what look to be substantial differences, Democrats are warning that the government could shut down, or the nation could even default on its debt, for the first time ever. This dynamic will probably define Congress for the next two years, but expect to hear more about it today, as Republican leaders detail committee assignments and other business in Congress’s lower chamber.

Here’s what else is happening today:

  • The White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, will brief reporters at 3pm eastern time, who will no doubt demand more information about the administration’s response to Biden’s possession of classified documents.

  • The House oversight committee chair, James Comer, is demanding information about Chinese donors to the University of Pennsylvania and the Penn Biden center, where some of the president’s secret material was located.

  • The UK foreign secretary, James Cleverly, continues his visit to Washington DC, with a wreath laying planned at Arlington national cemetery.