[guest post by Dana]
First news item
President Joe Biden’s administration on Thursday laid the blame on his predecessor, President Donald Trump, for the deadly and chaotic 2021 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan that brought about some of the darkest moments of Biden’s presidency.
The White House publicly released a 12-page summary of the results of the so-called “ hotwash ” of U.S. policies around the ending of the nation’s longest war, taking little responsibility for its own actions and asserting that Biden was “severely constrained” by Trump’s decisions.
It does acknowledge that the evacuation of Americans and allies from Afghanistan should have started sooner, but blames the delays on the Afghan government and military, and on U.S. military and intelligence community assessments.
The brief document was drafted by the National Security Council, rather than by an independent entity, with input from Biden himself. The administration said detailed reviews conducted by the State Department and the Pentagon, which the White House said would be transmitted privately to Congress on Thursday, were highly classified and would not be released publicly.
Read the summary in its entirety.
Second news item
There are troubling reports of threats against the Manhattan district attorney and the judge in the Donald Trump case.
Since Trump’s arraignment, a law enforcement source tells CBS News Judge Juan Merchan was threatened on social media. Police are investigating.
A second law enforcement source says death threats against DA Alvin Bragg and his Trump prosecutors have also increased.
If you recall, Trump raged about Judge Merchan and his family before and after his arraignment. The former president also warned of death and destruction if charges were brought against him. And there was the baseball bat/Bragg image as well.
Also, there questions have been raised about Judge Merchan’s impartiality, given that he made a $35 contribution to Democratic candidates via the Democratic fundraising platform, ActBlue. This includes a $15 donation to Joe Biden.
“While the amounts here are minimal, it’s surprising that a sitting judge would make political donations of any size to a partisan candidate or cause,” said Elie Honig, a senior CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor…Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics professor at New York University, said that New York, like most US jurisdictions, has adopted language from the American Bar Association Model Code of Judicial Conduct, which prohibits judges from “soliciting funds for, paying an assessment to, or making a contribution to a political organization or candidate.”
“The contribution to Biden and possibly the one to ‘Stop Republicans’ would be forbidden unless there is some other explanation that would allow them,” Gillers said.
But Gillers said that the donation “would be viewed as trivial, especially given the small sums.” He said if a complaint was made, the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct would remind the judge of the rules.
Asked if this could be grounds for a legal challenge or recusal, Gillers said, “Absolutely not. This does not come anywhere near the kind of proof required for recusal.”
Third news item
Republican lawmakers expel Democratic members who protested mass shootings on the House floor one week after an attack left three children and three adults dead in a Nashville school:
Republican lawmakers in Tennessee voted on Thursday to expel two Democratic legislators who joined a protest on the House floor last week after a deadly school shooting in Nashville. On March 30, protesters gathered at the State Capitol, and Democratic Reps. Justin Jones, Gloria Johnson and Justin Pearson led a chant of “power to the people” from the House floor…[L]awmakers first voted 72-25 to expel Jones, 27, one of the youngest members of the legislature. The resolution to expel Johnson failed by one vote, 65 to 30. But Pearson, 28, was also expelled, in a 69-26 vote. The GOP supermajority had accused the representatives of breaking house rules on conduct and decorum.
Johnson suggested that she was spared expulsion because she is White. Pearson and Jones are Black.
It’s puzzling that expulsion was the go-to consequence, given that it has so rarely happened, and when it has, it has been for considerably more disturbing issues. Why not censure the members instead?
In General Assembly history, a partisan expulsion vote like Thursday’s is unusual, and an expulsion push over a decorum breach is unprecedented…The House last expelled a sitting lawmaker in 2016, when the chamber voted 70-2 to remove then-Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, over allegations he had harassed nearly two dozen women while in office. In 1980, then-Rep. Robert Fisher was expelled on a 92-1 vote after a bribery conviction…Six lawmakers were ousted during an 1866 special session after they tried to prevent Tennessee from ratifying an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to provide citizenship to former slaves.
Note that the protesters felt that the newly-voted on laws didn’t go far enough:
Several votes took place ahead of the vote to expel the legislators. Those votes were on bills including HB322, to harden schools with locked doors and drills, which was passed 95 to 4, with the “Tennessee Three” and one other Democrat voting no. House Bill 1051, which would expand mental health benefits across the state, passed with 97 yeas and no nay votes. The House also passed bills to increase school security and an amendment that would implement a mobile panic alert system that would allow first responders to communicate in real time was also voted on.
Here is David French, with whom I agree:
This is exactly the kind of performative, punitive action that thrills the base but hurts the GOP. The expelled legislators will likely be back, soon, with higher profiles and a longer reach. The GOP will have acted unjustly without deterring or intimidating anyone. /2
— David French (@DavidAFrench) April 7, 2023
It's particularly sad to see this moment in the aftermath of Covenant. There are serious proposals (like red flag laws, which have long enjoyed bipartisan support) that can help save lives. That's a priority that should trump flexing for the base. /end
— David French (@DavidAFrench) April 7, 2023
So, why would Tennessee Republicans jump to expulsion rather than the more reasonable and fitting consquence of a censure? Especially since the shooting had taken place only days before and at least one parent who lost their child in the attack was in the crowd? Was going hard after the three legislators more important than acknowldging the pain of a community and the loved ones of those left behind? Why would Republicans go this route? Well, Allahpundit has the goods on that:
That ain’t January 6. No cops were beaten, no threats to hang the presiding officers were heard, and no attempts to thwart the peaceful transfer of power were made. House Speaker Cameron Sexton tried to spin what happened as “at least equivalent” to the insurrection but that only proves my point about both-sides-ism and bad faith…Following the chaos in Tennessee, House Republicans decided something must be done about the three Democrats who broke the rules to inflame the protest. For Justin Jones in particular, punishment would be a lifetime achievement award of sorts given that he’s been disrupting business at the Capitol since before he worked there….Expulsions are rare, however, and should be….I wouldn’t say the Republican base wants to lose but I think it’s possible they’ve grown indifferent to losing. If right-wing populism is a cultural tribal identity more so than a political program, sticking with your tribal leader and your stance on abortion is a matter of being true to who you are. You would no sooner modify the tenets of your religious faith than you would the tenets of what you want from your political representatives. Maybe Tennessee’s Republicans sought the legislative death penalty for Jones and Pearson because it was the maximum lib-owning retaliatory option available and therefore had to be chosen as a matter of tribal identity, whether or not it was destined to backfire. Retaliation is a big part of what it means to be a Republican in the Trump era…It’s not that they thought expulsion was wise or justified, perhaps, it’s that they’re all prisoners of a red-state base that doesn’t care whether a policy is wise or justified so long as it inflicts some superficial pain on its enemies. There’s another way to view what happened on Thursday, not as a statement of tribal identity but as an assertion of dominance. The more insecure Republicans feel about their hold on power, the more harshly they try to reassert it. In Wisconsin they used extreme gerrymandering to build a huge legislative majority; Protasiewicz’s election has put that at risk, so here they are already weighing an extreme measure like impeachment to stop her. In Tennessee, Jones, Pearson, and Johnson chose to rebel at a moment when anti-gun sentiment was likely higher than usual because of the school shooting. Republican legislators might have felt obliged in the moment to send a message that the pro-gun majority will not yield to public pressure. Result: Another extreme measure, expulsion instead of censure.
At the end of the day, this, this, this:
There’s also the small matter of what motivated the March 30 protest. If ever there were a moment not to fault members too much for letting their passion about an issue get the best of them, the aftermath of children being slaughtered is it.
Fourth news item
The Education Department on Thursday unveiled its proposed rule on athletics eligibility that bolsters transgender students’ rights to play on sports teams — but includes some limitations.
The proposal would bar schools from adopting or enforcing policies that categorically ban transgender students from participating on teams consistent with their gender identity. But the Education Department also added the caveat that “in some instances, particularly in competitive high school and college athletic environments, some schools may adopt policies that limit transgender students’ participation.”
The rule is a rebuke to sweeping laws in at least 19 states that bar transgender women and girls from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. Lawmakers in those states insist their laws are not meant to isolate transgender students, but to protect fair play in women’s sports.
Meanwhile, Kansas legislators overrode the governor’s third veto banning transgender athletes from girls’ and women’s sports teams. While the language is alleged to be vague in its enforcement, lawmakers are asssuring the public – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – that they don’t forsee “genital inspections” being necessary… Note that bills in Ohio (2022) and Florida (2021) also referred to “genital inspections” but were later removed after public opposition.
Fifth news item
This is sick: both because it’s a barbaric mockery of the Crucifixion, and because no living person on earth is going to accomplish what the Son of God did by hanging on a Cross. God doesn’t demand this from us. To the contrary, he demands that we receive his Grace and Mercy. Gruesome spectacles are just that:
Eight Filipinos were nailed to crosses to reenact Jesus Christ’s suffering in a gory Good Friday tradition that draws thousands of devotees and tourists to the Philippines despite being rejected by the Catholic church.
The real-life crucifixions in the farming village of San Pedro Cutud in Pampanga province north of Manila resumed after a three-year pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. About a dozen villagers registered but only eight men participated, including 62-year-old sign painter Ruben Enaje, who was nailed to a wooden cross for the 34th time in San Pedro Cutud.
Sixth news item
China has imposed sanctions on Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the United States, Hsiao Bi-khim, after the Taiwanese president visited House Speaker Kevin McCarthy this week. Replying to news of the sanctions, Hsiao tweeted: “Wow, the PRC just sanctioned me again, for the second time.” The sanctions bar Hsiao and her family from entering the Chinese mainland, as well as Hong Kong and Macau. Other U.S. entities involved in President Tsai Ing-wen’s time in the U.S. were also punished, including the Hudson Institute—which presented Tsai with an award in New York—and the Reagan Library, which hosted Tsai’s meeting with McCarthy in California.
Kudos to President Tasia Ing-wen for defying China with her acceptance of Kevin McCarthy’s invitation. China didn’t take kindly to the demonstration of a mutually supportive Taiwan and United States.
Seventh news item
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Friday defended luxury trips he has taken over decades, funded by real estate magnate and Republican donor Harlan Crow, saying he had been advised that he was not required to report this type of “personal hospitality” under federal rules.
In a statement, Thomas also said that he has always sought to comply with disclosure guidelines.
“Early in my tenure at the (Supreme) Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable,” Thomas said.
Citing new guidelines taking effect by the Judicial Conference responsible for financial disclosure requirements for the entire federal judiciary, Thomas added, “It is, of course, my intent to follow this guidance in the future.”
Eighth news item
Former President Donald J. Trump has told aides to hire Laura Loomer, a far-right and anti-Muslim activist with a history of expressing bigoted views, for a campaign role, according to four people familiar with the plans.
Mr. Trump met with Ms. Loomer recently and directed advisers to give her a role in support of his candidacy, two of the people familiar with the move said. It is unclear whether she would serve on his campaign or the main super PAC backing his presidential bid. On Tuesday, after Mr. Trump’s arraignment in Manhattan, Ms. Loomer attended the former president’s speech at Mar-a-Lago, his resort and residence in Palm Beach, Fla.
Ms. Loomer has not yet been hired, the people familiar with the discussions said. Some of Mr. Trump’s aides are said to have concerns that such a hire will cause a backlash, given her history of inflammatory statements and her embrace of the Republican Party’s fringes.
Reached by phone on Friday morning, Ms. Loomer said, “Out of respect for President Trump, I’m not going to comment on private conversations that I had with the president.”
“The president knows I have always been a Trump loyalist,” she added, “and that I’m committed to helping him win re-election in 2024. He likes me very much. And it’s a shame that he’s surrounded by some people that run to a publication that is notorious for attacking him in order to try to cut me at the knees instead of being loyal to President Trump and respecting their confidentiality…
Look, my guess is that this isn’t going to cause much of a backlash – at least with Trumper loyalists because they are in lockstep with Loomer. Many seem to view her as a martyr for the cause, and her bigotry, white nationalism, and conspiracy theorist ways resonate with both Trump and his supporters. Plus, she flatters the guy, so she’s in.
Have a lovely weekend!