Republicans Are Facing Their Constituents in Town Halls This Week, and the People Are Angry
Congress is in recess, and members are in their districts hosting town halls this week. For many Republicans, that’s meant contentious meetings complete with constituent outrage over the GOP’s permissiveness with President Donald Trump and anger over potentially having their health care pulled out from under them. There have also been a number of sick burns along the way. The reception has been severe enough that some lawmakers have pulled out of town hall events. Here’s a glimpse into of what’s going on at some of the meetings around the country this week.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky:
"If you can answer any of that, I'll sit down and shut up like Elizabeth Warren." - constituent to Mitch McConnell pic.twitter.com/M3hPrVkUmF— Axios (@axios) February 21, 2017
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley in Iowa Falls:
Many Americans are using the same town halls in which ACA was debated to now discuss its future. Here's one example. pic.twitter.com/1z1Pqu7pQV— Margarita Noriega (@margarita) February 22, 2017
Chuck Grassley asked about impeachment of Trump at town hall in Garner, Iowa: pic.twitter.com/eAPzQe0pLq— Vaughn Hillyard (@VaughnHillyard) February 21, 2017
Republican Sen. Joni Ernst ducked out of a veterans town hall in Maquoketa, Iowa.
The crowd jeers and chants after Joni Ernst ends her forum after only 45 minutes, few questions pic.twitter.com/aHrcbPMxv2— Iowa Starting Line (@IAStartingLine) February 21, 2017
Finally, here's the crowd chanting "Shame on you" as Joni Ernst left the forum in Maquoketa pic.twitter.com/KoJwLgjcfj— Iowa Starting Line (@IAStartingLine) February 21, 2017
Republican Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia:
Here's a good example of the rowdiness/frustration at Rep. Dave Brat's town hall tonight. He took over 30 Qs, got lots of pushback. pic.twitter.com/L3kHyDUNKw— Ashley Killough (@KilloughCNN) February 22, 2017
The scene outside Dave Brat's town hall in Blackstone Va. after it ended pic.twitter.com/YrwCclQZMu— James Arkin (@JamesArkin) February 22, 2017
Arkansas Republican Congressman Steve Womack:
Crowd asks Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) to investigate Trump/Russia.— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) February 22, 2017
Wait for it... pic.twitter.com/4siV7A0cOR
Many Republicans saw what was happening and bailed:
Federal Judge Halts Texas Effort to Block Medicaid Patients From Access to Planned Parenthood
A federal judge, on Tuesday, put a halt on Texas’ effort to cut Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood services in the state. U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks’ preliminary injunction temporarily stopped the state’s effort to defund the reproductive health non-profit, which gained momentum after anti-abortion activists released secretly recorded, highly edited videos in 2015 that were contrived to make the organization look like it was profiting off the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood was cleared of any wrongdoing by a Texas grand jury; that has not fazed Republican lawmakers however.
“Sparks' decision preserves what Planned Parenthood says are cancer screenings, birth control access and other health services for nearly 11,000 low-income women at 30 clinics,” according to the Associated Press. “Texas originally intended to boot Planned Parenthood in January but Sparks told the state to wait pending his ruling. Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi and Louisiana have also had similar efforts blocked.”
Planned Parenthood says none of the Medicaid funds it receives, which the organization says amounted to $3 million in 2016, go towards providing abortion services for the 120,000 patients it serves at its Texas health centers. Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the state intends to appeal the ruling.
Discarded Troll Milo Yiannopoulos Is Now Useless to Conservatives
You can thank Steve Bannon, now a central figure in Donald Trump’s administration, for making the clownish hustler Milo Yiannopoulos a star. As the editor of Breitbart, Bannon recruited Yiannopoulos to the site, where he published columns like “No, J.C. Penney, Fat People Should Absolutely Hate Themselves” and “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.” If Trump is a poor person’s idea of a rich person, Yiannopoulos is a Trump voter’s fantasy of a decadent gay sophisticate. His shtick is to wrap various shades of reaction—anti-feminism, racism, anti-Semitism, hatred of Muslims—in camp, to sell bigotry as cheeky provocation. He and co-author Allum Bokhari put it this way, in a Breitbart ode to the alt-right: “Just as the kids of the 60s shocked their parents with promiscuity, long hair and rock’n’roll, so too do the alt-right’s young meme brigades shock older generations with outrageous caricatures, from the Jewish ‘Shlomo Shekelburg’ to ‘Remove Kebab,’ an internet in-joke about the Bosnian genocide.”
Yiannopoulos uses his gayness to grant absolution to his mostly straight right-wing audiences, telling them that by reveling in prejudice, they are bravely flouting taboos. During the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, at an event billed as an America First Unity Rally, Yiannopoulos told a crowd full of bikers and Alex Jones acolytes: “I might be a dick-sucking faggot, but I fucking hate the left … the left in this country is a cancer that you need to eradicate.” As a gay man, he added, he aims to be “transgressive, to be naughty, to be mischievous. And today in America that means being right-wing.”
It turns out the right isn’t quite as enamored of transgression as Yiannopoulos thought. In the past few days, his career has imploded, thanks to old but previously little-noticed recordings in which he celebrates sex between teenage boys and adult men. In quick succession, Yiannopoulos’ invitation to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference was withdrawn, his $250,000 Simon and Schuster book contract was canceled, and on Tuesday afternoon, he resigned from Breitbart. Even Richard Spencer, the white nationalist who coined the term alt-right, now dismisses him. “He cannot be defended at this point,” Spencer said in a denunciatory video on Tuesday, adding, “I think it’s also clear that his career is over, definitively.”
Yiannopoulos, a sworn enemy of victim culture, reacted to his sudden fall by playing the victim card. “I’m a gay man and a child-abuse victim,” he said, at a Tuesday afternoon press conference in SoHo. “Between the ages of 13 and 16, two men touched me in ways they should not have. One of those men was a priest.” At the time, he said, “I didn’t perceive what was happening as abusive. But I can look back now and see that it was. I still don’t view myself as a victim, but clearly I am one.” He blithe remarks about the value of man-boy sex were thus his way of working through his own experience, though he allowed that “my usual blend of sassy gay British sarcasm, provocation, and gallows humor might have come across as flippancy.”
Over the next 30 minutes, Yiannopoulos apologized, deflected, complained about a political witch hunt, and tried to cast himself as a performer being held to an unfairly literal journalistic standard. “Go into any drag bar or gay club, and you will hear joke after joke about clerical sexual abuse,” he said. “I’m not afforded the same freedom to make those kind of jokes, because the media chooses to selectively define me as a political figure in some circumstances and a comedian in others.” Then it was back to leaning on his sad history: “To be a victim of child abuse, and at the same time be accused of being an apologist for child abuse, is absurd.”
There were moments of bravado: Yiannopoulos says that another publisher will pick up his book and that he’s starting his own media company. “I don’t think this has done any harm for my profile,” he said. “I think more people are going to read what I have to say on the subject of free speech as a result of this.” All the same, he seemed a little shaken, describing the past 48 hours as a “horrible and humiliating and degrading experience.”
Now he apparently wants to rebrand himself as an entertainer rather than a polemicist. “I’m going to focus now on entertainment, on education, and less perhaps on journalism,” he said. It will be surprising if that works. Yiannopoulos’ act was all about baiting liberals over free speech; he’d say something repulsive, the left would react, and conservatives could play the defenders of edgy self-expression. In the end, however, the right shut him down the second he made conservatives uncomfortable. Going forward, even if any right-wingers are willing to be associated with him, it will be hard for him to continue the fiction that conservatives are uniquely open-minded. That means he’s no use to them, or to anyone, really. Poor snowflake.
Appeals Court Rules that Second Amendment Doesn’t Protect Right to Assault Weapons
On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that the Second Amendment doesn’t protect assault weapons—an extraordinary decision keenly attuned to the brutal havoc these firearms can wreak. Issued by the court sitting en banc, Tuesday’s decision reversed a previous ruling in which a panel of judges had struck down Maryland’s ban on assault weapons and detachable large capacity magazines. Today’s ruling is a remarkable victory for gun safety advocates and a serious setback for gun proponents who believe the Second Amendment exempts weapons of war from regulation.
In 2013, Maryland passed a law barring the sale, possession, transfer, or purchase of what it dubbed “assault weapons,” including AR-15s, AK-47s, and semiautomatic rifles. It also banned copies of these firearms and large capacity magazines. Gun advocates sued, alleging that the law violated their right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment. A district court rejected their claims, but a panel of judges from the 4th Circuit reversed that rejection, holding that the Maryland law infringed on gun owners’ Second Amendment rights—and that gun regulations must be subject to the extremely demanding “strict scrutiny” standard. The full court voted to vacate that decision and rehear the case, and Tuesday’s decision marks a vigorous rejection of that extreme stance.
The majority opinion opens with a disturbing account of several recent mass shootings enabled by the kind of assault weapons that Maryland seeks to ban. In Newtown, Aurora, San Bernardino, Orlando, Binghamton, Tucson, Virginia Tech, and Fort Hood, mass shooters used either military-style rifles or high-capacity magazines, significantly increasing the ultimate death tolls. Newtown, in particular, compelled Maryland to ban these weapons. The state recognized that the Supreme Court’s decision in D.C. v. Heller protects citizens’ right to keep handguns in the home. But it argued that the firearms it had proscribed constituted “dangerous and unusual weapons,” which the Heller court said could be outlawed. Indeed, Maryland pointed out, the Heller court explicitly declares that especially dangerous weapons “that are most useful in military service—M-16 rifles and the like—may be banned.”
Today in Conservative Media: Sweden
A daily roundup of the biggest stories in right-wing media.
At a rally on Saturday, Donald Trump seemed to suggest that Sweden had suffered a terrorist attack the night before, which it had not. Conservative media continues to cover the fallout from those remarks, with many outlets defending and explaining Trump’s comment and, in some cases, suggesting that he was right.
Sean Hannity’s website ran a post titled, “No, Trump Never Said There Was a Terrorist Attack in Sweden.” It noted that he had only advised his audience to “look at what’s happening last night in Sweden,” and cited one of the president’s own tweets, which clarified that he’d been referring to a story broadcast on Fox News the night before his rally.
That broadcast—built around footage from a documentary by Ami Horowitz about refugee violence in Sweden—led HeatStreet to conclude, “Looks Like Donald Trump Was Right About Sweden After All,” though the post itself admits Trump “appears to have been referring to an actual, accurate news report, albeit one that wasn’t technically live or breaking.” Though police officers interviewed in Horowitz’s documentary have objected to its assertions about refugee violence, claiming that their comments were taken out of context and misrepresented, Breitbart ran an article titled, “Ten Reasons Sweden’s ‘Multicultural Utopia’ Is Massively Failing.” Reason no. 5—that “most serious crime is committed by migrants”—is backed up only with a quote from a police officer’s Facebook rant.
Many publications found subsequent support for Trump’s assertion in a Monday night “riot” in an immigrant neighborhood of Rinkeby, a suburb of Stockholm. From FoxNews.com:
The violence in Rinkeby began around 8 p.m., when officers arrested a suspect at an underground station on drug charges, The Local reported. A group soon gathered, hurling rocks and other objects at officers and prompting one cop to fire his gun “in a situation that demanded he use his firearm,” police spokesman Lars Bystrom said.
“But nobody has been found injured at the scene and we have checked the hospitals and there hasn’t been anyone with what could be gunshot wounds,” Bystrom added.
Posts about Sweden from conservative Facebook pages were shared widely:
In other news:
Over the holiday weekend, Breitbart technology editor Milo Yiannopoulos came under fire after video of him seeming to endorse sex between adults and minors emerged. The Conservative Political Action Conference subsequently stripped him of his role as keynote speaker. Later, Simon & Schuster, which had given Yiannopoulous a $250,000 advance for his forthcoming book, announced that it would no longer be publishing the title. Though it largely declined to comment on these organization’s choices, the Daily Caller observed, “The group that accused Milo Yiannopoulos of defending pedophilia is funded by an anti-Trump, pro-[Evan] McMullin PAC.”
HeatStreet—which has variously described Breitbart as “a Donald Trump fan website” and compared Yiannopoulos to a member of the Sex Pistols—went a little farther than some of its conservative siblings. It called Yiannopoulos’ statements “something else,” and invited its readers to watch the video in full—implicitly challenging Yiannopoulos’ own claim that he was the victim of “selectively edited videos.”
The National Review went farther, taking the opportunity to aggressively condemn Yiannopoulos. In “Free Speech Has a Milo Problem,” David French, after referring to Yiannopoulos as “flamboyantly gay,” wrote, “His very existence and prominence feed the deception that modern political correctness is the firewall against the worst forms of bigotry,” and argued that we should instead uphold individuals such as Washington state florist Barronelle Stutzman, who was sued for refusing to provide flowers for a gay wedding, as First Amendment heroes. Similarly, the publication’s editors chastised CPAC for inviting Yiannopoulos in the first place, writing, “It has become fashionable in conservative circles to cheer every apparently right-leaning gadfly. But ‘trolling’ is not conservatism, and there is no virtue merely in upsetting campus Democrats.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Yiannopoulous resigned from Breitbart. The site, which had been quiet on this story, published a post soon after, quoting an official statement that explained the company had accepted his resignation.
Milo Yiannopoulos Resigns From Breitbart
Milo Yiannopoulos resigned from Breitbart on Tuesday afternoon in the ongoing fallout from the surfacing of comments he had made in defense of pedophilia, or, in Yiannopoulos' words, sexual attraction to “somebody who is 13 years old who is sexually mature.”
“I would be wrong to allow my poor choice of words to detract from my colleagues’ important reporting, so today I am resigning from Breitbart,” Yiannopoulos, the site’s “tech editor,” said in a statement. “The decision is mine alone.” The news follows reports on Monday that some Breitbart staffers had threatened to leave the publication if Yiannopoulos was allowed to stay on. “The fact of the matter is that there’s been so many things that have been objectionable about Milo over the last couple of years, quite frankly. This is something far more sinister,” a senior editor told Washingtonian. “If the company isn’t willing to act, there are at least half a dozen people who are willing to walk out over it.”
Yiannopoulos, who was scheduled to give the keynote address at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, had his speaking slot pulled and an upcoming book with Simon & Schuster canceled after clips of his comments on underage sex were posted to Twitter by the blog the Reagan Battalion. In the clips, Yiannopoulos says he believes children as young as 13 may be capable of sexual consent and even the sexual predation of adults more twice their age.
“We’re talking 13–25, 13–28. These things do happen perfectly consensually,” he said in one. “Normally what happens in schools, very often, is it’s an older woman and a younger boy. And the boy is the predator in that situation.” He also joked that abuse at the hands of a priest while he was 14 had improved his ability to have oral sex.
In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Yiannopoulos reiterated points made in an apology posted to Facebook over the weekend, in which he said that he does not approve of sexual relationships with 13-year-olds. “I've reviewed the tapes that appeared last night in their proper full context and I don't believe they say what is being reported,” he said. “Nonetheless I do say some things on the tapes that I do not mean and which do not reflect my views.” Milo was not asked by reporters whether he still believes 13-year-olds are capable of sexual consent.
“It’s obvious,” he said while taking questions from reporters, “that this was a highly coordinated and very well-funded and well-planned attack on me, but I have to take responsibility for what I said.”
The White House’s Various Connections to Newly Infamous Pedophilia Advocate Milo Yiannopoulos
There's an argument to be made that the best way to respond to Milo Yiannopoulos, the self-consciously provocative right-wing figure who just lost his speaking slot at the country's most prominent conservative conference because he once suggested it's acceptable for adult men to have sex with 13-year-olds, is to ignore him. The various white-nationalist, anti-Semitic, misogynist, and transphobic rhetoric that Yiannopoulos emits is transparently crafted to "get attention" and provoke backlash, the thinking goes—so why give him the satisfaction?
One answer to that is that unlike truly fringe figures like David Duke, Yiannopoulos does have a constituency—his Facebook page has 2 million followers—and his supporters include the president of the U.S. and some of the president's top advisers.
- Before joining the Trump campaign, White House senior adviser Steve Bannon was the publisher of Breitbart, the far-right site on which Yiannopoulos posted much of his most infamous work, e.g. the column in which he wrote that American women should stop taking birth control because they need to "breed" in order to "keep the Muslim invaders at bay." Said Yiannopoulos of Bannon in a Washington Post piece: "He made me a star." Bannon has praised Yiannopoulos' work as "valuable." (Yiannopoulos resigned from Breitbart on Tuesday.)
- In July, the Trump campaign held a Reddit AMA that was exclusively open to members of The_Donald, a subforum rife with anti-Semitism, white supremacist ranting, and various other forms of hate-speech garbage. (At the time, I noted that the word cunt had been used on The_Donald 458 times.) The_Donald's most prominent member was Milo Yiannopoulos, who'd just been banned from Twitter for inciting harassment of black actress Leslie Jones. Trump answered questions from only 12 users of the many who submitted comments; as you can see above, one of them was Yiannopoulos.
- Just-ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn called Yiannopoulos "brave" and said he was a "phenomenal individual" at a November conference for young conservatives.
- In February of this year, Trump tweeted a threat to revoke the University of California–Berkeley's federal funding because it had canceled Yiannopoulos' appearance on campus when protests against him turned violent.
With all these fans at the top levels of government, it seems like this Milo guy might just land on his feet!
Incidentally, some of the other users from whom Trump took questions during the Reddit AMA had previously used the The_Donald forum to refer to a high-profile victim of an alleged sexual assault as a "little whore," to refer to multiracial Daily Show host Trevor Noah as "filth from South Africa," and to refer to Black Lives Matter marches as "chimp outs." Again—these are the people Trump made time to take questions from during an exclusive campaign Q&A event.
We dumped about 2,000 tons of sewage in the White House on Jan. 20, and it's going to take a long time to clean it all out.
McMaster Is an Improvement, but He’s Going to Be Cleaning Up After Trump Like Everyone Else
Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, a highly qualified and widely admired general, is certainly an improvement over the politically compromised extremist Michael Flynn. But how much influence can H.R. McMaster have on the views of a president who gets his information on world affairs from half-baked Tucker Carlson segments?
McMaster is not the first noncrazy person to join Trump’s team. The president already has a Cabinet stocked with figures espousing relatively mainstream GOP foreign-policy views—many of whom directly contradicted much of Trump’s campaign rhetoric during their confirmation hearings. But so far, the dynamic of these officials moderating Trump’s views and behavior has not played out. Instead, the so-called moderating forces are spending a good portion of their time cleaning up Trump’s messes and explaining to foreign governments that their boss didn’t mean what he very clearly did mean.
Vice President Mike Pence, who has existed in a parallel universe to his boss since the campaign, was in Brussels over the weekend, assuring European governments of America’s “steadfast and enduring” support for the European Union and contradicting Trump, who has expressed indifference to the EU and embraced euroskeptic politicians like Nigel Farage. According to Reuters, Pence’s reassurances also contradicted remarks made by Steve Bannon to a German diplomat last week, in which the chief White House strategist called the union a flawed construct and said the U.S. would be better off conducting relations with European governments on a bilateral basis.
Defense Secretary James Mattis, on a trip to Iraq, is also on cleanup duty Tuesday, saying “We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil,” in response to questions about Trump’s oft-stated belief that America should have “kept” Iraq’s oil after the 2003 invasion and might still do so.
And last week, it was up to U.N. envoy Nikki Haley to explain that “we absolutely support a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that Trump was just “thinking out of the box” by suggesting that he had no particular attachment to the longtime U.S. policy position.
Now it’s McMaster’s turn to take a crack at an administration that often seems to be running two separate foreign policies in parallel, a traditionally Republican one administered by Pence and the Cabinet secretaries, and a disruptive and unpredictable one run by Bannon and Trump himself. If you’re a foreign leader or diplomat right now, trying to get a handle on just how disruptive and transformative this administration is going to be, McMaster’s appointment is likely welcome, but also making things even more confusing.
Trump’s First Supreme Court Case Could Have Major Implications on His Travel Ban
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Hernández v. Mesa, a case with particular salience given that the Trump administration appears ready to release plans for the enforcement of the president’s executive orders clamping down on undocumented immigrants. The case concerns the 2010 shooting of unarmed Mexican teenager Sergio Hernandez just south of the U.S.-Mexico border by a border patrol agent named Jesus Mesa Jr. The case was a holdover from the Obama era, but it will be the first one argued at the high court by the Trump administration. From the Los Angeles Times:
The killing of the teenager, who was unarmed and posed no apparent threat to the officer, provoked anger on the Mexican side of the border, but U.S. officials refused to extradite Mesa to face charges in Mexico. They also decided against prosecuting him under U.S. law.
Sergio’s parents then sued Mesa, alleging the shooting was an unjustified violation of the Constitution. They cited the 4th Amendment’s ban on unreasonable seizures and the use of excessive force as well as the 5th Amendment, which says no person shall “be deprived of life or liberty … without due process of law.”
The case was initially thrown out by a federal judge on the grounds that the Constitution could not be enforced south of the border. A court of appeals later ruled that the United States could be considered in control of the area around the border, but that existing law was too unclear to merit punishment for Mesa. The case is also thought to hold relevance to the Trump administration’s efforts to ban Muslims from selected countries from entering the United States, which hinge in part on the extent to which they violate the constitutional rights of noncitizens within American jurisdiction. From the Times:
As usual, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy appears to hold the key vote. In the past, he has said the reach of the Constitution should turn on practical concerns, including whether U.S. officials are in control. If so, he could join with the court’s liberals to say the Constitution constrains U.S. agents operating on a border, thereby clearing the family’s lawsuit to proceed. Such a decision would surely be cited by lawyers and judges in the litigation over the travel ban.
Trump Is Still Getting Advice From the Guy Who Said Sandy Hook Was a Hoax
Alex Jones is the proprietor of InfoWars, a conspiracy website that has asserted that the Sandy Hook massacre never happened and that 9/11 was planned by the U.S. government. He is also, he told the New York Times in a piece published Sunday, in regular touch with our president, Donald Trump:
[Jones] is apparently taking on a new role as occasional information source and validator for the president of the United States, with whom, Mr. Jones says, he sometimes speaks on the phone.
We already knew that Trump praised Jones during an appearance on his radio show and that they reportedly spoke in November after the election. Now the White House appears to have confirmed, to the Times, Jones' contention that he and Trump are phone buddies:
Mr. Jones told me that he had spoken with Mr. Trump since that call [in November], though an aide to the president, communicating on the condition of anonymity, played down the frequency of their contact.
Playing down the frequency of their contact isn't exactly denying that they're in contact, is it?
Update, 11:35 a.m.: I forgot to mention that Jones told the Times that Sandy Hook "may have happened," in the newspaper's words. This is a contradiction of the host's emphatic previous statements on the issue.