In some respects, September 11, 2001 seems like far more than five years ago. It’s hard to remember what it was like to go through airport security before then. And for those of us in politics, it’s even harder to recall a time when national security was an entirely subordinate issue, much less when Republicans were calling for “humility” in foreign policy, and suggesting Democrats were too prone to support military actions remote from direct threats to the United States. But at the same time, we all remember that day with extraordinary clarity. I was at work in Washington, and a colleague called me into his office to watch reports of a plane hitting the World Trade Center. Right after I started watching, the second plane hit, and I knew, like everyone else at that moment, what that meant. Almost immediately, it seemed, another colleague called in to say she was sitting in traffic on I-395 and saw an airliner crash into the Pentagon (thinking–erroneously, it turned out–that her husband was in the Pentagon for a meeting, she was understandably beside herself). And then within a minute or two, we could all see the smoke rising on the horizon from the direction of Northern Virginia. Following some odd impulse, a friend and I went down to the street (Pennsylvania Ave. SE) and stood there just watching the Capitol building, half-expecting it to explode any minute. We finally snapped out of it when the sidewalks filled with congressional staffers who had just been evacuated. I didn’t lose any friends or family members on 9/11, and it’s just one of the traumatic national incidents burned permanently into my memory (others being the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK; the Challenger explosion; Hurricane Katrina; and, as a political junkie, the horror of the Florida recount in 2000). Life more or less returned to normal in New York and Washington within months of the tragedy, and in D.C. we no longer awaken each morning immediately aware of the drone of circling aircraft patrols. But because we are still as a nation grappling with how to respond to 9/11, and to place it in some proper historical context, this particular memory burns bright today, and Lord only knows when it will ever fade from our nightmares, or fail to arouse anger and tears.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
The federal government is going to shut down this weekend, barring some miracle. And Democrats really need to make sure Americans know exactly who insisted on this avoidable crisis. It’s the House GOP, as I explained at New York.
If you are bewildered by the inability of Congress to head off a government shutdown beginning this weekend, don’t feel poorly informed: Some of the Capitol’s top wizards are throwing up their hands as well, as the Washington Post reports:
“’We are truly heading for the first-ever shutdown about nothing,’ said Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank. Strain has started referring to the current GOP House-led impasse as “the ‘Seinfeld’ shutdown,” a reference to the popular sitcom widely known as ‘a show about nothing.’ ‘The weirdest thing about it is that the Republicans don’t have any demands. What do they want? What is it that they’re going to shut the government down for? We simply don’t know.’”
That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Many House Republicans, led by a band of right-wing hard-liners, want to impose their fiscal and policy views on the nation despite the GOP’s narrow majority in the House. Their chief asset, beyond fanaticism, is that the federal government can’t remain open past the end of the fiscal year without the concurrence of the House, and they don’t really mind an extended government shutdown, if only to preen and posture. They are being encouraged in this wildly irresponsible position by their leader and likely 2024 presidential nominee Donald Trump.
But the hard-liners’ real motive, it seems, is to use the dysfunction they’ve caused in the House to get rid of Speaker Kevin McCarthy for being dysfunctional. The not-so-hidden plan hatched by Florida congressman Matt Gaetz is to thwart every effort by McCarthy to move forward with spending plans for the next fiscal year and then defenestrate him via a motion to vacate the chair, which just five Republicans can pass any time they wish (with the complicity of Democrats). Indeed, the Post reports the rebels are casting about for a replacement Speaker right now:
“A contingent of far-right House Republicans is plotting an attempt to remove Kevin McCarthy as House speaker as early as next week, a move that would throw the chamber into further disarray in the middle of a potential government shutdown, according to four people familiar with the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.”
McCarthy’s tormenters would like to have a successor lined up who will presumably be even less inclined to compromise with Democrats than the current Speaker. And that’s saying a lot, since McCarthy has already bowed to the Gaetz demand that House Republicans reject even the idea of a continuing resolution — the stopgap spending measures used to forestall or end government shutdowns in the past — and instead plod through individual appropriations bills loaded with provisions no Democrat would ever accept (e.g., deep domestic spending cuts, draconian border policies, anti-Ukraine measures, and abortion restrictions). It’s a recipe for a long shutdown, but it’s clear if McCarthy moves a muscle toward negotiating with Democrats (who have already passed a CR in the Senate), then kaboom! Here comes the motion to vacate.
Some observers think getting rid of McCarthy is an end in itself for the hard-liners — particularly Gaetz, who has a long-standing grudge against the Californian and opposed his original selection as Speaker to the bitter end — no matter what he does or doesn’t do. In theory, House Democrats could save McCarthy by lending a few “no” votes to him if the motion to vacate hits the floor, but they’ve made it clear the price for saving him would be high, including abandonment of the GOP’s Biden impeachment inquiry.
So strictly speaking, the impending shutdown isn’t “about nothing”; it’s about internal far-right factional politics that very few of the people about to be affected by the shutdown care about at all. Understandably, most Democrats from President Biden on down are focusing their efforts on making sure the public knows this isn’t about “big government” or “politicians” or “partisan polarization,” but about one party’s extremism and cannibalistic infighting. For now, there’s little anyone outside the GOP fever swamps can do about it other than watch the carnage.