His speech was delivered almost as conversation, rather than a series of declamations. He kept his voice, for long stretches, at times a near-whisper of empathy or concern—a tone that would have been completely unworkable in a full room. And this wasn’t just when he talked about the pain of the pandemic, but when he turned to the challenge of an autocratic China, or grand-sounding rhetoric like a “great inflection point in history.” His economic policy was detailed in the tones of voice you might use to address a small gathering at the White House. Even when he turned to the ill-gotten gains of the very rich, he used a “just the facts” mode.
“A lot of companies evade taxes through tax havens from Switzerland to Bermuda to the Cayman Islands,” he said, “And they benefit from tax loopholes and deductions that allow for offshoring jobs and shifting profits overseas.” The substance of the message wasn’t that different from what Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren offered, far more loudly, during the presidential campaign. But—to borrow from the right wing’s fantasy about Biden’s dietary plans—there was a lot less rhetorical red meat.
At times, as when he was talking about the victims of gun violence, it was as if the case he was making was emotional enough to stand on its own: “Our flag at the White House was still flying at half-staff for the eight victims of the mass shooting in Georgia, when 10 more lives were taken in a mass shooting in Colorado. In the week between those mass shootings, more than 250 other Americans were shot dead.”
And when he turned to the George Floyd case, he spoke the most powerful of images—“We have all seen the knee of injustice on the neck of Black America”—almost in a whisper.
He gained momentum, and volume, when he started talking about issues like equality and democracy—a different kind of moment than other presidents have chosen to emphasize.
Overall he approached it with the tone of a leader in a time of national crisis, the political mood that carried Biden into office, and the one he will have to sustain if he has any hope of pushing through the kind of ambitious, expensive changes the speech outlines. It has been observed that Biden’s own experience of loss, and his ability to project empathy, is his own political “X-factor,” and the quietness of the room let him project that empathy in a way it’s hard to imagine another president, any other year, being able to do. This tone also served Biden well when he recounted the early successes of his first 100 days—a way to be serious, and even take something of a victory lap, without disrespect to everyone still suffering. In the absence of celebratory triumph, the quiet tone was itself a message that we are in the middle of a journey, with work to be done.
In a larger sense, the toned-down evening was a gift not just to the President, but to those of us watching as well. In the absence of the endless calisthenics of a normal State of the Union—the standing ovations, the compulsory cheers, the opposition party staying stubbornly seated—it gave viewers a chance to focus on the speech itself. If it resembled less the semi-royal occasions these events have turned into, dripping with pomp and circumstance, it was a more agreeable, more accessible—maybe even more “American”—occasion.
One more subtle springboard that Biden got: Speaker Nancy Pelosi began by saying she had the “distinct honor, the high privilege” of introducing the President of the United States.” She did not use those words last year.
‘I have reassessed’: Former Pentagon official now says Trump may not have incited riot
Miller echoed the same message.
“I had all the authority I needed, and I knew what had to happen,” the former defense official said, adding that Trump had given him that authority in the days before the riot.
“I think that the lack of direct communication from President Trump speaks volumes,” Maloney said.
Sparks flew between Democrats on the panel and the Trump appointees as lawmakers accused Miller of changing his account to sound more favorable to Trump and faulted Rosen for refusing to discuss his conversations with the president, as well as for dramatic events at the Justice Department in the days leading up to the riot.
While Miller said in a media interview and in his prepared statement for Wednesday’s hearing that Trump encouraged the protesters on Jan. 6, he took a different tack in his live testimony.
“I think now I would say that is not the unitary factor at all…I have reassessed,” Miller said. “It seems clear there was an organized assault element in place that was going to assault regardless of what the president said.”
Miller also went further than Rosen, seemingly defending Trump by insisting that the former president fulfilled his constitutional duties in connection with the storming of the Capitol, which took place as Congress was scheduled to certify the electoral vote.
When asked to assess whether heated political rhetoric was to blame for the riot, Miller painted in very broad strokes and didn’t point a finger at Trump. “I think the entire entertainment, media, political complex is culpable in creating this environment that is just intolerable and needs to change,” the former defense chief said.
When Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) said Miller had reversed himself, Miller replied: “Absolutely not. That’s ridiculous.”
“You’re ridiculous,” Lynch shot back.
“Thank you for your thoughts,” Miller responded.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) also lambasted Miller over his claims that he is proud of “every decision” he made on Jan. 6.
“I have never been more offended on this committee by a witness statement than yours. You were more concerned about defending your own reputation and justifying your own actions than the sanctity of this Capitol and the sanctity of our democracy,” Khanna said.
When Miller began his answer by praising the service of the troops at the Capitol, Khanna cut him off: “Your pugnacious style is not going to override the democratic process. Learn to respect it.”
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) seemed angry about Miller‘s stance.
“It’s almost like the military saying, ‘Sure, we lost the battle, but we carried out our plan perfectly,’“ Quigley said. “I had colleagues saying, when does the f-ing cavalry get here? You lost and you don’t have the intestinal fortitude to own up to your part of the responsibility.“
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) suggested Miller was shifting his position to curry favor with Trump. “Maybe the wrath of Donald Trump came down upon you,” she said. “That is disgusting.“
Rosen, who has been publicly silent since Jan. 6 except for a couple of written statements and a prerecorded Justice Department video released a week after the riot, said Justice officials he did not name had instructed him not to speak about his conversations with Trump.
“I cannot tell you, consistent with my obligations today, about private conversations with the president one way or another,” Rosen said in response to a question from Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) about whether Trump had pressed him to take action on election fraud claims.
“We had an unprecedented insurrection that led to seven deaths. Five here and two suicides, and you are saying this is a privileged communication?” Connolly replied. “I think the American people are entitled to answer, Mr. Rosen.”
Rosen suggested he might relay his conversations with Trump if he had permission to do so. A Justice Department spokesperson had no immediate comment on what instructions the agency gave to Rosen, who was deputy attorney general in the last two years of the Trump administration and became acting head of the department when Attorney General Bill Barr resigned on Dec. 24, 2020.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) pressed Rosen on whether Black protesters would’ve been treated similarly by law enforcement as the predominantly white crowd that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6
“I think our preparation and our responses would’ve been the same,” Rosen said.
“I’m going to have to disagree with you,” declared Bush, who was a Black Lives Matter organizer before winning election to the House last year. “The contrast is stark.”
The lawmakers who led off questioning for Republicans at the hearing seemed intent on minimizing the gravity of the events at the Capitol. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) argued that the shooting of protester Ashli Babbitt as she sought to breach a lobby outside the House chamber was unwarranted.
“Who executed Ashli Babbitt?” Gosar asked. “The truth is being censored and covered up. As a result, the DOJ is harassing peaceful patriots across the country.”
Gosar argued that the massive Justice Department effort to prosecute those who breached the Capitol and fought with police amounted to overkill aimed at persecuting “Trump voters.”
“The FBI is fishing through the homes of veterans and citizens with no criminal record and restricting the liberties of individuals that have never been accused of a crime,” Gosar said. “The government even enlisted Americans to turn in their own neighbors.”
Gosar also suggested that none of the protesters who entered the Capitol had a weapon. Prosecutors have claimed that firearms were brought into the Capitol, but they have not said that guns were actually seized in the building.
Video of the riot shows some who battled with police wore trademark Trump campaign Make America Great Again caps and waved huge pro-Trump flags. However, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) disputed press reports that those who sought to breach the Capitol were backers of Trump.
“I don’t know who did the poll to say they were Trump supporters,” Norman said.
Several Democrats tried to rebut the Republican stance by citing then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s pointed rebuke of Trump in January for fueling the attack on the Capitol.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said Trump’s culpability for the assault was indisputable.
“He pointed them like a loaded pistol at the capitol. Now, we’re getting this outrageous Orwellian revisionist history,” Raskin said.
Despite the sharp criticism Miller took from Democrats, he did seem to break with Republicans seeking to minimize the events of Jan. 6. “I agree it was an act of terrorism,” he said.
Lara Seligman contributed to this report.
Opinion | A GOP Civil War? Don’t Bet On It.
They shouldn’t be so sure.
First, beyond a few spats that make headlines, it’s getting harder to detect any serious division among rank-and-file Republicans. In Congress, and at the grassroots, the dominance of Donald Trump over the party is more or less total. The small handful who denounced the former president for his massive lies about the election and his seeding of an insurrectionist riot are now either silent, or have embraced a mealy-mouthed argument for “election integrity.” The same state officials who pushed back against Trump’s attempt to overturn November’s results have embraced a series of restrictive voting measures ostensibly designed to combat non-existent “fraud,” all aimed at hobbling voters inclined to vote for Democrats. Mitch McConnell, who denounced Trump’s behavior in high-minded tones in the aftermath of the riot, also—on the exact same day—voted to exonerate him of wrongdoing.
Second, and more significant, history is littered with times that critics on the left, and in the pundit class, were positive the Republican Party was setting itself up for defeat by embracing its extremes … only to watch the party comfortably surge into power. This time there are structural advantages as well: Given the Republican advantages in the House (through gerrymandering, and the statistically “wasted” votes in landslide Democratic districts), in the Senate, in state legislatures and in the Electoral College, a Trump-dominated Republican Party is a strong contender to take the White House next time around. And, contrarian as it may seem, the lockstep devotion to the former president may actually enhance, rather than lessen, its chances. What we’re seeing isn’t a civil war. It’s a purge, and there’s every reason to believe it will work.
This is not the conclusion you’ll reach if you follow much of the mainstream press. A New York Times story on Saturday about Trump’s hold on the GOP quoted former Rep. Barbara Comstock, former Sen. Jeff Flake, GOP consultant Sarah Longwell and Republican strategist Scott Reed, all warning of the political danger of a Trumpcentric party. These are estimable public figures, none of whom remotely speaks for the Republican base. For the past few weeks, much media attention was focused on Michael Wood, the 34-year-old veteran running for a Texas seat with a message that the Republican Party had to move away from Trump. He wound up finishing ninth, with 3 percent of the vote.
For a broader measure of just how one-sided the “civil war” is, you don’t need to stop at the behavior of House Republicans, who are poised to defenestrate Liz Cheney from her leadership post, and who overwhelmingly voted in January to block the certification of electors. A far better picture emerges when you consider the behavior at the grassroots. From one end of the country to the other, state and local Republicans have spoken with one voice.
In Oregon—once the home of moderate Republicans like Mark Hatfield and Robert Packwood—the state party declared that the January 6 pro-Trump insurrection was a “false flag” operation by antifa and Black Lives Matter supporters. In Arizona, where Sen. John McCain once stepped across the aisle to defend the patriotism of Barack Obama, the state party censured his widow, Flake and Gov. Doug Ducey for refusing to embrace the “stolen election” fantasies of Trump. More recently, the GOP-controlled state Senate turned 2.1 million votes from Maricopa County over to an “auditing” firm run by hardcore Trump supporters; the firm is now inspecting ballots for “bamboo fibers,” the better to prove that thousands of ballots somehow made their way from China into Arizona ballot boxes.
In state after state—Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska, Michigan, Washington—local Republican parties are rallying around the ex-president, and censuring those who dare to critique him. If there is any counterweight to this mass impulse, if there are signs of any activity on the other side of this “civil war,” it is happening at a level so low as to be invisible.
From a distance, this all looks somewhere between absurd and suicidal for the party: Pledging total allegiance to a divisive, 74-year-old one-term president who lost his reelection bid by 7 million votes, and lives in a bubble of people telling him he won. He could, and seemingly still can, remove critics from the political stage with the flick of a finger. Should that be seen as a political calamity for Republicans?
If you have a long enough memory, or a grasp of political history, you can point to a moment when the GOP was, indeed, slightly too extreme for American voters: Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater went down to a massive defeat in 1964, in part because the then-significant moderate-liberal wing of the party refused to support him.
But that may be the last time the Republicans truly regretted alienating their moderates. In 1980, Mary Crisp stepped down as co-chair of the Republican National Committee after the party abandoned its support for the Equal Rights Amendment, and put a more or less total abortion ban in its platform. To the pundit classes, her departure was seen an obvious sign that Ronald Reagan’s nomination would drive the then-significant core of moderate and even liberal Republicans away from the ticket. Spoiler alert: The party united behind Reagan and won 44 states. Crisp’s dramatic departure is now a footnote, at best.
For establishment Washington, it was a genuine shock to the system. When 1980 began, an A-list New Year’s gathering in Washington held an informal poll on who would win the presidential election that November. Not a single partygoer chose Reagan. If the collective wisdom of Washington could not imagine the election of a candidate who was twice been elected to lead the largest state in the union, it was beyond the pale in early 2016 to imagine a crude, bullying, recreational liar with the political knowledge of a hamster ascending to the highest office in the land. He would not survive the first in-depth investigative news probe; he would not survive the first primary; he would be turned back at the convention; he would go down to humiliating defeat in November.
And indeed, his ascent triggered what looked like a civil war within the party. Four of the previous five Republican presidential nominees refused to endorse him; a fifth of GOP senators did the same. But Trump won 88 percent of the Republican vote. And after four years of unhinged government, after credible evidence of obstruction of justice, after a pandemic death toll directly linked to presidential indifference and ignorance … Trump won 12 million more votes than he had four years earlier, with the support of 94 percent of Republican voters. That’s slightly better than Reagan did in his 1984 landslide reelection. A shift of 42,000 votes in three states would have thrown the contest into the House of Representatives, where the ludicrously anti-democratic one-state-one-vote rule would have put Trump back in the White House. (Further—had David Perdue won a quarter of one percent more of the vote in the Georgia Senate contest last November, he would have avoided a runoff and the Senate would now be under GOP control).
And despite Trump’s overt attempt to subvert the election, despite his feeding the flames that nearly led to a physical assault of the vice president and speaker of the House, the Republican Party has, after a few complaints and speed bumps, firmly rallied behind Trump’s argument that he was robbed of a second term. A remarkable 70 percent of self-identified Republicans say Biden is not the legitimate president. To prove their commitment to Trump, state legislators, governors and other officials enact laws based on that premise. Rather than holding up their end of a civil war, the objectors are being stripped of their jobs, or leaving the party entirely.
Looking ahead to 2024, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the structural advantages that benefit the Republican Party—in House districts, in the GOP tilt of the Senate and Electoral College—are only tilting further in its direction, buttressed by new laws and regulations passed to make Trump and his followers happy. If Trump really runs, and the 2024 election results have roughly the same profile as 2020’s, it is far more likely that Trump would emerge the victor, given new barriers to voting and the purging of nonpartisan voting officials.
Now throw in the human factors, and imagine how a Republican House and Senate could refuse to certify politically unpalatable state results, thus throwing the election into the House, where the one-state-one-vote rule makes a victory for the Republican candidate probable.
The pattern is striking: if you want to survive as a Republican official, you will support the former president; if you support the former president, you will support laws that reflect his conviction that the election was stolen; if you enact those rules, you are making it more possible that he will win a second term. The party is talking with one voice; the voice is Trump’s, and it’s one that plenty of Americans are still perfectly receptive to.
Yes, there are those within the party who will resist: Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, blue state governors like Larry Hogan, former GOP Chair Michael Steele, who has been effectively divorced from the party for years. As nominal Republicans, they will win a significant share of coverage in the New York Times, and on CNN and MSNBC. But the idea that they represent one side of a major split within the Republican Party is a fantasy.
As a body, that party has embraced notions about the political process that would have seemed the stuff of parody a decade ago. Donald Trump Jr. was right, in his speech to the crowd just before the Capitol insurrection: this is Trump’s Republican Party, and it’s perfectly united in that conviction. To pretend otherwise—and to pretend that there’s an argument about what it stands for, or some kind of damaging fracture still ahead—is an act of delusion.
Israel, Hamas escalate heavy fighting with no end in sight
Five Israelis, including three women and a child, were killed by rocket fire Tuesday and early Wednesday, and dozens of people wounded. The death toll in Gaza rose to 35 Palestinians, including 10 children, according to the Health Ministry. Over 200 people were wounded.
In the West Bank, meanwhile, a 26-year-old Palestinian was killed during clashes with Israeli troops that entered al-Fawar refugee camp in southern Hebron, the ministry said.
In another sign of widening unrest, demonstrations erupted in Arab communities across Israel, where protesters set dozens of vehicles on fire in confrontations with police.
The fighting between Israel and Hamas was the most intense since a 50-day war in the summer of 2014. In just over 24 hours, the current round of violence, sparked by religious tensions in the contested city of Jerusalem, increasingly resembled that devastating war.
The booms of Israeli airstrikes and hisses of outgoing rocket fire could be heard in Gaza throughout the day, and large plumes of smoke from targeted buildings rose into the air. Israel resumed a policy of airstrikes aimed at killing wanted militants and began to take down entire buildings — a tactic that drew heavy international criticism in 2014.
In Israel, the nonstop barrages of rocket fire left long streaks of white smoke in their wake, while the explosions of anti-rocket interceptors boomed overhead. Air-raid sirens wailed throughout the day, sending panicked residents scurrying for cover.
In a nationally televised address, Netanyahu said that Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant groups “have paid, and I tell you here, will pay a heavy price for their aggression.”
He claimed that Israel had killed dozens of militants and inflicted heavy damage on hundreds of targets.
“This campaign will take time,” he said. “With determination, unity and strength, we will restore security to the citizens of Israel.”
He stood alongside Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a political rival, in a show of unity. “There are lots of targets lined up. This is only the beginning,” Gantz said. The military said it was activating some 5,000 reservists and sending troop reinforcements to the Gaza border.
The current violence has coincided with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, a time of heightened religious sentiments.
Critics say heavy-handed Israeli police measures in and around Jerusalem’s Old City helped stoke nightly unrest. Another flashpoint has been the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where dozens of Palestinians are under threat of eviction by Jewish settlers.
Confrontations erupted last weekend at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is the third-holiest site in Islam and the holiest site in Judaism. Over four days, Israeli police fired tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinians in the compound who hurled stones and chairs at the forces. At times, police fired stun grenades into the carpeted mosque.
On Monday evening, Hamas began firing rockets from Gaza. From there on, the escalation was rapid.
In a televised address, Hamas’ exiled leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said Israel bore responsibility. “It’s the Israeli occupation that set Jerusalem on fire, and the flames reached Gaza,” he said.
Palestinian health officials gave no breakdown on the death toll in Gaza, but Islamic Jihad confirmed that three senior commanders were killed in a strike on their hideout in a Gaza City apartment building. The Health Ministry said 10 children and a woman were also killed.
Netanyahu said Israel had attacked hundreds of targets. The fiercest attack was a set of airstrikes that brought down an entire 12-story building. The building housed important Hamas offices, as well as a gym and some start-up businesses. Israel fired a series of warning shots before demolishing the building, allowing people to flee and there were no casualties.
Israeli aircraft heavily damaged another Gaza City building early Wednesday. The nine-story structure housed residential apartments, medical companies and a dental clinic. A drone fired five warning rockets before the bombing. Israel said Hamas had intelligence offices and the group’s command responsible for planning attacks on Israeli targets in the occupied West Bank.
Fighter jets struck the building again after journalists and rescuers had gathered around. There was no immediate word on casualties. The high-rise stood 200 meters (650 feet) away from the Associated Press bureau in Gaza City, and smoke and debris reached the office.
Soon after the bombing, Hamas announced that it would resume its attacks and aimed 100 rockets at the Israeli desert town of Beer-Sheva. Hamas said the renewed barrage was in response to the strike on the building. The latest rocket attack early Wednesday killed a man and his seven-year-old daughter in the central city of Lod, according to Israel’s Kan public radio.
The Israeli military said hundreds of rockets were launched toward Israel. Two women, including an Indian caregiver, were killed in separate rocket strikes in the southern city of Ashkelon.
Then, late at night, Hamas said it unleashed a barrage of 130 rockets toward Tel Aviv in response to the destruction of the high-rise. As the rockets rose into the skies, mosques across Gaza blared with chants of “God is great,” “victory to Islam” and “resistance.”
One rocket killed a woman in the city of Rishon LeZion, and another struck a bus in the nearby city of Holon, wounding three people, including a young girl.
The violence was beginning to spill over to Israel’s own Arab population.
In Lod, thousands of mourners joined a funeral for an Arab man killed by a suspected Jewish gunman the previous night. The crowd clashed with police, and set a synagogue and some 30 vehicles, including a police car, on fire, Israeli media reported. Paramedics said a 56-year-old man was seriously hurt after his car was pelted with stones.
The city’s mayor, Yair Revivo, described the situation in the mixed Jewish-Arab city as “civil war,” and the government ordered a deployment of paramilitary border guards from the West Bank to Lod.
In neighboring Ramle, ultra-nationalist Jewish demonstrators were filmed attacking cars belonging to Arabs. In the norther port town of Acre, protesters torched a Jewish-owned restaurant and hotel. Police arrested dozens of others at Arab protests in other towns.
Diplomats sought to intervene, with Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations working to deliver a cease-fire. All three serve as mediators between Israel and Hamas.
The U.N. Security Council planned to hold its second closed emergency meeting in three days Wednesday on the escalating violence, an indication of growing international concern. Council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private, said the U.N.’s most powerful body did not issue a statement because of U.S. concerns that it could escalate tensions.
The escalation comes at a time of political limbo in Israel.
Netanyahu has been caretaker prime minister since an inconclusive parliamentary election in March. After failing to form a coalition government by a deadline last week, his political rivals have now been given the opportunity.
The support of an Arab-backed party with Islamist roots is key for the anti-Netanyahu bloc. But the current tensions might deter the party’s leader, Mansour Abbas, from joining a coalition with Jewish parties, at least for the time being.
The sides have three more weeks to reach a deal. If they fail, Israel would likely begin an unprecedented fifth election campaign in just over two years.
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