WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump did not have a very good week as two subsidiaries of his business organization were convicted by a New York jury of multiple crimes and his candidate of choice for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia, Herschel Walker, was defeated.
Trump’s legal woes increased this week after the Justice Department urged a federal judge on Thursday to hold the former president’s office in contempt of court for failing to fully comply with a May subpoena to return all classified documents in his possession. It also comes after special Jan. 6 committee in the U.S. House indicated it is weighing criminal referrals to the Justice Department for Trump and a number of his closest allies.
These recent reversals, and others – including a GOP backlash against Trump’s call for a suspension of the U.S. Constitution to reinstate him in the White House – put the former president’s political future in question. Trump announced three weeks ago he would once again run for the White House.
“Let me just say, anyone seeking the presidency who thinks that the Constitution could somehow be suspended or not followed, it seems to me would have a very hard time being sworn in as President of the United States,” said House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Yet Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who has encouraged his GOP colleagues to distance themselves from the former president, said this week that what elected Republicans think of Trump is of little consequence because of the former president’s loyal following.
“I think elected officials would distance themselves from him and have been willing to do so for a long time. But what elected officials think is close to irrelevant,” Romney said. “The real question is what does the base of the party think, and they’re still firmly behind him.”
Two subsidiaries of the Trump Organization were convicted Tuesday of multiple crimes, including tax fraud, falsifying business records and conspiracy. Trump was not a defendant in the case, which centered on a scheme by the Trump Organization to avoid payroll taxes by giving its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, and other executives a series of perks.
The public is expected to learn more about Trump’s businesses, and his private finances, when the House Ways and Means Committee releases the former president’s tax returns, obtained from the Internal Revenue Service after a protracted legal battle. But the panel appears to be in no hurry to release those returns.
Senate Democrats celebrate majority
Meanwhile, Sen. Rafael Warnock’s defeat of GOP candidate Walker on Tuesday gave Senate Democrats a 51-49 majority in the next Congress and the ability to end a “power sharing” agreement with Senate Republicans.
Warnock on Wednesday told reporters in the U.S. Capitol “I think the voters of Georgia rejected policies of division.”
The 50-50 party split in this Congress required Democrats to allow Republicans the same number of seats in all committees, with equal budgets and office space. It also made it more difficult to report a bill out of committee to the Senate floor if there was a tie vote in that committee.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hailed the end of the power sharing pact.
“It’s all going to change because we will have an advantage on all committees,” Schumer said. “The fact that we have 51 votes is a great feeling.”
Schumer also said it will be easier to confirm President Biden’s judicial nominations because Democrats will hold a majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which vets candidates. He said his slim, one-vote margin, will also allow Vice President Kamala Harris, who has cast many tie-breaking votes, relief from the “schedule juggling” required by her job as president of the Senate.
Schumer’s victory lap was cut short a couple of days later, however, when Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona announced she was leaving the Democratic Party to become an independent. Sinema did not say she would continue to caucus with Democrats as do the Senate’s two other independents — Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine. As long as Sinema does not caucus with Republicans, the GOP side in the chamber would remain at 49 members.
Big Tech holds off Klobuchar, for now
Sen. Amy Klobuchar suffered a setback this week when her bill aimed at protecting local news media was not attached to a “must pass” defense bill.
Klobuchar’s legislation fell subject to negotiations over the National Defense Authorization Act that required GOP support to pass the Senate and resulted in the rejection of several Democratic proposals, including an effort to allow banks to do business with state-approved marijuana companies and permitting reform sought by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia.
Klobuchar’s Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2022 would make an anti-trust exception for news organizations that met certain qualification so they could band together and collectively bargain for compensation from Google, Facebook and other tech platforms that disseminate their content.
Some of the qualifications required for a media company to qualify for the anti-trust carve-out include the generation of at least $100,000 a year in revenue from editorial content and employment of no more than 1,500 full- time workers.
The bipartisan legislation, which is sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, in the U.S. House, drew vigorous condemnations from “Big Tech.” Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, threatened this week to remove all news from its platforms if the measure passed.
Big Tech companies also launched a huge ad and lobbying campaign to try to kill the bill. And they were joined by civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, and consumer rights groups, who said Klobuchar’s bill would force tech platforms to carry harmful content and mostly benefit larger media organizations.
Klobuchar said her legislation would provide news organizations a lifeline after they lost advertising revenues and readership to the internet.
“Local journalism is essential to our communities and to our democracy, but one-third of our local papers that existed just 20 years ago will be shuttered by 2025,” Klobuchar said. “While the big tech platforms rake in a fortune using news content they don’t pay for, local news is in crisis.”
The senator said she would continue to push for approval of her legislation.
‘Flyover’ states demanding respect from Democrats
On the heels of her successful push for her state of Michigan to win an early presidential primary slot, Rep. Debbie Dingell is seeking another win to make Midwestern states and their concerns more relevant to the Democratic Party.
Dingell says Democrats should pay more attention to the middle of the country or risk losing support for a Democratic presidential candidate (likely Joe Biden) in the 2024 elections.
“President Biden knows that any road to the White House goes through the heartland,” Dingell said in a recent tweet.
To press her case, Dingell has formed a new “Heartland Caucus” in the House and is asking fellow Democrats to join.
“All of us in the Great Lakes and Midwest region are in the progress of organizing a collaborative effort to effectively support each other’s legislative goals, whether they be urban or rural – including but not limited to a robust farm bill … enhancing domestic manufacturing, improving environmental health and water quality issues, and more,” said Rep. Betty McCollum, D-4th, in an e-mailed response to Dingell’s effort.
And Rep. Dean Phillips, D-3rd, plans to join the Heartland Caucus, too, his spokesman said.
Last month, Dingell circulated a map that showed that House Democrats in leadership positions, including committee chairmanships, all hugged the nation’s coasts. She released the map, which strengthens the criticisms of those who say the Democratic Party has become a coastal party, during her failed bid to become vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus.
In other news about a caucus …
Changes were made in the leadership of the Congressional Progressive Caucus this week, with Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th, ascending from whip to deputy chair of a group of about 100 lawmakers whose numbers have grown after last month’s midterm elections.
In a statement, Omar thanked outgoing deputy chair, Rep. Katie Porter, D-California, “for her incredible leadership these past two years.”
“In the face of Republican threats to our democracy and our humanity, we will need to be clear-eyed and organized in the term ahead,” Omar said. “We will need a legislative strategy to stop the most egregious cuts. We will need a messaging strategy that uses our bully pulpit to push back against their agenda. And we will need a political strategy to elect and reelect progressive champions.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, remains the progressive group’s chairwoman.
Emmer joins state’s Dems in support of same-sex and interracial marriage
Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th, doubled down on his support for legislation aimed at protecting same-sex and interracial marriages. He was one of 39 House Republicans to vote for the Respect for Marriage bill.
Similar legislation was approved by the House this summer – and Emmer voted for it – but the Senate made minor tweaks to that bill to win enough support in that chamber. So the House was required to vote on the issue again. All Minnesota Democrats voted for the bill, but Reps. Brad Finstad, R-1st, Michelle Fischbach, R-7th, and Pete Stauber, R-8th, voted against it.
Thursday’s vote on the bill was 258-169.
The right for same-sex couples to marry was established by a landmark Supreme Court decision. If the high court were to overturn that decision, the right to same-sex marriages would be decided by individual states and many would ban them. The Respect for Marriage Act wouldn’t change that, but it requires all states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and federally recognizes these marriages.