"Democrats need to make more noise," Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) told Greg Sargent of the Washington Post. "We have to scream from the rooftops, because this is a battle for the free world now."
Sargent interviewed Schatz after the senator called out Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) on the floor of the Senate on April 7 for the profound disconnect between the Republican senator's speeches and his actions. Hawley has placed a hold on President Joe Biden's uncontroversial nominee for an assistant secretary of defense, saying that Biden's support for Ukraine was "wavering" and that he wasn't doing enough.
Of course, the Biden administration has been central to world efforts to support Ukraine in its attempt to hold off Russia's invasion. Just today, Biden announced an additional $800 million in weapons, ammunition, and other security assistance to Ukraine. In contrast, Hawley voted to acquit former president Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress when he withheld $391 million of congressionally approved aid to Ukraine in order to pressure Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to cook up a story about Hunter Biden.
Hawley's bad-faith argument goes beyond misleading statements about aid to Ukraine. Hawley has vowed that he will use his senatorial prerogative to hold up "every single civilian nominee" for the Defense Department unless Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin resigns. He has vowed the same for the State Department, demanding the resignation of Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Hawley says his demands are because of the withdrawal from Afghanistan; he also said that Biden should resign. This is a highly unusual interference of the legislative branch of government with the executive branch. It also means that key positions in the departments responsible for managing our national security are not being filled, since Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer must use up valuable floor time to get nominations around Hawley's holds.
In February, for example, Hawley blocked the confirmation of the uncontroversial head of the Pentagon's international security team, Celeste Wallander, a Russia expert and staunch advocate for fighting Russian aggression, even while Russian troops were massing on the Ukraine border. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) noted in frustration: "He's complaining about the problems we have in Russia and Ukraine and he's making it worse because he's not willing to allow those nominees who can help with that problem to go forward." (The Senate eventually voted 83–13 to confirm Wallander.)
Hawley is not the only Republican to be complaining about the administration even as he gums up the works.
Texas governor Greg Abbott has ordered Texas state troops to inspect all commercial trucks coming from Mexico after the federal government has already inspected them. Normally, Mexican authorities inspect a commercial driver's paperwork and then officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection thoroughly inspect the vehicle on the U.S. side of the international bridge, using dogs, X-ray machines, and personal inspections. At large crossings, officials from the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Transportation will make sure that products and trucks meet U.S. standards. Sometimes after that, the state will spot-check a few trucks for roadworthiness. Never before has Texas inspected the contents of each commercial vehicle.
Abbott instituted the new rule after the Biden administration announced it would end the pandemic emergency health order known as Title 42. This is a public health authority used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect against the spread of disease. It was put in place by the Trump administration in March 2020. Title 42 allows the U.S. government to turn migrants from war-torn countries away at the border rather than permitting them to seek asylum as international law requires.
Abbott said the new rule would enable troopers to search for drugs and smuggled immigrants, which he claims the administration is not doing. But journalists Mitchell Ferman, Uriel J. García, and Ivan Pierre Aguirre of the Texas Tribune report that officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety do not appear to be examining the trucks and have not announced any captured drugs or undocumented immigrants.
Wait times at border crossings have jumped from minutes to many hours, with Mexican truckers so frustrated they blocked the roads from the southern side, as well. Truckers report being stuck in their trucks for as much as 30 hours without food or water. About $440 billion worth of goods cross our southern border annually, and Abbot's stunt has shut down as much as 60% of that trade. The shutdown will hammer those businesses that depend on Mexican products. It will also create higher prices and shortages across the entire country, especially as perishable foods rot in transit.
On Twitter, Democratic candidate for Texas governor Beto O'Rourke showed a long line of trucks behind him in Laredo and said: "What you see behind me is inflation." White House press secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement today saying: "Governor Abbott's unnecessary and redundant inspections of trucks transiting ports of entry between Texas and Mexico are causing significant disruptions to the food and automobile supply chains, delaying manufacturing, impacting jobs, and raising prices for families in Texas and across the country. Local businesses and trade associations are calling on Governor Abbott to reverse this decision…. Abbott's actions are impacting people's jobs, and the livelihoods of hardworking American families."
Tonight, Abbott backed down on his rule, and normal traffic seems to be resuming over one of the key bridges between Mexico and the U.S., but his stunt indicates that Republicans plan to use inflation and immigration as key issues to turn out their base for the 2022 midterm elections. Today, pro-Trump Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who replaced Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) as the House Republican Conference Chair, the third-highest Republican in the House, tweeted: "We must SECURE our southern border."
Abbott has also ordered the Texas National Guard to the U.S. border with Mexico to conduct "migration drills" in preparation for an influx of migrants. But Abbott's use of the 10,000 National Guard personnel last fall for a border operation to prevent an influx of migrants seemed to be a political stunt: it led to complaints from National Guard personnel of lack of planning, lack of pay, lack of housing, and lack of reason to be there.
Abbott has deployed troops in the past while he was under fire for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the February 2021 winter storm that left millions of Texans without heat or electricity for days and killed 246. This deflection seemed to be at work last February, too, when Abbott issued a letter saying that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services should investigate any instances of care for transgender children as child abuse. That letter appeared just as it came to light that Abbott was behind the extraordinarily high electricity prices in the 2021 storm. Although Abbott's office had said he was not involved in the decision to charge maximum electricity prices, in February, Bill Magness, the former CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas that runs the state's electrical grid, said Abbott had personally ordered him to keep prices at their maximum: $9,000 per megawatt hour.
And so Abbott grabbed headlines with a bill attacking transgender children.
Today, Abbott sent a bus of migrants seeking asylum to Washington, D.C., where they were set down right outside the offices of the Fox News Channel, which filmed them disembarking. These migrants have been processed by federal authorities and are awaiting decisions from federal judges about whether they will be allowed to remain in the U.S. "I think it's pretty clear this is a publicity stunt," Psaki said.
And finally, tonight, under the category of bad-faith arguments, it is clear that the current Supreme Court has run amok. Republicans attack "activist judges" who want to protect civil rights in the states by using the Fourteenth Amendment's rule that the states cannot deprive a citizen of the equal protection of the laws. But Republican justices are making up their own law outside the normal boundaries of the court.
On April 6, five Supreme Court justices agreed to reinstate a Trump-era rule that limits the ability of states to block projects that pollute their rivers and streams. The court did so under the so-called "shadow docket," a form of decision previously used to address emergencies, in which the court makes a decision without arguments or written explanations. Last week, Chief Justice John Roberts indicated just how far off the rails the current Supreme Court has slid when he joined the dissent against the majority's decision out of concern for the use of this shadow docket as a way to hand down unbriefed and unexplained decisions.
Hawley is not the only Republican these days operating in bad faith.