Only the Best People
Kevin McCarthy continues Donald Trump’s pattern of advancing the incompetent, the dangerous and the corrupt
Let’s rewind to 2015. The Republican candidate for president made a big promise. "I’m going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people," he said. "We want top-of-the-line professionals."
Clearly, his supporters believed him. He was a successful businessman after all, wasn’t he? (You could see it for yourself on The Apprentice!) He was a multibillionaire, right? (Practically every surface in his New York penthouse was covered in gold!) How else could he get there, if he didn’t surround himself by the best people? (Never mind the squandered family inheritance.)
It didn’t take long for Trump’s pledge to become a joke as the list of inexperienced sycophants, caddies and “nepo babies” began to pile up. (I’ll never get over Jared Kushner being given access to the nation’s top secrets after being repeatedly rejected for clearance to view this material.) Beyond the question of incompetence, though, was the reality of corruption and crime swirling around them. These were serious people after all, if by serious he meant they would be serious about exploiting their offices for personal gain, committing crimes and working to destroy democratic institutions.
As The Washington Post noted, in recent years, “11 allies of and advisers to” Trump were convicted or pled guilty to a variety of offenses, with sentences totaling nearly 30 years of jail time. The highest-profile members of this rogue’s gallery include Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn and Roger Stone—all of whom received pardons from the man who gave them access to the levers of power.
This sequence of events has been on my mind in recent days since Kevin McCarthy began bestowing favors on extremist, insurrectionist, election-denying allies who helped him collect enough votes in the 15th ballot to become House Speaker. At a time when the country needs competence and commitment to confronting real challenges, the committee assignments he’s handed to Freedom Caucus supporters like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar offer a sour echo of the previous White House occupant’s abuse of his office. (As for George Santos…well, more on him later.)
While I commented last week on the unnecessary chaos and waste of time and taxpayers’ money that will be the House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government (in “Vengeance, Governance and the Road Ahead”), the new assignments flesh out this dark picture.
As you recall, both Greene and Gosar had been booted from their committee assignments on account of their hateful, violent views. Greene’s dangerous conspiratorial worldview includes doubting the 9/11 attacks, various mass shooting, “liking” a post saying Nancy Pelosi needed “a bullet to the head,” and that Jews had too much power (and they may have ignited wildfires with “space lasers.”) Gosar was removed from his positions after posting an animated video in which he’s killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with a sword.
Now that McCarthy’s MAGA Republicans are back in power, all is forgotten. Greene has been given plum assignments on Homeland Security and House Oversight and Accountability. Gosar will also return to House Oversight and Accountability as well as the Natural Resources Committee, his two previous assignments. Rounding out that reality is Rep. Lauren Boebert, also being added to House Oversight and Accountability, where she and her election-denying friends can focus on a top concern of this new House—the business activity of Hunter Biden.
Yes, as speaker, this is McCarthy’s prerogative. This is part of the quid pro quo with the extremists that landed him the job. But putting the conspiracy-minded Greene on Homeland Security—even if she claimed she regretted some of the QAnon conspiracy theories and lies she promoted when faced with removal from her assignments—is particularly repellant. Back in 2021, McCarthy said he “unequivocally” condemned her comments; now he’s added this energetic backer of the Jan. 6 attack onto the committee responsible for protecting the nation against domestic terrorism and assisting with election security.
Do not forget that, just last month, Greene said if she and Steve Bannon were in charge of the Jan. 6 attack, “we would have won.” And more, “we would have been armed.” This was not just some ugly throw-away comment on a post somewhere; it was during a speech to the New York Young Republican Club. The White House called the remarks “a slap in the face” to the law enforcement officers who risked their lives that day. I’d go further: The remarks represent further incitement of violence.
Miles Taylor, former chief of staff of the Department of Homeland Security during the Trump administration, said on CNN Wednesday that if he were still at Homeland Security, “I would tell the department something right now: You are not allowed to brief her without my authorization. I don’t think DHS, I don’t think the intelligence community, should trust this member of Congress.”
Does the craven, power-hungry McCarthy choose not to care as long as it strengthens his position—or is he actively encouraging these government haters and insurrectionists to continue their efforts to undermine democracy’s bulwarks? That question may get a clearer answer in the days and weeks ahead now that McCarthy has handed George Santos (or whoever he really is) two committee assignments.
While we are still waiting to learn who gave him $700,000 to help fund his campaign and get him into office, he will be joining the House Small Business Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee. This for a man under multiple investigations for financial fraud and who, in recent days, has faced charges from a veteran for stealing thousands of dollars from a fund meant to save the life of his dying dog.
The issue with Santos (or George Devolder or any of the other aliases that he has used) is not just whether his future will include criminal charges and prosecution. The issue is whether McCarthy and all the Republicans who support him believe that his vote is worth more than saving the last shreds of their party’s self-respect.
The longer Santos survives and McCarthy’s extremists revel in their power—in positions they never should have gotten—the more we will see clearly the tragic answer. For now, we can only hope that these chaos-makers don’t meaningfully weaken the country’s capacity to fend off the rise in domestic violence and acts of stochastic terrorism.
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