The Full Belmonte, 5/12/21

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`Rep. Liz Cheney on the House floor last night: Screenshot: CNN

“House Republicans voted quickly on Wednesday to remove Liz Cheney as their No. 3 leader over her repeated criticism of Donald Trump,amassive shakeup that ties the party tighter to Trump and threatens to create a new litmus test in the GOP.

The fast-moving campaign to dump Cheney, Congress' highest-ranking Republican woman, and replace her with a Trump loyalist was orchestrated by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his top deputies. The California Republican and his allies complained that Cheney’s constant readiness to call out Trump’s lies about the 2020 election was a distraction that prevented the party from unifying around a cohesive message to win back the House next year.

Cheney briefly addressed the conference before the voice vote, vowing to keep fighting

‘If you want leaders who will enable and spread his destructive lies, I’m not your person, you have plenty of others to choose from. That will be their legacy,’ Cheney said.

‘But I promise you this, after today, I will be leading the fight to restore our party and our nation to conservative principles, to defeating socialism, to defending our republic, to making the GOP worthy again of being the party of Lincoln,’ she added.

McCarthy faced mounting pressure to oust Cheney from Trump and the right flank of his conference — a crucial voting bloc if he wants to claim the speaker’s gavel after the midterms. His push to unseat his own No. 3 culminated Wednesday in a leadership eviction that proved most shocking because of how quickly the outcome became predictable. Cheney was recalled as conference chair, a role responsible for both party messaging and member services.

Veteran GOP Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina introduced the formal resolution to boot Cheney during Wednesday’s closed-door meeting. 

A replacement election for the House GOP conference chairmanship is expected to happen later this week or next week. So far, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York — a moderate turned Trump ally — is the only candidate running for the position. She has been working quickly to lock down support, while McCarthy and members close to him are whipping members hard to support her.

‘Each day spent re-litigating the past is one less day we have to seize the future,’ McCarthy wrote in a letter to his colleagues ahead of the vote. ‘If we are to succeed in stopping the radical Democrat agenda from destroying our country, these internal conflicts need to be resolved so as not to detract from the efforts of our collective team.’

Cheney’s removal from leadership delivered a demoralizing blow to the small but vocal anti-Trump wing of the GOP, while serving up a major victory to hard-line conservatives who failed to take her down in February and have agitated for her removal ever since.

It’s also a stunning fall from grace for Cheney, a political scion who was once seen as a fast-rising star in the party. The Wyoming Republican passed on a Senate bid last year to seek her fortunes in the House and was floated as a future speaker. Now, Cheney is a woman in GOP exile who may struggle to even hold on to her congressional seat next fall.

Yet Cheney, who has framed the debate as a fight for democracy and freedom, has made clear she feels comfortable being toppled for sticking to her beliefs. She didn't try to persuade GOP colleagues to keep her in the post. In a fiery floor speech on the eve of her ouster, she defiantly deemed Trump a ‘threat we have never seen before’ and raised concerns about the direction of her party.

‘Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar,’ Cheney said Tuesday night, wearing a replica pin of George Washington’s battle flag. ‘I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.’

‘We must speak the truth,’ she added. ‘Our election was not stolen, and America has not failed.’

Frustrations inside the GOP conference over Cheney have brewed for weeks, with one member referring to the situation as a ‘slow burn.’ After easily holding on to power in February following her vote to impeach Trump, Cheney continued to speak her mind about the former president in interviews, press conferences and op-eds. Republicans started to complain that they were being asked about Cheney by their constituents and donors back home.

Those tensions reached a boiling point at the House GOP's annual policy retreat in Orlando late last month, where Cheney once again publicly split with McCarthy on Trump in a move that other Republicans saw as undermining their message. The effort to expel her from the No. 3 spot in leadership escalated quickly after that.

Even some of Cheney’s closest allies, like Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), and moderates who voted to fully certify Trump's loss, said a change was needed. Lawmakers from all corners of the conference said Cheney should have been focused on bashing the Biden administration — not continually shining a spotlight on their internal divisions over Trump. 

‘You can’t have a Republican conference chair who continually recites Democratic talking points,’ said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a Freedom Caucus co-founder and Trump ally. ‘You can’t have a Republican conference chair who takes positions that 90 percent of the party oppose. … I just don’t see how that’s helpful.’

While McCarthy argued just a few months ago that the GOP is a ‘big tent’ that could house a multitude of viewpoints, Wednesday's vote suggests that the party's competing Trump factions in the party may be too difficult to reconcile. 

‘Kevin McCarthy (an employee of Donald Trump) may win tomorrow, but history won’t be kind,’ tweeted Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who voted to impeach Trump. ‘Never has our party gone after it’s [sic??] own leadership like this, but Kevin and Steve Scalise made history, because Trump has thin skin. I’d be embarrassed if I was them.’

Aside from Kinzinger, though, the vast majority of House Republicans weren't conflicted about dethroning Cheney — even if some of them were uncomfortable with the optics or privately worried about the potential repercussions with voters in 2022. Republicans say McCarthy will likely suffer little consequences, at least internally, for purging Cheney from their leadership ranks.

And unlike February's attempted Cheney dethroning, McCarthy is not dealing with simultaneous drama caused by controversial Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). At the time, McCarthy felt it would be politically disastrous to defend Greene while ousting Cheney, so he ultimately stood behind both lawmakers. Now, McCarthy has some distance from both the Greene turmoil and Jan. 6.

But Democrats plan to make the moment as painful as possible for Republicans. They have already seized on the Cheney chaos, using her expulsion to yoke the entire GOP to Trump, the conspiracy theories of QAnon and lies about election fraud circulating on the right.

‘Liz Cheney spoke truth to power, and for that, she’s being fired,’ Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday.” Read more at POLITICOPresident Biden and Speaker Pelosi.

  • “A CDC advisory panel is set to meet today to discuss whether to recommend use of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds. If it does, these vaccinations could begin swiftly (though some already have, after the FDA gave its authorization). A pediatrics group found nearly a quarter of new Covid-19 cases are in kids, so vaccinating them and getting vaccines approved for even younger groups, could be a big help. And remember that B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant first discovered in the UK that experts worried would take over in the US? It now accounts for 72% of coronavirus genetic sequences in the US. Meanwhile, the global pandemic death toll could be as high as 6.9 million, a study finds. That’s more than double the reported total.” Read more at CNN

    Smoke and flames rise in Gaza on Tuesday during Israeli airstrikes amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

    • “At least 35 people are dead in Gaza after the latest exchange of airstrikes between Israeli and Palestinian forces last night. Palestinian militants in Gaza fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, which responded with ramped up airstrikes on the coastal enclave, as unrest has spread to cities and towns beyond Jerusalem. Israel declared a state of emergency in the central city of Lod and called up 5,000 reserve troops to active duty to enhance its operation in Gaza. The US and the European Union have both called for a de-escalation of violence, while several countries in the Middle East, including Turkey, have condemned the Israeli police response to tensions in Jerusalem. The UN denounced both the Israeli airstrikes and the Palestinian rocket shelling.” Read more at CNN

    • “States including Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Florida have declared emergencies as gas demand soars due to the ongoing Colonial Pipeline crisis. The company is still working to get its system fully operational again following a security hack, and the shutdown has caused serious shortages up and down the East Coast. Some gas stations are fully out of fuel, while others have been set upon by snaking lines of cars. Federal and state leaders have warned businesses against price gouging. Federal officials also say they are considering more ways to ease fuel delivery, like shipping fuel to nearby coastal ports. Even American Airlines has had to add stops on two long-range flights out of Charlotte because of the disruption.” Read more at CNN

    • “More than 100 Republicans, including former elected officials, are threatening to form a third party.” Read more at New York Times

    • “Two senior Trump administration officials plan to defend their actions during the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol before Congress on Wednesday. Former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller will tell the House Oversight Committee that he was concerned before the insurrection that sending troops to the building could fan fears of a military coup and cause a repeat of the Kent State shootings – which saw Ohio National Guard members fire into a crowd at Kent State University, killing four in 1970 – according to The Associated Press. Miller will be joined by former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.” Read more at USA Today

    • “A sweeping Democratic-backed elections and campaign finance overhaul faced a clash in the Senate Rules Committee, making it clear that Republican opposition to the voting rights bill isn’t flagging anytime soon. The panel was deadlocked on passing the bill, known as the For the People Act. Democrats are hoping to still move it forward as a way to mitigate Republican state-level efforts to restrict voting access. One such effort just passed in Arizona, where Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law a controversial bill that could remove tens of thousands of voters from the state's early mail-in voting list, which allows a voter to automatically get a ballot by mail for every election.” Read more at CNN

      The federal investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz now includes potential corruption charges; Israel responds to Hamas rocket fire with Gaza airstrikes, killing 28 Palestinians.

      Joe Raedle/Getty Images

      • “The federal probe of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) continues, and prosecutors are seeking the cooperation of a former Capitol Hill intern who was once Gaetz’s girlfriend. They’re also close to formally meeting with Joel Greenberg; the former Florida county tax collector is likely to strike a plea deal with the government this week.” [Vox] Read more at CNN / Paula Reid, Gloria Borger, Pamela Brown, and Jeremy Herb

      • “The investigation into Gaetz appears to have grown in scope since it first was reported in March, from sex trafficking to potential government corruption charges for engaging in a quid pro quo with Florida cannabis producers.” [Vox] Read more at The Guardian / Richard Luscomb

      • “Much of the investigation centers on a trip Gaetz took to the Bahamas with cannabis entrepreneur Jason Pirozzolo, in which the latter paid for travel, accommodations, and female escorts. Gaetz has historically been an advocate of medical cannabis consumption.”[Vox] Read more at Jordan Williams / The Hill

      • “Gaetz has remained defiant since word of the federal probe hit airwaves. He recently embarked on the ‘America First Tour’ with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). It kicked off Friday at the Villages, a large retirement community in Florida.” [Vox] Read more at NPR / Danielle Kurtzleben

        A memorial at Gold Spa in Atlanta in March. Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

        • “A Georgia prosecutor said that the Atlanta-area spa shootings in March that killed eight people were hate crimes but did not yet explain why. She plans to seek the death penalty.” Read more at New York Times

        • “The N.R.A. filed for bankruptcy to try to evade a legal challenge from New York regulators. Yesterday, a judge rejected that strategy.” Read more at New York Times

        • Lives Lived: Pat Bond was a foundational figure in the B.D.S.M. community. Two people showed up for the first meeting of the Eulenspiegel Society, which Bond started in the early 1970s; membership eventually grew to more than a thousand. He died at 94.” Read more at New York Times

        • “The Biden administration on Tuesday approved the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the United States, a project that envisions building 62 turbines off Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and creating enough electricity to power 400,000 homes.

          Vineyard Wind is the first of several massive offshore wind-farm proposals that could put more than 3,000 wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean from Maine to North Carolina. The Biden administration has committed to processing the other 13 projects under federal review by 2025 in an attempt to meet the administration’s ambitious goal of producing 30,000 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind by 2030, powering some 10 million homes.

          The goal is part of the Biden administration’s effort to fight climate change by shifting away from fossil fuels.” Read more at Washington Post

    • Bob Baffert said an ointment with betamethasone, which is illegal when found in a horse's blood on race day, was used on Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit.” Read more at USA Today

    • The NRA's bankruptcy is dismissed. The ruling on the chapter 11 case calls into question the National Rifle Association's plan to reincorporate in Texas, as the gun-rights group faces allegations of spending abuses and mismanagement in New York.” Read more at Wall Street Journal

    • “14.5% — The decline in U.S. credit-card balances between this past March and March 2020. Americans are paying down their consumer debt at levels not seen in years. That is good news for everyone but credit-card issuers, who are making less in interest income as a result.

      $100 million — The potential whistleblower payout that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission could owe to a former Deutsche Bank executive whose information led to an $800 million settlement with the agency. The payout is so large, however, that it would deplete the CFTC's funding for its whistleblower program, which the agency calls "critically important."

      7.5% — The share of gas stations in Virginia and North Carolina that had run out of fuel by Tuesday morning, days after a ransomware attack shut down the Colonial pipeline, which is the largest in the U.S. Drivers in Georgia and South Carolina have also experienced gas shortages at some stations.” Read more at Wall Street Journal

    • Amazon wins ruling on $300 million EU tax appeal. The decision was a test for Amazon’s tax dealings in Europe, but the stakes are potentially higher for Margrethe Vestager, who is leading the EU’s campaign to curb alleged excesses by some of the world’s largest tech companies, including Apple and Google.” Read more at Wall Street Journal

    • "Pandemic anxieties are entering a new phase as more employers start to call vaccinated workers back into their offices, Axios' Tina Reed writes.

      • Why it matters: Some workers are struggling to rearrange their routines yet again; some don't have that flexibility. Everyone — employers and employees alike — is figuring it out on the fly.

      Lucy McBride, a primary-care physician in Washington, told us: ‘More and more employers are saying, 'If you've been vaccinated and we have all the safety precautions in place, it's time to come back to work.' That's causing a lot of anxiety.’

      Younger workers may be surprisingly skittish about going back, said Gregg Miller, the chief medical officer of Vituity, a firm that staffs hospital emergency departments. 

      • Heading back to the office could bring unique stressors for women, who are more likely to shoulder the burden of parenting and household chores at the same time.

      What we're watching: OSHA doesn't yet have a federal standard for workforces. ‘To date, it has been sort of a patchwork of incomplete guidance, unfortunately,’ National Safety Council CEO Lorraine Martin told Axios. 

      • Simple matters of socialization, such as how to dress and whether we'll return to handshakes, will require their own adaptations.

      ️ One indicator that we're headed out of the house: Sales of Spanx and other shapewear brands spiked in the past month, the WashPost reports.” Read more at Axios

  • Adopting dogs was all the rage when the pandemic first began, but as people rediscover the outside world, some pups are being left behind.” Read more at USA Today

  • “Former University of Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan, a 2007 Heisman Trophy finalist, died suddenly early Tuesday in California. He was 37.” Read more at USA Today

  • “‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’ will soon no longer be dancing across TV screens. 

    Ellen DeGeneres told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview Wednesday that she plans to end her long-running talk show after 19 seasons next May.

    ‘When you’re a creative person, you constantly need to be challenged – and as great as this show is, and as fun as it is, it’s just not a challenge anymore,’ DeGeneres told the magazine. The comedian, 63, said that the daytime series would end after the upcoming 2021-2022 season….

    The move doesn't come as a huge surprise considering the age and cost of the series. DeGeneres's lucrative contract – she is said to make at least $50 million a year– also expires next May, and she has spoken publicly in the past about potentially ending the show, including in a controversial 2018 New York Times profile. The ratings for the show have also tumbled 43% this season, averaging 1.4 million viewers, from 2.5 million at this point last season.” Read more at USA Today

  • The Washington Post named AP executive editor Sally Buzbee as executive editor, effective June 1 — the first woman to lead the newsroom in The Post's 144-year history, Axios' Sara Fischer writes

    • Buzbee expanded the AP’s digital storytelling and increased its commitment to visually compelling investigative work, The Post said in its announcement.

    Buzbee was AP’s Washington bureau chief from 2010 to 2016.

    Via Twitter

    • In a footnote to his footnote, the WashPost's Paul Farhi noted that the above list is ‘obviously incomplete’ — also a big deal.” Read more at Axios