Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Party Politics

Ohio's Mike Turner enunciated clearly the Republican attitude toward the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election cycle when he said (transcript here)

And Mr. Comey, by your announcement today, I mean, there is now a cloud that undermines our system. There is a cloud that where we're sitting with Mr. Clapper who was obviously in a very important position to know, who stated to us that there is no evidence of conclusion, and you will not give us evidence or -- or -- or give us any -- any substantive evaluation of it. We now sit with this cloud...

If that wasn't clear enough, committee chairperson Devin Nunes wrapped up the hearing by urging the FBI director to give whatever evidence he has to "myself and  (ranking committee member) Mr. Schiff because you know, there is a big gray cloud that you have put over people who have very important work to do to lead this country."

Simple translation: Stop doing whatever you're doing, unless it's to tip an election from the Democrat to the Republican. "If Nunes would consider country before party," Dana Milbank realizes, "he’d recognize that the cloud isn’t over Trump’s White House; it’s over all of us."

But this is an affliction common in the Nunes-Turner party.  It was only nine or ten months ago that Donald Trump, in the view of Speaker Paul Ryan, had made "the textbook definition of a racist comment."  He went on to endorse Trump and now "came here (to Capitol Hill) and knocked the ball out of the park, he knocked the cover off the ball."

That is peanuts, though, compared to congressional Republicans denying a hearing to Judge Merrick Garland and Monday forming a human chain of bodies across a "human red carpet" for Neil Gorsuch to glide upon in the House Intelligence Committee hearing room.

Additionally, there is an international flavor to the choice of Republicans to put party over country. Politico Magazine reports that, led by Republican Chris Smith of New Jersey (co-chairperson of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus) and Utah Senator Mike Lee,  several

conservative lawmakers have signed on to a volley of letters accusing (George) Soros of using his philanthropic spending to project his liberal sensibilities onto European politics. As Lee and other senators put it in a March 14 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Soros’s Open Society Foundations are trying “to push a progressive agenda and invigorate the political left”....

The particular focus of the letters from Lee, Smith and their cohort is spending by Soros’s foundations in Macedonia, a former socialist republic in the throes of a two-year political crisis, and to a lesser extent in its neighbor to the west Albania. In the former Communist country, which has struggled with allegations of corruption, one letter expressed concerns that “Soros-backed organizations” are pushing reforms “ultimately aimed to give the Prime Minister and left-of-center government full control over judiciary power.”

The letters, which ask the State Department and the Government Accountability Office for information about U.S. foreign aid funding for Soros groups in the Balkans, came after lobbying from the right-wing party clinging to power in Macedonia, VMRO-DPMNE.

A career foreign service officer pushed back against the accusation and

said his role in the country, which has involved helping to mediate Macedonia’s political crisis, was neither unusual nor biased.

“We were invited and welcomed by the parties to [mediate],” Baily said in an interview with POLITICO. “Political crises have usually been resolved with a fairly significant involvement from Europe and the United States.”

According to the State Department, USAID provided just three grants to Foundation Open Society-Macedonia over the past 15 years, primarily for education initiatives involving the country’s ethnic Roma population. “Funding for Foundation Open Society-Macedonia for the Civil Society Project represents just 8 percent of our total assistance over the past five years,” said USAID Mission Director for Macedonia Jim Stein. “There’s a lot of exaggeration and distortion in that document.”

Nineteen-term congressman Smith is no useful idiot but is fully aware of the implications of his actions, and very likely that

Soros, who survived the Nazi occupation of his native Hungary and fled after World War II when it was under Soviet control, has been long a bĂȘte noir of the Kremlin, which sees his funding for civil society groups in former Soviet satellite states as part of a plot to install pro-Western governments.

For years, those complaints had generally fallen on deaf ears in Washington.

While Republicans have long regarded Soros as a mortal enemy when it comes to domestic politics (where he has spent tens of millions of dollars backing Democratic candidates and liberal causes), their politics were more aligned on the international stage. Soros’s efforts to boost democracy and root out corruption in former Eastern Bloc countries dovetailed with traditional Republican foreign policy objectives.

But things may have started changing after Donald Trump’s stunning victory in a presidential campaign during which he emphasized nationalist themes. Politicians with nationalist constituencies in several former Eastern Bloc states have become increasingly aggressive in seeking international support for their crusade against Soros, and they seem to have found at least some takers in the GOP.

Politico adds

Russia is trying to exploit the crisis in Macedonia to sow distrust of the U.S. and pull the right-wing party into its orbit, regional analysts say. And the Republican lawmakers’ concern — that the U.S. is, in the words of Lee’s letter to Tillerson, “fomenting political unrest, disrespecting national sovereignty and civil society” — handed Moscow a major propaganda coup, they warn.

It may be that these Republicans are not pandering to Kremlin, but are interested only in obstructing boogeyman George Soros and whatever he sets out to do.   Still, when coupled with the GOP approach to the FBI/Russian investigation and the Garland/Gorsuch power play, a very ugly picture emerges.

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