Republicans will cut your taxes and keep them low. But there’s a price: You have to side with the Party of Trump in political battles, even if it might mean breaking the law.
This latest twist in the GOP’s self-preservation strategy is a threat by the top House Republican, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, to retaliate against any business that complies with requests from the committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. “If these companies comply with the Democrat [sic] order to turn over private information, they are in violation of federal law and subject to losing their ability to operate in the United States,” McCarthy tweeted on Aug. 31. “A Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable.”
Before everybody rushes to one corner or the other — Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative — let’s acknowledge the political gamesmanship here. Democrats are investigating the Jan. 6 riots with marginal Republican cooperation, because the GOP’s Trumpers don’t want a fair inquiry that could implicate the former president or any allies who may have enabled or encouraged the rioters. Instead of a bipartisan panel, the Jan. 6 commission consists of 8 Democrats and 5 Republicans. Democrats control it.
The panel has reportedly issued subpoenas to telecom and social-media companies ordering them to preserve communication records for dozens or hundreds of people it may investigate — including Donald Trump, some of his family members, and several fervent Trumpers in Congress, including Reps. Matt Goetz, Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Jim Jordan, Mo Brooks, and Louie Gohmert. As far as anybody knows, the panel has not asked any firm to preserve the records of any prominent Democrat.
So a Democratically led panel is seeking or may be seeking compromising information on Republicans. That got McCarthy’s dander up and led to his threat to retaliate against the companies, including phone giants Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T), tech behemoths Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), and Google (GOOG, GOOGL) and of course social-media platforms Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR). McCarthy is basically saying that if Republicans retake control of the House in the 2022 midterms — which they have good odds of doing — they’d use their power to harm or harass the companies.
If Republicans take both houses of Congress in the midterms, they might be able to pass laws that would actually damage these companies. Joe Biden would still be president and he could veto any such laws. But if there’s a GOP sweep in 2024, McCarthy seems to be saying, the Republican party could legislate or regulate a group of bedrock American companies out of existence.
Are you laughing yet? If not, now’s a good time, because this premise is a fever dream derived from an absurdity. First, if we revisit Trump’s enemies list, we’ll find all the major social-media companies on there, not least because Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube banned Trump after Jan. 6. Before that, they started labeling his multitudinous online lies as misleading information or simply taking them down, leading Trump and fellow conservatives to moan about “censorship” because private-sector firms trying to defend their own integrity wouldn’t publish GOP propaganda.
Amazon is on Trump’s enemies list because founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, and Trump hates any media outlet that criticizes him. Trump tried (and failed) to block AT&T from buying Time Warner because Time Warner owned CNN, which Trump hated as much as The Washington Post. Trump seems to have lesser grievances against Apple, Verizon, and other tech and telecom firms, but he has bashed them too when he had a few spare minutes to tweet.
All of this means the firms Democrats are seeking records from are ones Trump has clashed with in the past. Which means McCarthy is threatening to retaliate against many firms Trump has already tried to punish.
These companies will do what the law requires
This is largely ridiculous because all of these firms are going to do what is legally required of them, regardless of which party seems the most threatening, politically. If their lawyers say they have to turn over phone records or social-media posts or internal messages, they will. If they don’t have to, they probably won’t. If it’s not clear, some or all of these companies will probably fight disclosure in court, to signal that they side with their customers in any matter pitting privacy against government access.
In the high-drama scenario, some of these firms would turn over information that embarrasses or incriminates certain Republicans. Then Republicans would win the House next year and McCarthy would presumably become speaker. Republicans would sweep in 2024 and take total control of the federal government. They could certainly make life difficult for some of these firms by passing laws harming their businesses or using federal judicial power to harass them. But Trump tried that in many ways, and courts repeatedly struck down orders and regulations that didn’t comport with the law. As for legislation, America’s biggest companies are well-armed in the back alleys of Washington, DC, where corporate money lubricates a legal protection racket assuring Congress treats businesses gently.
Democrats, for their part, may think they can score easy points by going after phone records of fringe Republicans such as Greene, Boebert, or Gaetz. But they might be wrong about that. As cringey as some of these lawmakers are, prosecutors haven’t charged any Congressional Republicans with a crime, and the Jan. 6 panel hasn’t said it has any evidence of its own suggesting criminal activity. So the Democrats who control the panel may, in reality, be trolling for dirt to embarrass Republicans. That’s one of the things Congressional panels do. (See: Benghazi) Making lame threats against businesses is now another.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. You can also send confidential tips, and click here to get Rick’s stories by email.
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