Joe Biden visits an actual war zone; House GOP tries to pull its pants up

It is said that the first casualty of war is the truth.

Truth? Who knows. Facts? Definitely.

The House of Representatives has been at war with itself since the Republicans took it over nine months ago. More importantly, the Republican Party cannot seem to pick a speaker, even though it holds a majority of seats in the House. For two weeks Congress has remained idle, threatening continued aid to our allies as well as another impending government shutdown, now less than a month away..

That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that many of the Trump loyalists in the GOP don’t care if they bring it all down and rule over the rubble. They blame Democrats for their own failures. After a first vote in the House on Tuesday fell short of electing Jim Jordan as speaker (a failure repeated in a second vote Wednesday), GOP members once again blamed Democrats, among others, for this failure to launch. 

Speaking to their political impotence, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered a sage observation: “They’re taking lessons in mathematics and learning how to count,” she told me as she left the House floor.

That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that there are still people who truly believe, or at least are paid to believe, that whatever Trump and his minions say is gospel. In this American political war, the facts are malleable and entirely dependent on what Trump and his cronies want to be true. 

After the failed vote on Tuesday, Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, spoke to reporters about the Republicans’ in-house war: “We need to give our assistance to our democratic allies in Israel and Ukraine and it’s just ridiculous that the GOP has plunged us into this chaos,” he said. I walked with Raskin toward the Rayburn Office Building to continue the conversation. Along the way, he was accosted by a man who called himself a “MAGA Man” or a “MAGA American.”

Quoting from the teachings of his dark lord, Donald Trump, the man accused Raskin of being “on the wrong side of history,” and then told Raskin that the congressman’s recent cancer diagnosis was a punishment from God and that Raskin should repent.

Walking with Rep. Jamie Raskin toward his office, I saw him accosted by a “MAGA American” who told him that Raskin’s recent cancer diagnosis was a punishment from God and he needed to repent.

That the man said it is a fact. The reality, of course, is quite different. It’s also a fact that when I posted both the Pelosi comment and the Raskin confrontation on social media I was told — even though there was video of both events — that neither of those things had happened. The ability to deny facts or repudiate them, even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary, is a key component of war propaganda, used to make sure the facts remain unclear. The “fog of war” is often just a smokescreen.

The facts are always casualties of war when MAGA Republicans are involved. Their peculiar mindset allows them to claim they are Christians while attacking a man battling cancer. Their peculiar “family-friendly” environment includes accused pedophiles, criminals, members of Congress acting out soft-porn scenes in theaters, crazed lunatics wielding guns and random morons whose brain functions barely exceed those of a rabid dog. All of it is acceptable, including lies and random threats, as long as they all continue to worship at Donald Trump’s feet.

That brings us to the Middle East and Joe Biden. 

The world is a tinderbox. Whatever maniacal shrieks are projected into the stratosphere by House Republicans waging their internal war, those shouldn’t overshadow the rising death toll in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Biden canceled a trip to Colorado last week, prompting several White House reporters, talking over coffee in the Brady Briefing Room’s tiny break room, to wonder out loud, “When will the other shoe drop?”

There was considerable speculation about what the canceled trip actually meant. In a possible case of post hoc, ergo propter hoc, we learned a day later that Biden, for the second time during his presidency, was heading into a war zone. He’d already made a trip to Poland and Ukraine, and now he was going to Israel and Jordan. It was almost funny watching reporters conveniently forget their recent history as they pondered Biden’s “unprecedented trip to a war zone.”

Meanwhile, Donald Trump was facing a gag order, trying to raise money and decrying the “weaponization” of the Justice Department (a daily mantra for him) while ignoring the fact that he’d threatened and tried to intimidate numerous witnesses, prosecutors and judges — and in fact had himself appointed some of the judges and DOJ officials he now believes are persecuting him. No matter. Those facts have long been ignored in Trump’s war of revenge against a country that voted him out of office and a world that openly mocks him and laughs at him. Dealing with those inconvenient facts made it a lot less likely that the Donald would talk about anything but himself.

Trump’s plate is apparently full and he hasn’t said much about the Middle East lately, at least not since he disparaged Israel and seemed to praise terrorists. He’s hoping everyone has forgotten about that. He made a few stray comments about Israel from a New York courtroom — Biden made his from Israel.

Biden spoke about reality. Trump spoke out of his nether regions, as is generally the case

There are few things more dramatic than a war in Israel. Even before Biden left on a trip that was quickly planned and executed (to the amazement of some and the envy of others), the head of the Palestinian Authority canceled their meeting in Jordan after the explosion in a Gaza hospital that claimed hundreds of lives.

Hamas immediately blamed Israel and Israel blamed Hamas (or, more accurately, Islamic Jihad, an allied militant group). Biden said in Israel that after looking at the facts, it appeared the explosion had been caused “by the other team.” On that  same stage Wednesday morning, Biden mourned “the loss of Palestinian lives” while continuing to back a two-state solution in the region. He said, “Freedom will win” and “justice must be done,” clearly signaling support for Israel, while urging that nation “not to be consumed by rage.” 

That was one heck of a geopolitical dance by the president, both nuanced and informative. Almost as an afterthought, he mentioned that Israel was going to allow “monitored” humanitarian aid to reach Gaza, but threatened to cut it off if Hamas hijacks that aid.

That still wasn’t enough for people like Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who told me on Wednesday afternoon that innocent civilians in Gaza shouldn’t receive aid. “You’re not helping them. You’re helping Hamas,” he said. 

Biden said in the same speech that the leaders of Hamas don’t represent the Palestinian people — which is a fact — the implication being that long-term substantial aid isn’t realistic in Gaza because Hamas probably will hijack it. At the moment, there is little incentive for Hamas to behave honorably. Biden also said that Hamas has set up critical command and communications operations in Gaza neighborhoods, effectively holding Palestinian civilians hostage.

According to Rick Scott, those innocent civilians are on their own.

The situation is so convoluted that many Republicans are content to ignore nearly all the nuance and just blast away at Biden for being ineffective and weak. That was certainly the Trump response.

But it’s hard to call this president weak when he’s traveled to two war zones during his administration. That takes a great deal of strategic planning and a certain amount of political and personal courage — qualities Donald Trump conspicuously lacks.

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Lost in this fog of war is the other shoe that may drop. The U.S. has confirmed sending  long-range weapons to Ukraine that can be used to attack targets inside Russia, contradicting Biden’s previous claims that the U.S. would only supply Ukraine with defensive weapons and had no desire to see the conflict expand beyond its borders. “Washington’s decision to send long-range ATACMS missiles to Ukraine was a grave mistake that will have serious consequences,” Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. said Wednesday, according to Reuters

Ukraine has apparently used these weapons already.

Normally, all this would be grist for the Republican mill in Congress. Biden said the attack on the hospital didn’t come from Israel. We sent missiles to Ukraine, potentially widening the conflict. On a more ordinary day, those stories would dominate the national as well as international news.

But facts are not needed in the Republican-controlled Congress. Arguments against the Democrats and the rest of the world are moot as Republicans continue to dissolve into a puddle of sweat, indecision, menace and chaos.

There is no doubt that Joe Biden offers an example of American leadership that the rest of the world can admire and applaud. But if he really wants to show his courage, he should show up and address a joint session of Congress.

Joe Biden has shown the world an example of American leadership. If he really wants to show courage, maybe he should show up on Capitol Hill and address a joint session of Congress.

That would take a lot of bravery. Speaking the truth in Congress is so long overdue that it might not be recognized, and would likely be treated as more empty rhetoric. But if Biden can go to Ukraine and Israel during a time of actual war, then he can handle the saber-rattling and phlegm-thickened wails from Republicans in Congress as they shred the facts to fit their faltering narrative — and try to tear America down so they can rule over the rubble.

For Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, that’s exactly the problem. “They act like entertainers,” he said, speaking about the Republicans on his way into a classified meeting on Israel late on Wednesday. “It’s time they do their job. Let’s just get it done. That’s a fact.”

Facts have never been more important.

Here’s a fact that Republicans in Congress need to recognize: Jim Jordan is one of the worst choices for speaker ever to be nominated. His own friends call him a legislative terrorist and a bully. His own party said he was instrumental in the Jan. 6 insurrection. And as one of his “friends” said Wednesday, the only thing better than seeing Jordan fail to get the House speaker gig once is “seeing him fail twice.” 

Jordan may decide to risk a third ballot this week, or the House could stand in recess as Republicans and Democrats try to work out a way to give Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick Henry at least enough temporary power to get the House back on the job.

Jordan and his supporters decry the possibility of such a “coalition government,” once again literally arguing against democracy.

As Bill Murray put so memorably in “Stripes,” “That’s a fact, Jack.”

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