On Jan 13, just one week after Donald Trump’s attempted coup on his own government to remain in power, then-Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy stood on the house floor and told the truth, seemingly for the last time.
"[President Trump] bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters," said McCarthy, "some say the riots were caused by Antifa, [but] there's absolutely no evidence of that and conservatives should be the first to say so."
While McCarthy was forthright in openly criticizing Trump's role in inflaming the violence on Jan. 6, he remained steadfast with the majority of his caucus by continuing to object to the certification of the Electoral College results and refused to hold Trump accountable during the impeachment process.
McCarthy was sticking his toe in the fiery post-Trump political waters at that point, preparing to downshift into his new role leading the Republican Party and intent on playing both sides until Trump officially left office and/or his supporters came to their senses.
During the actual riot, McCarthy had no problem challenging Trump in an expletive-laced phone call, where he demanded that Trump call off his goons. "Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are," was Trump’s cold response. McCarthy quickly realized that his tentative stand was political suicide when Trump retreated to Florida after Biden took office and Trump’s power never really appeared to wane.
The next Trump hit was already in play, and Rep. Liz Cheney was the new target. Luckily for Kevin McCarthy, she had risen to the top of Trump’s enemy list after voting to impeach him for inciting the insurrection. McCarthy quickly fell in line completely by the end of January. By then he suddenly flew to Mar-a-Lago to make amends, kiss an enormous metaphorical gold ring, and pose for a photo-op to make sure he wasn’t the next hit on Trump’s list.
Donald Trump has continued to set the tone for the Republican Party through McCarthy ever since. Now, the sense of aggression that was always bordering on violent also appears to be back in full force. In addition to spreading false claims about who actually won the election and supporting an Arizona-type of model for future Republican election tampering all over the country, minority leader McCarthy has gone all-in on a losing hand involving the new delta variant.
It is only a matter of time before the actual death toll among the unvaccinated turns into a deadly last river card for the Republican Party and for McCarthy, who insists on making the country go all-in on his losing hand.
Earlier this week, Dr. Brian Monahan, Attending Physician of the United States Congress and the United States Supreme Court, distributed a memo to lawmakers on the return of the mask mandate in the House of Representatives following the CDC's recommendation for vaccinated Americans to wear masks in certain settings due to the recent surge in delta variant infections.
Minority Leader McCarthy quickly criticized Monahan and his memo, saying that the distinguished physician had failed to include the Senate in his instructions and saying that mask-wearing should not apply to the House, as 85% of all Congressmembers are vaccinated. During a House floor meeting on Wednesday, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) openly criticized McCarthy’s lack of leadership for mocking the Capitol physician and the new mask mandate.
Ryan made a point to explain that no one enjoys wearing face masks but it is the responsible thing to do and that Dr. Monahan’s sage advice should be followed. Ryan also emphasized that some lawmakers are traveling back and forth to Washington, DC, from hot spots all over the country and risk infecting members of Congress and their loved ones, who may be much older or younger or have health conditions that put them at risk.
“Look, the attending physician of the United States Capitol, the top doctor for Congress, asks us to put on masks when we come to a chamber with 435 people,” Ryan said. “I hate these [mask] things. Absolutely. It was terrible having to put this back on…and we do it because the top doctor for all of us asked us to.”
“I may not be from a hot spot,” he added. “Somebody in this chamber is coming from a hot spot.”
Ryan also called McCarthy’s statement “immature” and “beneath” a leader of Congress, and accused him of continuing to try and score “cheap political points."
“That is beneath a minority leader of one of the major political parties in the United States of America, saying we should take no caution that someone from a hot spot is working in this chamber and could potentially get someone infected that could go home to a sick parent or immune-compromised kid.”
“That is beneath us, said Rep. Ryan, “That is beneath us.”
The tone the minority leader has set for the Republican Party and all of its stalwart supporters is just a continuation of the violence introduced by Trump and his presidency. White Nationalists who intentionally run over women with their cars at a peaceful protest are “very good people.” A crowd that storms a bastion of free government by the people, for the people, and taking over the US Capitol with violent force is suddenly a “loving crowd.”
The consequences of McCarthy’s decision to lead the Republican Party down the path of Trump will continue to yield more hate and violence due to the excessive and prolonged loss caused by the pandemic. We have all lost jobs, routines, loved ones, peace of mind, and an American sense of unity that has previously held this country together in times of great tragedy. Think about what it would have been like if our country had been this divided after the attack on 9/11 — imagine our recovery then.
The fallout of this dangerous game the minority leader is playing is also most evident at the lowest political levels, where divides are clear and tensions are highest. On Tuesday night, Dr. Faisal Khan, acting director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, spoke during a city council meeting on the benefits of the public complying with another imposed mask mandate.
Khan attended the meeting to answer council questions about the mandate and pleaded with the council to keep the mandate in place and said the decision was based on rising COVID-19 cases. This was the local version of the same story that played out on the House floor on Wednesday, but the behavior of supposedly grown adults spiraled even lower.
Khan, speaking at roughly 29 minutes into the meeting in the video above, said it was his duty to inform the council the delta variant is “poised to cause more misery, more death, more disease, an increase in hospitalizations and inflict further damage on the population in the St. Louis region.”
Dr. Kahn went on to add, “I ask you, I plead with you to set aside your umbrage over process issues and permission sequences and listen to public health, and please stand by this order.” Khan's pleas were met with disinterest by most of the council and jeers from the crowd and most council members criticized how the order went into effect rather than the mandate itself.
Kahn later published a letter explaining what had transpired at this meeting saying that he has “never been subjected to the racist, xenophobic, and threatening behavior that greeted me in the County Council meeting last night.” Kahn says his speaking time “began with a dog-whistle question from Councilman Tim Fitch, who said he wanted to emphasize for the assembled crowd that [Kahn] was not from this country.”
Dr. Kahn acknowledged that Councilman Fitch appeared to be playing to a crowd that was clearly overrun by the “MAGA movement,” as evidenced by attendees’ signs and chants. Dr. Kahn explained that several audience members started mocking his accent during his presentation saying, “I heard people doing their impersonation of Apu, a caricature character from The Simpsons television show that mocks people from South Asia such as myself.”
Dr. Kahn also says that he was “constantly berated” by Council Members McClosky and Berry, who were seated directly behind him and trying to distract him from the presentation. Dr. Kahn then says that when he asked the Chairwoman to intervene to prevent any interference with his medical presentation, he was lectured from the podium rather than the issue being addressed.
After the completion of Kahn’s presentation, he attempted to leave the chamber but was confronted by several people on the aisle who aggressively shoulder-bumped and pushed him. Kahn explained, “As I approached the exit and immediately outside the chambers, I became surrounded by the crowd in close quarters, where members of the crowd yelled at me, calling me a ‘fat brown cunt’ and a ‘brown bastard.’”
Dr. Kahn says that after he was “physically assaulted, called racist slurs, and surrounded by an angry mob.” Kahn also expressed his displeasure by using his middle finger toward an individual who had physically threatened him and called him racist slurs as he attempted to leave the meeting.
These two sessions, one at the national level and one at the city level, played out in the same week with the exact same arguments on both sides. One was televised and remained verbal, one was not broadcast or seen as widely, and ended with verbal and physical assault.
I have often thought about my own circumstances, especially while I was at home for a few weeks in June in Arizona. There were employees at pharmacies who refused to wear masks and customers everywhere who did not have them. All orders requiring masks in public shopping spaces were actually rescinded while I was in my home state.
There were several times I was infuriated by a lack of mask-wearing or by someone wearing a mask under their chin or pulling the mask down so that they could talk loudly in a store. I am a very outspoken person and had several instances in which I could have said something or asked that someone comply with the safety precautions. But I never did this, not once.
Each time I weighed out the physical risks involved in who I would be confronting and how many others in the store could turn on me in public settings. I thought about my mother having to live in a smaller community and how she might be targeted after I left. I am a white woman, with blonde hair and blue eyes and these situations only involved a few people at most.
I have no idea what it must have been like for Dr. Kahn, an accomplished physician who was born in another country and cannot camouflage his political persuasion, to walk into a rowdy room full of bigots and risk his own safety to do his service for the public and his job as a doctor. Imagine what that floor debate in the House would have been like if McCarthy knew it was not televised and not being recorded.
The tone Donald Trump has set by unleashing a mob of insurgents to attack our own government through Kevin McCarthy’s ongoing leadership will inevitably culminate in countless deaths and continued acts of violence all across this country. The saddest part about all of this is that very few of the verbal and physical attacks to come will have the protective element of being televised.
Amee Vanderpool writes the SHERO Newsletter and is an attorney, published author, contributor to newspapers and magazines, and analyst for BBC radio. She can be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.
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