Happy New Year, Mr. President?
Joe Biden meets 2023
It's hard to believe, but we are still only in the second week of 2023 — and the year already seems to be a doozy. Just ask the president of the United States.
Biden wrapped up 2022 with positive momentum. He had achieved an impressive slate of historic legislation through the soon-to-end 117th Congress despite the thinnest possible majority in the Senate (including the recalcitrant Manchin and Sinema) and not much more breathing room in the House. He had led a strong response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine by repairing alliances frayed by the former guy in the White House. And he had seen his fellow Democrats outperform historical trends in the midterm election.
To be sure, as Biden and his team entered 2023, they could see some rocky shoals looming ahead. Inflation, while starting to trend in a downward direction, remained a concern, along with fears about a possible recession. The situation at the U.S.-Mexico border continued to defy easy solutions. And while Biden’s approval ratings had improved from their nadir, they still were well below water.
Furthermore, control of the House of Representatives was changing hands. Instead of a productive partner in Nancy Pelosi, the White House (and the rest of us) would be bombarded by “message bills” that have no chance of becoming law, along with investigations into the likes of Hunter Biden and Anthony Fauci.
Now, into this mix, arrives a new challenge to the Biden presidency — and a vivid reminder that the presidency entails being buffeted by surprises and events beyond your control. As we go to our news sources today, the leading story is again one that was nowhere on the horizon even a few days ago. After the saga of classified documents being taken to and hidden at Mar-a-Lago by the previous president, it turns out that Biden has also had classified documents in his possession at his home and office. And they were there for a while.
These revelations raise questions that demand answers. How did this happen? Who was responsible? Was any sensitive information put in jeopardy? Now that Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to investigate, the job of acquiring those answers falls to Robert Hur, a former federal prosecutor with a deeply conservative pedigree who was also a Trump appointee.
Make no mistake, as much as you may want to believe otherwise, this is a serious matter. Misuse of highly classified national security materials is a crime under most circumstances — as it should be. People accused of it are pursued internationally. People convicted of it often serve heavy jail time.
Remind yourself of that, then recall the important American legal principle that no person is above the law and you have the reality of what serious trouble President Biden could be in over this matter.
Many legal observers predict that Hur will end up finding nothing of concern. But given the number of unknowns still lurking, this story could develop in unexpected ways. Also, special counsels sometimes start digging for the sake of digging. And investigations started for one reason morph into new and unexpected directions. We will now see where this goes. What if Hur decides to seek indictments? What then?
It was completely predictable that Republicans would latch onto these revelations to cry foul about double standards and to attack President Biden. Trump and others close to him are facing multiple investigations. Any way to muddy the waters and try to convince the public that even if they don’t like what Trump did, Biden did it too, is in the Republicans' interest.
The facts, as we know them now, however, suggest the two cases have important differences. Whereas Trump hid the documents he appears to have knowingly taken, Biden’s team seems to have been the ones to find the documents and report them to the National Archives, who in turn immediately notified the Department of Justice. When a second set of documents was found, it appears Biden’s team contacted the DOJ directly. But the timeline and nature of the communication, at least in the public record, remains murky.
Nevertheless, on the one side (Trump) we seem to have deliberate action. On the other side, we may, may, have a mistake. But we must be careful not to come to concrete conclusions at this point. New revelations could shift these understandings. All of us should hope that the investigations into both Trump and Biden seek out the unbiased truth.
Meanwhile, as Republicans howl about the scandal du jour, it’s important to note a few more points of context. To attack Biden on classified documents is to admit that there was something very wrong with what Trump did as well. And furthermore, when it comes to the legal jeopardy in which Trump finds himself, one can make the case that the documents investigation, as serious as it is, pales in gravity next to charges that the former president tried to orchestrate a coup to overthrow America’s constitutional order.
One also wonders how all of this is playing out in the country at large, especially if the facts remain as we currently know them. Will this hurt Biden politically with the general electorate? Will it have staying power beyond a few more news cycles in outlets that aren’t Fox News?
Biden’s approval ratings continue to improve, as do the numbers around inflation. The dysfunction of the Republican-controlled House has already been on display, along with the desperation of its new speaker. If the message from voters in the last midterms was “eschew extremism for positive action,” it seems to have been lost on the likes of Kevin McCarthy.
Buckle up — 2023 is likely to be a wild and bumpy ride.
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The absurdity of Garland's tenure continues: dragging his feet for 2 years before appointing a special counsel to investigate Trump (despite the clear satisfaction of the regulatory requirement of 'extraordinary circumstances') and less than 2 weeks before appointing one for Biden.
The real question I ponder is the apparent ease with which classified documents can be taken, and the absence of an effective tracking system (the Achives has no idea how any of which documents Trump retains and they had no idea that any documents were at Biden facilities).
We spend billions on national security...where is the money going?
I would be tempted to give Biden a pass. I am beginning to wonder if someone is trying to make Biden look bad behind the scenes. Anyway investigations have to run their course. A number of those Republicans in both the US House of Representatives and The US Senate would like to overthrow Biden and put Trump back into office. I fear that there is a conspiracy to take Biden down. Remember a number of Republicans in both the US House of Representatives and The US Senate were behind the attack on The US Capitol on January 6,2021. I fear there is going to be another insurrection attempt against our Democratically elected President by Trump and his right wing supporters and the wealthy people that back these right wing supporters of Trump.