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Newsletter | Revolving Door Project Newsletter | October 4, 2023

“This Fish Stinks From The Head”

Ethics in GovernmentGovernance

This newsletter was originally published on our Substack. Read and subscribe here.

It’s been an eventful week, to say the least. We have a smattering of political updates to share, many of them rooted in the ongoing saga of MAGA-led obstruction of government function. But first, we want to address an instance of overt violence spurred by Trump’s hate-filled rhetoric. 

Last Thursday, a group of largely indigenous activists gathered in a prayer ceremony on Tewa Territory in New Mexico to oppose the reinstallation of a statue of conquistador Juan de Oñate. This was a man who enslaved and mutilated indigenous people—a man whose cruelty was so unusual even by the standards of his fellow colonists that he was put on trial in Mexico City for “crimes and excesses” in 1614. 

At Thursday’s protest against Oñate’s memorialization, a man in a MAGA hat pulled out a gun and shot indigenous climate activist Jacob Johns. Thankfully, Jacob is in stable condition at the hospital. His family has set up a Go Fund Me to cover his medical expenses. 

As Will Bunch wrote for The Philadelphia Inquirer, “It’s small consolation that no one was killed during Martinez’s rampage. Hardly the first episode of political violence tied closely to the MAGA movement, it surely will not be the last. Especially when this fish stinks from the head. The New Mexico shooting marked the end of a week in which Donald Trump repeatedly celebrated violence, making it clear that death, injury and intimidation isn’t a side effect of his authoritarian push to return to the White House, but the primary disease.” 

Among other things, acts of violence like this drive home the stakes of the media’s normalization of the MAGA right wing as credible political actors when in fact, they are explicitly dedicated to the violent destruction of multicultural democracy. 

44 Days To Avoid A Shutdown; 455 Days To Avoid A Default

Congress’s last-minute passage of a continuing resolution (CR) will keep the government open until the Friday before Thanksgiving. The floodwaters that swept through New York City on the eve of the averted shutdown really drove home the necessity of the $16 billion the CR appropriated to FEMA for disaster relief. (It’ll take a few weeks to figure out whether and when New Yorkers who suffered from the flooding are eligible for FEMA reimbursement.) 

We’re glad this newsletter doesn’t have to try and tabulate the suffering a shutdown would have caused, from stymying efforts to rebuild in Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere, to cutting off inspections and giving polluters free rein. (My colleague Kenny Stancil’s blog post on how a government shutdown would make October a “great month to be a corporate criminal” is still worth a read, even with the immediate crisis averted.) But while the CR is certainly better than no deal, it’s still worth acknowledging that CRs come with their own costs. 

My colleague Fatou Ndaiye has written in depth about the decay of the federal appropriations process for Democracy Journal. Her piece is a great resource for understanding how we got into this pattern of chronic dysfunction—in which Congress has only adopted a budget resolution by its target date six times in nearly 50 years—and what needs to be done to change course. Fatou wrote about how continuing resolutions create uncertainty about agencies’ final funding levels, which can limit agencies’ ability to plan, slow down strategic hiring, training, and program services, and jeopardize funding for grant recipients. In her piece, she also discusses Newt Gingrich’s initial weaponization of the budget process in the nineties, which created the obstructionist playbook that MAGA Republicans continue to follow. 

While we’re talking about MAGA-engineered government malfunction, it’s worth noting that a certain hearing is coming up on Thursday, October 5th. No, it’s not in one of Trump’s many, many, many lawsuits. 

You may remember that back in the spring, an organization of 75,000 government employees sued President Biden and Treasury Secretary Yellen over the debt ceiling issue. If you’d like to refresh yourself on the details of that case, we gave them in a previous newsletter: “Eighteen Months To Avoid Another X-Date.” These federal employees argue that they’ll face the same injuries—”i.e., losses to their personal savings accounts, and…the same imminent and substantial risk of delay in payment”—when the debt limit statute kicks back in on January 1, 2025 as they did this past spring, when Secretary Yellen took “extraordinary measures” to avoid a catastrophic default. 

We’ve argued that this case presents a strong opportunity for the Biden administration to hash out the legal contradiction that the debt limit represents before the threat of another government default sucks up all the oxygen on the Hill. But for reasons inconceivable to us, the Biden administration is opposing the employees’ claims, and seeking to get the case dismissed. The hearing on the government’s motion to dismiss is Thursday at 2 pm. 

Clarence Thomas’ Buddies vs. the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Clarence Thomas and his conflicts of interest are giving Trump and his lawsuits a run for their money in terms of sheer, overwhelming volume. But the revelations continue. Thanks to my colleague Vishal Shankar’s newsletter last week outlining “Everything You Should Know About The CFPB SCOTUS Case,” you’re likely familiar with the contours of CFPB v. CFSA. This week, Vishal wrote for the Prospect about the Horatio Alger Association, a chummy group of right-wing elites that has lavished undisclosed gifts on Clarence Thomas for decades, and in return been granted private use of the Supreme Court’s chambers for its annual induction ceremonies, hosted personally by Thomas.  

“According to a review of the Alger Association’s members conducted by the Revolving Door Project,” Vishal wrote, “at least 18 Alger members have either previously expressed an interest in weakening the CFPB or stand to gain from the Court gutting the Bureau. These wealthy elites span multiple sectors overseen by the CFPB and include some of its most prominent recurring opponents.” Check out Vishal’s piece for details on the wealthy right-wingers who’ve spent the past 30 years lavishing gifts on one of the nine people who will decide the fate of the government’s best tool to protect the public from abusive financial actors. And expect more from us soon on the outcome of yesterday’s arguments in CFPB v. CFSA, which as Vishal noted is one of the most important cases of the 2023-24 SCOTUS term, and perhaps in modern American history. 

Want more? Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to in the last week:

Clarence Thomas Has Yet Another Huge Conflict of Interest

Clarence Thomas Must Recuse From Harlan Crow-Backed Challenges To New York Rent Control Law

MAGA-Engineered Government Shutdown Will Make October a Great Month to Be a Corporate Criminal

Kevin McCarthy Is History

Clarence Thomas Recuses Self from Appeal of Trump Legal Adviser Who Communicated with Ginni Thomas

‘A Travesty’: Clarence Thomas Refuses to Recuse in Case That Could Benefit Billionaire Benefactor

Existential Threat to CFPB Spotlights Massive Stakes of New Supreme Court Term

Feinstein’s successor consulted for Uber, Airbnb

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Landlords’ Case Seeking to End Rent Control

We All Live in a Company Town Now. The Labor Movement Can Lead the Way Out.

Ethics in GovernmentGovernance

More articles by Hannah Story Brown

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