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The big idea

Now Republicans are using the “Sideshow Bob” defense for Trump

Fans of “The Simpsons” have a leg up when it comes to understanding the way conservatives defended Donald Trump Thursday after the latest disclosures about his months-long campaign to overturn President Biden’s victory. 

Call it the “Sideshow Bob” defense. 

Serving prison time for attempting to murder Bart Simpson, former television-show sidekick Bob wages a campaign for his release. At one point, while other prisoners riot, he calls into the radio show of Birch Barlow (meant to evoke Rush Limbaugh) and complains about the unfairness of it all.  

“Convicted of a crime I didn’t even commit! Hah! ‘Attempted’ murder? Now honestly, what is that? Do they give a Nobel Prize for ‘attempted’ chemistry? Do they?!?” he grouses (and Kelsey Grammer gives good grouse). 

In other words, you should exonerate Bob for scheming to murder Bart, stalking the Simpson family, tying them up and nearly running the boy through with a sword — all of which he does in a previous episode — because he was stopped.  

Now to the real world.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee released a report that, my colleague Devlin Barrett reported: “[O]ffers new details about an Oval Office confrontation between Trump and the Justice Department, revealing the extent to which government lawyers threatened to resign en masse if the president removed his attorney general.” 

“While Republicans on the panel offered their counter-findings, arguing that Trump did not subvert the justice system to remain in power, the majority report by the Democrats offers the most detailed account to date of the struggle inside the administration’s final, desperate days.” 

 The report details a three-hour Oval Office debate three days before the Jan. 6 Capitol riot over Trump’s plan to fire acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and replacing him with a loyalist, Jeffrey Clark. Clark “had indicated he would publicly pursue Trump’s false claims of mass voter fraud,” Devlin noted. 

 According to testimony from Rosen, Trump opened the meeting by saying, “‘One thing we know is you, Rosen, aren’t going to do anything to overturn the election.’” The president backed down after Rosen and others — including White House counsel Pat Cipollone — vowed to quit, touching off a potential mass resignation.  

The response? Democrats praised the officials who held the line. Republicans praised Trump. 

Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, top Republican on the committee, “issued a GOP version of events that largely absolves Trump of any wrongdoing,” CNN’s Zachary Cohen reported.

Grassley told reporters the Democrats’ conclusion was wrong, Zachary reported. 

“‘I don't know how you can reach any conclusion, except that Trump had everybody in the White House to discuss that and unanimously, except for one, they said you shouldn't do what the one lawyer said he thought the President ought to do,’ said Grassley. ‘The President rejected it. The President did the right thing.’” 

Enter Sideshow Bob

And this is where it helps to be, as I am, an obsessive fan of the early trials and tribulations of a permanently jaundiced, four-fingered cartoon family. Because this is basically the Sideshow Bob defense

In Trump’s case, set aside a months-long campaign to undermine the legitimacy of the election, followed by a frenetic behind-the-scenes effort to browbeat local officials into overturning the result and enlist the Justice Department to do so as well. (To say nothing of his encouraging the Jan. 6 mob that ransacked the Capitol and interrupted the certification of Biden’s victory.) 

I’m not qualified to judge whether anything Trump did was criminal. But exonerating him because he backed off in the face of the threat of mass resignations? 

This isn’t about drawing a hardy-har-har from a sparse crowd during my third set at Club Waha-ha (though you should definitely tip your server). It’s about recognizing the shortcomings of a kind of argument you hear quite a bit in American politics. 

Then there's the Otter Defense

The Sideshow Bob defense isn’t the only Hollywood defense out there. My colleague Philip Bump alludes extensively here to a variation on another from-the-movies tactic, the Otter Defense, though he does not use the name. 

Where the relevant “The Simpsons” episode is from 1994, you have to reach all the way back to the 1978 comedy “Animal House” for that one. 

As I wrote Thursday: “With his fraternity on trial, Eric “Otter” Stratton argues the process is really an indictment of America itself and declares ‘you can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you bad-mouth the United States of America.’” 

In other words, if you punish a small number of people for specific bad behavior, you’re actually unfairly punishing a much larger population that had nothing to do with what’s alleged. I won’t quote Philip here; you should go read his piece. 

 And don’t get me started on U.S. politicians using the Chewbacca Defense

What's happening now

The U.S. economy added 194,000 new jobs in September, another weak month as we head into the final stretch of 2021. “The unemployment rate dropped to 4.8 percent from 5.2 percent in August. The data is a snapshot of the economy from the second week of September, when daily coronavirus cases were still near the peak caused by the delta variant,” Eli Rosenberg reports

  • “'Delta turned it on the ear,' said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton. ‘We’d like it to be that easy. But nothing has been easy in the pandemic. The challenges are still substantial to gettin people back.’ Swonk and other economists said that Hurricane Ida. had also dampened the report.”
  • “Weekly unemployment claims rose for three straight weeks, before falling last week. And restaurant reservations, which had begun returning to pre-pandemic levels according to data from Open Table, took a dive.”

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Trump’s D.C. hotel made millions from foreign governments but still lost more than $70 million while he was in office, according to federal documents released by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. “The committee, chaired by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), released hundreds of pages of financial documents on the property Friday that it received from the General Services Administration,” Jonathan O’Connell and David Fahrenthold report

  • “Maloney and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) allege the documents show that Trump received an estimated $3.7 million from foreign governments and received preferential treatment from Deutsche Bank when the bank allowed Trump to defer payments for six years on the principal of the property’s $170 million loan.”
  • “The findings ‘raise new and troubling questions about former President Trump’s lease with GSA and the agency’s ability to manage the former President’s conflicts of interest during his term in office when he was effectively on both sides of the contract, as landlord and tenant,’ the two Democrats said in a news release.”

Anger among Customs and Border Protection rises as the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate looms. “Biden’s order mandating federal employees to be fully vaccinated next month has generated anger in CBP’s ranks, particularly among conservative-leaning U.S. Border Patrol agents and the union that represents them. In recent weeks, leaders at the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) have joined Republican lawmakers who allege the Biden administration is allowing migrants to spread the coronavirus in the United States and placing the CBP workforce at greater risk, while also opposing his vaccination order,” Maria Sacchetti and Nick Miroff reports

  • “At least 47 CBP employees have died of covid-19 as of Tuesday, according to the agency, including one Border Patrol agent last month who was days from retirement... CBP does not publish a full breakdown of the covid-19 deaths by its sub-agencies, but the most dramatic spike in deaths this year appears to have been in the Border Patrol.”

… and beyond

“Two dozen federal agencies flagged the biggest dangers posed by a warming planet. The list spreads across American society,” the New York Times’s Christopher Flavelle reports. “Less food. More traffic accidents. Extreme weather hitting nuclear waste sites. Migrants rushing toward the United States, fleeing even worse calamity in their own countries. Those scenarios, once the stuff of dystopian fiction, are now driving American policymaking.” 

  • “Under orders from President Biden, top officials at every government agency have spent months considering the top climate threats their agencies face, and how to cope with them.”
  • “[The plans] include core themes: ensuring that new facilities meet tougher construction standards, using less energy and water at existing buildings, better protecting workers against extreme heat, educating staff about climate science, and creating supply chains that are less likely to be disrupted by storms or other shocks.”

Private prisons are still making money from federal inmates despite Biden’s executive order. “[Biden] ordered the Justice Department not to renew any expiring contracts with privately operated jails and prisons, while honoring existing agreements. Investors sold off the stocks and bonds of contractors including CoreCivic Inc. and GEO Group Inc. in response,” the Wall Street Journal’s Alexander Saeedy reports.

  • But “CoreCivic and GEO Group, the prison industry’s two major publicly traded companies, are plugging some of the revenue gaps created by the expiration of federal contracts by signing new deals known as intergovernmental agreements involving cities and counties.”

The Biden agenda

Democrats will likely throw billions in tax hikes overboard as spending plans shrink

Tax increases are on the chopping block:

  • “That’s good news for moderates who are less enthusiastic about raising rates. But it’s potentially terrible news for progressives hoping to stick it to the rich. Many see this as their best chance in years to push through major changes in how wealthy people are taxed — such as a proposal to begin taxing, for the first time, billionaires’ unrealized capital gains,” Politico’s Brian Faler reports.
  • “But a smaller price tag will also mean big changes on the tax side as well because Democrats are unlikely to raise taxes by more than they need to defray the cost of their plans. … Raising $1.5 trillion or so in taxes, to cover [the new] spending, should not be a heavy lift for most Democrats — especially given the overlap between a recent proposal by [Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)] and a tax plan approved last month by the House Ways and Means Committee. Manchin wants to raise the corporate rate to 25 percent, which would generate around $400 billion (Ways and Means wants a 26.5 percent rate, which would produce about $540 billion).”
  • All that plus other measures “could generate more than $1.5 trillion — meaning there’s less need for more controversial proposals Democrats have raised in recent months, such as taxing stock buybacks by corporations.”

With the Biden agenda at stake, activists are targeting Sinema and Manchin

  • “In the days after cellphone camera-toting protesters trailed Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) into a university restroom to confront her for opposing parts of President Biden’s agenda, top Senate Democrats drafted a statement of outrage on behalf of their centrist colleague,” the NYT’s Luke Broadwater reports. “But the statement was never released.”
  • “Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), refused to sign after other Democrats rebuffed his demand that it include a call for Ms. Sinema to embrace Mr. Biden’s multitrillion-dollar social safety net, education, climate and tax plan. The letter organizers then decided against sending out the message of support for a senator who has angered some of her constituents by refusing to meet with them or answer their questions.”
  • “As Mr. Sanders’s demand showed, party leaders share the goals of the protesters who are pressing Ms. Sinema, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and other conservative-leaning Democrats to drop their resistance to ambitious legislation. But many members of Congress are uncomfortable with the activists’ increasingly bold tactics.”
  • “In recent weeks, protesters have paddled kayaks on the Potomac River to confront Mr. Manchin on his yacht docked near the Capitol. Activists chanting ‘Shame on you, Josh!’ have visited the district offices of Representative Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey, a leading centrist who has pressed to delay the social policy bill until a bipartisan infrastructure measure can be enacted.”

China reiterated calls for the U.S. to cut off military ties with Taiwan

Reports say American forces are stationed there.

  • “Asked about the reports, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian avoided attacks on Washington and instead repeated standard Beijing talking points, saying that the United States should recognize the ‘high sensitivity’ of the issue and halt military contact with Taiwan,” Christian Shepherd and Michael Miller report.
  • “About two dozen U.S. troops, including a Special Operations unit and a contingent of Marines, have been in Taiwan to train military forces for more than a year, the WSJ reported Thursday.”

Party control in Wisconsin, visualized

“While Wisconsin has been closely divided for a long time — four of the last six presidential elections were decided by less than a percentage point — the widening gulf between the two parties in 2011 foreshadowed the extent to which American politics would come to focus more on the extremes rather than the middle of the political spectrum,” our colleague Dan Balz reports.

Hot on the left

A Jan. 6 defendant wants to avoid coronavirus conditions in jails but has not yet gotten a vaccine: 

Hot on the right

“Pressure mounts on Florida Republicans as antiabortion activists eye their next battleground state,” Lori Rozsa and Emily Wax-Thibodeaux report. “The path to a ban in Florida could be even bumpier. … Many Republican leaders aren’t sold on a Texas-style law. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) says he is against abortion, but he has been noncommittal on proposed abortion bans in Florida. Abortion-rights activists in the state are readying their defense. Dozens of abortion rights rallies were held across the state last weekend.”

Today in Washington

Biden is delivering remarks on the September jobs report. At 1:45 p.m., he will deliver remarks on restoring protections for national monuments. At 6:15 p.m., he will head to Delaware. 

Harris is participating on a roundtable conversation on the importance of federal investment in child care. 

In closing

The current and former secretaries of state gathered to honor the late George Shultz: 

Thanks for reading. See you Monday.