Table of Contents
Welcome to your weekly run-down of all the big news, strange rules and interesting happenings from the world of US politics.
This week, crowds of Americans packed the National Mall as fireworks exploded over the country’s capital city.
It was July 4, Independence Day, and a special one at that. After more than a year of horror from the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 600,000 American lives, a highly-vaccinated public was gathering together to celebrate a return to normal, according to US President Joe Biden.
But hanging over the evening was the shadow of a previous gathering.
The National Mall hadn’t hosted a crowd that large in almost six months, not since the January 6 Capitol riot, when a mob of Donald Trump’s supporters attempted to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s electoral victory.
On that day, hundreds of Americans stormed the building, sending politicians fleeing into barricaded rooms and causing Capitol Police to fear for their lives.
The hunt to identify perpetrators is ongoing. The FBI has a special “Capital Violence” page on its website with nearly 1000 pictures and videos of 300 people allegedly involved in the break-in. They’re labeled “unidentified”.
The person who planted two pipe bombs outside the offices of the Democratic and Republican national committees (a move officers suspect was designed to draw them away from Congress) is still on the run.
But more than 500 people have been arrested. A few dozen have pleaded guilty, including two members of the Oath Keepers militia group who admitted to conspiring with other extremists.
Only one person has been sentenced so far, an Indiana woman who pleaded guilty to unlawfully entering the Capitol — and subsequently avoided jail time. After the riot, she posted on Facebook that January 6 was the “best day ever”.
You probably remember Jacob Chansley, the “QAnon Shaman”. He’s in federal custody awaiting trial on six criminal charges.
He lost a bid to be released from jail and is undergoing a psychological evaluation to see whether he’s fit to stand trial.
Congressional efforts to get to the bottom of what happened aren’t progressing much faster.
An effort to establish a bipartisan commission flamed out, as Senate Republicans used the filibuster for the first time during the Biden administration to shoot down a bill that had majority support.
Republicans who even dared entertain the notion of further examination of the attack have been turfed out of leadership positions or are now facing primary contests from candidates who are raising impressive sums of money.
Democrats have taken the only path left available and created a House select committee that will investigate the attacks, but there’s much we don’t know about how it will work.
Will it have subpoena power? How long will it have to complete its work?
Will it call former president Donald Trump to testify? If he testified, what would he even say?
In the time since leaving office, the former president has moved considerably in his own views of the riots.
Despite reportedly calling the rioters “idiots” and “not our people” as he watched on television on the day of the attack, he softened in March to claim there was “zero threat” from the people who entered the Capitol.
Twice this week, Trump showed a willingness to move even further from his initial stance by asking “Who shot Ashley Babbitt?” at a rally and a press conference.
As New York Magazine pointed out, Babbitt — a former air force veteran who was radicalised by QAnon conspiracy theories and killed by police on the day of the attacks — has become a martyr among those on the far right, who consider her death a sacrifice in service of a greater cause.
That claim now features centrally in the strategy of a former president aiming to regain control of US politics ahead of the 2022 midterms … and beyond.
Today, around the US Capitol, however, some of the last fences that went up in the wake of the attacks are about to come down.
The metaphorical fences erected between corporate America and politicians who objected to the certification of Biden’s victory have come down as well, with some of the richest US companies turning on the donation firehoses again.
So it’s not just public life returning to normal as the pandemic winds down, but also politics, just six months after an “existential crisis” that “shocked and saddened the nation and the world,” according to Biden.
The battle to define that normalcy as necessary for the healing of the nation, or a dangerous reframing of history, is only just beginning.
New York’s long and messy mayoral primary race is finally over.
Eric Adams has been declared the winner for the Democrats, and is the overwhelming favourite to take the office after the general election in November.
He beat Kathryn Garcia by a narrow margin of 8,400 points, or less than one percentage point, meaning candidates may still contest the results, though no one has spoken out yet.
The close race had the city watching the numbers fluctuate with each ballot dump, especially after one major ballot-counting debacle.
Adams only became the clear winner after 118,000 absentee ballots went through the city’s ranked choice voting system — the first time it was employed in New York history.
The race is considered the most critical measure of Democratic political opinion since the 2020 Presidential primary.
US media is making a lot of Adams’ background in law enforcement. New York saw a spike in shootings in the lead up to polling day (it’s still so bad that Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a public emergency this week).
Adams’ campaign struck a balanced tone — advocating to rein in crime while still tackling police bias and misconduct.
And that brings us to the key takeaway from this race: As Republicans continue to accuse their counterparts of being apathetic about crime and unsympathetic to the police, Democrats everywhere will be taking notes of Adam’s successful messaging.
It’s still…. 2016?
Russian cyberattacks against US political institutions feel too common to distinguish individually these days, but it’s worth taking note of a pair of back-to-back hackings that happened this week.
A possible breach of the Republican National Committee and the infiltration that spread to an estimated 1500 global businesses are proving a big test for President Biden.
It was just three weeks ago, during his first sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin, that Biden presented a list of 16 economic sectors that, if attacked, would merit retaliation.
The thing is he never really said what kind of retaliation that would be. In response to reporters’ questions, he said simply “he knows”.
Biden convened a group of officials yesterday (local time) to discuss strategy, but all that’s come out of it is a promise to deliver a message to Putin. What message? We don’t know?
So when it comes to the US-Russia relationship, it still feels like we’re in the Trump era. A lot of bark, no real bite.
Breaking the internet
We’ve known that Trump and his team have been searching for an alternative to the social media services he was booted off (and is now suing).
RIP Parler and the blog-that-wasn’t-a-blog.
This week delivered the next contender to the arena, and it’s going about as well as you’d expect.
Gettr, which is intended to operate a lot like Twitter, chose July 4 for its splashy debut, and promised to be a “marketplace of ideas” with no “woke tyranny” and would not ban users for their views.
In reality, that translated to a flood of imposter accounts, anti-conservative memes and … Sonic the Hedgehog erotica.
As the ABC’s technology reporter James Purtill pointed out, Gettr ran into a problem that any pro-Trump social media network is going to encounter: promising not to moderate content may see Gettr booted off major app stores, but being anti-moderation is key to their product differentiation.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Despite Gettr being run by a former Trump aide, the former president hasn’t endorsed it, which probably points to its future prospects.