Who holds power in Washington?
Video transcript: We talk to former Congressman Justin Amash and antitrust scholar Matt Stoller about the battle for the speakership and status quo dysfunction in Congress
Watch System Update #16 here on Rumble.
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In this episode, we examine what's really at stake in this debate and why establishment voices seem to be growing increasingly agitated and angry with each passing day over the prospect that our elected representatives are having debates over a rather significant question: who should be third in line to the presidency and run the House? Isn't that a question that a healthy democracy should spend a few days debating?
To help examine those questions we have to interview segments tonight. First, we'll speak with Justin Amash, who served in the U.S. Congress from 2011 to 2021, first as a Republican and then a libertarian, and then with the antitrust scholar Matt Stoller, who has gained a great deal of insight into how the U.S. Congress works, or doesn't work, as he has spent years working to have legislation passed to curb the powers of Big Tech. They each have interesting and substantial light to shed on the ongoing drama in Washington.
The United States Congress is on its third day of debating who should occupy the position of third in line to the American presidency, more commonly known as Speaker of the House.
If you're following mainstream media coverage of this House Speaker election, then you have almost certainly been told that allowing three whole days of debate on this rather significant question threatens the very foundation of American society. Indeed, to hear establishment mavens all tell the story, the failure of Congress to smoothly and swiftly and immediately act and elect a Speaker, that's been preordained with little debate, as it usually is, has put the U.S. government on the verge of collapse, and no less than our national security has been gravely compromised.
Have you ever noticed how often you hear that even temporary failure to snap into line and heed the orders of establishment decrees creates grave dangers for America?
Top Republican Representative, Nicole Malakoff, told The Daily Mail, “China, Cuba, and Iran are laughing at the party during the endless Speaker votes that have stopped members getting security clearances”. Oh, for sure. For sure. Kevin McCarthy is such an imposing and intimidating projection of American global power that Vladimir Putin has begun ignoring his war in Ukraine and Chinese Communist Party leaders have forgotten about the COVID crisis and rising citizen anger sweeping their country and Iranian mullahs are neglecting domestic protests because they're paying such rapt attention to the three days of bickering in the lower House of the United States Congress over whether Kevin McCarthy or some equally colorless, bland establishment figure, will finally fulfill their lifelong careerist ambition of becoming the next Speaker of the House.
But no debate at all is permitted on major questions of U.S. democracy. Apparently, a healthy democracy requires that everyone march in lockstep, follow orders from on high, and never question anything. That's what the Democratic Party and especially its progressive wing have so adeptly mastered. Who knew that our time-tested and powerful democracy could not survive a few days of debate and disagreement on our most important questions?
But that is what the voices of establishment authority want you to believe. Every day that goes by that entails some more debate rather than consensus, another brick in the wall of American democracy crumbles. Our government and all the majestic things it does for us every day for our lives come to a grinding halt. The New York Times proclaimed, “Lacking a Speaker, one part of the government ceases to function”. The Washington Post asked, “Does the House even exist right now?”
CNN's chief Russiagate Queen, Natasha Bertrand, who got promoted to the network after becoming the first writer in Politico to spread the CIA lie that Hunter Biden’s laptop was ‘Russian disinformation’ and is now held up as some sort of national security expert. I guess that's what one becomes after spending enough years as the U.S. security state's most reliable puppet, she gravely warned: “Now, the Speaker impasse is impacting U.S. national security”.
Over at Axios, Mike Allen melodramatically intoned “House Republicans have systematically gutted the power of their leaders and institutionalized de facto anarchy”. Anarchy! These media people are such drama queens. He then goes on to write, “Long ago are the days of rank-and-file members pining for more money or endorsements or committee assignments from their top leaders. Now it's the rank-and-file lawmakers and outside allies, juiced by social media, holding the real power.”
Think about that for a moment. He wasn't saying that as though it was positive. The entire media establishment has decided that a handful of Congress members challenging the suffocating, anti-democratic centralization of power in Congress is a grave crisis, not just of governance, but of American democracy and national security. Not only that but the refusal of 20 House Republicans to capitulate, after being allowed 72 hours of what they regard as a dangerous tantrum, is leading us to the only other alternative, anarchy as they tell it.
You have all these UN-credentialed conservative ruffians, meaning the people sent by American citizens to be their representatives in Congress, using their power and leverage to extract concessions before voting for someone to roll over the House of Representatives. This is apparently a virtual uprising, a riot, anarchy, and irreverence not seen since a few pro-Trump Facebook users put their feet up on Nancy Pelosi's sacred desk and got sent to prison for five years for doing so.
But is any of this really true? Is the opposite of centralization and authoritarianism really anarchy? Or is it, you know, democracy?
One of the dirty secrets of how Congress works in the modern era has been that actual members of Congress, your representatives, have very little power, almost none. They're more like little tiny chess pieces moved around for a tiny coterie of party leaders, often just two or three people in a small room making all the decisions. Members of Congress are allowed to do very little without the explicit approval of the leadership, strangling and suffocating debate, new ideas, and disruptions to the status quo. That's why so many of them are just social media stars. They have no other power. It's a dynamic that has turned Congress into a profoundly anti-democratic institution -- and it's one of the main reasons why we get so little reform and so much corruption out of it.
And what is most remarkable about all of this is that the tiny number of real leaders in these rooms, these backrooms of the Capitol, making all the decisions, along with lobbyists, are from different political parties. Therefore, according to Washington's most sacred law, they are completely incapable of agreeing on anything. After all, when you put a Republican and a Democrat in a room together, this narrative goes, nothing ensues but food fights and bitter and angry bickering and all-out war between people totally incapable of setting aside their deep and entrenched fundamental ideological differences to agree on things for the good of the nation. But there are few farces more transparent than that one.
Does anyone really believe that there are massive gaps -- massive gaps --between the world view of multimillionaire Nancy Pelosi and multi-millionaire Mitch McConnell, both of whom are married to people who also wield extreme levels of power and wealth in Washington, Wall Street, and beyond? Do you really believe that Chuck Schumer, after decades in Washington building a power base by raising hundreds of millions of dollars from Wall Street, has more in common with your liberal neighbor than he does with Kevin McCarthy, who, after years and years in Washington building a power base by raising hundreds of millions of dollars from Wall Street, occupies a seat at the table alongside Schumer, Pelosi, and McConnell, as they keep American policies of crony capitalism, endless war, corporatism, imperialism, and militarism churning along without any real dissent or disruption or even much transparency at all?
One of the most common tricks of the establishment American media is to focus incessantly and exclusively -- and intensely -- on the small handful of areas where the establishment wings of both political parties actually do disagree, actually have real disputes -- things like abortion and gender, ideology, mass immigration, sort of, and a couple of other culture war fights that, while important, do not really touch on, let alone shape or change, how power in the United States is distributed. While they constantly dramatize the small handfuls of debates, they ignore the far more significant policy areas in which the establishment wings of both parties completely agree, which happens to be most of them.
When is the last time you ever heard any real debate about whether we should be in NATO, whether we should have military forces in dozens of countries around the world, whether we should be interfering in the internal affairs of countless countries, things that the majority of the American populace disagrees with and yet continues to happen? The politics where the parties agree, like those, are ignored by the media. And that creates this fairy tale, this theater, this illusion that the two parties have absolutely nothing in common, that they are constantly at each other's throats and they can't agree on anything. No more bipartisanship in Washington.
That's why you have so much power as a citizen and voter when deciding which party will rule. It changes everything after all, elections have consequences, we're told, over and over. But do they? Do elections have consequences in the United States?
When, for instance, is the last time you heard about anything concerning the Patriot Act? Remember that, the Patriot Act? That was the bill passed very quickly in the weeks after the 9/11 attack that gave previously unthinkable powers, unthinkable powers, un-American powers, to the U.S. security state to spy on American citizens and arrest, detain and prosecute them with far lower barriers than ever before.
Even in the climate right after 9/11, when the American population was understandably scared, traumatized, and angry, and thus, very unified, almost nothing that the Bush-Cheney administration demanded was even questioned back then. Even in that climate, the Patriot Act was considered a radical piece of legislation.
To calm nerves about it, a provision was inserted that made it temporary -- Oh, don't worry, we were told this is just an emergency provision that will expire in four short years, unless, and it's highly unlikely that it will happen, unless the threat of al-Qaeda is still imminent and the Congress decides to renew it. But the default assumption, we were told, is that it will just fade away once this emergency passes. So, no need to worry about it. Sure. Okay, fine. It's radical. We never thought we would ever enact anything like this, even its proponents conceded.
But it's only going to be with us for a very short period of time. But like most radical temporary state powers enacted in the name of some emergency, it turns out there was nothing temporary about the Patriot Act at all. It never faded away. And it's now part of the American woodwork. Never debated or discussed. It was renewed very quietly, in 2005, with an overwhelming bipartisan vote and the support of the Bush White House, and then again, in 2010, with another overwhelming bipartisan vote with the support of the Obama White House, and then again, in 2015, with the same thing and then again, in 2019, this time with the support of the Trump White House and the Progressive Democratic House Caucus, who quietly handed Trump and his executive branch renewed Patriot Act powers of spying and detention, even while calling him Hitler.
That's how bipartisan Washington is. The same thing happened, in 2018, when the Trump White House opposed proposed limits and safeguards on the NSA's power to spy on American citizens. Even as Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff were calling Trump the new Hitler, they both voted along with hordes of Democrats, to give this new Hitler all spying powers and to block any limits on his ability to use those powers.
You probably don't remember any of this because it got scant media attention. That's because both parties were in full agreement on it. And thus, like all issues that received support of the establishment wings of both parties, no matter how weighty the corporate pass downplays or ignores it. And then it is our only worth media coverage when the two parties fight over them, not when they agree. Even though the establishment wings of both parties agree on most things. So, in the meantime, the Washington establishment churns on mostly in the backrooms of Congress, with very few people watching. That's when tens of billions of dollars fly out the door. When the 1.7 trillion omnibus spending is stuffed full with enough special favors to secure the needed votes. And when the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, the private arms industry, and Wall Street are given everything they want, need, and demand. And while all that happens, many Americans remain convinced that the two parties can agree on anything that they're fighting, like cats and dogs, simply can't make anything happen when in fact, they're making a lot happen.
And what this process requires more than anything else is smooth, bipartisan consensus. A small handful of omnipotent party leaders from each party who are willing to play the game, join hands and ensure that totally insulated from election outcomes and public debate, the Washington consensus turns on. And that's why it upsets establishment voices so much to have any disruption at all in Washington. The main reason they hated Trump was not ideological. After all, the permanent power factions in Washington easily managed to override his will and ensure that his administration, despite the sideshow of his disruptive and heterodox tweets, mostly aligned with the bipartisan tradition of Washington policy over the last several decades.
Interview: Justin Amash
Justin Amash served in the U.S. Congress for a full decade until announcing in 2020 that he would not seek reelection. He was first elected in 2010, to represent Michigan's Third Congressional District and, during his primary run, was largely associated with the Tea Party, and then became a founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. I first became acquainted with him and very aware of his work, in 2013, at the height of the Snowden reporting, when he worked with one of the most liberal members of Congress, John Conyers, also from Michigan, to co-sponsor legislation to severely rain in the NSA domestic spying we had exposed with that report.
There you see the Foreign Policy article on that incident entitled “How Nancy Pelosi Saved the Surveillance Program” as it wrote “a bill that commanded massive bipartisan support” and it was poised to pass this bill that Conyers and Amash sponsored until President Obama convinced Nancy Pelosi to whip enough Democrats to vote no, which she succeeded in doing, killing the prospect for reform, an incident we're about to discuss.
Despite his conservative credentials, or actually because of them, Amash was an outspoken critic of the Trump administration as much as he is now of the Biden administration. And in his last term in Congress, he left the Republican Party to become the first ever sitting congressman to be a member of the Libertarian Party. I have not always agreed with Amash over the years, nor I'm sure has he agreed with me, but I've always found him one of the most consistent, principled, and honest voices in our politics. He has a lot to say about the current Speaker drama, and I'm delighted to speak with him, and we're about to do that right now.
G.G.: Congressman, thanks so much for taking the time to join us. I'm thrilled to have you here for your debut appearance. Not going to be your last System Update.
J.A.: Hey, Glenn. Thanks for having me.
G.G.: Absolutely. So let me just begin, before we get into the substance of what's really interesting about this, with a question that might seem a little bit like punditry and horse race-ish, but I actually just need to ask it for disclosure. I think people are aware now that there's no technical requirement that the Speaker of the House be a member, currently of Congress. You are not a current member of Congress, but I've heard your name tossed around as a potential consensus vote to be Speaker. Do you consider yourself a candidate for Speaker? Have you had conversations with members of Congress about that possibility?
J.A.: I've had lots of conversations with members. I don't really consider myself a candidate yet because I think we're too early in the process. I know people have been saying this is really chaotic and all this other stuff. This is democracy. This is how it's supposed to work. This is how representative government works. My expectation all along was that we might go for many, many rounds -- and at some point we may get to the point where they say to themselves, ‘yeah, we'd like to have some other kind of candidate outside of this process,’ outside of the members of Congress who are there right now and outside of the two parties.
G.G.: You're somebody who served with Kevin McCarthy in the House and therefore have a particular insight into him that people who haven't served with him can't possibly have. Whatever else is true, what's amazing to me about this debate is that I've never heard anybody ever talk about Kevin McCarthy as some sort of an inspiring or extraordinary political figure without whose rise to leadership we cannot possibly survive, even though that now is sort of the narrative that's being constructed. What can you tell us about Kevin McCarthy as a member of Congress, as a potential leader, having worked within Congress when he was there?
J.A.: I'd say what describes him best is that he's very transactional. He will be your best friend if you're with him. He will be your greatest enemy if you're not with him. So, he can be very vindictive and also very nice to people who are his allies. And that's why you get these very different viewpoints about him. You'll see people on the House Floor right now saying, ‘Oh, Kevin McCarthy is the best person. He's so kind’. But these are the people who have mostly been given their positions by Kevin McCarthy. The reason they hold particular committee spots or chairmanships is because of Kevin McCarthy, and, of course, he's been nice to these people who are going along with him all the way in helping boost his prospects. And then the people who say no to him, who say, ‘I disagree with you, Kevin’, or who have been backstabbed or betrayed by Kevin McCarthy at some point, which happens to a lot of people in Congress, sadly, those people obviously are never able to forge a good relationship with him. He's going to be vindictive the whole time, and he's just a very spiteful person.
G.G.: I guess there's this kind of common view that when it comes to people who are going to be Speaker or Party Leader, you maybe need someone, this mindset goes, who is transactional, who's not kind of a true believer in any particular ideology, because those kinds of people can do what they need to do, which is earn the trust of the different ideological camps inside a caucus. They kind of need to be more pragmatic, more willing to give each camp the trust and belief that they're going to be treated fairly because the Speaker's not really a hardcore ideologue. So, on some level, despite that negative assessment, are some of those attributes you're describing in the current iteration of how the Congress works almost a kind of recommendation for the type of person who should need to be a Speaker? What would you say is the profile of what a good Speaker would be?
J.A.: Well, the kind of skills he has are common among people who are currently serving as Speaker but it hasn't worked well at all. Like if you look at Nancy Pelosi, if you look at Paul Ryan, these individuals have concentrated power and, as a result, they've created a whole bunch of tension in Congress that otherwise wouldn't exist. What you really need is a Speaker who's ideological in a particular sense, and that's the Speaker should be ideological about process. Someone who is a purist on process, not necessarily about substantive issues.
And actually, what you want is a Speaker who is not the kind of person who's thinking of themselves as a dealmaker, someone who's going to bring all the coalitions together. If anything, the Speaker needs to be someone who lays back, who says, ‘you guys are going to resolve this, I'm just going to make sure that there are rules in place that provide for the smooth operation of your debate and you guys are going to discover what the outcome is’. What we have way too often in Congress now is a Speaker who says, I have to please this faction, I have to please that faction, I've got to make sure that Mitch McConnell has this, I've got to make sure that Joe Biden has that. And they're thinking about every different faction and they're trying to piece it all together. And so, they go and they build a giant 5000-page bill and then they drop it on everyone and they say, ‘Well, this is the bill. Take it or leave it’. They can't afford to change any of it because they know if they change even one bit of it, some faction that they promised something to is going to be upset. As a result, you have these secret massive bills that are dropped on so many members of Congress who had no participation in it whatsoever.
And what we really want, I think, as American people, in our representative government, is for legislation to be worked out in front of us. We want to see the legislation in front of our eyes, put a bill on the floor, let people amend it, and let people vote yes or no on things. Let bills fail sometimes because they don't have the support. Let people come back. This is the representative process. That's what democracy is about. It's about deliberation and it's about discovery of outcomes. It's not about having the outcomes dictated from the top.
G.G.: I mean, what's so interesting to me is not only is this the prevailing mindset within how the two parties function in the Congress, it seems to be the prevailing mindset about our democracy and establishment circles generally, including in the media and think tanks and kind of everyone who purports to shape opinion, because all we're really seeing so far is about 72 hours’ worth of debate about what seems to me to be a pretty significant question -- who's going to rule the House, who's third in line to be the president?
That's not really the kind of trivial debate that seems like a huge waste of time to take a couple of days to figure out. And yet it seems as though the people who claim so continuously to defend democracy are offended and alarmed that this all isn't pre-scripted and following this very kind of orderly process where everyone does what they're told in advance, but instead is trying to do exactly what you just described. How did that happen? Why is that that people seem so afraid of this kind of disorderly process of democracy, of debate and the like?
J.A.: Well, you nailed it in the intro, by the way. I was listening to that and you nailed the points. People are terrified about democracy. They tell you every day we have to save democracy. Democracy is so important. But when they actually see it in action, they say, ‘Oh, well, maybe not that kind of democracy’. And what I think is increasingly happening is people in the media and some people -- particularly on the left, but it's also true on the right at times-- they think that democracy means whatever outcome they like. So, if it's an outcome they like, they say, ‘Oh, we have democracy’ and if it's an outcome they don't like, ‘Oh, you're against democracy’. They look at these people who are voting against Kevin McCarthy, who don't support Kevin McCarthy, and they're saying, ‘Oh, these people are anti-democracy’. They're trying to stop democracy when actually they're just participating in democracy. Democracy means you can vote for Kevin McCarthy or you can vote for someone else.
I've seen these reporters say things like, “oh, a minority faction is trying to stop Kevin McCarthy’. No, Kevin McCarthy has a majority of the House not voting for him. This is majoritarianism. There's no small minority stopping him. It's the majority of members of Congress not voting for him. How did we get to this place?
I was actually talking to a reporter about this today, who was having a candid conversation with me. And I think it's just the case that a lot of reporters, they're busy, too. They have their own lives and they kind of like the convenience of not having to deal with the so-called messiness of Democracy, where you actually have to go and debate things, and then they have to follow the legislation carefully and figure out who's right and who's wrong. It's a lot easier to say, ‘Well, Nancy Pelosi likes this bill and so does Kevin McCarthy. So, it must be good’. That's the easiest thing for them to say. And then they can write up a piece that says, well, the top Republican and the top Democrat like this thing, so it must be good and anyone who's opposed to it must be bad because, of course, if the people at the top agree with it, that means there's some kind of bipartisan consensus and anyone who's opposed to it is anti-democracy, they're just obstructionists trying to disrupt the whole system -- and can you believe these people who are tearing down our system?
G.G.: You know, I think one of the most amazing and almost humorous examples of this kind of manifestation of this, it became international, was when Italy elected its first female prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, which is something liberals would typically celebrate -- the first female prime minister of this, you know, long time Catholic, paternalistic country. And instead, the narrative became, ‘Oh, Italian democracy just died because Italians went to the polls and voted for the candidate that wasn't preferred by international neo-liberalism’. And I think you're seeing that all the time.
I want to give you one of my hypotheses about why this has happened -- the idea that democracy is actually, while venerated nominally, is not really valued. In fact, it is something regarded as frightening. I'm interested in your view on this – having worked alongside so many liberals and Democrats in Congress for those years – is that they came to regard Donald Trump, not as this candidate, that they oppose the way they say opposed Richard Nixon or Gerald Ford or George W. Bush – but is this a grave and unprecedented threat to American democracy.
They recognize that he actually won that 2016 election in terms of getting the most votes but they came to believe that allowing him and his movement to remain in power posed such a great threat to American democracy -- I'm saying before January 6, before the election denialism -- that we almost can't afford anymore to allow democracy, given where it might lead, and that instead anything that we can do to stop him and his movement, whether it's censorship or authoritarianism, manipulating and deceiving public opinion, is necessary -- and that kind of became a fear of allowing people a little bit too much freedom because they proved that in 2016 they'll make the wrong choice. Do you think that became a big part of the Democratic Party and kind of its liberal adherents?
J.A.: Yeah, I think so. I don't think it's exclusive to the Democratic Party, but I do think it's a big part of what's going on on the left. I often hear people saying to me and they'll sometimes reply on Twitter, as an example, where they will be talking about how there's a broken process in government, how we don't actually have representative government, how only a few people are deciding everything, how members of Congress aren't given time to read bills or to participate in the process. They'll frequently say things like, ‘Well, when we have a Party on the other side of the aisle that is willing to participate genuinely in democracy, then we'll go back to it, then we'll decide’; that they should be able to offer amendments and read the bills and do the rest of the things that you'd expect from any representative government. And my response is always: Well, then you don't believe in representative government.
The idea of democracy and representative government is that people with very different opinions and sometimes people who you think are threats or you think are really bad for the country are going to have a political voice and you're going to compete with them, with the public. You're going to go out there and say, ‘These are my ideas’, and they're going to say, ‘These are my ideas’, and you will compete for public opinion. And that's the way it's supposed to work. Our Constitution, thankfully, has lots of protections to prevent either of these groups, whether it's people on the right or the left, from violating our rights. So, we built this Constitution with minority protections, but we have generally a majoritarian system, and everyone is allowed to participate and present their views. And if people don't like it, they don't vote for it. That's the way it's supposed to work.
G.G.: Yeah, I don't really remember these glory days when Democrats thought of the Republican Party “Well, they're people I don't really agree with, but at least they're responsible members of the political process”. I remember lots of people calling George Bush and Dick Cheney Hitler, and Nazis, back in the day.
There has been this kind of structural change in how Congress operates. Could you talk a little bit about what that means for the average member of Congress?
J.A.: Yeah, that's absolutely true. When I entered Congress, in 2011, we had hundreds of amendments that were freely offered on the House Floor. In other words, I could go to the House Floor during the appropriations process: these are the spending bills we were working on -- and I could offer an amendment. Regardless of what the Speaker of the House thought about my amendment or what anyone in my Party thought about my amendment. If I offered my amendment at the right point in the reading of the bill and it was germane to the bill, I was going to get a vote on that amendment. Now, if it's an amendment that only I like, I might only get one vote on it. It might just be me. But I would still get a vote on that amendment. And I was able to participate that way.
Of course, I didn't offer any amendments that only got one vote. We usually got a lot of votes and sometimes passed amendments on the House Floor. Over time -- we saw it start under Paul Ryan, especially -- things started to get completely shut down. In fact, Paul Ryan had the first full term of Congress where not a single amendment was freely offered from the House Floor, where nobody during the entire two-year term came to the House Floor and offered an amendment, freely. In other words, they could offer amendments to the Rules Committee, it would be screened. I know it gets a little bit complicated. But you can offer amendments sometimes to the Rules Committee -- those amendments might get screened, and then they might get allowed on the Floor…
G.G.: Or they might not though.
J.A.: Or they might not. More often would not. But they could. But over time, you have this system where fewer and fewer amendments are allowed, and eventually no amendments from the floor. And Nancy Pelosi served as Speaker for four years and didn't allow any amendments to be freely offered from the floor. Totally anti-democratic, and totally against representative government. And it was a completely top-down system. And yet I still hear Democrats a lot of times defending her and saying, well, she's so great and she did wonderful things. I think you should be as critical… if you're critical of Paul Ryan, you should be critical of Nancy Pelosi. They both shut down the entire system.
As a result, and you touched on this before, members of Congress have become performance artists because they don't have anything else to do. What do you expect them to do if they can't participate in the legislative process? They've just become mascots in this sense, right? They're mascots for people back home. Well, this is our person who's going there and presenting our views on Twitter or social media, or on TV. That's all they do. They don't participate in legislation. So don't be surprised. And they're going to go out there and basically serve in the same format that a lot of other commentators might serve. You know, they're not going to be any different. They're going to be public opinion personalities. And that's what we have as Congress at this point.
G.G.: So, I think, this idea that 1700-page spending bills or other National Defense authorization bills just get dropped on members of Congress with no time possibly to read them -- even if they decided they wanted to, which most of them aren't interested in doing anyway -- that's just inherently crazy, a crazy way to run government. It's also kind of fraudulent to say, ‘Oh, here are your nice members of Congress that you've elected who make the decisions’ and, in reality, they're voting for bills that are decided without any of their participation and that they're not even reading. I think one of the reasons that doesn’t cause more anguish -- or anger or despair -- is this almost implicit sense that the United States government is so gigantic, that it manages so many different industries -- not just on American soil, but all over the world -- that it basically wouldn't be functional. You can't really run it, if you actually allow democracy, that you kind of need this authoritarianism, where power is centralized in the handful of just two or three people, otherwise, as these journalists are now saying, you get anarchy and chaos. Is there anything to that?
J.A.: No. I think that if you actually focused on the big issues that matter to the American people, if you had a bill that you know is important to a lot of people at home, you put it on the Floor, you work on it for several weeks, you allow people to offer their amendments. I believe you actually resolve a lot of these issues faster, not slower. Now, they may not be resolved to the liking of the D.C. establishment. They may not be resolved to the liking of Kevin McCarthy or Nancy Pelosi or Biden or Trump or whoever is in charge.
But they will be resolved. What a lot of people in power won't accept is that it will be resolved in a way that they don't like. It's not about not getting through the issue. We'll get through the issue. But they won't necessarily like the result, and that scares them. So, they want to tell people, ‘Oh, it can't function any other way. It has to function this way. If we don't do it this way, the whole thing falls apart’. But what they're really saying to people is they don't believe in democracy. And if it's true, if it were even true, that we can't function in any other way, then, maybe that means we should do a better job devolving power to the states and local governments, as our Constitution instructs us to, instead of having everything done at the federal level -- maybe it's an argument against all of the things they say we have to do, putting it all in there. Maybe the founders were wise in that sense, and I believe they absolutely were, in devolving power and letting people decide things closer to home, instead of having every issue decided in Washington.
G.G.: Yeah, and maybe a good reason why it's worth taking a few days to kind of bring into the public light for the first time, one of the first times in a long time, how Congress is actually running and the reasons why it might not be so functional and need some change, which I think is most of what is going on.
Let me just shift gears a little bit in the time we have left. One of the things I touched on at the beginning of the show was this kind of mythology that we have two political parties who can never agree on anything. They're constantly at each other's throats. They have radically different views, not just on a few issues, which is true, but on basically everything. And yet, here you are painting this picture of kind of backroom politics where the leaders of both parties get together and very smoothly or, at least, effectively, work things out, not with the representatives of Congress or with the public, but maybe with lobbyists and people who run the backrooms of Congress. I want to ask you about that specific example I referenced, about the bill you put forward together with John Conyers.
J.A.: Well, this is just the normal thing to do. Like, I want to stop the surveillance state. So, what do I do? I just go talk to leading Democrats who care about it as well, John Conyers was a top official on Judiciary, so I said, he's the guy to go to. Let's work together. To me, it all seemed totally normal. And to my surprise, once we started to build this coalition, everyone was like ‘What are you doing?’ Like, ’We've never seen anything like this. We've never seen a coalition built like this’. What happened is we scared the crap out of the leaders of the two parties.
So, you had Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner -- and they had to act quickly and very harshly to try to stop us -- so, they would put out statements that were false. Both Republicans and Democrats were putting out these false statements about what our amendment would do, how we would be, you know, stopping the surveillance state from violating the rights of Americans. They would always make it sound like we are standing with terrorists; we're trying to harm the American people; we're going to start some kind of new World War against the American people if we do this. So, it was a big battle.
And what always stands out in my mind is that -- when we finally brought it to the floor, and this is true on many pieces of legislation where we were pushing back against the surveillance state and a whole bunch of other civil liberties violations -- when we bring these things to the floor, what I would consistently see is the leader of the Democrats, who has been Nancy Pelosi over these years, standing on the floor giving a speech against what we were doing, and she'd be joined by the leader of the Republicans, whether it's John Boehner or Paul Ryan or Kevin McCarthy, these people would stand together time and again to say we have to stop this coalition, this potentially majority coalition that we've built. We have to stop them. We have to threaten them. And they would get the president and -- this happened under Obama and Trump.
They get the president to issue veto threats against amendments. I think I might be the only member of Congress who's had President Obama issue a veto threat against my amendment and President Trump issue a veto threat against my amendment. Time and again you'll come to the floor with something that is a coalition product. It could be an amendment that you've developed with Republicans, Democrats or people who are not in alignment, but they come together on one issue and they're trying to bring something up to protect people's rights. And what will happen is the Republican leader and the Democratic leader will get together and they'll do everything they can to stop that thing from passing. That happened to me over and over again. And it was really a sad scene. They would really go out of their way to make it clear they're the ones in charge and nothing that doesn't pass through them is going to get off the floor.
G.G.: So, just that's a perfect sequence into the last question, which is, I presume that if you were a member of the House right now, you would be using your leverage to try and extract concessions to fix some of these systemic problems that people want to dismiss as procedural -- and maybe they are procedural, but that doesn't mean they're not important -- what, say, three or four of the top changes would you be demanding if you were in Kevin McCarthy's office, either offering your yes vote or perhaps to some other leader whom you are more willing to vote for as a concession to get your vote to be for them to be Speaker that would fix some of these problems. One of the kind of three priorities you would have.
J.A.: There's basically nothing I think Kevin McCarthy could offer that I would take. I'm with some of these members who say they can't trust him under any circumstances.
G.G.: That's what I thought. So, it's from this hypothetical person.
J.A.: But I believe that members of Congress need to be able to read all of the legislation. One of the things I would fix is making the legislation readable in the first place. That might mean making it a single-issue bill, no more omnibuses -- you keep everything nice and compact and then make it readable, in the sense of track changes style. Right now, what happens when legislation gets to the floor? You see these bills and they've got a lot of cross-references. You've got to make it more easily readable. You've got to give members of Congress time to read the legislation, and that's something they don't do right now. They'll drop a bill on you and tell you you have to read it and figure it out within an hour or two hours, and then they're going to be voting on it.
Then you have to allow members of Congress to actually offer legislation. So, whether you are Justin Amash or Marjorie Taylor Greene or Ilhan Omar, or anyone in Congress, you should be able to offer amendments. You should be able to get your ideas out there. If the other members of Congress don't agree with you, they can vote against that thing. Right now, we have a totally closed system and members of Congress simply aren't allowed to participate. And I think that's totally unacceptable. We don't have a representative system of government.
G.G.: One of the reasons why I was so excited to have you on tonight was because I knew you were going to shed some light on some of these issues that are hard to apprehend, as a member who's been there. I think one of the things, at least I'm going to take away most, is that -- if you're somebody who wants this kind of fundamental reform that is needed in Congress to make it more responsive and democratic -- you can't elevate somebody who's been part of the problem from the beginning, for many years, namely someone in leadership who's been perfectly fine with the way that it's running and all they want to change is who's at the helm. And that seems to be Kevin McCarthy. So, I hope you're going to continue to participate. I hope you keep showing up at the Capitol, making your name, throwing around more, and at least having these ideas more heard. I think they're really important. I really appreciate your taking the time to share them with us tonight.
J.A.: Thanks, Glenn. I'll keep putting pressure on them.
G.G.: A great thing to hear, and I'm sure you will. Thanks, Justin. Have a great night.
Interview: Matt Stoller
We have two interview segments tonight. The next person that we're going to speak to is one of the nation's most knowledgeable scholars on Big Tech monopoly power, and the use of antitrust laws to combat it. As a result of that work, he's also an expert on the political dynamics prevailing in Washington and in Congress. He's Matt Stoller. He's been on the show once or twice before. He's the author of “Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy”. He's also the director of research at the American Economic Liberties Project.
G.G.: Matt, we're really thrilled you were able to make it tonight. Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to talk to us.
M.S.: Thanks for having me. Where's the sweater?
G.G.: Well, you have the sweater on, and once they told me you had the sweater on, I did a quick costume change, so I didn't look like you -- which is one of my main goals in life.
Let me begin by asking you about a specific example that gives you kind of knowledge into this process, which is one of your main goals and priorities in your work, is that you work hard to get legislation passed that will finally impose some controls on the monopolistic abuses of Big Tech. Right now, there are bills pending in the Senate and the House, at least two in particular that seem to have commanded a great deal of bipartisan support, including, I think, one or two from Amy Klobuchar. While this bill has been pending and while she's been building support and other Republicans have been on board with her building that support as well, that bill has not even yet gotten to the House or rather, the floor of the Senate, in order to get a vote, in exactly the ways that -- I don't know if you heard of the prior guest, Justin Amash -- was complaining about. So, talk about what it is about the process that prevents bills like this -- that have popular support, bipartisan support -- even from getting a vote on the floor.
M.S.: Yeah, you know what? What Justin Amash was saying, there's a lot of merit in what he's saying. We've always had these struggles about how much centralized control you're going to have. But now it's kind of at an extreme. So, you had a series of bills last Congress, which were antitrust bills that would constrain or break up Big Tech -- the details aren't that important -- but if they were, they would allow more competition and, you know, prevent censorship and abuse of smaller companies and so on and so forth. But neither House nor Senate would allow them to come up for a vote on the floor. They went through committees and they got overwhelming support in those committees.
G.G.: Bipartisan support. Overwhelming bipartisan support.
M.S.: Yeah, that's right. They got, you know, 16 to 4 votes in committees like -- there was opposition on both sides too, it was actually one of these weird cross-cutting issues. But the one vote that did get actually passed into law and that was put on the floor got 200 votes from Democrats and 40 votes from Republicans. So, it was a majority because you need 218, but you didn't have a majority of one Party, right? So, neither Party could pass it alone, but together they could. That's very unusual. Another example of that, I think you and I remember this, there was an audit of the Fed that was passed in 2010 during the financial crisis. That was another one that was Democrats and Republicans coming together against the leadership.
G.G.: That was like Rand Paul and Dennis Kucinich kind of joining forces, that kind of the misfits and the outsiders forming a majority for once.
M.S.: Yeah. To be like you're printing trillions of dollars and giving it away, maybe we should be able to have a look at that, you know. “Don't worry, we fixed all of that. There's no more corruption at the Fed and on Wall Street, so it's all fine now.” But the point is that leadership was controlling and suppressing what would have been a very popular issue because you can't oppose that as a politician because your voters would be unhappy with you. I think that's a lot of what you see.
Last session, Nancy Pelosi did put one of these bills on the floor and it did pass but Chuck Schumer kept promising to put the vote on the floor, but then he wouldn’t. And it would have passed, all of them would have passed, if he put them on the floor because the politicians would have been afraid to vote against antitrust bills that were constraining Big Tech. So, what he did is he said, ‘Well, don't worry, I'll put it in this really, really, really big package at the end of the year, which is a must-pass package and it's 1,700 pages and you get your thumbs up and your thumbs down on it, and it's got a lot of different stuff in it’. And so, a member of Congress can just say, ‘Well, I wanted to vote for this. That's why I voted for it -- and this other thing, you know, that you're mad at me for, well, you know, I didn't like that, but I had to vote’. It was just kind of like one big sort of giant thing, that no one never gets held accountable for, these sort of giant bill packages. And it's really bad in terms of being able to see what your representatives are doing and allowing representatives to wield power in a way that they're authorized to do by the voters.
G.G.: Okay. So, this is what I'm starting to find a little bit frustrating. I was a little bit agnostic on the question of Kevin McCarthy because, at first, I was thinking about this being a fight over whether it would be Kevin McCarthy or some other totally colorless, banal establishment figure fulfilling their career’s ambition to be a Speaker of the House. And obviously, these 20 holdouts are being looked upon very unfavorably by most of the establishment that likes things to run smoothly and doesn't like their way of doing business to be questioned or put under a spotlight or be disrupted. They're doing what they typically do, which is they're trying to focus you on the personalities of these people and their motives, you know, “ They’re grandstanders. They just like media attention”, as opposed to all the other members of Congress falling into line who don't like media attention.
But the more I paid attention, the more it kind of seems clear to me that at least a part of their frustration, their genuine frustration and wanting to hold up this process -- is that they get elected members of Congress and they don't actually have any say over anything for the reason that you just said. These gigantic bills get all put together in leadership and then they have to vote yes on it or no. Clearly, that's a broken system by anyone's metric. Members of Congress writing on 800-page bills at the last minute that are given to them, that have a hodgepodge of stuff in it that they have to kind of vote for to keep the government running. So how much of, regardless of what you think of these people or about their ideology is, how much at least sympathy or empathy do you have in this frustration they feel that this system is fundamentally broken -- and they don't want it to continue seamlessly by just elevating one of the members of leadership who has been responsible for it?
M.S.: I think if you look at, you know, we're at a very weird moment in American history because we've had change elections in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2014, 2016, 2018, 2020, 2022 a little bit. People are not happy with how things are working. They keep throwing the bums out so something isn't delivering what the voters want. And I don't think it's just this procedural issue. But this procedural issue does speak to the broad dynamic, which is that Congress is too weak to govern and individual members of Congress are not able to have their say. And now, now you're never going to have a situation where leaders don't have a disproportionate amount of power and that's, you know, seniority matters and you have these committees, that's fine. But, you know, it goes beyond just the issue with leadership.
The committees themselves, we may disagree here, but they don't have the ability to do real investigations, anymore. I mean, you have these anomalies, but this is largely a government and a corporate world where no one in Congress is really looking at them because they don't have the resources and they don't have the ability to issue subpoenas. And that's because leadership has kind of stripped that because they don't want individual committee chairs to have too much authority. So, they've also stripped out a lot of the infrastructure. This is what Newt Gingrich did in the mid-nineties. Congress used to have these ways of thinking.
They had a bunch of scientists and experts that would give them reports and stuff. And whether you agree or disagree on that, now, they just take expertise, except it's from corporate-funded think tanks. And so, they stripped all that stuff out. And when you strip out all of the capacity that Congress has in terms of staff for committees, in terms of the ability to actually have experts you can rely on that are not funded by corporate interests, you have a Congress that cannot act and that is afraid to act -- and that then depends on institutions like the Federal Reserve or Wall Street or the National Security establishment. And so that's really the core of it. We've got to restore the ability of Congress to think, and that means giving individual congressmen -- stopping this kind of infantilization of Congress that's happening -- that I think everybody's kind of frustrated with.
G.G.: You know, I wonder, though, how much of this is Congress's fault, the fact that they're so impotent, like on some level they prefer that because with power comes responsibility and accountability. You know, I mean, if you look, for example, at the design of the Constitution, it was supposed to be we would never go to war unless our representatives in Congress authorized the war by declaring the war, and only then can the president, you know, assemble an army and send troops into battle. The last time Congress declared war was in 1941, for World War II. We've obviously had a few wars despite the lack of authorization since then.
M.S.: “Kinetic actions”...
G.G.: Yeah. Kinetic military, kinetic actions, humanitarian interventions. No wars, though.
The example I always remember is in 2010, I think people have forgotten this, Obama finally got convinced to involve the United States in the NATO regime change war in Libya -- I'm not really sure what Libya had to do with NATO, an alliance of Western European designed to protect Western Europe from Soviet incursion, but whatever, that train has long left the station -- and the Republicans who controlled the House voted against the authorization. They wanted to go on record opposing Obama's war in Libya, and he just ignored it. He went to war anyway, despite not only not having authorization, but the House rejecting it. And so, you can kind of blame Obama because he ignored the House but, in reality, the House had a lot of tools to enforce that: they could have defunded the war, they could have taken him to court, and they really didn't want to.
M.S.: They want a Congress that is firm and aggressive, but they also don't want Congress to be firm and aggressive, and they don't trust a strong government that's coherent and does things. And I think that's the kind of central paradox here. So, yeah, it's true that a lot of people in government -- people in Congress -- obviously it's their fault. As they could sort of stand up. But there's this broader ideological problem where -- I think people haven't -- and I think this is a broad base, I don't think this is just Congress. -- I think we have to decide as a society that we want a government and that we want Congress to actually wield power and really do stuff and really investigate and really structure rules and markets. And we haven't done that yet. I don't think people are comfortable with that idea.
G.G.: I mean, it was supposed to be like an important branch of the government. It's the one closest to us, to our communities. The one we have the greatest proximity to.
So let me ask you as a final question. Despite how demonized these 20 holdouts are, let's say that you, Matt Stoller, were a member of Congress whose vote was needed to make Kevin McCarthy Speaker, and let's say you were ready to vote for him -- or some other equally soulless establishment darling -- in exchange for a few concessions that would fix what you regard as the core systemic problems -- especially ones that would empower individual members of Congress to actually do things as opposed to just being symbols like Justin Amash was saying. What are a few of those things that you would demand as concessions that you think could actually make a significant difference in fixing how Congress operates?
M.S.: Well, I would say that, probably, making sure that subcommittees could issue subpoenas -- I think it would be, it's really important. Congressional oversight is incredibly important and neglected. I mean, you have these things like the January 6 Commission and various, occasionally, things, here and there. But broadly speaking, a baby formula crisis happens and there's just no investigation, right? I would want to see a lot more resources dedicated to investigations. That's kind of where I would sit.
But I think that there are a lot of different ways that would empower individuals because there are a lot of subcommittees in Congress, and you don't have to… you can legislate. And legislating is an important thing to do. But legislating really needs to be preceded by investigations to assess problems and that's really the weakness of Congress right now. They're not assessing problems and really going out and finding things and then coming up with ways to solve them. And that's how you build the moral pressure to do that. So, that's what I would ask for. I think that there are a lot of different procedural things you could argue for. My understanding is -- and this is what Justin Amash says -- the issue with McCarthy is they just don't trust him. And I don't know how you get over that. I mean, if you don't trust someone, how do you give that person huge authority? And I don't have an answer.
G.G.: Absolutely. Well, there you have it, and that story on record coming out strongly in favor of Matt Gaetz and Paul Gosar and the other dissident members of Congress. It's good and courageous for you to do so. Thank you so much, Matt, for taking the time and joining us and shedding some light on this. I appreciate it a lot.
M.S.: Hey, thanks for having me.
G.G.: Yeah. Talk to you soon. Bye.
All right. So that concludes our show for this evening. As always, we will now move to our platform on Locals to have our interactive aftershow, where we'll take your questions and respond to your feedback. or those of you who watched, we hope you'll continue to watch. We'll be back here tomorrow night and every night at 7:00 p.m. EST, exclusively here on Rumble.
Have a great night, everybody.