“The GOP has completely gone off its rocker, incapable of passing House spending, ranting and raving at AG, cooking up ludicrous and baseless impeachment, unable to greet Zelensky with joint session. This is not normal. This is egregious. You’d think the reporting would reflect it.” – Jennifer Rubin, September 21, “Washington Post”

Indeed, the House Republicans remain unable even to agree to talk about funding the government, let alone actually passing the appropriations bills Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) agreed to four months ago. Right-wing extremists in the House blocked a procedural vote o September 21 over a Pentagon funding bill, keeping what is normally an easily passed bipartisan bill from even reaching the floor for debate.

McCarthy acknowledged to reporters that he is frustrated. “This is a whole new concept of individuals who just want to burn the whole place down. It doesn’t work.”

The extremists do indeed appear unconcerned about the effects of their refusal to fund the government, and since they have the five or six votes they need to sink the measures McCarthy wants to pass with only Republican votes, this handful of representatives are the ones deciding whether the government will shut down.

McCarthy could pass clean funding bills through the House whenever he wishes, but he refuses. To do so would mean working with Democrats, and that would spark a vote to throw him out of the speakership. And so, rather than keep the members in Washington DC, to work on the appropriations bills over the weekend, McCarthy recognized he did not have the votes he needs and sent them home.

The extremists are bolstered by former president Donald Trump, who posted on his social media platform that the Republicans in Congress “can and must defund all aspects of Crooked Joe Biden’s weaponized Government…. This is also the last chance to defund these political prosecutions against me and other Patriots. They failed on the debt limit, but they must not fail now. Use the power of the purse and defend the Country!”

Experts say shutting down the government would not, in fact, end the former president’s legal troubles, but he is actually doing more than that here: he is trying to assert dominance over the country. As Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) said: “Let’s be clear about what the former president is saying here. House Republicans should shut down the government unless the prosecutions against him are shut down. He would deny paychecks to millions of working families & devastate the US economy, all in the service of himself.”

Extremist leader Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) responded to Trump’s statement with his own: “Trump Opposes the Continuing Resolution” to fund the government,” he wrote. “Hold the line.” Ron Filipkowski of MeidasTouch noted: “House Republicans refuse to fund the government to protect Donald Trump.”

Trump’s accusation that President Biden is weaponizing the Justice Department against him and others who tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election is the opposite of what has really happened. Not only has Biden stayed scrupulously out of the Justice Department’s business — leaving in place the Trump-appointed leader of the investigation into Biden’s son Hunter, for example — but also we received more proof on September 20 that it was Trump, not Biden, who weaponized the Justice Department against his enemies.

Nora Dennehy, who abruptly resigned from former special counsel John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, explained in her confirmation hearing to Connecticut’s state supreme court that she quit because Trump’s Department of Justice was tainted by politics. Before joining the probe, she said, “I had been taught and spent my entire career at [the] Department of Justice conducting any investigation in an objective and apolitical manner.”

But Trump and his loyalists expected Durham’s investigation to prove that there was a “deep state” conspiracy against him, and then–attorney general William Barr seemed to be working to support that fantasy, even though there was no evidence of it (as shown by the fact the investigation ultimately fizzled). Barr was, she thought, violating DOJ guidelines in his public comments about the investigation and in his consideration of releasing an interim report before the 2020 election.

“I simply couldn’t be part of it,” Dannehy said. “So I resigned.”

The resistance of the extremists to McCarthy’s leadership is spilling over into foreign affairs as well. Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky was in Washington DC on September 21, where he met with President Biden at the White House and with leaders at the Pentagon, and spoke to a closed-door session for the Senate. But he did not speak to the House of Representatives. While McCarthy met with him privately, the speaker maintained that “we just didn’t have time” for him to address the House.

As part of their demands, House extremists want to cut funding for Ukraine’s defense. This would, of course, work to strengthen Russian president Vladimir Putin’s hand in his war against Ukraine. Earlier this month, former Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan told MSNBC that it is “absolutely essential” to Putin that Trump win back the White House in 2024.

“I think it is Putin’s main lifeline in order to find some way to salvage what has been a debacle in Ukraine for him,” Brennan said. “If Trump is able to return to the White House… Putin could have a like-minded individual that he can work with, detrimental to U.S. interests certainly and detrimental to Western interests overall.” The intelligence community assesses that Putin worked to help Trump in the 2016 and 2020 elections, and is pushing pro-Russia and anti-Ukraine propaganda now.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III assured Zelensky that the U.S. will continue to support Ukraine and work with allies and partners to make sure it has the weapons it needs. Lara Seligman of Politico reported that the Pentagon will continue to fund Ukraine operations even if there is a government shutdown. Military activities deemed crucial to national security can be exempted from being shuttered during a government shutdown.

And also on September 21, 92-year-old Rupert Murdoch announced that he would be stepping down as chair of his media empire, including both Fox Corporation, which includes the Fox News Channel (FNC), and News Corporation, which owns the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, among other newspapers.

In 1996 the Australian-born mogul launched the Fox News Channel with media specialist Roger Ailes, who had packaged Republican presidential nominee Richard Nixon in 1968 by presenting him to audiences in highly scripted television appearances.

The Fox News Channel initially presented news from a conservative viewpoint, but over time its opinion shows, delivered as if they were news, came to dominate the channel. Those shows presented a simple narrative in which Americans — overwhelmingly White and rural — wanted the government to leave them alone but “socialists” who wanted social welfare programs demanded their tax dollars. Isolated in the fantasy world of FNC, its viewers became such fanatic adherents to right-wing politics that FNC wholeheartedly trumpeted Trump’s Big Lie after he lost the 2020 presidential election because viewers turned away from FNC when some of its personalities acknowledged that Biden had won.

Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, said today that “Murdoch created a uniquely destructive force in American democracy and public life, one that ushered in an era of division where racist and post-truth politics thrive.”

Margaret Sullivan, formerly a media critic at the Washington Post, wrote in The Guardian that FNC was “a shameless propaganda outfit, reaping massive profits even as it attacked core democratic values such as tolerance, truth and fair elections.” Murdoch, she wrote, wreaked “untold havoc on American democracy.”

Lee Matz

Letters from an Аmerican is a daily email newsletter written by Heather Cox Richardson, about the history behind today’s politics