After four years of radio silence, never once speaking to her home-state press, Darcie Johnston emerged from the dank underbelly of the Trump Administration to give a three-minute interview with WCAX’s Darren Perron. During which a tear or three ran down her copious cheek.
(Trigger Warning: This post is going to be kind of mean. All I can say is, she deserves every bit of it.)
Johnston has just concluded an undistinguished four years as a Trump administration political appointee. She was fairly high up in the Department of Health and Human services. And she was deeply involved in the administration’s disastrous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Perron caught her at a vulnerable time, a few hours after she witnessed Trump’s farewell at Andrews Air Force Base. Yep, she was one of the lucky few hundred at the thinly-attended soiree.
Since her chat with Perron was such a rare event, here’s an annotated transcript of her remarks about her tenure in Washington.
You have to feel a little bit sorry for Deb Billado, chair of the Vermont Republican Party. She’s been working hard for three years now, trying to build a functioning machine out of spare parts and duct tape. But her Trumpian worldview makes her an ineffective advocate for the kind of fiscally conservative, socially moderate organization the VTGOP needs to be.
Now it’s all coming apart, thanks to the January 6 insurrection triggered by President Trump. While Republican Gov. Phil Scott came right out with a call for Trump’s removal from office, Billado issued a statement condemning the violence without mentioning the President at all.
On Tuesday, Billado issued another statement, this one urging people not to take part in a January 17 Statehouse rally in support of Trump. She began, oddly, with this:
It has come to my attention through various vague media reports that there is a rumor of some kind of protest planned at the capitol building in Montpelier this weekend.
One of the features/bugs of Gov. Phil Scott’s twice-weekly Covid-19 briefings is that a lot of reporters beyond The Usual Suspects get to participate. Sometimes this is a good thing; scribes from Vermont’s many local weeklies often ask solid questions.
And then there’s Steve Merrill aka “Steve from the Kingdom” and Guy Page, two hard-core right-wingers known for asking irrelevant questions that go nowhere.
Well, today they outdid themselves. Page brought a QAnon-inspired question to the party, and Merrill tried to provoke an argument with Scott. (Page and Merrill appeared back-to-back near the end of the briefing; Page begins around the 1 hour, 46 minute mark of the video, viewable at the above link.)
For those unfamiliar with the weedier patches of the Vermont media ecosystem, Page is a longtime fixture around the Statehouse and a genuinely nice guy. He used to lobby for nuclear power; now he’s kind of a one-man band of right-wing partisan journalism. He operates a couple of websites and, during legislative sessions, he produces an occasional newsletter.
Merrill is the volunteer host of a little-known and seldom-viewed talk show on NEK-TV, the Kingdom’s community access service. Which is enough to get them on the briefing list.
What follows is their “contribution” to today’s briefing.
Meet Ellie Martin, dedicated Trumper, devout pro-lifer, resident of Underhill, organizer of the CovidCruiser bus that carried 51 Vermonters to the Trump-inspired riot of January 6. Has a passing acquaintance with grammar and spelling. She posted the above message on her Facebook page the day after the Capitol riot.
I’m sure Ellie is a nice person in non-political life. I’ve known people like her, and they’d greet you warmly, be sincerely interested in your problems, bake you a casserole or sincerely offer to pray for you.
But in politics, she’s a nutball inflamed by Trump and far-right media — and by whatever totalitarian impulse lies hidden in many a Christian heart. And if you think “totalitarian” is a stretch, how about this:
That’s the stuff! You think we’re exaggerating the motives of the Capitol storm troopers? You think VTDigger was a little permissive with its article referring to “a friendly mob” and freely quoting from CovidCruiser participants without much of a pushback?
Look, there are always a few crazies willing to believe anything and prepare for The Final Battle. What’s really dangerous is when the “nice people” like Ellie Martin start believing trash like this.
That’s right. Donald Trump, habitual liar, racist, thrice-married cheater, con man, is God’s representative on Earth. Because Jesus just couldn’t cut it with all that “love they neighbor” and “blessed are the poor” weaksauce.
After the jump: More goodies from Ms. Martin’s Facebook page.
A resolution condemning the Capitol riot of January 6 and calling for President Trump’s resignation or removal passed the Vermont House today on a one-sided vote. Seven Days reported the tally as 130 to 6. VTDigger reported 130 to 16. But it was a voice vote, so I’m not sure where the numbers come from. All the “No” votes were cast by Republicans, but represent a small percentage of the GOP caucus.
There was apparently no floor debate. But there was some discussion of the resolution earlier in the day, at a House Republican caucus meeting captured on video. A total of eight lawmakers spoke in opposition, which again calls into question the 130 to 6 tally. Those eight do not include Rutland Rep. Tom Terenzini, who didn’t speak in caucus but opposed the measure as well. I count at least nine “No” votes.
So who are they? Reps. Lisa Hango, Patrick Brennan, Carl Rosenquist, Brian Smith, Lynn Batchelor, Vicky Strong, Mark Higley, Rodney Graham and Terenzini. (Two members, Reps. Bob Helm and Art Peterson, made remarks that did not disclose how they would vote.) We’ll get to their statements after the jump.
Several Republicans voiced strong support for the measure, most notably Reps. Felisha Leffler, Scott Beck, Lynn Dickinson and Scheuermann. Referring to the rioters, Scheuermann said, “What they were doing was appalling. I was ashamed. I thought it critical for us to do this as a body.”
Finally, after five years, we have identified the point where Republicans (well, some of them at least) start feeling a sense of shame.
It took an invasion of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of agitated conspiracy theorists, egged on by our president, to make some Republicans realize that maybe things have gone too far. Notable among their number is a healthy serving of GOP elected officials, from Gov. Phil Scott to House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy to Sen. Corey Parent to former VTGOP executive director Jeffrey Bartley, and I apologize for anyone else I left out. You did the right thing.
It wasn’t anything new for Scott or many other Vermont Republicans, who have never approved of what the president was doing to the party they loved. But for most Republicans, the remorse was extremely belated. They didn’t draw the line at “rapists and murderers,” or “grab them by the pussy,” or his habit of hurling base insults at his political opponents, or the consistent groveling at the feet of Vladimir Putin, or a foreign policy that favored dictators and punished our longstanding allies, or hush money payments to a porn star, or Trump’s refusal to release his financials, or tearing refugee families apart at the border, or otherwise punitive immigration policies, or “good people on both sides,” or the Trump Foundation self-dealing, or the rank nepotism of his administration, or the shameless profiteering at taxpayer expense, or the disastrous response to Hurricane Maria, or his persistent efforts to bend the justice system to his will, or the efforts to get dirt on Joe Biden, or the commission of clearly impeachable offenses, or the revolving door of imcompetent sycophants and ideologues who populated his administration, or the catastophically bad response to Covid-19.
Nope, it took a direct invasion of the Capitol at the instigation of Donald Trump. So it turns out that Republicans aren’t quite completely shame-free after all. Good to know.
The image above says everything that needs to be said about the events of January 6. As former state representative and chief American History fanboy Dylan Giambatista pointed out on Twitter, the guy is carrying a Confederate battle flag past a portrait of Vermont’s own Justin Morrill, stalwart Republican member of Congress from Civil War days. It was an inadvertent middle finger aimed at anyone who has fought to preserve the union.
Congratulations to Vermont’s conservative nutcases, who managed to fill the better part of a bus to Washington, D.C. for Wednesday’s hopeless Trump rally. The above is a screenshot taken from a Facebook video, which shows a bunch of proud right-wingers stuffed into a bus with nary a trace of masks or social distancing.
It’s a 10-hour ride to Washington, a full day of rallying with other anti-maskers, and then a 10-hour ride back to Vermont, trapped in this mobile superspreader. If there’s a single speck of coronavirus on board, they’re all getting the Covid.
I’d just be satisfied with calling them anti-social idiots, but you know, I’m old and have existing conditions that put me at high risk for Covid, so I take this personally. These people are dangerous. I hope to Hell that none of them live anywhere near my neck of the woods. Or near anybody you might care about.
These people will almost certainly come back to Vermont with loads of coronavirus coursing through their veins. It’s probably too much to ask for the bus to be stopped at the state line. But maybe the State Police facial recognition experts could do a close analysis of this video so they can get a headstart on contact tracing. We’re gonna need it.
I wrote previously about this trip, which bore the imprimatur of the Chittenden County Republicans. That’s a great way to make political inroads in Vermont’s most liberal county.
The video was posted by a group I’d never heard of: Vermonters for Vermont, which is a nomenclatural ouroboros if I’ve ever seen one.
I mean, who could pass up a trip to D.C. on a bus full of Trump fanatics, who will presumably not be complying with Covid-19 recommendations on mask wearing and social distancing? Just think: You could have the chance to get Jay Shepard’s spittle on your shirt!
(That’s probably not true. If Shepard is going to D.C., he won’t ride a bus with the plebes. He’ll fly.)
Nice to know that the Chittenden County Republicans are supporting the #TreasonForTrump excursion. They’re right in step with the politics of their county, yes?
The grim details of this Road Trip To Hell And Back: The bus departs Tuesday evening from South Burlington, makes a stop in Rutland, and then heads south on a 10-hour, all-night-long bus trip to Washington, D.C. Travelers are urged to “bring a blanket and pillow” so they can get a good night’s sleep on a freaking bus. They’ll arrive in Washington early Wednesday morning, participate in futile pro-Trump rallies outside the Capitol, and then it’s back on the bus for another 10-hour all-nighter.
Emma Lazarus’ famous poem is often cited as voicing the best impulses of our country. But it’s kind of a double-edged sword: The spirit of generosity is counterbalanced by the implicit message that immigrants are “huddled masses” and “wretched refuse,” which is far from the truth. In fact, immigration —including refugee resettlement — has brought energy, talent, motivation and a propensity for hard work to our country.
Lazarus’ poem makes it seem like an open-door policy is purely a matter of charity. But it’s quite the opposite. The influx of New Americans is, by a long shot, a net positive for our country, our economy and our culture.
Which brings me to this particular moment in Vermont. Donald Trump almost completely closed the doors to immigrants and refugees, which put a halt to Vermont’s efforts to become a destination for New Americans. Joe Biden has promised to loosen restrictions on immigration and refugee settlement, including raising the annual refugee cap from Trump’s 15,000 to 125,000, which is higher than it was in the Obama Administration.
It’s time for Vermont to get in on the ground floor. Gov. Phil Scott has talked of New Americans as a key in growing our economy and easing our demographic crisis. He needs to act in concert with legislative leaders and our Congressional delegation to promote Vermont as an immigrant destination. He needs to consult with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program to determine what we can do to help people move here successfully.
This kind of commitment is far more likely to pay off than any of Scott’s penny-ante ideas for attracting new residents, including the endlessly-touted but marginally effective remote worker grant program.
As promised, my lukewarm takes on the Vermont election results in the customary slash lazy columnist “Winners and Losers” style.
Winner Winner Chicken Dinner: Gov. Phil Scott. Highest vote total in history for any gubernatorial candidate. Rode his adequate handling of the pandemic to a lopsided victory over a game but under-resourced Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. More than half of the Joe Biden voters crossed party lines to elect Scott.
Just to pin that down, Scott unofficially has 248,248 votes while Zuckerman failed to crack six figures. Biden finished with 242,680. Or compare Scott to his Republican ticketmates: Donald Trump took 112,507 votes, Miriam Berry (sacrificial lamb to Peter Welch) 95,763. The voters returned lopsided (and only marginally diminished) Dem/Prog majorities to the Legislature.
Scott also saw the Dems’ chances of overriding his frequent vetoes take a hit, with the loss of a few House seats. Every single seat matters when you’re trying to get to 100. Plus, the Dems and Progs will have to identify new House leadership. A new Speaker needs at least a year to learn the ropes.
If there’s a formula for defeating Phil Scott, the Democrats have yet to identify it. Hell, this year they kinda stopped trying. Which will come back to bite them if Scott makes a run for the next U.S. Senate opening. Successor to Bernie Sanders? There’s some bitter irony for you. (He’d have to relinquish the governorship in 2021 to take on Pat Leahy or [insert Democrat here] in 2022. I don’t see him doing that.)
Losers: Capital-P Progressives and their infrastructure. The good news for the Progs is that they managed to add a seat in the House. Otherwise, 2020 has been a disaster. Tim Ashe bombed out in the LG primary, Zuckerman cratered last night, they lost their two House caucus leaders, Robin Chesnut-Tangerman and Diana Gonzalez*, and Sen. Chris Pearson continues to be the least popular member of the Chittenden delegation.
*Note: After she announced she was stepping away from the Legislature, Gonzalez was replaced by Selene Colburn in the deputy leader role. So it’s incorrect to say that the Progs lost both leaders in the election, although they did lose both during the course of the year.
Until proven otherwise, Bernie Sanders has no coattails. There is no evidence that he can push a Progressive or progressive to victory in Vermont. If he’s building a legacy or a movement that will survive his personal appeal, he ain’t doing it here.
I also have to ask: What exactly does Rights & Democracy accomplish? They spend a lot of money, much of it from Sts. Ben and Jerry, to no visible effect. I see little sign that they’re building a movement that can influence Vermont politics. Or New Hampshire politics, for that matter, since R&D is a twin-state organization. The NH Dems held serve in Congress, but failed to take down Gov. Chris Sununu and are on track for minority status in the NH House and Senate.
I’m sure the progressive Twitterverse will be all over me for this, but look, I’d love to live in a world where we’ve just elected Bernie or (my choice) Elizabeth Warren and we won 55 U.S. Senate seats and we were poised to create the Green Economy and enact universal health care and some serious regulation of the financial sector and court reforms and voting rights protections. But we don’t. And I see no objective evidence to support the notion that there’s an invisible army of progressive voters just waiting for the right “messaging” to get them stampeding to the polls.
After the jump: Room on the Democratic ladder, limited gains for the VTGOP, and more.