Letters From an American

Heather Cox Richardson: A Bat-Fax Kind of Day

President Biden went about the business of being president.

Heather Cox Richardson: A Bat-Fax Kind of Day

White House Flickr

February 23, 2021

Someone asked me today why former president Trump seems still to get more news coverage than President Biden. My answer was that Trump is still a powerful force and explodes into the news because he is so unpredictable, while Biden is behaving like presidents always did before Trump, holding meetings and letting Congress get on with its own business, which is much less immediately newsworthy for all that it matters in the longer term.

I am reminded of the 2012 Calvin and Hobbes cartoon by Bill Watterson in which Calvin wonders why comic book superheroes don’t go after more realistic bad guys. “Yeah,” Hobbes answers. “The superhero could attend council meetings and write letters to the editor, and stuff…. ‘Quick! To the bat-fax!’”

“Hmm…” Calvin answers. “I think I see the problem.”

Today was a bat-fax kind of day.

The Senate committees on rules and homeland security today organized into a joint session to hear testimony about what happened on January 6, the day of the deadly insurrection in which rioters attacked the U.S. Capitol to stop the counting of electoral votes that would make Democrat Joe Biden president. The testimony told us mostly that what happened that day is still contested. Former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund and former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving disagreed about what happened when, and on what they said about deploying the National Guard.

Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO), who encouraged the rioters by their willingness to challenge the counting of the certified ballots, questioned the law enforcement officials about their actions during the insurrection. While Cruz drew criticism for scrolling through his phone during opening testimony, Hawley drew attention by appearing to refer to himself when he said that suggestions that Capitol Police leadership were “complicit” in the insurrection were “disrespectful” and “really quite shocking.”

The only firm information that came out of the hearing was that Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) used his time to read into the record an account of the January 6 insurrection that laid blame for the violence not on right-wing supporters of former president Trump, but on “provocateurs” and “fake Trump protesters.” The account came from a far-right website. Johnson is trying to convince Americans that, contrary to what our eyes and the testimony of the rioters tell us, the attack on our government came not from Trump supporters but from the left. It is a lie, and it is worth questioning why Johnson feels that lie is important to read into the Congressional Record.

The Senate, meanwhile, voted to confirm Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the United States ambassador to the United Nations by a vote of 78 to 21. The no votes were all Republicans, prompting conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin to tweet: “[T]hat 20 Rs could oppose diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield—an African American woman with decades of career experience tells you just how extreme and beyond reason these people are.” Thomas-Greenfield served in the Foreign Service from 1982 and was the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 2013 to 2017, when she was fired by the Trump administration as part of a general purge. Just next week, on March 1, Thomas-Greenfield will assume the leadership of the U.N. Security Council, the top decision-making body for the organization.

President Biden had his first bilateral meeting today with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, and Biden made it a point to say it was his first bilateral meeting. Both leaders focused on democratic values, ending racism, and addressing climate change. Biden expressed American support for the release of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been held for two years by the Chinese government. The men were accused without evidence of being spies, likely in retaliation for Canada’s decision to detain Meng Wanzhou, a Chinese technology executive, at the request of American prosecutors.

Biden’s meeting with Trudeau emphasized that American foreign policy will return to its traditional alliances. Trudeau thanked Biden for “stepping up in such a big way in tackling climate change.”

“U.S. leadership has been sorely missed over the past years,” Trudeau said.

We are pleased to be presenting daily posts from Heather Cox Richardson’s “Letters From an American” email newsletter. You can sign up to receive it in your inbox here.

Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter Letters from an American. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.