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Jim Jordan Is Going to Parade RFK Jr. Around Congress to Fight ‘Censorship’
Plus: Michigan’s newest Republican congressman backs the candidate he said ‘can’t be trusted’
Good afternoon and welcome to Press Pass, The Bulwark’s twice-weekly newsletter on Congress, campaigns, and how politics plays out in our nation’s capital. Programming note: Tonight at 6 p.m. EDT, you can catch Jonathan V. Last, Tim Miller, and Will Saletan reacting to CNN’s Ron DeSantis interview and the latest indictment news. Exclusively for Bulwark+ members.
Today’s Press Pass examines an upcoming hearing that will feature anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist and insurgent Democratic candidate for president Robert F. Kennedy Jr. His campaign has sparked enthusiasm primarily among cranks and Republicans with ulterior motives, so he stands to gain a lot from being paraded through Congress this week. Also, Trump landed a major win by securing the endorsement of the entire Republican Michigan delegation to Congress, including one representative who had to swallow not just his pride, but his entire soul. All that and more below.
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Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign to push President Joe Biden out in the primary and become the Democratic nominee for president in 2024 seems to be attracting a lot of attention and support. Unfortunately for Kennedy—or at least for his chances of becoming the nominee of that party—many of his new supporters appear to be Republicans who want to use him to make Democrats look bad.
Last week, the New York Post revealed Kennedy told guests at a campaign dinner a bizarre, racist, and antisemitic whopper: that “Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese” are less prone to contracting COVID-19 than “caucasians and black people” because the latter groups are the ones the virus was “targeted to attack.” (Although he brought up COVID in the context of his own remarks on the alleged development of “ethnically targeted bioweapons,” Kennedy professed uncertainty on the question of whether COVID itself was such a human-engineered weapon, or if nature itself was to blame for the supposed ethnic targeting.)
The fact that there is a complete video of these remarks didn’t stop Kennedy from condemning the Post reporter for engaging in manipulation “to discredit me as a crank—and by association, to discredit revelations of genuine corruption and collusion.” Kennedy’s campaign also touted a column from Breitbart editor Joel Pollak defending him. (If you’re not sure where you’ve heard of Pollak before, it might be from his defense of Roy Moore’s sexual relationships with teenagers.)
This led to widespread condemnation and pushback, including from Kennedy’s own family members. His sister, Kerry Kennedy, issued a statement through the human rights organization named for their father:
I strongly condemn my brother's deplorable and untruthful remarks last week about Covid being engineered for ethnic targeting. His statements do not represent what I believe or what Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights stand for, with our 50+-year track record of protecting rights and standing against racism and all forms of discrimination.
Later on Monday, Kennedy’s nephew, former congressman Joe Kennedy III, condemned his comments as “hurtful and wrong.”
But Kennedy is not without supporters and defenders, and if it seems like most of them are coming from a certain political corner, it’s because that’s exactly what’s happening.
The plurality of Kennedy’s maximum contribution donations are coming from Republicans, many of his media appearances are in the conservative space, and he’s about to receive his biggest megaphone yet—from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
This Thursday, Kennedy is scheduled to testify at a hearing hosted by the House Judiciary Committee’s select subcommittee on the weaponization of the federal government. The stated purpose of the hearing is to examine the Biden administration’s “role in censoring Americans, the Missouri v. Biden case, and Big Tech's collusion with out-of-control government agencies to silence speech.” Kennedy will be speaking alongside Breitbart politics editor Emma-Jo Morris and Louisiana Special Assistant Attorney General D. John Sauer, who is accusing the Biden administration of colluding with social media companies to suppress speech.
Naturally, many are upset that a congressional committee plans to give a mic and an audience to an antisemitic conspiracy theorist. But the line Republicans are taking is that Kennedy must testify, for the good of the Constitution.
“I don’t agree with what he said but we’re not gonna censor him,” Jordan told reporters on Monday. “That’s what Democrats do.” This is not true, though. House Republicans absolutely take action against lawmakers for things they’ve said, as evidenced by the removal of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this year for her past antisemitic comments.
Speaking of antisemitism: On Monday, after condemning purportedly antisemitic remarks critical of Israel by a Democratic representative and calling for Democrats to take “action against their own,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy executed a sharp pivot and told reporters that while he disagrees “with everything [Kennedy] said,” it would be wrong to disinvite him from appearing at the hearing:
The hearing that we have this week is about censorship. I don't think censoring somebody is actually the answer here. I think if you're gonna look at censorship in America, your first action is to censor him? Probably plays into some of the problems we have.
Republicans have shown consistent message discipline on the issue, framing any potential disinvitation as a hypocritical attempt at “censorship.” But by keeping Kennedy on the hearing schedule, they’re not simply defending his constitutional right to speak: They’re handing him a microphone, pointing an array of cameras at him, and entering his words into the Congressional Record.
When I spoke to Rep. Dan Goldman of New York, one of the Democrats on the subcommittee, he described the situation in blunt terms:
This is an individual who has repeatedly espoused antisemitic and anti-Asian conspiracy theories, and an official committee of the Congress is not a platform that should be used for him to perpetuate these unfounded and baseless and discriminatory views. . . .
I find it consistent with the Republicans’ misunderstanding of the concept of censorship. The speaker has said that disinviting him would be censoring him. He is of course free to make whatever statements he wants, wherever he wants. But he does not have a right to be a witness in the United States Congress, and by allowing him to have the platform of the United States Congress, the Republican party is tacitly promoting his views, which are very hurtful and dangerous, especially to Jewish and Asian communities.
But Goldman can’t change the hearing’s itinerary, so he plans to probe Kennedy to the best of his ability. “Some of it will depend on what he says. I generally take the view that if their witness is in front of them, I’m prepared to question him,” he says.
Jordan will likely want Republicans to avoid leading Kennedy into a discussion of his beliefs regarding the specific ethnicities the COVID-19 virus may be favoring or singling out.
“We’re gonna talk about the fact that Democrats tried to censor this guy on the third day of the [Biden] administration,” Jordan added. “They sent an email to Twitter saying, ‘Take down this tweet ASAP’ We’re gonna talk about that kind of stuff.”
But Kennedy wants to defend himself, and Jordan may not have a say in which lines of reasoning his guest pursues. It could get hot in there. Tune in on Thursday.
Another joins the “without shame” caucus
The Donald Trump campaign announced its 2024 Michigan Federal Leadership Team last week. This included endorsements from the entire slate of Republican representatives from Michigan, dealing a major blow to Trump's 2024 challengers and further tightening the former president’s grip on his frontrunner position in the primary.
One of the Michigan Republicans to jump on the Trump train is freshman Rep. John James, who finally got to Congress this year after two failed Senate runs in 2018 and 2020. His endorsement is peculiar in light of what he said about Trump in December 2022, after he won his election:
A man who would suspend the Constitution can’t be trusted. Anyone who will put their egos over people is not fit to lead.
James made these comments in response to Trump’s call to terminate the Constitution to reestablish himself as the rightful president. In light of the endorsement, it’s reasonable to think that one of the two men apparently didn’t mean what he said. I’ll let readers decide which.
Correction (July 18, 11 p.m. EDT): An earlier version of this article associated the wrong state with Rep. Ilhan Omar. She represents a district in Minnesota, not Michigan.