Can you remember when Republicans still believed in the free market?
This week brought the latest evidence that the former party of laissez-faire capitalism has reimagined itself in the image of a Soviet State Planning Committee. Republican lawmakers are now telling investors which businesses they can and can’t invest in — and which investment criteria they will be permitted to consider.
The House Oversight Committee staged a hearing to denounce asset managers for using “environmental, social and governance” criteria, or ESG, when making their investments — and to plot ways to stop investors from doing this terrible thing.
“An unelected cabal of global elites are using ESG, a woke economic strategy, to hijack our capitalist system,” declared an overwrought Steve Marshall, Alabama attorney general and one of two GOP expert witnesses at the anti-investor hearing. For those who didn’t understand him the first time, Marshall used the word “elites” 13 times and “woke” 20 times in his opening testimony.
The other GOP witness, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, declared that there exists a “conspiracy” of ESG-minded investors. He was particularly worried that “asset managers who collectively own significant percentages of utilities’ stock are improperly influencing the operations of those utilities.”
Imagine that! The shareholders who own a company are trying to influence its operations! Will nobody rid us of this capitalist menace?
Legislatures in several red states have passed laws, championed by oil, gas and coal companies, that essentially pull state pension funds from investment managers unless they invest in — you guessed it — oil, gas and coal companies. Similar laws bar pension plans from working with investment firms that use ESG standards when deciding whether to invest in companies that trash the planet, abuse their workers or kill their customers. Led by Marshall and Reyes, 25 state attorneys general sued the Biden administration to block a regulation that allows retirement-plan investors to consider ESG standards. The rule doesn’t mandate that investors do so. It merely gives them the option.
The Democrats’ witness, Illinois treasurer Michael Frerichs, called the Republicans’ schemes “anti-free market and anti-investor.” The GOP officials would block asset managers from even considering whether a car company “is aligned with market expectations and preparing for the shift to electric vehicles,” whether a pharmaceutical company “has exposure to massive lawsuits because of its role in the opioid epidemic” or whether “health-care companies understaff their operations and jeopardize the safety of patients.” Said Frerichs: “ESG is simply additional information that investment professionals use to assess risk and return prospects.”
Apparently, a lot of investors agree with him, because the accountancy PwC expects ESG-related assets under management to grow to $33.9 trillion by 2026, or about one-fifth of the worldwide asset-management total. ESG, lamented Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.), “is gaining ground on Wall Street.”
And Republicans are determined to stop the free market — no matter how much it costs.
A study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and a Fed economist, for example, calculated that an anti-ESG law in Texas will cost the state $303 million to $532 million in additional interest annually. The Kansas Public Employees Retirement System said anti-ESG legislation there could cause more than $1 billion in losses from early sale of assets and reduce returns by $3.6 billion over a decade. Public pension systems in Arkansas said an anti-ESG bill there would cause them to lose at least $37 million per year.
In the end, the GOP’s anti-capitalist binge is about culture, not economics. Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) expressed his concern that ESG considerations would work against “certain disfavored groups in our society. People don’t like men. People don’t like people of European background.” ESG investors, he argued, “are the type of people who judge people by where their great-great-grandparents came from.” Other Republicans on the panel used their time to denounce the perceived “woke” wrongs of JPMorgan Chase, Nike, Anheuser-Busch and others.
Frerichs, a Democrat, pointed out the absurdity “of me defending the free market against a Republican legislature trying to have a planned economy mandating what businesses have to invest in.”
But the irony was lost on Comer, who tried to draw a link between his anti-capitalist crusade and his simultaneous attempt to prove wrongdoing by President Biden and his family. “We just had a press conference and showed bank records that showed the Biden family getting millions of dollars from places like China,” he said. “I wonder what types of ESG policies China” has.
China doesn’t have ESG standards, Mr. Chairman. It’s an authoritarian country with a state-run economy. Our free-market economy, which lets investors make choices free of the heavy hand of government, is vastly superior. I remember when Republicans used to think so, too.
When he isn’t laying waste to the capitalist system as a whole, Comer has been trying his all to take down a particular subset of capitalists: those with the surname “Biden.”
The chief Hunter hunter in the House, Comer had for weeks been hyping his investigation into business dealings by Hunter Biden and numerous other Bidens, suggesting that he finally had the goods on “the big guy” himself, President Biden.
“Joe Biden’s going to have a lot of explaining to do,” Comer teased on Fox News on April 11, promising a blockbuster news conference within two weeks. He claimed his subpoenas of bank records had uncovered “influence peddling” at high levels.
A week later, he claimed to have evidence that “10 or 12 Biden family members” were involved in “taking money from our adversaries around the world” and that “these adversaries were getting something in return” from Joe Biden.
On April 23, he told Fox News that he would “very soon” have a news conference at which he would detail the “influence peddling scheme” that he now claimed involved “at least 12” Bidens. Tossing out the words “launder,” “deceive the IRS” and “foreign agent,” he said multiple Bidens should be indicted, and he teased that the president himself might be “compromised.”
Then, on Tuesday, Comer told Fox News that “tomorrow is going to be judgment day for the Biden administration, the Biden White House.”
And so, after a month of hype, Comer and other Oversight Committee Republicans walked into the House television studio Wednesday and revealed … a whole lot of nothing.
He had not presented any evidence of wrongdoing by the president. He hadn’t presented evidence that the elder Biden — “the big guy” — had any involvement in his son Hunter’s businesses. Comer’s months of digging through bank records had found more than $10 million in payments from companies run by foreign nationals that went to Biden family members and business associates and their companies. But Comer produced no evidence that these payments were illegal or that any official government actions were taken in exchange.
The only thing he had to offer was more innuendo. “It would be hard for me to believe” that there was no official quid pro quo, he said, and “we believe that the president has been involved.” Said Comer: “We’re going to continue to look.”
After unwrapping his nothingburger, Comer gave the first question to a friendly reporter from the Murdoch New York Post. But even he sounded skeptical. Comer gave the second question to the Epoch Times, a far-right publication that traffics in conspiracy theories.
The reviews, even from the right, were savage. “I’m not impressed with James Comer’s Biden bombshell,” tweeted former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka.
Geraldo Rivera said Comer and colleagues were “struggling to find direct evidence of criminal conduct or corruption.” He said the investigators need to “put up … or shut up.”
On “Fox & Friends,” Comer got a dressing-down from host Steve Doocy. The charge of influence peddling is “just your suggestion,” he told Comer on Thursday morning. “You don’t actually have any facts to that point. You’ve got some circumstantial evidence. And the other thing is … there’s no evidence that Joe Biden did anything illegally.”
Comer had nothing. “Make no mistake, Joe Biden was involved,” he promised.
Just take his word for it.
On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), another avid Hunter hunter, offered this explanation for the latest failure to produce evidence of wrongdoing: “People that commit criminal acts try not to leave a paper trail.” So the lack of anything incriminating merely proves that the Bidens were very good criminals! “You have to infer these things,” Johnson told Fox Business. “You’re not necessarily going to get necessarily hard proof.”
Of course, if Comer is going to “infer” guilt based on the $10 million in foreign funds received by Biden family members and business associates over 15 years, he would also have to infer that Trump family members, who have received hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign payments since his election, are more guilty by orders of magnitude.
Alternatively, we can all infer that Comer is not very good at this, that Biden hasn’t done anything wrong — or, most likely, both.
Grand juries aren’t generally known for their comic timing, but you’ve got to give credit to the one that just indicted Rep. George Santos.
The jurors, sitting in Central Islip, N.Y., returned their indictment of the Long Island Republican on Tuesday, charging Santos with, among other things, “fraudulent application for and receipt of unemployment benefits.”
The very next day, House Republicans began debate on the House floor of H.R. 1163, the Protecting Taxpayers and Victims of Unemployment Fraud Act.
One of the 35 co-sponsors of the bill? George Anthony Devolder Santos.
“The Protecting Taxpayers and Victims of Unemployment Fraud Act takes much needed overdue action to recover fraudulently paid covid benefits … and prosecute the criminals responsible,” proclaimed the irony-challenged Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
If House Republicans really wanted to take a stand against unemployment fraud, they could expel Santos, who is accused of defrauding taxpayers of almost $25,000 in unemployment benefits during the pandemic while he earned a salary of approximately $120,000. But they need his vote.
Outside the courthouse after his arraignment Wednesday, Santos thanked House Republican leadership for standing by him. “I appreciate leadership for being patient,” he said, telling reporters, “I have to go back and vote tomorrow.”
And that he did. The House passed the unemployment fraud bill Thursday afternoon on a mostly party-line vote. Among the “ayes” was Santos.
There are three weeks to go until the United States defaults on its debt. Let’s check in on where Republican leaders stand.
“The solution to this problem lies with two people, the president of the United States … and the speaker of the House.” — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the White House driveway on May 9.
“That would come down really to Chuck Schumer and the president.” — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the White House driveway, two minutes later.
“Well, you might as well do it [default] now.” — Former president Donald Trump, May 10.