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U-Haul Attack Highlights Rising Threats to President
Also: U.S. Treasury could run out of funds as soon as next week, triggering nation's first-ever default, and millionaire CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery gets booed down in Boston over writers' strike.
U-Haul Attack Highlights Rising Threats to President
Post-Jan. 6 violence increasingly targeting the President, lawmakers.
Tree-lined park just in front of White House site of attack.
A U-Haul is not a precision weapon, but it is a deadly one, particularly when being driven by a man threatening to kill the President of the United States.
At around 9:40 p.m. Monday, a young man driving a 26-foot U-Haul “supermover” repeatedly bashed into the security barriers in Lafayette Square, a verdant, seven-acre spread inside the President’s Park in Washington, just footsteps from the White House.
U.S. Secret Service Uniform Division officers rushed to the location of the crash at the 1600 block of H Street Northwest, determining the driver had intentionally charged into the bollards outside Lafayette Park (bollards are short, vertical posts).
A statement from the U.S. National Park Service and Secret Service said the driver, Sai Varshith Kandula, was arrested and charged with assault with a dangerous weapon (the “weapon” appears to be the U-Haul truck), reckless operation of a motor vehicle and “threatening to kill/kidnap/inflict harm on a president, vice president or family member, destruction of federal property and trespassing.”
Upon closer inspection, the man was a teenager from Chesterfield, Missouri, who just graduated from high school last year.
An American, Kandula, 19, did not immediately appear to be on any watch lists or seem to have a serious criminal history. During his arrest, authorities said he climbed out of the truck, waving a Nazi flag and making threatening statements about taking over the government and killing the president.
“There were no injuries to any Secret Service or White House personnel,” said Anthony Guglielmi, spokesman for the Secret Service, adding that the “cause and manner of the crash remain under investigation.”
The truck – the largest-sized vehicle U-Haul has to offer, according to its website – was eventually opened by police via a remote-controlled robot and seemed to be carrying little more than a dolly. No explosives or firearms were found. Video footage from the scene revealed a Nazi flag on the ground, and reports indicated the driver had duct tape, a backpack and a notebook filled with pages of scrawl — his plans going back months.
Kandula made a brief appearance in court Tuesday and was ordered to be held without bond ahead of a hearing Wednesday in federal court.
While the White House said Biden wasn’t in danger at the time of the crash, the incident highlights a very troubling trend toward violence and terrorism in and around the Capitol and the White House, especially since the Jan. 6 insurrection, with threats directed at Biden, Harris and lawmakers across the political spectrum.
Although the nation’s leaders – and especially its presidents – have long had to contend with serious threats, violent political rhetoric has ratcheted up to a fever pitch, with attackers and would-be attackers sometimes traveling hundreds of miles across the country, as Kandula did, to target U.S. leaders, in person.
Violence and Terrorism in the U.S. by Ideology
Aside from Jan. 6, the hammer attack in October on the husband of Democratic House Rep. Nancy Pelosi has perhaps been the most shocking of the many attacks to linger in the public consciousness – remember, both were captured on video – but politically motivated assaults, overall, seem to be getting bolder and, frankly, a lot stranger.
Last year, a man drove from Independence, Kansas, toward Washington to attack Biden, but was intercepted in Maryland by the Secret Service in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel (of course, it had to be a Cracker Barrel).
The man, Scott Merryman, told authorities that God had directed him to travel to Washington to “lop off the head of the serpent in the heart of the nation,” referring to Biden. Merryman, who was carrying a loaded magazine for a .45 and a spotting scope in his backpack, was charged with threatening to assassinate the president with a “fatal head wound,” a threat he also had the presence of mind to post on Twitter.
Merryman stated, according to the complaint, “he had information about the book of Revelation that he was being instructed by God to give to the president.”
Merryman’s mission, he said, according to the filing, was that “he had to deliver a message to President Biden and advise him that people were fed up with the divisiveness in the country and to turn back to God (or go to hell).”
Such anger over national divisiveness is affecting a wide range of public servants, with both Democrats and Republicans reporting death threats.
Exactly one year after the insurrection, in January 2022, a survey asked each member of Congress to indicate whether they had received any death threats since 2020. Of the 147 who responded, 110 said they had. Among them, 77 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Democrats reported receiving death threats in the prior two years.
Threats that cross the line from verbal to physical are considered rare, but this trend requires further examination, as it is not going in the right direction.
America Barreling Toward Default Next Week
U.S. Treasury on track to run out of funds as soon as next Thursday.
If only President Biden could sidestep a debt default as deftly as he dodges killer U-Haul trucks.
Despite a surfeit of chirpy talk of optimistic “tones” in the discussions over the U.S. budget and debt ceiling, negotiations between Biden and GOP congressional leaders and their respective staffs remain at a stalemate.
If anything, it is starting to feel downright uncomfortable that with just a week to go before the U.S. runs out of funds, both sides continue to call the summits “productive” after no substantive progress.
An Oval Office meeting earlier this week resulted in House Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy sounding extra upbeat about his conversations with the president. “I think the tone tonight was better than any other time we’ve had discussions,” he said Monday. “I believe we can get it done.”
He said he and Biden were well aware the deadline is looming, “so I think we’re going to talk every day.”
House Republicans narrowly passed a bill this spring to raise the debt ceiling, but only in exchange for trillions of dollars in spending cuts that are unlikely to pass the Senate or make it past a presidential veto.
That means even if Biden and McCarthy come to a swift agreement, they will still need it to pass both chambers of a deeply divided Congress.
During his remarks, McCarthy insisted he will stand by a hard limit on government spending, telling reporters, “We are not putting anything on the [House] floor that doesn’t spend less than we spent this year.”
That’s going to be a tall order in an environment of runaway inflation.
“We still have some disagreements, but I think we may be able to get where we have to go,” Biden echoed, but noted that any deal would need to get through “both sides” of Congress, which he described as politically split down the middle in both chambers.
He reiterated that both he and McCarthy agree on a few points: defaulting on the nation’s debt is not an option, reducing the nation’s deficit would be beneficial and an understanding that they must come to a bipartisan agreement.
So far, Biden’s suggestions to close tax loopholes for the wealthy as a way of increasing government revenue has been branded a non-starter by congressional Republicans, while Democrats have objected to GOP spending cuts that could risk benefits to veterans, healthcare, education and other key programs.
The U.S. has already reached its debt limit of $31.4 trillion. With the clock running down, is not entirely clear that it is not too late right now to hammer out a deal. Tuesday afternoon, as White House staff grimly filed out of the Capitol building following more talks, Shalanda Young, director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, was asked if the discussions would continue into the night. “That’s a good one,” she responded drily.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sounded her most dire warning yet in a letter Monday, stating it is “highly likely” the country will no longer be able to pay its bills if Congress doesn’t vote to raise or suspend the debt limit as early as June 1 – that’s Thursday of next week.
Yellen reminded lawmakers that past debt ceiling fights have damaged the nation’s standing and that waiting until the last minute “can cause serious harm to business and consumer confidence, raise short-term borrowing costs for taxpayers, and negatively impact the credit rating of the United States.”
Treasury’s borrowing costs have already spiked for securities maturing in early June. “If Congress fails to increase the debt limit,” she said, “it would cause severe hardship to American families, harm our global leadership position and raise questions about our ability to defend our national security interests.”
As of this writing, the path to avoiding a default seems narrow, if not nonexistent. For Biden and McCarthy, any solution must win over the majority of Republicans — some of whom have never before voted to raise a debt ceiling — while also gaining enough support from Democrats to pass.
Asked what it would take to overcome the impasse this week, McCarthy responded simply, “June 1.”
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO Zaslav gets shouted down by students during Boston University speech.
Writers’ Strike Just Tip of Iceberg?
How big media seeks to wield influence is very much worth watching.
All month, the writers’ strike has raged, with screenwriters railing against Hollywood companies for refusing to pay them a living wage.
As part of their demands, writers are insisting on structural changes to how media companies like Netflix handle compensating them amid the proliferation of streaming services and series’ expansion overseas. (For a full rundown of the strike, check out the write-up from Power Corridor’s parent company, The Daily Upside.)
This past weekend offered a rare chance to take the battle directly to the doorstep of a media boss: David Zaslav, the multimillionaire chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery. He appeared at Boston University’s 150th graduation ceremony to give its commencement speech (unclear who wrote the speech, as his writers are all on strike).
As Zaslav stepped forward to receive an honorary doctorate from the university, he was wildly jeered by students shouting, “Pay your writers!”
When he sought to deliver remarks imparting sagely wisdom on how to succeed, protesters flashed expletive-laden signs, drowning him out with boos and chants for him to go home.
At one point in the speech, he noted the importance of mentors and getting along well with others. “If you want to be successful, you’re going to have to figure out how to get along with everyone, and that includes difficult people. Some people will be looking for a fight,” he said, to a sharp ramp-up of shrill screaming as he spoke the word “fight.”
Overhead, a small aircraft flew a banner that read, “David Zaslav – Pay Your Writers.”
Writers in New York and Los Angeles have been on strike since May 2, after spending six weeks negotiating, in vain, with Disney and Warner Brothers Studios, Netflix, Amazon, Apple, NBC Universal Paramount and Sony, which comprise the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
Zaslav’s optics issues have not been limited to just the writers’ strike. His company, which also owns television news network CNN, caught flak for hosting a town hall appearance featuring former president Donald Trump on May 10, where Trump reiterated the 2020 U.S. election was rigged, among other highly controversial and untruthful statements.
Trump’s appearance led to widespread public backlash, as well as from some of CNN’s top anchors, such as Christiane Amanpour. She spoke at Columbia Journalism School’s commencement this month, explaining that she strongly disagreed with CNN’s decision to host Trump in a town hall format, calling it an “earthquake.”
Amid the fallout, Zaslav encouraged Republicans to continue to appear on CNN, saying “Republicans are back on the air,” noting he encouraged GOP politicians to appear on the network to improve their showing at the ballot box.
Zaslav’s company is the product of a $43 billion merger last year, where AT&T’s WarnerMedia, CNN, HBO and the Warner Brothers film studio combined with Discovery’s lifestyle and reality entertainment and programming.
How Zaslav handles the next part of his ascent will be noteworthy, especially as he was not speaking idly about his mentors. One of Zaslav’s top backers – and paymasters – is John Malone, a prominent member of the board of the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery behemoth.
Perhaps more importantly, Malone is the libertarian billionaire chairman of Liberty Media Corp., one of the world’s biggest television and broadband companies. And he has made no secret of the fact he wants to remake media brands such as CNN.
In the lead-up to the Warner Bros. Discovery deal, Malone said in an interview that he thought Fox News had an “interesting trajectory” with “some actual journalism embedded in a program schedule of all opinions.”
Discussing CNN, he said, “I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with, and actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing.”
Zaslav and Malone have a long and enduring history together. It is worth watching how Zaslav not only handles the writers’ strike, but also what appears to be the revamp of CNN.