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Republicans Pledge Response to Trump Indictment
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Republicans Pledge Response to Trump Indictment

Plus: Fangs out for McCarthy, and lawmakers consider patent rules for AI inventions.

Former President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy in January 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Federal prosecutors have indicted former President Donald Trump on charges related to his handling of secret government documents. The indictment, released this afternoon, includes evidence Trump not only retained more than 100 classified documents after he left the presidency—which held information “regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the U.S. and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for a possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack”—but he also tried to avoid returning some of them to the government and showed two of them to people who weren’t authorized to view them, while explicitly noting that he knew he shouldn’t be showing them the documents.

Members of Congress have responded to the news exactly how you’d expect them to.

Before even seeing the allegations in the indictment, House Republicans were sticking with Trump and vowing to fight back. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy called it a “dark day” for the country. And House GOP Whip Tom Emmer described the charges as “the ultimate abuse of power,” adding that the Biden administration will “be held accountable.”

A few GOP members have posted comments since it was published, but rather than shying away from their stances, they have only escalated their rhetoric in defense of Trump.

“We have now reached a war phase,” Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona wrote Friday afternoon. “Eye for an eye.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have thus far have largely argued the indictment demonstrates that no one is above the law. And Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, wrote that Trump brought the charges upon himself by not complying with requests to return classified documents.

The news will dominate the attention of House Republicans next week, as they contemplate how to respond.

Republican committees were already probing the Biden administration’s handling of the case. Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee—whose reaction to the indictment news Thursday night was “God Bless President Trump”—pushed earlier this month to obtain documents detailing the scope of the Justice Department’s investigation into Trump.

But other Republicans are calling for more dramatic measures. On Thursday night, Rep. Mike Collins, a Georgia Republican, floated the idea of abolishing the Department of Justice and the FBI altogether.

Trump is set to appear at a federal courthouse in Miami on Tuesday, where he plans to plead not guilty. You can read more about the case in today’s Morning Dispatch. Today’s Dispatch Politics newsletter has the latest on political reactions to the charges.

McCarthy Faces Pressure From Freedom Caucus Members

Our Tuesday edition of this newsletter didn’t age well. At all. I wrote to you that morning that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy didn’t appear to be in much danger from his right flank. But just a few hours later, members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus ground McCarthy’s agenda to a halt. Now GOP leaders are sniping at each other behind the scenes, raising questions about McCarthy’s job security.

Fueling the historic rebellion on the House floor was frustration over McCarthy’s deal with President Joe Biden to suspend the debt ceiling until January 2025. A band of 11 insurgents tanked a procedural vote known as a “rule,” which sets parameters for debate on legislation. The underlying measure was a messaging bill about gas stoves, meaning the stakes weren’t exactly high for the House’s schedule this week. 

But it was the first time in more than two decades that a rule failed in the House, and McCarthy hasn’t been able to quell the outburst yet. Conservatives kept up their blockade on Wednesday, and GOP leaders sent the House home for the rest of the week while talks continued with the hardliners. Many members are already frustrated they traveled to Washington and back to their districts this week for no reason. 

McCarthy has downplayed the fiasco, but it’s serious: The speaker doesn’t currently have a governing majority in the House. He’ll need one to hold onto the gavel, and members will grow impatient if the standstill lasts much longer.

“This is political incontinence,” Arkansas Republican Steve Womack told reporters. “We are pissing ourselves, and we can’t do anything about it. It’s beyond our control. We can’t help ourselves.”

With such a slim House majority, Republican lawmakers have to be almost entirely unified to advance their agenda. Yet the conference is fractured over the debt limit bill and future spending negotiations. Some argue the debt deal didn’t cut enough spending. They also feel betrayed by McCarthy, saying he went back on promises he made to them in January to become speaker.

Hard-liners want to return to fiscal year 2022 spending levels, more than a $130 billion cut. McCarthy says he didn’t promise to actually pass such cuts into law, just that he would strive to do so. But some of the promises were secret—so no one but McCarthy and his critics know if he’s really holding up his end of the deal.

“I don’t know what the promises were,” Majority Leader Steve Scalise, the second-ranking House Republican, told Punchbowl this week. “I wasn’t part of that. … Whatever they are, [conservatives] feel that the agreements were broken. That’s got to get resolved. Hopefully it does.”

McCarthy said this week that Congress could theoretically pass spending bills for non-defense programs beneath the caps laid out in the debt ceiling law, which largely held spending levels the same as the current fiscal year.

“We can always spend less,” he told reporters. “I’ve always advocated for spending less money.”

But even if that kind of talk assuages his right flank, McCarthy will have the Senate to contend with. Many Republican senators weren’t happy about the debt deal’s modest increase in defense spending, and they worry it will amount to a cut when factoring in inflation. Some discussed the idea of an additional emergency funding bill for other military needs that may not make the cut in a regular spending measure. McCarthy pushed back on that earlier this week, saying senators will have to work within the confines of the debt ceiling agreement.

It’s not clear how they’ll reach consensus. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell this week called the defense spending levels “simply insufficient given the major challenges that our nation faces.”

He told reporters Ukraine will likely need additional defense assistance, and figuring out how to do that is going to be “a challenge.”

“I’m not sure at this point how to fix it,” he said.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Patents?

Smoke from Canadian wildfires made it look and feel a bit like Blade Runner 2049 on the East Coast this week. A slew of recent congressional hearings about artificial intelligence have only added to that vibe. 

With artificial intelligence being used more and more, courts are increasingly looking at thorny legal questions raised by the technology. Who should get patents for inventions made with artificial intelligence? The owners of the AI? The humans who wrote the instructions? Should there be limits on which AI-generated inventions are patentable? Should works of art made with AI qualify for copyright protection? What about human artists whose work was used to train AI models without the artists’ consent?

Some members of Congress think legislation should provide clarity on some of these questions and encourage innovation.

During a hearing in a Senate Judiciary subcommittee this week, Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, argued Congress should amend patent eligibility laws to explicitly allow protection of AI inventions. Members from both parties have noted the potential for AI-developed antibiotics, technology, and other products that could improve people’s lives. They want inventors to base their work in America, not in other countries where patent laws may be more favorable to AI.

“Even if we chose not to participate as a nation, it’s going to happen,” Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, said of artificial intelligence. “The question is whether or not the United States is going to maintain a leadership position in innovation in what I think is one of the most promising spaces for future innovation that we have today.”

He also said he worries courts may not be the best forum to sort out the questions raised by AI.

The Supreme Court earlier this year declined to hear an appeal by a man seeking patents for artificial intelligence inventions, maintaining a lower court decision that patents can be issued only to human inventors. 

Ryan Abbott, a professor of law and health sciences at UCLA, testified before the Senate panel this week that the decision puts the United States at a “major disadvantage” in terms of industrial strategy and international competition. Not allowing patents for AI-created inventions sends a signal that America “does not respect intellectual property rights,” he said.

Abbott wants Congress to prohibit patents from being decided based on how an invention was created. He also argued lawmakers or the administration should consider adopting standard legal definitions for terms including “artificial intelligence,” “AI inventions,” and “AI-assisted inventions,” showing the spectrum of artificial intelligence involvement in an invention.

Laura Sheridan, head of patent policy at Google, testified that current laws support patents for inventions that relied on artificial intelligence as a tool, where humans are still considered the inventors. Sheridan emphasized humans have to design the AI model, analyze its output, and form products based on the output. Because of this, many patents connected to AI will recognize humans as the inventor, sidestepping legal quandaries posed by inventions created entirely by AI.

For now, she said most industry uses of AI are “well within the zone where humans are properly named as the inventors and where AI is leveraged as a tool in the invention process” and doesn’t expect that to change soon.

Sheridan also argued U.S. patent officials may need more resources and training to be able to assess the patentability of AI-related inventions in the future.

Lawmakers have several upcoming hearings on artificial intelligence in the works. Coons, who chairs the subcommittee that held this week’s hearing, said the panel will meet again soon to examine AI and copyright. And next week, a different Senate subcommittee is slated to hold a hearing on artificial intelligence and human rights.

Of Note

Haley Wilt is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.