Cicilline at the center of the maelstrom

Posted 1/20/21

When U.S. Rep. David Cicilline's political obituary was being written in 2012, did anyone think he would be at the center of an effort to impeach an embattled president almost a decade later? That sharp contrast reflects a political journey with some

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Cicilline at the center of the maelstrom


When U.S. Rep. David Cicilline’s political obituary was being written in 2012, did anyone think he would be at the center of an effort to impeach an embattled president almost a decade later?

That sharp contrast reflects a political journey with some remarkable twists and turns. Cicilline, 59, has overcome various questions and setbacks while ushering in the post-Buddy Cianci era in Providence, winning a seat in Congress in 2010, going on to scrutinize big tech and now helping lead Democrats’ second impeachment of President Trump.

The Rhode Island congressman’s name appeared prominently on A1 of The New York Times earlier this week – where he also published an op-ed with his rationale for impeachment – and Cicilline remains a familiar face on cable news. There have been low points, too; in 2012, Cicilline apologized for essentially sugar-coating fiscal problems in Providence (he wound up winning re-election to the U.S. House that year by a larger-than-expected margin).

In the current moment, Cicilline’s office has received multiple threats due to his support for impeachment and his Providence home remains under the watch of police, per WPRI, although the congressman is unbowed. Referring to the insurrection at the Capitol, Ciclline wrote in his NYT op-ed, “We cannot let this go unanswered. With each day, Mr. Trump grows more and more desperate. We should not allow him to menace the security of our country for a second longer.”

Looking ahead, the next chapter in Cicilline’s journey remains unclear. Does he remain in the House, with Rhode Island expected to lose one of its two congressional seats? (He lost a recent bid for assistant U.S. speaker, to Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, and Republicans are a threat to regain the chamber in 2022.) Regardless of his next move, Cicilline’s story has the ingredients of what could make for a compelling autobiography.

The Cool Moose’s last laugh

One suspects the late Robert “Cool Moose” Healey would be bemused by how the filling of an impending vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office has become a Full Rhode Island:

1) A growing field of candidates is vying for the pick; 2) Soon to be Gov. Dan McKee said he expects to make the choice, but wouldn’t make a legal challenge if the General Assembly takes it away; 3) Common Cause of RI’s John Marion offered a reminder of how the state Constitution restricts this choice to the gov; 4) cross-chamber rivalries are at play, since the House will be peeved if a senator gets the pick, and vice versa; 5) Politics 101 suggests McKee should pick an LG who would be most simpatico while giving him the best shot of retaining the governor’s office in 2022; 6) given this thicket of stuff, McKee is assembling an advisory panel to vet candidates and make recommendations. The panel will include Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena and Rosa De Castillo, a policy analyst in McKee’s office. Other picks for the panel are expected to be named this week.

Alternative reality

While a Utah liberal is among the many people arrested and charged in connection with the insurrection at the Capitol last week, there’s no evidence to reinforce some conservatives’ claims that Antifa was responsible.

“Antifa went in there, did some, you know, bad stuff, raised the flag for Trump and blamed it on Trump,” Rep. Justin Price (R-Richmond) told me, in perhaps his only interview on the topic. “It’s confirmed.”

A similar view was shared on conservative news sources like Fox News and Newsmax, even though the FBI said there was no basis for Antifa responsibility. Ultimately, the belief in this ill-founded theory seems like a variation of Trump’s false narrative about a stolen election.

“The Antifa narrative, designed to exculpate the Trump supporters who ransacked the Capitol – and also exonerate Trump for encouraging them – has been debunked, yet it persists,” Brian Stelter wrote at CNN. “Another denialist narrative aims to downplay the severity of the attack, even as new evidence to the contrary emerges every day.”

Alternate reality, part II

With polls showing that a large percentage of Republicans believe Trump’s lies about a stolen election, how can public officials restore confidence in voting?

“I think we just need to continue to have a conversation about all the ways in which we protect our elections,” Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea said last week on Political Roundtable. “Clearly, this country needs to have an ongoing conversation about what measures we have in protecting and securing our democracy. It’s about education, making sure that our children and our adults understand how elections happen, how the government comes into power and what are the security measures that we have for that.”

Gorbea points to the absence of widespread fraud in the November 2020 election as proof that relaxed standard for mail ballots do not negatively affect elections.

Are we our own worst enemy?

Back in 1813, Oliver Hazard Perry is said to have uttered, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” Over time, given the human capacity for self-injurious behavior, that morphed (through Walt Kelly’s comic strip Pogo) into, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Now, in the aftermath of the Capitol attack, one question being asked is, “We have met the enemy – is he us?”

The New York Times reported that the mob included notorious white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. Writing at Politico, Jack Shafer said it would be foolish to mock all of the rioters as ignorant buffoons: “Based on the early arrests and news reports from the riot, the Capitol insurrectionists represent a bigger slice of white America than just the low-class knuckle-draggers who rolled in from the sticks on Donald Trump’s command. Many of the protesters and rioters we have met through rap sheets and press accounts are solidly middle class.”

R.P. Eddy, a former counterterrorism official who runs a private intel firm, told NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston that “in hindsight he believes the problem was something he calls ‘the invisible obvious’ – things that sit right in front of us that we don't notice. ‘The reason that they are invisible to us ... gets to our biases,’ he said. ‘The situation here, I’m unfortunately quite sure we’re going to find, that it was very hard for these decision-makers and these analysts to realize that people who look just like them could want to commit this kind of unconstitutional violence and could literally try to and want to kill them.’”

Truth in comics

Bonus: The notion of “We have met the enemy and he is us,” was crafted in the Pogo comic strip, which ran from 1948-1975, created by Walt Kelly. And there’s a story with a Rhode Island connection, involving the character of Simple J. Malarkey.

“At the time, Malarkey’s inspiration, Senator Joseph McCarthy, was at the height of his political power, routinely destroying reputations in the name of rooting out Communism,” Ben Marks wrote in a 2015 article at BoingBoing. “Kelly should have been intimidated, but he mocked the bilious senator from Wisconsin for a year and a half, until one of the newspapers that published Pogo, the Providence Bulletin, threatened to drop the strip if Kelly didn't drop the character. Seizing upon this fresh opportunity for parody, Kelly promptly drew a new Malarkey panel, hiding Malarkey’s face under a sack. ‘I’m afeared us will haf’ta keep these bags over our heads, otherwise that chicken from Providence might recognize us,’ Malarkey confided to a cartoon cohort on October 8, 1954. In the context of the strip, the statement was a reference to a Rhode Island Red named Sis Boombah from the previous day’s comic, but it was also a clever slap at that Rhode Island newspaper that had tried to censor him.”

Watch out for pedestrians

Via news release from AAA Northeast: “Over a 10-year period, the number of pedestrians killed in motor vehicle crashes on America’s roadways increased by a staggering 55 percent, according to a new report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The deaths, from 2009-2018, came after three decades of declines. In Rhode Island, there were 122 pedestrians killed during that ten-year period, as well as 725 in Massachusetts and 439 in Connecticut. California, with just under 7,500, accounted for the most of the 51,000 deaths …. Recently, AAA Northeast recognized the safety record in the town of Barrington, where through the end of 2019, no pedestrian fatalities have taken place in 60 years. ‘This safety record could not have been realized without the department’s vigilance in enforcement, engineering, and a holistic approach to education. For example, the Barrington public schools make traffic safety education a priority from grades K-12,’ said Lloyd Albert,’ a spokeman for AAA Northeast.”

Special election

Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea isn’t concerned by how $400 million in proposed state borrowing will be decided with the typically low turnout of a special election on March 2.

“The results of an election are good, as long as they’re open and transparent election, which is what we’re going to have,” she said on Political Roundtable.

Ian Donnis is the political reporter for The Public’s Radio. He can be reached at For more of his coverage, visit and follow him on Twitter (@IanDon).

Cicilline, politics


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