• Insurrection, the Next Chapter: The Rioters
• Insurrection, the Next Chapter: COVID-19
• Conventional Republicans Push Back Against Trump...
• ...So Does the Sports World
• Wolf Is Out at DHS
• Biden Completes His Cabinet
• Trump Administration Tries to Stymie Biden, but Success May Be Elusive
• Trump Was Warned Not to Self-Pardon
• Parler Sues Amazon
It is now inevitable: Donald Trump will become the first president of the United States to be impeached twice. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) unveiled the final draft of the article of impeachment, and also said she's got the votes to secure passage. The vote will be held Wednesday, and the main drama will center on how many House Republicans will join the Democrats in voting for impeachment (probably not too many, but probably not zero either).
The Democrats almost could not have more political cover than they have at this very moment. As we noted yesterday, 56% of Americans want to see Trump removed from office. When Bill Clinton was impeached, that number never climbed above 40%. Until the bitter end of the Watergate scandal, the number of Americans that wanted Richard Nixon removed was only in the mid-40s. Perhaps even more significant, Trump has now answered the question: Can his approval rating drop below its seeming hard floor of about 38%? And the answer is: Yes, it can. A new poll from Quinnipiac has his approval at a ghastly 33%, a drop of 11 points from their December poll. Again by way of comparison, a week before Nixon resigned, his approval was at 29%.
So the Democrats' decision was pretty easy. The Republicans are the ones who are caught between a rock and a hard place. Some of the non-Trumpy Republicans in the Senate, including Lisa Murkowski (AK), Ben Sasse (NE), and, on Monday, Pat Toomey (PA), have implied that they will vote for conviction when the time comes. Other Republicans, like Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) will undoubtedly vote against impeachment/conviction. But the folks in the mushy middle, the 100 or so representatives/senators who need votes from both Trump's base and from moderates, are currently wishing they could just disappear for the next six months.
Of course, the Republican who is currently under the most pressure is Mike Pence. On one hand, if he invokes the 25th Amendment, his bridge to the Trump wing of the party is forever burned (though it's already badly charred in several places). And if he doesn't invoke, then the blood of anything dangerous that Trump does is on the VP's hands. Reportedly, Pence has not ruled out an invocation of the 25th. There is no doubt that information is coming from Pence, or someone close to him. And what he's doing is saying to the President, loudly and clearly: "I don't want to do this, but if you force my hand, then I will." Fortunately for Pence, and for the nation, Trump appears to be primarily interested these days in lashing out at those who have wronged him, something that is much harder to do without his Twitter account. (Z)
Among the folks who invaded Congress were a number of individuals who aren't exactly the sharpest tools in the shed. Invading one of the key buildings of the federal government, an entity with unlimited resources when it comes to catching perpetrators, was not a great idea. Posing for a bunch of selfies, and then posting them on social media, was a downright bad idea. There is probably a reason it's called QAnon, and not IQAnon.
Anyhow, a sizable number of the perpetrators have already been identified, and several of them, including hat-with-horns guy, feet-on-Pelosi's-desk guy, and lectern-stealing guy, have been arrested and charged. If they are willing to throw Donald Trump under the bus, they might try to defend themselves by telling the court that the president told them to do it. That could actually work, though it would certainly complicate Trump's case when he says "I didn't foment insurrection." Thus far, none of the defendants have tried pointing the finger at the Donald, though they may warm up to the idea once the reality of spending the next decade as a guest of the federal penal system sinks in.
Unfortunately, last week's violence is probably not the end of it. Those responsible are very angry, very well armed, and very radical. They continue to meet and make plans, and they are planning vast armed protests in each of the 50 state capitols and in Washington, D.C. on Inauguration Day. The feds are not interested in a repeat of what happened last week, and so have activated 10,000 National Guard troops with an additional 5,000 a possibility. Further, it's the big boys who are running the show now, with the FBI and the Secret Service both taking leading roles in planning security. So, the odds are that Washington will remain under control, if extremely tense. However, it is entirely possible that violence could break out at one or more of the state capitol protests, or at one of the meetings/demonstrations/rallies being held prior to Inauguration Day. The dynamite is there and the fuse at the ready, just waiting for a spark to set it off.
The President, of course, could take steps to reduce tensions. For example, he could go on TV and ask all of his supporters to keep things peaceful. Alternatively, he could go lay a wreath at the national World War II memorial, and then declare that he wanted to remind everyone that we're all Americans and we're all in this together. However, that is not the choice Trump has made. Instead, he will visit his border fence today, as visible a reminder to his followers as is possible that it's "us vs. them" and only one president is interested in protecting "us." Nothing like a little xenophobia to fan the flames of discontent. (Z)
In case the damage done to democracy last week wasn't enough, the invasion of the Capitol also created the necessary conditions for a superspreader event. Pretty much everyone who works in that building interacts with dozens of other people daily. Meanwhile, some people who work in that building have decided that mask-wearing is for chumps. And then, when the insurrectionists arrived, many members hid out in small, enclosed spaces, with the maskless and masked intermingled.
On Monday, we may have gotten our first insurrection-related COVID-19 diagnosis. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) was wearing a mask, but was crowded into a room with several maskless Republican colleagues, and now she's tested positive. The 75-year-old Representative is being treated, and several of her Democratic colleagues (and their staffs) are now quarantining. All members of Congress have been instructed to get COVID-19 tests, so we should know within a couple of days how bad the damage is. (Z)
There are still plenty of non-Trump Republicans out there, some of them hoping they can reclaim the Party from the Donald and his followers. Maybe, with the Donald's reputation as bad as it's been (which is saying something), they will be successful. In any case, several prominent centrist Republicans made a point this weekend of reminding the world that they're out there, and that they don't like what they saw.
The fellow who is getting the most headlines is actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has always been a liberal Republican in the Rockefeller mold. Unlike some Republicans, he still has access to his Twitter account, and he posted a video that went viral:
My message to my fellow Americans and friends around the world following this week's attack on the Capitol. pic.twitter.com/blOy35LWJ5— Arnold (@Schwarzenegger) January 10, 2021
If you don't want to watch the whole thing, Schwarzenegger—who points out that he's Austrian, and so knows what he's talking about—compares Kristallnacht/The Sturmabteilung to the attack on the Capitol/The Proud Boys. He also slams Donald Trump, calls for the guilty parties (including Trump) to be held accountable, and says that he hopes that surviving this challenge will make America stronger and more unified. The tweet has more than 1.1 million likes, which is better than Trump has ever done. Actually, that's not entirely true. Trump did have one tweet that did better, with 1.9 million likes. However, that tweet was the announcement that he had contracted COVID-19, so we suspect that those likes weren't coming from approving supporters.
In addition to Schwarzenegger, Colin Powell emerged from his retirement this week to sit for an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria. There was a time when Powell was the most popular Republican in the land, and the GOP presidential nomination was his for the asking. But now, he says that because the Republicans supported insurrection, "I can no longer call myself a fellow Republican." He also said that he'd like to see Trump impeached and removed, and that Trump should have been convicted during the first impeachment.
And finally, former Tennessee senator Bob Corker also made the rounds this weekend, claiming vindication, and declaring that he warned people about what kind of person and president Trump is. That is true, although Corker was consistently unwilling to back up that insight with his votes as senator. In any event, he said that his two-year exile from politics is over, and that he might be looking to get back in the game. It's not clear what job he has his eye on, but Tennesseeans will choose a new governor in 2022, and there is a presidential election in 2024, of course.
It is difficult to see how the two wings of the GOP can ever again be reconciled, leading to questions about whether it might split into two parties. We remain skeptical, since neither of those parties would win many elections. That said, the last time the capitol was stormed, Americans' sense that the Federalist Party didn't really object too much served to brand that party as disloyal and to hasten its destruction. They were eventually replaced by the Whigs, though it took more than a decade. So, it's not impossible that the Republican Party could be nearing the end of the line. (Z)
Donald Trump's very first high-profile, embarrassing setback in his career was when he tried to buy an NFL team and was rejected. He then helped start a rival league, the USFL, which—like so many Trump ventures—failed in spectacular fashion. Since that time, he's always had a complex about pro sports, grasping tightly to anything that implies he's part of the "in crowd" and lashing out angrily about anything that suggests otherwise.
Given this, it's no surprise that the President is furious about two different pokes in the eye he just got from the professional sports world. To start, in an early indication that the Trump brand has officially become toxic, the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) yanked the 2022 PGA Championship from the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. The tournament was awarded to the Trump property in 2014; the PGA was ok with Trump the businessman, grew uncomfortable with Trump the president, and is washing its hands of Trump the seditionist. That would have been the first PGA event hosted at a Trump property, but now it's kaput, and they surely won't reverse course in the future.
Meanwhile, Trump is good buddies with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and is pretty good friends with the team's coach, Bill Belichick. And on his way out of the White House, the President planned to award Belichick the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Hard to know what Belichick did to advance the cause of freedom, unless we're talking about the freedom to illegally tape other teams' defensive signals, but there it is. Anyhow, the Donald has even become too hot for the most hated man in the NFL to handle, because on Monday the Coach said "thanks, but no thanks," and that he can no longer move forward with receiving the award from Trump after what happened last week.
Trump has about a week left to award any further medals, if that's what he wants to do. He might want to return to the habit he had early in his term, when he recognized Elvis Presley, Babe Ruth, and Antonin Scalia, among others. It is considerably harder for dead people to publicly refuse the award than it is for live ones. (Z)
Chad Wolf's entire tenure as Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has been a clear violation of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998. First, because he was elevated to the post due to changes in the order of succession implemented by predecessor Kevin McAleenan, whose own promotion to acting secretary was unlawful. Second, because a department may be led by an acting secretary for only 210 days after the actual secretary departs. Kirstjen Nielsen, the last Trump DHS secretary to actually be confirmed by the Senate, resigned more than 210 days before Wolf was elevated. In other words, every single day of his term in office was outside the statutory limit. Three different federal judges have ruled that Wolf was exercising authority unlawfully.
On Monday, Wolf became the latest small rodent to flee a no-longer-seaworthy vessel when he resigned his post. In a statement, he blamed those infernal activist judges for his departure:
Unfortunately, this action is warranted by recent events, including the ongoing and meritless court rulings regarding the validity of my authority as Acting Secretary. These events and concerns increasingly serve to divert attention and resources away from the important work of the Department in this critical time of a transition of power.
That's three different judges, appointed by three different presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama) who apparently conspired against Wolf. And you said there's no deep state!
Needless to say, we do not buy that Wolf suddenly decided that further resistance was futile with just 9 days left in his term. There are two more probable explanations, both of them related to saving face. The first is that Wolf dropped the ball badly, insurrection wise, since he wasn't even in Washington when the rioting began; he was visiting the Middle East. Given that the threats against Congress were made very openly, he probably should have been in town to manage things. Leaving his post won't entirely remove the harsh spotlight that's being aimed in his direction, but it will mitigate it a bit.
The second explanation, and the more significant we would guess, is that the faux Acting Secretary—from his vantage point in Qatar—had the temerity to call on Donald Trump to condemn the violence. Needless to say, when you are a part of the Trump administration, you do not challenge the throne, no matter the circumstances. Literally as the riots were still ongoing, the administration announced that it had withdrawn Wolf's nomination to be the permanent head of DHS. He was never going to be confirmed anyhow, but it's clear that Trump was about to throw Wolf under the bus and to blame him for everything. Wolf clearly decided it was better for his future prospects to just fall on his sword.
For the remaining week or so, the acting DHS secretary will be Pete Gaynor who, at very least, is competent. He'll have to hit the ground running, since his department will need to be fully ready for the inauguration in 8 days. (Z)
Actually, Joe Biden named the last member of his cabinet last week, when he picked Marty Walsh to lead up the Department of Labor. However, he has now filled all of the cabinet-level spots, as well. To start, on Friday of last week, he chose Isabel Guzman to lead the Small Business Administration. She worked in the Obama administration (naturally) as Deputy Chief of Staff to the SBA Administrator, and currently serves as Director of the Office of the Small Business Advocate in California. As you can imagine, the nomination got very little coverage due to more pressing news taking place last week. In any case, she is the first Latina to be named to Biden's upper management team, joining the three Latinos he already picked.
Meanwhile, on Monday, Biden announced that he would nominate William Burns as Director of the CIA. Burns is a career diplomat and not a career intelligence officer, having served as ambassador to Jordan and to Russia, among other postings. He's yet another familiar face for the President-elect, having preceded current Secretary of State-designate Antony Blinken as Deputy Secretary of State, a position that Burns held from 2011 to 2014.
What this means is that Biden has picked no Republicans for his cabinet. At least, he hasn't picked anyone known to be a Republican. There are a couple of folks—Secretary of Defense-designate Lloyd Austin, and AG-designate Merrick Garland—whose careers came in jobs that are supposed to be apolitical. So, they might be closet Republicans, though we doubt it. Also, the notion of poaching a Republican senator appears to be dead, unless Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) or Ron Johnson (R-WI) have unexpected tastes in the jobs that interest them. (Z)
We know that Donald Trump has considerably more interest in score-settling than he does in governance. And so, as he and his team prepare to head for the hills, they are doing what they can to stick it to Joe Biden. That said, Team Trump is well on its way to screwing this up, as they do with pretty much everything.
The latest wrench that Team Trump has tossed in the direction of Team Joe came Monday, when the White House announced that it was adding Cuba to the list of state sponsors of terrorism. This reverses the decision Barack Obama made in 2015 to take Cuba off the list, and also theoretically makes life harder for Biden, since he intends to resume Obama's policy of trying to normalize relations with the Cubans. However, any voter who really and truly cares about this issue (mostly older Cuban expats in Miami) is probably lost to Biden anyhow. So, when the President-elect removes Cuba from the list again, as he surely will, it really won't be all that painful.
To take another example, Trump & Co. tried to make life hard for Biden by opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil-rights bidding. Democrats don't like Big Oil, and they don't like natural resources being despoiled by capitalists, and so this seemed like a win-win for Team Trump. However, the White House—as it so often does—misjudged the situation. There are two major problems. The first is that oil companies took a big hit in 2020, due to the pandemic (and reduced travel), and don't have an appetite for speculative investments like this right now, especially since it takes a massive amount of capital to launch a new drilling operation. The second is that getting a lease from the current administration is all good and well, but there will be massive pushback from the coming administration, and countless lawsuits from various stakeholders, like the indigenous Gwich'in, who live in the area. Speculative investments are bad enough when cash reserves are low, but it's even worse to make a speculative investment and then to have it produce no returns while the lawyers spend half a decade duking it out. And so, the sale of bidding contracts generated virtually no interest, with just two small oil companies purchasing a pair of very limited leases.
Finally, outgoing Trump administration officials have also tried to make life hard for the Biden administration by adopting a bunch of last-minute rules. For example, we had an item recently about EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who adopted a new rule requiring that the agency must take scientific studies into account when making future rules. While this may sound reasonable on the surface, it's something of a boon to corporations, since it is hard to "prove" something like "Chemical X, which was invented in 2018, causes cancer in humans" using scientific studies. After all, it's not ethical to inject a bunch of people with Chemical X, and then see what happens.
So, Wheeler's new rule would have the effect of making it easier to keep Chemical X legal. And getting rid of the new rule could have been tricky, since it might have required convincing a judge (or many judges) that it's a bad rule. However, getting rid of Wheeler's rule (or any new rule adopted in the waning days of the Trump administration) isn't tricky anymore, now that Sens.-elect Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock (both D-GA) have won their seats. The Congressional Review Act gives Congress 60 in-session days (as opposed to calendar days) to kill new rules with a simple majority vote, as long as the president assents. Put another way, it's nice to have the trifecta.
And so, the Trump administration just won't be able to do nearly as much damage as they would like on their way out. They may have to content themselves with removing all the 'J's' and 'B's' from the computer keyboards in the White House. (Z)
Donald Trump has a bit less than a week left to decide if he wants to try to pardon himself. And as he considers his option, we learn that the two most prominent legal advisers in his orbit (at least, until a few weeks ago) told him not to try it. That would be White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and former AG Bill Barr, both of them basing their opinions on a 1974 DoJ memo that declares that self-pardons are not legitimate.
Trump has really created a pickle for himself here. A week ago, he had the option of resigning and then collecting a pardon from President Mike Pence. However, given that their relationship has gone south—which is the kind of thing that will happen when your followers threaten to execute your VP—that option is presumably off the table. Meanwhile, the preeminent federal crime where Trump was exposed was obstruction of justice. That's somewhat abstract for most voters, and so might be tricky for the Biden administration to pursue, politically speaking, giving Trump better odds if he decided to follow Barr's/Cipollone's advice. On the other hand, sedition and incitement of insurrection are about as concrete as it gets, and would be very difficult to overlook.
If Trump does self-pardon, as letter writer J.B. in Bend pointed out this weekend, that would effectively force the Biden administration's hand. And it would be a hard case for Trump to win, once it gets to the Supreme Court, given the well-established legal precept—considerably older than the United States itself—that no man can be his own judge. One can already hear Associate Justice Elena Kagan asking Trump's attorneys: "How come Mr. Trump regards a DoJ memo as sacrosanct when it says 'a sitting president cannot be prosecuted' but sees a DoJ memo as irrelevant when it says 'a president cannot pardon himself'?"
On the other hand, if Trump skips the self-pardon, he is really rolling the dice, because he can't be sure what the feds might go after. Beyond obstruction and insurrection, he could be popped for tax evasion, or emoluments violations, or influence peddling, or half a dozen crimes related to Ukrainepot Dome. Also, Trump tends to do what seems best for him right now, consequences be damned. So, whatever choice he makes won't be much of a surprise. Probably even he doesn't know what he'll do. (Z)
The right-wing app/website/Twitter alternative Parler isn't going down without a fight. Less than 24 hours after Amazon took them offline by denying further access to Amazon's web servers, Parler's lawyers filed suit in federal court, asking for a temporary restraining order on the basis that: (1) Amazon is in violation of antitrust laws, and (2) Amazon did not give 30 days' notice before suspending Parler's account.
This lawsuit pretty much tells us two things. The first is that, if this is the best they can come up with, Parler has no legal leg to stand on. Amazon might be in violation of antitrust laws when it comes to e-commerce, but there are plenty of other hosting providers out there, including Microsoft, Google and hundreds of smaller companies. The argument "We had nowhere else to go" is complete nonsense. The second is that Parler is clearly not having much luck finding an alternative to host its site; if it was it wouldn't need to waste time and money on a Hail Mary lawsuit against a company with pockets that are approximately a million times deeper. Add it up, and the odds are good that Parler is headed the way of the passenger pigeon. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan11 To Impeach or Not to Impeach, That Is the Question
Jan11 Will Big Tech Save Democracy?
Jan11 Will Trump Start His Own Media Empire?
Jan11 Second Republican Senator Says Trump Must Go
Jan11 Dominion Voting Systems Sues Trump Lawyer for $1.3 Billion
Jan11 Biden Can Raise More Revenue without Raising Taxes
Jan11 Reforms That Would Improve Democracy
Jan11 Pennsylvania Senate Race Gets Going
Jan11 Eight Senate Races Could Be Competitive in 2022
Jan10 Sunday Mailbag
Jan09 Impeachment, Part Deux
Jan09 Twitter to Trump: "Bye!"
Jan09 Saturday Q&A
Jan08 Calls for Trump's Removal Are Now Out in the Open
Jan08 Facing Potential Removal, Trump Reads Speech from Teleprompter
Jan08 Electoral College Challenge Could Backfire
Jan08 Is There a Double Standard on Police Response to Protests?
Jan08 Other Fallout from Wednesday's Events
Jan08 Trump Is Working on His Pardon List
Jan08 Pence Will Attend the Inauguration
Jan08 Who Will Run the Senate?
Jan08 How Stable Is Control of the Senate?
Jan08 Bowser Is Hopeful that D.C. Will Become a State
Jan08 Liberals Are Already Pressuring Stephen Breyer to Retire
Jan08 Biden Fills the Last Two Cabinet Positions
Jan08 A Way to Stimulate the Economy and Bypass Congress
Jan07 The Insurrection WILL Be Televised
Jan07 Ossoff Wins
Jan07 It's Garland for AG
Jan07 Reader Predictions
Jan06 Georgia on Everyone's Mind
Jan06 Republicans Plot Their Electoral Vote Challenge Strategy
Jan06 Thanks, Lindsey
Jan06 EPA Administrator Creates Roadblock for Biden
Jan06 Bush Will Attend Biden's Inauguration
Jan06 In the Year 2021, Part II: Our Predictions
Jan05 The GOP Is a House Divided
Jan05 Trump May Have Crossed the Line This Time
Jan05 Trump Is the X Factor in Today's Senate Runoffs
Jan05 About Those Pro-Trump Protests...
Jan05 Trump Wasn't Cheated
Jan05 In The Year 2021, Part I: Pundit Predictions
Jan05 Today's Senate Polls
Jan04 Trump Tries to Blackmail Raffensperger
Jan04 2020 Is not 1876
Jan04 Former Secretaries of Defense: The Election Is Over
Jan04 Congress Convenes
Jan04 Trump Calls the Georgia Senate Races "Illegal and Invalid"
Jan04 Warnock Is Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place