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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Biden Declares War
      •  Biden Slowly Staffs Up
      •  About that Unity...
      •  The Impeachment Dance Continues
      •  Biden Inaugural Address: The Reviews Are In
      •  Turns Out Biden's Was Bigger than Trump's, After All
      •  QAnon Believers Can't Figure out What Went Wrong

Biden Declares War

No, not against Iran, or North Korea, or China. It's the last guy—old whatshisname—who might have done that. Instead, on his first full day in office, Joe Biden declared war on COVID-19. And consistent with that, he signed 11 more executive orders in an effort to combat the pandemic.

The first three pandemic-related XOs, signed on Wednesday, include one that encourages mask-wearing in most of the country and requires it on federal properties, a second that stops the United States' withdrawal from WHO and appoints Anthony Fauci as head of the American delegation, and a third that creates the position of COVID-19 response coordinator. Here's a rundown of the additional XOs added on Thursday:

  1. Invokes the Defense Production Act to accelerate PPE and vaccine production
  2. Instructs FEMA to fully reimburse states for National Guard personnel/emergency supplies
  3. Instructs FEMA to create federal vaccination centers
  4. Creates the Pandemic Testing Board to expand COVID-19 testing capacity
  5. Establishes a program to help develop treatments in response to pandemic threats
  6. Commits resources to the collection and sharing of COVID-19 data
  7. Instructs the Dept. of Education to develop guidelines for safely reopening schools
  8. Instructs OSHA to develop guidelines for emergency standards, and to enforce worker safety requirements
  9. Creates the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to make sure all are treated fairly
  10. Announces support for a "Global Health Security Agenda"
  11. Requires masks in airports, and on most trains, planes, and buses. Visitors to the U.S. must test negative for COVID-19.

In contrast to most of the XOs issued on Wednesday, none of these reversed Trump-era XOs, because the Trump administration basically had no pandemic plan. That is the sort of thing that will happen when: (1) an administration is staffed by people of limited capability, and (2) that administration decides that downplaying/ignoring a pandemic is their best move, politically. Neither of these things is true of the Biden administration, and underscoring the point that there is a new team in town, and one with a plan, Thursday's XOs were supplemented with a 200-page strategic plan for curtailing COVID-19.

Of course, the key to returning to normalcy is vaccination. Unfortunately, on that front, the Trump administration has left the Biden administration in the lurch. Thus far, the federal government has acquired 38 million vaccine doses, of which about half have been administered. That leaves an obvious question: Where are the other 19 million doses? The distribution was handled so haphazardly that, at the moment, the Biden administration doesn't know.

This means that the first item of business for the White House will be to locate those missing vaccine doses. Then, they will have to acquire many, many more. Biden promised 100 million vaccinations by the end of his first 100 days, which is plausible, since Pfizer and Moderna have pledged 200 million total doses by the end of March. However, neither 100 million doses nor 200 million is enough to achieve herd immunity. Further, at the moment, people are lining up to get their vaccines. Eventually, the "easy sells" will all be vaccinated, and then it will be on to the much tougher nuts to crack—those who are anti-vaccine, or who don't have access to a vaccination clinic, or who are in denial about COVID-19. So, although they seem to be off to a good start, Biden & Co. certainly have their work cut out for them. (Z)

Biden Slowly Staffs Up

With the Senate in recess until one day before the inauguration, and with Donald Trump leaving behind a number of well-ensconced loyalists, it will take a while until the Biden administration is fully up and running. That said, progress is being made. Here is a rundown of the major developments of the first 36 hours of the President's term:

  • Biden has his first Cabinet official in place; it's Avril Haines, who was confirmed as Director of National Intelligence about 3 hours after the inauguration. Note that the DNI is not in the line of succession, so if Biden/Kamala Harris/Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)/President Pro Tempore Pat Leahy (D-VT) somehow all shuffle off this mortal coil this morning, then the presidency will devolve on an acting secretary.

  • The first line-of-succession Cabinet officer will be in place soon; it's likely going to be Gen. Lloyd Austin (ret.), Biden's nominee for Secretary of Defense. Although there were concerns that he doesn't have enough experience in political/management positions, and that he's not knowledgeable enough about China, he was given a thumbs-up by the Senate Armed Services Committee, while both chambers voted to waive the "7-year waiting period between retiring from the military and becoming Secretary of Defense" rule. One wonders why that rule even exists, since they always waive it whenever it might be invoked. Anyhow, it is expected that Austin will be formally confirmed this morning.

  • Pete Buttigieg impressed during his confirmation hearing as Secretary of Transportation-designate. Senators on both sides of the aisle say that confirmation is a certainty.

  • Jen Psaki held her first press conference as the new White House Press Secretary and did not tell any giant lies. Any small ones, either. The White House press corps found this a refreshing change, and looks forward to White House press conferences that will be regularly scheduled and "not crazy."

  • Biden announced that former Dept. of Treasury official Michael Barr will be his pick for comptroller of the currency, a position that primarily involves overseeing banks. This will disappoint progressives, who preferred law professor Mehrsa Baradaran, an expert on wealth inequality. Barr is still pretty lefty, though, and has spent his career in academia and government service. By contrast, the previous comptroller, Joseph Otting, came to the job after stints as a VP with Bank of America, then a VP with Union Bank, then a VP with U.S. Bank, and then President and CEO of OneWest Bank. You might say that Otting was a wee bit friendly with the folks he was supposed to oversee.

  • The President also announced that he will keep Christopher Wray on as FBI Director. Wray has been generally effective since taking over the post in 2017, and has the support of rank-and-file FBI officers. It's not like he's a Trump mole; the former president and Wray often sniped at each other, primarily because the Donald was angry that Wray refused to use the FBI to pursue Trump's enemies.

  • On the other hand, there are some leftovers from the Trump administration who are headed for the unemployment rolls. Michael Pack, head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, tried to turn Voice of America into Voice of MAGA. Kathleen Kraninger, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, had little interest in protecting consumers. Peter Robb, the National Labor Relations Board general counsel, did everything he could to undercut the power of unions. None of these things is going to fly under a Democratic administration. And so, all three have been fired.

  • Meanwhile, Michael Ellis, the Trump loyalist who was installed at the last minute as general counsel for the NSA, has been placed on leave while the Pentagon's inspector general looks into the matter. Maybe Ellis will see the writing on the wall and resign. Or maybe the IG's investigation will produce an adverse result. If neither of these things, and Ellis remains employed, he's likely to find himself reassigned as general counsel in charge of the North Pole. Surely, Santa can use some legal help. After all, if you are going to go barging into people's houses during a pandemic, you had better be aware of all the state laws concerning masks, social distancing, and sanitation measures, not to mention gun laws.

Things are going to move quickly, for obvious reasons, such that within a week, most of the Cabinet (if not all of it) will be in place. Then it will be time for Biden to turn his attention to the assistant secretaries, deputy secretaries, and deputy assistant secretaries. (Z)

About that Unity...

It is fair to say that Joe Biden really cares about unity, and about reaching across the aisle. That is his nature, it was the way things worked for most of his political career, and it is a big part of what he promised during the campaign and in his inaugural address.

Congressional Republicans, in the past week or so, have also expressed much interest in unity, and in reaching across the aisle. None have been louder than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), though folks like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) have also had plenty to say on the subject. Given these men's willingness to support the ultra-divisive Donald Trump, their participation in abuses of Senate norms (ahem, Merrick Garland and Amy Coney Barrett), and their willingness to indulge Trump's claims the election was stolen (or, at least, to stand by and say nothing), one is left with the sense that this recent GOP talk of unity is less than genuine, and just might have something to do with the GOP now being in the minority in both chambers of Congress, and out of the White House.

In case there were any doubts on that point, they were put to rest on Thursday—a.k.a. Biden's first full day in office—when congressional Republicans quickly began pushing back against pretty much everything he wants to do. Most obvious is their resistance to the very first thing on the Biden legislative agenda, namely the COVID-19 relief package. One would think that the GOP would focus on achieving small wins here, and on putting forward an image as reasonable partners in legislating, since if they do not play ball here, the Democrats will just use budget reconciliation to do what they want to do. But instead, the approach was to come out firing, with various Republican senators lambasting Biden's proposal as too expensive, too soon after the previous relief bill, and too inefficient. This is definitely playing with fire; Biden really wants a bipartisan bill, but if he can't have it, then he might as well make a partisan bill into a hyperpartisan bill.

Similarly, McConnell was just hours removed from his pleasant little post-inauguration address on the value of unity when he decided to lambaste several of the executive orders that Biden issued on his first day in office. Focusing in particular on the decision to rejoin the Paris climate accord and to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline, the Minority Leader declared: "On the Biden administration's very first day, it took several big steps in the wrong direction," while also observing that Biden should "remember that he does not owe his election to the far-left." Either McConnell is being disingenuous, or he's so out of touch with the Democratic base that he actually thinks concern about global warming and the environment are far-left positions. Either way, Biden hadn't even been president for 24 hours before McConnell returned to divisiveness.

Of course, that street goes both ways. While Joe Biden is interested in unity, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has spent too much time on the front lines in the last decade to find that goal plausible. And so, while Schumer is willing to accommodate his GOP colleagues a little bit when it comes to running a 50-50 Senate, he's not willing to go much further than that, and he's also not going to let them forget which party currently holds all the cards. As Schumer and McConnell negotiate a power-sharing agreement, McConnell has pressed for a promise to keep the filibuster intact. Schumer, in no uncertain terms, said "No way, José." That doesn't necessarily mean that the filibuster is dead, but it does mean that the Democrats will keep that option in their back pocket, to potentially be deployed during the Republican obstructionism they assume is coming.

In the past, presidents traditionally got a 100-day honeymoon. Biden's, it would seem, did not even last 100 hours. He'll keep trying to reach across the aisle, at least for now. But our guess is that, as much as he's a nice guy, and as much as he wants to be the anti-Trump, he'll grow weary of having his hand slapped back far more rapidly than Barack Obama did. It is at that point, if and when it comes, that he and Schumer (and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV) would start having serious conversations about killing the filibuster. (Z)

The Impeachment Dance Continues

At the moment, as far as anyone knows, Donald Trump will still be put on trial in the Senate on the charge of inciting insurrection. However, nobody quite knows when. Nancy Pelosi is holding on to the article of impeachment for now, since the moment she sends it over to the Senate, she (and her regular telephone buddy Chuck Schumer) lose most of their power to control the timing of the proceedings.

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell is pushing for the trial to start in two weeks, so as to give Trump time to prepare his defense. "Senate Republicans are strongly united behind the principle that the institution of the Senate, the office of the presidency, and former President Trump himself all deserve a full and fair process that respects his rights and the serious factual, legal, and constitutional questions at stake," the Minority Leader said in a statement. It is not clear to us what McConnell's agenda might be, but we doubt he's suddenly discovered an affinity for full and fair processes (given what happened during the first impeachment trial, the Kavanaugh hearings, the Garland non-hearings, etc.) and we also doubt he's truly concerned that the rights of Donald Trump be observed.

Some of McConnell's colleagues, for their part, are trying to avoid a trial altogether. About a dozen GOP Senators, including Lindsey Graham, John Thune (SD), Mike Braun (IN), and Ron Johnson (WI) want the article of impeachment dismissed on the basis that it's not constitutional to try someone after that person has left office. This is a quixotic move that is bound to fail; the weight of legal opinion says it's kosher. That includes the opinion of the Federalist Society, which is not exactly a bastion of pro-liberal or anti-Trump sentiment.

Our best guess, for what it's worth, is that the trial commences on Monday of the week after next (in other words, in 10 days). That is enough to give the Senate time to approve most or all of the Cabinet, and to allow Trump to mount a defense. At the same time, it gets impeachment taken care of while events are still fresh in everyone's minds, and also sends a message to McConnell that he's not calling the shots anymore. (Z)

Biden Inaugural Address: The Reviews Are In

Maybe not everyone was watching when Joe Biden gave his inaugural address, but lots of people were. Here's a rundown of how some of them felt about it:

  • Biden Turns the Page On Trump in a Surprisingly Effective Inaugural Address, by John F. Harris, Politico: "No one expects soaring oratorical peaks from President Joe Biden. That's not his natural style. Yet his inaugural address was a powerful statement because it showed him grappling forthrightly—in the plainspoken language that reflects his authentic voice—with one of the most vexing questions of human relations: How does one restore respect when there are very good reasons to feel contempt?"

  • The Moment Met Joe Biden, by Andy Kroll, Rolling Stone: "[W]hat struck me most about Biden's inaugural address was how much it drew on the themes and ideas that had defined his bid for the presidency from the first. We heard his optimism—that the American story is one 'of hope, not fear, of unity not division, of light not darkness. A story of decency and dignity, love and healing, greatness and goodness.'"

  • An inaugural like no other breathes new life into a besieged tradition: democracy, by Lorraine Ali, The Los Angeles Times: "Redemption and reclamation were the themes of the televised and livestreamed inauguration of the 46th president of the United States and the 49th vice president, Kamala Harris. Their very presence, along with a much smaller than usual crowd of invited guests, former presidents and legislators, made the point that democracy had prevailed despite the challenges of the last four years, culminating in the Capitol insurrection of Jan. 6."

  • America yearns for an era of good feeling. The inaugural ceremony launched one., by Peter Marks, The Washington Post: "As exquisitely choreographed as a Balanchine ballet, the inaugural ceremony for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Wednesday had to rank among the classiest presidential swearing-ins of all time."

  • President Biden's Inaugural Address Gave America Reassurance and Hope, by Thomas Whalen, BU Today: "A lot of people are saying the speech was Lincolnesque, reaching across the aisle, binding our nation's wounds. It had elements of that, but I looked more to Franklin Roosevelt. Biden's underlying message—given the pandemic, the economic collapse, the insurrection—was that we can't be fearful as Americans. One of Roosevelt's great points was his optimism, especially as he took over the country in the depths of the Great Depression in 1933, when it looked like our very democracy, our republic, was going to fall."

  • Conservatives like me found lots to like in Biden's inaugural address. Will he deliver?, by Mary Kate Cary, USA Today: "I'd bet that like me, most Republicans were relieved when Biden took a pass on getting too partisan. He used the words 'unity,' 'uniting,' 'united' and 'union' a total of 15 times in 20 minutes, and referenced the importance of our democracy more than ten times."

  • Biden's inaugural address--unity and truth, by William A. Galston, The Brookings Institution: "There are two kinds of inaugurations. For some, the theme is 'Let us continue'; for others, 'Let us begin anew.' Rarely has the latter seemed more apt—or necessary."

  • Biden's inaugural speech got it exactly right, Jay Parini, CNN: "Biden's inaugural speech was, in retrospect, a balancing act that succeeded admirably in speaking honestly about the multi-faceted crisis at hand while delivering a full measure of optimism. He wants to return us to an America marked by 'decency and dignity.'"

  • Spectacular Biden inaugural address like a soothing balm for wounded nation, by Marc Thiessen, Fox News: "We're a country that has been wounded by rancor and division. He was like a soothing balm."

  • Biden's inaugural address was heartfelt appeal for unity, by Karl Rove, Fox News: "Look, for the moment, this was a great speech. For the moment, it was authentically Joe Biden, it was a common-man touch. We even got the word 'folks' in there. He talked about his dad sleepless at nights worried about his family. It was a heartfelt appeal for unity. I thought it was well-delivered and it was him."

As you can see, the response was overwhelmingly positive. We really thought we'd find a few negative reviews, but it would seem that those who are strongly disinclined toward Biden (OAN, Newsmax, etc.) basically just skipped it. (Z)

Turns Out Biden's Was Bigger than Trump's, After All

Due to the pandemic, Joe Biden could not possibly compete with Donald Trump or Barack Obama in terms of in-person attendance at his inauguration. Television, however, is pretty much pandemic-proof, and so levels the playing field. And there, Biden appears to have beaten Trump handily.

The overnight numbers—which may change a little, but probably not much—have Biden attracting 39.87 million viewers, while Trump attracted 38.35 million. That's +1.5 million viewers for Biden or, if you prefer, +4%. Given that Trump has been ratings-obsessed back to his "The Apprentice" days, he is not going to like this. And he doesn't even have Twitter to broadcast claims that this is fake news, or Sean Spicer to tell the press corps that Trump's viewership was larger. Period. (Z)

QAnon Believers Can't Figure out What Went Wrong

Yesterday, we noted that the Proud Boys aren't so proud of Donald Trump anymore. Losing an election, then failing to overturn the results, and then slinking out of Washington with your tail between your legs are not signs of "strength," as it turns out. And so, many of them have disembarked from the S.S. Trump.

The QAnon folks have a very similar problem. According to the conspiracy theory, Trump was supposed to use his presidential powers to initiate a "Great Awakening" that would smash, once and for all, the enormous cabal of deep staters, global power brokers, and Satan-worshiping pedophile Democrats. The Donald did not do this before the election, he didn't do it after the election, he didn't manage to overturn the election, and now he's out of office and out of Washington. So much for the Great Awakening. Some QAnon-ers have lost faith in the whole thing, and in Trump. Others are carefully reviewing the story to figure out where the holes are—the Satan-worshiping Democratic pedophiles, perhaps?—so that they might patch them with additional conspiratorial thought.

We've written a number of times that, once a tipping point is reached, Donald Trump's support should collapse pretty quickly. It would appear that his support for the insurrection on Jan. 6 damaged him badly with normal Republicans, and his failure to forestall the inauguration of Joe Biden on Jan. 20 damaged him badly with not-normal Republicans, such that the tipping point may have arrived. If he is convicted by the Senate, Georgia, or New York, he may vanish into the dustbin of history much faster than anyone expected. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan21 My Whole Soul Is in It
Jan21 Being Biden's Speechwriter Is No Fun at All
Jan21 Biden Took 17 Executive Actions on Day 1
Jan21 Maybe It's Worse Than Biden Expects
Jan21 Trump Loyalist Burrows Inside the NSA
Jan21 Dear Successor
Jan21 Democrats Stage DNC v2.0
Jan21 How Can Biden Unify the Country?
Jan21 Harris Swears in Three New Senators
Jan21 Cheney Has a Challenger Already
Jan21 Support for Trump Is Already Starting to Crumble
Jan20 Today's the Day
Jan20 Great Inaugural Addresses of Presidents Past
Jan20 Joe and Kamala's Infinite Playlist
Jan20 Trump Pardon List Is Long on Sleaze, Short on Risk
Jan20 Good News, Bad News for Trump on Impeachment Front
Jan20 Senate Takes Shape
Jan20 How Will History Remember Trump?
Jan19 The Final Countdown Is Underway...
Jan19 I Beg Your Pardon?
Jan19 Schumer, McConnell Close to a Deal on Power Sharing
Jan19 Biden Embraces Some Progressive Priorities
Jan19 Fox News in Decline
Jan19 Parler Is "Back"
Jan19 Cohen Implicates Boebert
Jan18 Biden Plans a Dozen Executive Actions on Day 1
Jan18 Biden Will Tackle Immigration Early on
Jan18 Atlanta D.A. Is Looking Into Trump's Call to Raffensperger
Jan18 Karl Rove: If Giuliani Represents Trump at Senate Trial, Trump Runs Risk of Conviction
Jan18 Riots Changed Public Opinion
Jan18 Running the Senate Won't Be Easy
Jan18 Republicans Are at Each Other's Throats
Jan18 Trump Blows Up the Arizona Republican Party on His Way Out
Jan18 Pardon Me?
Jan18 Harris Will Resign Today
Jan18 Love in the Time of Rioting
Jan17 Sunday Mailbag
Jan16 Saturday Q&A
Jan15 Much Is Murky about the Impeachment Trial
Jan15 Biden Explains His Economic Plan
Jan15 Biden Will Have a Prime-Time Inauguration Program
Jan15 It's Cheney v. McCarthy
Jan15 House to Fine Members Who Refuse to Go Through Security Screening
Jan15 It's Nightmare Time for Republicans
Jan15 Koch Brother Not Happy with Republicans
Jan15 Business Sucks
Jan15 Biden Is Already Worried about the Midterms
Jan15 Republican Governor Tries to End Gerrymandering--by Democrats
Jan14 Impeach-quel
Jan13 Ghosts of Republicans Past