Trump and McConnell are finally breaking up

Trump and McConnell are finally breaking up
President Donald J. Trump honors Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during the federal judicial confirmation milestones event, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
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December 29, 2020

There is definitely a feeling of change in the air. For all his continuing insistence that he won the 2020 election, Trump is a lame duck.

Today's complicated fight in the Senate over the one-time stimulus payment of $2000 illustrated that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), not Trump, now controls the Republican caucus. Trump originally refused to sign the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, the bill that contains the coronavirus relief measures, because he claimed he objected to its meager $600 stimulus payments. Six hundred dollars was the amount his negotiators had demanded, but he suddenly said he wanted them to be $2000. Democrats in the House jumped on Trump's demand for the higher payment and they passed a measure on Monday to increase the payments to $2000.

Trump had attacked the bill largely because he is angry at McConnell and Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-SD) (a whip keeps party members in line behind the party leader) for acknowledging Biden's victory in November. He was trying to illustrate his power by refusing to sign the bill at all. But Sunday night he gave in without winning anything, and yet continued to say he wanted higher payments. The House was happy to give him what the Democrats had wanted all along, but today Trump lost the showdown in the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced the measure, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) killed it. This enabled the two embattled Republican Senate candidates from Georgia both to support Trump and to claim they wanted higher payments, all without actually having to vote for the higher payments. McConnell bested Trump all around: he had no intention of raising those payments no matter what Trump tweeted… and he didn't.

Trump's influence in Washington is waning in other ways, too. Yesterday, the House repassed the National Defense Authorization Act over Trump's veto. Trump claims to object to the bill for a number of reasons, including that it will require that military bases currently named for Confederate generals be renamed, but this is the measure into which Congress put the Corporate Transparency Act I wrote about a few days ago. It will undercut the country's plague of so-called shell companies, which enable money laundering and other criminal activity because they are owned and operated in secret. The new measure will require that all owners and operators of such companies be clearly identified.

This will likely impact the Trump family, which uses shell companies.

There were other rumblings today that Trump's post-presidential life might have some sticky places. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office has hired forensic accountants to help investigate Trump and his businesses. This investigation is a criminal investigation. New York Attorney General Letitia James is in charge of a civil investigation into Trump's businesses.

But the big thing which showed momentum is moving away from Trump is that President-Elect Joe Biden is forcefully criticizing the Trump administration for its failure to plan for distribution of the coronavirus vaccine.

With more than 330,000 Americans dead of Covid-19 and infections spiking, Biden today noted that the Trump administration has fallen behind on vaccine distribution. The effort got off to a poor start as the administration delivered fewer doses than it had promised and initially blamed Pfizer for a "miscommunication," only to have Pfizer state that it had "millions of doses" in a warehouse but had received no information about where to send them.

The administration promised to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of December, but yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that it had administered just 2.1 million doses in two weeks, although that number is likely somewhat low because of lag times in reporting. At the current rate, Dr. Leana S. Wen writes in the Washington Post, we can expect to achieve herd immunity in 10 years.

The administration at first refused to share information with the Biden camp about distribution, claiming there was a plan, even though, when finally part of discussions, Biden said "[t]here is no detailed plan that we've seen, anyway, as to how you get the vaccine out of a container, into an injection syringe, into somebody's arm."

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar responded that Biden's claim was "nonsense." "[W]e have comprehensive plans from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention working with 64 public health jurisdictions across the country as our governors have laid out very detailed plans that we've worked with them on. We're leveraging our retail pharmacies, our hospitals, our public health departments, our community health centers." Azar said the distribution process was being "micromanaged and controlled by the United States military, as well as our incredible private sector. We do hundreds of millions of vaccinations a year. We're leveraging the systems that are known, and that work here in the United States." Azar assured Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace that, as soon as the vaccines were approved, the government would be shipping them "to all of the states and territories that we work with. And within hours they can be vaccinating,"

It turns out Biden was more right than Azar. The administration planned simply to get the vaccines to the states, and then leave to them the problem of actually getting the vaccines into people's arms. But state Departments of Health are strapped for money after trying to manage the pandemic for nine months, and had been allotted only $6 million apiece to make the distributions happen. (The new Consolidated Appropriations Act that Trump just signed has significantly more money in it for distribution.)

"The Trump administration's plan to distribute vaccines is falling behind, far behind," Biden said today. "As I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should."

Finally stung, Trump tweeted tonight that "It is up to the States to distribute the vaccines once brought to the designated areas by the Federal Government. We have not only developed the vaccines, including putting up money to move the process along quickly, but gotten them to the states. Biden failed with Swine Flu!" (Biden was not in charge of the Obama Administration's response to H1N1 in 2009, which broke out three months after Obama took office.)

Biden promised to invoke the National Defense Production Act, a law that permits the president to require companies to produce goods at the same time that it guarantees them a market for those goods, to speed up the production of supplies necessary to distribute the vaccine quickly. "I have directed my team to prepare a much more aggressive effort, with more federal involvement and leadership to get things back on track," he said.

But he warned that we are behind and, breaking with the Trump administration, warned that things are going to get much worse before they get better. The spike in infections along with the fallout from holiday gatherings means we will see high cases in January and high death tolls in February. It will be mid-March, he warns, before we see improvement. "The next few weeks and months are going to be very tough, a very tough period for our nation — maybe the toughest during this entire pandemic," Biden said. "I know it's hard to hear, but it's the truth."

"We are going to get through this. Brighter days are coming," Biden said. "But it's going to take all of the grit and determination we have as Americans to get it done."

We are pleased to be presenting daily posts from Heather Cox Richardson's "Letters From an American" email newsletter. You can sign up to receive it in your inbox here.

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