Cody Fenwick

Trump's last two betrayals

Early Wednesday morning, the White House announced a slate of President Donald Trump's final official actions in office. Two of these acts represented significant betrayals of his own supporters.

First, and most prominently, Trump pardoned his former campaign chair Steve Bannon. Despite his rocky relationship with Bannon, the president seemed to think the risks of political blowback were worth pardoning his one-time ally. Bannon's pardon is particularly toxic and egregious because he hasn't even been convicted or sentenced yet on his charges, which is usually required before a pardon is even considered.

But what makes the pardon a betrayal is what Bannon stands accused of. Here's how prosecutors in the Southern District of New York put it in an indictment (note that Bannon's alleged co-conspirators were not pardoned):

RIAN KOLFAGE, STEPHEN BANNON, ANDREW BADOLATO, and TIMOTHY SHEA, the defendants, and others, orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors, including donors in the Southern District of New York, in connection with an online crowdfunding campaign ultimately known as "We Build The Wall" that raised more than $25,000,000 to build a wall along the southern border of the United States. To induce donors to donate to the campaign, KOLFAGE and BANNON - each of whom, as detailed herein, exerted significant control over We Build the Wall repeatedly and falsely assured the public that KOLFAGE would "not take a penny in salary or compensation" and that "100% of the funds raised... will be used in the execution of our mission and purpose" because, as BANNON publicly stated, "we're a volunteer organization."
Those representations were false. In truth, BRIAN KOLFAGE, STEPHEN BANNON, ANDREW BADOLATO, and TIMOTHY SHEA, the defendants, collectively received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds from We Build the Wall, which they each used in a manner inconsistent with the organization's public representations. In particular, KOLFAGE covertly took more than $350,000 in funds that had been donated to We Build the Wall for his personal use, while BANNON, through a non-profit organization under his control received over $1,000,000 from We Build the wall, which BANNON used to, among other things, secretly pay KOLFAGE and to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal expenses.

In other words, Bannon ripped off thousands of fans of the president he helped elect to personally enrich himself, according to the indictment. And it's worse than that, because Trump was supposed to be building the wall as president with the federal government, not with private funds. And it's even worse than that, because Trump campaigned for months on the idea that Mexico would pay for the wall β€” a promise widely derided and mocked, but that Trump insisted was legitimate.

But Trump cares so little for the fans who support him, he's happy to let the man who allegedly defrauded them off the hook. The White House statement on the matter gave no explanation or justification for this pardon:

President Trump granted a full pardon to Stephen Bannon. Prosecutors pursued Mr. Bannon with charges related to fraud stemming from his involvement in a political project. Mr. Bannon has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen.

In another betrayal, Trump found a new way to break another of his 2016 campaign promises: "Drain the swamp" β€” that is, ridding Washington, D.C., of corruption.

As a part of this supposed commitment, Trump made a big show near the start of his term of enacting a five-year lobbying ban for officials who leave the administration. In truth, Trump's ethics rules weakened what had come before, but this measure was supposed to limit outside influence and inappropriate access.

"This was something, a five-year ban, that I was talking about a lot on the campaign trail, and we are now putting it into effect," Trump said when signing the order in 2017.

On Wednesday morning, the White House issued an order revoking these restrictions, making them meaningless for anyone who had stayed through the entire administration, and cutting them short for anyone who had left early:

Executive Order 13770 of January 28, 2017, "Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees," is hereby revoked, effective at noon January 20, 2021. Employees and former employees subject to the commitments in Executive Order 13770 will not be subject to those commitments after noon January 20, 2021.

'None of it has come true!' Disillusioned QAnon follower admits she's starting to lose faith

Followers of the QAnon conspiracy fiction are facing an inflection point. With President-elect Joe Biden about to be sworn in on Jan. 20, and Donald Trump about to be a former president, their worldview β€” which imagines Trump as an exalted leader waging a brilliant battle against the deep state and a satanic cult β€” is about to fall apart.

Many adherents to QAnon may find new ways to rationalize the developments, but Trump's role as president has been so central to the belief system that his leaving could create some genuinely jarring cognitive dissonance for true believers. Travis View, who hosts a podcast about the conspiracy theory called QAnon Anonymous, shared a video of one woman who is struggling to cope with the realization that the whole story behind QAnon is collapsing.

"So, who else is feeling just a little silly?" she asked. "Just a little... went too far down the rabbit hole, and now I'm back out again. And if nothing happens on the 20th, how many of you are going to feel stupid as hell? I can't do it anymore!"

She shifted to talking about Q, the pseudonymous writer behind the cryptic posts that have fueled the QAnon conspiracists. Q's predictions have repeatedly proven false.

"And who the fuck is Q? Who is he? Who is this person?" she asked. "Cause none of it has come true! And I was just thinking β€” what if this person knows that none of this stuff is true? And they're just messing with people? Like, getting inside their heads? I thought something would happen today, in Trump's speech. Nothing!"

Watch the clip below:

Trump's presidential legacy is even worse than it looks

When President Donald Trump delivered his bleak inauguration speech on Jan. 20, 2017, one declarative line clearly was immediately the most memorable: "This American carnage stops right here and stops right now."

Though the country was far from perfect at the end of President Barack Obama's eight years in office, the "American carnage" coinage was overwrought. But as he wiles away his last hours in the White House, his hopes for his own two-term presidency cut short, "American carnage" is all too apt a description of the legacy Trump is leaving behind.

And while the mainstream consensus is forming around the conclusion that Trump's presidency was largely a failure, many of its worst features are forgotten or underappreciated. It is, in many ways, worse than it looks.

The pinnacle of the disastrous tenure was, of course, the coronavirus crisis. For the first few years of the presidency, some of Trump's critics occasionally remarked that, as grotesque and unfit as Trump appeared for his job, there hadn't yet been the nation-wide calamity they had anticipated. But crises inevitably hit countries and test presidents, and the coronavirus proved Trump's harshest critics right. In fact, some of use had even voiced concern about exactly this turn of events long ago:

On Trump's last full day in office, Johns Hopkins University reported that deaths from the coronavirus have passed the 400,000 threshold. But when the outbreak first came to U.S. shores, Trump assured the American public there was little to worry about β€” and he took credit for the optimistic scenario he was painting.

"When you have 15 people [infected with the coronavirus], and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done," Trump said on Feb. 27, 2020.

Less noticed at the time was that Trump β€” who had been president for three years at that point β€” also expressed shock at the idea that tens of thousands of people die from the flu each year.

"The flu, in our country, kills from 25,000 people to 69,000 people a year. That was shocking to me," he said. "Over the last 10 years, we've lost 360,000. These are people that have died from the flu β€” from what we call the flu."

He's never once acknowledged that the hundreds of thousands of deaths from the coronavirus could be attributed to the job he's done, even though he was quick to claim credit when he thought the numbers would be small. Now, the coronavirus has killed 40,000 more people in a year than his estimate of flu deaths over a decade. The death toll will keep rising for some time to come. And even these figures are probably underestimates, which will likely be revised upwards when analysts examine the data in retrospect.

Some defenders of the president bristle when coronavirus deaths are attributed to him. But that's the way presidential legacies work. You get credit for the things you do and don't do, and what happens on your watch. Some of the problems in the U.S. pandemic response, such as the devastating delays in testing and the initially misleading guidance against face masks from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, weren't directly Trump's fault. But he appointed the officials overseeing the health agencies responsible for these failures. And even more to the point, instead of correcting for these failures after they occurred, he exacerbated them by spreading falsehoods, disinformation, and conspiracy theories about the virus. He attacked those who tried to do good and honest public health work.

It is true that many other countries performed poorly in response to the coronavirus, such as the United Kingdom and Brazil. But there's a strong argument that the United States has performed worse than any other country, especially considering its inherent advantages of wealth and institutions.

Even this argument, though, underrates Trump's failure and the stain on his legacy. Some countries performed extremely well in the face of the pandemic, such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia, and there's no reason not to measure Trump against this standard. And the United States had an asset no one else had: the CDC, the world's leading public health agency. But instead of leveraging its talent to address the pandemic, the CDC has, under Trump's leadership, fallen from grace and become a global embarrassment. And before the pandemic even began, the Trump White House shut down the pandemic-focused office within the National Security Council.

It's impossible to say for sure, but had the CDC and the pandemic office in the NSC been operating at full capacity and with the force of the presidency behind them, the entire global course of the pandemic may have been different. There were early signs of trouble in China at the beginning of 2020, but U.S. officials were prevented from getting on the ground and fully assessing the situation. Could Trump have made it happen if he had tried? No one knows β€” but whether it's because he was distracted by his impeachment, trying to make nice with President Xi Jinping over trade disputes, or just completely disengaged from the problem, Trump wasn't interested in putting pressure on China. In a tweet on Jan. 27, Trump said only that he "offered" to send "help." Reuters reported that over the previous two years, the Trump administration had cut more than two-thirds of the CDC staff that was stationed in China.

We'll never know if a more vigorous effort to prevent a pandemic could have stopped the coronavirus in its tracks ahead of time. But we do know Trump didn't even try, and his actions plausibly made the outbreak more likely to happen and more severe than was necessary. These facts only compound the more widely known wrongdoing Trump committed by downplaying the pandemic, spreading bogus cures, and attacking the public health measures that could have saved lives.

And the economic devastation wrought by the coronavirus has been made worse by all these failures. Somehow, Trump managed to convince much of the public and the press that he only should be judged on the performance of the economy prior to the pandemic. But that's not how the presidency works. Since Trump's actions made the pandemic worse, and the pandemic wrecked the economy, the president himself was a source of the economic downturn. One of the best ways a president can help the economy thrive is by running the federal government to protect the country against severe shocks. That's where Trump failed, and he doesn't make up for that by cheering on the stock market or pointing to job growth prior to the crisis that was largely just a continuation of trends that preceded his administration.

Trump was also missing in action during much of the debate around the CARES Act and related legislation that helped keep the economy from truly cratering when the virus first hit. Congress deserves most of the credit for that work, and Trump, luckily, didn't get in the way.

But we've only begun to fully understand all the damage that's been done. Recent reports have confirmed that 2020 saw a large increase in murders in the United States, likely because of the pandemic and related unrest. When Trump first took office, he repeatedly lied and said that the "murder rate in the United States is the highest it's been in 45 years." This wasn't even close to being true. Now, though, there really has been a significant increase, and it happened on his watch. (Most murders, of course, aren't directly under the jurisdiction of the federal government, but the likely tie to the COVID crisis, and Trump's own long-term focus on the issue, certainly make the increase a part of his legacy.)

At many points during his 2016 campaign and presidency, Trump also cited his commitment to fighting against the opioid abuse epidemic. But this, too, has been another dismal failure, as the pandemic has only fueled a new surge of deaths linked to the opioid crisis.

Other disturbing features of Trump's legacy have been widely covered, but have drifted into the background over time. His administration neglected Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which is estimated to have killed around 3,000 people. In a moment that presaged his dangerous denialism about COVID, Trump dismissed the scale of the tragedy and boasted his administration's emergency management. And his cruel immigration policies immiserated countless people unnecessarily, including the thousands of family members that were intentionally separated from each other under the traumatizing zero-tolerance policy, meant to deter refugees and migrants. Some of the children torn from their parents still haven't been reunited.

Finally, the damage Trump has done to U.S. civic institutions is long-lasting and impossible to calculate. He has probably irreparably destroyed faith in American elections among a large portion of the electorate. The insurrection he incited at the U.S. Capitol was the result of a years-long disinformation campaign, singularly focused on shielding himself from the personal shame of electoral losses. The Republican Party had long fanned the fires of anti-Semitism, racism, and conspiracy and wielded the flames against the media and the Democrats. But Trump took the fanaticism to a new level, sparking a true domestic terrorist attack, which will only further break down bonds of trust in society. Now, Joe Biden is preparing to take power with the National Guard being called an occupying army in Washington, D.C. And there's no telling when and if they'll be more Trump-inspired attacks, how deadly they might be, and what knock-on effects they'll have.

There are many other failures in the Trump presidency β€” including the botched handling of relations with North Korea, Russia, China, Ukraine, and Iran β€” too many, in fact, to count. But as has so often been the case in Trump's life, the closer one looks, the worse the situation appears. It's quite likely the assessments of Trump's legacy will grow increasingly grim over time.

Republican Party official suggests he discussed the possibility of secession

Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne is starting to draw attention for recent comments suggesting an interest in secession.

The Casper Star Tribune' recent report flagged the remarks, which Eathorne made in a conversation with Steve Bannon on his podcast. They were discussing the future of the Republican Party.

"We are straight-talking, focused on the global scene, but we're also focused at home," Eathorne said. "Many of these Western states have the ability to be self-reliant, and we're keeping eyes on Texas too, and their consideration of possible secession. They have a different state constitution than we do as far as wording, but it's something we're all paying attention to."

Bannon said he was against secession but would like to discuss it later.

The Tribune followed up with Eathorne, and he seemed to downplay the idea, though he admitted to discussing it: "Only a brief conversation with the Texas GOP in earlier work with them." He added: "Won't come up again unless the grass roots brings it up."

Texas GOP Chair Allen West made similar remarks in December after the Supreme Court dismissed one of the ridiculous lawsuits attempting to overturn the result of the 2020 election on Trump's behalf.

"This decision will have far reaching ramifications for the future of our constitutional republic," West said. "Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution."

Eathorne's remarks seemed to gesture toward the erroneous idea that Texas has a legal right to secede from the United States. This is not so. The Supreme Court has ruled against the idea of secession in the 19th Century, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once affirmed: "If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede."

Eathorne recently had to put out a statement about his involvement in the Jan. 6 events at the U.S. Capitol, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the building to block Congress from processing Joe Biden's Electoral College win.

"I attended the organized and peaceful rally near the White House on January 6th," he said. "No violence or property damage was observed during my time there including a brief stop in the vicinity of the Capitol building property. I retired from the public gathering near mid-afternoon and watched the news of some reported events I personally had not witnessed."

Trump just tried to change US COVID policy in Biden's term β€” but Biden's team says it won't happen

In a bizarre move on Monday, President Donald Trump released a proclamation seeking to lift the pandemic-related travel restrictions on much of Europe, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Brazil. The administration had recently put the restrictions in place, understandably, to limit spread of the virus. But the odd feature of the new decision to lift restrictions was the fact that it sought to make the change effective on Jan. 26 β€” once Trump is no longer president.

For some reason, several news outlets covered the development at face value, announcing that Trump and the United States were, in fact, making this change β€” even though everyone knows Trump won't be president on Jan. 26. But pretty soon after the news broke, Jen Psaki, a member of President-elect Joe Biden's incoming communications team, shot down the news.

"With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel," Psaki said on Twitter. "On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19."

In a statement from the White House, Trump had cited the advice of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who is also leaving on Jan. 20 like Trump, for deciding to ease the restrictions:

On January 12, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order, effective January 26, 2021, requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 for all air passengers arriving from a foreign country to the United States. The Secretary has explained that this action will help to prevent air passengers from the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, and the Federative Republic of Brazil from spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 into the United States, as it is the Secretary's understanding that the vast majority of persons entering the United States from these jurisdictions do so by air.
...
Accordingly, the Secretary has advised me to remove the restrictions applicable to the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, and the Federative Republic of Brazil, while leaving in place the restrictions applicable to the People's Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Iran. I agree with the Secretary that this action is the best way to continue protecting Americans from COVID-19 while enabling travel to resume safely.

It goes on to say:

Proclamation 9993 of March 11, 2020 (Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus), Proclamation 9996 of March 14, 2020 (Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus), and Proclamation 10041 of May 24, 2020 (Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus), are hereby terminated effective at 12:01 a.m. eastern standard time on January 26, 2021.

Of course, the clear truth is that, under normal circumstances, neither Azar nor Trump would be making decisions about policies that will extend between administrations without extensive consultation during the transition. But because of his refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election, Trump has had little or zero interaction with Biden β€” there's no indication yet that he ever even called to concede the race. The normal coordination that would happen between presidents on a policy of this magnitude is absent.

And beyond Trump's own actions, there have been many indications that the Biden transition team hasn't gotten the full cooperation it wanted or needed from the current administration. This episode only illustrates what is likely a broader problem and failure to communicate on behalf of the Trump White House and administration. The impact of this breakdown may be wide-ranging and difficult to fully assess.

Photo raises alarms about a Trump ally still pushing election conspiracies at the White House

My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell arrived at the White House on Friday for an apparent meeting with President Donald Trump, raising alarms after a press photographer shared a close-up shot of the visitor's notes.

While the image wasn't entirely clear β€” the paper was folded in half, and some of the text was blurry due to the distance at which the photo was taken β€” it strongly indicated that Lindell planned to bring up with Trump widely debunked conspiracy fictions about the 2020 election. The notes even suggested he would push for personnel changes, the invocation of the Insurrection Act, and the possible declaration of martial law.

This troubling meeting occurred, of course, under the dark shadow of the previous week's disaster at the U.S. Capitol, where supporters riled up by the president violently overtook the building in order to stop the affirmation of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College win. Those events led the House of Representatives to call for Trump's immediate removal and to impeach him on the charge of inciting and insurrection. Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, both made clear that neither would use their respective powers to facilitate Trump's removal before his official last day in office, Jan. 20.

The fact that Trump appears to be meeting with someone still pursuing the idea that the election result was illegitimate and perhaps could still be overturned shows the danger of leaving him in office, even if he has released statements that seem to acknowledge Biden will be president by next week.

Jabin Botsford, a staff photographer with the Washington Post, shared the photo in question on Twitter:

Here's what appears to be visible on the document:

  • The title includes the words "...taken immediately to save the... the Constitution"
  • A suggestion for someone to be appointed "NOW as Acting National Security ..."
  • A reference to "getting the evidence of all the... the election and information regarding..."
  • A reference to "[In]surrection Act now as a result of the assault on the... [m]artial law if necessary upon the first hint of any..."
  • A direct reference to "Sidney Powell," a lawyer who has promoted some of the wildest conspiracy theories about the election
  • The suggestion to "Move Kash Patel to CIA Acting" (Patel is a close Trump ally who has been on the periphery of several of his schemes)
  • A reference to "Foreign Interference in the election. Trigger... powers. Make clear this is China/Iran ... domestic [a]ctors.
Altogether, the visible information looks like a continuation of the election disinformation and false conspiracy theories that have been repeatedly debunked and that flopped in court. It also seems that Lindell has suggestions for how Trump should respond to this information using his remaining days as president, though the outline of the scheme is unclear. How seriously Lindell is taking these ideas is also not certain, though he has been a fervent and erratic defender of the president, and Trump's reception to the ideas is unknown.

In light of everything that has happened, however, the meeting is highly alarming.

"It won't happen, of course, but still a gentle reminder that the president is still completely batshit insane, heavily invested in his own conspiracy theories, and is going to spend his remaining hours listening to sycophants tell him how to burn various institutions down," said national security commentator Matt Tait on Twitter. "Protip for impeachment managers is to print this out in really big and point at it with a telescopic pointer to remind senators that *one week* after the failed Capitol attack the president was having meetings with sycophants to talk about the 'insurrection act' and 'marshal law.'"

According to the White House press pool, the Marine who typically guards the Oval Office while the president is inside was not at the post around 2:45 p.m., suggesting the president was elsewhere in the complex. Lindell arrived around 3 p.m., and the Marine was outside the Oval Office. Five minutes later, the Marine let Lindell inside.

"I'm sure you'll write something nice," told the pool when asked what he was doing there, declining to answer further.

Here are 7 key parts of Biden's plan to rescue the economy

President-elect Joe Biden believes that rescuing the faltering economy and crushing the coronavirus are the most important challenges he faces right out of the gate when taking office on Jan. 20. To address these problems, he proposed a bold and aggressive $1.9 trillion legislative package on Thursday to tackle them head-on.

"The US government can borrow money for less than the rate of inflation, which means we owe it to ourselves to borrow, borrow, borrow," said writer Matt Yglesias in praise of the plan. "I'm excited to see a new administration thinking big."

A key question, of course, is whether the plan can pass Congress. It will likely have support in the House, where Democrats are in control, but Biden will be working with the thinnest possible majority in the Senate. And under current rules, a bill typically needs 60 votes to pass the Senate β€” which would require 10 Republicans to sign on. Biden hopes to convince members of the opposition to join him, but if he can't, his team also has plans to use a procedure known as budget reconciliation to pass the bill with just 51 votes.

Here are seven key features of the plan as it is currently conceived:

1. $600 + $1,400 = $2,000 checks

One of the most popular elements of the first two rounds of COVID rescue funds was direct government payments to individuals and families. After the first round, which sent $1,200 to individuals under a set income threshold, Congress authorized another set of $600 payments starting in December β€” even though Democrats and President Donald Trump were demanding $2,000. The $2,000 figure became a rallying point in the Georgia runoffs which Democrats won, so Biden plans to follow through on the promise of delivering this amount. But be careful, though β€” since the $600 has already gone out to many people, the amount individuals will likely receive if the Biden bill passes as proposed will be an additional $1,400, rounding out the combined payments to a total of $2,000.

Some have already begun criticizing the plan for this plank. But it's important to remember it has many other moving parts.

2. Help for unemployed people, hunger, and people at risk of eviction

The plan also increases the federal boost to weekly unemployment payments from $300 to $400 and extends the applicable period to September. Under current law, the payments would run out in March. There's another $25 billion of support for renters and an extension of the eviction moratorium from the end of January to the end of September. People who get support for buying food through programs such as SNAP will also see increased funds.

3. Ramp up a national vaccination program

If the plan passes, there will be $400 billion to fight the coronavirus. These funds will help enact a $20 billion national vaccination plan, which is the best hope the country has of putting the virus behind it quickly. Under Trump, vaccination rates have been slow as states have largely been left on their own to get shots in arms.

4. More COVID testing

There's also $50 billion allocated for expanding COVID testing, which will continue to be crucial until the population approaches herd immunity through vaccination. Biden hopes to be able to have schools open in the spring, which will require widespread and frequent testing.

5. $350 billion for state and local aid

State and local governments have been hit especially hard by the coronavirus downturn since they depend on tax revenues, which have fallen, to keep their budgets balanced. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republicans have resisted calls to provide support for localities, denouncing it as a "blue state bailout" β€” even though states need help regardless of their politics. Under the Biden plan, $350 billion would be earmarked for these governments,

6. Tax credits

In addition to the direct payments of an additional $1,400, the plan gives extra support to families by expanding select tax credits, as CNBC explained:

The president-elect wants to increase the child tax credit to $3,000 for qualifying children aged 17 and under. Kids under age 6 would be eligible for a $3,600 credit.
Biden is calling to put these expansions into effect for the year on an emergency basis.
In comparison, families can currently claim up to $2,000 per child under age 17.
To further benefit low-income families, Biden also wants to make the child tax credit fully refundable. That means taxpayers get a refund check, even if the credit exceeds their tax liability.

7. $15 minimum wage

It seems unlikely that it will make it into the final version of the plan, but Biden's vision would include a hard-fought progressive goal: raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The surprising success of Nancy Pelosi's plan to box Trump in

With the support of 10 Republicans, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led her chamber to impeach President Donald Trump for a historic second time in just a little over a year. Though it appears the effort is unlikely to lead to what she wants most β€” Trump's immediate removal β€” her strategy is already paying dividends.

First, she divided her opponents. This is always an advantage in politics, and it helps when you can do it while also believing you're doing the right thing. When your opponents are attacking each other, they're not attacking you. It's possible the fights over Trump will pull the Republican Party further to the extremes by ousting members who have turned against the president. But that too can benefit Pelosi, who will be fighting hard to defend her majority in 2022. If more moderate members of the House GOP in swing districts are replaced in primaries by pro-Trump extremists, she may have a better chance of maintaining power.

Second, the fight over impeachment on the House floor had a surprising and likely unforeseen benefit for Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. Even as most of the GOP caucus made speeches denouncing impeachment and the Democrats, they repeated a talking point over and over that just a few days ago they were reluctant to say out loud: By this time next week, Trump will not be president. Biden will.

It may seem like a small thing, but it's potentially a big deal. Countless ordinary Republicans have believed in the two months since Biden was declared the election's winner that Trump would nevertheless find a way to stay in power. This delusional belief fed into the storming of the Capitol, as many of the insurrectionists believed that somehow Biden's win could be undone. The Republicans making speeches on Wednesday weren't intending to debunk this belief, of course β€” they were trying to argue that impeaching Trump at this point was futile and petty. But it may have been an important dose of reality for some portion of viewers sitting at home to learn that even Trump's co-partisans admit his administration is ending.

Third, Trump himself seems to be chastened by the development. On Tuesday, the president gave a statement to the press sounding like his usual self. Despite widespread condemnation of his speech on Jan. 6 for inciting the riot at the U.S. Capitol, Trump claimed it was "totally appropriate."

He also seemed to be stoking further outrage over impeachment. "For Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to continue on this path, I think it's causing tremendous danger to our country and it's causing tremendous anger," he said, though he added: "I want no violence."

But by Wednesday afternoon, as the House approached its impeachment vote, he seemed to be grasping for a different message.

"In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind. That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for," he said in a White House press release (he has been banned from Twitter). "I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers. Thank You."

And in a video posted after he was officially impeached, Trump didn't really sound like himself at all.

"I want to be very clear," he said. "I unequivocally condemn the violence that we saw last week."

Though he included statements gesturing toward complaints about his being banned from social media and "cancel culture," the video remarks mostly focused on preventing further violence. He didn't go as far as telling his supporters to abandon future protests, citing their First Amendment rights, but the speech clearly sought to discourage a repeat of the Capitol siege.

These remarks came after reports broke on Tuesday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was pleased to see Trump getting impeached for his conduct and believed he committed impeachable offenses. And in a letter on Wednesday, McConnell took an entirely separate tack to the one he adopted during Trump's first impeachment by suggesting he might vote to convict.

"While the press has been full of speculation," he wrote, "I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate."

He also made clear that he will not agree to go along with a plan to start the Senate trial immediately, all but ensuring that Trump won't be removed. But Trump clearly seems to fear the trial anyway, which could potentially bar him from federal office in the future. It's likely that, even apart from the legal consequences of a conviction, Trump would feel completely humiliated if he was the first president in history to have two-thirds of the Senate vote against him in a trial. (Some have speculated that McConnell may also be strategizing to disrupt the early days of the Biden administration by dragging out the trial, a potential downside for Pelosi's strategy, though it's unclear how that will play out.)

"I think this is the first time Trump has recorded a video FOR an audience of one (McConnell), as opposed being the audience of one himself," said Maggie Haberman of the New York Times.

Her point was that Trump seems to be highly motivated to do what it takes to convince McConnell not to vote to convict. If McConnell were to vote against Trump, that might encourage enough other Republicans to vote for conviction as well to deny the president a second acquittal. And despite his previous commitments, McConnell could turn on a dime and hold a snap trial to remove Trump should it become immediately necessary.

While this may seem to put McConnell in the driver's seat, the result is Pelosi's doing. The House's powers to constrain a president are limited. But by passing an article of impeachment, and with McConnell open to the idea, Pelosi has effectively boxed Trump in. He may still act out in disturbing and dangerous ways, but his last two statements show he's responding to the pressures created by her impeachment. He may also be concerned about the possibility that the vice president could use the 25th Amendment to remove him, which the House passed a resolution calling for, but Mike Pence has seemed to have ruled that out. (Trump also faces serious criminal and civl legal exposure, though at this point there's probably little he can do to reduce it.)

Some often complain when too much focus is put on Trump's changes in rhetoric rather than his actions. And it's true that it has often been exaggerated when Trump has a "new tone," and he'll often quickly revert to form. It's certainly possible that will happen again before his term in office is up. But for now, he seems to be responding to the incentive structure Pelosi has constructed, and that may keep his rhetoric tempered β€” which is no small feat. His words and lies helped fuel the dangerous attack on Jan. 6. If they can be tamped down until Biden is president, it will be a major success for Pelosi's strategy.

Trump sends out one last desperate message to avoid impeachment

As members of the House of Representatives debated whether to impeach President Donald Trump a second time β€” a vote that is all but guaranteed to succeed β€” the White House sent out a new message on behalf of the commander in chief. It appeared to be one last, futile effort to encourage the House not to impeach him for his role in inspiring and inciting the previous week's Capitol riot that sought to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election.

"In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind. That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for," said the statement attributed to Trump, sent out as a press release. "I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers. Thank You."

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who was leading the opposition to impeachment in the House debate, read out the statement on the floor shortly after it became public:

The call for easing all tensions was a clear signal that the president was eager to stop impeachment in its tracks. It struck a different tone than his comments to the press the previous day, when he said his speech ahead of the riot had been "totally appropriate." He also seemed to be stirring up his supporters against impeachment, saying it was "causing tremendous danger to our country and it's causing tremendous anger." At that time, he did also add: "I want no violence."

The new statement was a signal that he's aware, or at least the White House is aware, that supporters of the president are planning more demonstrations and attacks on his behalf.

And while many of the critics of the president are likely to be mildly encouraged to see the president explicitly denounce violence, it's not likely to convince them to oppose impeachment. In fact, it may suggest that impeachment is having the intended effect: pushing him to discourage his supporters from acting out violently. Since he's known to flip his position without notice, withdrawing the push for impeachment over such a statement could encourage him to dial rhetoric back up.

And even as it is, the statement also probably doesn't go far enough to really address the risks of future attacks. He didn't actually discourage any of the gatherings, many of which are explicitly planned to include armed participants. It's easy to see how such events can spiral out of control, even if β€” in the most hopeful scenario β€” Trump's supporters take the direction of "NO violence, NO lawbreaking" seriously. And his arguments for months have suggested that it's Democrats who are breaking the law, and his supporters β€” many of whom see themselves as aligned with law enforcement β€” could read his words as a call to continue to oppose Joe Biden's inauguration.

"If the man had any interest at all in easing tensions and calming tempers, he'd hold a televised press conference conceding the election, communicating that there was no evidence of fraud, that Biden will legitimately take office on the 20th, and there's no reason to protest it," said Niskanen Center's Will Wilkinson of Trump's new statement. "The fact that he won't do this is precisely why it's urgent that he be removed from office."

He added: "There's nothing in the least complicated about this. Anybody who tries to shift the focus to anything but the fact that the president has been lying for two months about unambiguous election results, which led to a violent mob trashing the Capitol, is actively stoking division."

Ryan Goodman of Just Security agreed:

Republican lawmakers throw a fit over new metal detectors at the House chamber

Following the brutal assault on the U.S. Capitol last week by supporters of the president hoping to overturn the election, Congress is stepping up its security. And on Tuesday night, multiple Republican lawmakers expressed their outrage at new metal detectors placed at the entrance of the House chamber.

Officials seem to believe these measures are necessary following the attempted insurrection, especially in light of the fears that Republican members, some of whom have bragged about wanting to bring guns onto the House floor, may have been supportive of the mob.

"There are concerns about the gun-toting members, but also we don't know who they're going to bring to the inauguration who can bypass the metal detectors," on Democratic representative told CNN. "Until there's an investigation and until we understand our colleagues' level of complicity in the attack we don't know how involved they really were. Until we have answers I don't think we should trust them – not all of them of course, but some of them."

Perhaps further raising suspicions, Republicans were furious when they had to enter the chamber on Tuesday.

"Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, who has bragged about her desire to carry a weapon on Capital Hill is currently in a standoff with Capitol Police at the newly installed Metal Detectors outside the chamber doors," CNN's Ryan Nobles reported on Tuesday evening. "Boebert walked through with her bag which set off the mags. She refused to offer the bag over to be searched and is now in a standoff with Cap Police."

He added: "Capitol Police won't let her in until Boebert shows them what is in her bag, she won't and is now standing by the entrance of the chamber. She is respectful but defiant."

On Twitter, she objected to the new policy:

Boebert has been of particular concern because she tweeted out that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had left the chamber in the middle of the Jan.6 invasion by the pro-Trump mob, even though members were told not to share this kind of information for security reasons. Some believe she may have been intentionally trying to give the mob information about one of its targets. Boebert has previously expressed her support for the conspiracy fiction QAnon, though she subsequently said she was not a "follower." She has reportedly been tied to other extremist groups.

She wasn't the only one objecting to the new security measures on Tuesday, other reporters revealed.



Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko of Arizona also complained about the change on Twitter, provoking many critics to point out that metal detectors are accepted at many other parts of life, such as in airports and some schools.

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