Common Dreams

Democrats urged to reject 'desperate' McConnell effort to preserve filibuster and kneecap Biden agenda

Soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is attempting to obtain a commitment from his Democratic counterparts to keep the archaic legislative filibuster in place once they officially take charge of the chamber, a demand that progressives characterized as a last-ditch effort to cripple the incoming Biden administration's policy agenda.

In ongoing negotiations with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) over an organizing resolution that will govern the upcoming 50-50 Senate, McConnell is reportedly working to undercut the growing momentum behind eliminating the filibuster—which, if left intact, would effectively give Republican senators veto power over much of President-elect Joe Biden's legislative agenda.

"The time is ripe to address this issue head on before the passions of one particular issue or another arise," McConnell said in a statement Tuesday. "A delay in reaching an agreement could delay the final determination of committee assignments but it is important to maintain the status quo on the legislative filibuster."

Schumer has thus far declined to commit to preserving the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to break. In a statement, Stand Up America managing director Christina Harvey urged the New York Democrat to forcefully reject McConnell's demand, characterizing the Republican leader's effort as deliberate sabotage of the incoming Congress and administration.

"Mitch McConnell is desperate, grasping for straws, and attempting to use what little power he has left to stymie bold progress for the American people," said Harvey. "Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Schumer should immediately reject this blatant attempt to undermine the Democratic majority before it has even been seated and swiftly affirm that filibuster reform is still on the table."

While the ongoing rule negotiations between McConnell and Schumer are standard procedure, former Democratic Senate staffer Adam Jentleson argued that the Kentucky Republican's push to safeguard the filibuster represents an unacceptable effort to deny the "legitimacy" of the incoming Senate majority.

"If McConnell insists, the Dem response should be to go nuclear on the organizing resolution, which under current rules needs 60 [votes] to pass," said Jentleson. "Dems extended a reasonable deal, McConnell spit on it. So reform the filibuster now, organize the Senate as Dems want, and pass Biden's agenda."


Politico reported Tuesday that Schumer and McConnell "are largely expected to run the Senate in a similar fashion to how former Senate leaders Trent Lott and Tom Daschle devised the last 50-50 blueprint in 2001."

"That allowed for committee memberships to be evenly split, with bills that receive tied votes advancing to the floor; the party controlling the White House would still set the Senate schedule and determine which legislation would get taken up," Politico explained. "But there's so much to be negotiated this time around beyond just the operations of the Senate. Among the unanswered questions: When will President Donald Trump's impeachment trial start and how long will it go?"

A spokesperson for Schumer said that during a meeting with McConnell on Tuesday, the New York Democrat "expressed that the fairest, most reasonable, and easiest path forward is to adopt the 2001 bipartisan agreement without extraneous changes from either side," an apparent reference to McConnell's filibuster demand.

Progressive organizer Murshed Zaheed tweeted late Tuesday that it is "encouraging to hear that Schumer is holding firm in not giving in to McConnell in making any commitment on the filibuster."

"For the sake of our democracy and our country he can't budge on this," Zaheed added. "When McConnell/Republicans revert to obstruction, Schumer will need to nuke the filibuster."

The talks between McConnell and Schumer come as progressive advocacy groups are vocally calling on the incoming Democratic Senate to swiftly pave the way for Biden's agenda on coronavirus relief, climate, civil rights, and other key matters by eliminating the legislative filibuster—a move that several right-wing Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), have said they oppose.

Democrats would need every member of their Senate caucus and a tie-breaking vote by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to scrap the filibuster.

In a memo released Monday, the youth-led Sunrise Movement, Justice Democrats, and New Deal Strategies argued that the best way to overcome GOP obstruction is to "get rid of the filibuster immediately, and proceed to pass Biden's agenda through regular order—including must-pass civil rights bills, climate solutions, and statehood."

"A quick strike against the filibuster in January will set Biden up to shepherd his entire agenda through regular order, with full committee involvement and proper levels of oversight and transparency," the memo reads. "Biden has the credibility and the political capital to bring along the small number of wavering senators. Every other path leads to needless complications and worse results for the American people."

'Right on schedule': GOP backers of tax cuts for the rich resume deficit-mongering hours before Biden inauguration

Just 24 hours before the inauguration of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, Republican senators who did not hesitate to approve unpaid-for tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and bloated Pentagon budgets over the past four years suddenly rediscovered their concern for the rising deficit and national debt Tuesday as Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen made the case for a robust coronavirus relief package.

Republican lawmakers have been signaling a return to their hypocritical deficit-mongering for months, leading some to warn of a conscious GOP effort to impose crippling austerity on the incoming Biden administration in the name of "fiscal responsibility."

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) hinted in that direction during Yellen's confirmation hearing Tuesday, using his time to lament the "massive amount of debt that we continue to rack up" and complain that Congress appears "to have no concern" about the problem. In 2017, Thune was one of 51 Republican senators to vote yes on the $1.5 trillion Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which blew a massive hole in the deficit and disproportionately benefited the rich and large corporations.

As Yellen stressed the need for the federal government to "act big" in the face of twin public health and economic crises—pointing to historically low interest rates as further reason to spend without hesitation—Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said "the ink is barely dry" on the previous $900 billion coronavirus relief measure and warned against another large stimulus package, specifically rejecting Biden's $1.9 trillion proposal.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, that "we shouldn't get too comfortable" with low interest rates and called rising deficits "frightening," attributing them to the "mandatory spending side of the ledger"—an oblique reference to Medicare and Social Security.

Without acknowledging the connection between the 2017 GOP tax cuts and soaring deficits, Portman went on to defend the TCJA and claim it was a boon to the economy, a characterization not borne out by the data.


During Tuesday's hearing, centrist Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) pushed back on his Republican colleagues' deficit-hawkery, saying mildly that "we've made some poor choices in terms of what we've borrowed money to spend on."

"Two wars in the Middle East that lasted for 20 years that cost us something like $5.6 trillion, all of which was borrowed, none of which was paid for," Bennet said. "We cut taxes for $5 trillion, almost all of it to the wealthiest people in America. And we borrowed every penny to do that."

Progressives echoed Bennet's critique and condemned GOP senators for conveniently reviving their concerns about deficits and the national debt—which grew by $7.8 trillion during President Donald Trump's four years in the White House—on the eve of the inauguration of a Democratic president.

"Once again Republicans are resurrecting their 'deep concern' about deficits and debt," said Nina Turner, who is running to represent Ohio's 11th congressional district. "Shocking! Only seems to happen when we talk about investing in working people but never when they want to fund wars or give billionaires tax breaks. The people see right through this hypocrisy."

Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.) tweeted that "with a Democrat about to become president, Republicans are now pretending to care about deficits and debts again."

"Let's not pretend to believe them this time," Pascrell added.

Americans for Tax Fairness, a progressive advocacy group, argued Tuesday that with the economy in shambles and growing increasingly unequal due to a "pandemic that has seen mass unemployment as billionaires profit," the incoming administration cannot skimp on relief in deference to the GOP's bad-faith warnings about the deficit.

"We cannot meet the moment and protect working families if we worry about the deficit," the group said. "Want to pay for it later? Tax the rich."

Janet Yellen just gave progressives a lot to be happy about as Biden's Treasury secretary pick

During her Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen endorsed progressives' demand for President-elect Joe Biden to pursue a bold and egalitarian relief, recovery, and reform program capable of tackling the intertwined public health and economic catastrophe triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

"Right now, with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big," said Yellen, an economist and former chair of the Federal Reserve between 2014 and 2018. "In the long run, I believe the benefits will far outweigh the costs, especially if we care about helping people who have been struggling for a very long time."

"Economists don't always agree, but I think there is a consensus now: Without further action, we risk a longer, more painful recession now—and longer-term scarring of the economy later," she added. "People worry about a K-shaped recovery, but well before Covid-19 infected a single American, we were living in a K-shaped economy, one where wealth built upon wealth while working families fell farther and farther behind."

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, backed the Treasury Secretary nominee's call for the incoming Biden administration to disregard fear-mongering about the national debt in order to focus on improving the well-being of struggling working-class households that are grappling with unemployment, hunger, housing insecurity, and other pressing problems.

"The crises that face us are enormous, and we need solutions that match the scale of these crises," Jayapal said, adding that the CPC will support Yellen's efforts to invest in the American people.

Yellen was given a glowing review by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who will soon chair the Senate Finance Committee once Democrats assume control of the chamber. "This is the worst economic crisis in 100 years," said Wyden, "and nobody is better qualified... to lead an economic recovery."

In addition to helping to design and manage the Biden administration's response to current hardships felt by large swaths of the U.S. population—particularly low-income individuals living in resource-deprived communities, a category in which workers of color are overrepresented—Yellen will also influence the federal government's approach to financial regulation and taxation. As Wyden explained during Yellen's hearing, such decisions shape other arenas, including energy policy.

Despite Biden's extensive record of pushing for bipartisan neoliberalism, multiple progressive commentators have pointed to the devastating effects of the coronavirus crisis, the climate emergency, worsening inequality, and a weakened democracy in an attempt to persuade the president-elect to rebuild the economy on a more just and sustainable basis, especially now that Democrats control both chambers of Congress in addition to the White House.

In the face of cynical calls for national harmony from the insurrectionist GOP, The Nation's John Nichols is among those urging Biden to enact a visionary agenda reminiscent of former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal—a robust federal response to the Great Depression that ushered in an era of more fairly shared prosperity through stronger regulations and the public provision of jobs, infrastructure, and services.

According to Nichols:

Few newly elected presidents have faced a circumstance so fraught as the one Biden must address Wednesday. It's been just two weeks since Donald Trump incited insurrection. It's just one week since the outgoing president was impeached. Trump's Senate trial is being organized as armed troops guard the Capitol, where Biden is to be sworn in. Yet, already, Republicans in Congress and pundits on cable television are encouraging the president-elect to focus his address on "healing" and "unity."...
These calls will appeal to Biden, a veteran Washington insider who bid for the presidency in 2020 as a candidate preaching comity and reconciliation...
While a poetic appeal for amity would, undoubtedly, get high marks from newspaper editorial pages and a nod from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, it won't be enough to rally the great mass of Americans to take up the necessary burden of forging transformative change.

Rather than making lukewarm appeals to unity with anti-democratic Republicans, Nichols wrote, Biden must channel Roosevelt, who also inherited an unprecedented crisis and responded not by "compromis[ing] with those who defended the old order," but by altering the purpose of government, turning it into a tool for empowering labor and achieving downward redistribution.

Pleading with Biden to not "govern from the 'center,'" former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote earlier this week that "most of today's GOP live in a parallel universe."

"There's no 'center' between the reality-based world and theirs," said Reich, noting that "last Wednesday, fully 95% of House Republicans voted against impeaching Trump for inciting insurrection, even after his attempted coup threatened their very lives."

"The week before, immediately following the raid on the Capitol, more than 100 House Republicans and several Republican senators objected to the certification of Biden electors in two states on the basis of Trump's lies about widespread fraud," Reich pointed out. "Prior to the raid, several Republican members of Congress repeated those lies on television and Twitter and at 'Stop the Steal' events."

According to Reich, "Trump has remade the Republican party into a white supremacist cult living within a counter-factual wonderland of lies and conspiracies." He added that "there is no middle ground between lies and facts. There is no halfway point between civil discourse and violence. There is no midrange between democracy and fascism."

As Nichols put it, "FDR knew the country needed more than healing. Instead of feel-good talk of unification, FDR called out the Wall Street speculators, the bankers, and their conservative apologists."

As it was in 1932, now is the time for a "call to action," wrote Nichols. He urged Biden to "outline a bold agenda for addressing a pandemic, mass unemployment, a climate crisis, systemic racism, and the broken priorities of a federal government that consistently overfunds the military-industrial complex and underfunds the human needs of a society overwhelmed by hunger and homelessness."

Looking ahead to Biden's inauguration, Jayapal tweeted: "Let's immediately get to work on a bold, progressive agenda to get us through this crisis, fight injustice, and lift everyone up."

The White House's ahistorical 1776 Report denounced as 'racist garbage'

The Trump administration was accused Monday of "reaffirming its commitment to racism above all else" with the release the so-called "1776 Report" that whitewashes slavery and asserts universities are pushing anti-Americanism by exploring the nation's roots of oppression, cruelty, exploitation, and greed.

"The most on-brand thing possible is Trump releasing a report trying to justify slavery on MLK Day," tweeted progressive journalist Jonathan Cohn.

The document is the product of President Donald Trump's 1776 Commission, established in the fall. The 18-member panel includes rightwing activists like Charlie Kirk but "no professional historians," as the New York Times noted.

The commission, according to CNN, represents "an apparent counter to The New York Times' 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning project aimed at teaching American students about slavery. Trump, speaking last fall, called the project 'toxic propaganda.'"

In a statement Monday, the White House described the new report as "a definitive chronicle of the American founding" and "a dispositive rebuttal of reckless 're-education' attempts that seek to reframe American history around the idea that the United States is not an exceptional country but an evil one."

Progressives and historians, meanwhile, denounced the report as not only a scholarly failure but a reflection of the racism espoused by the outgoing administration—from xenophobic travel bans to a refusal to denounce white supremacists to inciting violence by an extremist mob at the Capitol this month.

"The Trump administration is marking Martin Luther King Day by putting out a report that defends the Founding Fathers for owning slaves and attacks the Civil Rights Movement," said government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). "This is an administration racist to the core."

For MLK Day, the Trump administration wants us to stop saying it was bad that people owned slaves pic.twitter.com/F2aHSQAWFP
— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) January 18, 2021

"Our nation will never move forward if we allow our leaders to ignore and rewrite its history," tweeted the ACLU. "America has existed longer with slavery than without," the group added, "and reports like this make it clear that its legacy continues to manifest through systemic racism."

Among the historians sharply criticzing the report was David W. Blight, who called it "a puerile, politically reactionary document" that marks "the product of allowing an array of viciously right wing, willfully ignorant people to have way too much power." He also suggested it could "end up anthologized some day in a collection of fascist and authoritarian propaganda."

The Washington Post also featured criticism of the report from a number of historians including Kali Nicole Gross, an author and professor of African American Studies at Emory University and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of History at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

Gross said the report was "the usual dodge on the long-lasting, harmful impacts of settler-colonialism, enslavement, Jim Crow, the oppression of women, the plight of queer people... as the true threat to democracy."

Here are the steps Biden must take in order to defeat GOP obstruction: memo

With Senate Republicans already indicating that they will attempt to block passage of President-elect Joe Biden's newly released $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, a trio of progressive organizations on Monday released a memo outlining steps the incoming president can take to overcome GOP obstruction and "deliver tangible results that improve Americans' lives."

"We are glad President-elect Biden is ready to start addressing the desperate needs of the American people and put forth a Covid aid proposal which begins to address the many issues we face," reads the document (pdf) crafted by Justice Democrats, the youth-led Sunrise Movement, and New Deal Strategies. "We hope ten Senate Republicans will support it, but are not holding our breath. The big question is, what happens when Republicans block Biden?"

With Democrats set to take unified control of the federal government thanks to runoff victories by Sens.-elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia earlier this month, progressives have argued that the party can no longer point to Republican intransigence as an excuse for failing to advance its agenda.

In their new memo, the progressive organizations outlined several strategic paths available to the incoming Biden administration should Republicans stand in the way of coronavirus relief and other key legislation.

One option, the groups said, is to weaken the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief offer in a bid to win Republican support, which Biden has committed to seeking out despite warnings against compromising with the party that abetted the deadly January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

"We hope Biden rejects the first option out of hand," the groups said. "Watering down the proposals in a hunt for Republican support is a bad idea on both substance and politics. The package Biden has proposed is a start to the aid America needs and it is popular. We should not play into Republicans' hands by delivering less aid while making the bill less popular."

An alternative to watering down a relief proposal that has already been criticized as inadequate is to try to pass the package through budget reconciliation, an expedited process that is not subject to the filibuster and therefore requires only a simple majority vote.

The trio of progressive groups argued that "reconciliation is a tempting option but it is ultimately a path to creating two classes of issues, with civil rights, D.C. statehood, and many other critical issues relegated to second-class status," given Senate rules limiting the kinds of legislation that can be passed through reconciliation.

"If Biden uses reconciliation, which we hope he does not, he must do so aggressively," the groups said, "with the intent of using it as a backdoor to eliminating the supermajority threshold for all issues."

By far the best way to defeat GOP stonewalling, the progressive coalition argued, is to "get rid of the filibuster immediately," a rule change that would require a simple majority vote. To achieve that, every Senate Democrat would need to vote yes and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would have to break the tie, assuming all Republicans oppose the move.

"A quick strike against the filibuster in January will set Biden up to shepherd his entire agenda through regular order, with full committee involvement and proper levels of oversight and transparency," the groups said.

While Biden has said he would be open to eliminating the filibuster, several Democratic senators—including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.)—have voiced opposition to such a reform despite its popularity among Democratic voters.

Justice Democrats, Sunrise, and New Deal Strategies argued that Biden "has the credibility and the political capital to bring along" the senators currently opposed to scrapping the filibuster.

"Every other path leads to needless complications and worse results for the American people," the groups warned. "Biden was elected with a mandate to break gridlock and deliver results. He should use it."

Read the full memo:

We are glad President-elect Biden is ready to start addressing the desperate needs of the American people and put forth a Covid aid proposal which begins to address the many issues we face. We hope ten Senate Republicans will support it, but are not holding our breath. The big question is, what happens when Republicans block Biden? Biden has chosen to reject austerity politics. We hope that he will continue to stick to that approach, and go big always.
When Republicans deny Biden the ten GOP votes he will need to advance his Covid aid package, Biden will have three options:
  1. Dramatically weaken the aid package and deliver worse results for the American people
  2. Seek to pass the entire package through budget reconciliation
  3. Reform Senate rules to get rid of the supermajority threshold, and pass the package through regular order.
Do not water down. We hope Biden rejects the first option out of hand. Watering down the proposals in a hunt for Republican support is a bad idea on both substance and politics. The package Biden has proposed is a start to the aid America needs and it is popular. We should not play into Republicans' hands by delivering less aid while making the bill less popular. When the Obama administration decided to deliver a smaller ARRA package in exchange for paltry Republican support, it was a bad trade. Democrats got no credit politically for a bipartisan deal,and Americans judged Democrats harshly in the 2010 midterms in large part because they did not see enough improvement in their own economic situation. The same is true now: Democrats will be judged in the 2022 midterms on whether they deliver tangible results that improve Americans' lives. Their guiding principle should be to always go big. As former Obama strategist David Plouffe said, "If you do small things and you do the bare minimum, you're probably going to pay a price for that. It's bad for the country and bad politics."
Do not waste precious time. President Obama recently admitted that he and Democratic Party leadership wasted precious time negotiating with moderate Republicans like Chuck Grassley and Olympia Snowe in order to provide the Affordable Care Act bipartisan cover. Biden and Democratic Party leadership have essentially nine months to act before the 2022 election cycle kicks into gear. There's nothing that would please Mitch McConnell more than to allow Republicans to run out the legislative clock on key Democratic priorities.
Reconciliation relegates critical issues to second-class status. Reconciliation is a tempting option but it is ultimately a path to creating two classes of issues, with civil rights, D.C. statehood, and many other critical issues relegated to second-class status. If Biden uses reconciliation, which we hope he does not, he must do so aggressively, with the intent of using it as a backdoor to eliminating the supermajority threshold for all issues. While much of this bill might be able to be achieved through reconciliation, a package of this size is likely to run afoul of the rules. If Biden does use reconciliation, he should apply the principle of going big always, and be prepared to go nuclear to change reconciliation rules if and when the Senate Parliamentarian strikes down key provisions, rather than abandoning them.
The larger problem with reconciliation is that if we only use reconciliation and do not reform the filibuster, certain kinds of legislation will be allowed to avoid the filibuster while other critical issues like civil rights and statehood are left to die by the filibuster. This creates a first- and second-class status for progressive issues, with civil rights, statehood and many climate change solutions relegated to second-class status.
If reconciliation is pursued, it must be with a mind to either limbering up Senate Democrats for a full-blown nuclear strike on the filibuster, or expanding the use of reconciliation so extensively that it can be used for all issues (which is, in effect, going nuclear).
Get rid of the filibuster. It would be far healthier, cleaner, and easier to explain politically to simply reform or get rid of the filibuster immediately, and proceed to pass Biden's agenda through regular order—including must-pass civil rights bills, climate solutions and statehood. A quick strike against the filibuster in January will set Biden up to shepherd his entire agenda through regular order, with full committee involvement and proper levels of oversight and transparency. Biden has the credibility and the political capital to bring along the small number of wavering senators. Every other path leads to needless complications and worse results for the American people. Biden was elected with a mandate to break gridlock and deliver results. He should use it. Just do it—reform the filibuster and deliver results to the American people.

Critics to McConnell: Trump would already be convicted 'if the Senate trial were a right-wing judicial confirmation'

With the U.S. Senate set to reconvene Tuesday—President Donald Trump's final full day in office—progressives are demanding that the chamber immediately get to work on convicting the outgoing incumbent for provoking the violent mob attack on the Capitol Building earlier this month and barring him from holding office again in the future.

"The Senate reconvenes tomorrow," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, tweeted late Monday. "They should immediately convict Donald Trump and hold him fully accountable for inciting a deadly attack on our country."

But the effort to remove Trump from office in the wake of the January 6 invasion of the halls of Congress has been at a standstill since the House of Representatives impeached the president for the second time last Wednesday, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) rejecting Democratic demands that he invoke emergency powers to bring the Senate back from recess and start the trial without delay.

"If the Senate trial was a right-wing judicial confirmation, Trump would have been convicted already," economist Robert Reich remarked last week.

Additionally, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)—who has characterized Trump's removal from office as a matter of life and death—has yet to transmit the newly approved impeachment article to the Senate, a step that is necessary to kick off the proceedings.

The New York Times reported over the weekend that Pelosi is expected to deliver the article to the Senate at some point this week, but it's unclear whether she will do so before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday. Democrats, according to the Times, are "working to draft rules that would allow the Senate to operate on dual tracks to confirm Mr. Biden's cabinet and begin moving his legislative agenda while trying Mr. Trump."

"The speaker's decision to delay sending the article was reminiscent of a similar maneuver a year ago, when she waited almost a month to press charges against Mr. Trump after the House voted to impeach him the first time for pressuring Ukraine to smear Mr. Biden," the Times reported. "The House was waiting, at least in part, to determine the outcome of negotiations between Senate Democrats and Republicans over the shape of a highly unusual proceeding."


Congress' failure to remove Trump from office for inciting the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol earlier this month leaves him in a position to continue exercising the powers of the presidency until the very end, including clemency power that he has thus far wielded largely for the benefit of wealthy political allies and other corrupt actors.

On Tuesday, Trump is expected to roll out his latest pardons and commutations following an intense lobbying push in which some of the president's allies collected payments to pressure the White House on behalf of wealthy individuals seeking clemency.

While Trump has floated the idea of pardoning himself and his adult sons, it is unclear whether he will attempt to do so on Tuesday.

Jayapal warned late Monday that Trump's last-second pardons will "be another abuse of power by a corrupt, failed, one-term, twice-impeached president who has routinely undermined the rule of law, the Constitution, and our democracy."

"We must hold him accountable even after he leaves office," the Washington Democrat added.

Trump's downfall marks an end to a global shame

A few weeks ago, I was contemplating writing a piece for right about now suggesting that as a symbolic gesture and public service, one of Joe Biden's first orders should be to tear down much of that ugly hurricane fencing around the White House and the surrounding neighborhood. After four years of corruption and skullduggery, as an emblem of a renewed openness and transparency, let the public see their new elected leader's home and office without all the barriers.

So much for that plan.

Now Washington is an armed fortress, still reeling from the January 6 fatal assault on the Capital by thousands of Trump supporters, an armed gang of white supremacists and other assorted, extremist tools and cranks determined to use force to stop Congress from officially certifying the votes of the Electoral College in favor of Biden and the new Vice President Kamala Harris, a woman of Black and South Asian heritage.

Since this attempted coup, seven-to-twelve-foot-high walls of security fencing have locked up the city in anticipation of Wednesday's swearing-in. Up to 25,000 National Guard are patrolling the District of Columbia, hoping to prevent another domestic terror attack. The bridges from Virginia are being shut down and law enforcement officials and citizens have been told to keep an eye out for IED's and other explosive devices.

Additional fences first were put up around the White House last spring, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice. Remember the images of peaceful crowds being cleared with gas, rubber bullets and batons so Trump could have a photo op? He stood outside St. John's Church at Lafayette Square clutching a Bible, which for some reason didn't burst into flames at his touch or turn into a swarming ball of vipers.

Then in the fall, the fences were reinforced and expanded yet again in anticipation of post-election trouble. But who knew the real danger would come not from Donald Trump's perceived enemies but from his friends, deceived and deluded white men and women who have bought into every lie and dark conspiracy? Irrationally, they ignore their own self-interest, instead stoking hate and elevating Trump into a smarmy god, behaving like the victims of Jonestown or those cargo cult worshippers in the South Pacific convinced that the next celestial delivery of toasters and mobile phones will drop from the sky any minute now.

Now, in the wake of the January 6 attack, and in anticipation of this week's inauguration, we see even more protective walls with razor wire at the White House and Capitol. The National Mall is closed and city streets barricaded. And all of this against the backdrop of a pandemic that will soon have taken more than 400,000 American lives, thousands every day, many of whom could have been saved but for the malfeasance and indifference of Trump and Republican governors and members of Congress –those who have turned the virus into a political football (much as they have with the election results they knew were accurate but denied to make their president and his devoted base happy). They eschew the most basic safety measures and misrepresent or hide scientific data to score points and make hollow arguments about freedom of expression and cancel cultures (when what's really meant is their taking responsibility for their actions).

In the last couple of days we've learned, according to The Washington Post, "When Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced this week that the federal government would begin releasing coronavirus vaccine doses that had been held in reserve for second shots, no such reserve existed, according to state and federal officials briefed on distribution plans…

Now, health officials across the country who had anticipated their extremely limited vaccine supply as much as doubling beginning next week are confronting the reality that their allocations will remain largely flat, dashing hopes of dramatically expanding access for millions of elderly people and those with high-risk medical conditions.

It breaks the heart to see such suffering inflicted by lies and idiotic, venal and needless behavior, just as it bruises the soul to see Washington under siege, even as the city tries to celebrate the end of Trump's grift and the beginning days of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris—days in which they will have to fight to pull this pummeled nation off the ropes of disease, unemployment, a shattered economy, conspiratorial delusions and a worldwide environment teetering on the edge of doom.

I lived and worked in DC for several years and often return. During the early months of the Obama administration, I was on the Hill one Friday with other writers for meetings with several members of Congress, including then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. An aide walked us from one of the Senate buildings over to Reid's office in the Capitol. As we saw the sun bouncing off the gleaming white cast iron dome, she said with complete sincerity, very "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"-style, "I've been here three years and still get a thrill every time I look across the street and see it."

Dorky and wonky, yes—so of course, I knew just what she meant. The dome is a bright and shining icon for the principle of American representative democracy. But I also know I cling to that notion as someone who's white and privileged.

I know that both the Capitol and the White House were built with slave labor, that African American men in bondage quarried the marble that clads the bricks and cut the wood and stone, that enslaved women and men served in the households of the early presidents, senators and representatives.

And I know that as our country's original sin, slavery and the brutal way we have treated human beings who are Black, indigenous and other people of color are at the root of our entire history from 1619 onward. To that long record of intolerance, add what has happened over the Trump years, plus the ridiculous GOP challenges to votes cast in states with majority-Black cities, and now, the January 6 riots at the Capital. Can you imagine the police response, the bloodshed and arrests if the protesters trying to break through had been people of color? You know the answer.

The core of the hatred, the madness, the resentment from the throngs that invaded Washington this month and various state capitals across America over the last year is not, as some would have you believe, simply about economic misery, misinformation and community dysfunction. It's not just about supporting Trump or even refusing to wear a mask against COVID. Much of it's the fear of the inevitable majority minority, about a quarter of a century away from now, when white Americans no longer dominate, when their sense of superiority by pigmentation is challenged perhaps as never before. Without skin color to tell them who's on top and in charge, there's little left but grievance, intolerance and a senseless lashing out. Unless, of course, this new world is understood and embraced.

There's a certain fearful symmetry to the fact that a racist president who fancies himself a mob boss should find his administration ending with an actual mob, a lawless gang violating the halls of Congress screaming they were "instructed" or "invited here" by the president. "I answered the call of my president," insisted one. "Fight for Trump!" others screamed as they vandalized the Capitol, shattered windows, battered down doors, stole documents, murdered one policeman and injured more than sixty others.

For this, Trump has been impeached a second time, charged with inciting insurrection against his own government. The Senate trial should proceed and President Biden will quickly have to decide if a further reckoning is necessary, not only when it comes to Trump but also the members of his cabinet and Congress who continued to pursue and endorse blatant falsehoods about the election – even after their chambers had been violated by those who would have executed them in a frenzy fomented by their wingnut commander-in-chief. To make this happen at the same time as Biden and Vice President Harris pursue an agenda vital to the nation's survival will require an adept and perhaps impossible threading of the needle.

But enough of this trauma. The end of Trump's time at the top, an end to this national nightmare and global shame, cannot come soon enough. Let us hope that "the better angels of our nature" that Lincoln tried to summon in his 1861 inaugural address on the eve of the Civil War can this time make a miracle. Clean up the stinking mess left behind, stanch the bleeding and then let the healing begin, but not without justice and not without an end to the self-serving lies.

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship

Biden reportedly plans to block Keystone Pipeline — a 'huge victory' for Indigenous-led protests

President-elect Joe Biden is reportedly planning on the day of his inauguration to rescind a federal permit allowing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States, a move environmentalists said would represent an immense victory for the planet attributable to years of tireless Indigenous-led opposition to the dirty-energy project.

CBC News reported Sunday that "the words 'Rescind Keystone XL pipeline permit' appear on a list of executive actions supposedly scheduled for Day One of Biden's presidency," which begins with his swearing-in on Wednesday. The withdrawal of the Keystone XL permit is among several environment-related actions Biden plans to take via executive order during his first day in office, a list that includes rejoining the Paris climate accord.

"A huge victory for Lakota and Indigenous front liners and Water Protectors. None of this would have been possible without their sacrifices," Nick Estes, a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and an assistant professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico, tweeted in response to Biden's reported plan for Keystone XL, a sprawling $8 billion tar sands project that the Trump administration repeatedly sought to advance amid legal challenges and widespread grassroots resistance.

Kendall Mackey, Keep It in the Ground campaign manager for 350.org, said in a statement late Sunday that preventing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. would be a "momentous sign" that Biden "is listening, taking action, and making good on his promises to people and the planet."

"This decision to halt the Keystone XL pipeline on day one in office sets a precedent that all permitting decisions must pass a climate test and respect Indigenous rights," said Mackey. "We expect the administration to make similar announcements on Dakota Access Pipeline and Line 3. We celebrate this great victory and the powerful movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground."

"By ensuring that Keystone XL is reversed," Mackey continued, "Biden is standing on the side of tribal nations, farmers, ranchers, and many communities whose livelihoods would be wrecked by this dirty pipeline."

News of Biden's Inauguration Day plan was met with howls of protest from right-wing Canadian politicians such as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who issued a statement Sunday threatening legal action if Biden follows through on yanking the permit for Keystone XL, owned by Canada-based company TC Energy. Last March, as Common Dreams reported, the government of Alberta committed around $1.1 billion USD to the pipeline project.

"I am deeply concerned by reports that the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden may repeal the presidential permit for the Keystone XL border crossing," Kenney tweeted, a response that was immediately panned by climate activists.

In a last-ditch effort to rescue its long-delayed Keystone XL project, TC Energy is reportedly "committing to spend $1.7 billion on solar, wind, and battery power to operate the partially completed 2,000-mile pipeline system between Alberta, in western Canada, and Texas," according to the Wall Street Journal.

The attempt to brand Keystone XL as an environmentally friendly and sustainable energy project was swiftly ridiculed, with one journalist accusing TC Energy of a "desperate" effort to put "lipstick on its pig."

Dallas Goldtooth, Keep It in the Ground campaign organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, said in response to Biden's plan to rescind the pipeline permit that "our communities have been fighting KXL for over a decade, tooth and nail, in the dirt and in the courts."

"We formed an immensely powerful, unlikely alliance of voices and we never gave up," said Goldtooth. "I will wait for the ink to dry before I fully celebrate, but shit this feels good."

World Health Organization warns we're at the 'brink of a catastrophic moral failure' on vaccine distribution

"I need to be blunt: the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure—and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world's poorest countries."

That ominous warning comes from the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), who on Monday criticized wealthy countries and pharmaceutical companies for pursuing their own coronavirus vaccine arrangements, even though such a nationalistic and competitive approach to inoculation threatens to magnify deadly global inequalities while prolonging the Covid-19 pandemic and associated economic crisis.

"Even as they speak the language of equitable access, some countries and companies continue to prioritize bilateral deals—going around COVAX, driving up prices, and attempting to jump to the front of the queue," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking from the United Nations headquarters in Geneva at the start of the WHO executive board's week-long virtual meeting. "This is wrong."

The WHO-backed COVAX program is an international and cooperative project aimed at ensuring that the inhabitants of poor countries receive vaccines. Tedros explained that while the U.N. health agency has secured 2 billion doses from five producers, with options on more than 1 billion additional doses, its effort to achieve a just distribution of doses could be undermined by vaccine nationalism and the pharmaceutical industry's attempt to maximize profits.

The leaders of poor countries are growing increasingly unsure about "whether COVAX will get the vaccines it needs, and whether high-income countries will keep the promises they have made," said Tedros, adding that "the promise of equitable access is at serious risk."

"Most manufacturers have prioritized regulatory approval in rich countries, where the profits are highest, rather than submitting full dossiers to WHO," Tedros continued. The WHO chief explained that inadequate information sharing by drug makers has impeded the agency's ability to greenlight more shots for emergency use, and called on vaccine producers to accelerate the approval process by providing "full data for regulatory review in real time."

Tedros noted that "just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country—not 25 million, not 25,000—just 25." The WHO chief contrasted that figure with the 39 million doses that had been allocated in 49 higher-income countries.

Alluding to "the mistakes of the HIV and H1N1 pandemics," previous manifestations of global health inequality, Tedros called the Covid-19 response "an opportunity to beat history; to write a different story."

Forty years ago, a new virus emerged and sparked a pandemic. Life-saving medicines were developed, but more than a decade passed before the world's poor got access to them.
Twelve years ago, a new virus emerged and sparked a pandemic. Life-saving vaccines were developed, but by the time the world's poor got access, the pandemic was over.
One year ago, a new virus emerged and sparked a pandemic. Life-saving vaccines have been developed. What happens next is up to us.

Rich countries and pharmaceutical corporations teamed up to create 44 bilateral deals in 2020, and an additional 12 agreements have been signed so far this year, said Tedros. These side deals could postpone vaccine deliveries to poor countries "and create exactly the scenario COVAX was designed to avoid, with hoarding, a chaotic market, an uncoordinated response, and continued social and economic disruption."

"It's right that all governments want to prioritize vaccinating their own health workers and older people first," Tedros continued. "But it's not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries."

Calling the rapid development of safe and effective coronavirus vaccines "a stunning scientific achievement, and a much-needed source of hope," Tedros said that "vaccines are the shot in the arm we all need, literally and figuratively."

"But we now face the real danger," he continued, "that even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the world's haves and have-nots," especially given how the recent emergence of new coronavirus variants has intensified the demand for doses.

"Not only does this me-first approach leave the world's poorest and most vulnerable people at risk, it's also self-defeating," said Tedros. "Ultimately, these actions will only prolong the pandemic, the restrictions needed to contain it, and human and economic suffering."

Echoing critiques of "vaccine apartheid" and demands for a "people's vaccine," the WHO chief called on "all countries to work together in solidarity to ensure that within the first 100 days of this year, vaccination of health workers and older people is underway in all countries."

Tedros urged pharmaceutical companies to devote a larger share of their product to the COVAX supply, rather than prioritizing bilateral deals, and asked countries with bilateral contracts to "share their own doses with COVAX, especially once they have vaccinated their own health workers and older populations."

"There will be enough vaccine for everyone," Tedros noted. "But right now, we must work together as one global family to prioritize those most at risk of severe diseases and death, in all countries."

Feds vetting 25,000 National Guard troops ahead of Biden inauguration for fear of possible 'insider attack'

Federal authorities are heavily vetting the tens of thousands of National Guard troops that are heading to Washington, D.C. from around the nation to help secure President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration ceremony, additional screening reportedly prompted by fears of a possible "insider attack" on the event by right-wing extremists among the soldiers' ranks.

The Associated Press reported Sunday that all 25,000 National Guard members deployed to D.C. are undergoing FBI vetting that involves "running peoples' names through databases and watchlists maintained by the bureau to see if anything alarming comes up." The FBI screening, which has reportedly not yet turned up evidence of a plot, is being conducted on top of routine vetting carried out by the U.S. military.

"The massive undertaking reflects the extraordinary security concerns that have gripped Washington following the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rioters," AP noted. "And it underscores fears that some of the very people assigned to protect the city over the next several days could present a threat to the incoming president and other VIPs in attendance."

Concerns of an attack by National Guard members come in addition to growing fears of violence by outside right-wing extremist groups emboldened by President Donald Trump's incessant lies about the 2020 election and the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol Building, which left five people dead. Trump—who, along with Republican lawmakers, incited the attack—has said he will not attend Biden's inauguration and reportedly plans to leave Washington, D.C. for Florida on the morning of the event.

The presence of white nationalists and other right-wing extremists within the ranks of the U.S. armed forces has long alarmed observers. As HuffPost's Christopher Mathias tweeted in response to the FBI's heightened security vetting, "In 2019, I wrote a series of stories exposing a dozen U.S. servicemen as members of the white nationalist group Identity Evropa."

"Among them were two National Guardsmen... both of whom, after being exposed as fascists, were allowed to stay in the National Guard," Mathias wrote.

Citing Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, the AP reported Sunday that "service members from across the military" attended the January 6 pro-Trump rally near the White House that precipitated the deadly January 6 invasion of the Capitol Building.

"It's not clear how many were there or who may have participated in the breach at the Capitol," AP reported. "So far only a couple of current active-duty or National Guard members have been arrested in connection with the Capitol assault."

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