March 3, 2021

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The Daily 202: Biden throws Obama-era caution to the wind with a big ask for coronavirus stimulus

25 min read

Then he announced that he will appear before a joint session of Congress next month to ask for even more.

“I know what I just described will not come cheaply,” Biden said during a Thursday night speech in Wilmington, Del. “But failure to do so will cost us dearly.”

Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal includes $400 billion for provisions to fight the coronavirus with more vaccines and testing, while reopening schools; more than $1 trillion in direct relief to families, including stimulus payments and increased unemployment insurance benefits; and $440 billion for aid to communities and businesses, including $350 billion in emergency funding to state and local governments.

The incoming president used his prime-time address to unabashedly make the case for deficit spending. “In this moment of crisis, with interest rates at historic lows, we cannot afford inaction,” Biden said. “It’s not just that smart fiscal investments, including deficit spending, are more urgent than ever. It’s that the return on these investments — in jobs, in racial equity — will prevent long-term economic damage and the benefits will far surpass the costs. A growing number of top economists has shown even our debt situation will be more stable — not less stable — if we seize this moment with vision and purpose.”

President-elect Joe Biden revealed his $1.9 trillion emergency relief plan on Jan. 14, which included aid to American families, businesses and communities. (The Washington Post)

This week’s body count and jobs report make the case better than Biden ever could for going big.

Nearly 1 million Americans filed new unemployment claims last week. This was up by 181,000 from the week before, the largest increase since the beginning of the pandemic and the highest number of new unemployment claims since August. An additional 284,000 claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the insurance program for gig and self-employed workers. After 140,000 people lost their jobs in December, the first decline in months, the total number of Americans enrolled in unemployment programs at the start of this year was 18.4 million. For more than 40 weeks now, the number of new jobless claims has been higher than the worst week of the Great Recession. 

The United States may surpass 400,000 confirmed deaths from the coronavirus before Biden takes office. At least 387,299 fatalities have been reported, including 3,856 on Thursday. More than 4,000 deaths were reported on Tuesday and Wednesday. About a million new cases a day are being reported.

The vaccine rollout continues to be plagued by problems. While 30.6 million doses have been distributed, only 9.7 million people have received shots, according to the CDC, far below what President Trump had promised by the end of the year. Biden called these numbers a “dismal failure” and reitered his goal to distribute 100 million shots by the end of his first 100 days in office. “This will be one of the most challenging operational efforts we’ve undertaken as a nation,” he said. “We’ll have to move heaven and Earth.”

Nevertheless, Biden’s big ask is remarkable considering how little breathing room he has on Capitol Hill. 

For a stretch in 2009, Democrats controlled 60 seats in the Senate and 256 seats in the House. After Georgia’s results are certified, Democrats will hold 50 seats in the Senate – with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris available to break ties – and 222 seats in the House.

After the Recovery Act passed, Democrats moved on to health care and climate change, though cap-and-trade never passed the Senate. In the 2010 midterms, though, they lost control of the House. This happened, in part, because many voters felt that the Obama administration was not sufficiently focused on the struggling economy.

Even as the Senate prepares for a second impeachment trial of Trump, Biden aides say he is determined to convey that he is focused primarily on the pocketbook and public health issues that preoccupy most Americans. Biden allies see demonstrating this to voters as key to holding their narrow majorities in the 2022 midterms. This week, he is not giving voice to the anger at Trump. He has been letting other Democrats, and some Republicans, do that. He will give another covid-related speech this afternoon.

“We know how to multitask there,” Harris told NPR in an interview that aired Friday morning. “We have to multitask, which means, as with anyone, we have a lot of priorities and we need to see them through.”

Biden faces pressure from his left to do even more on coronavirus relief.

But the president-elect is holding out hope to woo at least 10 Senate Republicans to back his bill with a filibuster-proof majority. This could prove difficult with such a large price tag. “Incoming Senate majority leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) had urged Biden to consider a higher price tag than what he was initially eyeing for the proposal,” Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report. “Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who will chair the Budget Committee, has said he is working to put together a massive stimulus bill that could pass under special budget rules with a simple majority vote in the Senate, instead of the 60-vote margin normally required. Biden, however, wants to try for a bipartisan majority on his first bill — although his team appears to have conducted little outreach to congressional Republicans on the plan. 

“Democratic aides say that if Republicans do not appear willing to cooperate, they can shift gears quickly and move to ‘budget reconciliation,’ the procedure that would allow them to pass legislation without GOP votes. That’s how Republicans passed their big tax-cut bill … Even holding enough Democrats together to pass legislation along party lines could prove a challenge. The most conservative Senate Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), has already expressed skepticism about the need for a new round of stimulus checks, while Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said Thursday that Biden isn’t going far enough by proposing $1,400 checks, even though Biden’s approach means most people will end up with $2,000 given the earlier batch of $600 checks.”

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said additional stimulus is needed in the United States as the pandemic is “moving from bad to worse.” She characterizes this period as an “unprecedented race” between the virus and the vaccines. “We are still faced with tremendous uncertainties about the exit from the health crisis and we do have a difficult period ahead,” Georgieva told Heather Long, adding that “there is scarring” we have yet to fully understand.

The latest on the contagion

The vaccine reserve was already depleted when the Trump administration vowed to release it. 

“When Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced this week that the federal government would begin releasing coronavirus vaccine doses held in reserve for second shots, no such reserve existed, according to state and federal officials briefed on distribution plans. The Trump administration had already begun shipping out what was available beginning at the end of December, taking second doses directly off the manufacturing line,” Isaac Stanley-Becker and Lena Sun report. “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 not immediately increase, dashing hopes of dramatically expanding eligibility for millions of elderly people and those with high-risk medical conditions. Health officials in some cities and states were informed in recent days about the reality of the situation, while others are still in the dark.

“Because both of the vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States are two-dose regimens, the Trump administration’s initial policy was to hold back second doses to protect against the possibility of manufacturing disruptions. But that approach shifted in recent weeks … The result is that next week’s allocations will remain flat.”

Experts warn of stumbles out of the gate because Trump officials refused to consult with Biden’s team.

“The Trump administration has balked at providing access to information and failed to consult with its successors,” Laurie McGinley, Amy Goldstein, Sun and Stanley-Becker report. “It was not until this week that Biden officials were allowed to attend meetings of Operation Warp Speed, the administration’s initiative to accelerate vaccine development and distribution. They were also not invited to the two Warp Speed sessions this weekend when Trump officials decided on sweeping changes to try to speed up the sluggish vaccine rollout. Nor were they briefed on those changes in advance. While some of those policies mirrored Biden plans, others raised red flags among the president-elect’s advisers. … Despite the challenges, Biden and his team have scooped up extensive information about coronavirus vaccine production and distribution from long-standing contacts in pharmaceutical companies … And they have gotten information through back channels from career staff working ‘off the clock’ and using personal email accounts.”

  • Biden has picked former FDA chief David Kessler to take over Operation Warp Speed next week. Kessler, a pediatrician and lawyer who headed the FDA under President George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton’s presidencies, has been a key adviser to Biden on the pandemic. (NYT)
  • Meanwhile, the Trump administration is racing to enact term limits for top federal health scientists. The regulation could mandate job reviews every five years and put pressure on some of the most prominent internal critics of the president’s pandemic response. (Politico)
  • Debt collectors and payday lenders collected over $500 million from the Paycheck Protection Program, even though the firms have drawn sanctions and received hundreds of consumer complaints. (Peter Whoriskey, Joel Jacobs and Aaron Gregg)

Companies scramble to expand the vaccine supply.

“Production of the two coronavirus vaccines authorized in the United States is accelerating, even as companies with experimental vaccines nearing the end of trials struggle to meet ambitious manufacturing targets,” Carolyn Johnson reports. “That means the United States should have 200 million doses each from the companies with authorized shots, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — enough to guarantee that more than 70 percent of adults will be able to get the two-shot vaccination by the end of July. That is comparable to the share of adults some polls suggest will be willing to roll up their sleeves. ‘I think the U.S. will most probably be one of the first countries of size to get its population protected,’ Stéphane Bancel, chief executive of Moderna, said this week … But doses on paper are different from vials in the freezer — or vaccinations in people’s arms, as the past months have demonstrated. Distribution challenges have received most of the attention, as unused doses stack up. But the risk of raw ingredient shortages, manufacturing delays and other unforeseen production issues loom as the next potential bottleneck as companies work to reach a massive scale of manufacturing.” 

  • Since March, at least 400,000 more Americans have died than would have been expected to in a normal year. (WSJ)
  • In New Jersey, smokers can now get the vaccine before teachers or public transit workers. State officials announced that anyone between 16 to 64 with certain medical conditions – including damage from smoking – can receive shots. (Andrea Salcedo)
  • Hundreds swarmed a vaccine site in Brooklyn after a widely circulated WhatsApp message claimed there were “410+” extra doses that had to be used within four hours. While the New York mayor’s office quickly warned the message was made up, it didn’t stop a crowd swarming the site, where staff quickly became overwhelmed and had to spend hours dispersing the confused masses. (Jaclyn Peiser)
  • Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), who became the fourth lawmaker to test positive since the Capitol riot, received his second dose in the days beforehand. Clinical trials suggest the vaccines bring some protection starting about 10 days after the first shot, but lead to a 95 percent reduction in covid cases about two weeks after the second shot. (BuzzFeed)
  • New data from Israel show a 33 percent decline in infection rates after the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. (WSJ)
  • Brazil, hit by the third-most cases in the world, made a big bet on a Chinese vaccine that turns out to only work half the time. Developing countries that tried to go cheap and buy from the Chinese or Russians are now worse off. (Terrence McCoy and Eva Dou)
  • Julia Letlow, the widow of Rep.-elect Luke Letlow (R-La.), who died from the virus days before his scheduled swearing-in, announced she will seek his seat in a special election. (John Wagner)

The security situation

Vice President Pence visited National Guard troops at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 14, thanking them for their efforts toward holding a safe inauguration. (Reuters)

The rioters came dangerously close to Vice President Pence.

The vice president was not evacuated from the Senate chamber for about 14 minutes after the Capitol Police reported an initial attempted breach of the complex. “Secret Service officers eventually spirited Pence to a room off the Senate floor with his wife and daughter after rioters began to pour into the Capitol, many loudly denouncing the vice president as a traitor,” Ashley Parker, Carol Leonnig, Paul Kane and Emma Brown report. “About one minute after Pence was hustled out of the chamber, a group charged up the stairs to a second-floor landing in the Senate, chasing a Capitol Police officer who drew them away from the Senate. Pence and his family had just ducked into a hideaway less than 100 feet from that landing, according to three people familiar with his whereabouts … If the pro-Trump mob had arrived seconds earlier, the attackers would have been in eyesight of the vice president as he was rushed across a reception hall into the office.”

  • Federal prosecutors say Jacob Anthony Chansley, the shirtless, tattooed “QAnon Shaman” who stood out in a headdress made of coyote skin and buffalo horns, left an ominous note for Pence at his desk in the Senate chamber: “It’s only a matter of time, justice is coming.” (Teo Armus)
  • Internal investigators for the departments of Justice, Defense, Interior, and Homeland Security will investigate how security officials prepared for and responded to the events of Jan. 6. (Devlin Barrett and Missy Ryan)
  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Ok.) apologized to Black constituents for trying to throw out electoral votes for Biden. Lankford acknowledged that his actions “caused a firestorm of suspicion,” adding: “I was completely blindsided, but I also found a blind spot.” (Tulsa World)

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that over half of Americans – and 1 in 8 Republicans – say Trump should be criminally charged for his role in the attacks. “By a margin of more than 2 to 1, Americans say the president has acted irresponsibly in his statements and actions since the election. Nonetheless, the president continues to enjoy strong support from Republicans, among whom a clear majority agree with his false claims about what happened in November, oppose his removal from office and believe Republican elected officials should continue to follow his lead in the future,” Scott Clement, Emily Guskin and Dan Balz report. “Overall, almost 9 in 10 Americans oppose the storming of the Capitol, including 8 in 10 who say they strongly oppose the events that shook the country.” On this question, 80 percent of Republicans agreed in their opposition to the violent insurrection.

Trump created leadership turmoil at security agencies in the run-up to the riot.

“The three top federal agencies responsible for protecting the nation — the Departments of Justice, Defense and Homeland Security — are all being run by acting officials, as the United States endures one of its most sensitive national security crises,” Paul Sonne, Zapotosky and Miroff report. “The leadership vacuum is the product of Trump’s tempestuous relationships with his Cabinet secretaries and tendency to replace them for long periods of time with acting officials … When acting officials run critical agencies, they have reduced standing at the White House, according to former top officials … The confirmation hearing for Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s choice to run the Department of Homeland Security, had been moved up in the aftermath of the riot.” (The confirmation hearing for Avril Haines, Biden’s nominee for director of national intelligence, was abruptly rescheduled from today until next week because members wanted to be able to attend in person.)

Dozens of people on the FBI terrorist watch list came to D.C. on the day of the insurrection. 

“The majority of the watch-listed individuals in Washington that day are suspected white supremacists whose past conduct so alarmed investigators that their names had been previously entered into the national Terrorist Screening Database, or TSDB, a massive set of names flagged as potential security risks,” Barrett, Spencer Hsu and Marissa Lang report. “The watch list is larger and separate from the ‘no-fly’ list the government maintains to prevent terrorism suspects from boarding airplanes, and those listed are not automatically barred from any public or commercial spaces, current and former officials said. … The revelation underscores the limitations of such watch lists. Although they are meant to improve information-gathering and -sharing among investigative agencies, they are far from a foolproof means of detecting threats ahead of time. … It’s unclear whether any of the dozens of individuals already arrested for alleged crimes at the Capitol are on the terrorist watch list.” 

Be prepared for potential acts of domestic terror before and after Jan. 20. 

“U.S. officials have warned authorities nationwide to be on alert for potential acts of violence at state capitols, as well as a possible second attack on the Capitol or on the White House. Law enforcement authorities have said extremists might use firearms and explosives and are monitoring online calls to rally in cities nationwide beginning Sunday,” Shane Harris, Souad Mekhennet and Razzan Nakhlawi report. “Federal authorities are warning state leaders to be prepared for the possibility of attacks in state capitals in the days before Biden’s inauguration. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) declared a state of emergency on Thursday, saying it was ‘reasonable to believe’ that rioters ‘will endanger the safety of legislators, legislative staff and the general public as well as destroy public and historic infrastructure’ in the state. … FBI Director Christopher A. Wray told reporters that officials were monitoring ‘an extensive amount of concerning online chatter’ about events surrounding the inauguration.”

A rehearsal for Biden’s inauguration scheduled for Sunday was postponed until Monday because of security concerns, and the security perimeter for next week continues to expand. All or most of the Mall is expected to close to the general public on Wednesday. The National Park Service plans to announce even more closures today. Federal security officials have asked Virginia officials to shut down all crossings into downtown D.C. from 6 a.m. on Saturday until 6 a.m. on Thursday, though the Key and Chain bridges would remain open. (Emily Davies and Justin Jouvenal)

Battered D.C. police officers stood against the mob.

“Blinded by smoke and choking on gas and bear spray, stripped of his radio and badge, D.C. police officer Michael Fanone and his battered colleagues fought to push back rioters trying to force their way into an entrance to the U.S. Capitol,” Peter Hermann reports. “The officers had been at it for hours, unaware that others in the mob had already breached the building through different entrances. For them, the West Terrace doors — which open into a tunnel-like hallway allowing access to an area under the Rotunda — represented the last stand before the Capitol fell. ‘Dig in!’ Fallone yelled, his voice cracking, as he and others were being struck with their own clubs and shields, ripped from their hands by rioters. ‘We got to get these doors shut.’ An officer since 9/11, the 40-year-old Fanone, who has four daughters, had been working a crime-suppression detail in another part of the District on Jan. 6. … Someone in the crowd grabbed Fanone’s helmet, pulled him to the ground and dragged him on his stomach down a set of steps. At around the same time, police said, the crowd pulled a second officer down the stairs… Someone in the crowd grabbed Fanone’s helmet, pulled him to the ground and dragged him on his stomach down a set of steps. At around the same time, police said, the crowd pulled a second officer down the stairs. … ‘We got one! We got one!’ Fanone said he heard rioters shout. ‘Kill him with his own gun!’”  

The manhunt for anyone involved in the riot continues netting arrests.

“One of the men arrested Thursday, Peter Francis Stager, 41, of Conway, Ark., is accused of using an American flag to beat a D.C. police officer who arrived late in the afternoon to support Capitol Police. Video from the scene shows the officer being dragged down the steps as he is attacked by the crowd,” Spencer Hsu, Rachel Weiner and Ann Marimow report. “According to an affidavit, Stager was identified by two informants who saw video of him at the Capitol — including one clip in which he declared, ‘Everybody in there is a treasonous traitor. Death is the only remedy for what’s in that building.’ … Another of the men arrested Thursday is himself a former public safety official. Robert Lee Sanford Jr., 55, a recently retired firefighter from Chester, Pa., threw a fire extinguisher at members of the Capitol Police, according to law enforcement. … A tipster in Pennsylvania told the FBI on Tuesday that Sanford, a friend of many years, confessed ‘he was the person that the FBI was looking for’ in connection with videos showing a man apparently hurling an object at a group of officers, according to court documents.”

  • Headline of the day: “The guy who flew a Confederate flag in the Capitol has predictably surrendered.” Kevin Seefried has been identified as the man flying the flag as he marched through the building. He and his son surrendered to federal agents in Delaware. (Vice)
  • Sandy Adams, the district director for newly elected Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), was in the crowd outside the Capitol after the building was invaded but did not join those who pushed their way inside. Good, a Trump ally, did not address questions about why Adams remained on the grounds during the riot, but he denounced the violence. (Meagan Flynn)
  • John Earle Sullivan of Utah was charged in federal court in connection with the riots. Sullivan is the founder of Insurgence USA, a social justice group that calls itself anti-fascist but that traveled to D.C. to stop the certification. (Deseret News)
  • Cleveland Meredith Jr. was charged with threatening to kill Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and bringing multiple guns and what he allegedly described as a “s**t ton” of ammunition to D.C. He will be kept in custody. (BuzzFeed)
  • Christine Priola, a school therapist who stormed the Capitol and reached the vice president’s chair in the Senate chamber, has been arrested in Cleveland. (Cleveland19)
  • Video footage shows Audrey Ann Southard, a Tampa singer, using her soprano voice to scream profanely at officers they should tell Pelosi “we’re coming for her!” as the mob stormed the building. (Tampa Bay Times)
  • Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), an adherent to the QAnon conspiracy theory, announced plans to introduce an impeachment resolution against Biden the day after he takes office. (Wagner)
  • Delta Air Lines said customers involved in incidents that targeted Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) will be banned from ever flying aboard its planes again. The airline also put 880 people on its no-fly list for not wearing masks or for unruly behavior related to the election. (KSL)

As the attack unfolded, some Hill staffers remembered their school-shooting drills.

“As the word spread via email alerts and social media that a violent mob had breached the U.S. Capitol last week, workers in offices throughout the complex locked and barricaded their doors, turned out the lights, stayed low to the ground, silenced their phones and sat quietly in the dark hoping the danger would not come to them,” Joe Heim and Valerie Strauss report. “For many of the Hill’s younger staff members, the decision to take those actions wasn’t instinct — it was training. An entire generation of Americans who grew up during an epoch of horrific school shootings have learned since kindergarten what to do when an outside threat enters the building. … ‘We had a lockdown drill every year where we were taught to turn off the lights, block all the windows, not open the door for any reason and to stay away from the windows. Last time I did that drill was senior year in high school, so it wasn’t too long ago,’ [said a 23-year-old Pelosi aide].”

  • Lawmakers introduced a resolution to award Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman the Congressional Gold Medal for his heroism during the insurrection. (Rebecca Tan)
  • A New Yorker reporter heard Trump supporters threaten officers during the riot. “I followed a group that broke off to advance on five policemen guarding a side corridor. ‘Stand down,’ a man in a MAGA hat commanded. ‘You’re outnumbered. … We are listening to Trump—your boss.’ ‘We can take you out,’ a man beside him warned,” Luke Mogelson writes in a first-person account. “The officers backpedalled the length of the corridor, until we arrived at a marble staircase. Then they moved aside. … ‘While we’re here, we might as well set up a government,’ somebody suggested.”

Trump’s legacy

Trump appointees pushed for family separations, ignoring warnings, despite their denials.

“The Trump administration and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions barreled forward with their ‘zero tolerance’ border crackdown in 2018 knowing that the policy would separate migrant children from their parents and despite warnings that the government was ill-prepared to deal with the consequences, according to a long-awaited report issued Thursday by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General. The report called the Justice Department and the attorney general’s office a ‘driving force’ in making sure the Department of Homeland Security aggressively prosecuted adults arriving with children, findings that cast doubt on statements made by Sessions that the government ‘never really intended’ to separate families,” Nick Miroff and Matt Zapotosky report. 

The bureaucratic chaos and trauma for families that resulted from the policy were not unanticipated consequences, the inspector general found. ‘DOJ officials were aware of many of these challenges prior to issuing the zero tolerance policy, but they did not attempt to address them until after the policy was issued,’ the report states. … Sessions at one point told U.S. attorneys along the border that ‘we need to take children away,’ according to the report … Sessions declined to be interviewed for the report by the inspector general’s office. … Former deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein, who also pushed for the prosecutions, expressed contrition in a statement issued through a spokesman … During the crackdown, the government took more than 3,000 children from their parents … Some of the mothers and fathers were deported while their children remained in government custody, and in the ensuing chaos, the government had no functional plan to reunite the families. … More than two years later, attorneys representing the families have been unable to contact more than 500 of the parents whose children were taken.”

Senate Democrats hope for a speedy and bipartisan impeachment trial.

“The Senate Democratic leader’s office is emphasizing cooperation with Republicans rather than conflict,” Felicia Sonmez and Mike DeBonis report. “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has rebuffed Democratic calls for the chamber to reconvene before Tuesday. … Nonetheless, a spokesman for Schumer signaled Thursday that Democrats are far from taking a go-it-alone approach. … A growing number of Republican senators, including McConnell, have signaled in recent days that they are open to convicting Trump … One of those Republicans, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said Thursday that Trump’s words on the day of the riot ‘incited violence,’ which ‘briefly interfered with the government’s ability to ensure a peaceful transfer of power.’ …

One big difference from last year’s impeachment trial: Many of the lawyers who defended the president then are unwilling to do so this time. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who was central to the president’s defense last year, told other staffers to make sure word got out that he was not involved in defending Trump this time, according to one aide. Other lawyers in Trump’s circle, including Jay Sekulow, Pam Bondi, Pat Philbin and Marc Kasowitz, have also said they will not be part of the effort … 

Another difference is that the president can no longer count on McConnell’s support as a given. Ahead of last year’s trial, the Kentucky Republican said there was ‘zero chance’ the president would be removed from office, declared that he was ‘not an impartial juror’ and promised ‘total coordination’ with Trump’s defense team. … Several other Senate Republicans have also notably left the door open to voting to convict Trump in the upcoming trial. They include Murkowski and Sens. Richard C. Shelby (Ala.), Dan Sullivan (Alaska), Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.) and Ben Sasse (Neb.), as well as Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah).”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) moved Thursday to forestall a messy internal fight, making clear he opposed calls for Rep. Liz Cheney’s (Wyo.) ouster as Republican conference chairwoman. “But it remained uncertain whether that would be enough to quell anger at Cheney’s dramatic break with Trump. The reckoning inside the House GOP signals the start of what is expected to be a bruising battle about Trump’s standing in the party during the next four years,” DeBonis reports.

The Secret Service is spending $144,000 so agents protecting Ivanka Trump’s house can go to the bathroom.

“Instructed not to use any of the half-dozen bathrooms inside the couple’s house, the Secret Service detail assigned to President Trump’s daughter and son-in-law spent months searching for a reliable restroom to use on the job, according to neighbors and law enforcement officials. After resorting to a porta-potty, as well as bathrooms at the nearby home of former president Barack Obama and the not-so-nearby residence of Vice President Pence, the agents finally found a toilet to call their own. But it came at a cost to U.S. taxpayers. Since September 2017, the federal government has been spending $3,000 a month — more than $100,000 to date — to rent a basement studio, with a bathroom, from a neighbor of the Kushner family,” Peter Jamison, Leonnig and Paul Schwartzman report. The lease is due to expire on Sept. 26, at which point the federal government will have paid $144,000 for access to the bathroom.

“A White House spokesperson denied that Trump and Kushner restricted agents from their 5,000-square-foot home, with its six bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms, and asserted that it was the Secret Service’s decision not to allow the protective detail inside. That account is disputed by a law enforcement official familiar with the situation, who said the agents were kept out at the family’s request. [After initially declining to comment, the Secret Service issued a denial eight hours after the story published.] … ‘It’s the first time I ever heard of a Secret Service detail having to go to these extremes to find a bathroom,’ said one law enforcement official familiar with the situation. … ‘They sort of came in with the attitude, like, ‘We are royalty,’’ Dianne Bruce, who until recently lived across the street, said of Kushner and Trump. …

“A Secret Service supervisor from the Trump/Kushner detail left an unpleasant mess in the Obama bathroom at some point before the fall of 2017 … That prompted the leaders of the Obama detail to ban the agents up the street from ever returning. The agents assigned to the president’s daughter and son-in-law began driving a mile to Pence’s home at the Naval Observatory, where they were allowed to use a bathroom in a stand-alone guard station. … In October, The Post reported that Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. had enriched their family’s business, as the Trump Organization charged the federal government at least $238,000 for agents’ lodgings when the trio and their families visited Trump properties.”

  • The D.C. Attorney General’s office notified Donald Trump Jr. it wishes to interview him as part of a lawsuit alleging the president’s 2017 inaugural committee improperly funneled money to the president’s business. The tax-exempt nonprofit allegedly wasted $1 million of donors’ money on an overpriced ballroom at the president’s D.C. hotel, and then paid a $49,000 hotel bill that should have gone to the Trump Organization. (David Fahrenthold)
  • The Girl Scouts of Greater New York, which leases office space in Trump’s building at 40 Wall Street in Lower Manhattan, said it is seeking to move out “as a matter of very high priority.” The Girl Scouts’ lease, signed in 2014, was supposed to last 15 years. (Fahrenthold)
  • Harold Bornstein, Trump’s onetime physician, died at 73. He declared in 2015 that “Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency,” only to say later that the letter was actually dictated by Trump himself. (Matt Schudel) 

Trump flipped out when an adviser likened his plight to Nixon’s.

“Trump has been consumed by the unraveling of his presidency during his last days in office, according to people around him, which included a casual discussion among advisers recently about a possible resignation,” CNN reports. ”Trump shut the idea down almost immediately. And he has made clear to aides in separate conversations that mere mention of President Richard Nixon, the last president to resign, was banned. He told one adviser during an expletive-laden conversation recently never to bring up the ex-president ever again. During the passing mention of resigning this week, Trump told people he couldn’t count on Vice President Mike Pence to pardon him like Gerald Ford did Nixon, anyway. 

Eager for a final taste of the pomp of being president, Trump has asked for a major send-off on Inauguration Day next week, according to people familiar with the matter, before one last presidential flight to Palm Beach. But the signs of his impending departure are everywhere including right outside his window. Workers hung bunting Thursday that read ‘2021 Biden-Harris Inauguration’ from temporary stands across from the White House North Portico. It was visible from his third-story residence.”

Trump plans to fly to Mar-a-Lago the morning of the inauguration, and several current White House staff are expected to continue working for him or his son-in-law in Florida. “Trump aides who may work for him after the White House include Nick Luna, the director of Oval Office Operations and Trump’s ‘body man;’ Molly Michael, a deputy assistant to Trump; and Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows,” Bloomberg News reports. Moreover, Trump appears to have reconciled with his former chief strategist Steve Bannon. The two have repeatedly spoken by phone in recent weeks, per Bloomberg.

First lady Melania Trump didn’t know she would not be attending Biden’s inauguration until her husband tweeted it out last week, CNN reports. “‘It’s not the first time she has learned what he was doing because he tweeted it before he told her,’ said a source. … The outgoing first lady hasn’t done anything of significance as the weeks of her tenure come to a close. … Nor has she helped with the onboarding of incoming first lady Jill Biden with whom she has still not made contact.”

Trump couldn’t get top-tier celebrities to perform at his inauguration four years ago, but they’re lining up for Biden’s. Lady Gaga will sing the national anthem, and Jennifer Lopez will also show. The Biden inaugural committee plans to stage a virtual concert on Sunday night with Carole King,, James Taylor, Fall Out Boy, Michael Bivins, Ben Harper and AJR.

Other news that should be on your radar

  • The Mexican government announced charges will not be pursued against former defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos. He was arrested three months ago in Los Angeles on drug-trafficking charges. (Mary Beth Sheridan)
  • New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) sued New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and his police department, alleging excessive force during last summer’s racial justice protests. (Shayna Jacobs) 
  • Biden picked Jaime Harrison to be the next chair of the Democratic National Committee. Harrison, who lost his bid for DNC chair in 2017, raised more than $130 million last year in his effort to defeat Sen. Graham. (Michael Scherer)
  • The Biden transition team started a new Twitter account for the president-elect @PresElectBiden while continuing to clash with the company over its decision to deny the incoming administration all existing followers on the @POTUS and @WhiteHouse accounts. In 2017, Trump inherited everyone who followed Obama’s official accounts. Biden will start from scratch. (Bloomberg)

Quote of the day

“I’m in good company,” Cindy McCain said in response to the Arizona GOP moving to censure her for endorsing Biden. “I think I’m going to make T-shirts for everyone and wear them.” (Daily Beast)

Social media speed read

Trump is now issuing tweets via a longtime adviser:

The wife of White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was spotted removing taxidermy from the West Wing:

And CNN issued an amusing correction: 

Videos of the day

Seth Meyers said Republicans will stop at nothing to make themselves look like victims: 

Stephen Colbert said he’s excited for the final Infrastructure Week: 

James Hohmann

2021-01-15 11:23:40

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