This week, for the first time since the Nov. 3 election, Republicans got their hands around an issue to outlast the presidency of Donald Trump. After CNN looked into it, Hunter Biden admitted that Delaware's U.S. attorney was “investigating my tax affairs.” After Axios looked into it, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California admitted that he had cooperated with the FBI five years ago when they identified a close supporter as a possible spy.
And while all of that unfolded, outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walked behind a lectern at Georgia Tech to deliver a speech about the threat of China, the rival superpower at the center of both stories. Without saying a word about the state's Senate runoffs — he was never expected to — Pompeo argued that outside the Trump administration, there wasn't enough seriousness about the threat the Chinese Communist Party posed to America and the West.
“We cannot allow this tyrannical regime to steal our stuff, to build their military might and brainwash our people, or to buy off our institutions to help them cover up these activities,” Pompeo said. “We cannot let the CCP crush the academic freedom that has blessed our country and has blessed us with great institutions.”
As Pompeo and Trump wind down their days in power, their confrontation with China is setting boundaries for the new president. Joe Biden talks differently about the country than he used to; he no longer touts his great relationship with Xi Jinping and isn't planning to unwind Trump's tariff policies the way he's planning to scrap Trump's international climate policy. Biden's pick of Katherine Tai for U.S. trade representative, based on her work litigating trade disputes with China and in toughening the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, says volumes about the shift.
But Trump got to that position first, and Republicans don't trust that Biden is committed to it. Accusations that Democrats are doing the bidding of China, and may literally be in hock to it, have transferred from the campaign to the transition period, with a good chance of shaping politics over the next year. On the trail, Republicans are looking for damaging political exposure, from Biden's globe-trotting son to a Senate challenger in Georgia.
“They will unilaterally surrender to China,” Trump said Saturday at his rally with Georgia's senators in Valdosta. “They’re already doing it. And Hunter made a lot of money in China. What’s he going to do? [Send] our factories and our jobs overseas.”
Trump is in his current position, in part, because attacks like that didn't land effectively during the presidential campaign. In conservative media, the revelation of a U.S. attorney's investigation into Hunter Biden, which the president-elect's transition team revealed after questions from CNN, has become the latest evidence of a media protecting Democrats at all costs. The newly revealed investigation, to them, is proof that older allegations had not been properly aired. The president argued as much on Twitter last night, quoting coverage of the story on Fox News to suggest that the election was “rigged” and that Biden would have lost 10 percent of his overall vote had the investigation been made public earlier.
That's unknowable, but unlikely. By the end of the campaign, Biden's surviving son was accused of far worse behavior than some as-yet-unknown “tax affairs.” But major media outlets handled allegations against Hunter Biden skeptically — only Trump-friendly outlets got access to a trove of what was described as damaging information — and social media companies prevented the sharing of stories based on Biden's mysteriously obtained emails. Republicans have picked up their theory from the campaign, though no evidence has emerged to support it: The Democrat may well be compromised by financial ties between Chinese banks and his family.
“The idea would simply be to get to the truth — not to go on a political attack, but to get to the truth,” Rep. Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania said in a Wednesday interview with conservative TV channel Newsmax, endorsing the idea of a special counsel to investigate the president-elect's son. “I look forward to hearing Hunter Biden’s explanation as to how he had these highly lucrative deals with Ukraine and China.”
The U.S. attorney’s office does appear to center on Hunter Biden’s China-related business deals. Swalwell's story is less complicated. As reported by Axios, from 2011 to 2015 the congressman was targeted by a suspected Chinese operative, “Christine Fang,” as part of a wider effort to infiltrate American political institutions. Fang was even able to help place an intern in Swalwell's office, but after being contacted by the FBI, Swalwell cut ties with Fang, who then left the country. (Follow-up reporting Wednesday found that some Swalwell family members remained connected to Fang on social media, which doesn't contradict the congressman's story.)
Swalwell cooperated with the story, then suggested that the fact it was leaked at all might have been a protective measure by the president. That exacerbated what may have been inevitable: Republicans arguing that the congressman had spent years accusing the president of doing the bidding of Russia, while never discussing a Chinese effort to compromise him.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who once joked privately about Russia's president paying off Trump, called on Democrats to take Swalwell off House Intelligence Committee; Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, asking for the same, wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that Swalwell “has spent years spreading Russian disinformation in an effort to take down the President, all the while being used as a pawn by the Chinese Communist Party,” even though the spy trap ended two years before Trump took office.
Trump-backed questions about the election's integrity have been largely baseless and easy to discredit. That's not true of these China stories. No one disputes that the Chinese government has engaged in espionage and the theft of intellectual property. But Republicans, in the Trump years, could argue that Democrats had not taken any of that seriously enough and were overly dismissive of China's ambitions and subterfuge.
“I've seen, in my six years in the Intelligence Committee that there seems to be a disbelief among many people in Washington, and in the press, about the threat of espionage from China,” said Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, one of the GOP's chief China critics, said in an interview shortly before the election. “I'm not sure exactly why they're so skeptical of that. Maybe it's a sense that kind of history ended in the 1990s, with the fall of the Soviet Union, and that those kind of old-fashioned tools of statecraft and competition had disappeared. It's just not the case, especially with China.”
One advantage for China hawks, clearer since Nov. 3, is how primed Republican voters are to believe the worst about the Chinese Communist Party and its influence. The origin of covid-19 in Wuhan made the Trump administration even more hawkish about China, and conservative media followed suit.
Fringier actors have benefited from all this, or exploited it. The Epoch Times and other media associated with the dissident Falun Gong movement, which have gone all-in on false claims that Biden stole the election, have become omnipresent at Trump events; a conservative seeking out their coverage, which asserts that the election is not over, will also get information on China's abortion policies and suppression of political enemies. On Thursday, anyone visiting the Epoch Times' website got more than news about the “contested” election: They could watch a stream of a Washington, D.C., rally to “designate the CCP as a Transnational Criminal Organization,” prompted by the Trump-endorsed #StopTheSteal campaign.
China has begun appearing in conspiracy theories about election fraud, too. In her now-dismissed “Kraken” lawsuits, onetime Trump campaign attorney Sidney Powell submitted expert opinion claiming that election software could have been manipulated by China. In interviews, Powell has said that she “heard a video of somebody ordering ballots from China” and that her team was “essentially fighting the entire globalist elite power structure” to defeat fraud. (No evidence has been provided of any of this that has convinced courts.)
“Frankly, that includes a lot of American corporations that have international interests and want to do business with China, have made back deals with the Chinese, and untold numbers of politicians who have done the same thing,” Powell told Newsmax this week.
Republicans are putting some distance between their efforts and Powell's. But China has been given a role in the Georgia Senate campaigns, too. In September, Democrat Jon Ossoff's updated financial disclosure revealed that his documentary company took $5,000 from PCCW Media Limited, a Hong Kong media company whose owner had opposed the city-state's pro-democracy protests.
At first, the scandal was that Ossoff didn't disclose this earlier; as the campaign has gone on, Republicans began to ask what Ossoff really owed to the CCP. When Ossoff walked onstage at his first runoff rally, a group of Republican protesters unfurled a Chinese flag and chanted “China loves Ossoff,” until they were removed. When he arrived at Georgia Public Broadcasting for Sunday's debate, the scene repeated itself, another live dramatization of the accusations made in TV ads and interviews by his opponent, Sen. David Perdue.
“Jon Ossoff has a China problem,” Perdue told Fox News after Republicans filed a demand for a probe into Ossoff with the Senate Ethics Committee. “His shoddy explanations about his business ties with the communist Chinese government raise more questions than they answer — and leave Georgians doubtful that Ossoff can be trusted to hold foreign adversaries accountable.”
At some point — perhaps after the electoral college's vote Monday, perhaps after the inauguration five weeks later — Republicans will run out of questions and challenges to the election results. The questions about China, and innuendos about whether Democrats can be trusted to confront them, have no end date.
“Trump pressures congressional Republicans to help in his fight to overturn the election,” by Rachael Bade, Josh Dawsey and Tom Hamburger
Finding allies in Congress who'd do the unthinkable.
“As Trump rails against loss, his supporters become more threatening,” by Nick Corasaniti, Jim Rutenberg and Kathleen Gray
The harassment facing some election officials who've certified results for Biden.
“Supreme Court denies Trump allies’ bid to overturn Pennsylvania election results,” by Robert Barnes and Elise Viebeck
The end of a legal challenge, though supporters don't treat it that way.
Did the Lincoln Project's commercials backfire?
“Terry McAuliffe announces run for second term as Virginia governor,” by Laura Vozzella
Everything old is new again.
How much did it matter, on Tuesday, when the electoral college's “safe harbor” deadline passed? For the Trump campaign, not at all.
In a statement that day, hours before the Supreme Court rejected Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly's lawsuit to invalidate the state's absentee ballots, Trump campaign attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis pointed out that “the only fixed day in the U.S. Constitution is the inauguration of the President on January 20 at noon.” And by Thursday, Giuliani was appearing for the second time at an election hearing in Georgia — virtually, after both he and Ellis had contracted covid-19.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have now certified their election results and their slates of electors, but the challenges aren't stopping. In Wisconsin today, pro-Trump attorneys argued in both federal and state court that the 2020 election results should be voided.
They offered no evidence of voter fraud; as expected, they argued that the decisions of the state elections commission, and of elections officials in the state's Democratic stronghold counties, allowed greater access to the ballot without the express approval of the Republican state legislature and because there were more votes cast by locally approved methods than the vote gap between Trump and Biden, the election should be tossed.
“There is no right to vote in an illegal election,” attorney Bill Bock argued in the district court hearing. “As a matter of law, the presidential election in Wisconsin was a failed election and of no legal consequence.”
Neither lawsuit is looking very healthy. U.S. District Judge Brett Ludwig, a Trump appointee supported by both parties, opened the hearing by calling it “a political case” and warned that the relief sought by Trump's supporters would require “probably the most remarkable ruling in the history of this court or the federal judiciary.”
Nonetheless, a substantial number of Republicans are continuing to get behind lawsuits that would overturn the results in key states, including the states they represent. By Thursday afternoon, after Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro responded to Texas's lawsuit urging the Supreme Court to let them sue Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the Republican speaker and majority leader of Pennsylvania's general assembly offered a brief supporting the lawsuit.
The court could announce its decision on that case at any moment, and while it repeats a series of debunked claims from other failed lawsuits, the Texas case has been embraced by Republicans as their best shot at overturning the election — a status quietly revoked from Sidney Powell's failed “Kraken" lawsuits, and of the failed Kelly et al case.
Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana emailed colleagues this week asking for them to sign on in support of the Texas case, telling them that the president himself was “anxiously awaiting” to see who did so. By Thursday afternoon, 105 of his colleagues, a slight majority of the House GOP conference, had done so, including House Minority Whip Steve Scalise. Meanwhile, 27 House Republicans signed a letter asking for a special counsel to be appointed to look into election integrity, citing frustration that the Department of Justice has not found any fraud to pursue action against.
Senate Leadership Fund, “Will Control.” Like most Republican ads in Georgia's Senate races, this warns voters that the real energy behind Democrats is coming from the far left, expecting Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock to do their bidding if they get elected on Jan. 5. “Radicals in California are flocking to Georgia," a narrator warns, over footage of an unspecified protest.
Do you trust that the results of the 2020 election are accurate? (NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist, 1,065 voters)
To argue for their election challenges, the president and his allies have argued that half, if not more, of the country, has doubt in the results. In Wednesday's filing to the Supreme Court, the president even cited a source: Rasmussen, a controversial pollster that found nearly half of voters ready to believe that the election was stolen.
Other pollsters haven't seen that, though all of them find a majority of Republicans agreeing with the president. Here, 95 percent of Democrats say the results were accurate, alongside 67 percent of independents and just 24 percent of Republicans. Doubt is highest in the demographics that were most supportive of Trump: 60 percent of White evangelicals, 52 percent of White men without college degrees, and 53 percent of rural voters.
Do you believe there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election? (Quinnipiac, 978 registered voters)
An overlapping question, from a different pollster, gets a similar response: A majority of Trump voters believe that the election was stolen, but few other people do. By a 19-point margin, White voters without college degrees believe that there was election fraud, and 77 percent of all Republican voters agree. All White voters are split on the question, meaning that around one-fifth of White voters who backed Trump believe that he lost the election fairly.
That's the best Trump can do on a question like this; asked if the election was “legitimate,” the “no” margin among White voters without college degrees shrinks to 13 points, and the share of skeptical Republicans falls to 70 percent. Some voters are willing to believe that some fraud occurred, but not enough to undermine the election. Of course, as we point out above, the Trump campaign's arguments in court have avoided the “fraud” charge to argue that local officials voided the election by making voting easier.
In the states
Democrats are already mobilizing for two 2021 elections — one for a House seat in Ohio, and one for governor of Virginia. Both races could turn into battles between the party's business-friendly faction and its strengthened left wing.
Former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe officially announced a comeback bid yesterday, citing a need “to think big and act bold” and his plan to raise teacher pay in the commonwealth above the national average. McAuliffe's move had been expected for months, but three Black Democrats had beaten him into the race: Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, state Del. Jennifer D. Carroll Foy and state Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan.
By the end of the day, all three of them suggested that the race was really about the “future” of Virginia, though only Carroll Foy took a real swing at McAuliffe, calling him “emblematic of the status quo.” No state has elected a Black woman to the governor's office, a fact that's driven some early interest in Carroll Foy and McClellan; Fairfax, who would be the state's second Black governor, has been dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct when he was a college student and has resisted calls to resign from his current office.
State Del. Lee Carter also filed paperwork that will let him explore a possible run for governor, telling The Post's Antonio Olivo that the election should focus on “transformational change” and emphasizing his early support for marijuana legalization, a cause now supported by Gov. Ralph Northam. Carter, a member of Democratic Socialists of America, won an upset victory in 2017 and held on against a primary challenger and serious Republican challenge in 2019. He's not giving up his seat yet, while Carroll Foy is resigning from hers, setting up a Jan. 5 election to replace her.
In Ohio, Nina Turner, a close ally of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and critic of Democratic Party leadership, filed to run in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District ahead of an expected special election next year.
Turner, who did not respond to a request for comment, filed a statement of organization Wednesday, the first step in launching a campaign. Ohio Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, whom President-elect Joe Biden has nominated to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will vacate the Cleveland-area seat if confirmed.
Republicans drew the seat to be safe for Democrats, and it gave Biden 80 percent of the vote last month, making the winner of any Democratic primary all but certain to head to Congress. Turner, who has represented part of Cleveland in Ohio’s state Senate, has not run for office since losing a race for secretary of state in 2014, a tough year for the party across the Midwest. After that race, Turner initially supported an effort to draft Hillary Clinton into the 2016 presidential race but later switched to support Sanders.
She was a popular surrogate for the senator that year, went on to lead his political organization Our Revolution and co-chaired his 2020 presidential campaign. But while Sanders threw himself into the work of electing Biden, Turner has remained critical of centrist Democrats and party officials. In 2017, she called the Democratic National Committee “dictatorial” after a delegation of protesters, led by her, was not allowed into its headquarters. This summer, she compared settling for Biden to getting half of a “bowl of [excrement]” and being happy that the bowl wasn't full.
Fudge has not yet resigned her seat, which must happen before Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine sets a date for a primary and election to replace her. Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Shontel Brown and former Cleveland City Councilman Jeff Johnson have also announced bids, and while they've been elected more recently than Turner, neither has her national name recognition, a major fundraising asset once the race gets underway.
Joe Biden’s presidency will begin like Barack Obama’s presidency did in at least one way — before he’s sworn in, Georgia will hold a Senate runoff election. But while Obama stayed out of the state after his 2008 presidential victory, Biden announced Thursday that he’ll campaign in the state Tuesday, the day after the electoral college certifies his victory. (Obama lost Georgia by five points, while Biden became the first Democratic presidential nominee since 1992 to win it.)
Biden had hinted last month that he’d make the trip, complementing the handful of Democrats who’ve headed down to help Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. Vice President Pence, meanwhile, made his third trip to the state Thursday, stopping in Augusta to deliver more or less the speech he’s given since Nov. 3: Georgians can “hold the line” against Democratic control of the Senate, and the Trump campaign would fight “until every illegal vote is thrown out.”
President Trump is expected to head back down to the state soon, though it’s unclear whether he’d do so before or after the electoral college vote.
… four days until the electoral college votes
… 26 days until runoffs in Georgia
… 27 days until a joint session of Congress to certify the presidential election
… 41 days until the inauguration