After instigating mob violence among his supporters who stormed the Capitol on Wednesday, Trump's presidency is ending with intensifying discussions of the 25th Amendment and renewed talks of impeachment. Trump did finally and grudgingly acknowledge he would be leaving the White House on Jan. 20, but some worried that wasn't soon enough.
- Key quote: “There's lots of talk about 25th Amendment but nobody I’ve talked to inside the White House and administration thinks it’s possible,” a Trump campaign official told Power Up. “The repercussions would be greater than the actual act. Can you imagine the chaos it’d cause? His supporters would take to the streets.”
Scores of Democrats — and a growing number of prominent Republicans — called for removing Trump under the 25th Amendment, which can eject a president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) threatened another impeachment if Vice President Pence and Trump's Cabinet did not act.
Pence is said to oppose 25th Amendment efforts, as first reported by Business Insider's Tom LoBianco. But private discussions among senior officials and public calls from former administration officials and top Republicans about invoking it mounted on Thursday.
- “Yes, I would,” Trump's former White House chief of staff John Kelly told CNN's Jake Tapper when asked if he'd back invoking the 25th Amendment. “I think that the Cabinet should meet and have a discussion. I don't think that it'll happen, but I think the Cabinet should meet and discuss this because the behavior yesterday and in the weeks and months before that has just been outrageous from the President.”
- “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held informal conversations within their own agencies about the contours of the 25th Amendment, the invocation of which would begin a process to remove Trump from office, according to three sources familiar with the matter,” CNBC's Kayla Tausche reports.
- Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) became the first GOP lawmaker to publicly call for invoking the constitutional procedure to trigger Trump's removal from office: “The president is unfit and the president is unwell, and the president must now relinquish control of the executive branch voluntarily or involuntarily,” he said in a video on Twitter.
- “Now, if something else happens, all options would be on the table,” said Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) of the 25th Amendment.
- “I think people should pursue whatever they believe will make is possible — through the most expeditious way possible — for the president to step down and for the vice president to assume the powers of the office for the next 14 days so that an orderly transition can take place,” Gov. Charlie Baker (R-Mass.) said Thursday.
- William P. Barr, who resigned last month as attorney general, called Trump’s conduct “a betrayal of his office and supporters" in a statement to the Associated Press, adding “orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable.”
- The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, Rupert Murdoch's flagship newspaper and “a bellwether for the conservative establishment” also called on Trump to resign:
Our colleagues Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey confirmed that “preliminary discussions of the 25th Amendment were underway,” but the former senior administration official briefed on the talks “cautioned that they were informal and that there was no indication of an immediate plan of action.”
- “Some senior administration officials have been discussing doing so out of fear that Trump could take actions resulting in further violence and death if he remains in office for even a few more days,” a person involved in the conversations told Phil, Ashley and Josh.
Resign and repeat: Two Cabinet officials and a growing number of administration officials, including Trump's former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney – now a special envoy for Northern Ireland -- resigned in protest of the president's behavior.
- Transportation Seretary Elaine Chao yesterday announced she would leave, scooped our colleagues Ian Duncan, Michael Laris, and Josh Dawsey: “Yesterday, our country experienced a traumatic and entirely avoidable event as supporters of the President stormed the Capitol building following a rally he addressed,” Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), wrote in an email to staff. “As I’m sure is the case with many of you, it has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.”
- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos resigned last night, scooped the Wall Street Journal's Josh Mitchell: “We should be highlighting and celebrating your Administration’s many accomplishments on behalf of the American people,” DeVos wrote in a letter to Trump. “Instead we are left to clean up the mess caused by violent protesters overrunning the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to undermine the people’s business. That behavior was unconscionable for our country. There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me.”
- Mulvaney announced his resignation on CNBC's Squawk Box, adding “those who choose to stay, and I have talked with some of them, are choosing to stay because they’re worried the president might put someone worse in."
- The New York Times has a complete list of the resignations we've seen thus far.
- The others: “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and national security adviser Robert O’Brien have all gotten multiple phone calls within the last 24 hours from concerned former senior national security officials and the leaders of major corporate national security firms asking if they plan to stay on, according to a person familiar with the conversations who had spoken with all three of them,” CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports.
- “I understand the high emotions here,” former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the New York Times's Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, “but I hope that the national security team will stay in place because it’s important to send a signal to our adversaries that the United States is prepared and functioning and they shouldn’t try to take advantage at this time.”
- Ulterior motives?:
How how it would work, anyway: the amendment ratified in 1967 would “allow Pence and a majority of the Cabinet to declare that Trump is unfit for duty. They would then send a letter to Congress about their decision,” our colleague Tim Elfrink writes.
- “At that moment, said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Law, Pence would assume the powers of the presidency. If Trump were in a coma or otherwise incapacitated, Pence would keep that power indefinitely,” Tim reports.
- “But the amendment also gives Trump the power to object by writing his own letter to Congress — an action that would immediately restore his powers. If that happened, though, Pence and the full Cabinet would have four days to overrule him.”
- “If Pence and the Cabinet did overrule Trump, Congress would be called on to decide the dispute. Pence would remain in power in the meantime.”
- “The amendment orders Congress to convene within 48 hours to decide on whether to boot the president — but then it gives lawmakers 21 days to make a decision. Affirming Pence’s move would require a two-thirds majority of both the House and Senate. That’s an unlikely result, considering a majority of House Republicans voted early Thursday to back Trump’s electoral objections. But if the House and Senate leadership simply stalled the vote, they could effectively run out the clock on Trump’s term, leaving Pence in charge until President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, Chemerinsky said.”
The president himself finally made an attempt to clean up the wreckage by issuing another video recorded only after “a growing chorus of lawmakers had called for his immediate removal from office, did Trump grudgingly accept his fate,” per Phil, Ashley and Josh. The video, however, was not posted on Trump's Facebook nor Instagram as he's been blocked from his accounts “indefinitely,” Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg announced Thursday.
- “Now Congress has certified the results,” Trump said. “A new administration will be inaugurated on January 20th. My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation.”
- But inside the room on Wednesday, Trump's was “a total monster,” a White House official told them: “He kept saying: ‘The vast majority of them are peaceful. What about the riots this summer? What about the other side? No one cared when they were rioting. My people are peaceful. My people aren’t thugs,’ ” an administration official said. “He didn’t want to condemn his people.”
“We are looking at all actors here”: Trump's milquetoast mea culpa also came as it became increasingly clear the Justice Department hadn't ruled out the possibility Trump might be investigated for inciting the mob that overran the Capitol. Rudy Giuliani and two of Trump's sons also delivered incendiary remarks to supporters earlier in the day:
- “Asked if federal agents and prosecutors will look at the incendiary statements made by speakers at Trump’s rally shortly before a mob of his supporters breached security at the Capitol and wreaked havoc inside, acting U.S. attorney Michael R. Sherwin said: ‘Yes, we are looking at all actors here, not only the people that went into the building, but … were there others that maybe assisted or facilitated or played some ancillary role in this. We will look at every actor and all criminal charges,’” our colleague Devlin Barrett reports.
- “Asked specifically if that included Trump, who had urged the crowd to ‘fight like hell’ before the rioting began, Sherwin replied: ‘We are looking at all actors here, and anyone that had a role, if the evidence fits the element of a crime, they’re going to be charged.’”
Key: “Mr. Trump initially resisted taping the video, agreeing to do it only after aides pressed him and he appeared to suddenly realize he could face legal risk for prodding the mob, coming shortly after the chief federal prosecutor for Washington left open the possibility of investigating the president for illegally inciting the attack by telling supporters to march on the Capitol and show strength,” Baker and Haberman report.
- “Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel, had warned Mr. Trump of just that danger on Wednesday as aides frantically tried to get the president to intervene and publicly call off rioters, which he did only belatedly, reluctantly and halfheartedly.”
Pardon me?: Trump has “shown signs that his level of interest in pardoning himself goes beyond idle musings,” the New York Times's Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report.
- “It was not clear whether he had broached the topic since he incited his supporters on Wednesday to march on the Capitol, where some stormed the building in a mob attack… Mr. Trump, who has told advisers how much he likes having the power to issue clemency, has for weeks solicited aides and allies for suggestions on whom to pardon. He has also offered pre-emptive pardons to advisers and administration officials. Many were taken aback because they did not believe they were in legal jeopardy and thought that accepting his offer would be seen as an admission of guilt, according to the two people.”
- “The discussions between Mr. Trump and his aides about a self-pardon came before his pressure over the weekend on Georgia officials to help him try to overturn the election results or his incitement of the riots at the Capitol. Trump allies believe that both episodes increased Mr. Trump’s criminal exposure, and more potential problems emerged for the president on Thursday when the Justice Department said it would not rule out pursuing charges against him over his role in inciting Wednesday’s violence.”
On the Hill
A CAPITOL POLICE OFFICER IS DEAD: “Late on Thursday, a Capitol Police officer died of injuries he sustained in the attack. Officer Brian D. Sicknick, a 12-year veteran on the force, was ‘injured while physically engaging with protesters,’ the department said in a statement, and collapsed after returning to his division headquarters before dying at a local hospital,” Peter Hermann, Carol D. Leonnig, Aaron C. Davis and David A. Fahrenthold report.
Dozens arrested: “Several dozen people arrested in the violent chaos at the U.S. Capitol made their first appearances in court as authorities vowed to track down additional suspects," Keith L. Alexander, Spencer S. Hsu and Paul Duggan report.
- “Meanwhile, D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III vowed that his department would arrest “each and every one of the violent mob,” and said that investigators are circulating information publicly and to FBI offices nationwide, including photos of rioters destroying property inside the Capitol."
This inside-the-Capitol account from New York Times photographer Erin Schaff is a disturbing, must-read:
- “The mob massed together and rushed the officer, forcing open the door, and people flooded in. I ran upstairs to be out of the way of the crowd, and to get a better vantage point to document what was happening. Suddenly, two or three men in black surrounded me and demanded to know who I worked for," Schaff writes.
- “Grabbing my press pass, they saw that my ID said The New York Times and became really angry. They threw me to the floor, trying to take my cameras. I started screaming for help as loudly as I could. No one came. People just watched. At this point, I thought I could be killed and no one would stop them. They ripped one of my cameras away from me, broke a lens on the other and ran away.”
Top security officials resign: “Three of Congress’s top security officials — Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund, House Sergeant at Arms Paul D. Irving and Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael C. Stenger — had resigned or were set to,” our colleagues write.
This is just the beginning of recriminations for a massive security breach: “Failures began days before the attack, when law enforcement agencies across Washington failed to prepare for an assault on the Capitol — even as Trump supporters openly plotted one online.”
- It wasn't until the day of the planned protest that fencing went up around the complex: “Unlike other major government events like inaugurations, there was no large-scale frozen security zone around the building, and Justice Department officials did not create a multiagency command center. Instead, both federal law enforcement agencies and National Guard troops kept a low profile, scarred by criticism of their involvement in the response to protests after the death of George Floyd last summer.”
Once officers were attacked, they were quickly overrun: “Once the breach of the Capitol building was inevitable, we prioritized lives over property, leading people to safety,” Gus Papathanasiou, head of the Capitol Police union, said in a statement. The union called on Sund and his entire command staff to resign.
- But there are reports some rioters were treated too well: “They could not find [Senate Minority Leader Charles E.] Schumer’s office. He said they asked a Capitol Police officer, who tried to direct them. But they appeared to have gotten nowhere near the minority’s leader’s office,” the Times's Sabrina Tavernise and Matthew Rosenberg report.
- There's also video of an officer appearing to take a selfie with a protester and another one helping someone down the steps.
KNIVES OUT FOR JOSH HAWLEY: Denunciations have been quick and severe for Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who was the first senator to pledge to object to a state's certification during the electoral vote count, a key milestone as objections couldn't have been heard without both a House lawmaker and senator signing on.
- “Supporting Josh and trying so hard to get him elected to the Senate was the worst mistake I ever made in my life," former Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.) told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after the failed insurrection. “This guy,” he said of the senator, “is doing real harm. What he’s doing to his party is one thing. What he’s doing to the country is much worse."
Simon & Schuster dropped a forthcoming book by Hawley: “This could not be more Orwellian,” the senator later responded, claiming his First Amendment rights were violated, because a private company is now refusing to publish his tome. He pledged “to see you in court.”
BIDEN TAPS THREE MORE CABINET MEMBERS: He will name Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) as secretary of commerce, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as labor secretary and Isabel Guzman, director of California’s Office of the Small Business Advocate, as head of the Small Business Administration, David J. Lynch, Jeff Stein, Eli Rosenberg and Andrew Freedman report.
What this means: As of now, there will not be an Asian American or a Pacific Islander as a Cabinet secretary for the first time in over two decades. More than 100 members of Congress had pressed Biden to name an Asian American or Pacific Islander Cabinet secretary for this exact reason.
- There could still be one Cabinet-level post: Biden has yet to name a CIA director, which was a Cabinet-level job in the Trump administration but was not in the Obama administration, Politico's Alex Thompson and Theodoric Meyer point out. (Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris, Neera Tanden and Katherine Tai are all Asian American, but none will be at the secretary level.)
The confirmation crunch: “Biden’s incoming administration is in danger of not having a single Cabinet official confirmed on Inauguration Day, upsetting a tradition going back to the Cold War of ensuring the president enters office with at least part of his national security team in place,” Paul Kane, Karoun Demirjian and Anne Gearan report.
To date only Lloyd J. Austin III, Biden's pick to lead the Pentagon, has a confirmation hearing scheduled: “The scenario would set up an unprecedented moment in which every Cabinet post would have an acting secretary, with either the top career official in a given federal agency taking the helm or some temporary official appointed by Biden.”
- One of the holdups is around Antony Blinken: “In the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden's secretary of state nominee confirmation is stalled amid a partisan dispute over whether the candidate has furnished the panel with satisfactory answers to prehearing questionnaires. Blinken submitted his paperwork to the panel on Dec. 31 and has yet to meet with the vast majority of the panel’s members — a situation that has given rise to partisan finger-pointing about who is to blame, and insinuations from Democrats that the GOP chairman, Sen. James E. Risch of Idaho, is intentionally drawing out the process.”
Outside the Beltway
ANOTHER GRIM RECORD: “The United States marked another grim milestone Thursday with more than 4,000 covid-19 deaths reported in a single day, federal disease trackers said research suggests that people without symptoms transmit more than half of all cases of the novel coronavirus,” Brittany Shammas and Ben Guarino report.
- “The findings, which came from a model developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, demonstrate the importance of following the agency’s guidelines about wearing a mask and maintaining social distance, officials said. The emergence of a more contagious variant of the virus, first detected in the United Kingdom and discovered in eight U.S. states by Thursday, places the federal agency’s conclusion about how the virus is spreading in even starker relief.”