with Mariana Alfaro

WILMINGTON, Del. – Four years ago, President Trump used his inaugural address to promise an end to what he called “American carnage.” On Wednesday at noon, President-elect Joe Biden will appear at the same spot two weeks after the Capitol was stormed by a pro-Trump mob intent on stopping Congress from formally counting the electoral votes to confirm his victory. The bloodshed on Jan. 6 means the handoff from the 45th to the 46th president has not been a peaceful transfer of power.

While Biden will nod to the violence and to the unprecedented security that has locked down the capital city, he plans to make a broader case for national healing and to make government work again.

What might be most remarkable about the inaugural address he plans to deliver this week is just how similar the core message and themes are to what he said when he kicked off his third bid for the presidency in April 2019 – long before the coronavirus, the recession and so much else.

Biden’s stated rationale for seeking the Oval Office was a promise to restore the soul of America. The former vice president has said countless times that he decided to run after Trump said there were “good people on both sides” at Charlottesville in the summer of 2017.

“What you’ll hear from President-elect Biden on Wednesday will be a reflection of a lot of what you heard from him on the campaign trail, which is that he believes we can bring this country together,” incoming White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said on Sunday. “He believes that we have to bring this country together and that a unified America is the only way that we're going to be able to tackle the massive crises that we’re grappling with. … This will be a moment where President-elect Biden will really work to try to turn the page on the divisiveness and the hatred over the last four years and really lay out a positive, optimistic vision for the country.”

Two key aides helping Biden formulate his inaugural address are longtime adviser Mike Donilon, who helps with every major speech, and Vinay Reddy, the director of Biden’s speechwriting operation and a veteran of Biden’s vice presidential office.

Biden will head to Washington from his home here on Tuesday. He is taking a break from speech prep today to volunteer at Philabundance, a hunger relief organization in Philadelphia, as part of his inaugural committee’s declaration that Monday is a national day of service.

Because of the pandemic, Biden has nine months of practice of delivering important speeches to small audiences. But this will still be a very unique experience: Trump will be the first outgoing president to skip his successor’s inauguration since Andrew Johnson snubbed Ulysses S. Grant in 1869.

“America United” is the official theme of the inaugural, and Biden’s Lincolnesque call for Americans to heed their better angels has become even more resonant in the two months since he defeated Trump. “The theme of the inauguration is about a determined democracy,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the co-chair of the inauguration organizing committee. “We picked the theme before all of this happened, and it’s even more meaningful now.” 

Long before Jan. 6, the lame-duck president stubbornly refused to concede and peddled baseless conspiracy theories. He continues to falsely maintain that there was widespread voter fraud. This has sown doubts in the minds of many Republicans about Biden’s legitimacy, which could make it harder for the incoming president to achieve his goal of uniting the country. Even now, many prominent Republican lawmakers who are calling for “unity” in the wake of the insurrection will still not acknowledge that Biden won fair and square.

Bedingfield argued that the election offered a mandate for both parties to work together. “I think that’s what Americans all across the country want,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.” “They want a government that once again is focused on doing the right thing by them and helping them in their day-to-day lives. Eighty-one million Americans voted for President-elect Biden, in part, because he was laying out a vision for this country that gets us to a place where we can work together.” 

A Washington Post-ABC News poll published Sunday found that Biden enters office with 49 percent of Americans confident that he will make the right decisions for the country’s future, compared with 50 percent who take the opposite view. “The 49 percent represents much greater trust than Trump’s 38 percent mark four years ago but much lower than the 61 percent who expressed trust in Barack Obama’s decisions on the eve of his inauguration in 2009,” Dan Balz, Scott Clement and Emily Guskin note. “Overall, more than 6 in 10 Americans say Biden was legitimately elected as the 46th president … But 7 in 10 Republicans say he was not legitimately elected. … 

“One unknown factor that will affect Biden’s early days is the pending Senate impeachment trial of the outgoing president, details of which are still being discussed. The trial not only threatens to create a more poisonous political atmosphere across the country but also will affect Biden’s desire to have the legislative branch of government focused solely on his agenda from the instant he takes office. … Whether it is the pandemic, the economy, climate change, racial inequality or improving America’s standing in the world, a large majority of Republicans say they have limited confidence in Biden’s ability to make progress, and a majority of Republicans say they have ‘none at all.’”

On Monday morning, Biden’s top pollster lamented similar findings in an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll to highlight the continuing strength of Republican support for Trump:

These divisions are deeper than one person and will outlast Trump. A CBS-YouGov poll published Sunday asked Americans to identify the biggest threat to America’s way of life: 8 percent said foreign threats, 17 percent said natural disasters and viruses, 20 percent said economic forces and 54 percent said the biggest threat comes from “other people in America.” In the next few years, 51 percent of respondents predict political violence in the U.S. will increase, compared to 18 percent who believe it will decrease. Meanwhile, 7 in 10 Americans think U.S. democracy today is “threatened” while 29 percent say it’s “secure.” 

Ron Klain, the incoming White House chief of staff, said the focus of Biden’s message will be how the country can move forward. “It's a message of unity. It's a message of getting things done. That's what he will be talking about January 20th,” Klain said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” 

He was responding to a question from host Jake Tapper about calls from liberals like former congressman Beto O’Rourke to not let conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) attend the inauguration if they challenged the election results. O’Rourke lost to Cruz in 2018. “He certainly shouldn't be allowed at a celebration of the peaceful transfer of presidential power,” O’Rourke tweeted. 

Klain responded that an organizing committee run by Congress invites all lawmakers to attend. “I guess the question is whether or not President-elect Biden is being naive,” Tapper countered. “I think there are people in both parties we can work with to move this agenda forward,” said Klain. “We’re going to have to find ways for Democrats and Republicans to get things done.”

By the time Biden takes the stage on Wednesday afternoon, the death toll from covid-19 in the United States will have officially surpassed 400,000. The pandemic is one of “the four crises” that Biden often talks about. The others are the economy, climate change and racial injustice. Klain sent a memo to reporters on Saturday outlining steps Biden will take during each of his first 10 days in office to address all four of these, even as he emphasized that “full achievement” of Biden’s agenda will require congressional action. 

“On Inauguration Day, President-elect Biden will sign roughly a dozen actions to combat the four crises, restore humanity to our immigration system, and make government function for the people,” Klain wrote. “He will ask the Department of Education to extend the existing pause on student loan payments and interest for millions of Americans with federal student loans, re-join the Paris Agreement, and reverse the Muslim Ban. The president-elect will launch his ‘100 Day Masking Challenge’ by issuing a mask mandate on federal property and inter-state travel. … And we will take action to extend nationwide restrictions on evictions and foreclosures and provide more than 25 million Americans greater stability.”

Trump's final days

Trump plans to offer clemency to more than 100 people.

“Trump met Sunday with his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka Trump and other aides for a significant amount of the day to review a long list of pardon requests and discuss lingering questions about their appeals," Carol D. Leonnig, Josh Dawsey and Roz Helderman report. "In the past week, Trump has been particularly consumed with the question of whether to issue preemptive pardons to his adult children, top aides and himself … But it remains unclear whether he will make such a move. Although he has mused about the possibility, no final decisions have been reached, and some advisers have warned against using his pardon power to benefit himself. Neither Trump nor his children have been charged with crimes, and they are not known to be under federal investigation. But the question of a presidential self-pardon has become more urgent and controversial since the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol … Some aides think Trump could face criminal liability for inciting the crowd. Others think a self-pardon, never before attempted by a president, would be of dubious constitutionality …

“People familiar with the discussions said that many of the pardons and commutations Trump is expected to issue in his final days will be uncontroversial. But it remains unknown whether he will grant clemency to Stephen K. Bannon, his former campaign adviser, who was charged last year with defrauding donors to a private fundraising effort for construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, or his personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani … The president has been besieged by lobbyists and lawyers for well-heeled clients who are seeking to have their criminal convictions wiped from their records, as well as by advocates for criminal justice reform. … So far, Trump has granted clemency to 94 people, including 49 he issued in the week before Christmas — mostly to friends and political allies.”

Trump allies are lining their pockets off the scramble for pardons. 

“One lobbyist, Brett Tolman, a former federal prosecutor who has been advising the White House on pardons and commutations, has monetized his clemency work, collecting tens of thousands of dollars, and possibly more, in recent weeks to lobby the White House for clemency for the son of a former Arkansas senator; the founder of the notorious online drug marketplace Silk Road; and a Manhattan socialite who pleaded guilty in a fraud scheme,” the New York Times reports. "Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer John M. Dowd has marketed himself to convicted felons as someone who could secure pardons because of his close relationship with the president, accepting tens of thousands of dollars from a wealthy felon and advising him and other potential clients. … 

"A onetime top adviser to the Trump campaign was paid $50,000 to help seek a pardon for John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. officer convicted of illegally disclosing classified information, and agreed to a $50,000 bonus if the president granted it, according to a copy of an agreement. And Mr. Kiriakou was separately told that [Giuliani] could help him secure a pardon for $2 million. Mr. Kiriakou rejected the offer, but an associate, fearing that Mr. Giuliani was illegally selling pardons, alerted the F.B.I. Mr. Giuliani challenged this characterization. …

"One of the lobbyists closest to Mr. Trump and his administration, Matt Schlapp, who was tapped by Mr. Trump last month to sit on the trust fund board for the Library of Congress, has been lobbying for weeks for a pardon for Parker Petit, a major Republican donor known as Pete who was the Georgia finance chairman of Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign and was convicted of securities fraud in November. Another lobbyist who has advertised his connections to Mr. Trump, Mark D. Cowan, was part of a team hired after the election to seek clemency for Nickie Lum Davis, who pleaded guilty in August for her role in a covert campaign to influence the Trump administration on behalf of Chinese and Malaysian interests.”

  • Giuliani said he won’t be on Trump’s impeachment defense team during the Senate trial because he spoke at the Jan. 6 rally preceding the riot. "I am a witness and therefore unable to participate in court or Senate chamber,” he told ABC's Jon Karl.
  • Lawyer Roberta Kaplan is leading a trio of lawsuits against Trump. Her clients include writer E. Jean Carroll, who filed a defamation case against Trump; his niece Mary Trump, who claims the president and two of his siblings deprived her of an inheritance worth millions; and participants in ACN, a multilevel marketing firm promoted by the Trump family on “Celebrity Apprentice.” (Karen Heller)
The NSA said it's ‘moving forward’ to install GOP operative Michael Ellis as its top lawyer.

“The announcement came a day after acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller ordered the NSA director, Gen. Paul Nakasone, to immediately place Ellis in position as the agency’s general counsel,” Ellen Nakashima reports. “Ellis had been selected for the job in November by the Pentagon general counsel after a civil service competition. But Nakasone was not in favor of Ellis’s selection and sought to delay his installation … Ellis probably will start work Tuesday, the day before the Biden administration takes office, several people said. … Ellis was selected under pressure from the White House … The move drew criticism from national security legal experts as an attempt to politicize a career position. … Concerns with Ellis are linked to his relationship with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).”

  • Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will resign her Senate seat today. She will be replaced by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. (Chelsea Janes)
  • Biden plans to nominate five women to serve in the No. 2 spots at key Cabinet agencies. “The nominees, who must be confirmed by the Senate, include Jewel H. Bronaugh at Agriculture, Polly Trottenberg at Transportation, Andrea Palm at Health and Human Services, Elizabeth Klein at Interior and Cindy Marten at Education,” Lisa Rein scoops.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) knows exactly what he's doing. 

“Democrats, pundits and some Republicans saw a connection between the mob’s siege and Hawley’s procedural objection, which he announced Dec. 30 ahead of others like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.)," Dan Zak reports. “With Hawley, the backlash from friend and foe is colored by disappointment. ‘Josh knows better,’ says Thomas A. Lambert, law professor at Missouri, where he became friends with Hawley and his wife, Erin, after they joined the faculty in 2011. ‘He is parroting the big lie, even though he knows better,’ says former Democratic senator Claire McCaskill, whom Hawley defeated in 2018."

John Danforth, a Republican senator from Missouri from 1976 to 1995, mentored Hawley after meeting him following a lecture at Yale Law School 15 years ago this week. During the Senate race, Hawley was noncommittal about supporting McConnell as Senate majority leader. McConnell called Danforth to ask what was going on with the new guy. Danforth called Hawley. “His reaction was almost righteous and indignant,” Danforth recalls, adding that Hawley said he would go to D.C. not to get along but to fight.

“For Danforth, looking back, the phone call about McConnell was a red flag,” Zak notes. “The day after the siege of the Capitol, Danforth placed blame squarely on Hawley and called his early support for him ‘the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life.’ Like others who’ve known Hawley, Danforth wonders whether he misjudged who Hawley was or whether he failed to predict what he would become. He wonders about the role of the Republican Party, and its embrace of grievance, and the Senate, with its deterioration into stagnation and self-promotion. ‘This is a Greek tragedy,’ Danforth says. ‘This is the fall of somebody from a high position. There’s some tragic flaw there. And I’ve also been thinking of the Garden of Eden. Maybe the apple is presidential politics.’”

Quote of the day

“A lot of people who should’ve known better thought they could achieve their policy goals under Trump and Trumpism,” said historian David Kennedy, who mentored Hawley as his undergraduate thesis adviser at Stanford. “But elites should educate, uplift and enlighten the body politic, not exploit its darkest corners. Josh and company have failed to educate them, and instead exploited them.” (Full disclosure: Kennedy was also my thesis adviser.)

Vice President Pence is helping Biden make the transition more normal.

When Pence takes his seat near Biden at the inauguration on Wednesday, he will be symbolically turning his back on Trump’s baseless assertion of a stolen election and creating the powerful image of a peaceful transfer of power — an image his boss has sought to upend. “At a time when big factions of each party view the other as contemptible, Biden and Pence are haltingly cooperating to shore up the traditional exchange of power. It’s a dynamic helpful to both, as Biden works to enhance his legitimacy with Republicans and Pence seeks to regain credibility after the Trump years," Annie Linskey reports. "Despite faithfully backing even Trump’s most incendiary actions for four years, Pence in recent days has taken on the traditional role, eschewed by Trump, of representing an outgoing administration, for example traveling to California and New York this weekend to bid farewell to military troops.

Allies of both men now wonder whether Pence will step into the role traditionally occupied by former presidents, especially if Trump is a pariah in his post-presidency ‘I would love to see him fulfill that role, because I think he’s great at it,’ said one former Pence aide … After Pence took office in January 2017, Biden regularly reached out, according to two people familiar with their conversations. ‘Biden did make a habit of staying in touch with Pence until, of course, primary politics made that untenable,’ said a Pence confidant … The break came, according to this person, in early 2019 as Biden, then considering a presidential run, faced criticism from Democratic activists for calling Pence ‘a decent guy.’ Biden made the comment during a speech at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he recounted how foreign leaders reacted poorly to a Pence speech because of their dislike for Trump.”

The security situation

National Guard members, Capitol Police, Humvees and extensive fencing were in place around downtown D.C. on Jan. 16 and 17 ahead of expected protests. (The Washington Post)
The FBI screens U.S. troops for possible insider threats.

“U.S. defense officials say the federal government is conducting insider-threat screening on the 25,000 National Guard troops who have begun flowing into the nation’s capital to secure the inauguration, as concerns intensify about extremism in the ranks,” Paul Sonne, Dan Lamothe and Missy Ryan report. “The extra precaution comes after a number of pro-Trump rioters involved in storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 turned out to have military ties … The Army is working with the FBI to vet all service members supporting the inauguration. The Army maintains awareness of threats but does not collect domestic intelligence itself … 

Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, said in an interview with Defense One that the screening represented an ‘extra layer’ of security for this deployment, on top of the continuous monitoring that the U.S. military does of its service members. … Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy, who is overseeing the D.C. Guard and the military’s preparations for the inauguration, said in an interview with the Associated Press that so far the vetting process hasn’t flagged any issues with the troops coming to help protect the inauguration. … The Pentagon received 143 notifications of extremism-related probes last year from the FBI, 68 of which were related to suspected domestic extremism among current and former service members — a category that includes white nationalism, anti-fascist, antiabortion and anti-government beliefs. … The Army said it is working with the Secret Service to determine which service members supporting the inauguration require additional background screening.”

The FBI is pursuing alleged members of right-wing extremist groups with military backgrounds.

“A heavy-metal guitarist, the alleged leader of a Colorado paramilitary training group and two ex-military militia members from Ohio have been charged with allegedly taking part in the riot at the Capitol last week, as the FBI ratchets up its investigation into the role extremist groups played in storming the building,” Devlin Barrett and Spencer Hsu report. "Also arrested Sunday were Donovan Crowl, 50, a former U.S. Marine, and Army veteran Jessica Watkins, 38. A bartender, Watkins recently told the Ohio Capital Journal that she formed the ‘Ohio State Regular Militia’ in 2019 — a unit of the Oath Keepers, the FBI said … The FBI said Watkins posted to Parler a photograph of herself in uniform on Jan. 6, writing, ‘Me before forcing entry into the Capitol Building.’ … 

"The Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, and the Proud Boys, a male-chauvinist group with ties to white nationalism, have drawn particular attention from FBI agents investigating the attack on Congress, as they work to determine whether those groups organized or directed the violence to block certification of [Biden’s victory]. Officials have said the Proud Boys in particular are an important focus of the FBI investigation. … The Three Percenters formed in 2008 and is named after the bogus claim that only 3 percent of the population fought against the British in the American Revolution. …

"Overall, the Justice Department has already charged about 100 individuals, with hundreds more expected to follow, but many of those arrested so far have been what one senior law enforcement official characterized as ‘low-hanging fruit’ — people who revealed themselves as participating in the riot on Jan. 6 through social media boasts. Federal investigators are also accelerating efforts to determine whether the assault was planned and led by groups of people — rather than an impulsive outburst of violence — particularly because some of the men shown on video laying siege to the building were equipped with handheld radios and headsets and at times appeared to work in unison on particular objectives … 

“Larry R. Brock, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, who was charged after identifying himself to the New Yorker as the man photographed carrying zip-tie handcuffs onto the Senate floor, has described himself online as a patriot and savior, according to court documents entered in his case. Brock, a former A-10 pilot who said he deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, was fired two years ago from his job with an aviation training company for threatening to shoot ‘members of a particular religion and/or race,’ according to a 2018 letter of termination submitted by authorities in his case. … U.S. authorities on Friday arrested Dominic Pezzola, 43, of Rochester, N.Y., a former Marine and Proud Boys member allegedly seen in a widely viewed video shattering a Capitol window with a Capitol Police riot shield and climbing inside.”

  • An Army reservist with a security clearance and a long record of posting his extremist views online was charged Sunday with breaching the Capitol. Authorities said Timothy Hale-Cusanelli was described by an informant as “an avowed White supremacist and Nazi sympathizer." (CNN)
  • Federal prosecutors charged a Kentucky man with smashing a House speaker's lobby window with a flagpole moments before Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt was fatally shot while trying to climb through it. (Hsu)
  • John Earle Sullivan, who recorded video of Babbitt’s shooting, was also arrested. His video attracted the attention of right-wing leaders because of his past involvement with liberal causes, putting him at the center of a conservative campaign to blame liberal groups for the siege. (Tom Jackman, Marissa Lang and Jon Swaine)
  • The FBI is investigating evidence a woman who entered the Capitol stole a laptop or hard drive from Nancy Pelosi’s office and planned on selling it to Russian intelligence. The claim was included in an affidavit describing the case against Riley June Williams, a Pennsylvania woman whom the FBI says has fled. A manhunt is underway. (Politico)
  • A 22-year-old Virginia man whose Facebook page features a photo from the riot was arrested near the Capitol complex on Sunday, and police said he was carrying three high-capacity magazines, 37 rounds of unregistered ammunition and a Glock 22 firearm. (Laura Meckler)
  • Defending the storming of the Capitol as “cool,” University of Kentucky senior Gracyn Courtright broadcast her participation on social media — and embraced the firestorm that followed as publicity, according to the FBI, which alleges she stole a “Members Only” sign. “INFAMY IS JUST AS GOOD AS FAME,” she wrote above a mirror photo posted to Instagram either the day of the Capitol riot or the day after, according to a charging document. “EITHER WAY I END UP MORE KNOWN. XOXO”. (Hannah Knowles)
Rioters say Trump spurred them to rush the Capitol, which could become pivotal testimony.

“A man from Kentucky told the FBI that he and his cousin began marching toward the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 because ‘President Trump said to do so.’ Chanting ‘Stop the steal,’ the two men tramped through the building and snapped a photo of themselves with their middle fingers raised, according to court documents,” Helderman, Hsu and Rachel Weiner report. “A video clip of another group of rioters mobbing the steps of the Capitol caught one man screaming at a police officer: ‘We were invited here! We were invited by the president of the United States!’ A retired firefighter from Pennsylvania who has been charged with throwing a fire extinguisher at police officers felt he was ‘instructed’ to go to the Capitol by the president, a tipster told the FBI … 

"While legal experts are split on whether Trump could face criminal liability for his role in the events of Jan. 6, testimony from rioters who felt directed to take part in illegal acts by his speech could inform a decision by prosecutors about whether to attempt to build a case. Short of that, the testimony from rioters is likely to be cited in Trump’s upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate and could become evidence should people injured in the Capitol attack seek to file lawsuits against Trump. … Jenna Ryan, a real estate agent from Dallas who has been charged with illegally entering the building, appeared on local television Friday to beg Trump for clemency. ‘I thought I was following my president,’ she said. ‘I thought I was following what we were called to do. … He asked us to fly there. He asked us to be there. So I was doing what he asked us to do.’”

Former Trump campaign aides were listed as organizers of the rally that ignited the riot.

“A pro-Trump nonprofit group called Women for America First hosted the ‘Save America Rally’ on Jan. 6 at the Ellipse ... But an attachment to the National Park Service public gathering permit granted to the group lists more than half a dozen people in staff positions for the event who just weeks earlier had been paid thousands of dollars by Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. Other staff scheduled to be ‘on site’ during the demonstration have close ties to the White House,” the AP reports. “Since the siege, several of them have scrambled to distance themselves from the rally.”

Protests in state capitols were small, as the feared assaults never came.

“Authorities in cities from coast to coast mobilized a military-style defense of state capitol complexes on Sunday, rolling out Humvees, concertina wire and thousands of National Guard troops clad in battlefield helmets to defend against a possible onslaught of rioters,” Tim Craig, Griff Witte, Abigail Hauslohner, Peter Whoriskey and Holly Bailey. “Despite warnings from the FBI and boasts from armed, far-right extremist groups, security forces in every instance outnumbered scattered groups of demonstrators, and there were no reports of violence. Yet the show of force — and the reasons behind it — marked an unsettling start to [the inauguration] week … 

"Although Sunday passed peacefully, there was no reason to think that the threat had disappeared, raising questions of whether the escalated response reflected a new American normal. … In the Pennsylvania capital of Harrisburg, troops took up elevated positions around the capitol complex. Law enforcement drones hovered over the capitols in Albany and in Phoenix. And in Kentucky, both Humvees and armored personnel carriers were positioned in driveways leading to the capitol. SWAT officers guarding the Georgia Capitol were armed with M-4 rifles and paintball guns. … There were no arrests reported related to events in state capitals.” Similarly, there were no large crowds in D.C. on Sunday because the surge of military personnel kept people away.

  • Many pundits have compared the D.C. scene to a war zone. "The commentary has drawn pushback from people who have lived or worked in areas actually beset by conflict, who say such remarks are misleading and trivializes the reality of war,” Miriam Berger reports.
  • Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) was suspended temporarily from Twitter for repeatedly violating the platform's rules. (CNN)
  • Amtrak will suspend some service south of Washington ahead of the inauguration. (Luz Lazo)
  • Security restrictions related to the inauguration will prevent access to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial today. (Martin Well)

D.C. National Guard Sgt. Jacob Kohut is on double duty – he was called to protect the Capitol as a National Guard member yet he continues teaching classes from the back of the Humvee in his job as a band teacher for public schools in Fairfax County, Va. When he was called to D.C. for duty, “my first thought was, ‘What about my kids?’” said Kohut, who teaches both elementary and middle school students. While wearing his uniform, the military musician and teacher spends the first part of his morning conducting virtual band class. Starting at 10 a.m., his 12-hour Guard shift begins. (Sydney Page)

The coronavirus

More than 396,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus.

“In a Connecticut hospital room, a woman less than 48 hours from death posted on Facebook: ‘It is now just a matter of trying to keep me comfortable till I pass.’ A few days before Christmas, less than a week before he died at home, a California man texted his daughter: ‘Vaccines on the way. Gettin kinda close,’” Marc Fisher, Lori Rozsa, Mark Kreidler and Annie Gowen report. “Nearly 400,000 Americans have now died of covid-19. It took 12 weeks for the death toll to rise from 200,000 to 300,000. The death toll has leaped from 300,000 to almost 400,000 in less than five weeks. … Beyond death, covid’s casualties suffer further indignities: Storage in refrigerator trucks parked outside overwhelmed funeral homes, funerals that must be closed to mourners, lonely burials, cremations delayed by weeks or months because of the backlog. The pace of death has never been faster … With more than 1 of every 1,000 Americans dead from the virus, a University of Washington model that predicted the current totals forecasts 567,000 U.S. deaths by April 1, a number that could jump above 700,000 if mask mandates are eased in the interim. … Each death from covid-19 is at once a number and a unique tragedy, and each is a strangely distant demise — so many invisible deaths in lonely places.” 

Another virus variant is found in California. 

“As the total number of coronavirus infections in California approaches 3 million, health officials said Sunday that a new strain — different from a highly contagious variant first identified in the United Kingdom — is popping up more frequently across the state,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “So many people have died in Los Angeles County that officials have temporarily suspended air-quality regulations that limit the number of cremations. Health officials and the L.A. County coroner requested the change because the current death rate is ‘more than double that of pre-pandemic years, leading to hospitals, funeral homes and crematoriums exceeding capacity, without the ability to process the backlog,’ the South Coast Air Quality Management District said Sunday.” 

Former Florida Department of Health data scientist Rebekah Jones said she will turn herself into police to face a charge accusing her of illegally accessing an internal messaging system. “The announcement comes just days after Jones appeared in court trying to get back a computer seized in a Florida Department of Law Enforcement raid of her home back in December,” WCTV reports. She was fired last year after saying that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was manipulating data to make the virus appear less prevalent so that he could justify reopening the state.

Veterans Affairs employees say they need more support fighting the pandemic. A survey conducted by the American Federation of Government Employees, the union which represents VA workers, indicates most staffers were not informed when colleagues contracted the coronavirus, about half were not told patients had covid before health-care providers served them and some workers did not have adequate personal protective equipment. (Joe Davidson)

The new world order

The Post was with Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on the plane taking him to Moscow from Berlin on Jan. 17, five months after a near-fatal poisoning. (The Washington Post)
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is detained as he returns to Moscow.

Navalny’s arrest was expected, but he chose to return to Russia anyway. Russian authorities had said he was on a wanted list for allegedly violating the terms of his suspended sentence from a 2014 embezzlement conviction, a case that has been called political persecution by Navalny and the European Court of Human Rights. Moving to jail him could have far-reaching consequences for Vladimir Putin since Navalny claims that Putin’s agents poisoned him last year. (Isabelle Khurshudyan and Loveday Morris

Global pressure mounted for Navalny’s release. British Foreign Secretary Domonic Raab tweeted, “it is appalling that Alexei Navalny, the victim of a despicable crime, has been detained by Russian authorities. He must be immediately released.” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also called for his release, saying Russia was bound by its own constitution. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov brushed off international pressure. (Robyn Dixon

  • Detained Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou enjoys private shopping and evenings at open-air theaters in Canada. Wanzhou, who is wanted by the U.S. on fraud charges and is out on bail, is living in a seven-bedroom mansion while fighting extradition and spent Christmas dining in a Vancouver restaurant, apparently violating local coronavirus rules. (Amanda Coletta)
  • China’s economy is growing faster now than before the pandemic. Economic data published today shows that the country logged 2.3 percent growth in 2020, the only major economy that grew last year. (Gerry Shih)
  • European allies hope Biden will take swift steps to restore the Iran nuclear deal amid mounting pressures. But it's unclear how receptive Tehran remains to renegotiate with world powers after Trump exits. Europe sees a tight window of opportunity following Biden’s inauguration. (Morris and Erin Cunningham)
  • A year after the Iranians downed Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752, victims’ families are still hunting for justice. While admitting responsibility for the air disaster killing all 176 aboard, the regime has rebuffed calls for a more transparent investigation. (Natalie Gryvnyak, Khurshudyan and Cunningham)

Social media speed read

Biden's granddaughter shared a picture of him relaxing on Sunday:

In an interview with CBS, Harris revealed that she Googled her husband before their first date:

Videos of the day

A team of Post journalists examined texts, photos and hundreds of videos to reconstruct the pandemonium inside the Capitol. By synchronizing the footage and locating some of the camera angles within a digital 3-D model of the building, they mapped the rioters’ movements and assessed how close they came to lawmakers. This is definitely worth 15 minutes of your time:

The Post obtained hours of video footage, some exclusively, and placed it within a digital 3-D model of the building. (TWP)

On Dec. 1, Georgia elections official Gabriel Sterling (R) warned that Trump’s dangerous rhetoric had “gone too far.” Addressing threats against election workers, Sterling said: “Mr. President, you have not condemned this language or these actions. Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. … Someone's going to get hurt. Someone's going to get shot. Someone's going to get killed.” His speech is chillingly prescient:

Gabriel Sterling, a Georgia state election official, on Dec. 1 slammed President Trump for not condemning threats of violence against election workers. (Reuters)