with Mariana Alfaro

Welcome to The Daily 202 newsletter! Today, we chew on the Republican strategy heading into Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. But don’t miss the news out of Asia, or Rudy Giuliani’s new $1.3 billion headache. Tell your friends to sign up here.

As the clock starts on Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, a rebuke without parallel in American presidential history, a cohort of his Republican allies has closed ranks behind the tactic of putting the trial on trial.

It’s an approach suited to the same political reality that led many in the GOP to embrace Trump’s lies about being cheated out of victory in November and support his efforts to overturn the election. And it posits a dark future for those in the party who cross the former president, or even just insufficiently support him.

It also seems designed to spare Republicans from having to defend the former president’s actions (and inaction) before and during the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, the heart of the single “incitement of insurrection” article of impeachment against him. The House is poised to deliver that article to the Senate at 7 p.m. tonight.

Two broad lines of GOP attack on the trial are emerging.  

The first is the idea the trial is politically divisive that revisiting the president’s months-long campaign to subvert the election’s legitimacy in the eyes of his followers, culminating in his call for thousands of them to march on the Capitol, is bad for national morale.

“I think the trial is stupid,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R.-Fla.) said on “Fox News Sunday.”  “I think it's counterproductive. We already have a flaming fire in this country and it's like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire.”

The second is to call into question the constitutional validity of holding an impeachment trial of a president turned out of office by the voters, a question untested in U.S. courts.

Asked on NBC’s “Meet The Press” whether Trump committed an impeachable offense, Sen. Mike Rounds (R.-S.D.) replied: “I think it's a moot point. Because I think right now, Donald Trump is no longer the president.”

On Fox News, Sen. Tom Cotton (R.-Ark) declared “this trial is beyond our constitutional authority.” Without naming names, Cotton added, “The more I talk to other Republican senators, the more they're beginning to line up behind the position I announced a couple weeks ago.”

Senators will sit in judgment starting Feb. 9.

The delay is partly designed to enable President Biden to squeeze some of his Cabinet nominees through the confirmation process. There could be an early test of Cotton’s assertion in the form of a motion to dismiss, sure to fail because Democrats control the chamber but potentially showing the lack of 17 GOP votes needed to convict Trump.

Still, wavering Republicans are getting confusing messages from previously reliable donors as well as GOP voters.

The GOP infighting is in part a debate over whether Trump has served his usefulness to the party by filling judgeships and cutting taxes, or remains central to its 2022 midterm ambitions. It comes as the Senate could consider another judicially untested notion: Can lawmakers vote to disqualify Trump from holding office, and therefore running again in 2024?

Over the weekend, Republican activists in Arizona and in Kentucky sent conflicting messages. 

In the former, the GOP state party censured prominent Republicans for opposing Trump or defying his false claims of having won the election, the Arizona Republic reported.

In the latter, they beat back a resolution urging Mitch McConnell, newly the Senate minority leader, to oppose Trump’s removal, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

McConnell, who waited more than a month after Nov. 3 to publicly acknowledge Biden’s victory, directly blamed Trump last week for the deadly Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the President and other powerful people,” he said in a statement both remarkable for its bluntness toward Trump and its passive-voice protection of Republican senators who championed the president’s false election claims.

In the aftermath of the riot, Republicans have become increasingly concerned about a backlash from donors.

“He has not engaged donors on this. He’s only engaged his members,” a source familiar with McConnell’s thinking told me. The Kentucky Republican has made two points in those conversations “One, this is a vote of conscience. And two, he is still undecided” on the verdict.

It’s a radical departure from McConnell’s approach to Trump’s first impeachment.

Then, he vowed there would be “zero chance” the president would be expelled and promised close coordination with the White House defense team.

Some Republicans have argued that Trump  who told his followers to march on the Capitol, “fight like hell” against a “rigged” election,” urged them to “stop the steal” and lied that Vice President Pence could reverse the Nov. 3 outcome did not incite the ensuing chaos. 

Asked what weight McConnell gives the argument that the trial is inappropriate because Trump is no longer in officethe source replied: “That’s going to be an ongoing discussion with his conference.”

The process argument is important in part because Democrats don’t want the small number of wavering Republicans to say they were compelled to acquit the former president not based on the evidence but on the procedure.

It still seems unthinkable 17 GOP senators will vote to convict Trump. 

Just one, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, did so in Trump’s first impeachment trial. “The preponderance of opinion is that in fact yes, an impeachment trial is appropriate after someone leaves office and that's something I concur with,” Romney told Fox News on Sunday. “This is obviously very serious and an attack on the very foundation of our democracy and it is something that has to be considered and resolved.”

As for thoughts that anything happening next month could break Trump’s hold on the GOP: 147 congressional Republicans voted in support of his false claims about the election. Just 10 GOP members in the House voted in favor of impeachment.

“If you’re wanting to erase Donald Trump from the party, you’re going to get erased,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a reliable supporter of the former president, recently told Fox News. “Without Trump’s help we cannot take back the House and the Senate.”

Trump’s carrots conservative judges, tax cuts, regulatory rollbacks may be gone, but the former president seems intent on reminding Republicans that he has a big enough stick to do real damage to the party.

As my colleagues Josh Dawsey and Michael Scherer recently reported: “In recent weeks, Trump has entertained the idea of creating a third party, called the Patriot Party, and instructed his aides to prepare election challenges to lawmakers who crossed him in the final weeks in office, including Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.).”

Trump has told people that the third-party threat gives him leverage to prevent Republican senators from voting to convict him during the Senate impeachment trial,” they reported.

Quote of the day

“This isn’t Monopoly money,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said about the Biden coronavirus relief plan. “Every dollar that we’re talking about here is being borrowed from our grandchildren. We have a responsibility to be stewards.” 

What’s happening now

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Biden signed an executive order reversing Trump’s band on transgender individuals serving in the military. Biden called it “the right thing to do,” Colby Itkowitz reports. From the White House fact sheet: “Allowing all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform is better for the military and better for the country because an inclusive force is a more effective force.” The move has the support of Biden’s newly confirmed defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, who spoke of the need to overturn the policy during his confirmation hearing last week.

Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman will not run for reelection. Portman told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he will not seek a third term in 2022, citing the increasing partisan divide. "I don’t think any Senate office has been more successful in getting things done, but honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision," Portman said. 

The Supreme Court dismissed an emoluments case against Trump. The court declined to hear a case questioning whether Trump violated provisions of the Constitution that bar a president from profiting from foreign governments when he continued to retain an interest in his business while president, CNN reports. The Supreme Court asked lower courts to dismiss a ruling against Trump because he is no longer in office. 

Moderna said its vaccine protects against the British and South African variants. Though encouraging, the finding contained a clear warning sign: Even though the vaccine worked against the South African variant, the efficacy was diminished. Moderna said the reduction in response prompted the company to design a new potential vaccine that could be added on to the current two-dose regimen, Carolyn Johnson reports

Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit seeking $1.3 billion from Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. The complaint, filed in federal court in the District, cites dozens of statements Giuliani made about Dominion to promote the false notion that the election was stolen from Trump, Emma Brown reports. Dominion's complaint asserts that its reputation and business was damaged by that “Big Lie” and laid the groundwork for the Capitol riots.

Former Trump White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is officially running for Arkansas governor. Sanders, daughter of former Arkansas Republican governor Mike Huckabee, was widely expected to run and is entering the race as the favorite. She launched her campaign with a nearly eight-minute video that opens with footage of Trump visiting troops in Iraq, a trip on which she accompanied him. (John Wagner)  

Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced on Jan. 25 her candidacy to run for Arkansas governor in 2022. (Sarah Huckabee Sanders)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is expected to lift regional stay-at-home orders across his state, despite the growing crisis there. The change could allow restaurants, hair salons and gyms in many counties to reopen services, the Los Angeles Times reports. It’s unclear whether Newsom’s decision will lead to easing of stay-at-home rules in Los Angeles County, the national epicenter of the coronavirus crisis. In less than a month, more than 5,000 people have died of coronavirus in that county alone. 

Lunchtime reads from The Post

… and beyond

  • Lawmakers threatened ahead of impeachment trial,” by the AP’s Michael Balsamo: “Federal law enforcement officials are examining a number of threats aimed at members of Congress as [Trump’s] second trial nears, including ominous chatter about killing legislators or attacking them outside of the U.S. Capitol.”
  • Trump fumes in his first weekend out of office as Fauci clowns on him,” by the Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng: “Fauci’s re-emergence on prime-time television during the Biden era infuriated the exiled Trump, who began whining about how ‘incompetent’ the doctor was, and how he probably should have fired Fauci when he had the chance, a source close to the former president and another individual familiar with the matter [said]. … ‘He very much feels that a lot of people are working to downgrade his legacy out of hatred for him,’ this source said.”
  • Surge of student suicides pushes Las Vegas schools to reopen,” by the Times’s Erica Green: “Since schools shut their doors in March, an early-warning system that monitors students’ mental health episodes has sent more than 3,100 alerts to district officials, raising alarms about suicidal thoughts, possible self-harm or cries for care. By December, 18 students had taken their own lives. The spate of student suicides in and around Las Vegas has pushed the Clark County district, the nation’s fifth largest, toward bringing students back as quickly as possible.”
  • As protests shake Russia, Kremlin drops its ‘Navalny who?’ tack,” by the Times’s Anton Troianovski: “For years, the Kremlin tried to ignore the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, right down to avoiding the very mention of his name. But by Sunday, Russian officials had drastically reversed course. President Vladimir V. Putin’s spokesman appeared on a prime-time show on state television and denied Mr. Navalny’s assertion that Mr. Putin had a secret palace on the Black Sea. On another marquee program, the host devoted 40 minutes to Mr. Navalny, who was described as engaging in ‘political pedophilia.’ And the evening newscast showed tweets by Western officials in support of Mr. Navalny as proof that he was working against Russian interests.”

The first 100 days

Biden will sign a “Buy American” executive order today pushing the federal government to buy more U.S.-produced goods.

The order, expected to be signed at 3:45 p.m., will: 

  • Call for increasing the amount of U.S. content that must be in a product for it to be considered made in America under existing “Buy American” requirements, Jeff Stein and Ashley Parker report.
  • Create a website where American businesses can see what contracts are being awarded to foreign vendors.
  • Establish a position in the White House Office of Management and Budget to implement Biden’s push on federal procurement, among other measures.
Congress wants more targeted coronavirus relief while Biden tightens security measures. 
  • Lawmakers from both parties questioned the need for some of the items included in Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan, Erica Werner and Seung Min Kim report. Lawmakers asked if a new round of $1,400 checks included in the proposal could be narrowed to target those who need them the most. They also asked administration officials to justify the need for hundreds of billions allocated for other purposes, including $130 billion for schools.
  • The discussion came on a private Zoom call between key centrist lawmakers of both parties and Biden administration officials led by National Economic Council Director Brian Deese. The call was organized by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
  • Reopening schools quickly won’t be easy at all, despite Biden’s executive order promising to throw the strength of the federal government behind the effort, the Times reports. The slow vaccine rollout, coupled with local fights between districts and teachers’ unions, could block the effort.
  • Biden will reinstate coronavirus travel restrictions on non-U.S. citizens who have been to Brazil, Ireland, the U.K., and much of Europe, CNN reports. Just one week ago, Trump lifted these restrictions on travelers effective Jan. 26. Biden will also extend the restrictions to travelers who have recently been to South Africa.
  • Efforts to accelerate Biden’s goal of 100 million shots in 100 days may be hindered by vaccine supplies, per the CDC’s new director. Rochelle Walensky said the Biden administration is working with manufacturers to address supply issues and hopes production will be scaled up “dramatically” by March, Amy Goldstein, Amy B Wang, Paulina Firozi, Hannah Knowles and Meryl Kornfield report. “One of the biggest problems right now is, I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have, and if I can’t tell it to you, then I can’t tell it to the governors, and I can’t tell it to the state health officials,” Walensky told Fox News Sunday.
The U.S. sent an aircraft carrier strike group into the South China Sea as Chinese bombers flew near Taiwan.
  • “The dispatch of the USS Theodore Roosevelt strike group to the waterway on Saturday was seen as an implicit message to China just days after [Biden’s] inauguration amid a lowpoint in Sino-American ties,” the Japan Times reports. “It was unclear if the timing of the Chinese moves near Taiwan and the Roosevelt entering the South China Sea were related, but satellite imagery and tracking websites appeared to show that the carrier had transited the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines the same day.”

Tracking Biden's nominations

Janet Yellen is expected to receive overwhelming Senate approval to be America’s first female treasury secretary. 
  • The Senate Finance Committee approved her nomination on a 26-0 vote Friday, John Wagner reports.
  • Yellen would become the third member of Biden’s Cabinet to be installed, following Avril D. Haines as director of national intelligence and Austin as defense secretary.
Biden replaced the White House doctor. 
  • Kevin O’Connor will become the new White House physician, replacing Sean Conley in a role that became controversial during Trump’s presidency “following rosy readouts of physicals and misleading information about his COVID-19 treatment,” ABC News reports.
  • O’Connor has served as Biden’s primary care physician since 2009, when he was appointed physician to the vice president.
Biden is firing some Trump holdovers, but in some cases, his hands may be tied. 
  • The Biden team moved quickly last week to dump several high-profile, Senate-confirmed Trump appointees whose terms extended beyond Inauguration Day, Lisa Rein and Anne Gearan report. These include the surgeon general, the National Labor Relations Board’s powerful general counsel and the heads of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the U.S. Agency for Global Media.
  • But other, lower-profile Trump appointees, including some that helped carry some of the administration’s most controversial policies, are scattered throughout Biden’s government in permanent positions. Identifying them, let alone firing them, could be difficult for the new White House.
Xavier Becerra, Biden’s nominee for health secretary, stresses urgency of containing the pandemic. 
  • “The plane is in a nosedive, and we’ve got to pull it up and you’re not going to do that overnight,” Becerra told CNN. Becerra said the U.S. can “get control of this thing” if Americans follow Biden’s order to wear masks for 100 days on federal property and during interstate travel.

Hot on the left

Trump showered his allies in conservative media with VIP treatment. Now that he’s gone, those members of the press corps are eager to get access to the Biden White House, Politico reports. That presents a challenge for the Biden team, which must deal with a host of pro-Trump outlets ranging from the mainstream right (Sinclair and the Daily Caller) to the conspirational fringe (OAN and Gateway Pundit). And while officials have stressed that they won’t take steps to banish pro-Trump voices from the White House, they’ve also promised not to allow these outlets to use the White House briefings to spread baseless conspiracies. 

Hot on the right

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) filed a countercomplaint with the Senate Ethics Committee against seven Democratic senators who asked the same panel last week to investigate his and Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) actions in connection to the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. “The Committee should discipline these Members to ensure that the Senate’s ethics process is not weaponized for rank partisan purposes,” Hawley, who the seven members claim helped incite the crowds, said in a letter, John Wagner reports.  

Biden's nominations, visualized

This week in Washington

Biden and Vice President Harris met with Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at 11:30 a.m. 

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, Biden’s nominee for commerce secretary, will have confirmation hearings on Tuesday at 10 a.m. 

Former Michigan governor Jennifer Mulhern Granholm, Biden’s nominee for energy secretary, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s nominee for ambassador to the U.N., and Denis Richard McDonough, Biden’s nominee for VA secretary, will testify Wednesday. 

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Biden’s housing secretary pick, will testify Thursday morning.  

In closing

Trump made 30,573 false or misleading claims in his four years as president, The Post's Fact Checker concluded: 

The Fact Checker counted a total of 30,573 false or misleading claims made by President Trump during his White House tenure. Here’s what we learned. (The Washington Post)

And the Bidens' German shepherds, Champ and Major, finally moved into the White House: