On the Hill
‘GET-OUT-OF-JAIL-FREE-CARD’: Just two weeks ago, then-Senate Majority Mitch McConnell signaled he was open to impeaching President Trump after blaming him for fomenting the Capitol riot and Republicans lost the Senate majority in Georgia.
McConnell's apparent break with Trump gave air to the possibility the Senate could actually vote to convict the president in an impeachment trial. But three weeks after the attempted insurrection, Republicans seem to have slammed the door on such a move. Yesterday, all but five Senate Republicans — including McConnell (R-Ky.) — opposed opening an impeachment trial, arguing it's unconstitutional to try a former president.
Notably, McConnell supported the objection raised by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that questioned the basis of impeaching and removing a former president — even though he claims Trump “provoked” the mob that attacked the Capitol.
- “He's the master of letting the sizzle fizzle,” a GOP Senate aide told Power Up of McConnell's dramatic turnabout.
The theory appears to be panning out that distance from the Jan. 6 Capitol riot could eventually cool the ire directed at Trump from some top Republicans. GOP criticism of the impeachment proceedings, set to start Feb. 9, is escalating and Tuesday's 55-to-45 vote nearly eliminated the chance 17 Republicans join Democrats to convict Trump and bar him from holding elected office again.
- As one GOP Senate aide told us on Jan. 12: “I think the timing really creates a problem … if we somehow voted on impeachment last Wednesday night, we could have gotten 80 votes.”
- “ … allies of Trump are growing bullish that as more time passes since the fatal siege, the momentum in favor of convicting the former president and permanently barring him from public office is fading,” our colleagues Seung Min Kim, Tom Hamburger, Josh Dawsey and Karoun Demirjian reported earlier this week.
An opening: Questioning the constitutional basis for the impeachment trial as opposed to defending Trump's conduct "has gained traction among Republicans as a way to side with Trump while sidestepping the question of whether he incited the violence at the Capitol — the allegation at the heart of the impeachment effort,” our Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim report.
- On the right: “Impeachment is for removal from office, and the accused here has already left office,” Paul argued, adding he trial would “drag our great country down into the gutter of rancor and vitriol, the likes of which has never been seen in our nation’s history.”
- On the left: “The theory that the Senate can’t try former officials would amount to a constitutional get-out-of-jail-free card for any president who commits an impeachable offense,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.
From an associate editor at The Dispatch, a conservative news outlet founded by alumni of the now defunct Weekly Standard:
In the time between now and then, Trump is flexing his political muscle from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, fueled by the right-wing media lambasting those who split with the former president by voting to impeach him.
He's been preparing election challenges to lawmakers he views as disloyal and the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump are facing censures from their local party and primary challengers — an ominous sign of what may come for Republicans who shun the former president.
- “Trump’s team is planning to circulate additional polling in the coming days, paid for by his PAC, to warn Republican senators of the political consequences of voting to convict him,” SMK, Tom, Josh and Karoun report.
- “Politically, most Republicans are not eager to break ranks and draw the kind of attacks that came the way of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last week for the second time in his presidency, this time on a charge of inciting an insurrection,” per CNN's Manu Raju, Ted Barrett and Jeremy Herb.
The lone five Senate Republicans who voted with Democrats to open an impeachment trial? Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.).
Collins and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) are now “privately pitching their colleagues on a bipartisan resolution censuring the former president Trump,” Axios's Alayna Treene reports.
- “In some ways, a censure vote could be more difficult for Republicans, because they can't rely on the argument that a resolution is unconstitutional — like they are for an impeachment conviction,” per Treene.
Meanwhile, House impeachment managers are crafting their trial strategy, “concentrating on building their case around Trump personally — both what he said in the run-up to the Jan. 6 attack and at a rally that day, and how his words were interpreted within the White House and outside of it, according to people familiar with the deliberations,” our colleagues Seung Min Kim, Tom Hamburger, Josh Dawsey and Karoun Demirjian report.
- “The impeachment managers and their advisers have been meeting daily, scouring hundreds of hours of evidence — including footage scraped from the conservative social media site Parler and other sites — to build an elaborate timeline that is being constantly updated … One idea under consideration: to produce a video that highlights how the rioters reacted to Trump’s remarks that day and shows footage of the violent mob inside the building.”
- Even if more evidence emerges surrounding the president's behavior leading up to and on Jan. 6, “most Republicans are likely to acquit Trump, and only a handful are truly at risk of flipping to convict the former president — unless more evidence emerges or the political dynamics within their party dramatically change,” per CNN.
At the White House
A MORE EQUAL UNION: “President Biden signed four executive actions aimed at increasing racial equity across the nation, a move the administration said was a big early step in his efforts to dismantle systemic racism,” Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Tracy Jan report.
- “The measures seek to strengthen anti-discrimination housing policies, nix new Justice Department contracts with private prisons, increase the sovereignty of Native American tribes and combat violence and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific islanders.”
Biden said the actions were part of an effort to infuse equity into everything the federal government does — including his ambitious climate agenda.
Climate justice for all: “Biden plans to make tackling America’s persistent racial and economic disparities a central part of his plan to combat climate change, prioritizing environmental justice for the first time in a generation,” Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and Darryl Fears report.
- “Biden will direct agencies across the federal government to invest in low-income and minority communities that have traditionally borne the brunt of pollution,” my colleagues report.
- Biden will also sign an executive order “establishing a White House interagency council on environmental justice, create an office of health and climate equity at the Health and Human Services Department and form a separate environmental justice office at the Department of Justice.”
Taking our foot off the gas: In an effort to shift the U.S. away from a reliance on fossil fuels, Biden also plans to impose a moratorium on all new federal oil and gas leasing — although the order would not impact existing leases.
But it may be an uphill battle: “What may well stand in the president’s way is political intransigence from senators from fossil-fuel states in both parties,” the New York Times's Lisa Friedman and Coral Davenport report.
- “An evenly divided Senate has given enormous power to any single senator, and one in particular, Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who will lead the Senate Energy Committee and who came to the Senate as a defender of his state’s coal industry.”
- “Manchin also maintains a vested interest in his state’s fossil fuel industry. His most recent financial disclosures show that he holds stocks worth between $1 million and $5 million in Enersystems, the coal brokerage firm he used to run,” our colleagues Sarah Kaplan and Dino Grandoni report.
Moving markets: BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, who controls $9 trillion, announced “that he has already begun to vote his shares against managers and directors that fail to show ‘significant progress on the management and reporting of climate-related risk, including their transition plans to a net zero economy,’” Axios's Felix Salmon reports.
A grim and growing global crisis: The world hit another grim milestone yesterday, surpassing 100 million coronavirus confirmed cases worldwide. This comes as new virus variants are rapidly spreading across the globe and one, the South African variant, is proving to be more resistant to vaccines.
- The Biden administration announced its plans to expand vaccine distribution saying “it would seek to buy 200 million more doses of two coronavirus vaccines authorized for approval … increasing the available supply by 50 percent and bringing the total to 600 million doses by this summer,” Isaac Stanley-Becker, Laurie McGinley and Christopher Rowland report.
- That would be enough to fully vaccinate 300 million people with the two doses required and “greatly boost Biden’s chances of returning the nation to some semblance of normalcy by late summer or the fall.”
- But, the New York Times's Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Noah Weiland, Sharon LaFraniere, Katie Thomas and Michael Gold note that the additional doses “may not accelerate the current pace of vaccination for months.”
- Even if Biden uses the Defense Production Act to increase supply, the Times reports, “there is little he can do in the short term … because of lack of manufacturing capacity.”
AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR: Antony Blinken, Biden’s pick for secretary of state, won Senate confirmation yesterday, becoming Biden's fourth Cabinet pick to do so joining Janet Yellen, Avril Haines, and retired Gen. Lloyd Austin in the confirmed group.
Those still awaiting confirmation include Biden’s pick to run the Commerce Department, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, who appeared before the Senate Commerce, Sciene and Transportation Committee yesterday.
- Raimondo said “she plans to be ‘very aggressive’ in combating China’s ‘unfair’ trade practices, but declined to detail how she would handle issues such as Chinese tech giant Huawei or the steel and aluminum tariffs imposed under Trump,” Jeanne Whalen reports.
- She also said “she would expand broadband access to regions with patchy Internet connections, and to promote manufacturing and clean-energy jobs,” in keeping with Biden’s broader initiatives on racial justice and climate change.
Still to come: Alejandro Mayorkas’s nomination to be secretary of homeland security cleared the Senate Homeland Security Committee Tuesday, “but a group of eight Republican senators, led by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), on Tuesday urged incoming Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to hold a hearing on Mayorkas’ nomination — a move that would drag out his path to confirmation," Politico's Sabrina Rodriguez reports.
Appearing on the Hill today:
- 9:30 a.m. Jennifer Granholm, nominee for secretary of energy, appearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
- 10 a.m. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, nominee for U.N. ambassador, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
- 10 a.m. Pete Buttigieg, nominee for transportation secretary before the Senate Commerce panel
- 3 p.m. Denis McDonough, nominee for secretary of veterans affairs, before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee
Biden also nominated Eric Lander, “founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, who was the lead author of the first paper announcing the details of the human genome, as director of Office of Science and Technology Policy and adviser on science,” the Associated Press's Seth Borenstein reports.
Biden BLOCKED IN TEXAS: “A federal judge in Texas blocked Biden’s 100-day deportation ‘pause’ in a ruling that may point to a new phase of conservative legal challenges to his administration’s immigration agenda,” Nick Miroff reports.
- Judge Drew Tipton, a Trump appointee, granted a temporary restraining order sought by Texas attorney general Ken Paxton (R), saying the state had demonstrated a likelihood of facing immediate harm from Biden’s deportation pause.
- The court order will be in effect for 14 days and portends more legal challenges ahead by Biden opponents appealing to a judicial branch reshaped by the confirmation of hundreds of Trump appointees.
- Paxton, a close Trump ally, declared Texas “the first state in the nation to bring a lawsuit against the Biden (administration). AND WE WON.”
If memo-ry serves: “The Justice Department formally rescinded the Trump administration's controversial ‘zero tolerance’ policy that called for the criminal prosecution of adults crossing the border and led to the separation of thousands of families,” CNN's Priscilla Alvarez and Evan Perez report.
- The policy, ended in 2018 but formally rescinded yesterday, represented a hallmark of Trump’s crackdown on immigration and lead to “government agents separating more than 5,500 children from their parents at the border,” Devlin Barrett reports.
- Key quote: “Consistent with this long-standing principle of making individualized assessments in criminal cases, I am rescinding — effective immediately — the policy directive,” acting attorney general Monty Wilkinson said in a memo to federal prosecutors.
In the media
A note from our newsroom: Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron to retire at the end of February. Thank you for your leadership, @PostBaron! You will be missed.