House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) confirmed to Power Up he is sitting down next week with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to discuss the comments — including liking a Facebook post calling for executing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the false “Frazzledrip” conspiracy theory.
But verbal scolds aren't likely to solve a much larger issue for Republicans following Donald Trump's presidency: the rampant disinformation spreading like wildfire among a significant portion of their base. Many of the people who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 erroneously believe Trump won the election after massive fraud, a conspiracy theory the former president and top allies propagated.
- “The GOP has spent the last year and more between accepting and disavowing this part of their base … they need to do some soul searching and decide if it's politically more expedient for them to cater to that base and accept the danger and risk Greene poses to everyone or will they speak out against her?” Emily Dreyfuss, a senior editor and fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center, said.
Deplatforming has proven to be an important first step in cutting off some of the conspiracy theorists' oxygen. But disinformation experts believe simply shutting down some of the top peddlers of extremist ideologies and disinformation campaigns isn't enough to resolve a pervasive problem that's penetrated the American political system.
- Just yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning to “alert the public about the growing threat of ‘ideologically-motivated violent extremists’ agitated about President Biden’s inauguration and ‘perceived grievances fueled by false narratives,'” our colleague Nick Miroff reports.
They recommend a holistic government approach to fight the disinformation pandemic that's touched everything from the electoral system to climate change to the coronavirus.
- “I'm not putting the onus on [the Biden administration] for the other political party that's actively welcomed conspiracy theorists and extremists into their fold and leadership. But the Biden administration needs to have clear and coherent policies on this issue,” Graham Brookie, the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab director and managing editor, told Power Up.
- “Disinformation and the structures that accelerate disinformation create catalytic vulnerabilities that make every discrete issue it touches — from climate change to foreign policy — much harder to deal with and so having a comprehensive strategy around this set of issues is foundational to the strength of our democracy,” Brookie added.
The Biden administration has already announced plans to combat disinformation on specific issues and signaled its commitment to restoring public trust in facts and truth. But Dreyfuss and Brookie are among those advocating for a more robust effort.
For example, outlined in Biden's coronavirus plan released last week are efforts to reestablish trust with the American public through “world-class public education campaigns — covering topics like masking, testing, vaccinations and vaccine hesitancy — designed with diversity and inclusivity in mind, including communications in multiple languages, to maximize reach and effectiveness,” according to the 200-page document.
- “The campaigns will be coordinated, across national, state, and local levels, and engage with the private and public sector. They will be anchored by science and fact-based public health guidance. The Administration will work to counter misinformation and disinformation by ensuring that Americans are obtaining science-based information,” the plan says.
Democratic lawmakers urged Biden in December to appoint disinformation expert Joan Donovan, the research director at Harvard Shorenstein Center, to his coronavirus task force.
- “Understanding and addressing misinformation — and the wider phenomena of declining public trust in institutions, political polarization, networked social movements, and online information environments that create fertile grounds for the spread of falsehoods — is a critical part of our nation’s public health response,” lawmakers wrote in a letter to Biden signed by Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and others.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden has tasked the director of national intelligence, along with DHS and the FBI, to compile a comprehensive threat assessment on violent domestic extremism. The report is likely to home in on the role disinformation has played in radicalizing domestic extremists.
- “The White House will also have its National Security Council review policy to determine whether the government can better share information or take other steps to mitigate the threat. She said the review would be overseen by Joshua Geltzer, a former senior director for counterterrorism, along with current officials. ‘Clearly, more needs to be done,’ Psaki said,” according to our colleagues Matt Zapotosky and Shane Harris.
Other options: The Jan. 6 siege also renewed calls to reform section 230, which provides online platforms immunity from what their users post. Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) co-sponsored legislation last year, “which takes away immunity protections from platforms that amplify certain types of hateful or extremist content, is also ready to take action on Section 230 reform,” Recode's Sara Morrison reports.
- "Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and many smaller platforms gave violent rioters a platform to organize and share dangerous misinformation, while allowing President Trump to inspire and encourage insurrection and sedition against our republic,” Eshoo told Morrison. “These companies’ reckless actions and inactions played a colossal role in Wednesday’s attack on our nation’s Capitol that must be addressed.”
On the Hill
RUSH TO JUDGMENT: “Bracing for the prospect of a likely acquittal, Senate Democrats are eyeing a rapid-fire impeachment trial for Trump, while also contemplating alternatives such as censure that could attract more support from Republicans,” Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane report.
- Rethinking the plan to impeach “reflects a growing desire among most Democrats to move forward with Biden’s governing agenda in light of a test vote Tuesday that saw all but five Republican senators back Trump in a constitutional challenge to proceeding with the trial.”
A minor majority: “Here’s how fragile Democrats’ Senate majority is: The brief Tuesday hospitalization of Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) prompted nearly everyone in the Capitol to research Vermont’s Senate vacancy laws, just in case,” Politico’s Burgess Everett reports.
- “Just the possibility of Leahy missing a day of work sent a jolt through an evenly divided Senate, which Democrats control with just Vice President Harris’s tie breaking vote.”
- The Senate Commerce Committee approved the nomination of Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary, and held confirmation hearings for Jennifer Granholm to serve as energy secretary; Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be ambassador to the United Nations and Denis McDonough, Biden’s nominee for veterans affairs secretary.
Still to come:
- Confirmation hearings for Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Biden's nominee to be secretary of housing and urban development, before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee
- Cecilia Rouse, nominee to be chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers, before the same panel
Outside the Beltway
WALL STREET CAN’T STOP WON’T STOP GAME STOP: Wall Street suffered its sharpest daily decline since October “as investors awaited a number of earnings reports from large technology companies and as the Federal Reserve issued a glum assessment of the economy,” Eshe Nelson of the New York Times reports.
“The Dow fell nearly 634 points, or 2.1 percent. The S&P 500 dropped nearly 99 points, or 2.6 percent, while the Nasdaq lost about 355 points, or 2.6 percent,” David J. Lynch, Hamza Shaban, Hannah Denham and Tory Newmyer report.
The dip also came amid growing anxiety over the rollout of coronavirus vaccines as new variants spread across the globe, and as “traders were captivated by the frenzied trading in GameStop and other heavily shorted stocks,” The Wall Street Journal’s Will Horner and Paul Vigna report.
The GameStop must go on: “Shares of video game retailer GameStop and movie theater giant AMC Entertainment soared to astronomical levels yesterday as an apparent swarm of ordinary investors, spurred on by a Reddit message board, took on big Wall Street funds that had bet the stock prices would fall,” my colleagues report.
- “GameStop shares more than doubled, to $347.51, and have soared more than 400 percent this week. AMC, beleaguered by the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home measures, quadrupled to $19 a share.”
- “The price surges were so dramatic that trading for both companies was temporarily halted by the stock exchanges to temper volatility. But once trading resumed, prices took off again.”
Key quote: “I didn’t realize it was this cult like,” short seller Andrew Left of Citron Research, who has become a particular target of some investors on social media told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s just a get-rich-quick scheme.”
At the White House
CORONAVIRUS CONTINUES TO RAVAGE THE U.S.: “Biden’s coronavirus czar said that the United States was woefully behind other nations in tracking potentially dangerous variants of the virus,” The Times's Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports.
- Key quote: “We are 43rd in the world in genomic sequencing — totally unacceptable,” said Jeffrey D. Zients, Biden’s coordinator of the federal vaccine response.
- “Administration advisers said that the mass vaccination campaign is constrained by both the vaccine supply and the ability to administer shots.”
- “The White House also continued for a second day to step back from a statement Biden made in which he appeared to raise his goal for the pace of vaccinations from 1 million doses per day his first 100 days in office to 1.5 million a day.”
“Biden also plans to sign an executive order this afternoon to reopen the Affordable Care Act’s federal insurance marketplace for three months to give Americans who need coverage during the coronavirus pandemic a special chance to buy health plans,” Goldstein reports.
But as the Biden administration pledges to push for equity in all aspects o policy, including its pandemic response, many states are falling down on the job.
- “Most states are not publicly reporting racial data on people receiving coronavirus vaccines, despite disproportionate covid-19 death rates for Black and Hispanic people,” Lola Fadulu and Dan Keating report.
- “Seven weeks after the first shots were administered, just 20 states include race and ethnicity data on their vaccine dashboards, even though it is required by the federal government.”
Caught red-handed at the ‘Bank of BARDA’: “Federal officials repeatedly raided a fund earmarked for biomedical research in the years leading up to the covid-19 pandemic, spending millions of dollars on unrelated salaries, administrative expenses and even the cost of removing office furniture, according to the findings of an investigation into a whistleblower complaint,” Dan Diamond and Lisa Rein report.
- The investigation "centered on hundreds of millions of dollars intended for the development of vaccines, drugs and therapies by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority or BARDA, an arm of the federal health department."
- Tarrio, who is under intense scrutiny after the Jan. 6 Capitol attacks, denied working undercover or cooperating in any cases, telling Reuters, “I don’t know any of this.”
- But “in a screed posted online later in the day, Tarrio criticized the government and the media for disclosing his past activities and argued that his cooperation was done with the full knowledge and participation of his co-defendants,” Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky report.
Proud Boys and fallen officers: Tarrio’s past surfaced into public view as “the toll of deaths and injuries for the police officers involved in defending the U.S. Capitol during the attack by a pro-Trump mob has risen to more than 140,” Tom Jackman reports.
- Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick died after trying to defend the Capitol from rioters.
- One Capitol Police officer and one D.C. police officer have died by suicide since the attack.
- “At least 81 Capitol Police officers were assaulted during the siege of the Capitol,” and “65 officers from the D.C. police also suffered injuries including several concussions from head blows from various objects, including metal poles ripped from inauguration-related scaffolding.”
The making of a mob: “Three self-styled militia members charged in the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol began soliciting recruits for potential violence within days of the 2020 presidential election, later training in Ohio and North Carolina and organizing travel to Washington with a busload of comrades and a truck of weapons, U.S. authorities alleged Wednesday,” Spencer S. Hsu, Rachel Weiner and Tom Jackman report.
- “A four-count indictment returned in D.C. laid out fresh details and allegations against Jessica Marie Watkins, 38, and Donovan Ray Crowl, 50 — both of Woodstock, Ohio — and Thomas E. Caldwell, 66, of Berryville, Va.
- The three, all U.S. military veterans, are accused of conspiring to obstruct Congress and other counts, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.”
Pigskins and Poetry: Amanda Gorman will deliver verse before the Super Bowl: