The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Daily 202: Kinzinger says Republicans need ‘an intervention’ to kick Trump habit

with Mariana Alfaro

Welcome to The Daily 202 newsletter! Today, we talk to a Republican who thinks the GOP needs an “intervention” to wean itself off Trump. But don’t miss the latest on Trump’s impeachment trial, Joe Biden’s nominations, coronavirus vaccines and variants. Sometimes local or regional news is national news in disguise, so send me your most interesting items from outside the Beltway. And tell your friends to sign up here.

It wasn’t just the Jan. 6 Capitol riot that led Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R.-Ill.) to start a political action committee aimed at challenging Donald Trump’s hold on the Republican Party. It’s the way most GOP elected officials seem to have moved on. 

“The main impetus was obviously January 6th,” Kinzinger told me in an interview. “But I think even beyond that, it was seeing that there wasn’t going to be a mass wake-up, there wasn’t going to be a mass eye-opening to what we’ve become. And in fact, even in this recent week, you see the trend kind of back to Trumpism.”

Nearly four weeks after a legion of the president’s supporters stormed the Capitol attempting to overthrow the 2020 election, Kinzinger is very much in the minority  one of only 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump. Just hours after the Jan. 6 riot spilled into the marbled halls of Congress, whipped up by Trump’s false claims of having been cheated out of reelection, eight Senate Republicans and 139 of their House colleagues voted to reject the judgment of the voters that Joe Biden won the election. Last week, all but five GOP senators lined up behind an effort to derail Trump’s impeachment trial, set to start next week.

Kinzinger said Republicans need “an intervention of sorts” a heart-to-heart reckoning about their dependence on some of the darker currents of American politics, including baseless conspiracy theories like QAnon, and get out from under the influence of Trump.

“We’ve got to reject the dark conspiracy theories and lies, reject the division, moving to try to [enlist] Proud Boys, white supremacy groups,” said the Illinois congressman. “The key is almost an intervention of sorts to say look at where we are right now, but look at our rich history.”

The “intervention” is an arresting image loved ones gathered around, trying to convince someone with chronically self-destructive behavior to change their ways. Polls show Kinzinger, a conservative who swept into office on the tea party wave of 2010, will find it a hard sell.

Even before launching his “Country 1st” PAC, even before voting to impeach Trump, Kinzinger’s calls for the Republican Party to accept the 2020 election outcome had some relatives running hot.

“My dad, he has some cousins that all signed a letter, hand-written, out of pure anger, kinda funny to read. I’m ‘in the Devil’s army,’ I’m ‘coopted,’ I’m ‘not doing the work of the Lord,’ and disowning me, and sent it certified,” he said. They sent a second one, in the same tone, days later.

After an initially tying Trump directly to the Jan. 6 riot, Republican leaders have changed tack. 

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) had declared shortly after Jan. 6th the mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the President and other powerful people.” But then he voted with the majority of Republican senators to stop the impeachment trial on the grounds never tested in the courts that trying an ex-president is unconstitutional. 

On the other side of the Capitol,  GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), who had partly blamed Trump for last month’s violence before he indicted “everybody across this country,” made a peacemaking pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago.

The reason McConnell and McCarthy are so reluctant to throw Trump overboard is his popularity with the GOP base.

Recent polling showed a majority of Republicans say Trump bears no responsibility for the Capitol riot. Among Republican-leaning respondents to a recent Washington Post/ABC poll, 65 percent said Trump acted responsibly after the election, and 66 percent believe his baseless claims of widespread electoral fraud. And 57 percent said the GOP should follow his leadership.

Then there’s the case of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R.-Ga.), the first open congressional adherent to the QAnon extremist ideology based on false claims, among others. The FBI has labeled the movement a domestic terrorism threat. Greene has also mused about the possibility of Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), being executed for treason. 

Kinzinger said Greene should lose her appointment to the House Education and Labor Committee and signaled he favored preventing her from caucusing with Republicans.

“We can’t embrace her,” he said. “If the party embraces her, that’s their choice. But I’m going to certainly present a different vision.”

Trump has repeatedly praised Greene, who said on Twitter that the former president had called her and expressed his support. That leaves some Republicans squirming when confronted with her beliefs.

Asked on ABC’s “This Week” whether she is fit to serve, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) replied, “I don't think we ought to punish people from a disciplinary standpoint or party standpoint because they think something a little bit different.” (Hutchinson said much the same thing about Rep. Liz Cheney (R.-Wyo.), who like Kinzinger voted to impeach Trump and now faces primary threats and calls for her removal from House GOP leadership.

ABC’s Martha Raddatz followed up: “She believes in conspiracy theories, that there are pedophiles running Washington. That's not just ‘a little bit different.’ ” 

Hutchinson replied: “I reject that and I would not vote for her. I would not vote for her.”

The governor’s response showed that Republican balancing acts of the Trump era aren’t a thing of the past just because his presidency is. 

“Here’s the thing: If you just say the truth, just tell people the truth, you don’t have to do a balancing act,” Kinzinger said. “You may not be rewarded politically right away but you’ll at least feel at peace, and that’s the best reward of all.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that the GOP’s coronavirus relief package would eliminate Biden’s call for increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 million. The GOP plan calls for the elimination of Biden’s plan to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. An earlier version of this story also claimed that the Greensboro sit-ins happened 51 years ago. They happened 61 years ago. 

What’s happening now

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The Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic are in the midst of a major winter storm. The storm will bring near-blizzard conditions along the East Coast, up to two feet of snow in the New York City area and a snowfall of two to three inches per hour from Philadelphia to Boston, Andrew Freedman and Jason Samenow report. New York residents are being urged to stay inside as the city expects what could be a top 10 heaviest snowfall. D.C., meanwhile, is preparing for an icy night with snow showers possible later today and into tomorrow. Biden postponed a foreign policy speech at the State Department scheduled for today due to the weather.

McConnell urged Myanmar’s military to release the country’s civilian political leaders following a coup. Myanmar’s military seized power and declared a state of emergency for a year after detaining civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others from her ruling National League for Democracy, Paulina Firozi and Shibani Mahtani report. McConnell said the moves “are horrifying, completely unacceptable, and obviously a saddening step backwards for Burma’s slow and unsteady democratic transition,” McConnell said in a statement, using another name for Myanmar.

Trump’s new PAC raised $31.5 million in the weeks after Election Day, even as Trump made baseless election fraud claims. The PAC, Save America, appealed to supporters by claiming the funds would be used to fight election fraud and help Republicans maintain their Senate majority ahead of the Georgia runoffs. But by Jan. 1, two weeks after the electoral college certified Biden’s victory and before the Georgia elections, Trump had spent no money on either endeavor, according to new filings, Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Anu Narayanswamy report. The PAC has so far spent only $343,000 of the money raised since it was created after the election to pay fees to the company that processes its donations. 

Trump has new impeachment lawyers. One of them declined to charge Bill Cosby. The other claims Jeffrey Epstein was murdered. Following a sudden exodus of lawyers who were working on his defense, the former president said last night he will be represented by Bruce Castor Jr. and David Schoen, attorneys with ties to several high-profile controversial defendants, Katie Shepherd reports

Castor, a Republican who served as the top prosecutor in Montgomery County from 2000 to 2008, declined to pursue criminal charges against Cosby in 2005, when a woman reported the actor drugged and sexually assaulted her. Years later, during Cosby’s criminal case, his lawyers argued Castor secretly promised the actor immunity. 

Schoen, an Atlanta-based civil rights and criminal defense attorney, most recently represented Trump confidant Roger Stone when he faced charges for his role in pursuing hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 election. Schoen’s work with Stone came to an abrupt end last year when Trump commuted Stone’s sentence. More notably, Schoen met with Epstein, the financier accused of sexually abusing dozens of girls, days before his death in 2019. Schoen has publicly disputed official reports that Epstein killed himself and said he may have been murdered. 

Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • In Myanmar coup, Suu Kyi’s ouster heralds return to military rule,by Shibani Mahtani, and Timothy McLaughlin: "The military was never comfortable with its enduring unpopularity and Suu Kyi’s godlike status among ordinary Myanmar people, analysts said, despite its role in engineering the country’s opening after half a century of isolationist rule.”
  • Many who have received the coronavirus vaccine wonder: What can I safely do? By Laurie McGinley and Lenny Bernstein: “They still don’t know, for example, whether people who are vaccinated can get asymptomatic infections and pass them on to those who are not inoculated — which is why they urge people to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing even after receiving their shots.”
  • His team is going to the Super Bowl. He’s staying on the coronavirus front lines,” by Adam Kilgore: “[Kansas City Chiefs player Laurent] Duvernay-Tardif did not play a down this season, but he was a towering figure of this surreal NFL year. In July, shortly before training camps opened, Duvernay-Tardif opted out of the season so he could work at the covid-19-stricken long-term-care facility near his native Montreal, putting to use the medical degree he earned from McGill University, which he finished during the first four years of his pro career. He traded his helmet for a mask and face shield."
  • Separated at the border, reunited, then separated again: For migrant families, another trauma,” by Kevin Sieff: “A federal court ordered the government to reunite the thousands of families separated under Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. But many of those parents were released from detention without any legal status in the United States. They were back with their children, but immediately subject to deportation — and re-separation.”

… and beyond

The first 100 days

Biden will today meet with 10 Senate Republicans offering a coronavirus relief counter-proposal. 

The Republicans, led by Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), are calling on Biden to make a bipartisan deal instead of forging ahead with a party-line vote on the $1.9 trillion relief plan under budget reconciliation, Erica Werner, Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim report. The group’s $600 billion relief package:

  • Eliminates Biden’s call for increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
  • Reduces the size of a new round of stimulus checks, from $1,400 per individual to $1,000. Biden’s plan would send the larger checks to individuals with incomes up to $75,000 per year and couples making up to $150,000, but Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said the GOP plan would lower those thresholds to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for couples.
  • Reduces Biden’s proposal for extending emergency federal unemployment benefits, which are set at $300 a week and expire next month. Biden’s plan would increase those benefits to $400 weekly and extend them through September, while the GOP plan would keep the payments at $300 a week and extend them through June.
  • Matches Biden’s call to devote $160 billion to vaccines, testing and related health-care spending.
  • Democratic aides said the GOP proposal doesn’t change their plans to move forward with a budget bill this week setting the stage for party-line passage of Biden’s plan.
Essential workers are being left behind in the vaccine scrum as states prioritize the elderly. 
  • Many states are trying to speed up a delayed and chaotic rollout of vaccines by adding people 65 and older to near the front of the line. As a result, workers who often face the highest risk of exposure will be waiting longer for the vaccine, Lena Sun, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Akilah Johnson report.
  • The move to inoculate a wider swath of the elderly population backed by the Trump administration in its final days and by members of Biden’s health team marks a departure from expert guidance in December issued by a panel advising the CDC, which recommended the second priority group include front-line essential workers.
  • There are not enough doses to immunize front-line workers and everyone over 65, said Richard Besser, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former CDC acting director. Officials, he said, should carefully weigh combating the heightened effects the virus has on communities of color, which often make up large swaths of the essential worker population, against the desire to expedite the rate of vaccinations. “If the obsession is over the number of people vaccinated,” Besser said, “we could end up vaccinating more people, while leaving those people at greatest risk exposed to ongoing rates of infection.”
Biden reverses Trump’s attempt to freeze $27.4 billion in government programs. 
  • Biden reversed 73 Trump budget cuts, which touched virtually every Cabinet-level agency, a variety of federal programs, including the Peace Corps and the Agency for International Development, and the D.C. budget. (Bloomberg News)

Quote of the day

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told CNN that Democrats have the votes to pass Biden’s relief bill through reconciliation. "If Republicans want to work with us, they have better ideas on how to address those crises, that's great. But to be honest with you I have not yet heard that," Sanders said.

Today in history

Sixty-one years ago, in 1960, four Black students from the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina helped touch off the civil rights movement when they sat down at a whites-only lunch counter and refused to leave. 

Tracking Biden's nominations

The Senate vote on Alejandro Mayorkas’s nomination as secretary of homeland security that was scheduled for today was pushed back until Tuesday because of the snow.

Antony Blinken criticizes Russia for its treatment of protesters demanding Alexei Navalny’s release. 
  • Thousands of protesters demanding the release of the jailed opposition leader were arrested this weekend, including dozens of journalists. In an interview with NBC News, the secretary of state said the Russian government is making a big mistake "if it believes that this is about is. It’s not, it’s about them,” Paulina Firozi reports. “It’s about the government; it’s about the frustration the Russian people have with corruption, with kleptocracy.”
  • Blinken said the Biden administration is “reviewing a series of Russian actions that are deeply, deeply disturbing,” when asked whether the U.S. should sanction backers of Vladimir Putin.
  • Russia’s prosecutor general said Navalny should receive jail time when he faces the court tomorrow. A lengthy jail term would silence Navalny in a key year of parliamentary elections and could make it difficult for the opposition to maintain its momentum. Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s press secretary called the police response to the weekend protests “harsh but lawful,” saying protesters “must be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law," Robyn Dixon reports.

Hot on the left

Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), a consumer protection advocate, lost her seat on the House Financial Services Committees. The committee’s chair, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), shrunk the committee, leaving Porter excluded despite a few open seats left. The American Prospect’s David Dayen writesthis may have been because Waters doesn’t agree with Porter’s fierce questioning and support for more progressive financial policies.

Hot on the right

The Georgia GOP thinks Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) is weighing them down. The newly elected congresswoman and her extremist beliefs have Peach State Republicans worried she will emerge as the face of the state GOP, since her controversial views have not damaged her standing in her conservative north Georgia district. “If you have any common sense, you know she's an anchor on the party. She is weighing us down,” said Gabriel Sterling, the state's GOP election administrator, Politico reports

States with largest covid case increases over last week, visualized

This week in Washington

Kathleen Hicks, nominee for deputy defense secretary, and Thomas Vilsack, nominee for agriculture secretary, will testify before the Senate on Tuesday morning. The Senate will vote on Mayorkas’s nomination as secretary of homeland security on Tuesday. 

Miguel Cardona, nominee for secretary of education, and Michael Regan, nominee for EPA administration, will testify on Wednesday. 

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, nominee for labor secretary, will testify on Thursday. 

In closing

“Saturday Night Live” wondered what still works in the United States: