The Biden administration is looking at whether it could make public White House visitor logs from early last month, a step that could reveal whether people connected with the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol visited 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“I'm not even sure if it is technically possible. That feels like the first question. So let me talk to our technical gurus and see what I can find out,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
We already know that some of the most prominent people spreading the baseless conspiracy theory that Trump was cheated out of reelection darkened the West Wing’s doorstep in his waning days: My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, retired general Michael Flynn, and Sidney Powell. But the logs could flesh out more fully who was bending the president’s ear and shaping his mind in the run-up to the deadly Capitol riot.
Still, it’s unclear whether it’s legally possible for the current administration to release visitor logs from the former one. The Secret Service maintains the logs, which are formally known as the White House Worker and Visitor Entry System (WAVES). In May 2020, the Trump administration won a Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that visitors to the White House and to Mar-a-Lago could stay secret.
The court ruled forcing those records into the open could harm “a president's ability to receive unfettered, candid counsel from outside advisors and leaders, both domestic and foreign, who were aware that their visits to the White House would be subject to public disclosure." (Good government groups had argued it was in the public interest to know whether a president was getting unfettered, candid lobbying, from outside advocates, both domestic and foreign.)
The ruling seemed to let stand a Trump administration directive that would only make most such records available five years after he left office. (In 2018, it had settled a lawsuit by agreeing to release visitor logs for parts of the White House operation, like the Office of Management and Budget.)
Visitor log disclosure has typically included the name of the visitor, their appointment date and time and location on the White House compound, when they arrived and when they left, and the name of the official who made the WAVES request. While guests typically submit their birth date and Social Security number, those were never made public.
During the coronavirus pandemic, what is often a flood of visitors eager to make nice with a new administration has thinned dramatically. Some business is conducted remotely. But Psaki said records of who is taking part in what virtual meeting will not be made public.
“At this point there is not a discussion of making virtual meetings a part of what is released,” she told reporters.
Psaki did not return an email asking how the White House decides who makes the cut for in-person meetings and whether the Presidential Records Act requires recording Zoom meetings and preserving those recordings. (The Trump administration was known to use private email and the WhatsApp private messaging technology for official business.)
In a 2013 report, the Sunlight Foundation that promoted open government had listed the shortcomings of the Obama White House’s limited releases of visitor logs, including: “Phone calls are also used to avoid disclosure, as they provide no record of even the most substantive conversations between White House officials and influencers.”
The visitor logs were a frequent bone of contention between the Obama White House and the journalists who covered it.
George W. Bush fought the disclosures in court, a battle Obama took up as his own until his administration decided in September 2009 to settle the case and make some of the records public.
The Democrat’s approach came with a list of exceptions and workarounds. Aides and guests regularly met in coffee shops near the White House. And the policy was to exclude visitors making “purely personal” stops “that do not involve any official or political business.” It did not define either standard, and applied the label broadly, including to events with big donors. Ditto for a May 2014 Obama lunch with former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, widely expected at the time to run for president. Meetings seen as sensitive — potential Supreme Court picks, for instance — also did not go public.
In a September 2016 briefing, Obama spokesman Josh Earnest highlighted one of the challenges for reporters pressing that administration for more disclosures.
"Transparency in its own right is not something that a lot of voters are going to consider.”
What’s happening now
Senate committees voted on two Biden nominees – Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Jennifer Granholm – this morning. The Commerce Committee approved Raimondo’s nomination to lead the Department of Commerce 21-3, while the Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed Granholm’s nomination for energy secretary 13-4.
Miguel Cardona, Biden’s nominee for the education department, also testified before the Senate today. He vowed to turn the pandemic into an opportunity to address educational inequities. Michael Regan, Biden’s nominee for the Environmental Protection Agency, will testify today at 2 p.m. This morning, Vice President Kamala Harris swore-in Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the nation’s first openly gay person to be confirmed to a Cabinet post.
House Republicans will meet today to decide the fate of Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.). The divided caucus will privately debate whether Liz Cheney, who faces backlash from Republicans who back Trump after she voted in favor of his impeachment, can continue in her role as GOP conference chairwoman, the No. 3 leadership position, John Wagner reports. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was also expected to speak privately this week with Greene, who has drawn furor from establishment Republicans for her support of conspiracy theories, as she faces a House vote on a move to strip her of her committee assignments, which could happen today, the AP reports.
Lawmakers paid their respects to Brian Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who suffered fatal injuries during the Capitol assault. Sicknick’s cremated remains were set atop a bier in the Capitol Rotunda to lie in honor and will be brought to Arlington National Cemetery later today after a memorial ceremony at the Capitol, Meagan Flynn and Paul Duggan report. This morning, Vice President Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff paid their respects, while Biden and the first lady made a solemn visit at around 10 p.m. Tuesday. Authorities have not yet publicly specified the cause of Sicknick’s death, which is being investigated by D.C. police homicide detectives.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) have come to terms on how to run a 50-50 Senate. An agreement on the organizing resolution was reached after weeks of negotiations, putting Democrats in control of committees, Donna Cassata and Felicia Sonmez report. Democrats hold the tiebreaking vote with Harris. "We will pass the organizing resolution promptly today,” Schumer said.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is 76 percent effective at protecting against symptomatic covid-19 for three months after just one dose, researchers at Oxford found. The coronavirus vaccine developed by the British-Swedish drugmaker significantly slows transmission of the virus, Erin Cunningham reports.
To start your day with a full political briefing, sign up for our Power Up newsletter.
Lunchtime reads from The Post
- “Myanmar coup sparks resistance movement as Suu Kyi is charged,” by Shibani Mahtani and Andrew Nachemson: “Across Myanmar, a campaign of civil disobedience is swelling in response to this week’s coup, in which the military ousted the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD). Unlike past resistance movements, notably the 1988 uprising that made Suu Kyi a democratic icon, Myanmar’s new dissenters are keeping their activism off the streets and finding safer ways to reject military rule.”
- “Proud Boys and Black Lives Matter activists clashed in a Florida suburb. Only one side was charged,” by Tim Craig: “Amid fears that the confrontations could lead to clashes or shootings, police started enforcing the town’s rarely used noise ordinance, which essentially forbids disturbances louder than a close conversation between two people. But only the Black Lives Matter protesters were cited.”
- “As GameStop stock crumbles, newbie traders reckon with heavy losses,” by Drew Harwell: “In interviews Tuesday with novice traders on r/WallStreetBets, the gleefully reckless Reddit forum that helped fuel the onslaught, several said they were holding out hope that the hyperinflated stock would turn around. But others expressed deep turmoil, posting screenshots from their online banks and brokerages to the forum that, in some cases, showed hundreds of thousands of dollars vanishing in a matter of hours.”
… and beyond
- “Joe Kennedy III joins Poor People’s Campaign,” by Religion News Service’s Jack Jenkins: “[The Rev. William] Barber said Kennedy was brought on board ‘specifically to make sure’ activists secure a ‘White House-level’ meeting on issues related to poverty with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and administration officials.”
- “Tom Vilsack faced the Senate today. But tomorrow he faces the task of re-aligning our public agriculture with the public good,” by the Counter’s Martin Lemos: “Just as we have a stock market that is not our economy, we have a farm economy that is increasingly detached from the realities of farming and the experience of farming communities.”
At the table
Today we're lunching with my fellow Vermonter Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). As the incoming Senate Budget Committee chairman, Sanders will help shepherd President Biden’s spending priorities through Congress, even as he works to shape them. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Knox: Senator Sanders, some Democrats are warning the Biden White House not to let a quest for Republican votes slow down or water down their priorities. Is that a valid concern?
Sanders: I think the president has been very clear in saying what every Democrat believes. Of course we want Republican support. We want Republican support now and in the future. But the crises facing this country today are so extraordinary, so unprecedented, it is imperative that we move forward boldly and rapidly, right now. And if Republicans want to join us, that’s great. If they don’t, so be it.
In the last number of years, when Republicans had the majority, they used reconciliation to pass massive tax breaks for the rich and large corporations, used reconciliation to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act, used reconciliation to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wilderness Reserve. And all of those proposals were done on a 100 percent partisan basis. I didn’t hear a whole lot of talk of bipartisanship then. So right now, yeah, if Republicans want to join us, that’s great. But we have a proposal which is what the American people want — poll after poll shows us that the vast majority of people understand that we have a major pandemic crisis that must be addressed, that we have a major economic crisis that must be addressed, we have a major educational crisis that must be addressed. And that’s what we intend to do.
Knox: As Senate Budget Committee chairman, you’ll be shepherding President Biden’s budget request, which is unusually important this year. What do you see as the potential obstacles or challenges? And how do you plan to overcome them?
Sanders: We’ve got 50 members of the caucus, and every one of them has a slightly different point of view. So I think what we’re going to have to do is make sure that we’re all on board. [When the budget resolution goes to the various committees of jurisdiction] the fine-tuning of these proposals will take place. I think we’ve got a pretty good blueprint. But there’s going to be a lot of folks wanting to make changes here, and make changes there. We’ve all got to work together and do what’s right for the American people.
Knox: Do you have any concerns about some Democrats, from either end of the spectrum, balking at the budget request or the $1.9 trillion rescue package?
Sanders: I don’t. As I said, Olivier, every Democrat, all 50 of us, will have different points of view. There’ll be differences on this proposal, or that proposal. I myself have some really strong feelings that in some ways we have not gone forward more aggressively. Others think it may be too aggressive.
I think that we have a new president who has come to power in a moment when the working class of this country is facing more desperation than at any time since the Great Depression. And he brought forth a proposal that he believes, and that I believe, and the American people believe is a step in the right direction to address these terrible crises.
I don’t believe that there’s any member of the Democratic caucus who’s going to turn his or her back on the president.
Second of all, we are the majority because we had two great candidates in Georgia who surprised everybody and won their elections. That’s why we’re in the majority. And it turns out that the election in Georgia was not just an election for the people of Georgia, it really became a national election. And we said to the people of Georgia and the people of America that, if Democrats gain control over the Senate we are going to bring forth a very ambitious agenda to protect the working class and the middle class of this country. And the people of Georgia responded, and that’s why we have the majority.
It is impossible for me to believe that there is any Democrat who would renege on the promises we made during that election. To do so would be, I think, to really make certain that we will not be the majority in two years. Promises were made to the American people and those promises must be kept.
Knox: You just mentioned your “very strong feelings” about the rescue package. Do you expect there to be a second rescue package this year, and what would you like it to include?
Sanders: I do. This package is essentially an emergency package. Children in America are going hungry, millions of families are facing eviction, in the midst of a pandemic, 90 million people are uninsured or underinsured. We are not getting the vaccine out to the American people as quickly and effectively as we should. We’re not producing enough vaccines. Our schools, millions of kids have had their education disrupted and schools are not opening up in a way that we would like them to. We got a huge set of emergency crises that must be dealt with, and that’s what we’re doing with this bill.
But the next bill will deal with some of the long-term structural problems that face this country, and the need to create many millions of good-paying jobs. And that means, as everybody understands, our infrastructure is crumbling, our roads and bridges. And I include affordable housing in infrastructure. We have an existential threat in terms of climate change. We’ve got to lead the world to transform our energy system. We have to deal with long-term educational problems, student debt, etc etc.
So there are a lot of long-term problems that we need to address in order to create an economy that works for all people and not just the very, very wealthy.
Knox: There have been news reports, both during the transition and now in the very young Biden presidency, about Democrats being unhappy at the communication to and from the White House. Is there room for improvement?
Sanders: I suppose there’s always room for improvement. But I’ve not been unhappy. It’s a new administration, I’m sure they’re going to have to work out various issues. But I would say that up to now, by and large the Biden administration is doing a very good job.
Knox: Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen you everywhere — on the beach with Chris Christie, in Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” at the Yalta Conference, in the crowd on the cover art of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Sanders: I get around, man!
Knox: I’m obviously talking about the mittens meme. I have a serious question and a less serious one: How have viral phenomena changed the way you think about political communication, if they have?
Sanders: Obviously, this whole mittens stuff has shocked me, the degree to which it has become an international phenomenon. What I’m happy about is that, among other things, we were able to utilize some of that Internet visibility to bring several million dollars into the state of Vermont to feed the hungry and make sure that our lowest-income people got some the help they need.
But it is no great secret I have worked very hard for many years with a team of young people to utilize social media in as effective a way as we can. It is terribly important for members of the Senate, and Congress, mayors, and governors …to be communicating directly with people about what they believe and what they are trying to do. I think the Internet and social media are tools that have to be utilized in as effective a way as we can.
Knox: Do you have a favorite?
Sanders: Oh God. Some of them are so hysterical. No, I don’t have one favorite. Really, my wife and I we would laugh and laugh. The creativity out there is really rather extraordinary.
The first 100 days
Biden tells Congress he wants to go big on coronavirus relief even as some GOP lawmakers push a smaller plan.
- Biden joined the House Democratic Caucus this morning to discuss his $1.9 trillion rescue plan. He later met with a group of Democratic senators in the Oval Office to discuss the aid.
- Biden told Senate Democrats yesterday that he viewed the GOP proposal for a narrower bill as inadequate, Erica Werner, Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim report. His concerns were echoed by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
- Meanwhile, the Senate took an initial vote yesterday to advance a budget bill paving the way to pass Biden’s relief package with a simple Senate majority. In the House, Democrats also took an initial procedural vote yesterday to move forward.
Biden remains open to narrowing who qualifies for stimulus checks but warned against “targeting” the aid.
- Congressional Republicans and even some centrist Democrats are concerned Biden’s proposal to send another round of stimulus checks would hand out aid to more affluent Americans who don't need it, Stein reports. Biden doesn't want to exclude the middle class, however.
- Psaki said Biden believes a nurse and a teacher jointly earning $120,000 a year in his hometown of Scranton, Pa., should still get a check.
- Biden is also opposed to lowering the check size – which he promised would be $1,400 per individual.
Biden signs executive orders “modernizing” the U.S. immigration system.
- “I’m not making new law, I’m eliminating bad policy,” Biden said, Felicia Sonmez, Colby Itkowitz and John Wagner report.
- Most notably, Biden ordered the creation of a task force charged with identifying and reuniting hundreds of families who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border by the Trump administration, Kevin Sieff reports.
- Administration officials have still not released any additional details on the scale or timing of the task force’s work, but they did say the group will be chaired by the newly confirmed Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Quote of the day
“We're going to run this like the Obama-Biden administration. No one in our family and extended family is going to be involved in any government undertaking or foreign policy. And nobody has an office in this place,” the president said in the first White House joint interview with the first lady.
But, but, but: Biden’s brother Frank’s role in a Florida law firm complicates the White House’s ethics message.
In an interview with a local Florida news station, Frank Biden, the president’s younger brother and a lawyer, talked about his relationship with the president while wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with a “TBT” logo, his firm’s shorthand for “The Berman Team,” Annie Linksey reports. As Joe Biden took over the White House, Frank Biden’s firm has aggressively touted its ties to power — emphasizing the brothers’ connection and highlighting Biden’s policies as it advertises its services. As President Biden seeks to break dramatically from the mingling of family and government that defined Trump’s presidency, the White House has yet to publicly issue rules for the president’s family members, but an official said a process is in place, involving the counsel’s office, to address potential conflicts of interest as they arise.
Hot on the left
Trump attorney L. Lin Wood, one of the most vocal and controversial critics of the integrity of Georgia’s election, is under investigation over whether he voted illegally. WSB-TV reports that Wood, who filed lawsuits and claimed people voted illegally in the November election, is under investigation by the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. Wood voted in Georgia, but may have done so illegally because he lives in South Carolina. A section of the Georgia code says that, if you move to another state with the intention of making it your residence, you will have lost your residence in Georgia.
Hot on the right
The House Armed Services Committee’s top Republican called on White House press secretary Jen Psaki to “immediately apologize” for “diminishing’ the Space Force. “It’s concerning to see the Biden administration’s press secretary blatantly diminish an entire branch of our military as the punchline of a joke, which I’m sure China would find funny,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said. During a briefing, Psaki was asked if Biden had made any decisions on the future of the Space Force, which was established with support from the Trump administration. “Wow. Space Force. It’s the plane of today,” Psaki said, referencing an earlier question about the color scheme of Air Force One. “It is an interesting question. I am happy to check with our Space Force point of contact. I’m not sure who that is. I will find out and see if we have any update on that.” (Politico)
Eligible judge vacancies for the circuit court, visualized
This week in Washington
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D), the nominee for secretary of labor, and Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Biden’s nominee for the housing department, will testify before the Senate tomorrow.
Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, will testify before the Senate next Tuesday morning. Tanden will likely face a more partisan vote than some of Biden’s other nominees due to her criticism of the GOP on social media. (Politico)
Trump ally Lindell, CEO of MyPillow, went on Newsmax, a conservative network, to talk about censorship. The interview quickly went off the rails:
And Stephen Colbert saw his shadow, so he predicts we’ll have two more weeks of impeachment drama: