House Democrats leading former president Donald Trump’s impeachment trial embraced a new strategy yesterday: Praise Mike Pence, defend GOP lawmakers and exonerate MAGA backers who demonstrated on Jan. 6 but did not storm the Capitol.
In effect, the prosecutors tried to do what most political analysts believe impossible: Put asunder Republicans who are tethered, however awkwardly, to the former president.
Several times throughout the day, the managers showed video of Secret Service agents hustling the vice president off the Senate floor to safety — his distance from rioters calling for his execution measured in minutes and feet.
“Mike Pence is not a traitor to this country, he's a patriot,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.). “And he, and his family who was with him that day didn't deserve this — didn't deserve a president unleashing a mob on them, especially because he was just doing his job.”
Earlier in the day, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) read Trump tweets in the months, weeks and days before the insurrection mocking top Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as the “pathetic,” “weak and ineffective” captains of a “Surrender Caucus” on whom he threatened to visit “consequences.”
“Let me be very clear: the president wasn’t just coming for one or two people, or Democrats like me,” Lieu said. “He was coming for you. For Democratic and Republican senators. He was coming for all of us, just as the mob did at his direction.”
Using dramatic videos of the violence five weeks ago, and footage from Trump’s angry post-election rally speeches, the impeachment “managers” have tried to get the Senate GOP to recapture the anger, fear and resentment they felt after the riot. On Wednesday, they emphasized the riot was a bipartisan shared experience — one inflicted by the former president, an argument in the key of “us” versus “him.”
While some GOP senators appeared “visibly shaken” by the footage, it was unclear whether their emotions would translate into new votes to convict Trump.
“To us, it may have felt like chaos and madness,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).
“He told them to fight like hell, and they brought us hell on that day.”
Trump saw the riot “not as a day of disgrace, a day of horror and trauma as the rest of us remember it — but as a day of celebration, a day of commemoration,” Raskin said. “And if we let it be, it will be a day of continuation, a call to action, and a rallying cry for the next rounds of insurrectionary justice because all of this was totally appropriate.”
Raskin’s fellow impeachment managers played up Pence’s refusal to follow Trump’s orders to try to sabotage the certification of President Biden’s victory.
Noting the rioters’ chants of “Hang Mike Pence,” Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) underlined: “The mob was looking for Vice President Pence because of his patriotism, because the vice president had refused to do what the president demanded and overturn the election results.”
The managers also offered an exoneration of sorts to Republican lawmakers who repeated Trump’s lie that he’d been cheated out of a second term. Eight GOP Senators joined 139 House colleagues in voting, hours after the riot, to overturn the election.
“What our commander in chief did was wildly different from what anyone in this room did to raise election concerns,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.).
They enlisted former Trump chief of staff John Kelly, playing audio of a CNN interview in which the retired Marine general said Trump “has been saying the things he's been saying since the election and encouraging people, there's no surprise, again, at what happened yesterday.”
And they took pains to distinguish between the thousands of Trump supporters who attended his “Stop the Steal” rally and those who marched down Pennsylvania Avenue and stormed the Capitol.
“I want to be clear, during this trial when we talk about the violent mob during the attack we do not mean every American who showed up at President Trump's rally,” Swalwell said. “Certain Americans came to protest peacefully, as is their right. That is what makes our country so great, to debate freely, openly, and peacefully our differences.
“Just like all of you were attempting to do in this very room on January 6th,” he said. “But what President Trump did was different.”
More on the impeachment trial
The impeachment trial resumes today at noon. You can see all the evidence presented in the past few days here.
- House managers have eight hours left to make their case against Trump, and Raskin suggested his team will continue sharing more emotional memories of the day for much of the remaining time, per the New York Times, including more videos that have not yet been released.
- They will also focus on the “various harms caused” by the attack, as well as on “the president’s lack of remorse,” a Democratic aide said. Aides declined to say whether a comment Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) made last night that he had informed Trump that Pence had been evacuated from the Senate chamber will become part of the Democrats’ case, Wagner reports.
- Trump’s legal team will respond to their arguments tomorrow. If more time is needed, their defense will carry on to Saturday. Trump is watching from home at Mar-a-Lago, and he is “furious” with the defense, aides told ABC News.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell isn’t pressuring fellow Republicans to acquit Trump.
- “He’s never really talked about it to us,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) told the Hill. “Mitch is a very good tactician ... but he’s also very respectful that every senator got here on their own.” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) also said he wasn’t getting any pressure from leadership.
- “I want to listen to the arguments. I think that's what we ought to do. That's what I said before it started. That's still my view,” McConnell said when asked whether he is still undecided on convicting Trump.
Biden thinks it’s possible the emotional footage of the attack may have changed some GOP minds.
- Biden also reporters that he “didn’t watch any of the hearing live” yesterday but saw coverage of it, John Wagner reports. “I’m focused on my job … to deal with the promises I made,” he told reporters. “And we all know we have to move on.”
Lawmakers are debating whether the meaning of “incitement” changes in a court versus an impeachment trial.
- Trump’s lawyers are arguing that Trump’s exhortation is protected by the First Amendment, but Democrats say that argument misses two key points, the Times reports. “An impeachment trial, they contend, is concerned with abuses of official power, meaning that statements that may be legally defensible when uttered by a private individual can nonetheless be grounds for impeachment. Equally important, they say that Trump’s statements on Jan. 6 should not be considered in isolation but as the final effort of a calculated, monthslong campaign to violate his oath of office in an effort to retain power.”
Quote of the day
“The result of this trial is preordained,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who mounted an effort to contest the electoral college results on Jan. 6. “President Trump will be acquitted. I think the trial is a waste of time and is the result of seething partisan anger on the part of congressional Democrats."
What’s happening now
The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee advanced the nominations of Miguel Cardona, Biden’s education secretary pick, and Marty Walsh, labor secretary nominee. They will now await confirmation from the full Senate.
New CDC guidelines on opening schools will be released tomorrow, White House senior adviser Andy Slavitt told MSNBC.
Tony Fauci predicted that an “open season” for vaccinations in the U.S. will begin in April. He expects “virtually everybody and anybody” in any category will be eligible to get their shot by then.
AstraZeneca said it could take between six and nine months to produce vaccines adapted to target new variants of the virus, Erin Cunningham reports. The U.K. coronavirus variant could “sweep the world” and prolong efforts to tackle the pandemic, warned Sharon Peacock, head of Britain's national genomic surveillance program. German Chancellor Angela Merkel this morning said the more contagious variants could threaten recent progress in her country against the pandemic.
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Lunchtime reads from The Post
- “Now out of office, Trump may have to face tax questions,” Jonathan O’Connell, David Fahrenthold and Jeff Stein report: “One is a massive income tax refund Trump received before entering office … one that has quietly been under a years-long review by the Internal Revenue Service and a little-known congressional panel, the Joint Committee on Taxation. … The other issue Trump faces is the possibility that Democrats, after five years of trying, will finally pry free Trump’s tax returns now that the party controls both Congress and the White House.”
- “Justice Dept. leaders repeatedly stymied requests for search of Giuliani’s records,” by Matt Zapotosky, Shayna Jacobs and Ellen Nakashima: “Justice Department political leaders repeatedly stymied efforts by federal prosecutors in Manhattan to obtain a search warrant last year for the digital records of Rudolph W. Giuliani … frustrating career government attorneys and effectively leaving the decision to the incoming Biden administration.”
… and beyond
- “Can America’s broken politics be fixed?” by National Interest’s James Rosen: “Intra-party conflict is strangling America. The erosion of the power held by traditional party hierarchies — embodied in the president, congressional leadership, and the two major party committees — has exerted profoundly negative impacts on our ability to address our national problems, doing damage across the full range of issues and policy portfolios.”
- “Thieves stole at least $2.7 million from federal political committees during the 2020 election cycle. Biden's campaign got hit, too,” by Insider’s David Levinthal: "Joe Biden enjoyed some of the nation's finest security as a presidential candidate. But apparently no one could stop thieves and fraudsters from raiding his presidential campaign committee."
- “Inside the White House’s plans to bring jobs back,” by the Times’s Noam Scheiber: “Biden’s relief plan, an opening offer in the current legislative negotiations, is largely an expression of modern liberalism, which holds that the federal government must spend more and expand its influence during times of acute need.”
The first 100 days
Biden held his first phone call with China’s Xi Jinping last night. It was two hours.
- The president staked out a hard line on human rights and “coercive and unfair economic practices,” Gerry Shih reports. Biden also criticized human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang. Still, the president also opened the door for more collaboration on fighting climate change and the pandemic.
- “[If] we don't get moving, they're going to eat our lunch,” Biden said of the call and China this morning.
- Both sides signaled that they would not yield on the thorny issues over Beijing’s treatment of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Xi warned Biden to “act prudently” — but spoke in conciliatory tones about the importance of a healthy bilateral relationship, according to a Chinese state broadcaster.
Biden will today focus on infrastructure and the pandemic response, John Wagner reports.
- And the Department of Housing and Urban Development will issue guidance to investigate complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, Tracy Jan reports. The guidance would expand civil rights protections for LGBTQ people seeking housing across the U.S.
- Biden is considering naming Lisa Cook, a Michigan State University economist, to fill an open seat on the Federal Reserve Board, Axios reports. Cook would be the first Black woman to join the Fed.
- Federal assistance in affording health insurance would expand for the first time in more than a decade under a congressional plan to provide relief to Americans harmed by the pandemic, Amy Goldstein reports. Federal subsidies for the Affordable Care Act that would be stretched to reach people who are in the middle class or unemployed are woven into a proposal the House Ways and Means Committee is expected to approve by the end of this week.
- The Biden administration told the Supreme Court yesterday that Trump had been wrong to argue that the ACA was unconstitutional, Robert Barnes reports.
Fed Chair Jeremy Powell said the real unemployment rate is closer to 10 percent.
That's after misclassification errors are factored in the official government figure reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which last week said the unemployment rate was 6.3 percent. (NBC News)
Hot on the left
Dozens of former Republican officials are in talks to form an anti-Trump third party. Four people involved in the discussions told Reuters that former officials, including members of the Reagan, Bush and Trump administrations, want to form a center-right breakaway party that would run candidates in some races but also endorse center-right candidates in others, be they Republicans, independents or Democrats.
Hot on the right
The Lincoln Project, a leading anti-Trump group, ignored a crisis in its own ranks. Led by several prominent Republican consultants and Never Trumpers, the group tried to claim a higher moral ground in an effort to purge the former president from the party. Back stage, though, the group took no action against its co-founder John Weaver, who was accused of harassment. There is no evidence that the group buried the allegations against one of its leaders for business reasons, the AP reports, but taken together, the allegations and new revelations about spending practices raise questions about the organization, which has raised millions in its fight against Trump.
How to adjust your mask, visualized
This week in Washington
Biden and Harris this morning met with senators from both parties to discuss the administration’s infrastructure plans. Later in the afternoon, Biden will visit the National Institutes of Health.
Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) accidentally appeared upside down in a virtual House Financial Services Committee meeting on Wednesday, thanks to another pesky Zoom filter:
Just a few days ago, a lawyer in Texas showed up to a hearing as a cat thanks to a filter. Geoffrey Fowler explains how to turn these features off so that you can avoid showing up to work with a puppy face.