Donald Trump used popular resentment against elites as political rocket fuel to propel his unlikely 2016 presidential campaign, describing America’s economy and politics as “rigged” against the middle class and railing against a “rigged system” of justice in favor of the powerful.
The impeachment managers argued this week that his acquittal would prove him right, pointing to the the hundreds of Trump supporters arrested for their role in the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
“All of these people who have been arrested and charged, they're being held accountable for their actions,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.). “Their leader, the man who incited them, must be held accountable as well.”
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) also alluded to a two-track system as he tried to refute the Trump defense that the former president was denied due process as his impeachment steamed ahead.
“Hundreds of people have been arrested and charged by prosecutors for the violence on January 6th,” Lieu said. “There was no reason for the House to wait to impeach the man at the very top that incited the violence.”
The managers spent hours quoting the selfie-taking seditionists claiming to be under orders from Trump, often in videos taken by the rioters themselves. Those arrested and charged could face years, or even decades, in prison. Trump, if convicted, could face at most a new stain on his legacy and perhaps a Senate vote to prohibit him from holding federal office again. And that’s unlikely: Barring last-minute changes of heart, the managers don’t have the 17 Republican votes needed for conviction.
A strong strain of elite impunity runs through American politics.
The list of those punished for security failings leading up to 9/11, for the Iraq war, for embracing interrogation techniques that meet international definitions of torture, for the 2008-2009 financial collapse and subsequent predatory behavior by some big banks rarely includes those at the top.
Three American presidents have been impeached. But none of them have ever been convicted and removed from office.
Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. After declaring “we tortured some folks” in the years after 9/11, Barack Obama warned liberals not to be “sanctimonious” about wanting to punish those responsible.
Few people in public life have used elite mechanisms — high-priced lawyers, friendly banks, until recently — more often to escape ruin than Trump, but he cast his gold-plated populism as a gift to Americans betrayed by those at the top.
“The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” he said in his inaugural address.
“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost,” Trump said. “Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.”
The managers rejected well-worn arguments — remember “censure and move on” or “we’re looking forward, not backward”? — and warned that acquitting the former president would fuel future political violence.
Trump, the Democrats argued, poses a clear and future danger.
“Impeachment is not to punish, but to prevent,” DeGette declared. “We are not here to punish Donald Trump. We are here to prevent the seeds of hatred that he planted from bearing any more fruit.”
“I’m not afraid of Donald Trump running again in four years,” said Lieu. “I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose, because he can do this again.”
Their arguments came as the managers wrapped up their case and ceded the Senate floor to Trump’s defense, set to kick off its efforts near midday today. A verdict could come as soon as this weekend as Democrats and President Biden prioritize a speedy trial.
The prospects of Trump running for — and winning — the GOP nomination in 2024 have been uppermost on the minds of senators from both parties, as well as their own reelection bids in 2022. While a handful of Senate and House Republicans have publicly broken with the former president, his hold on the party’s base has helped keep the vast majority in line. Democrats want the impeachment trial to end not just in his conviction, but with a vote to prohibit him to run again for federal office.
That’s also unlikely to happen, even if some 2024 contenders say Trump won’t seek a comeback bid, anyway.
“I don’t think he’s going to be in the picture,” former Trump U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley told Politico’s Tim Alberta. “I don’t think he can. He’s fallen so far.”
Whether there would really be a Republican appetite for a repeat of Jan. 6 is up for debate.
A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 80 percent of Republicans say they oppose the Capitol riot. And one in eight Republicans said Trump should face criminal charges for his role.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-M.D.), the lead manager, asked senators whether they were prepared to gamble that Trump wouldn’t encourage his supporters to carry out future acts of political violence.
“Would you bet the lives of more police officers on that? Would you bet the safety of your family on that? Would you bet the future of your democracy on that?” Raskin asked. “President Trump declared his conduct totally appropriate. So if he gets back into office and it happens again, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves.”
What’s happening now
Drug companies are seeking billion-dollar tax deductions from their opioid settlements. Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson and the “big three” drug distributors – McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health – all agreed to pay a combined $26 billion to settle claims about their roles in the opioid epidemic. Now, as details of the blockbuster settlement are worked out, the companies updated their financial projections to include large tax benefits stemming from the expected deal, Douglas MacMillan and Kevin Schaul report.
Military officials were unaware of the potential danger to Vice President Pence's “nuclear football” during Jan. 6 attack. CNN reports that U.S. Strategic Command became aware of the severity of the incident after seeing a video played at the trial showed Pence, his Secret Service detail and a military officer carrying the briefcase while running down a flight of stairs at the Capitol. The backup “football” is always near the vice president, and contains the equipment to carry out orders to launch a nuclear strike.
The former vice president remains loyal to Trump. Pence has no plans to condemn Trump or to speak out during the trial, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey report. The two men have spoken several times since the attack, including once since Biden was inaugurated.
- One Pence ally said the former vice president was frustrated with what Trump did and said it would change his relationship with him forever, but that Pence doesn’t share the fury that some of his former aides have for the president.
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More on the impeachment trial
The trial resumes at noon today. You can find the evidence presented yesterday here.
Trump’s lawyers are expected to present a relatively short defense today.
- The defense will argue that Trump’s speech was protected by the First Amendment and that House managers failed to show he was responsible for the attack, John Wagner and Felicia Sonmez report. The trial could now wrap up as early as tomorrow.
- David Schoen, one of Trump’s lawyers, said House managers “told a story” but did not establish a link between Trump’s conduct and the attack. The defense, he said yesterday, could present its case in four hours or less.
- It remains exceedingly unlikely that the Senate will convict Trump, with numerous Republican senators indicating they remain unmoved by the prosecution’s case. Some Republicans praised the emotional presentations, “I think they did a good job,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told the Hill. “I don’t believe the facts are largely in dispute about what happened that day or the nature of what happened.” Still, “every person in the Senate chamber understands that there are not the votes to convict,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said.
- Cruz, along with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) met with Trump’s defense team last night. Schoen said the senators just wanted to make sure they were “familiar with procedure” on the eve of the rebuttal, CNN reports. When asked if such a meeting was appropriate, Schoen said, “Oh yeah, I think that’s the practice of impeachment.”
Biden says he's eager to see if Republican senators “stand up” to Trump.
Asked if he plans to call them, Biden said no, John Wagner reports.
Lawmakers are considering starting an independent commission to review the Jan. 6 attack.
- “The mandate of whatever it will do will be very broad,” said a senior Democratic aide familiar with the bipartisan discussions. “The 9/11 Commission’s charge was expansive. I imagine this will be, too.”
Two officers who helped fight the mob died by suicide. Many more are hurting.
- D.C. police officer Jeffrey Smith, days after the riots, was still recovering from his wounds when he took his own life on his way to work. Howard Liebengood, a Capitol officer, took his life three days after the riots. Now, their families want the deaths of their loved ones recognized as “line of duty” deaths, Peter Hermann reports.
- Newly released audio from D.C. police at the riot shows how police were overwhelmed. “Multiple Capitol injuries, multiple Capitol injuries,” one officer screamed over his radio. Officers were struck with poles and dragged downstairs. So far, more than 30 counseling meetings have been held for officers seeking help. More are expected.
Quote of the day
“Is there any political leader in this room who believes that if he is ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office, Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way?” House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said. “Would you bet the lives of more police officers on that? Would you bet the safety of your family on that? Would you bet the future of your democracy on that? If he gets back into office and it happens again, we have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Lunchtime reads from The Post
- “Among Latino immigrants, false vaccine claims are spreading as fast as the virus,” by Teo Armus: “Latino immigrants are far from a monolithic category, and many, including those in the Maryland suburbs, are eager to get vaccinated. Yet faced with language and literacy barriers, immigration fears, or a lack of outreach from local and state governments, some of the most vulnerable communities have become fertile ground for vaccine misinformation, advocates say.”
- “U.S. eyes flurry of new taxes on Amazon, Facebook and Google, trying to force tech to pay its ‘fair share,’” by Tony Romm: “Even as the U.S. economy struggles to regain its footing, some of the tech industry’s most valuable companies have thrived as Americans spend more time — and money — shopping and communicating on the Web. The disparity has caught the eye of policymakers across the U.S. who increasingly say it is time for the Internet’s cash-flush companies to start paying their fair share.”
… and beyond
- “The predator in the Lincoln Project,” by New York Magazine Miranda Green: “Alex Johnson was a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, pursuing a career in politics, when he first heard from John Weaver, the legendary Republican operative living nearby. It started with a direct message on Twitter. … Weaver, who worked on both of Senator John McCain’s presidential campaigns, started by discussing politics or college football before asking Johnson about his dating life and sexual interests.”
- “We asked 175 pediatric disease experts if It was safe enough to open school,” the New York Times's Claire Cain Miller, Margot Sanger-Katz and Kevin Quealy report: “[They] largely agreed that it was safe enough for schools to be open to elementary students for full-time and in-person instruction now. Some said that was true even in communities where Covid-19 infections were widespread, as long as basic safety measures were taken.”
- “What if we turned restaurants into government contractors?” by the Counter’s Karen Stabiner: “Full compensation allows restaurants to do the right thing without hastening their own demise. No risk; only benefits.”
The first 100 days
The Biden administration launched a formal review of the future of the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo.
The move revives the Obama-era goal of closing the facility, Reuters reports. Aides involved in discussions are considering executive action signed by Biden to come in the following weeks or months.
The Biden administration will move today to rescind Medicaid work requirements.
- The actions will immediately rescind permission for states to compel poor residents to work in exchange for receiving Medicaid benefits, one of the core health policies of the Trump era, Dan Diamond and Amy Goldstein report.
Biden wants the IRS to drive his recovery plan, but the agency barely functions as is.
- The nation’s tax collector is struggling to raise revenue and is now tasked with distributing hundreds of dollars in relief funds, Jacob Bogage reports. The reliance on the agency comes at a time when the IRS is already underfunded and scrambling in pandemic working conditions.
- The agency is still grappling with a significant backlog from the 2019 tax-filing season, plus snags in earlier rounds of stimulus payments and personnel shortages.
- “It is morphing the IRS into this dual mission of both tax administration and administering of social programs. The challenge is the IRS was not set up for that purpose and their IT is not structured for that,” said Erin Collins, the national taxpayer advocate, an independent watchdog within the IRS.
The U.S. federal debt will exceed the size of the economy even before Biden’s stimulus is approved.
- The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the remarkable surge in federal borrowing is due largely to the more than $4 trillion in spending approved by the federal government to fight the pandemic since March, Jeff Stein reports.
- A sudden surge in inflation — not currently considered likely or imminent — could force the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates, which would in turn dramatically increase the costs of U.S. borrowing. For now, the central bank has vowed to keep interest rates low.
Biden said U.S. will have enough vaccines for 300 million people by end of July — enough to cover every American adult.
- The administration used options in existing contracts to purchase another 200 million doses, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Lena Sun and Laurie McGinley report.
Asylum seekers stuck in Mexico are frustrated by the administration’s release of some migrants into the U.S.
- Biden’s suspension of the “remain in Mexico” program left a policy void that is fueling frustration among asylum seekers who say they have tried to follow the rules and navigate ever-changing policies in hopes the U.S. would consider their petitions for protection, Arelis Hernández reports.
Biden donors are upset that the president hasn’t called them about ambassadorships.
- Biden has not made any nominations to ambassadorial posts beyond Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination to the U.N., the Daily Beast reports.
- Even as Cabinet nominations are still going through the confirmation process, some of Biden’s most generous financial backers are getting angsty. “People are starting to second-guess whether or not they’re qualified, whether or not they overshot the countries that they’re qualified for,” a party bundler said.
Biden’s environment actions, visualized
Hot on the left
Felony charges were dropped against the two police officers from Buffalo that violently shoved a 75-year-old protester during a Black Lives Matter protest in June. The victim, Martin Gugino, suffered a head injury and lost consciousness as a result of the push. Still, the grand jury that reviewed the cases against the officers, Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe, voted to dismiss second-degree assault charges, BuzzFeed News reports.
Hot on the right
Project Veritas, the conservative activist organization, was permanently suspended from Twitter for violating platform rules. The group’s founder, James O’Keefe, also had his account temporarily locked due to a “violative Tweet,” Politico reports. O’Keefe said he would not delete the tweet in question, which was a video of members of the organization questioning Facebook Vice President Guy Rosen.
This week in Washington
Biden and Vice President Harris will meet with a bipartisan group of governors and mayors to discuss their administration’s relief plan. The list of leaders includes N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R). They will later meet with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. The president will go to Camp David later today, his first visit there since taking office. He will spend President's Day weekend there.
Seth Meyers said Republicans have made it clear that they don't care about the House impeachment managers' evidence:
And Champ and Major Biden romped around the White House lawn this morning as the first lady checked out the Valentine's Day decorations: