with Mariana Alfaro

Welcome to The Daily 202 newsletterToday, we look at the future of the Republican Party through the lens of an intriguing assessment from the late Rush Limbaugh. But don’t miss the latest on President Biden's economic rescue package. Sometimes local or regional news is national news in disguise, so send me your most interesting published items from outside the Beltway. And tell your friends to sign up here.

The handful of Republicans who broke with former president Donald Trump during his second impeachment trial now say their party stands at a crossroads and that it’s time to reject the most extreme voices and return to what they describe as the GOP’s ideological roots. But Rush Limbaugh, who died yesterday at 70 from lung cancer, essentially predicted their defeat five years ago.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the third-ranking House Republican, told her home state’s Casper Star-Tribune yesterday the GOP must be the party that stands for principle and stands for ideas” in order to survive. And she urged Republicans to reject “antisemitism, white supremacy, [and] Holocaust denial.”

Cheney, the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, stood unapologetically behind her vote to impeach Trump, which briefly imperiled her job atop the House GOP conference and got her censured in Wyoming. 

“The oath that I took can never bend to political pressure, to mob rule or to partisanship,” she said.

“And that's what we should want from all of our elected officials. Because if you are unwilling to defend the Constitution, or if you're only willing to defend it when it serves your political purpose, then the Constitution will not stand.”

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) delivered a similar message earlier this year in a six-minute video he used to warn the party has “lost its way” and let its core convictions be “replaced by poisonous conspiracies and lies.”

But Limbaugh, who rode right-wing rhetoric to the pinnacle of talk radio, diagnosed in January 2016 that it’s not traditionally conservative governing philosophy that unites and propels Republicans.

In Limbaugh’s telling, the party’s establishment exaggerated the appeal of policy and undervalued what, in 2021, might be called the desirability of “owning the libs.”

It’s worth quoting at length:

I think the best way to explain it is that there are a lot of people in this country who are conservative. There are a lot of those people that won’t admit it, for whatever reason, don’t want anybody to know it, for whatever reason or another, and therefore they live and vote and do things for the most part which are conservative, certainly not liberal. But that’s not the glue that unites them all. If it were, if conservatism — this is the big shock — if conservatism were the glue, the belief and understanding of deep but commonly understood conservative principles, if that’s what defined people as conservative and was the glue that made the conservative movement a big movement, then Trump would have no chance.

He literally would have no chance. Because, whatever he is he’s not and never has been known as a doctrinaire conservative. But neither is John McCain. Neither is 90 percent of the Republican Party, so it’s not a criticism. It’s not an allegation. The point is that if conservatism were this widely understood, deeply held belief system that united conservatives and united people as conservatives, then outsiders like Trump wouldn’t stand a prayer of getting support from people. Yet he is. Therefore, it’s safe to conclude that there are other things at play here that make people conservative. And look, I’m gonna go back to it.

The thing that’s in front of everybody’s face and it’s apparently so hard to believe, it’s this united, virulent opposition to the left and the Democrat Party and Barack Obama. And I, for the life of me, don’t know what’s so hard to understand about that.”

In other words, it’s not the prospect of lowering the corporate tax rate that draws Americans to the GOP, it’s opposition to the other side. It’s the kind of thinking that leads Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), now seen as one of his party’s most powerful House members, to declare that “cancel culture” is the biggest threat facing the United States. It’s why most Republicans closed ranks behind Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

The Los Angeles Times, in a January 1991 profile of Limbaugh, had largely suggested the same was true of the talk-radio pioneer’s appeal.

The newspaper had described him as a self-styled commander-in-chief fight[ing] his private ‘culture war’ against the many liberal, do-gooder notions that interfere with his right to eat and wear and spend whatever he damn well wants and say whatever he damn well pleases.”

Longtime conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh succumbed to terminal, stage four lung cancer on Feb. 17. He was 70 years old. (Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

Limbaugh’s rise presaged Trump’s climb to the top of the Republican Party and not just because they both spread the racist lie that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States

In Limbaugh’s telling, coastal elites, the mainstream news media, blue-state Democrats and a coalition of gays, Blacks, feminists (whom he sometimes dubbed “feminazis”) and environmentalists banded together in an assault on traditional America.

As one historian of conservative movements, Rick Perlstein, told my colleague Greg Sargent, Limbaugh played a central role in “the rise of reactionary populism. People accustomed to being on top — culturally, socially, economically — were facing an onslaught of liberation movements that were all about giving other people a fair shot at the pie.”

But Limbaugh wasn’t immediately sold on Trump, who launched his 2016 presidential campaign with an anti-immigration speech and portrayed the so-called elites of U.S. economic and cultural life as the natural enemies of the so-called “forgotten” Americans.

The talk-show dynamo supported Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in that year’s primary and declared: “Trump is not a conservative.”

Limbaugh not only rallied to Trump’s banner, the two became dinner and golfing buddies.

The president even gave the media star the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the State of the Union last year. 

My colleague Marc Fisher writes that Limbaughmastered the art of portraying himself as a man of the people who fought the elites even as he relished a luxe life in which he collected $5,000 bottles of wine, owned a $54 million private jet, outfitted the vast salon of his Florida mansion in the manner of Versailles, and socialized with top corporate and political leaders. Mr. Limbaugh often praised Trump for succeeding despite never having won over the kind of people who ran large media organizations, Wall Street firms and political parties.”

Limbaugh himself put it another way in the 2010 book “Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One,” saying “I have become the intellectual engine of the conservative movement.”

What’s happening now

Texas hospitals are running out of water amid power outages. Some hospitals are evacuating patients for safety while doctors scramble to conserve coronavirus vaccine shots while caring for vulnerable patients, including coronavirus victims, Timothy Bella and Katie Shepherd report.  

The D.C. region can expect sleet mixed with snow and freezing rain throughout the day. With temperatures in the 20s, untreated roads are covered in this icy mix and slick. Take it slow if you have to be out or stay in, recommends the Capital Weather Gang. 

Lawyers for the Biden administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are at odds over how to proceed with a subpoena lawsuit against former White House counsel Don McGahn. Justice Department officials told a federal appeals court the Biden administration wants to strike a compromise with House Democrats to stop the enforcement of a subpoena for testimony from Trump’s former counsel, Ann Marimow reports. At issue is whether a congressional committee can compel testimony of a close presidential adviser.

Ivanka Trump will not challenge Sen. Marco Rubio for one of Florida’s Senate seats. The former president’s daughter won’t run for the Senate from Florida in 2022, according to an aide to Rubio, the New York Times reports. A source close to Trump said she’s never seriously considered a Senate run. 

New unemployment claims rose slightly to 861,000. That’s an increase of about 68,000 from a previous tally, Eli Rosenberg reports. The claims have fallen sharply from record peaks in the earliest months of the pandemic, but they remain well above the highs from previous economic crises. 

The vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna appear to be highly effective against the more transmissible variant of the coronavirus first detected in Britain but showed a decreased ability to neutralize the strain now dominant in South Africa, according to reports in the New England Journal of Medicine, Erin Cunningham reports

Former Ohio GOP chair Jane Timken joined the race to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Timken was widely expected to run for the seat, the Hill reports

Former Kansas senator Bob Dole (R) said he has Stage 4 lung cancer: 

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • “‘One down, 44 to go’: Inside the House impeachment team’s uphill battle,” by Karoun Demirjian and Tom Hamburger: “Until Trump’s acquittal, many on the House impeachment team had been driven by a surprising sense of optimism that they could win over 67 senators — despite all the political evidence to the contrary. It was an outlook fostered by their leader, Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), who rallied the group of lawmakers with exhortations that democratic principles would prevail.”
  • A quarter of Trump’s 6,081 Facebook posts last year featured misinformation or extreme rhetoric,” by Elizabeth Dwoskin reports: “Analysis [by left-leaning group Media Matters for America] found that Facebook did effectively nothing to limit or block the vast majority of his problematic posts, which together were shared and liked more than 927 million times, according to the group, which based its analysis on data from Facebook-owned analytics tool CrowdTangle.” 
  • Fury in Peru after officials secretly received vaccine before health workers,” by Simeon Tegel: “The government has acknowledged that hundreds of high officials and other well-connected VIPs jumped the vaccination queue beginning late last year to secretly get shots before the front-line health workers.”

… and beyond

  • It might just be game over for the Iowa caucus,” by Politico’s David Siders and Elena Schneider: “The combination of Iowa’s botched 2020 caucus and increasing diversity in the Democratic Party’s ranks has made the whiteness of Iowa and New Hampshire all the more conspicuous, putting the two states on their heels and throwing the 2024 calendar into turmoil.”
  • For Black aides on Capitol Hill, Jan. 6 brought particular trauma,” by the New York Times’s Luke Broadwater: “For Black staffers, it’s a little bit different, because a lot of these attacks are directed toward our people,” said Jabir McKnight, the communications director for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). “We’ve seen these things happen over and over and over again. I don’t think we were blinded that people who are domestic terrorists would say, ‘Oh, it’s the Capitol, we’ll stop there.’”
  • Texas leaders failed to heed warnings that left the state's power grid vulnerable to winter extremes, experts say,” by the Texas Tribune’s Erin Douglas, Kate McGee and Jolie McCullough: “Energy and policy experts said Texas’ decision not to require equipment upgrades to better withstand extreme winter temperatures, and the choice to operate mostly isolated from other grids in the U.S. left the power system unprepared for the winter crisis.”

Quote of the day

“That’s Texas. We want to be so independent, we want to do all these things on our own, and we can’t even do it correctly. I think at the end it’s greed,” San Antonio coffee shop owner Tatu Herrera told The Post. “Everyone is looking at Texas, saying, ‘What’s going on?’ Texas is supposed to be tough, that’s the vision you have of Texas. And then one snowstorm and we’re out of everything.”

The first 100 days

Democrats are divided over a plan for another massive spending bill after the coronavirus stimulus they're still fighting to pass. 
  • What: Democrats are already breaking over President Biden's next big legislative scramble, which would be the foundation of his “Build Back Better” plans, Erica Werner, Jeff Stein and Dino Grandoni report.
  • $$$: The next spending bill could be far pricier than the $1.9 trillion relief bill. Senior Democratic officials have discussed proposing as much as $3 trillion in new spending as part of a wide-ranging jobs and infrastructure package that would also tackle other priorities such as clean energy, domestic manufacturing and child and elder care.
  • How: Democrats are expected to try to pay for parts of the infrastructure package through new tax increases on wealthy individuals and corporations.
  • Who: Liberal Democrats are likely to get behind such a spending plan, but moderates (ahem, Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) could balk at spending trillions more on issues that range far afield from emergency economic relief.
  • When: It’s unclear when the package will be officially unveiled. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden will not detail plans for the next package until the $1.9 trillion relief bill is passed. And Democrats will also have to decide if they want to pursue another bipartisan reconciliation process rather than try to lure bipartisan support. “I'm still trying to get my head wrapped around how we use reconciliation without undermining our success working across the aisle,” said Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), the new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Democrats will today formally introduce Biden's major immigration proposal.
  • The bill, which would create the first major path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in nearly 35 years, faces steep odds, Maria Sacchetti reports. It would grant legal status to approximately 11 million people, mostly from Mexico and Central America.
  • The legislation creates two paths to citizenship for the undocumented: a speedier one for farm workers, dreamers and other immigrants already in the United States under temporary protected status (they could apply for green cards immediately and citizenship in three years); millions more immigrants could apply for citizenship in eight years.
  • Biden has expressed a desire to attract Republican support, but it is unclear how aggressively he will court GOP lawmakers. Republicans are signaling little support for the approach, with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who in 2013 backed a similar bill, saying Biden’s measure is a “blanket amnesty.” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) touted his own measure this week to increase the minimum wage “while ensuring businesses cannot hire illegal immigrants.”
GOP senators want Merrick Garland, Biden’s attorney general nominee, to vow that he will probe New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. 
  • ICYMI: Cuomo and his administration have been accused of covering up the state’s nursing home coronavirus death toll, a claim that has caused bipartisan furor and that Republicans are using to lash out against the Democratic governor.
  • Garland will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week as part of his confirmation process. GOP committee members, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), said in a letter to committee chairman Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) they expect Garland to commit to “fully investigate” Cuomo.
  • In Albany: Democratic state lawmakers are moving to strip Cuomo of his emergency powers during the pandemic. The FBI and the U.S. attorney for New York's Eastern District have opened investigations into the governor's handling of the nursing home population during the pandemic, reports the New York Times.
  • It's getting ugly: Assemblyman Ron Kim (D) said “he got an irate late-night call from the governor. Mr. Cuomo began with a question — “Are you an honorable man?” — and then proceeded to yell for 10 minutes," while Cuomo retaliated by lambasting Kim for a “continuing racket” soliciting donations from nail salon owners.
Biden nominated Obama veteran Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 
  • Brooks-LaSure served in the Obama administration as a senior CMS official who helped implement the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansion and insurance-market reforms, Dan Diamond and Amy Goldstein report. She has also previously worked on Capitol Hill with Xavier Becerra, Biden’s choice to lead the Health and Human Services Department.
  • The Post and the Partnership for Public Service are tracking Biden's appointees including Cabinet secretaries, chief financial officers, general counsels, ambassadors and other critical leadership positions:

The GOP wars

Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell’s feud is splitting the party and could dash the GOP's hopes of retaking the Senate in 2022.  
  • Sixteen GOP senators are running for reelection in 2022. Only two replied to Politico when asked whether they support McConnell in his feud with the former president. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 GOP Republican who drew Trump’s ire by condemning his claims of election fraud, said McConnell has his “full support and confidence.” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) also said he supports McConnell, but told Fox News last night he is aware Trump is “the most powerful political figure on either side.”
  • While no GOP senators have publicly echoed Trump’s attacks on McConnell, some have implicitly taken the former president’s side, with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) saying Republicans would rather have Trump as head of the party over McConnell.
  • Other Republicans are trying to have it both ways. Former congressman Mark Walker (R-N.C.), who is campaigning for retiring Sen. Richard Burr’s (R-N.C.)’s seat, said he disagreed with Burr’s vote to convict Trump and called McConnell’s criticism of Trump “unnecessary.” Still, Walker said he would be proud to have both Trump and McConnell endorse his campaign and insisted it is too early to decide whether he’d support McConnell as GOP leader.
  • Aides to Republicans facing reelection say they expect Trump’s threats to be a wash and that it's impossible to know whether any Trump-inspired primary challengers will materialize. The Senate map, however, suggests the GOP could face some primary headaches in states like Georgia, Arizona and Nevada, where the party wants to oust Democratic senators.
The GOP clash, however, will likely settle into a cold war.
  • Ten Republican operatives said major battles over the direction of the GOP will be avoided or deferred for months as leaders hope to train their fire on Democrats rather than each other, Mike DeBonis and Josh Dawsey report.
  • Republicans close to McConnell say he isn't much interested in duking it out with the former president, signaling plans instead to focus on opposing Democratic policies and ensuring the most electable Republicans emerge from Senate primaries next year.
  • It remains unsettled, however, just how far Trump will push his McConnell vendetta. Some Trump advisers believe the ex-president can push McConnell from power. “It doesn’t make too much sense having the least popular person in the party attacking the most popular person,” Trump spokesman Jason Miller said. “I’m not sure what Mitch thinks he is going to accomplish.”
  • That, McConnell loyalists say, is besides the point. In his 14 years as the top Senate Republican, McConnell has rarely been a beloved figure among Republican voters.

Hot on the left

Texas Democrats are calling for Cruz’s resignation after photos surfaced on social media purportedly showing the Texas Republican heading to Cancun in the middle of the crisis. Cruz’s office has not responded to requests about his whereabouts, John Wagner reports. According to social media posts, Cruz appeared to be in the Houston airport, preparing to board a flight from Houston to Fort Lauderdale with continuing service to Cancun. The Dallas Morning News reported that fellow passengers posted selfies from onboard with Cruz behind them and Fox News confirmed it.

That was quick: PunchBowl News's Jake Sherman reports Cruz is now on his way back to Houston.

Check out this parody from comedian Blaire Erskine:

Hot on the right

Trump is worried his foes will be “suing me for the rest of my life.” The former president, who is facing investigations in multiple states, has privately complained that antagonists will be investigating or suing him for the rest of his time on Earth, the Daily Beast reports

Vaccination doses, visualized

As of yesterday, more than 15.7 million people have been fully vaccinated in the U.S., and 72.4 million doses have been distributed, according to the states and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can check the pace of vaccination in your state in our tracker.

Today in history

This week in Washington

Biden is not expected to appear in public today. His trip to a Pfizer vaccine manufacturing factory in Kalamazoo, Mich., was postponed until Friday.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will on Tuesday hold a hearing on Rep. Deb Haaland's (D-N.M.) nomination to lead the Department of the Interior. 

In closing

Trevor Noah said Republicans should blame the Texas disaster on poor oversight and not on liberal figures like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: