with Tobi Raji

Good morning. It's Thursday and this is the Power Up newsletter. Thanks for waking up with us. 

Signs from the universe: The Capitol Hill coffee shop, Cups & Company, is set to reopen in April, RollCall's Jim Saska reports. 

  • QOTD: “Having a meeting at Cups is a clear sign of a return to normalcy,…The next time I’m at Cups, I’ll feel really good about where we are as a country.”

On the Hill

NUMEROLOGY: The domestic terrorism threat that FBI Director Christopher A. Wray warned was “metastasizing across the country” is targeting the Capitol — yet again. 

Congress is still reckoning with the security breach by a pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6, but law enforcement agencies and Capitol Police said “they have information regarding a possible plot by a militant group to breach the Capitol on Thursday, a date that some followers of the QAnon extremist ideology falsely claim will mark former president Donald Trump’s return to the White House.”

March 4 has circulated among QAnon conspiracists as the day former president Donald Trump will be inaugurated for a second term as president. 

Trump remained quiet on the matter, as did former vice president Mike Pence, who wrote an op-ed echoing Trump's election fraud falsehoods by inaccurately claiming there were “significant voting irregularities” in the 2020 election. There is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election but the Republican Party's top leaders have continued to stoke the same false claims leading to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

But the threat was taken seriously enough that the House closed for business today, while the Senate remains in session.

  • I think President Trump has a responsibility to tell them to stand down this threat is credible, it's real, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) told CNN's Jake Tapper.
  • Law enforcement didn't name the group, but: “It's a right-wing militia group that believes that the original — because the original inaugural day was March 4 until the 20th Amendment passed, they think this is the true Inauguration Day and that President Trump should be inaugurated tomorrow. And that is the threat we face right now,” McCaul explained.

Still, the election fraud conspiracy theories dividing Republicans were widely repeated over the weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando by Trump and other prominent GOP figures. 

The Senate sergeant-at-arms notified lawmakers that the U.S. Capitol Police will have additional personnel at the Capitol. 

  • “We have already made significant security upgrades to include establishing a physical structure and increasing manpower to ensure the protection of Congress, the public and our police officers,” police said in the statement.
  • The Department of Homeland Security in coordination with the FBI issued a “bulletin very late Tuesday night or very early Wednesday morning about “extremists discussing March 4 and March 6,” our colleagues report.
  • The bulletin also “warns broadly that ‘militia violent extremists’ pose a threat throughout 2021 and that domestic violent extremists generally have probably been 'emboldened' by the events of Jan. 6, according to a person familiar with its contents.” 
  • Earlier this week, Wray said the Jan. 6 attack could be an inspiration to a number of terrorist extremists.” 

Why March 4?: “The QAnon movement has been broadly fixated on predicting dates when Trump would initiate a purge of Democrats, journalists and celebrities who it believes are part of a secretive cabal of child abusers,” NBC News's Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny report. 

  • “The 'sovereign citizen' movement, a 50-year-old conspiracy movement composed largely of radical tax protesters, believes there has not been a legitimate president since Ulysses S. Grant, who was inaugurated March 4, 1869. Desperate for an explanation that would allow Trump to remain president, some QAnon conspiracy theorist forums have adopted the mythology that he would become the 19th president on Thursday, invalidating almost two centuries of legitimate American government.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers are still reviewing the security failings leading to Jan. 6: hearings yesterday by two Senate committees revealed conflicting testimonies.

The commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, told lawmakers he was restricted by the Pentagon from deploying his forces to the Capitol until three hours and 19 minutes after he received a call from the Capitol Police chief requesting backup. “It shouldn't take three hours to either say yes or no to an urgent request from either the Capitol Police, the Park Police, the D.C. police,” Walker testified. 

  • “Pentagon officials challenge that account, saying [acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller] reacted rapidly but that his approval may not have been communicated to Walker efficiently. Nonetheless, Walker testified that earlier action by the Pentagon could have made a difference … Now top lawmakers are calling for Miller and former acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy to answer questions about their roles in driving the events of that day,Politico's Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio report. 
  • Walker also discussed a Jan. 5 memo, first reported by The Post in January: “ … McCarthy, Walker’s direct superior in the chain of command, prohibited [Walker] from deploying a quick-reaction force composed of 40 soldiers on his own and said any rollout of that standby group would first require a ‘concept of operation,’ an exceptional requirement given that the force is supposed to respond to emergencies,”  Paul Sonne, Matt Zapotosky, and Devlin Barrett report. 
  • Walker testified the memo was “unusual in that … it required me to seek authorization from the secretary of the Army and the secretary of defense to essentially even protect my Guardsmen.”
  • Gut check: “It isn’t about calling the National Guard out quicker. It’s about having a thousand people standing there before the riot happens so the riot doesn’t happen,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said during the hearing, adding, “I think we can get too bogged down on the details of January 6 and forget about what could have actually fixed this.”

The policies

THE SENATE STAYS PUT: And will continue to consider President Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus plan. But it's going to be a long couple of days.

  • "… Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) went ahead with plans to conduct a marathon session of debate Thursday and Friday, possibly stretching into Saturday, on the $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue legislation,” our colleague Paul Kane reports.
  • What to expect: “Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) will force Senate clerks to read aloud the entire $1.9 trillion covid-relief bill, delaying debate on it by about 10 hours,” our colleague Colby Itkowitz reports. “He also said he plans to force votes on a huge number of amendments to prolong the debate.”
  • “By forcing the reading of the bill and then unlimited amendments, it could be Sunday before the Senate votes on final passage.”

Meanwhile: “The House late Wednesday night passed expansive legislation to create uniform national voting standards, overhaul campaign finance laws and outlaw partisan redistricting, advancing a centerpiece of the Democratic voting rights agenda amid fierce Republican attacks that threaten to stop it cold in the Senate,” our colleague Mike DeBonis reports

  • “ … the bill has taken on additional significance because of the new Democratic majority in the Senate and President Biden’s November win, as well as the efforts underway in dozens of Republican-controlled state legislatures to roll back voting access in reaction to former president Donald Trump’s loss and his subsequent campaign to question the election results,” DeBonis notes.
  • The House also passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,an expansive policing overhaul measure named for the 46-year-old Black man who died last Memorial Day after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against his neck for over nine minutes,” per our Felicia Sonmez and Colby Itkowitz. 
  • Both bills aren't likely to get anywhere in an evenly divided Senate.

From a HuffPo reporter on a new convert to getting rid of the filibuster:

At the White House

MEANWHILE, BIDEN MADE A BIG CONCESSION ON THE STIMULUS: “President Biden has agreed to narrow eligibility for a new round of $1,400 stimulus payments in his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, under pressure from moderate Senate Democrats who’ve pushed for more ‘targeted’ spending in the bill,” our colleagues Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report

  • “Singles making between $80,000 and $100,000 and couples earning between $160,000 and $200,000 would be excluded … About 12 million fewer adults and 5 million fewer kids would get the stimulus payments.”
  • The move drew backlash from progressive Democrats. “I don’t understand the political or economic wisdom in allowing Trump to give more people relief checks than a Democratic administration,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “It’s an insensitive compromise for the roughly 80 percent of Americans that live in urban areas, which are known for higher costs of living.”
  • To be clear: Some upper-middle-class voters who got a check from Donald J. Trump will absolutely not get a check from Joseph R. Biden, and I cannot possibly imagine that will help cement the Democrats’ new suburban Sun Belt coalition come 2022,” writes Slate's Jordan Weissmann. 

Anchorage weighs in: “As early as December, the incoming Biden administration began to woo a Republican who could prove pivotal in their legislative efforts: Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska,” our colleagues Seung Min Kim and Paul Kane report.

  • “As transition officials sifted through an assortment of potential Cabinet picks, they would run lists of names by the veteran senator for her feedback: Does Murkowski know any of these people? How do you feel about them? Could they survive a difficult confirmation process?”
  • “Nearly three months later, Murkowski is at the nexus of several of Biden’s priorities on Capitol Hill. The White House is desperately seeking Murkowski’s support.”
  • But Murkowski only has one priority Alaska. “Murkowski said she is taking every opportunity — whether it’s sit-downs with nominees who need her support, or conversations with White House officials about the coronavirus relief package — to press Alaska issues.”
  • LOL:Murkowski is higher on [Trump's] list of enemies than other senators and lawmakers … Some people in his circle doubt, though, that he will be as much of a potent force in the race because traveling to campaign against her would require such a long flight, which Trump generally avoids.”

Outside the Beltway

BIDEN SLAMS GOVS' ‘NEANDERTHAL THINKING’: “Biden on Wednesday sharply criticized the decisions by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) to lift coronavirus restrictions in their states, calling the moves ‘a big mistake,’” our colleague Felicia Sonmez reports

  • Biden: “We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we’re able to get vaccines in people’s arms. … The last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking — that, ‘In the meantime, everything’s fine. Take off your mask. Forget it.’ It still matters.”
  • Context: “With both Texas and Mississippi still in the top 10 deaths per capita among U.S. states, health officials have warned that easing restrictions before vaccines have been widely distributed could cause another spike in cases and deaths.”

Here's what Abbott had to say: 

The investigations

INSPECTOR GENERAL FLAGS ELAINE CHAO: “The Transportation Department’s internal watchdog found evidence of potential ethical violations by then-Secretary Elaine Chao and referred the case to the Justice Department for prosecution in December, but it declined,” our colleague Michael Laris reports

  • “Chao used government employees to perform private tasks, some of which were meant to aid her father, James S.C. Chao. Transportation Department staff were told to help promote the elder Chao’s biography and to maintain a list of his awards. The department’s former director of public affairs drafted and launched a media and public relations strategy to build his profile.” Read the report.
  • “Chao also tapped public employees for personal tasks such as arranging Christmas ornaments.”
  • Backstory: “The investigation of Ms. Chao came after a 2019 report in The New York Times that detailed her interactions with her family while serving as transportation secretary, including a trip she had planned to take to China in 2017 with her father and sister. The inspector general’s report confirmed that the planning for the trip, which was canceled, raised ethics concerns among other government officials,” reports the Times.

The people

CUOMO THROWS DOWN GAUNTLET: “New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday that he would not resign in the face of a growing sexual harassment scandal, instead asking New Yorkers to wait for a full investigation of his behavior. He also offered a more expansive apology to the women who he acknowledged he had hurt,” our colleagues Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey report.

  • Cuomo: “I was elected by the people of the state of New York. I'm not going to resign.”
  • “The accusations by the women have eroded Cuomo’s political standing [but] advisers believe he can weather the scandal if no more women come forward and the independent investigation by Attorney General Letitia James (D) fails to show anything more damning than what has been alleged so far.”
  • Meanwhile, key Cuomo aides are jumping ship.At least two top aides are leaving his office as the governor faces allegations of sexual harassment from former aides and a federal probe into his administration’s handling of nursing home deaths,” Politico's Anna Gronewold reports
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) on March 3 said he will cooperate with the New York attorney general's review for allegations of sexual harassment. (The Washington Post)

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) on March 3 said he will cooperate with the New York attorney general's review for the allegations of sexual harassment against him.

In the media

DRAMA ACROSS THE POND: “In a sign of further tensions and tussles between Queen Elizabeth II and Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Buckingham Palace on Wednesday evening announced that its human resources department would investigate accusations by former employees that Meghan bullied her staff,” our colleague William Booth reports.

  • “Staff were bullied and some reduced to tears. One said they were humiliated by her on a number of occasions,” the Times of London's Valentine Low reports. “There is no doubt that Meghan could be a demanding boss. There were a number of people who suggested that those problems were partly to do with cultural differences in management style.”
  • “The issue boils down to whether Meghan was a demanding boss with high standards, or a bully. Did her team fail her, or did she ask the impossible?”

Of note: “All this comes as the royal family and their retinue of PR professionals brace themselves for Meghan and Harry’s appearance Sunday on a two-hour CBS special with Oprah Winfrey,” per Booth. 

Viral

RAPPLER CEO APPEARS IN PHILIPPINE COURT: “Rappler CEO Maria Ressa testified before the Court of Tax Appeals where she and Rappler Holdings are facing 4 counts of tax evasion and failure to file accurate tax returns,” Rappler reports. “This is the first time Ressa testified in court.”

  • Here's more about the Philippine news outlet and freedom of the press under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.