Politics & Policy

Vaccine Vexation for the Biden Administration

President Joe Biden signs an executive order as part of his administration’s plans to fight the coronavirus pandemic at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 21, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst

On the menu today, President Biden promises to increase America’s daily vaccinations from almost 940,000 per day to a million per day; Jen Psaki declares that Biden and Kamala Harris did not wear masks on federal property, as his new executive order requires, because “we have bigger issues to worry about at this moment in time.” We’re off to a roaring start, America.

Biden Promises to Marginally Improve a ‘Miserable Failure’

We’ll get to the Biden administration’s announcements and moves on the pandemic in a moment, but first, let’s take stock of where we are.

There’s a good chance that since mid-March 2020, the pandemic has seriously disrupted your life. You may have lost your job or switched jobs. You’ve been told to stay at home for long stretches. If you’re lucky, your kids are back in school, at least part time, but many of us are still in this abysmal “distance learning” that is failing far too many kids. You may not have seen elderly relatives in rest homes. You’ve avoided parties. Your life has probably not included air travel, family gatherings, large crowds, concerts, live sporting events, conferences, big holiday celebrations, or any of the other happy moments that make life enjoyable. It’s been ten months of take-out and Netflix and you’re pretty tired of it.

If you’ve been lucky and not caught the virus, you now face something of a sunken-costs problem. You’ve been good and followed the rules. You’ve worn your mask, you’ve gone through gallons of hand sanitizer, you’ve avoided crowds, you’ve tried to keep six feet away from everyone outside of your household. You would love to loosen the reins a little bit, maybe have some people over. You’re yearning for a little more human interaction that government edicts have cruelly denied you and your family for almost a year.

But now you’re hearing that even more contagious variants of SARS-CoV-2 are floating around out there, and you would feel pretty foolish and frustrated if you caught COVID-19 right before you were able to get vaccinated. You would probably be fine. Treatments are improving, although the data aren’t quite as clear-cut as doctors would prefer. But you would hate to accidentally spread it to someone more vulnerable than you, and we’re still losing around 4,000 souls a day to this virus.

You told yourself, all through 2020, that you just had to get through this miserable year, and that a vaccine was on the way. Except now we’re three weeks into 2021, things don’t feel different, and you’re still waiting for a vaccine. You may have called your state or county and tried to get yourself or older loved ones registered for vaccination. Websites keep crashing, phone lines are jammed, and when you do get through, the answer is usually some variation of, “we haven’t gotten to vaccinating people like you yet, keep waiting.” It’s Healthcare.gov all over again. You’ve made huge sacrifices and done everything you’re supposed to do, but your government, at multiple levels, keeps tripping over its own shoelaces.

Kevin Williamson likes to point out that everything looks simple when you don’t know the first thing about it; I’d add a corollary that every government problem looks easier to fix when you’re not in a position to fix it. On the campaign trail in October, Joe Biden famously announced, “I’m not going to shut down the economy, I’m not going to shut down the country, I’m going to shut down the virus,” as if there was some sort of simple, easy, no-tradeoffs solution that the Trump administration was too stubborn to try. Keep in mind, Biden is no stranger to unrealistic promises. Before this pandemic started, Biden promised that as president, he would cure cancer.

President Biden promised “at least 100 million Covid vaccine shots into the arms of the American people in the first 100 days,” and most media entities called it “extremely challenging.” But the first caveat is that this meant getting two shots into 50 million people, because both of the currently approved vaccines require two doses.

The second point is that in the past week, as Biden was moving into the White House, the U.S. averaged 939,973 doses per day, according to Bloomberg’s tracker, so . . . Biden is promising a mild improvement of about 60,000 doses per day. For perspective, if every county in America vaccinates 20 more people per day, the million-shots-per-day threshold will be met.

Yesterday in the Oval Office, Biden said, “while the vaccine provides so much hope, the rollout has been a dismal failure thus far.” Why is Biden promising to vaccinate just 60,000 more people per day than a “dismal failure”?

When pushed on this point, Biden responded with a line that is quickly turning into a sitcom catch-phrase:

Reporter: Mr. President, you said you set the goal at 100 million vaccines in the — is that high enough? Shouldn’t you set the bar higher? That’s basically where the US is right now.

Biden: When I announced it, you all said, ‘It’s not possible.’ Come on, give me a break, man.

A CNN Bombshell That Turned Out to Be a Dud

Yesterday, CNN offered what it seemed to think was a bombshell: “Joe Biden and his advisers are inheriting no #coronavirus vaccine distribution plan to speak of from the Trump administration, sources tell CNN. ‘There is nothing for us to rework. We are going to have to build everything from scratch.’” My first thought was that this is the sort of accusation serious enough to warrant an administration official going on the record.

Lo and behold, in the on-the-record press conference, Dr. Anthony Fauci poured cold water on that preemptive excuse:

Reporter: Is the Biden administration starting from scratch with the vaccine distribution effort, or are you picking up where the Trump administration left off?

FAUCI: No, I mean, we certainly are not starting from scratch because there is activity going on in the distribution. But if you look at the plan that the President has put forth about the things that he’s going to do — namely, get community vaccine centers up, get pharmacies more involved; where appropriate, get the Defense Production Act involved, not only perhaps with getting more vaccine, but even the things you need to get a good vaccine program — for example, needles and syringes that might be more useful in that. So it’s taking what’s gone on, but amplifying it in a big way.

Q: President Biden said that what was left was “abysmal,” essentially. Is there anything actionable that you are taking from the previous administration to move it forward? And is that delaying your efforts to get the vaccine? I mean, that’s the question that —

FAUCI: No, I mean, we’re coming in with fresh ideas, but also some ideas that were not bad ideas with the — with the previous administration. You can’t say it was absolutely not usable at all. So we are continuing, but you’re going to see a real ramping-up of it.

CNN’s updated article features Fauci’s on-the-record denial of the story’s premise in the eighth paragraph.

Jen Psaki: Masks Are Important, Except When Celebrating a Historic Day

Biden also said yesterday, “One of our 100-day challenges is asking the American people to mask up for the first 100 days, the next 99 days. But masks can become a partisan issue, unfortunately. But, it’s a patriotic act. But for a few months to wear a mask, no vaccines, the fact is that they’re the single best thing we can do. They’re even more important than the vaccines because they take time to work.”

It’s a “patriotic act” and “the single best thing we can do” that he will opt-out of doing every now and then.

Q: Why weren’t President Biden and all members of the Biden family masked at all times on federal lands last night, if he signed an executive order that mandates masks on federal lands at all times?

PSAKI: At the Inaugural —

Q: At the Lincoln Memorial. Yes.

PSAKI: I think, Steve, he was celebrating an evening of a historic day in our country. And certainly he signed the mask mandate because it’s a way to send a message to the American public about the importance of wearing masks, how it can save tens of thousands of lives. We take a number of COVID precautions, as you know here, in terms of testing, social distancing, mask wearing ourselves, as we do every single day. But I don’t know that I have more for you on it than that.

Q: But as Joe Biden often talks about, it is not just important the “example of power” but the “power of our example.” Was that a good example for people who are watching who might not pay attention normally?

PSAKI: Well, Steve, I think the power of his example is also the message he sends by signing 25 executive orders, including almost half of them related to COVID; the requirements that we’re all under every single day here to ensure we’re sending that message to the public. Yesterday was a historic moment in our history. He was inaugurated as President of the United States. He was surrounded by his family. We take a number of precautions, but I don’t think — I think we have big — bigger issues to worry about at this moment in time.

No. To hell with you guys. Don’t tell us that wearing masks in public is a matter of life and death, and then when called out for not wearing masks in public, shrug it off with, “We have bigger issues to worry about at this time.”

ADDENDUM: If the rarely-working-correctly U.S. House of Representatives website is accurate, the House has held 18 votes so far this year. Jazz Shaw reminds us that New York’s 22nd congressional district still doesn’t have a member representing it, because they still haven’t sorted out who won. What a colossal embarrassment for that district, and our country.

White House

Biden Begins to Overturn Trump’s Administrative Legacy

President Joe Biden swears in presidential appointees in a virtual ceremony in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

On the menu today, Joe Biden gets to work enacting a leftist agenda with some window dressing on the pandemic; contemplating what it would have taken for Donald Trump to overcome his character flaws; and Antifa in Portland declares they “don’t want Biden, they want revenge.”

Biden Begins by Rejoining WHO and Climate-Change Accords and Stopping Border Fence Construction

The voters elected Joe Biden and more or less gave him three basic instructions: First, don’t act like Donald Trump; second, end the pandemic; third, get our economy back to where it was before the pandemic.

Everything else on the Biden agenda was the usual laundry list of promises to Democratic Party interest groups, the kind of proposals that Hillary Clinton touted with great enthusiasm.

On his first day, President Biden did take some steps on the pandemic front. He signed an executive order requiring the wearing of masks on federal property and calling for a “100 Days Masking Challenge,” encouraging Americans to wear masks. (It is fair to wonder how much those who aren’t wearing masks now will be persuaded by an executive order.) He returned the U.S. to the World Health Organization, without any accompanying proposal to hold the organization accountable for its colossal failures at the start of the pandemic. Biden’s letter to the WHO didn’t even mention any problems at the organization. Biden also created a few new White House and National Security Council staff positions focusing on the pandemic.

Biden rejoined the Paris climate accords. (Climate change ranked eleventh out of twelve issues in a Pew survey of voter priorities last year, just above abortion. The economy, health care, Supreme Court appointments, and the pandemic were the top four.) It’s not easy to accurately measure what the U.S. will have to do to honor its promises in the accords at the moment, because measuring U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions from 2020 is complicated by vast swaths of the economy being shut down by the pandemic for long stretches.

He ended the declaration of a national emergency that permitted the reallocation of funds to build border fencing and ordered a pause in all construction and a reassessment of all ongoing projects. The order to halt “shall apply to wall projects funded by redirected funds as well as wall projects funded by direct appropriations.” Biden also made sanctuary cities eligible for federal grants again. Biden repealed all of the so-called “Muslim travel ban” restrictions upon those entering the country from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

POOF! Just like that, much of the Trump-immigration-policy legacy is undone.

Biden repealed Trump’s executive orders requiring federal agencies to repeal two regulations for every new one they enact, requiring them to review whether they really need all of their advisory agencies, to defer to Congress in the interpretation of regulations, and requiring more stringent adherence to “administrative pay-as-you-go,” often called PAYGO.

POOF! Just like that, much of the Trump deregulatory legacy is undone.

This is a Democratic administration, stepping into power when the left wing of the party is ascendant. The Biden administration is as (over)confident in the popularity of its broader agenda as the Obama administration was in January 2009. While Joe Biden may be eager to usher in an era of bipartisan compromises, most of the team around him is as convinced as the old Obama crowd was that American politics has permanently changed direction, and that the Republican Party has been reduced to a “rump regional party.” (Tom Nichols and Jen Rubin both used that particular phrase to describe the GOP not too long ago.)

Billionaire Ray Dalio wrote in his autobiography about the accumulation of experience and with it, hopefully, wisdom. After a while, each new problem and circumstance seems less unique and unprecedented; Dalio describes seeing a situation and thinking, “it’s another one of those.

If you remember January 2009 or January 1993 . . . this is another one of those.

The Lingering Anger of a Wasted Presidency

The end of the Trump presidency leaves me angry, in part because it would not have taken much for him to have been a much better president — and who knows, maybe even win reelection.

Donald Trump, the famous germaphobe and critic of the Chinese government, would have had to treat the pandemic as a top-tier crisis from Day One, and not have kept making unrealistic predictions that it would just disappear someday. He would have had to frequently express sympathy for those who lost loved ones to the virus. He would have had to let the medical experts take the lead in the daily pandemic briefings and not have relished getting into sideshow arguments with members of the press. He would have had to recognize that this was one situation that was not all about him and not tried to make it all about him.

The president would have had to discourage people from having large gatherings and not have attempted to resume his rallies as if nothing had happened. A presidential decision to consistently wear a mask, and encouraging others to do so, would have helped. We’ve gotten a lot of confusing and conflicting guidance since the start of this pandemic. All Trump had to do was ask questions, listen, and help communicate the best answers available to the American people and the world.

He would have had to put down the phone and not have tweeted tirades nearly as often. If he was angry, he would have needed to just rant to whomever was within earshot, get it out of his system, and move on to more important things. He didn’t need to spend so much “executive time” watching cable news and going into a rage every time he didn’t hear as much praise as he expected. Apparently just about everyone around the president urged him to make changes such as this, and warned him that this could cost him reelection, but he refused to listen.

In that first presidential debate, he just needed to be quiet when it wasn’t his turn and let Joe Biden’s mouth get himself in trouble.

Trump might have cracked a book on the presidency and studied the past to see what worked and what didn’t. He might have recognized that even if he thought all of this tradition and decorum and reverence for the presidency was stupid, lots of Americans took it seriously. The dignity of the office is part of what makes them proud to be Americans. When you step into the Oval Office, you’re stepping into a secular sacred space. That room, and behind that Resolute desk, is where Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman heard reports about World War II, where Dwight Eisenhower announced the integration of schools in Little Rock, Ark., where Kennedy informed the country about missiles in Cuba, and where Ronald Reagan denounced the Soviets for shooting down a South Korean civilian airliner. There’s a supreme responsibility that comes with that office. It’s not just another set for a reality-television show.

He would have had to recognize that the only way to create changes that can’t be easily reversed is through legislation. He would have realized that his policies were always more popular than he was — and pledged to talk more about them and less about himself.

It didn’t have to be this way. Trump’s presidency didn’t have to be so disorganized, erratic, chaotic, sucked into maddeningly petty feuds, burning bridges left and right, driving away genuinely talented staffers and cabinet members, blowing up negotiations at the last minute, and constantly marching into box canyons without a backup plan.

And when the president lost, he could have set himself up well for running again someday, instead of ending in ignoble disgrace on so many fronts. Plenty of great men have lost bids for reelection. John Adams lost his bid for another term in 1800, Winston Churchill’s time as prime minister ended when his party lost the majority in July 1945, and Lech Wałęsa lost the Polish presidential election of 1995.

But Trump isn’t just defeated. He’s widely seen as responsible for a riot that killed five people, disrupted Congress for a day, and tried to prevent the 2020 presidential election from concluding as the law requires. He acknowledged that his term would end, but never acknowledged that Biden won and couldn’t extend him even the most basic courtesies. He’s the first president to be impeached twice. He may well be indicted by some prosecutor in the not-too-distant future. Twitter threw him off their platform, decreeing him a danger for incitement of violence. Instead of dismissing ludicrous conspiracy theories such as QAnon, Trump egged them on and retweeted them. He listened to lunatics such as Sidney Powell and Lin Wood. And by the end of his presidency, he was listening to the MyPillow guy lay out plans for invoking the Insurrection Act to stay in office.

Then again, maybe asking for Trump to adjust his behavior is like asking a dog to ride a bicycle or a fish to yodel.

This interview with four authors who wrote biographies of Trump before he ran for office offers a particularly grim portrait, contending that on some psychological level, Donald Trump really couldn’t and can’t help himself. He has no impulse control, no ability to contemplate the long-term consequences, no ability to put other people’s needs first. He needs constant adulation, sees any disagreement as a betrayal and any criticism as a vicious attack. He was the most irresponsible of minds and souls, entrusted with the nation’s greatest responsibility. No one should be surprised his presidency ended the way it did.

ADDENDUM: Meanwhile, over in Portland, Ore., Antifa “protesters” smashed windows at the local Democratic Party headquarters and marched with banners declaring, “We don’t want Biden, we want revenge.” The banner features the silhouette of a Kalishnikov rifle, making them arguably the only group on the left that opposes gun control.

Another banner declared: “We are ungovernable.” Points for honesty, I suppose.

White House

Inauguration Day: The Biden Era Begins

President-elect Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event in Wilmington, Del., July 14, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

On the menu today: Donald Trump has left the White House for the last time as president. His last public address to a large live audience turned out to be the “Save America Rally.” He leaves the nation’s capital facing an impeachment trial in the Senate, having pardoned his old crony Steve Bannon, and thinking of starting his own political party. Joe Biden will take office at noon today, and the cabinet nomination fights will start quickly.

The Strange Quiet of President Trump’s Final Weeks

President Donald Trump’s last public address to a large audience was the “Save America Rally,” right before the Capitol Hill riot. Since then, he’s made a few short videotaped remarks, a couple of quick remarks before boarding his helicopter, and yesterday’s pre-taped farewell address, delivered and recorded from within the White House.

With his Twitter account shut down, the president largely stopped speaking to the public. He still had many other metaphorical megaphones, but he chose not to use them. He could walk out to the podium at the White House and say whatever he liked. He could grant an interview with anyone in the news world he likes — any television program, any radio program. Up until today, he could stream anything he liked at Whitehouse.gov. He could have announced a primetime Oval Office address, although the networks may not carry it live.

Or maybe Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, or anybody else who’s still on duty wanted to keep the president away from cameras. The descriptions of him that are leaking out suggest Trump is still raging furiously about the disloyalty of Republicans, even House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, for daring to criticize him at all even while opposing his impeachment. The reports of Trump meeting with MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, and Lindell urging the president to invoke the Insurrection Act, are like something out of an LSD trip. Maybe Trump couldn’t have been in front of television cameras for a long stretch in the past two weeks lest he give the push to invoke the 25th Amendment a burst of new momentum.

One of Trump’s first official acts in January 2017 was to sign an executive order to bar members of his administration from lobbying the agencies that used to employ them. It was a key aspect of “draining the swamp.” Last night, Trump repealed that executive order. No point in draining the swamp anymore; he might as well let everyone who worked for him cash in on their government experience.

Another of Trump’s final acts was to pardon his former adviser, Steve Bannon, who had been indicted in August on charges of wire-fraud conspiracy and money-laundering conspiracy, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. There was no particular argument for why Bannon deserved to escape legal consequences; he was just a former adviser and ally of the president.

Earlier this month, our Andy McCarthy argued that the Constitution should be amended to restrict the president’s currently almost-limitless pardon powers:

Today, the pardon power, more often than not, stokes scandal and reinforces the corrosive perception of a two-tiered justice system that favors the politically connected. This significantly outweighs its benefits. It is not worth preserving.

Criminal justice is now night-and-day different from Founding-era conditions. Federal jurisprudence has yielded a revolution in the due-process rights of criminal defendants and in Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishments. Death sentences are nearly unheard of and, despite a spurt in the last year, will return to dormancy with Joe Biden’s inauguration. The robust federal court system, furthermore, provides for multiple levels of direct appeal, then seemingly endless collateral appeal (habeas corpus). Might we still encounter a gross miscarriage of justice that’s incapable of being reversed? Yes, but the chance of that has been drastically reduced in today’s legal system. On the rare occasion when a correction is needed, the courts are far more likely than a president to proceed fairly.

After today, the president has a short-term problem in the form of a coming impeachment trial, where his former lawyers are declining to work on this one. At this point, it’s likely that fewer than 17 Republican senators will vote to impeach him and bar him from running for federal office in the future, but . . . soon-to-be-Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell does not appear interested in defending the president at all:

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday explicitly blamed President Donald Trump for the deadly riot at the Capitol, saying the mob was “fed lies” and the president and others “provoked” those intent on overturning Democrat Joe Biden’s election.

Ahead of Trump’s historic second impeachment trial, McConnell’s remarks were his most severe and public rebuke of the outgoing president. The GOP leader is setting a tone as Republicans weigh whether to convict Trump on the impeachment charge that will soon be sent over from the House: “incitement of insurrection.”

“The mob was fed lies,” McConnell said. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like.”

As I’ve noted, ‘Trump TV’ appears much less likely to come to fruition now. The liability issues would be off the charts; Dominion and Smartmatic lawyers must be licking their lips already.

Last night, the Wall Street Journal reported Trump is thinking of leaving the Republican Party entirely and forming his own party:

President Trump has talked in recent days with associates about forming a new political party, according to people familiar with the matter, an effort to exert continued influence after he leaves the White House.

Mr. Trump discussed the matter with several aides and other people close to him last week, the people said. The president said he would want to call the new party the “Patriot Party,” the people said.

That would require work. Parties aren’t just branding exercises. The new “Patriot Party” could become another gadfly party, led by a much higher-profile figure than usual. But turning it into a genuine national movement that won races at the local, state, and national levels would require a coherent platform, candidates for multiple offices, fundraising, filing with the Federal Election Commission, etc.

The Trump-Republican divorce may be already underway. Dan McLaughlin notices that the fundraising messages from the Republican national party committees aren’t listing Trump in the subject line anymore. Starting at noon, Republicans on Capitol Hill have a different objective, which is fighting the worst proposals of the Biden administration.

This Is a Nominee Worth Rejecting, Senate Republicans

Senate Republicans ought to hold the line on a bunch of Biden’s nominees, and Rachel Levine’s nomination to be assistant secretary of Health and Human Services ought to be at or near the top of the list.

The Delaware Valley Journal lays out how Levine botched the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic from the start:

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine repeatedly assured the public that protecting nursing home residents was the commonwealth’s top priority. “This is our most vulnerable population, and so we’re doing everything we can” to help those in long-term care facilities (LTCFs), she said on April 16.

But a trove of emails and other documents obtained by Delaware Valley Journal show that behind the scenes, advocates for the elderly were begging the Wolf administration for more help as the death rate kept climbing. In particular, they fought to separate COVID-positive residents from the rest of the LTCF population, comparing conditions to “a fire in dry grass.”

. . . DOH has taken continual criticism over its decision to make nursing homes readmit patients who had been infected with COVID-19. Levine has taken personal heat over the fact that she helped her own mother move out of a LTCF and into a hotel early in the crisis.

When presented with that New York Times data, former state Senator Andrew Dinniman told Morning Call, “we should have focused our concern on where the most deaths were taking place, which was senior homes and long-term care facilities, instead of restaurants and businesses.”

Even at the May Senate policy meeting at which Arkoosh testified, Dinniman once exclaimed, “The department of health has failed our nursing homes!”

Although Pennsylvania ranked sixth worst in terms of nursing home deaths nationally at the end of December, new data has been added to the Times database. The state currently ranks 10th worst in the nation, with just over 50 percent of all COVID-19 related deaths coming from LTCFs. The Times data shows the percent of nursing home deaths is just over 50 percent as well.

Republicans ought to make sure everyone knows Levine’s record and see if all 50 Democrats, including Joe Manchin, want to give Levine a big promotion that would involve managing the nation’s response to the pandemic.

ADDENDUM: Today, National Review will be live-tweeting and live-blogging everything that occurs on what will be hopefully a quiet and placid Inauguration Day.

Politics & Policy

The Problem with Liberal Fantasies about Restricting Free Speech

(Getty Images)

Today is the last full day of the Trump presidency. On the menu today, why a “reinvigorated” Federal Communications Commission couldn’t apply the Fairness Doctrine to cable news the way Washington Post columnist Max Boot yearns to see; the U.S. State Department declares it has “reason to believe that several researchers inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses,” and why canceling the Keystone XL Pipeline doesn’t even make sense by the Democrats’ own criteria.

Never Trump Columnist Forgets How the FCC and First Amendment Work

Max Boot, writing in the Washington Post, calls for greater federal government restrictions on what Fox News can and cannot say:

While we should expect better behavior from media executives, we shouldn’t count on it. CNN (where I’m a global affairs analyst) notes that the United Kingdom doesn’t have its own version of Fox News, because it has a government regulator that metes out hefty fines to broadcasters that violate minimal standards of impartiality and accuracy. The United States hasn’t had that since the Federal Communications Commission stopped enforcing the “fairness” doctrine in the 1980s. As president, Biden needs to reinvigorate the FCC. Or else the terrorism we saw on Jan. 6 may be only the beginning, rather than the end, of the plot against America.

This is what happens when a columnist writes with great passion and doesn’t bother to look up the specifics of what he’s writing about.

Fox News, Fox Business Network, One America Network, and NewsMax TV are cable stations and do not broadcast over public airwaves. The Federal Communications Commission has little authority over cable channels. (The FCC might have a little more authority over Fox News Sunday and other news programs that carried by the Fox Broadcasting Company.) The Fairness Doctrine applied to broadcasters who used public airwaves. The FCC commissioners decided to revoke the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, a unanimous 4–0 decision involving two Republican commissioners and two Democratic commissioners. The FCC counsel concluded that the rule had become counterproductive, as broadcasters “had shied away from covering controversial issues in news, documentaries and editorial advertisements.”

After the decision, Floyd Abrams, a lawyer who specializes in First Amendment cases, told the New York Times, “This is the beginning of the end of Governmental control over the content of what appears on television.”

In short, Boot wants to reinstate government control over the content of what appears on television.

Again, at the time, this applied to broadcast networks because they used the public spectrum to get their signal from their station or broadcast tower to your antennae. Cable- and satellite-television providers didn’t use public airwaves, so the FCC had less authority to regulate them. Cable news existed at the time — CNN was founded in 1980 — but no one paid much attention to that network until Baby Jessica fell down the well.

Since then, the FCC has stayed far away from anything resembling Boot’s vision of an authoritative judge, levying fines on news organizations that don’t meet federal regulators’ notions of what constitutes impartiality or accuracy. Furthermore, in the agency’s own words, “the FCC’s authority to respond to these complaints [of bias, inaccuracy, or poor coverage] is narrow in scope, and the agency is prohibited by law from engaging in censorship or infringing on First Amendment rights of the press. Moreover, the FCC cannot interfere with a broadcaster’s selection and presentation of news or commentary.”

What Boot is calling for is completely at odds with how the FCC defines its mission, and how it acts in a manner that is consistent with the First Amendment.

The FCC is barred by law from trying to prevent the broadcast of any point of view. The Communications Act prohibits the FCC from censoring broadcast material, in most cases, and from making any regulation that would interfere with freedom of speech. Expressions of views that do not involve a “clear and present danger of serious, substantive evil” come under the protection of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press and prevents suppression of these expressions by the FCC. According to an FCC opinion on this subject, “the public interest is best served by permitting free expression of views.” This principle ensures that the most diverse and opposing opinions will be expressed, even though some may be highly offensive.

That phrase “clear and present danger of serious, substantive evil” comes from the Supreme Court case Terminiello v. City of Chicago, which held that a city ordinance banning speech that  “stirs the public to anger, invites dispute, brings about a condition of unrest, or creates a disturbance” was unconstitutional under the First and 14th Amendments.

Justice William Douglas wrote in the majority opinion:

Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. That is why freedom of speech, though not absolute, (Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire supra, 315 U.S. at pages 571-572, 62 S.Ct. at page 769) is nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest. . . . There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view. For the alternative would lead to standardization of ideas either by legislatures, courts, or dominant political or community groups.

“Standardization of ideas by legislatures, courts, or dominant political or community groups” might be just what some people aim to achieve.

Biden can “reinvigorate” the FCC all he or Boot likes, but the federal agency is not going to have the authority to start telling cable channels what they can and can’t say . . . unless they want to get a blistering response from the U.S. Supreme Court for violating the First Amendment.

What Sickened Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Autumn 2019?

On Friday, the U.S. State Department released a fact sheet about the coronavirus pandemic declaring, “We have not determined whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan, China,” but added one curious new detail: “The U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the [Wuhan Institute of Virology] became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses. This raises questions about the credibility of WIV senior researcher Shi Zhengli’s public claim that there was ‘zero infection’ among the WIV’s staff and students of SARS-CoV-2 or SARS-related viruses.”

That contention aligns with a May report from NBC News that a private analysis of cellphone-location data showed no cellphone activity in a high-security portion of the Wuhan Institute of Virology from October 7 through October 24, 2019, suggesting that a hazardous event occurred around that time.

Earlier this month, when New York magazine ran a lengthy article by Nicholson Baker that concluded a lab leak couldn’t be ruled out, editor-in-chief David Haskell emphasized that his magazine’s fact-checking team spent a month vetting the story, and asked, “One of the great mysteries of this pandemic—where did it originate?—is twinned with a meta-mystery: Why has the question of its origin not been explored more vigorously?”

Some of us don’t find that question so baffling. If SARS-CoV-2 had a natural origin, the pandemic that has besieged us is just bad luck, with no serious policy repercussions, other than more denunciations of the illegal-animal-smuggling trade, which brings more people into contact with wild animals and potential new viruses. But if SARS-CoV-2 originated because of reckless Chinese scientists and went on to kill more than 2 million people around the world, Beijing’s epic irresponsibility and dishonesty would tear up every existing relationship between the Chinese government and the rest of the world. It could even conceivably lead to war.

These recent reports, by themselves, do not prove that SARS-CoV-2 is the result of a lab accident. We may never learn the virus’s origins with any certainty. If any physical evidence of a lab accident existed, the Chinese government would have destroyed it by now, and the regime’s ability to silence whistleblowers has few rivals.

But we know that the Chinese government has tried to hide something starting from the start of this pandemic. They arrested doctors, suppressed warnings, and denied that the virus could spread from one human to another. Back on January 3, China’s health commission ordered labs to destroy all samples of the virus, allegedly for safety, on the same date forbade the publishing of any information regarding the Wuhan disease. The Chinese government dragged their feet with the World Health Organization for more than a year now and is still stonewalling.

Xi Jinping and China’s rulers clearly do not want a full and thorough investigation of the virus’s origins. We will just have to draw our own conclusions from their secrecy and obstinance.

Biden to Begin His Presidency by Antagonizing Allies, Unions

The editors of NR denounce President-elect Biden for his promise “to sabotage the Keystone XL pipeline, a privately financed, multi-billion-dollar project already under way, and ‘cancel it on his first day,’ according to a briefing document cited by the BBC.” The “Keystone Pipeline” already exists, running from Hardisty, Alberta, south to Steele City, Nebraska, near the Kansas border. The already under-construction “Keystone XL” pipeline will connect the two points in a more direct route, running through Montana.

The editors don’t get into it, but even by the reasoning of the Left, there’s no good reason to cancel this project.

  • Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, the environmentally friendly progressive dreamboat, is a resolute supporter of the project, and the Canadian government will be considerably irked if the Biden administration cancels it without so much as a discussion. Enough of this darn unilateralism and antagonizing our historical allies!
  • The owners of Keystone Pipeline already reached a deal with Laborers International Union of North America (LiUNA), the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the International Union of Operating Engineers, and the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters. This is creating thousands of blue-collar union jobs in states that don’t have enough of those!
  • Construction started last year, and they’ve already built 124 miles of the pipeline! If Biden cancels the plan, that pipeline doesn’t just disappear and return the environment to its previous state. It’s just going to sit there, unused. In the name of the environment, Biden will leave enormous amounts of money, time, and energy wasted.
  • Canada’s TC Energy has already “promised to spend $1.7 billion on solar, wind and battery power to operate the partially completed 2,000-mile pipeline system.” A cancellation by the Biden administration would send the signal to energy companies that efforts to minimize greenhouse gas emissions from new projects are a waste of time; no compromise or innovation will ever be enough.

Biden is willing to give up all of that for one day of headlines of environmentalist cheering? He knows they’ll turn around and denounce him the first time he disappoints them, right?

ADDENDUM: As noted on yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch podcast, I may have something of a hearing problem. Every time a school administrator says, “We’re ending our gifted and talented program, because the students in the program aren’t diverse enough,” for some reason my ears hear, “We educators have done a terrible job of bringing out the best in our minority students, who have as much potential and ability as anyone else, and we’re going to divert attention from our failure by boring the Bejeezus out of our smartest kids. In a year or two, we will express surprise at how bright kids are having discipline problems because the new basic, one-size-fits-all curriculum doesn’t challenge or interest them.”


Why Conspiracy Theories Can’t Be Ignored

A supporter holds a QAnon sign at a rally for President Donald Trump in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., August 2, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

On the menu today, looking at the long-term consequences of QAnon, an unnerving concern about security for Wednesday’s Inauguration, and one activist group demonstrates true responsibility.

Measuring the Consequences of the QAnon Conspiracy

Friday afternoon, I wrote a Corner post noting that the Trump-directed sweeping roundup of celebrity and politician human traffickers promised by the “Q” of QAnon has not occurred and does not appear likely to occur before the end of Trump’s presidency Wednesday. This post stirred a surprising number of angry responses.

“Why are you obsessed with QAnon?” This is, I think, the second or third time I’ve ever written about it; the QAnon conspiracy theory has been around since 2017. For certain folks, any attention paid to a topic they dislike is too much attention.

This is America, the First Amendment is still there, and you’re free to believe in any nutty idea you like and free to speak about any belief you like. The problem starts when those beliefs stir individuals to take actions that harm other people.

The animating belief of the mob that took over Capitol Hill — “a conspiracy of sinister elites stole election victory from Donald Trump, Mike Pence can stop it but refuses, and only we and the president can reverse this epic injustice”— overlaps quite a bit with the QAnon one — “a conspiracy of sinister and Satanic elites is involved in child sex trafficking, other government officials can stop it but refuse to do so, and only we and the president can stop this epic crime.”

The guy in the buffalo hat and face paint, Jacob Chansley, goes by the nickname “QAnon Shaman.” (His lawyer says he’s hoping for a presidential pardon.) The AP “reviewed social media posts, voter registrations, court files and other public records for more than 120 people either facing criminal charges related to the Jan. 6 unrest or who, going maskless amid the pandemic, were later identified through photographs and videos taken during the melee” and found “QAnon beliefs were common among those who heeded Trump’s call to come to Washington.”

One of the objections to that Corner post was “paying attention to this is a waste of time.” Unfortunately, the QAnon conspiracy theory and its believers are now consequential.

If ignoring strange beliefs would make them go away and ensure that no one ever acted upon them in a way that harms others, we would be on easy street. Alas, ignoring crazy or extreme beliefs does not make them go away, and does not ensure that those believers will act in a way that does not endanger others.

Recent years have demonstrated to us that no matter how nutty you think an idea or claim is, somebody out there not only believes it, but also that person is probably willing to do something terrible and violent over it. The Nashville bomber believed in “lizard people.” The man who killed worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh believed that Jews and George Soros were helping migrant caravans in Mexico. The gun-toting delusional guy who barged into Comet Ping Pong pizza was a Pizzagate believer. This predates the Trump era; in 2016, the FBI arrested and indicted a Milwaukee man who was planning a mass shooting at a Masonic Temple, believing that the Freemasons “are playing with the world like a game.”

But we have crossed a line from lone paranoid nuts to larger groups, who are starting to communicate with each other, all with an interconnected belief system. A recent Yahoo article quoted Brian Michael Jenkins, a senior adviser to the president of the RAND Corporation and author of numerous books, reports and articles on terrorism:

. . . the people behind Jan. 6, 2021, mobilized right-wing extremists of every stripe — white supremacists, neo-Nazis, QAnon, anti-Semites, antigovernment militias, xenophobes, anti-feminists — and brought them together as a movement in what amounted to a Woodstock festival for extremists.

What was the name of the 2017 Charlottesville rally that turned violent? “Unite the Right,” and it included white nationalists, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, alt-right true believers, militia members, and seemingly every other variant of repugnant anti-constitutionalist hatred.

The thing is, it’s not merely supporting Donald Trump that makes someone want to charge Capitol Hill and physically assault a police officer with a “thin blue line” flag. A lot of people who want to villainize anyone to the right of the Brookings Institution will want to blur the line between “QAnon Shaman” and any registered Republican, or anyone who criticizes a Democrat.

But other people’s bad-faith efforts to obscure the difference between a Republican and an anti-constitutional extremist only increases our responsibility to draw those distinctions.

Some not-small chunk of the hardest of the hardline crowd wants to shoot up Congress because our legislative branch will not submit to their will. They’re trying to influence how lawmakers vote by threatening to kill them and their families. That’s a parallel to jihadism, and a giant, honking consequential short-term and long-term problem.

The long climb out of the economic pit created by the pandemic is a big and pressing problem, as are Big Tech’s inconsistent rules of acceptable discourse, and appetite to censor, along with the national debt, the continued aggression of China, the plight of addiction, and I’m sure you can think of others. But we must confront the possibility that after the pandemic — which, by the way, isn’t over, and is in fact getting worse, as the more-contagious strains spread faster than our ability to vaccinate people — the single biggest and most pressing problem facing the country right now is the proliferation of extremist ideologies that spur adherents to violence — QAnon, the Proud Boys, Boogaloo, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, and the rest turning into our own homegrown terror equivalent of al-Qaeda. Antifa will offer its own counterpart threat from the far left. Their ideologies and worldviews may differ, but their methods are all violent.

Does the notion of a homegrown al-Qaeda seem overheated? Maybe. But some people who fought al-Qaeda for a living aren’t so sure.

Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal was formerly the head of Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq and the commander of all U.S. and allied troops fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan. “I did see a similar dynamic in the evolution of al-Qaida in Iraq, where a whole generation of angry Arab youth with very poor prospects followed a powerful leader who promised to take them back in time to a better place, and he led them to embrace an ideology that justified their violence. This is now happening in America,” McChrystal told Yahoo News.

A radical group of citizens have adopted a very hardline view of the country, he noted, that echoes the Lost Cause narrative that took root in the old South after the Civil War. “Only President Trump has updated Lost Cause with his ‘Stop the Steal’ narrative that they lost because of a stolen election, and that is the only thing holding these people down and stopping them from assuming their rightful place in society,” McChrystal said. “That gives them legitimacy to become even more radical. I think we’re much further along in this radicalization process, and facing a much deeper problem as a country, than most Americans realize.”

McChrystal’s closing comment in that article is, “Even if Trump exits the scene, the radical movement he helped create has its own momentum and cohesion now, and they may find they don’t need Trump anymore. They can just wait for another charismatic leader to appear. So the fabric of something very dangerous has been woven, and it’s further along than most Americans care to admit.”

The Capitol Hill riot might turn out to be akin to Oklahoma City bombing, or the Columbine shooting. Ironically, Oklahoma City represents the better scenario.

Timothy McVeigh ended up discrediting the militia movement he supported, because he transformed their image from one that some Americans might agree with — “we are men who are angry with the government and contend it does not respect our Constitutional rights” — to “we are men who blow up buildings with day care centers and kill children.” Thankfully, there’s already some evidence that the extremist groups are starting to fracture; apparently the QAnon stuff is too crazy for the other groups. Demonstrations at state capitols were pretty minimal this weekend.

But Columbine inspired one copycat after another; it represented a dangerous national ideation. To a certain type of angry, isolated, alienated teenager or young adult, a mass shooting was how they were supposed to express their rage.

Sooner or later, Congress is going to contemplate passing some sort of legislation that will be deeply divisive and controversial. Will the next group of angry extremists decide that the best way to stop Congress from passing legislation they oppose it to gather thousands and attack the Capitol building?

As If Inauguration Day Weren’t Tense Enough Already . . .

Just in case you thought this newsletter weren’t dark enough lately, “U.S. defense officials say they are worried about an insider attack or other threat from service members involved in securing President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, prompting the FBI to vet all of the 25,000 National Guard troops coming into Washington for the event.” That may seem unthinkable, but Indira Ghandi and Anwar Sadat probably thought the same thing.

The One Group That Wants to Preserve Life by Acting Responsibly

After the irresponsible and wrong run amok, the responsible and righteous step up. The March for Life goes virtual this year, to prevent the risk of spreading COVID-19 and to give the U.S. Capitol Police one less large crowd of activists to worry about and police this year.

ADDENDA: Our old friend Joe Scarborough accuses social media of being the driving force behind the January 6 Capitol Hill riots: “Those riots would not have happened but for Twitter, but for Facebook . . . . People were tweeting about health, and tweeting about mindfulness, and tweeting about — I don’t know, flowers and music. And then they stumbled onto some of these conspiracy theories. And because Facebook’s algorithms were set up to cause this sort of radicalism to explode, that’s what happened. Their likes exploded, the people following them explode. You actually had Facebook and Twitter set up their business models in a way that would lead to the insurrection against the United States of America, it’s on them.”

Hey, does cable news ever twist the facts, stir up as much outrage as possible, rile people up, and offer fodder for radicals?

. . . Ten months of minimized human contact and interacting through screens is probably really bad for a lot of people’s ability to accurately perceive reality.

. . . Centrists get a lot of grief for being boring and milquetoast, but have you noticed there’s never been a terrible “centrist riot”?

Politics & Policy

Media Play Partisan Games with COVID-Vaccination Stats

Healthcare workers prepare Pfizer coronavirus vaccinations in Los Angeles, Calif., January 7, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

On the menu today, probably nothing you expected this morning: three cheers for West Virginia, the AP misleads readers into thinking the Deep South is uniquely challenged in vaccinating people against COVID-19, more than I ever thought I would write about “lizard people,” a depressing change in inauguration plans, and a vote of confidence in the man stepping into a position of leadership during these troubled times.

How the AP Misleads Readers on States and Vaccination Rates

The Associated Press headline: “In coronavirus vaccine drive, Deep South falls behind.”

The tenth paragraph of the article: “Overall, experts say it’s too early in the vaccine rollout to draw conclusions about the region’s shortcomings, and they can’t easily be attributed to a particular factor or trend.”

The article focuses on Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina. I won’t spend a lot time defending those states, because by the numbers those states aren’t doing a good job. But lumping them together doesn’t give a particularly accurate picture.

If you use the measuring stick of Bloomberg’s percentage of allocated doses used, Alabama ranks last of the 50 states and Georgia ranks 48th. But Mississippi ranks 30th and South Carolina ranks 29th — slightly below the middle of the pack. Nothing to brag about, but not notably bad, or warranting national scorn.

By the measurement of doses used, other states in other parts of the country are comparably bad. The country’s most populated state and the one we’re constantly reminded would be the world’s fifth-largest economy all by itself, California, ranks 49th.  As I noted yesterday, my home state of Virginia is fourth from the bottom, and on the current pace, will have every adult in the state vaccinated by the summer of 2023. Alaska, Idaho, and Hawaii are only a little bit ahead of those at the bottom.

But let’s say that for some reason, you don’t like the measuring stick of “how many allocated doses have been administered so far.” Let’s say you prefer measuring vaccinations per 100,000 residents, as the CDC does. Yes, Alabama ranks dead last, at 1,882 vaccinations per 100,000 residents, the only one below 2,000. But Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina are in the 2,000 to 3,000 range, along with eleven other states — including California, Washington State, Wisconsin, New Jersey. Not good, but not particularly bad, and there’s no particular geographic, political, economic, or cultural factor across those states.

And the states at the top of the Bloomberg list, as of this writing, are West Virginia, North Dakota, South Dakota, Rhode Island, Louisiana, the District of Columbia, and Connecticut, who have all used more than half of their allocated vaccines so far. (The Bloomberg chart updates as the states report new data, and some states are quicker to update their numbers than others, so there’s a little bit of movement day-to-day. What you won’t see is a state near the bottom of the list jumping to the top overnight.)

By the CDC measurement, West Virginia is again at the top, having vaccinated 6,621 per 100,000 residents. South Dakota is at 6,136, Alaska is at 5,823, North Dakota is at 5,613, Washington D.C. is at 5,167.

This AP report includes one particularly misleading sentence: “Other states have still managed — at their best — to get the vaccines into the arms of more than 5 percent of their populations.” Yes, the four best states –West Virginia, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota — reached that threshold above 5 percent, along with the District of Columbia.

Most states are in the range of 2 percent to 4 percent of residents vaccinated. Alabama is at 1.8 percent, Georgia is at 2.1 percent, Mississippi is at 2.4 percent, and South Carolina is at 2.2 percent. Again, that’s not great, but not all that far from California’s 2.4 percent, Wisconsin’s 2.5 percent, or Virginia’s 2.5 percent.

I can hear people arguing that the states doing best are small-population ones, but remember, this is measuring vaccinations per 100,000 residents, meaning it is proportional to population. States with more people received more doses and have more doctors, nurses, and a larger health-care infrastructure. (Also remember that for the CDC-approved vaccinations approved so far, people need two doses, and the CDC and some states break down their data into people who have received one and people who have received both vaccinations. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m focusing on those who have received one vaccination, since that number is much larger and we’re only a month into the vaccination process.)

All pandemic long, we’ve seen particular corners of the media try to shoehorn the data about state responses and caseloads into a simple, political Goofus-and-Gallant story of good and wise blue-state governors and foolish and reckless red-state governors. (Polimath does deep dives into the data and writes an excellent newsletter on this subject, and I fear he’s going to get taken away in a straitjacket if the media coverage of the topic gets any less accurate and worse.)

The real world is messy and doesn’t nicely and neatly align with preexisting ideological or political preferences. There is no guarantee that a governor with a “D” or an “R” after his name will do a better or worse job than the governor of a neighboring state of a different party. Viruses don’t care about state lines, and millions of Americans cross state lines every day. It is long past time to stop seeing the pandemic as an opportunity to prove “my party is better” and start seeing it as a major, still-worsening crisis — 3,915 dead yesterday! — that requires us to look hard at what’s working and what’s not, and almost as importantly, not to care or spend time arguing about who gets the credit.

I don’t care if you love West Virginia or hate it. I don’t care whether the state makes you think of John Denver, the Greenbrier, and Harper’s Ferry or whether it makes you think of senator Robert Byrd, The Mothman Prophecies, and Geno Smith. Right now, West Virginia is doing a bang-up job of getting its residents vaccinated, and just about every other state should be looking over that state’s collective shoulder and asking, “Hey, what are they doing right that we ought to be doing, too?”

In Other News, Related to Lizard People . . .

The sort of news that is all too easily overlooked in the chaotic start to the new year: The Nashville bomber apparently believed in “lizard people.”

A man who knew Christmas bomber Anthony Warner got a disturbing surprise in his mailbox on New Year’s Day when he received a package from the bomber.

The non-descript package was postmarked December 23rd, two days before investigators say Warner killed himself in the bombing.

Sources tell NewsChannel 5 Investigates that Warner mailed similar packages to other individuals.

The package, which contained at least nine typed pages and two Samsung thumb drives, was immediately turned over to the FBI.

The envelope does not have a return address, but the rambling pages inside left no doubt it was from Warner.

“Hey Dude,” the cover letter starts, “You will never believe what I found in the park.”

“The knowledge I have gained is immeasurable. I now understand everything, and I mean everything from who/what we really are, to what the known universe really is.”

The cover letter was signed by “Julio,” a name Warner’s friends say he often used when sending them e-mails.

A source tells NewsChannel 5 Investigates that Warner also had a dog named Julio.

The letter urged the friend to watch some internet videos he included on two Samsung thumb drives.

On another page Warner wrote about 9-11 conspiracy theories, ending with the statement “The moon landing and 9-11 have so many anomalies they are hard to count.”

Warner later wrote that “September 2011 was supposed to be the end game for the planet,” because that is when he believed that aliens and UFO’s began launching attacks on earth.

He wrote that the media was covering up those attacks.

But Warner’s writings grow even more bizarre when he wrote about reptilians and lizard people that he believed control the earth and had tweaked human DNA.

“They put a switch into the human brain so they could walk among us and appear human,” Warner wrote.

While Warner’s writings cover a variety of bizarre theories, he never mentions AT&T or anything else that appears to suggest a motive in the Nashville bombing.

Lizard people. Lizard people! We laugh about this stuff, but some folks out there really buy into it, and, at least in this case, act upon it. (These folks must have been really into the 1980s television series V, huh?)

Wait, 20,000 Troops at the Capitol, and They’re Still Rescheduling Inauguration Rehearsal?

I’m not qualified to second-guess decisions made about presidential security. But I can say that I hate the signal this sends to our enemies, foreign and domestic:

A rehearsal for Joe Biden’s inauguration scheduled for Sunday has been postponed because of security concerns, according to two people with knowledge of the decision.

After last week’s riots in Washington, security officials have locked down the Capitol complex, and the National Guard is expected to deploy more than 20,000 troops to assist with security. Top lawmakers and Homeland Security officials have been alarmed about the rising threats around the inauguration, and the FBI warned this weekend of armed protests in all 50 states.

The rehearsal is now planned for Monday, the people said.

The president-elect’s team has also canceled an Amtrak trip from Wilmington to Washington planned for Monday because of heightened security concerns.

You would like to think the 7,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen currently deployed on Capitol Hill alone would be a thorough deterrent, no?

ADDENDUM: Look, I know we’re in a dark place. These past years have been challenging, and there’s no getting around the fact that last year ranks among the very worst in our history. We’re depressed, angry and, in some cases, now just numb. We feel like a bunch of never-that-realistic promises were broken, and our warnings about the guy in charge were ignored. From the first time he stepped in front of the cameras, we saw incompetence, irresponsibility, an inability to work with others, and a personality-driven culture of dysfunction and chaos. Many of us expected this would end in disaster, but few thought it could get this bad, this fast.

But that era is over now, and new leadership is here. I have great faith in the man stepping into the job.

Welcome, Robert Saleh, the new head coach of the New York Jets.

Politics & Policy

Trump’s Second Impeachment: Knowns and Unknowns

President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a campaign event in Lumberton, N.C., October 24, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

On the menu today: The House impeaches President Trump again, but the Senate isn’t likely to resolve it before Joe Biden takes office; a legal debate about whether Congress can vote after January 20 to bar Trump from returning to the presidency; and contemplating what we should prioritize if unity is impossible.

McConnell: No ‘Fair or Serious Trial Could Conclude Before Biden Is Sworn In’

The House impeached President Trump a second time Wednesday. With ten House Republicans joining all House Democrats, the number of votes to impeach for “inciting an insurrection” (232) was more than the number of votes for the previous articles of impeachment relating to the president’s phone call with the president of Ukraine — 229 and 230 votes.

In the Senate, where Mitch McConnell remains majority leader until January 20 — and perhaps a little longer, depending upon when Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are sworn in — action is unlikely until after President Trump leaves office. McConnell summarized the situation in a four-paragraph letter to colleagues:

The House of Representatives has voted to impeach the President. The Senate process will now begin at our first regular meeting following receipt of the article from the House.

Given the rules, procedures, and Senate precedents that govern presidential impeachment trials, there is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude before President-elect Biden is sworn in next week. The Senate has held three presidential impeachment trials. They have lasted 83 days, 37 days, and 21 days respectively.

Even if the Senate process were to begin this week and move promptly, no final verdict would be reached until after President Trump had left office. This is not a decision I am making; it is a fact. The President-elect himself stated last week that his inauguration on January 20 is the ‘quickest’ path for any change in the occupant of the presidency.

In light of this reality, I believe it will best serve our nation if Congress and the executive branch spend the next seven days completely focused on facilitating a safe inauguration and an orderly transfer of power to the incoming Biden Administration. I am grateful to the offices and institutions within the Capitol that are working around the clock, alongside federal and local law enforcement, to prepare for a safe and successful inauguration at the Capitol next Wednesday.

Matthew Continetti argues this is precisely the wrong approach:

The arguments put forward for idleness are not convincing. Democrats worry a trial might interfere with President-elect Biden’s agenda. But the trial doesn’t have to be long. All the facts are in evidence. They are plain to anyone who can read or watch television. Senators could reach a verdict prior to inauguration. Indeed, it is best they do so, even if the trial concludes only hours before Biden takes the oath. That way the Senate avoids the question of whether it is constitutional to convict a president who has left office.

The president’s supporters, and a few of his opponents, say that trial, conviction, and removal would further divide this country. They are afraid of more violence. The risk of action, in their view, outweighs the costs of inaction. Better for the country to look the other way. Perhaps the tiger will slink off into the jungle.

This is a line of thought that is not easy to dismiss. It is often encountered in foreign policy debate. Another word for it is appeasement. But there is a better way to handle challenges to constitutional government. That way is deterrence. Increase the cost of transgression past the price the adversary is willing to pay. How? Through awe-inspiring action. Not just the show of force in Washington ahead of Inauguration Day, or the massive FBI investigation to apprehend the trespassers, vandals, and murderers, and to disrupt ongoing criminal activity. Trying and convicting Trump before his term is up stigmatizes his conduct. It sets a precedent. Up to this point, Trump has set the example. Now let Congress turn him into an example of what happens to presidents who endanger the Constitution and its officers.

I doubt McConnell will change his mind. He’s an institutionalist, and procedure matters to him — much more than whatever outcome he prefers. Also note that we’re in an unthinking era, and many of the people who prefer Trump to McConnell will not give the majority leader one iota of credit for insisting upon “a fair and serious trial.”

In a perfect irony, one of Trump’s best de facto allies at the moment is Joe Biden. It’s not that Biden supports Trump; it’s that the incoming president doesn’t want the Senate tied up for a long time dealing with impeachment when he’s got cabinet members who need confirmation and legislation he wants to pass quickly:

This nation also remains in the grip of a deadly virus and a reeling economy. I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation.

From confirmations to key posts such as Secretaries for Homeland Security, State, Defense, Treasury, and Director of National Intelligence, to getting our vaccine program on track, and to getting our economy going again. Too many of our fellow Americans have suffered for too long over the past year to delay this urgent work.

For what it’s worth, during past impeachments, the Senate focused only on the trial and everything else was put on hold.

After January 20, Can Congress Bar Trump from Returning to the Presidency?

Michael Luttig, who served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for 15 years and who is highly regarded in conservative legal circles, argues that impeaching a president after he left office is unconstitutional, and that Trump could win that argument at the Supreme Court:

The purpose, text and structure of the Constitution’s Impeachment Clauses confirm this intuitive and common-sense understanding . . .

It has been suggested that the Senate could proceed to try the former president and convict him in an effort to disqualify him from holding public office in the future. This is incorrect because it is a constitutional impeachment of a president that authorizes his constitutional disqualification. If a president has not been constitutionally impeached, then the Senate is without the constitutional power to disqualify him from future office.

But Ramesh Ponnuru respectfully dissents, pointing to the purpose of impeachment.

Luttig says that the purpose of the Constitution’s impeachment provisions is “to remove from office a president or other ‘civil official’ before he could further harm the nation from the office he then occupies.” He is obviously right in identifying an important purpose of impeachment. There is no reason, however, to assume that it’s the only legitimate purpose. If it were, it would not make sense for the Constitution to mention disqualification from future officeholding as a permissible punishment. And if preventing future officeholding is part of the protective function of impeachment, allowing the use of impeachment to disqualify former officeholders helps its achievement.

And over in the Corner, Ramesh adds that the Supreme Court won’t want to touch this with a ten-foot pole, examining past writing on the law from Justices David Souter, Byron White and Harry Blackmun:

None of these three justices challenged the conventional view that Congress deserves great deference on how to conduct an impeachment.

It is easy to see why the Supreme Court might not want to second-guess a bipartisan decision by the Senate to convict a president — which is the context in which it would be reviewing a case. It would have precedent to cite for staying out. And, finally, if it decided late impeachment was an issue for it to judge, it would also have reasons for concluding either that the Constitution allows it or that it’s a close question on which the Congress deserves deference.

I would just add one point. Even if you can imagine at least five Supreme Court justices stepping in and saying, “Nope, Congress loses its ability to impeach a president at noon on Inauguration Day, after that, Congress can’t impose any punishment for high crimes or misdemeanors” . . . can you envision this Supreme Court making that decision? Chief Justice John Roberts desperately wants to avoid the Supreme Court becoming perceived as just another partisan battlefield, and keeps nudging the Court towards narrowly tailored, largest-consensus-possible decisions. Do you think this Supreme Court is going to come riding to the rescue of Donald Trump and offer a landmark decision that he can run again in 2024 because Congress missed the deadline?

If Unity Is Impossible, What Do We Want amid the Disunity?

In the coming days, we’ll hear a lot about the need to unite the country. Yesterday Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina declared, “Supporting the impeachment of President Trump under these circumstances will do great damage to the institutions of government and could invite further violence at a time the President is calling for calm.”

But the impeachment is in response to the president himself “damaging the institutions of government and inviting violence.” And it’s swell that the president called for calm eventually, after the worst had passed, but his first tweets during the crisis did nothing of the sort. It takes cojones to insist that the congressional response to a chaotic assault whipped up by the executive branch constitutes an “invitation to violence.”

We never saw that Republican resolution of censure that was supposed to be the alternative to impeachment. We’ll never know if it was tough and unflinching and represented a genuine rebuke, or whether it was a metaphorical slap-on-the-wrist. Right now, as always, the president is convinced he did nothing wrong. It’s hard to tell if congressional Republicans are willing to tell him and their constituents otherwise.

You can’t unite the country without accountability. You may not be able to unite the country with accountability, either. The question before us is, if the country is going to be divided no matter which path we choose, isn’t it better to have division with accountability rather than without?

ADDENDUM: The boss, writing in Politico, about the now-much-more-infamous “Flight 93” essay by Michael Anton: “It is darkly amusing that in his Flight 93 essay, Anton gleefully attacked his conservative enemies as caring only about their careers and money, while throwing in with a rank egoist who fetishizes his wealth and status, who didn’t care enough about his supporters or his own political cause to work a little harder in office or moderate his behavior slightly, who led his most committed supporters into a box canyon of lies and conspiracy theories after the election because he couldn’t stand to admit that he lost.”

Politics & Policy

Impeachment, Take Two

Reps Tom Cole (R., Texas)(R) and Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) take part in a meeting of the House Rules Committee as House Democrats draft an article of impeachment against President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., January 12, 2021. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

On the menu today: The House will vote to impeach Donald Trump today — again — and at least a handful of Republicans will support the effort; Mitch McConnell reportedly supports Trump’s removal, spurring pledges of far-off future retribution; and the question of whether a resolution of censure represents a serious consequence.

Today, the House of Representatives Will Impeach the President . . . Again

Back on January 7, I wrote, “we’ve awoken in a different world from yesterday’s, and events are moving quickly now.” Events are now moving so quickly that in the time from when I type this to the time you read it, the circumstances in Washington may have changed.

A decent number of right-of-center folks, inside and outside of government, who opposed impeaching Trump for the Ukraine phone call believe that impeachment is warranted now.

Last time the House voted on impeaching the president in December 2019, the only semi-Republican who voted in favor of impeachment was Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, who by that point had left the GOP over his opposition to Trump and identified as an independent. He voted in favor of the first article. No member of the House GOP in 2019 voted in favor of impeachment.

Two Democrats — Representative Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota — voted against the first article of impeachment. Van Drew switched to the Republican Party shortly after impeachment, and Peterson was defeated in November. Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii voted “present”; she didn’t run for another term in 2020.

As of this hour, no Democrat has expressed opposition to impeaching Trump now. As of this writing, five House Republicans support it: Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming, John Katko of New York, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Fred Upton of Michigan, and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington. Out of 211 House Republicans, that’s a handful — but maybe just enough to plausibly argue that this impeachment is not just another partisan vendetta.

Representative Cheney’s statement had a curious detail:

Much more will become clear in coming days and weeks, but what we know now is enough. The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.

What is going to “become clear in coming days and weeks”? I’m one of the folks who thought impeachment should move as quickly as possible, but if Cheney knows the general public will soon be informed about something that is clarifying . . . would it make sense to delay the vote until that information is released?

Both House impeachments of Trump will be largely along party lines, but this one will have a slight shift in the direction of a bipartisan impeachment.

Mitch McConnell, Still — For Now — the Most Powerful Man in Washington

There are reports from Axios and the New York Times that Senate majority leader (for a little while longer*) Mitch McConnell supports impeachment and the president’s removal from office. Perhaps even more surprisingly, Jonathan Martin of the Times wrote on Twitter: “a Senate Republican aide tells me he thinks there were about 20, give or take, Republicans who were *open* to a conviction.” Removing Trump from office would require 17 GOP senators, assuming all senators voted.

Word of McConnell’s potential support of impeachment brought quick pledges of vengeance from Trump supporters, vowing to defeat the Kentucky Republican next time he runs — apparently not realizing that McConnell was reelected this past November, and it will be roughly five and a half years before he faces a primary opponent, if he chooses to run for another term at all. As I put it last night, this is like shouting: “Mark my words, Mitch McConnell, this, your seventh term in the Senate, will be your last! Get ready, because we are going to take you down in the 2026 Kentucky Senate primary! Don’t think we’ll take it easy on you just because you’ll be 84!”

You’re going to try to punish Cocaine Mitch in mid 2026? I’m not even sure the guy buys any green bananas.

For those dreaming of recalling McConnell, the U.S. Constitution does not provide for nor authorize the recall of senators, representatives, or the president or vice president, and thus no member of Congress has ever been recalled in the history of the United States. What’s more, the state of Kentucky has no recall provisions for any office on the books.

By the time of the 2026 Republican Senate primary in Kentucky, we will have lived through God knows how many other controversies and crises and problems. The impeachment of Trump that occurred in January 2020 wasn’t a major factor in the presidential election of November of that same year; what are the odds that an impeachment of Trump in January 2021 will be foremost in the minds of Kentucky Republicans sometime in the middle of 2026?

When you look at this inarticulate, flailing, obtuse rage, hapless and powerless up against careful calibration and a careful study of the law and procedure . . . it’s almost as if those who like to read will often have significant advantages over those who think of themselves as “not a reader.”

*For those wondering, considering the pace of Georgia’s certification of the Senate runoff results, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are likely to be sworn in January 20 or so.)

Outside the halls of Congress, Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal is unconvinced that impeachment would worsen the national condition: “It’s always possible that things could get worse, but we’ve already seen a storming of the Capitol, a president who refuses to concede defeat, and 147 Republicans in the House and Senate who have voted to overturn the November election results. Will a second impeachment — this one actually warranted, by the way — be some sort of tipping point?”

Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator, is also done with Trump:

I was the first editor-in-chief of an intellectual review to support Donald Trump. Possibly I was the first editor to do so. Yet now after a thorough review of last week’s bruising events, I most emphatically condemn his reckless rhetoric, and I affirm that I can no longer support him. If anything, I should have done so earlier. Too much wreckage has accumulated around him. Too many reputations have been destroyed by him. One of the most admirable virtues in politics is loyalty. I know who has been loyal to Donald. To whom has he been loyal?

Donald was an amazing man, but now his legacy is endangered, and the man who endangered it is Donald Trump. He never took advice from anyone, and he went through many first-rate advisers. He treated staff horribly, men like Jeff Sessions, Mick Mulvaney, and Mark Meadows. He had the best vice president that I have seen in my lifetime. For a while he treated Mike Pence with dignity. When it came down to last week — Washington’s Hell Week — he treated the vice president as shabbily as he treated everyone else.

Reportedly, Kevin McCarthy is open to a resolution of censure instead of impeachment. If McCarthy really wants to derail impeachment, he could and should write up and introduce that resolution. Let everyone see how hard or soft that censure would be, instead of trying to get them to commit beforehand to something not yet written.

Republicans who want to avoid impeachment should get the ball rolling; get momentum behind that option, and momentum for impeachment would slow down. Perhaps some congressional Democrats would concur that Trump would be more seriously punished by a bipartisan resolution of censure than a mostly party-line vote on impeachment again. (Obviously, the first impeachment didn’t deter Trump’s worst impulses at all.)

Because right now, the president is convinced he did nothing wrong and that everything he did and said was “totally appropriate.” The president believes nothing he did warrants any consequences. The question now is how many Republicans in Congress feel the same way.

ADDENDUM: CNN Airport Network will cease operations at the end of March, because there just isn’t enough of an audience in airports in a pandemic-altered world. No word on what will replace it; I’d recommend a loop of movies such as Die Hard 2, Passenger 57, Executive Decision, Red Eye, and Airport 77.

Starting January 26, the U.S. will require negative COVID tests for all international air travelers. That’s one detail of the near future in Hunting Four Horsemen that I nailed. Keep an eye on the Olympics, as well. If Tokyo is forced to cancel theirs entirely, you’ll see real pressure to not hold the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Finally, if you can stand something a little risqué this early in the day, you almost have to salute the creativity of residents of Quebec. Alas, the province’s COVID-19 restrictions that allow residents to walk their pets on a leash only apply to the four-legged kind, not the two-legged kind.

At least the couple was following all local leash laws.

Politics & Policy

The Democrats’ Ineffectual Impeachment Strategy

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks to reporters a day after supporters of President Donald Trump occupied the Capitol during a news conference in Washington, D.C., January 7, 2021. (Erin Scott

On the menu today: Congressional Democrats launch their impeachment effort and make just about every mistake possible along the way, sorting through what we don’t know about the president’s actions last Wednesday, and Joe Biden and his team belatedly realize that keeping their promises about vaccinating America will be harder to keep than they thought.

A Stumbling Start to the Impeachment Effort

Donald Trump deserves to be impeached. But as of this writing, Congress is going about it all wrong.

Our Andy McCarthy lays out the problems in the current language of the article of impeachment for “incitement to insurrection.” Andy’s convinced what Trump did was terrible, but the incitement part is legally debatable, and the insurrection part is legally disputable. Andy thinks a different set of charges would more accurately apply:

If what the Democrats truly want is bipartisan consensus in the service of national security, rather than political combat, the articles of impeachment they plan to file should charge the president with (a) subversion of the Constitution’s electoral process, particularly the Twelfth Amendment counting of the sovereign states’ electoral votes; (b) recklessly encouraging a raucous political demonstration that foreseeably devolved into a violent storming of the seat of our government; and (c) depraved indifference to the welfare of the vice president, Congress, security personnel, and other Americans who were in and around the Capitol on January 6.

That would be an accurate description of impeachable offenses. It would not disintegrate into legal wrangling over incitement, insurrection, and causation.

If impeachment is worth doing, it is worth doing quickly to remove the president from office and the levers of government power as soon as possible. The fact that Congress didn’t do much for the past week undermines that sense of urgency.

Having taken the weekend off and not reconvened until today, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the article of impeachment Wednesday. It is expected to pass; the article already has 218 cosponsors. The next and more consequential question is when Nancy Pelosi will send it over to the Senate. Chuck Schumer wants to start as soon as possible, but already President-elect Joe Biden is publicly hinting he doesn’t want it to interfere with his legislative agenda or confirmation of his cabinet. If the House and Senate wait a few weeks or months, do you think the momentum and appetite for conviction increases or decreases?

Considering the amount of time that even a minimized Senate trial would require, it seems that even if the Senate started immediately, it’s not clear that they could remove Trump from office before January 20. And that’s presuming there are 67 votes to remove, which is still a tall order.

As Dan McLaughlin lays out in detail, Trump can still be impeached after he leaves office. Keep in mind, barring Trump from seeking the presidency again requires conviction by the Senate. Assuming all Democratic senators voted to convict, 17 of the 50 Republican senators would have to vote to convict to bar Trump from the presidency. That said, a vote to convict with less than 67 votes but more than a party-line vote would still represent a stain upon his already-dark record.

If We’re Going to Impeach, Let’s Get All the Relevant Facts on the Record

If Congress cannot impeach and remove the president quickly, they might as well investigate the matter thoroughly. The country would be well-served by a complete and detailed explanation of the president’s actions and inaction on January 6.

We still don’t have a good sense of what the president was doing, minute-by-minute, after he left the rally and as the chaos overtook Capitol Hill. You may have seen Senator Ben Sasse’s comments to Hugh Hewitt:

Sasse: He wanted there to be chaos, and I’m sure you’ve also had conversations with other senior White House officials, as I have.
Hewitt: I have.
Sasse: As this was unfolding on television, Donald Trump was walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was as you had rioters pushing against Capitol Police trying to get into the building.
Hewitt: That said . . .
Sasse: That was happening. He was delighted.

The Washington Post explores what happened on Wednesday at the White House at length, and quotes an unnamed adviser stating that the president ignored his phone ringing and watched the chaos unfold, live on television:

“He was hard to reach, and you know why? Because it was live TV,” said one close Trump adviser. “If it’s TiVo, he just hits pause and takes the calls. If it’s live TV, he watches it, and he was just watching it all unfold.”

. . . But the president himself was busy enjoying the spectacle. Trump watched with interest, buoyed to see that his supporters were fighting so hard on his behalf, one close adviser said.

. . . Meanwhile, in the West Wing, a small group of aides — including Ivanka Trump, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and Meadows — was imploring Trump to speak out against the violence. Meadows’s staff had prompted him to go see the president, with one aide telling the chief of staff before he entered the Oval Office, “They are going to kill people.”

Shortly after 2:30 p.m., the group finally persuaded Trump to send a tweet: “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement,” he wrote. “They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”

But the Twitter missive was insufficient, and the president had not wanted to include the final instruction to “stay peaceful,” according to one person familiar with the discussions.

The article paints an appalling portrait of the president’s refusal to act as the crisis worsened. But once again, we’re dependent upon sources in the White House who won’t give their names. The consequences of these statements are gargantuan; they’re describing a president refusing to protect Congress or his own vice president. If there was ever a time to go on the record, this is it. Maybe the White House staffers closest to the Oval Office on Wednesday would be clearer and more specific if they were testifying under oath.

Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution declares that the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” A president who sits around and watches television while an angry mob disrupts the work of Congress is violating the Constitution and his oath of office.

There’s more. We still don’t know whether the deployment and response of the National Guard was delayed by routine bureaucratic snafus or whether there was deliberate foot-dragging by the president, or on the part of the administration’s appointees to the Pentagon. This CNN report and others said Trump resisted deploying the National Guard and accurately observed, “public statements by acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and other top officials suggested it was Pence who ultimately approved the decision.

Maryland governor Larry Hogan said it took the Pentagon nearly two hours to authorize Maryland National Guard units to move into the District of Columbia. 

Finally, we keep hearing that the 25th Amendment is off the table, and that Vice President Pence isn’t considering it at all. The president has not appeared in public since Wednesday afternoon, and hasn’t issued any statements on camera since the semi-concession four days ago. Twitter shut off his account Thursday, and the president has not utilized any other form of communication. He is scheduled to travel to Alamo, Texas, (the town, not the historical site in San Antonio) at 10 a.m. today.

I don’t know what the president’s uncharacteristic camera-shyness means, but it probably isn’t something good. Is there a reason we haven’t seen the president? Are staffers keeping him away from cameras because he’s raging like a maniac about conspiracies everywhere? Is he sullen and depressed? Axios reported that during a call with House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, Trump insisted Antifa committed the violence in the capital and continued to rant about vote fraud stealing his rightful victory.

Meanwhile, turning our attention to the new guy about to take charge . . .

Biden’s Starting to Realize He Overpromised on Vaccinating Americans

I wish President Biden every success in his and the federal government’s effort to make COVID-19 nothing more than a bad memory. But on the campaign trail, Biden sometimes insisting that the solution was simple and just a matter of will. Back in late October, Biden declared, “I’m not going to shut down the economy, I’m not going to shut down the country, I’m going to shut down the virus.

The national news media didn’t like to dwell on those infuriating exclamations from Biden, reducing one of the most complicated tasks the American people will ever face to a bumper-sticker slogan. At times, listening to Biden, you might think there was a giant red “SHUT DOWN THE VIRUS” button in the Oval Office that Trump had simply refused to press.

Now, having won the election, Biden is realizing that keeping his promises on “shutting down the virus” will be a lot harder to keep than he originally thought:

President-elect Joe Biden has grown frustrated with the team in charge of plotting his coronavirus response, amid rising concerns that his administration will fall short of its promise of 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days, according to people familiar with the conversations.

Biden has expressed criticism on multiple occasions to groups of transition officials — including one confrontation where Biden conveyed to Covid coordinator Jeff Zients and his deputy, Natalie Quillian, that their team was underperforming.

Biden’s promise of 100 million vaccinations in 100 days sets a deadline of April 29, 2021. We’ve vaccinated 9.27 million since December 14. The pace will pick up, but 100 million will be difficult.

Meanwhile, the U.S. passed 300,000 total COVID-19 deaths in early December and is rapidly approaching 400,000 deaths. As of this writing, Worldometers has the U.S. death toll at 385,249, Johns Hopkins has the figure at 376,283, and the CDC figure, which is updated the least frequently, is 323,148.

If the reason deaths are up so dramatically in the past month is the cold weather keeping people indoors and spreading the virus faster, January and February could be just as difficult as December, even with the vaccine rolling out.

Biden should have known how difficult completing the vaccination of America is going to be. Most years, slightly less than half of all Americans get flu shots, and that process takes most of autumn and winter, with a preexisting supply chain and infrastructure. The current task is more complicated, and control-freak governors aren’t helping the process.

Those of us who cover and discuss the vaccination process have to recognize a hard truth as well. The “get as many shots in as many arms as possible as quickly as possible” philosophy will mean some people who seem to need it less — younger, healthier people — will get it before people who seem to need it more — the elderly and those with health issues. If we choose to prioritize, we will slow down the overall process. Neither option is perfect. We need to pick a strategy and apply it and adapt as we go. I would prefer we let the medical teams administering the shots on the ground do what they need to do to get as many needles in as many arms as possible.

Back in February 2017, President Trump whined, “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated,” which is the sort of thing you say when you’ve never read anything about health care at all. I wonder if Biden will ever whine that nobody knew vaccinating the American people could be so complicated.

ADDENDUM: A signal of our extraordinary times: I write the words “Bill Belichick did the right thing.” Belichick issued a statement last night that while he is honored to be selected for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, “the decision has been made not to move forward with the award.” In other words, he’s “on to Cincinnati.

As I wrote yesterday, “A medal ceremony this week would benefit Trump more than Belichick.

Politics & Policy

Cause and Effect from Last Wednesday’s Chaos

Protesters tear down a barricade as they clash with Capitol police at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

On the menu today: Examining cause and effect in the sequence of Wednesday’s chaos at the U.S. Capitol; Twitter bans President Trump permanently; Amazon Web Services pulls the plug on Parler; and House majority whip Jim Clyburn says, “Let’s give President-elect Biden the 100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running, and maybe we’ll send the articles sometime after that.” Oh, and Alex Jones found a conspiracy theory that’s too farfetched, even for him.

Who Could Have Prevented Wednesday’s Violence?

Six events, in sequence:

One: At 8:17 a.m. Wednesday morning, Donald Trump tweeted, “All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”

Shortly after noon, Trump said at the Save America Rally:

If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All he has to do. This is from the number one or certainly one of the top constitutional lawyers in our country. He has the absolute right to do it. We’re supposed to protect our country, support our country, support our constitution, and protect our constitution. . . . All Vice-President Pence has to do is send it back to the States to recertify, and we become president, and you are the happiest people.

Later in his speech, Trump added:

Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us. If he doesn’t, that will be a sad day for our country because you’re sworn to uphold our Constitution . . . Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country. And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you. I will tell you right now.

Two: By 2:16 p.m., as the protesters-turned-rioters broke into the Capitol complex and the U.S. Capitol was put into lockdown, Vice President Mike Pence was ushered off the floor of the Senate.

Three: At 2:24 p.m. — about eight minutes after the Secret Service determined that the rioters represent a threat to Pence — Donald Trump declared via Twitter:

Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!

The president does not tweet any criticism or denunciation of those storming the Capitol. He directs his anger and ire entirely at Pence.

Four: 14 minutes later, at 2:38 p.m., Trump urges everyone inside to “stay peaceful.” Of course, anyone watching live television coverage or the videos on social media could see they were not being peaceful.

Five: As the afternoon progresses, the angry mob invading the halls of the U.S. Capitol Building chanted “hang Mike Pence.” At least three protesters specifically told media present that they intended to hang Pence from a tree. You saw the gallows that the crowd assembled and the zip-ties carried by masked invaders. You heard about the pipe bombs police found. You may not have heard the report of the Molotov cocktails.

Six: By 6 p.m., Trump wrote a tweet that appeared to justify the actions of the mob:

These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.

Many people, particularly those disinclined to support the president, will look at the sequence of events above and conclude that events one and three led to events two and five. Others who are inclined to support the president will insist they’re just a bunch of things that happened coincidentally, with no tie or cause and effect. One didn’t lead to the other; had Trump not held the rally or insisted to his followers that Pence could alter the outcome of the election, everything that happened Wednesday afternoon would have unfolded the exact same way.

That latter conclusion requires a fervent, unshakable belief in predestination that some religious faiths would envy. It is difficult to believe that if Donald Trump had not said and done what he did Wednesday, that the violence and horrific scenes we saw would not be at least partially mitigated . . . and perhaps some of the people who died on that awful day would be alive today.

Joe Biden won the presidency with 306 electoral votes, including the state of Arizona where he won by 10,457 votes, Georgia where he won by 11,779 votes, Nevada where he won by 33,596 votes, and Pennsylvania where he won by 80,555 votes. In none of those states has anyone come close to proving, or even plausibly suggesting, vote fraud on a scale equal to or larger than Biden’s margin of victory. (Biden also won the popular vote by a margin of more than 7 million votes; the invocation of “the anger of 74 million Americans” hand-waves away the rights, interests, and perspective of the 81 million voters who cast ballots for the other guy.) The votes have been counted, recounted, certified, and many legal challenges have been adjudicated, with little or no alteration of the initial vote counts.

If Trump had accepted his defeat, only the fringiest of the fringe would still believe in the narrative of Venezuelan hackers and the stolen election. If Trump had read and understood the Constitution, he would have recognized that Vice President Pence could not alter the outcome. If Trump had held his rally at a site further away instead of the Ellipse, fewer of his supporters would have marched to Capitol Hill. If Trump had forcefully ordered the angry mob to disperse at the first sign of violence, denouncing them for assaulting police officers in his name, the violence might have ended quicker.

At each step of this process, Trump had the ability to cool public anger, reduce the tensions, and steer people away from violent confrontation. At each step of this process, he chose the opposite path.

Twitter Bans Trump

We keep experiencing events that are shocking but somehow not surprising. I wrote less than two weeks ago, “The slapping of warning labels on all of [Trump’s] tweets that the election was stolen is a sign that they just don’t want him on the platform, and they’ll face enormous pressure to cut off the president from his audience in the name of ‘fighting disinformation.’” But I figured Twitter would wait until Trump left office.

The problem is not Twitter’s decision to apply its standards and shut down the president’s account. The problem is that almost no one thinks Twitter applies its standards evenhandedly. The Ayatollah Khamenei, the Chinese foreign ministry and various Chinese government spokesmen, and other disgraceful heads of state still have accounts. Louis Farrakhan is still on there. You do not have to look too hard to find users verified with a blue checkmark, publicly venting their desire to commit violence, with minimal response from Twitter management.

This is akin to how the New York Times staff revolted over Senator Tom Cotton’s op-ed but yawned at a column by a Chinese government official arguing in favor the country’s military crackdown in Hong Kong. What is deemed unacceptable on major social-media platforms is what is deemed unacceptable to the demographic of hard-Left Americans.

Parler Tricks

From the perspective of Apple and Amazon Web Services, Parler was not only violating the AWS terms of service, they were not even enforcing Parler’s own terms of service. Is there anyone out there who would disagree that a web company should remove threats of violence against government officials or anyone else?

In a letter to Parler, Apple’s app review board said, “We have continued to find direct threats of violence and calls to incite lawless action” on the social media platform.

Amazon’s letter to Parler included screenshots of some of the content it said violated its terms for hosting. A Parler user posted that he would give liberals “a damn bullet to your damn head.”

Another said, “We need to systematically start assassinating #liberal leaders.”

Most companies would respond to a letter such as this with, “Goodness, that’s terrible! We had no idea those comments were on our site. We’ll get right to the work of removing them.”

But there is great currency in victimhood in our political culture now, and Parler CEO John Matze characterized the move as, “Amazon will be shutting off all of our servers in an attempt to completely remove free speech off the internet.

What is Amazon really objecting to about Parler? The death threats, or the pro-Trump views? Many right-of-center Americans believe that threatening statements are simply the excuse. They perceive corporate America cracking down on conservative, or at least pro-Trump viewpoints, anywhere they can. Stripe announced they will no longer process payments for the Trump campaign website.

Hard cases make bad law. If Parler had set itself up as “the social-media platform where violent threats are permitted,” from the beginning, Amazon and Apple would never have done business with them. If Parler had stringently enforced its own rules barring violent threats, they would not have given Amazon and Apple an easy way to justify purging them. At minimum, Parler could argue to Amazon, Apple, and the broader public that they were making a good-faith effort to remove threatening messages from their platform and that the problem wasn’t with Parler, but with a minority of Parler users.

In that scenario, if Amazon wanted to ditch Parler, they would have to find other reasons or excuses. As it is now, if Big Tech is driven by anti-Trump or anti-Right animus, those threatening messages and Parler’s lack of action give them all the excuse they need.

House Democrats: Maybe Trump’s Impeachment Can Wait until May

In a set of circumstances so extraordinary that even I support impeachment, the Democrats in Capitol Hill are finding a way to louse it up. Apparently, Trump holding the powers of the presidency wasn’t a serious enough threat to get the House of Representatives to work on a weekend — or this week, really, as the House is in its “district work period” — and House majority whip Jim Clyburn suggested the House may not send an article or articles of impeachment to the Senate until after Biden’s first 100 days.

You can’t remove a president from office after he leaves office. Yes, a successful conviction in the Senate could bar Trump from running for the presidency again, but is the Senate more likely or less likely to convict with 67 votes in May? The Senate would probably have to vote specifically on barring Trump from elected office in the future. (Recall that Judge Alcee Hastings was impeached on eight articles in 1989 . . . and elected to Congress in 1992. He’s still in Congress today.)

One other point: Joe Biden wanted to step into office and put all of the Trump drama and bitterness and anger behind him and usher in an era of normalcy and good feelings. He didn’t endorse impeachment, I’m sure he wants to get his cabinet confirmed, and he wants to get on to the business of his administration.

But the world has changed after the Capitol Hill Siege. Until justice is done, and Trump himself is held accountable by Congress for his role in the chaos that interrupted and delayed the legislative branch from doing its work, a “return to normalcy” is impossible. Putting the impeachment effort in Tupperware and stashing it in the back of the fridge is declaring that it doesn’t matter that much — and if it doesn’t matter that much, it shouldn’t be pursued.

This shouldn’t be a difficult call, prioritizing between holding Trump accountable and getting Biden’s appointees in charge of the federal agencies. The country can function with acting secretaries for a few more weeks. In a lot of cases, it’s been functioning with acting secretaries for a long while already.

ADDENDA: Notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones had too much, finally snapped, and went totally . . . er, sane, declaring that he’s sick of QAnon.

“Q tells us stuff, and all of it’s lies,” Jones raged. “Because every [expletive] thing out of you people’s mouths doesn’t come true. And it’s always ‘oh, there’s energy’ or ‘oh, now we’re done with Trump.’ You said he was the messiah! You said he was invincible! You said that it was all over. That they were going to Gitmo. And now that he’s part of a larger thing of Q. I will not suffer your Q people after this! I knew what you were day one, I know what you are now, and I’m sick of it!”

Finally, I know it wasn’t the outcome Greg wanted, but the kid-friendly Nickelodeon broadcast of the Saints-Bears game was a lot of fun. The NFL and its broadcast partners should examine more ideas like this one.

White House

Trump’s Remarks Are Too Little and Too Late

President Donald Trump gestures at the end of his speech during a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 presidential election results in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Hell of a way to start the year. But I promise you, before this newsletter ends, I will give you genuine, meaningful, indisputable good news. But first, on the presidential front . . .

Trump: ‘A New Administration Will Be Inaugurated on January 20’

Thursday night, Donald Trump offered a three-minute video that conceded “a new administration will be inaugurated on January 20” and pledged “a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power.”

I’d like to begin by addressing the heinous attack on the United States Capitol. Like all Americans, I am outraged by the violence, lawlessness and mayhem.

I immediately deployed the National Guard and the federal law enforcement to secure the building and expel the intruders. America is and must always be a nation of law and order.

The demonstrators who infiltrated the capitol have defiled the seat of American democracy. To those who engaged in the acts of violence and destruction, you do not represent our country.

And to those who broke the law, you will pay. We have just been through an intense election, and the emotions are high. But now tempers must be cooled and calm restored.

We must get on with the business of America. My campaign vigorously pursued every legal avenue to contest the election results.

My only goal was to ensure the integrity of the vote. In so doing, I was fighting to defend American Democracy. I continue to strongly believe that we must reform our election laws to verify the identity and the eligibility of all voters and to ensure faith and confidence in all future elections. Now Congress has certified the results.

And a new administration will be inaugurated on January 20.

My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation. 2020 has been a challenging time for our people.

A menacing pandemic has upended the lives of our citizens, isolated millions in their homes, damaged our economy and claimed countless lives. Defeating this pandemic and rebuilding the greatest economy on earth will require all of us working together.

It will require a renewed emphasis on the civic values of patriotism, faith, charity, community and family. We must revitalize the sacred bonds of love and loyalty that bind us together as one national family.

To the citizens of our country, serving as your president has been the honor of my lifetime. And to all of my wonderful supporters, I know you are disappointed, but I also want you to know that our incredible journey is only just beginning.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America.

Notice Trump couldn’t even bring himself to mention Joe Biden, much less congratulate him.

If Trump had made these kind of remarks . . . say, back on December 11, when the Supreme Court declined to take the Texas case, the country would be in a better position today. We wouldn’t have seen Wednesday’s violence on Capitol Hill, which has now resulted in five deaths, including U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick, who succumbed to his injuries Thursday. He was reportedly hit repeatedly with a fire extinguisher.

If Donald Trump had conceded a month ago, the president of Zimbabwe would not be telling the world, “the United States has no moral right to punish another nation under the guise of upholding democracy.” Chinese state-run media would not be comparing the chaos on Capitol Hill to the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Russian politicians would not be scoffing, “The celebration of democracy is over. America no longer forges that path, and consequently has lost its right to define it. Much less force it on others.”

No, the damage is already done, and a three-minute video of the president reading the appropriate words from a teleprompter, mitigates very little of that damage.

We have seen brief moments of normalcy from Trump before, and we know they never last. Each of the past four years, he’s given either a joint address to Congress or the State of the Union address. Each night he’s stuck to the script, talked about policy proposals and accomplishments and paid tribute to great Americans, and the night goes well. Some people wonder if Trump is “growing into the job” or sees the responsibilities of the office with a new sense of seriousness and purpose . . . and then in a day or two, he reverts back to furiously tweeting, denouncing members of his own cabinet, calls a porn star “horseface,” and his usual circus of chaos.

Last night, the fringiest corners of the world of diehard Trump supporters insisted the video of the president making the statement had to be a computer-generated “deepfake.” That’s paranoid and conspiratorial nonsense, but that doesn’t mean the video isn’t “fake” in a different sense. There’s little reason to think that Trump will remain committed to “a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power” for very long, and there’s every reason to think he’ll revert back to insisting the election was stolen and a great crime was committed against him.

‘No One Seems to be Certain how Mr. Trump Spends his Days’

Peggy Noonan has a scorching column that will run in this weekend’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, but I want to focus on one section:

As for prudence, Mr. Trump is a sick, bad man and therefore, as president, a dangerous one. He has grown casually bloody-minded, nattering on about force and denouncing even his own vice president as a coward for not supporting unconstitutional measures. No one seems to be certain how Mr. Trump spends his days. He doesn’t bother to do his job. The White House is in meltdown. The only thing that captures his interest is the fact that he lost, which fills him with thoughts of vengeance.

What is Trump doing all day? His official schedule notices, which appear to be dictated by him, say only, “‘President Trump will work from early in the morning until late in the evening. He will make many calls and have many meetings.” The White House refuses to specify the who, what, when, where, and why of any of these meetings.

For much of the past four years, despite grumbles about long stretches of “executive time,” Trump was at least in front of the cameras on a nearly daily basis — cabinet meetings, photo ops, rallies, televised grip-and-grin handshake meetings with foreign leaders in the Oval Office, award ceremonies at the White House, etc. Since Election Day, the president’s public schedule has been minimal.

It’s not as if the country doesn’t have real problems to address right now. For the first time, more than 4,000 Americans succumbed to the coronavirus in a single day. The vaccine rollout is infuriatingly slow and complicated. Russian hackers have gotten into the computer systems of the Department of Justice and the U.S. court system.

Trump keeps insisting he must remain as president, but he shows zero interest in doing the job of a president.

Trump’s Easily Overlooked Attack on the Supreme Court

It is easily overlooked in all the other events of Wednesday, but at the “Save America” rally, Trump accused the entire Supreme Court — including, presumably, his own appointees — of ruling against him out of personal animus and a desire to be popular:

The Supreme Court, they rule against me so much. You know why? Because the story is — I haven’t spoken to any of them, any of them, since virtually they got in. But the story is that they’re my puppet. That they’re puppets. And now that the only way they can get out of that, because they hate that, it’s not good on the social circuit. And the only way they get out is to rule against Trump. So ‘let’s rule against Trump,’ and they do that.

Lots of presidents have disagreed with Supreme Court decisions, sometimes vehemently. No other president has ever come close to accusing his own appointees of ruling a certain way to fit in at Georgetown cocktail parties.

Finally, the Good News, Because Lord Knows We Could Use Some

Hey, remember what I wrote about the South African variant Tuesday? The early word is we don’t have to worry about that variation of the virus being resistant to at least one of the new vaccines:

Pfizer Inc and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine appeared to work against a key mutation in the highly transmissible new variants of the coronavirus discovered in Britain and South Africa, according to a laboratory study conducted by the U.S. drugmaker.

The study by Pfizer and scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, indicated the vaccine was effective in neutralizing virus with the so-called N501Y mutation of the spike protein.

The mutation could be responsible for greater transmissibility and there had been concern it could also make the virus escape antibody neutralization elicited by the vaccine, said Phil Dormitzer, one of Pfizer’s top viral vaccine scientists. . . .

AstraZeneca, Moderna and CureVac are also testing whether their shots work against the fast-spreading variants. They have said they expect them to be effective, but the timing of those studies are not known.

Whew! If we get enough people vaccinated, then the spread of the virus slows down, which means it gets fewer opportunities to grow and multiply and mutate. The pool of human beings to spread to gets smaller and smaller, and at some point, it runs out of people without antibodies. And then SARS-CoV-2 dies, and we don’t have to worry about it anymore. That’s probably a long way off, but we can get there. Someday SARS-CoV-2 will seem as far away as the original SARS, MERS, Zika, and H1N1.

ADDENDUM: The other day, just before all the chaos broke out, I wrote about the phenomenon of prayer candles featuring political figures.

I really liked this comment from Eric:

A good deal of the trouble afflicting our political situation is attributable to the idolatry of the state. For decades now we have taught ourselves to pray towards Washington and acted as if the election of a president was the election of a god or demi-god. See Michael Burleigh’s books Earthly Powers and Sacred Causes. These two books show how the thought patterns taken up by the left have taken them there. What has been distressing is the way the supposedly conservative section of the country has joined in this idolatry – and it predates Trump, however much it may have reached what I hope is its apogee with him.


A Dark Day in America

Police confront supporters of President Trump at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. (Mike Theiler/Reuters)

Today’s Morning Jolt is a big one. I ask that you read it all, because we’ve awoken in a different world from yesterday’s, and events are moving quickly now.

The Siege of Congress
Wednesday afternoon, members of the Congress met as scheduled to certify the Electoral College results. But they couldn’t finish the task, because an angry mob took over the U.S. Capitol building, rampaging through the hallways and offices in a violent frenzy of gleeful anarchy, and demonstrated that despite their self-identification as patriots and proud Americans, they pledged allegiance to nothing beyond chaos.

You can call it a “small group,” but the number of protesters who charged through the doors of the Capitol complex numbered in the hundreds or thousands, enough to overwhelm the U.S. Capitol police forces that were on duty yesterday. Perhaps some among that mob would indeed identify as Antifa, or could be classified as agitators or instigators, but that doesn’t get the hundreds who joined in the bedlam off the hook. Every single person who climbed those steps and went through those doors made their choice to beat on the chamber doors, to break those windows, to criminally trespass and disrupt the legitimate work of the duly elected legislative branch of the U.S. government.

I worked up on Capitol Hill, on the House side, almost every day in 1999 and 2000, and intermittently during my wire-service days from 2001 to 2004. The U.S. Capitol Police is professional, effective, and polite, but relatively small, assigned the duties of protecting high-ranking government officials and the general public across a two-square-mile labyrinthine complex.

It appears the Capitol Police prepared for a “busy day,” not “Defcon One, prepare for waves of protesters storming the building.” The police forces on hand were simply undermanned for the situation. Donald Trump was not quiet about wanting to see a large demonstration on Capitol Hill. He had been touting the rally on the Mall for days.

At the rally Wednesday, Trump declared:

We will not let them silence your voices. We’re not going to let it happen . . . it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. After this, we’re going to walk down and I’ll be there with you. We’re going to walk down. We’re going to walk down any one you want, but I think right here. We’re going walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators, and congressmen and women. We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength.

Wednesday afternoon, demonstrators-turned-rioters, many carrying pro-Trump signs and wearing MAGA hats and other indicators of support for Trump, broke through the doors. Some of them came to blows with U.S. Capitol Police, and others clashed with law enforcement while carrying a “Thin Blue Line” flag. U.S. Capitol Police drew their guns as the mob broke the windows of the House chamber and pounded on the door.

Eventually the mob — some literally dressed like barbarians, in the sort of detail that would be too strange to depict in fiction — stormed the floor of both chambers, hung from the balcony, climbing on the dais, sat in the chamber chairs, smashed windows, tried to kick down locked doors, sprayed fire extinguishers at people, used chemical irritants against police, stole podiums, and trashed the offices of the peoples’ elected representatives. Outside the Capitol building, they smashed camera equipment of television-news crews.

I mention all of these details and include links to all of those videos because even now, less than 24 hours later, some people want you to forget or downplay the severity of yesterday’s pandemonium. Some people are already attempting to rewrite history, that this was a group of protesters who thought they had legally entered or inadvertently wandered into restricted portions of the Capitol complex.

Yesterday, Rudy Giuliani said the election should be settled by “trial by combat.” In the aftermath, Giuliani and OAN are already making excuses. Giuliani said, “in New York, this would be considered preliminary to what’s going to happen.”

Online, you can find video of the police shooting that killed Ashli Babbitt; I will not link to that.

The angry mob stormed the Capitol building and smashed the window in a locked door. Armed U.S. Capitol Police were behind the door, protecting elected lawmakers. (Remember that the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate are in the presidential line of succession.) The mob chanted, “break it down,” Babbitt attempted to crawl through the broken window . . . and a police officer fired one shot that ultimately ended her life. Her death was an avoidable tragedy, but just what did she, and the rest of that mob, think was going to happen? What do you expect will occur when you try to smash down doors that are protected by armed police officers?

Judging from her Twitter feed, Babbitt truly believed the crazy conspiracy theories of Lin Wood. Her last tweet was, “nothing will stop us.”

As bad as the day was, it could have been even worse. Police found at least two improvised explosive devices on the Capitol grounds. Separately, a pipe bomb was found at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee and a police bomb squad destroyed it.

At any point, the president could have made a forceful, full-throated demand that the protesters, who believed they were acting in his interests, leave the Capitol building and allow the work of Congress to continue. His aides urged him to make a more forceful statement, and according to some reports, Trump refused to do that. After more than an hour, Trump offered a brief video statement that began with more complaining that he won by a landslide and the election was stolen from him, but “we want peace.”

Trump Must Go

There is no good reason to keep Donald Trump in the presidency for the next 14 days. He repeatedly demonstrated that he cannot resist the temptation to make angry people even angrier, to goad and provoke and agitate when the situation calls for calm, and to turn the tension up higher at the worst moments. The man always shows up to a blazing inferno with a firehose full of gasoline. And the man who claims he stands for “law and order” became unacceptably slow-footed and obstructionist once the perpetrators of violence and chaos claimed to be on his side.

His actions must have consequences. He swore an oath to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States,” and then stood by and watched as the riotous horde drove the legislative branch of the U.S. government from the Capitol. I don’t know if Trump’s actions meet the standard in the Constitution of a president with an “inability to discharge the powers and duties” of the office; it’s not as clear-cut as a stroke. Congressional impeachment and removal from office seems like the proportionate response. Trump sat back as his supporters prevented Congress from doing its duties; he must be removed from his duties and barred from becoming president again.

If this declaration of moral consequence angers you, and prompts you to send me angry Twitter responses or emails, or to furiously declare you’ll never read me again — you would be surprised how many people make that declaration repeatedly — so be it. Some things matter more than pleasing everyone.

In some ways, it seems Donald Trump has already given up the powers of the presidency. Acting secretary of defense Christopher Miller issued a statement Wednesday night:

Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley and I just spoke separately with the Vice President and with Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Senator Schumer and Representative Hoyer about the situation at the U.S. Capitol. We have fully activated the D.C. National Guard to assist federal and local law enforcement as they work to peacefully address the situation. We are prepared to provide additional support as necessary and appropriate as requested by local authorities. Our people are sworn to defend the constitution and our democratic form of government and they will act accordingly.

Notice which name is missing from the list of leaders who spoke with Miller.

Separately, the president’s national-security adviser, Robert O’Brien, tweeted Wednesday evening that Vice President Mike Pence “is a genuinely fine and decent man. He exhibited courage today as he did at the Capitol on 9/11 as a Congressman. I am proud to serve with him.” And O’Brien didn’t say anything about the guy who works in the Oval Office. There is a curious report that Trump “initially rebuffed and resisted requests to mobilize the National Guard.”

By 6 p.m., Trump more or less justified the storming of Capitol Hill as a natural consequence of the certification of a Biden election win: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

After about an hour, Twitter deleted Trump’s tweet and deleted his video statement as well. Later in the evening, they suspended his account for twelve hours.

Governor Phil Scott of Vermont, a Republican, declared:

Make no mistake, the President of the United States is responsible for this event. President Trump has orchestrated a campaign to cause an insurrection that overturns the results of a free, fair and legal election. The fact is the results of this election have been validated by Republican governors, conservative judges and non-partisan election officials across the country. There is no doubt that the President’s delusion, fabrication, self-interest, and ego have led us — step by step — to this very low, and very dangerous, moment in American history. The fabric of our democracy and the principles of our republic are under attack by the President. Enough is enough. President Trump should resign or be removed from office by his Cabinet, or by the Congress.

We know Donald Trump will never resign. Congress, it’s your move.

ADDENDUM: Since yesterday afternoon, I’ve been thinking about this exchange from The Dark Knight. Harvey Dent, who has lost the love of his life and been terribly disfigured, confronts a corrupt cop who leaked information that led to his love being kidnapped and killed.

Ramirez: I didn’t know . . .

Harvey Dent: Didn’t know what they’d do? You’re the second cop to say that to me. What exactly did you think they were gonna do?

When the president tells a crowd of thousands of his supporters to go over to Congress, as they certify an election result that he insists is fraudulent and an assault on democracy . . . just what did he think was going to happen?


The Trump Era Ends in Disaster in Georgia

President Donald Trump waves at a campaign for Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler on the eve of the run-off election to decide Georgia’s Senate seats in Dalton, Ga., January 4, 2021 (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

On the menu today: At this hour, it appears Democrats won both Senate runoffs and with them, control of the U.S. Senate; the increasingly unhinged President Trump insists that Vice President Mike Pence can reject the presidential-election results and have the House of Representatives resolve the election; and why bigger states will have a tougher time getting their coronavirus vaccination rates up.

It Was a Rough Night for Republicans

As of this writing, we know that Democrat Raphael Warnock defeated Republican Kelly Loeffler in one of Georgia’s two Senate runoffs, 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent. And with 98 percent of the expected vote in, Democrat Jon Ossoff leads Republican David Perdue, 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent, a margin of 16,730 votes. The remaining votes are believed to be in heavily Democratic-leaning margins.

At some time today, Ossoff is expected to be declared the winner. The Senate will be split 50–50, and starting January 20, Vice President Kamala Harris will break ties. Chuck Schumer will be Senate majority leader, and Mitch McConnell will become minority leader in the chamber. And the Democratic Party will begin the legislative cycle with the White House and narrow control of the House and Senate. For Republicans, this outcome may not be the absolute worst-case scenario of 2020, but it’s not that far from it.

This is because Republicans couldn’t hold onto either Senate seat in Georgia. This is a state where Republicans had won every Senate election since 2002 — and the winner in the state’s 1998 Senate race was Democrat Zell Miller, who by the end of his term was giving the keynote address at the Republican National Convention.

(CORRECTION: The late U.S. Senator Paul Coverdell won the 1998 election; he passed away in July. 2000. Zell Miller was appointed Coverdell’s replacement, and Miller won the special election for the remainder of Coverdell’s term in November 2000.)

Republicans won every gubernatorial race in Georgia since 1998, despite what Stacey Abrams claims. In Georgia, Republicans won every lieutenant gubernatorial race since 2004, every secretary of state race since 2002, and every state attorney general race since 2006. Heading into the 2020 cycle, Republicans had won the presidential elections in Georgia in eight of the past nine cycles.

In 2014, the last major midterm election before Donald Trump descended the escalator and ran for president, Republicans won the gubernatorial election by more than 200,000 votes, and the lieutenant governor’s race and the down-ticket races by margins close to or exceeding 400,000 votes, while Perdue won the Senate race by more than 197,000 votes. In other words, up until very recently, Georgia was a really, really Republican-leaning state.

When a president goes nuts and spends two months insisting that his reelection victory was stolen by a vast conspiracy that “moved the inner parts of the machines and replaced them with other parts” his party is not likely to win the close ones.

Back in July 2016, Chuck Schumer could see that in Trump, the Republican Party had a nominee who had much more appeal among blue-collar whites than usual and much less appeal among suburbanites than usual. Schumer was convinced this was a good trade: “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.” That was the key miscalculation of the 2016 cycle.

But by 2018, that trade didn’t look as good for Republicans, as they lost control of the House; 38 of the 41 congressional seats that flipped from red to blue were suburban. Trump’s blue-collar voters just didn’t turn out as much in those midterms. Those blue-collar Trump voters didn’t show up in the numbers that Republicans needed in gubernatorial or senatorial races in Wisconsin and Michigan.

In 2020 . . . that trade-off worked somewhat better for Republicans, but not quite good enough. It’s important to note that Republicans won back a bunch of suburban congressional seats, driven in large part by candidates who were women, minorities, veterans, or some combination of those: Michelle Steel, Young Kim, Carlos Giminez, Maria Elvira Salazar, and Burgess Owens.

You know what suburban voters do? They show up and vote. Year in, year out, presidential years, midterms, off-year elections, special elections, non-November local elections. They must rank among the most easily overlooked, underrated, and underappreciated voters, those allegedly wishy-washy, milquetoast, not-fond-of-Trump, minivan-driving moderate suburban soccer moms and white-collar dads. They’re not exciting. They’re rarely looking for anything revolutionary. They’re not looking to “burn it all down”; they’re the ones who built the things that would get burned down.

You know why it makes sense for a political party to target its messaging and appeal to this voter demographic? Because you don’t have to do much to get them to the polls. They do it out of habit and civic duty. As John Bragg put it last night: “They always vote, just like they always file their taxes, pay their bills, mow their lawns, send their kids to college. The question is, which party appeals to those people in 2020?”

As for those blue-collar Trump voters . . . Republican grassroots turnout was down last night. Republicans will be arguing about why it was down for a long time. You can argue that David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are less than thrilling candidates; they are not, as I like to say, whirling dervishes of raw political charisma. But recall that back in November, Perdue beat Ossoff by more than 88,000 votes; he just fell three-tenths of a percentage point short of that 50 percent threshold.

David Perdue is the same guy he was in November. His opponent is the same. The state’s demographics didn’t change. So, what changed?

What made this runoff election particularly unusual is that the president of the United States, the state party chairman, most of the state’s GOP congressional delegation, and other GOP figures spent the past two months arguing that Georgia’s recent presidential-election results were fraudulent and that mass-scale vote fraud and hacking of voting machines changed Trump votes to Biden votes. Shockingly, that consistent messaging did not increase the enthusiasm among Republican voters to cast ballots again. If only someone had warned them!

It is unlikely that many Georgia voters were deeply familiar with Lin Wood or Sidney Powell before the November election. But by December 2, the pair’s profile as unofficial Trump-allied lawyers had given them the stature to draw a huge crowd to a press-conference-turned-rally, where Wood urged Georgia Republicans to not vote for Perdue and Loeffler.

“Don’t you give it to them,” Wood said. “Why would you go back and vote in another rigged election for God’s sake? Fix it! You gotta fix it!” The event turned into an anti-get-out-the-vote rally. It was a keep-the-vote-home rally.

Wood punctuated that rally by declaring, “Do not be fooled twice. This is Georgia. We ain’t dumb.” More recently, Wood has asserted that Vice President Mike Pence is part of a conspiracy against the president, has committed treason, and should be executed by a firing squad.

If two lawyers can just show up, grab a microphone, and convince diehard Trump fans to not vote . . . and outweigh the voice of the president, urging them to vote . . . then diehard Trump fans are not a reliable base of support for the Republican Party. They are simply too flaky, erratic, illogical, and gullible for any party to rely upon. As laid out yesterday, a big chunk of Trump’s legacy was at stake in the Georgia runoffs. The stakes couldn’t be higher. But some Republicans heeded Lin Wood’s advice and chose to stay home.

The “stolen election” crowd will say, “See, this is why you need to cater to us, Republicans!” And Republicans will wonder . . . why? Why should we adapt to appeal to a demographic that won’t show up to vote if two lawyers come along with a conspiracy theory involving Venezuelans, the CIA, and Bigfoot?

As Bragg asked, just how can the Republican Party appeal to a demographic that believes in mythical “Army raids” to seize election vote-counting servers in Germany, nonexistent brothers that are Chinese agents, QAnon, that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is involved in child-smuggling and had Antonin Scalia murdered, that Jeffrey Epstein is still alive, and God knows what else?

Why should Republicans put a lot of effort into courting the conspiracy-theorist demographic, when the suburbs — once the backbone of the party — are just sitting there, drifting to the Democrats, in part because of a Republican president who fully embraces all those conspiracy theories?

Trump: Mike Pence Can Decide to Have the House Resolve the 2020 Presidential Election

In other news, late last night, the president issued a statement declaring that when Congress meets today, Vice President Mike Pence “can decertify the results or send them back to the states for change and certification. He can also decertify the illegal and corrupt results and send them to the House of Representatives for the one vote for one state tabulation.”

Neither of those is the case. Pence presides over the congressional certification process, but he cannot intervene or overrule it. The law is clear, and you can read it here. The vice president, acting as president of the Senate, will ask for objections. But the Senate resolves its own objections by voting upon them, and the same is true for the House. Under Trump’s creative interpretation of the law, Vice President Biden could have decertified the results of the 2016 election, Dick Cheney could have decertified the results of the 2008 election, and Al Gore could have decertified the results of the 2000 election.

In that recent court case filed by Louie Gohmert, contending that Pence does have the authority, the judge offered a scathing assessment and rebuke.

U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg concluded:

the suit rests on a fundamental and obvious misreading of the Constitution. It would be risible were its target not so grave: the undermining of a democratic election for President of the United States.” He continued Gohmert and his lawyers “do not, explain how this District Court has authority to disregard Supreme Court precedent. Nor do they ever mention why they have waited until seven weeks after the election to bring this action and seek a preliminary injunction based on purportedly unconstitutional statutes that have existed for decades — since 1948 in the case of the federal ones. It is not a stretch to find a serious lack of good faith here . . . Courts are not instruments through which parties engage in such gamesmanship or symbolic political gestures. As a result, at the conclusion of this litigation, the Court will determine whether to issue an order to show cause why this matter should not be referred to its Committee on Grievances for potential discipline of Plaintiffs’ counsel.

No matter how many times and how emphatically Trump is told Pence doesn’t have the authority, the president will choose to believe otherwise. At 1 a.m. last night, President Trump tweeted: “If Vice President Mike Pence comes through for us, we will win the presidency.”

Keep in Mind, Big States Will Have a Harder Time Getting Their Vaccination Rates Higher

This morning, the 5 millionth American got the first dose of vaccination against SARS-CoV-2. The vaccine rollout is going much slower than expected. I’ve noted which states are injecting the vaccine quickly and which ones are plodding along slowly, and the media’s highly selective interest in this metric.

We should note that the smaller a state’s population is, the easier the task is. The Census Bureau estimates that Wyoming’s population, as of July, is 582,328. This means that each time the state and its hospitals and pharmacies vaccinate 5,000 people, they have completed 1 percent. (Wyoming has vaccinated 8,928 people so far.)

California, which has no shortage of management problems in just about all aspects of its governance, ranks near the bottom nationally. But the state has administered 459,564 vaccines, more than any other state except for Texas, which has administered a bit more than 451,000.

The Census Bureau estimates that California’s population, as of July, is 39.3 million. Vaccinating 1 percent of the state means getting shots in the arms of 393,000 people.

In other words, it’s easier to complete the vaccination of South Dakota than California, Texas, or New York, because there are way fewer South Dakotans.

ADDENDA: I’m reminded of the good closing format of Kevin Williamson’s The Tuesday newsletter. (And if you haven’t read his latest, you should do that.)

You can buy my thriller novel, Hunting Four Horsemen, here, and the previous book in the series, Between Two Scorpions, here.

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Georgia on My Mind

Voters cast their ballots in the Senate run-off election at a polling station in Marietta, Ga., January 5, 2021. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

On the menu today: Georgia votes, with a big chunk of the president’s legacy on the line; Lou Dobbs contemplates an inexplicable mystery; and a really big problem may be lurking on the horizon . . . in the direction of South Africa.

Today, Georgia Decides Which Party Controls the Senate

Georgia votes in its Senate runoff elections today; more than 3 million Georgians have already voted. If Republicans win one seat, Mitch McConnell remains Senate majority leader and the most radical proposals of the Biden administration and the Democrats are stopped before they even start.

If Democrats win both seats, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will soon be breaking the ties, Chuck Schumer will run the Senate, and Democrats will have narrow control over both chambers. West Virginia’s Joe Manchin more or less will decide what gets passed. The filibuster probably won’t be toast, but it won’t be 100 percent guaranteed to stick around, either. The Senate can try to cram anything related to the budget or taxes into a reconciliation bill, anyway.

This improves the odds for passage of some version of the Green New Deal, taxpayer funding for late-term abortions, and shifting away from school choice and charter schools. Watch for an end to fracking on public lands, and perhaps a more sweeping set of restrictions, if not an outright nationwide ban. This increases the odds of tougher gun restrictions and looser immigration restrictions. For at least the next two years, less-liberal Democratic senators such as Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and Jon Tester will come under enormous pressure from their colleagues, liberal-interest groups, and some corners of the Biden administration.

To the extent we still trust polling — which shouldn’t be much after November — the polling doesn’t look great — small leads for Ossoff and Warnock. But we knew this was likely to be close. For two months, both parties and all of their allied groups and every interest group have poured in all the money and volunteers they could find.

Whether the president realizes it or not, a big chunk of his legacy is on the line in Georgia today. Everything Trump did through executive order can be repealed by executive order. With the stroke of a pen, President Biden will put the U.S. back into the Paris climate-change accords, reverse President Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization, repeal the so-called Muslim travel ban, and reinstate the Dreamers. The only changes from the Trump presidency that will remain are the ones passed legislatively — and if the Democrats control Congress, a lot of that can be undone, too.

Unfortunately, President Trump has spent every day since Election Day obsessing over a nonsensical conspiracy theory that he won in a landslide and a combination of vote fraud and hacked voting machines stole the election from him. Trump urged Georgia to “call off the election,” asserted that he won Georgia by “half a million” votes, and asked his advisers about retired general Michael Flynn’s idea of declaring martial law and having the military rerun the election. At his rally last night, Trump spent time denouncing Georgia’s governor and secretary of state.

You want to go out tomorrow,” the president said last night. “People want to go out; they don’t want to do the ballot thing, that — they don’t want to do it, unless it’s the other side, in which case, they just print them out. They don’t want to do it. They want to go and vote. And make sure your vote is counted. Make sure they don’t let you say, ‘I’m sorry. Somebody else has already voted for you.’”

Even worse, Trump has conditioned a lot of people who self-identify as Republicans to more or less believe any conspiracy theory they hear. Lin Wood and Sidney Powell held a rally in Georgia in early December and attracted a large crowd, calling upon Republicans to not vote in the runoff, to make their voices heard by staying home. If two lawyers can come out of nowhere with a farfetched conspiracy theory and persuade thousands, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of self-identified Republican-leaning voters to not make their voices heard at the ballot box, then the GOP — despite all of its gains in the state legislatures and U.S. House and Senate this year — is no longer a functioning force in American politics. Too many members of the party’s grassroots will be too gullible to be a reliable base of support and willing to act in a way that fulfills the Democratic Party’s wildest fantasies.

At any point, President Trump could have denounced Lin Wood and Sidney Powell — not merely urging people to vote for the GOP senators, but explicitly saying the Wood and Powell arguments urging voters to stay home are harmful to the interests of his supporters. Lin Wood contends Vice President Mike Pence is part of a conspiracy working against the president (along with Mitch McConnell and Chief Justice John Roberts), and called for Vice President Pence to be arrested and executed. Trump isn’t exactly shy about criticizing people. We’ve seen this president go on furious Twitter tirades about Lincoln Project ads and television personalities.

And yet, President Trump has never quite been able to bring himself to say anything critical of Wood or Powell.

Indeed, Lou, If This Is So Obvious, Why Is It So Hard to Prove?

An inadvertently hilariously truthful moment from Fox Business Channel host Lou Dobbs, Monday night:

We’re eight weeks from the election, and we still don’t have verifiable, tangible support for the crimes that everyone knows were committed — that is, defrauding other citizens who voted with fraudulent votes. We know that’s the case in Nevada, we know it’s the case in Pennsylvania and a number of other states, but we have had a devil of a time finding actual proof. Why?

He’s almost got it!

A Much Bigger Deal to Worry about, down in South Africa

Get ready to hear the words “South African variant” a lot.*

Most mutations of viruses don’t change much that matters from the perspective of human beings. They usually don’t make the virus any different for the purposes of an immune system trying to fight the viruses. In recent days, U.S. health authorities have focused on “the United Kingdom strain” or variant B117 that is more easily transmitted, but thankfully not more virulent.

That said, an easier-transmitted virus is still a major problem, because the major threat from this virus is when it reaches people who are most vulnerable — primarily the elderly, the immunocompromised, and those with comorbidities. Faster, wider spread gives the virus more opportunities to reach those whom we’ve tried to protect with what is now approaching ten months of isolation or minimized human contact.

But B117 might not be the big headache for the coming year. No, the real fear is that the “South African variant” represents a significant enough mutation that the current vaccines wouldn’t work against it:

Scientists in South Africa say there is a “reasonable concern” that the new variant of Covid-19 sweeping across the country might prove to be more resistant to current vaccines currently administered around the world, warning that this makes the need for a global roll-out of vaccines “even more critical.”

“It’s a theoretical concern. A reasonable concern . . . that the South African variant might be more resistant,” Prof Shabir Madhi, who has led trials for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in South Africa, told the BBC.

Prof. Madhi was responding to comments by the UK government and scientists who said they are “incredibly worried” about the South African variant of the coronavirus that could evade vaccines.

Prof. Madhi said a definitive answer would probably come in a matter of weeks, with extensive testing already under way in South Africa.

The concern arises from the fact that the virus here has mutated far more than the variant in the UK, and one of those mutations might mean it can evade attack by antibodies that would normally fight coronavirus.

Prof. Madhi said it was “unlikely” that the mutation in South Africa would make the current vaccines useless, but might “weaken the impact.”

A vaccine expert at Wits University, Prof Helen Rees, said: “Fortunately, should further modifications of the vaccine be required to address the new variants, some of the vaccine technologies under development could allow this to be done relatively rapidly.”

Right now, according to Worldometers, there are about 23 million active COVID-19 cases around the world — and there are undoubtedly many more undetected cases. In each of those human bodies, the virus is growing, multiplying, and fighting with antibodies. Thankfully, in most cases, the antibodies will win, and the person will recover. But the virus keeps changing. As noted above, most mutations will be insignificant. But the longer humanity is fighting this virus, the more time the virus will have to mutate in a way that makes it tougher to fight.

The South African variant might not be so bad. GISAID is a global science initiative that provides open-access to genomic data of influenza viruses and the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. Their initial assessment doesn’t make it sound quite so menacing:

It has been reported, based on high-throughput experiments, that all three spike receptor binding site mutations (K417N, E484K and N501Y) were shown to mildly increase receptor binding. Because receptor binding interfaces are also common epitopes, receptor binding interface mutations could also affect binding of some antibodies to the virus and, in rare cases, have the potential to affect vaccine response. A triple mutant at the interface has not been observed yet in larger outbreaks and should be investigated in detail. Experimental data would be welcome to clarify the impact of the mutations.

That “rare cases” sure sounds reassuring.

*Yes, many people in the medical, media, and political worlds are big fat hypocrites for freaking out about the phrase “Wuhan flu” and turning the use of that phrase into a de facto hate crime, but not objecting to terms such as the “South African variant” or “London strain.” But incoherent standards and ludicrous hypocrisy among the elites isn’t exactly surprising, and we’ve got bigger things to worry about right now . . . like a new vaccine-resistant version of SARS-CoV-2.

ADDENDUM: In case you missed it yesterday, Raphael Warnock has had a consistent problem of paying his fees and taxes to Fulton County. Few voters will care, but I find failure to pay taxes in a timely manner particularly infuriating when it comes from someone who wants to raise my taxes. Particularly if that person is making $275,000 per year as a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, in addition to making $55,000 in speaking fees, including $5,000 from the private-equity investment firm Grain Capital.


Trump’s New Year’s Resolution: ‘Find 11,780 Votes’ in Georgia

FILE PHOTO: Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during a news conference on election results in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., December 2, 2020. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

Welcome to 2021. We start the year off with a doozy, President Trump and his team calling up Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger and spending an hour whining, cajoling, and fuming that he won’t just “find 11,780 votes.”

No, Mr. President, Georgia Can’t Just ‘Recalculate’ the Vote So That You Win

Perhaps it was inevitable, from the moment Trump descended that escalator to begin his presidential campaign, that he would end up in an ugly, pathetic, desperate situation like the one Saturday.

On the phone with Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, joined on the call by White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and lawyer Cleta Mitchell, Trump declared to Raffensperger, “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state.

The full transcript and audio can be found here. One of the lamer knee-jerk excuses from Trump defenders was that the president’s comments were somehow being taken out of context. There really isn’t a good context for a losing presidential candidate to tell a state elections official to “find” the exact amount of votes he would need to win the state. If a Democratic official had done this, Republicans would explode from righteous outrage.

One point lost in the volcanic reaction to Trump’s call Sunday evening was that at this point, Brad Raffensperger cannot legally do much to alter the results of Georgia’s presidential election. The vote has been counted and recounted, the state has certified the results, Georgia’s Electoral College slate is selected, the Electoral College has voted. There are not “competing” or “alternate” slates of electors from Georgia or any other state. A bunch of Trump electors decided to declare themselves the winners, a decision that has as much legal weight as me declaring myself the new head coach of the New York Jets.

The congressional counting of the electoral votes Wednesday is a formality. As the NR editors lay out, the current push to object to the electors is to make Congress the ones who pick the president, overruling the election results and certification of each state government: “The Cruz eleven propose to call into doubt the sole slate of state-appointed electors in each state anyway, and to essentially attempt to usurp what is supposed to be the state function of appointing electors.” What is the point of holding a presidential election if, a few months later, Congress can decide it thinks the other guy won, and ignore all available evidence and all judicial rulings?

The 2020 presidential election is over. It’s been over for a long time. Biden won.

Trump began his call with Raffensperger by insisting, “we think that if you check the signatures — a real check of the signatures going back in Fulton County — you’ll find at least a couple of hundred thousand of forged signatures of people who have been forged.”

Fulton County had 524,659 votes cast in the presidential election. The president of the United States is insisting that, at minimum, two out of every five votes in the largest county in Georgia are fraudulent.

In the aftermath of the election, Georgia election officials did check the signatures on about 15,000 randomly selected absentee ballots:

Investigators double checked the signatures on 15,118 randomly chosen ballot envelopes. It’s a good warning to anybody contemplating shenanigans in Georgia’s Senate runoffs next week.

About 150,000 people in Cobb County voted by mail, so the sample was nearly 10 percent of the total. Most of the accepted signatures were clearly valid. Investigators ended up with 10 suspect envelopes. On eight of them, the signature “did not appear to be consistent with documents on record.” But once the voters were contacted, they confirmed the signatures were theirs. Handwriting can change, especially as people age.

Trump continued his pattern of promising compelling evidence will be revealed sometime later. He and his lawyers have had dozens of opportunities in local courts, state courts, state supreme courts, and federal courts to showcase the evidence of these hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes, and they haven’t persuaded a single judge, including judges the president appointed himself.

Trump turned to his usual bellowing and bullying:

Look, ultimately, I win, okay? Because you guys are so wrong. And you treated this – you treated the population of Georgia so badly. You, between you and your governor, who is down at 21, he was down 21 points. And like a schmuck, I endorsed him, and he got elected, but I will tell you, he is a disaster. The people are so angry in Georgia, I can’t imagine he’s ever getting elected again, I’ll tell you that much right now. But why wouldn’t you want to find the right answer, Brad, instead of keep saying that the numbers are right? ’Cause those numbers are so wrong?

The president insists the Georgia secretary of state can alter the election results — in January 2021, after a count, recount, and certification — by simply telling the world he has “recalculated” the totals: “And the people of Georgia are angry, the people of the country are angry. And there’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you’ve recalculated.” (As if the entire state forgot to carry the one or something.)

The president continues to insist that a vast conspiracy of election officials and voting machines worked together to destroy votes for him and to change votes for him to votes for Biden. He is certain this is the case because “Trump media” has reported this.

Trump: Do you think it’s possible that they shredded ballots in Fulton County? Because that’s what the rumor is. And also that Dominion took out machines. That Dominion is really moving fast to get rid of their, uh, machinery. Do you know anything about that? Because that’s illegal, right?

Germany: This is [Georgia secretary of state Raffensperger’s general counsel] Ryan Germany. No, Dominion has not moved any machinery out of Fulton County.

Trump: But have they moved the inner parts of the machines and replaced them with other parts?

Germany: No.

Trump: Are you sure, Ryan?

Germany: I’m sure. I’m sure, Mr. President.

Trump: What about, what about the ballots. The shredding of the ballots. Have they been shredding ballots?

Germany: The only investigation that we have into that — they have not been shredding any ballots. There was an issue in Cobb County where they were doing normal office shredding, getting rid of old stuff, and we investigated that. But this stuff from, you know, from you know past elections.

Trump: It doesn’t pass the smell test because we hear they’re shredding thousands and thousands of ballots, and now what they’re saying, “Oh, we’re just cleaning up the office.” You know.

Raffensperger: Mr. President, the problem you have with social media, they — people can say anything.

Trump: Oh this isn’t social media. This is Trump media. It’s not social media. It’s really not; it’s not social media. I don’t care about social media. I couldn’t care less. Social media is Big Tech. Big Tech is on your side, you know. I don’t even know why you have a side because you should want to have an accurate election. And you’re a Republican.

Note the perfect irony in those last two statements: Trump insists that because Raffensperger won’t do as he wishes, he’s taking a side, and then, in the next sentence, insists that Raffensperger should do as he wishes because he’s a Republican.

I wrote above that perhaps this was inevitable because in the end, Donald Trump doesn’t really know or care about how the presidential-election process works, what is a reliable and trustworthy source of information and what isn’t, the separation of powers under the Constitution, what the law is, why all those judges keep rejecting the arguments of his legal team, or much of anything else. Donald Trump simply wants what he wants and cannot understand anything outside of that context. (At this point, it’s not clear if Donald Trump knows whether or not Brad Raffensperger has a brother.) This mess is the culmination of Trump’s thoroughly defective character and judgement, obvious from the beginning, denied by many who thought they could ride him to greater fame and fortune, and enabled by bootlicking sycophants for far too long.

Tomorrow, no matter how many Republicans join shameless opportunists Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz in objecting to the Electoral College results, the House and Senate will count the electoral votes, recognize only the official slates of electors, and declare Joe Biden the winner. Biden will take the oath of office on January 20. And the Trump presidency will end in entirely unnecessary self-inflicted humiliation and disgrace.

ADDENDUM: Yes, the worst coach in NFL history is gone. 2021 is looking better already.