On the menu today: You can tell it’s a Monday already. Impeachment ends with a whimper, not a bang, as the Senate is gift-wrapped a bombshell witness but bizarrely chooses to skip over her; CDC director Rochelle Walensky changes her recommendations for reopening schools after meeting with teachers; and a teachers’ union representative argues that plummeting test scores are nothing to worry about.
The Failure of Impeachment, Again
At this point, the second impeachment of Donald Trump over his actions leading up to and during the January 6 Capitol Hill riot generated just about the worst possible outcome. The former president is acquitted again, his fans are outraged that he was tried again, and his foes are outraged that he was acquitted again. The capstone to the debacle arrived Saturday with an inexplicable decision by senators to not hear from any witnesses right after a majority voted to hear witnesses, ensuring that the few Republicans who stood up to Trump or voted for witnesses went out on a limb, and will now face the full wrath of Trump and his supporters, for absolutely nothing.
Those of us on the right have grown used to cynically thinking of the Republican Party as uniquely hapless and incompetent. Our friends on the left would dispute the word “uniquely.”
Our Congress responded to an attack upon itself with an alternating delayed and rushed impeachment that ends with the same result as before. Trump comes out of this, if not quite strengthened, in no worse shape than he did before the impeachment trial started. American life has already largely moved on. Senate Democrats wanted to move on to Biden’s agenda, and the new administration certainly prioritized its agenda over holding Trump accountable.
The blame for Trump’s acquittal starts first and foremost with the 43 Senate Republicans who voted that way. Those Republicans either genuinely believe that Trump did nothing that warranted a historic rebuke, or they genuinely believe the Constitution gives the Senate the authority to convict presidents and bar them from future office but not former presidents. (I guess these Republicans believe that in those final days before leaving office, the president has carte blanche.) In the end, it appears far too many Senate Republicans perceived a vote to convict as career suicide, and they were just not willing to lose their offices over this.
Last week I argued that perhaps this would be better settled in a courtroom of the judicial branch. If a prosecutor looks at the evidence and concludes an incitement charge wouldn’t stick, that will settle the matter. If a jury acquits or convicts the president, that will settle the matter.
But multiple times in the past two months Democrats, who viewed opposing Trump something akin to a divinely directed mission over the past five years, made spectacularly wrongheaded or cynical decisions. On January 7, the morning after the attack, House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer initially announced that the House would adjourn until Inauguration Day. They did reconvene on January 11, and several House Democrats introduced articles of impeachment that day — but the House spent a day on a resolution calling upon Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment — a move that Pence had already made clear he wasn’t willing to make.
After waiting six days, Democrats concluded “time is of the essence” and skipped over hearings and the committee process and voting upon the article directly. The impeachment article accused Trump of “inciting an insurrection,” which left too much wiggle room, compared to dereliction of duty.
Ten House Republicans voted to impeach, but there’s no indication that Democratic leaders even considered asking them if they wanted to be impeachment managers. (If you want to persuade a Republican lawmaker, you might want a Republican lawmaker to make the argument!) Instead Pelosi picked Eric Swalwell, perceived as an oily partisan hack now notorious for a relationship with a Chinese spy.
Then, during the trial, the House impeachment managers were handed a gift-wrapped bombshell witness, in the form of Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, (R., Wash.):
Herrera Beutler said she was stunned when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told her of a conversation he had with Trump on Jan. 6: “He said to the President, ‘You’ve got to hold them. You need to get on TV right now, you need to get on Twitter, you need to call these people off.’ And he said, the President said, ‘Kevin, they’re not my people.’ ”
She said McCarthy told the President, “Yes they are, they just came through my windows and my staff is running for cover. Yeah, they’re your people. Call them off.”
Trump’s response, as McCarthy told Herrera Beutler, was, “Well I guess these people are just more angry about the election and upset than you are.”
Herrera Beutler said the President’s failure to respond to the Jan. 6 attack was “a dereliction of duty, a violation of his oath of office to protect the Constitution.”
“A president who sees an attack happening like this has an oath by his office to do what he can to stop it, and he didn’t.”
“I just think you have to take your party perspective out of this,” she explained.
Senate Democrats were content with merely inserting her account into the record, instead of calling her or McCarthy as a witness, and letting the whole country hear it from either or both of them, in their own words.
As I’ve argued from the start, if you’re going to hold an impeachment trial, hold an impeachment trial. (Napoleon had some thoughts on this sort of thing.) Either you do it, and go all-out, or you don’t. If you think it’s futile because you’ll never convince 17 GOP senators, then dismiss it and move on. If you think it’s worth doing, then do it right — including hearing from witnesses. Don’t leave stones unturned or witnesses and arguments that could move people unturned.
CDC Director: Yes, I Meant It When I Said Vaccinating Teachers Is Preferred but Not Required
On Friday, CDC director Rochelle Walensky held a conference call, laying out her agency’s guidelines for reopening schools. For the past year, we’ve been repeatedly warned that the worst thing that could happen would be politicians and political-interest groups interfering and contradicting the assessment of public-health experts.
And then Walensky declared:
we have conducted an in-depth review of the available science and evidence base to guide our recommendations, and we have also engaged with many education and public-health partners, to hear firsthand from parents and teachers, directly, about their experiences and concerns. These sessions were so informative, and direct changes to the guidance were made as a result of them.
Wait, I thought the CDC only followed the science? Why are they making changes to guidance after meeting with parents and teachers and “education partners”?
Those CDC guidelines state:
Universal and correct use of masks, that should be required for all students, teachers, and staff. and physical distancing of at least 6 feet between people with cohorting or podding of students to minimize exposure across the school environment.
Back in July 2020, the Newton, Mass., school district was struggling with the familiar issues of reopening schools and how to keep a safe distance between people. Mayor Ruthanne Fuller emailed a Harvard Professor of Medicine and Chief of Infectious Disease to weigh in, asking, “On a policy issue, we are leaning to 6’ of separation in our classrooms rather than the 3’ that DESE/WHO allow. Thoughts?”
The reply from Harvard’s chief of infectious disease was clear:
I do think if people are masked it is quite safe and much more practical to be at 3 feet. I think this is very viable for the middle/high schools and even late grade schools and would improve the feasibility. I suspect you may want to be at 6f for some of the very young kids who can’t mask.
She also referred the town leaders to Harvard’s COVID-19 School and Community Resource Library document, which included links to many studies concluding three feet was sufficient in a school environment and declared, “a distance of three feet (torso to torso) is likely low-risk in asymptomatic individuals wearing masks.”
Harvard’s chief of infectious disease in July was . . . Rochelle Walensky, now the director of the CDC.
Why was three feet an acceptable distance for Massachusetts schools last summer, but six feet is the needed distance now across the country?
Once again, we were told that any interference with what the “SCIENCE” said was the worst possible outcome. And now, after meeting teachers, the CDC director is changing her recommendations?
I’m glad that Walensky pushed back a bit at White House press secretary Jen Psaki claim that Walensky’s assessment that teachers did not need to be vaccinated before returning to classroom was merely Walensky speaking in her “personal capacity.” As I noted, when the CDC director speaks at a White House event, she does not issue personal opinions about public health that contradict her agency’s official views. (If she did, that would be quite a story, and call into question whether she should remain as director of the CDC.) Walensky’s assessment is her assessment. There is no other secret different assessment lurking in the back somewhere.
CHUCK TODD: All right, let’s talk about the school guidelines. And there’s some folks that are wondering how much politics may have gotten involved or how much the White House may have gotten involved. Because last week, the White House walked back some comments of yours about teacher vaccinations. And you were saying that they were not necessary in order to open schools. The White House said you were speaking in your personal capacity. Are you speaking here as the head of the CDC or in your personal capacity? And should people see a difference?
ROCHELLE WALENSKY: I’m speaking as the head of the CDC. I believe that’s why you have me here today. Our guidance has now been released. It was released on Friday. And it specifically articulates the five key mitigation strategies that we need to keep our schools opened. And other layered mitigation strategies, including teacher vaccination, that are nonessential to get our schools opened but we do recommend.
I just wish Walensky had pushed back a little harder. I guess the lesson is that if somebody on the Biden team disputes CDC recommendations for political reasons, it’s not as bad, somehow.
Over at the Delaware Valley Journal, Davis Giangiulio reports about a teachers’ union head who’s rejecting the CDC assessment and insisting the right measuring stick for determining whether it is safe to teach in a classroom is whether a teacher feels it is safe to teach. Whatever happened to “trust the science”?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reaffirmed that classroom instruction can be done safely, pointing to a study in the Journal of American Medicine. “The preponderance of available evidence from the fall school semester has been reassuring. There has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.” It’s a finding reinforced by multiple reports.
[Education Associations of Norristown Area President Lee]Spears remains unmoved.
“There’s a clause in everything issued from the CDC that says basically, ‘where possible,’” Spears said. And even if his union accepted the science, “Until you can take away the stress and concern about becoming ill, it’s tough for teachers and for students to be in the right mindset to learn,” Spears added.
This union head says that even if kids’ test scores drop, they’re learning other things as their absence from school buildings approaches its second year.
“I think there will be different skills that kids are going to learn,” said Spears. “Will it be a year when my students’ test scores go up through the roof? I don’t know. Are there other skills that kids are learning that they’ve probably never had the opportunity to learn before? Absolutely.”
To hell with this guy. If you think learning from a screen for a year or more is just as good, get out of the school system and become a television programmer.
ADDENDUM: A small, but notable bit of good news over the weekend: The Biden administration at least acknowledged that the Chinese government did not cooperate with the World Health Organization’s investigation into the start of the pandemic in Wuhan, China, and declared, “to better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak.”
We’ll see if there’s any action behind those words. Walter Russell Mead recently summarized the tough foreign-policy lesson of the Obama years that most Democrats would prefer to ignore: “No president in recent decades made as many inspiring speeches about democracy and human rights as President Obama — and yet no administration in recent decades saw authoritarian powers make so many gains.”