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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.

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