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Wake Up To Politics - December 16, 2020

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, December 16, 2020. Inauguration Day is 35 days away. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

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A man alone: Trump exits political stage with few allies

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been loath to break with President Donald Trump for much of the past four years, intent on keeping his head down and ushering through their shared legislative agenda — from judicial nominations to tax cuts.

But McConnell took his largest step yet away from Trump on Tuesday, when he did what the president has so far refused to do: acknowledge the results of the 2020 election. “The Electoral College has spoken,” McConnell declared from the Senate floor. “So today, I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden.”

Predictably, Trump responded to McConnell in a late-night Twitter message, writing: “Too soon to give up. Republican Party must finally learn to fight.” But the GOP has already moved on to other battles, gearing up to fight Biden’s Cabinet picks and campaigning in Georgia to defend the party’s Senate majority.

McConnell is not the only erstwhile Trump ally to abandon the president as he doubles down on his baseless claims of election fraud. Several Republican senators also acknowledged Biden’s win after it was finalized by the Electoral College this week. So did Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of Trump’s closest friends on the world stage. (Many other world leaders Trump has developed close relationships with, including Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and India’s Narendra Modi, had already accepted Biden’s victory.)

Trump also has many aides headed for the exits, from Attorney General William Barr to White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah, a tacit acknowledgment that his term will be ending on January 20. (Notably, Barr also disputed Trump’s claims of voter fraud before announcing his resignation.)

Even the pro-Trump media bubble showed signs of popping Tuesday, as Newsmax — the conservative cable channel founded by Trump’s friend Chris Ruddy — said it would begin referring to Biden on the air as “president-elect.” Trump has been directing viewers to Newsmax for much of the presidential transition; until this week, it was one of the few news networks that had refused to declare a winner in the election. (Trump’s former favorite network, Fox News, called the race weeks ago, bringing an end to their years-long love affair.)  

In other words: from Republican officials to world leaders to the conservative media, Trump is stepping off the political stage just as he entered it — a man alone. The president was spurned by much of the political and media elite during his 2016 campaign; now, as he prepares to leave the White House (but insists he isn’t), Trump once again finds himself with few allies in those prestigious circles.

Of course, even as he loses the support of Republican leaders, Trump still has the adoration of tens of millions of GOP voters, after expanding his electoral support in the 2020 campaign. Their backing ensures that Trump’s influence within the Republican Party will remain just as potent as he eyes a 2024 comeback bid. Republican leaders like McConnell may distance themselves from his fraud claims, but they are unlikely to rebuke them altogether, too fearful of losing Trump’s supporters in Georgia and other key races.  

That dissonance between the GOP’s leaders and its base, which has largely accepted Trump’s insistence that the 2020 election was “rigged,” is an obvious replay of the 2016 primaries — and a dangerous combination for the party as it attempts to reset while Trump’s time in the White House comes to a chaotic close.

The Biden Transition

President-elect Biden selected Pete Buttigieg as his nominee to be Secretary of Transportation on Monday. Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, competed against Biden for the 2020 Democratic presidential nod. If approved by the Senate, he would be the first LGBT person confirmed to a Cabinet-level post.  

“Mayor Pete Buttigieg is a patriot and a problem-solver who speaks to the best of who we are as a nation,” Biden said in a statement announcing the choice. Buttigieg, who endorsed Biden shortly after ending his own White House bid, would add a dose of generational diversity to the president-elect’s aging Cabinet.

The nomination marks another chapter in Buttigieg’s meteoric rise in American politics — although it also comes as something of a surprise, considering the ex-mayor’s relative lack of experience with transportation policy or infrastructure.

Biden has reportedly begun to form his energy and climate team as well. According to Politico, he has chosen former Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D-MI) as his Secretary of Energy, elevating a party ally with ties to the auto industry.

According to the Washington Post, Biden will also tap former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Gina McCarthy as his “national climate adviser,” charged with overseeing his climate change agenda from the White House. McCarthy will act as a domestic counterpart to former Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been named as Biden’s global climate envoy. Her deputy will be 33-year-old Ali Zaidi, who currently serves as New York’s deputy secretary for energy and environment.

Biden has yet to settle on a nominee to be Secretary of the Interior. Many Democrats have been pushing him to name Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), who would become the first Native American leader of the Interior Department, and she is reportedly his “preferred candidate” for the post. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has warned Biden against picking any more House Democrats for administration posts; the party’s majority in the chamber is already the slimmest in modern history.


All times Eastern.

President Donald Trump will hold a Cabinet meeting at 11:30 a.m., his first since May 19.

Vice President Mike Pence will attend the Cabinet meeting, host a “Life is Winning” event on the Trump administration’s pro-life record at 2 p.m., and lead a White House Coroanvirus Task Force meeting at 4 p.m.

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will announce former Mayor Pete Buttigieg as their nominee for Secretary of Transportation in Wilmington, Delaware, at 11:45 a.m.

  • In the afternoon, Biden and Harris will separately receive the President’s Daily Brief and then meet virtually with U.S. governors.

The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and vote at 11:30 a.m. to confirm Katherine Crytzer to be a U.S. District Judge for Eastern Tennessee and to advance the nomination of Joseph Dawson to be a U.S. District Judge for South Carolina.

  • The Senate Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on “Examining Irregularities in the 2020 Election” at 10 a.m. Republican witnesses will include Ken Starr, who led the Clinton-era independent counsel investigation, and three GOP lawyers who attempted to overturn the election results. Democrats will call Christoper Krebs, who was ousted as director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) last month, as a witness.

The House will convene at 12 p.m. for “morning hour” debate and at 2 p.m. for legislative business. The chamber will vote around 3 p.m. on six pieces of legislation:

  • S. 2174, the Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act of 2019
  • S. 3312, the Crisis Stabilization and Community Reentry Act of 2020
  • Senate Amendment to H.R. 7105, the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvements Act of 2020
  • S. 2216, the TEAM Veteran Caregivers Act
  • S. 1694, the One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space Act
  • S. 2472, the Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility Act

The Supreme Court is not in session.

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