Good morning! It’s Friday, December 23, 2022. The 2024 elections are 683 days away.
This will be my last newsletter for 2022. Thank you so much for a great year of waking up to politics. As always, it has been a pleasure and an honor to help guide you through the world of American politics and government. Thank you for reading and for all your support, from words of encouragement to donations.
I hope you all have a happy holiday season and a great start to the new year. Merry Christmas to those who will be celebrating this weekend! 🌲
This morning’s newsletter is packed, both with takeaways from the January 6th report and with my final update for the year of what the government is getting done. I’ll see you back in your inboxes on Tuesday, January 3: the first day of the new Congress.
Key takeaways from the January 6th report
After 18 months, 10 public hearings, more than 100 subpoenas, and more than 1,000 witness interviews, the House January 6th committee took its final bow on Thursday with the release of its 845-page report.
You can read the report in full here, but in case that isn’t your preferred way of spending Christmas weekend, here are some key takeaways from the
As with the committee’s hearings, the report does not mince words about who the panel — made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans — holds squarely responsible for the January 6th attack. “The central cause of January 6th was one man,” the panel declares in its report: former President Donald Trump.
The word “Trump” appears 4,207 times in the report’s 845 pages; almost every part of the narrative, from the origins of the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen to the assembly of the mob that ransacked the Capitol, is circled back in some way to the former president.
According to the Washington Post, the committee had been split for months over whether the report should be so Trump-focused, or whether it should also delve into the panel’s other areas of investigation, including law enforcement failures on January 6th. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who is considering a 2024 presidential run against Trump, was reportedly among the members most fiercely pushing for the report to be mainly about him.
In the end, it appears Cheney’s approach won out. Any discussion of law enforcement failures is saved for two appendices tucked at the end of the report, in which the panel declares that the 3-hour delay in deploying the National Guard to the Capitol was “unnecessary and unacceptable,” but also unintentional. “It was the byproduct of military processes, institutional caution, and a revised deployment approval process,” according to the panel.
Once again, even the law enforcement section ends by circling back to Trump:
“While the danger to the Capitol posed by an armed and angry crowd was foreseeable, the fact that the President of the United States would be the catalyst of their fury and facilitate the attack was unprecedented in American history. If we lacked the imagination to suppose that a President would incite an attack on his own Government, urging his supporters to ‘fight like hell,’ we lack that insight no more.”
200+ attempts to overturn
Most of the narrative laid out by the report was already known to the public, either from the committee’s hearings this summer or because it happened right before our eyes.
However, one element that comes across from reading the report is the sheer breadth of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, which he lost but claimed to have won. Here’s one excerpt from the report:
“The Select Committee estimates that in the two months between the November election and the January 6th insurrection, President Trump or his inner circle engaged in at least 200 apparent acts of public or private outreach, pressure, or condemnation, targeting either State legislators or State or local election administrators, to overturn State election results.” [emphasis added]
It is also becomes clear how early Trump began to undertake such efforts, seeding doubt in the race even before it was called. Just two days after the election, Donald Trump Jr. was already circulating a plan to have Republican lawmakers vote for “Trump electors” in states Biden had won.
Within the week, White House aide Vince Haley was urging officials to push for “red state legislatures” to change the election’s outcome. “It would reveal that we are a red country,” Haley wrote.
Trump on an island
Another facet of January 6th that is repeatedly emphasized is just how isolated Trump was during the day of the Capitol riot, both physically — “He wants to be alone right now,” his chief of staff Mark Meadows told a colleague as Trump glued himself to the television for hours — and psychologically.
The panel obtained internal texts and memos from White House officials; from these sources, they portray the crushing disappointment so many Trump aides felt as the riot unfolded. “We all look like domestic terrorists now,” White House counselor Hope Hicks texted one colleague, adding later: “Everything we worked for wiped away.”
“This week I feel guilty for helping him win... a woman is dead,” former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale wrote in a text of his own. “They will try to fuck his entire legacy on this if it gets worse,” Trump Jr. told Meadows as figures from across Trumpworld tried to get the president to call the rioters off.
But Trump, virtually alone in his inner circle, seemed to react to the riot differently. “Potus im sure is loving this,” Trump speechwriter Gabriel Robert texted as the violence began to escalate. Indeed, White House personnel chief Johnny McEntee testified that Trump expressed no sadness when they spoke on the phone that night.
“No,” McEntee said when asked if the president had done so. “I mean, I think he was shocked by, you know, it getting a little out of control, but I don’t remember sadness, specifically.”
How Trumpworld works
The committee has also begun releasing transcripts of some of its witness interviews, including those with Cassidy Hutchinson, a relatively low-level (but high-access) White House aide who became a star witness for the panel.
In the transcripts, Hutchinson reveals her experience with the lawyer who represented her during her early interactions with the committee, former Trump White House attorney Stefan Passantino.
Passantino, whom she had been connected to by fellow Trump insiders and whose representation of her was paid by a Trump-linked group, encouraged her to “downplay” her knowledge and to tell investigators she recalled as little as possible. Hutchinson testified that Passantino told her something to the effect of: “The committee doesn't know what you can and can’t recall, so we want to be able to use that as much as we can unless you really, really remember something very clearly.”
Hutchinson also said that Passantino steered her away from sharing an anecdote she heard about Trump lunging at his Secret Service driver on January 6th. (In the report, the committee said it was unable to corroborate the anecdote, which Hutchinson heard secondhand.) “We just want to focus on protecting the president,” Passantino told her at one point, according to Hutchinson. (Passantino has taken a leave of absence from his law firm amid the allegations.)
She also recalled Passantino offering to help set her up with jobs in the private sector, as well as a Meadows aide who called her the night before her testimony to say: “Mark wants you to know that he knows you’re loyal and he knows you’ll do the right thing tomorrow and that you’re going to protect him and the boss.”
These revelations focus on just one aide, but they provide a revealing glimpse into how Trumpworld operates: working to get legal representation for former aides, offering them jobs, contacting them to ensure loyalty, and urging them to profess a lack of recollection. The committee wrote about a trend of low-level aides, like Hutchinson, who conspicuously seemed to remember a lot more about the events surrounding January 6th than their bosses:
“In several circumstances, the Committee has found that less senior White House aides had significantly better recollection of events than senior staff purported to have.”
The panel’s recommendations
Although the committee’s topline advice has been known for several days — that the Justice Department indict Trump for incitement of insurrection and other charges — the panel also issued 10 additional recommendations as part of its report.
The most notable of these new recommendations is a call for Congress to prohibit Trump from holding office in the future, by invoking a provision in the Fourteenth Amendment that disqualifies from political office those who “engaged in an insurrection” against the U.S. government.
Other recommendations include heightening security for future January 6th certification sessions, beefing up the ability of congressional committees to enforce their subpoenas, and a call for lawmakers to evaluate the policies of media companies that spread false information.
It is unlikely that many of the legislative recommendations will be met, except for the panel’s urging that the Electoral Count Act of 1845 — which governs January 6th certifications — be reformed. As detailed below, the Senate passed an omnibus spending package on Thursday that included such reforms; the House is poised to approve it today.
As for the investigative recommendations, with the committee on the verge of disbandment, those are now in the hands of Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is overseeing the Justice Department investigations into Trump. It will up to Smith, who has already begun receiving materials from the January 6th panel, whether to take the committee’s prosecutorial advice or to discard it entirely.
If you want to delve deeper into the findings of the January 6th committee, I wanted to re-up two pieces of mine from this summer’s hearings, which include the same basic narrative detailed in the report. Here’s one on how January 6th happened...
And another that delves into Trump’s role specifically...
What the government did this week
One of the new Wake Up To Politics features I’m proudest of from 2022 is this one: setting aside some time each Friday to give a rundown of what exactly your leaders in Washington got done in the preceding week.
I wasn’t sure what the reader response to this feature would be, but it has been overwhelmingly positive — with many of you writing in to say that you consistently learn things from this section that you haven’t heard about from other news outlets. The truth, as we’ve discovered together, is that although there is no shortage of partisanship in Congress, there is also more bipartisan progress being made than almost anyone on either side acknowledges.
That was especially true of the 117th Congress, which will meet for the last time today. The January 6th attack, a high point of national division, take place in this Congress’ first week; over the next two years, it would see lawmakers come together on bills addressing infrastructure, gun control, manufacturing, and a slew of lower-profile issues I’ve detailed here.
Unpacking the omnibus
The final major piece of legislation to come out of the 117th Congress — the $1.9 trillion omnibus spending package — passed the Senate in a bipartisan 68-29 vote on Thursday and is expected to be approved by the House.
I devoted Tuesday’s newsletter to the omnibus, so I don’t want to rehash what I mentioned there, including $45 billion in new Ukraine aid, consequential reforms to the Electoral Count Act, and a ban on TikTok for federal government devices. However, I also want to touch here on some of the bill’s other provisions, including ones that have been added through the amendment process since my initial rundown on Tuesday. These other provisions will:
- Offer new protections for female workers by giving pregnant employees the right to workplace accommodations and new mothers the right to break time to pump breast milk. [More info]
- Reform the 401(k) system, including by requiring most businesses automatically enroll their employees in the retirement plans by 2025 and giving part-time workers more access to retirement benefits. [More info]
- Give U.S. attorneys a funding boost specifically to step up investigations into the January 6th attack. [More info]
- Allow proceeds from seized Russian assets to be used to aid the Ukrainian war effort. [More info]
- Provide health care benefits for 9/11 victims with a $1 billion funding boost and a program aiding victims’ spouses and children with a $3 billion boost. [More info]
- Establish a permanent program to provide families who rely on free or reduced school lunches with money to feed their children during the summer, starting in 2024. [More info]
- Expand access to free textbooks for college students. [More info]
- Ensure the federal government permanently provides Medicaid funds to Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories. [More info]
- Steer home more than $15 billion in lawmakers’ pet projects. [More info]
What else was passed by Congress
There is no forcing mechanism in Congress quite like the end of the year, both because bills that haven’t been passed by January expire and have to start the legislative process over again — and because lawmakers want to get home to spend Christmas away from Washington.
That means there’s been a flurry of bipartisan bills that have been sent to President Biden’s desk in the last week so he can sign them before the year is out. This last-minute legislative spate included bills that will:
- Require the U.S. give equal pay to women’s teams competing in international athletic competition, a response to the U.S. women’s soccer team’s years-long fight to be paid as much as the men’s team. [More info]
- Improve the FBI’s treatment of child abuse victims during witness interviews, in light of allegations brought forward during the Larry Nassar investigation. [More info]
- Expand the U.S. government’s power to prosecute international war crimes. [More info]
- Posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal — the highest honor given by lawmakers — to 1955 teenage lynching victim Emmett Till and his late mother Mamie Till Mobley. [More info]
Key Biden administration actions
Finally, let’s take a look at key actions taken this week by the Biden administration"
- The Defense Department sent $1.85 billion in new military aid to Ukraine. For the first time, the aid included Patriot missiles, a sophisticated defense system that Kyiv has long requested. [More info]
- The U.S. Postal Service announced plans to purchase at least 66,000 electric delivery trucks in the next five years, a major step towards Biden’s goal of electrifying the entire federal vehicle fleet. [More info]
- The Health and Human Services Department unveiled a plan that the administration said would reduce homelessness by 25% by 2025. [More info]
- The president announced six new judicial nominees, bringing his total since entering office to 150. [More info]
🚨 What else you should know
— Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had some of his harshest words yet for former President Trump in an interview with NBC News that posted this morning. McConnell pinned blame for the GOP’s 2022 losses on Trump, saying: “I think the former president’s political clout has diminished.”
— House Democrats tapped Jamie Raskin to serve as ranking member of the House Oversight Committee in the next Congress. The role will make the Maryland congressman a lead figure in responding to the investigations into the Biden administration that the new House GOP majority will launch. Raskin, a former Trump impeachment manager and constitutional law professor, was chosen over several more senior members.
— Rep.-elect George Santos (R-NY) has promised to respond next week to the allegations that he misled votes about his education and work history, his religious heritage, and an undisclosed marriage to a woman (he identifies as openly gay). “I have my story to tell and it will be told next week,” Santos tweeted Thursday, as the New York attorney general’s office said it was “looking into” the matter.
More headlines to know:
- “TikTok Owner Admits Employees Accessed Data of U.S. Users and Journalists” [Gizmodo]
- “Ex-Google boss helps fund dozens of jobs in Biden’s administration” [Politico]
🗓 What your leaders are doing today
All times Eastern. Click on an event’s time to watch or listen to it.
President Biden and First Lady Biden will visit Children’s National Hospital in D.C. (5:05 pm), an annual holiday tradition for first ladies that President Biden began to join in on as well last year.
The Bidens will greet with hospital leadership and Emergency Department staff, read the book “The Snowy Day” to pediatric patients, and visit children and families in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and thank the staff.
Vice President Harris has nothing on her public schedule.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre does not have a press briefing scheduled.
The Senate will convene for a pro forma session, during which no business will be conducted (11 am). The chamber held its last votes of the year on Thursday.
The House will convene (9 am) and vote on the aforementioned $1.7 trillion omnibus spending package before adjourning for the year.
The Supreme Court is out until January 6.
👋 Before I go...
Here’s one more good-news story of 2022: Fittingly, it’s a look back at the year, a list from The Atlantic of 2022’s “top ten breakthroughs.”
It’s easy to get so caught up in the day-to-day news cycle that I found it reassuring to step back and consider some of the monumental progress being made all around us, including new mRNA vaccines that could combat cancer, mind-bending experiments that could extend and create life, and advances in understanding fatal diseases.
👍 Thanks for reading.
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