Good morning! It’s Tuesday, February 16, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 630 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,358 days away. I hope you’re all staying safe and warm during the winter storms!
Analysis: Trump isn’t going anywhere
The end of the second Trump impeachment trial this weekend was heralded in some corners as the dawn of a new chapter in American politics. After being overshadowed by his predecessor, President Joe Biden will finally move to “center stage,” the New York Times promised. “It’s the first day of the post-Trump era,” Politico Playbook announced. “The accountability era begins,” a bipartisan group wrote in a CNN op-ed.
But don’t be mistaken: The trial’s conclusion does not mark former President Donald Trump’s departure from the political stage. It’s only the start of his next act. The lessons of the 2016 Republican primary, of Charlottesville, of coronavirus — and before his political life, of his repeated bankruptcies and falling “Apprentice” ratings — teach us as much. Trump has a “lifelong obsession with comebacks,” as testified to in his third book, “The Art of the Comeback.”
In both business and politics, Trump has repeatedly been counted out only to rise again. Can he pull it off once more, even after 57 senators found him guilty of inciting a deadly insurrection against the U.S. government?
Probably, as evidenced by the fact that 43 senators took his side at a trial that featured often-jarring evidence and an uncoordinated defense team. Trump’s grip on the GOP remains firm: three-quarters of Republicans say they want the former president to play “a prominent role” in the future of the party, according to a new Quinnipiac poll. His imprint will be seen up and down the ballot in 2022, as pro-Trump candidates launch congressional and gubernatorial campaigns across the country.
One of his family members is even expected to get in on the action: Lara Trump, wife of the ex-president’s son Eric, is mulling a Senate run in North Carolina. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Fox News on Sunday that she is “almost the certain nominee” if she decides to run. “And I will certainly be behind her because she represents the future of the Republican Party,” Graham added.
The next question facing Trump as he dips his toes back into electoral politics: Is he content being the kingmaker, or does he still want to be the king? Trump could spend the next two years leaving his mark on the political world by campaigning for his acolytes and against his apostates, or he could focus his energies on becoming the first president since Theodore Roosevelt to wage a comeback bid for the White House in 2024.
Trump hasn’t ruled anything out, and a Morning Consult poll released this morning (and conducted after the impeachment trial ended) shows him as the clear presidential frontrunner within the GOP. 54% of GOP primary voters would back Trump if the 2024 Republican primary were held today. No one else even comes close: his former vice president and once-loyal ally Mike Pence is next at 12%, followed by his former UN ambassador Nikki Haley and eldest son Donald Trump Jr. at 6% each.
Notably, the poll represents a mini-comeback of sorts for Trump: it is a 12-point jump from the percentage of Republican voters who said they would back Trump in the days after the January 6 attack at the Capitol. The share of Republicans who said Trump should play a “major role” in the party going forward also increased 18 percentage points since Morning Consult last asked in early January.
“Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun,” Trump said in a statement after his acquittal, promising that he would “have much to share” in the coming months. According to the Associated Press, he is expected to “resume friendly media interviews” soon, followed by a return to the campaign trail ahead of the 2022 midterms.
He made his first post-presidential public appearance on Monday, an impromptu stop to join a throng of his supporters celebrating Presidents Day.
But Trump does face a new nemesis in his quest to wrest back control of the GOP: Mitch McConnell. After working closely with Trump throughout his four-year presidency, the Senate Minority Leader is now trying to excise his former governing partner from the fold altogether. McConnell launched his “project to shrink Trump’s GOP influence,” as conservative commentator George Will put it, with an excoriation of the former president on Saturday after the trial came to a close.
He continued with an op-ed blasting Trump on Monday; according to the Wall Street Journal, his next step will be involving himself in 2022 primaries to block far-right candidates from winning Senate nominations. Scarred by the 2010 and 2012 election cycles — when a string of extremist candidates cost the GOP several winnable Senate seats — McConnell is signaling that he no longer has any problems jumping into primaries, despite the traditional backseat role played by party leaders.
But perhaps no politician personifies the GOP’s awkward relationship with Trump more than McConnell. Even as he commits himself to ridding the party of the former president, even as he accused Trump of a “disgraceful dereliction of duty,” McConnell still voted for acquittal on Saturday. Knowing the consequences that would come with a vote for conviction — six of the seven Republican senators who broke with Trump now face censure efforts back home — the Kentuckian decided to cast his vote with Trump but throw his rhetorical weight against him.
McConnell even suggested in his speech that Trump could face criminal prosecution for his actions on January 6, a possibility that would likely doom the ex-president’s political career. But that’s precisely the problem plaguing the GOP: McConnell (and likely other Republican leaders) wants Trump kicked out of politics for good. But almost no one wants to be the one to do it.
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CAPITOL RIOT: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced Monday that she plans to establish “an outside, independent 9/11-type Commission” to investigate “the facts and causes” of the January 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol. Pelosi’s announcement came as some House Republicans sought to blame her for the security failures during the riot, suggesting that she was responsible for the delay in bringing in the National Guard. (Pelosi’s office denies the allegation.)
- The Capitol Police union held a vote of no confidence on Monday on seven of the force’s leaders, including Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman. 92% of the officers sided against Pittman and her deputies.
BIDEN ADMINISTRATION: President Biden is taking his campaign for a coronavirus relief package to the public. He will leave the White House for his first major domestic travel this week, stopping in Wisconsin today for a CNN town hall and in Michigan on Thursday for a tour of a Pfizer vaccine manufacturing plant. The president is expected to make his case for a stimulus bill during both trips.
- Biden is also continuing his spate of executive actions aimed at easing the economic crisis. The president reopened the federal Obamacare exchange, healthcare.gov, on Monday for a special enrollment period that will allow Americans to sign up for health insurance through May 15. He also signed an order this morning extending a moratorium on home foreclosures and relief for mortgage payments through June 30.
2022 CENTRAL: Former Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) filed paperwork on Monday to explore a 2022 run against Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA). Perdue was defeated in his bid for a second term by Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) in a runoff election last month. Warnock was also elected at the same time, but his race was a special election to fill the remainder of an unexpired term, so he will have to face voters again next year.
- According to Politico, Perdue hasn’t made a final decision about a comeback bid but is “leaning heavily” toward jumping in the race.
2024 CENTRAL: Nevada Democrats are moving forward with a bill that would convert the state’s presidential nominating contest from a caucus to a primary, and would seek to move the Silver State up to the front of the nominating calender. The legislation would move the new Nevada primary to the second-to-last Tuesday in January, attempting to place it first in line for 2024. But New Hampshire has a longstanding law that requires it to be the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, meaning the Granite State could respond by pushing its own contest even earlier in the month.
- Nevada’s play for first-in-the-nation status comes amid a roiling debate within the Democratic Party over its nominating calendar. Outgoing party chairman Tom Perez told the New York Times last week that changes needed to be made to de-emphasize Iowa and New Hampshire’s role in the process. “The status quo is clearly unacceptable,” he said.
Q: I just saw someone’s Facebook post claiming that the impeachment process cost 33 million dollars. What did it really cost? Why does it cost anything if the Senate is already meeting? — Wendy Farwell of Tucson, Arizona
A: We don’t know the precise cost of the Senate impeachment trial, but it certainly won’t be anything in the neighborhood of $33 million. The salaries for senators and their staff members are not impacted at all by the trial, and since the Senate would have met last week anyways, there wouldn’t be any major additional costs associated with holding the trial during that time.
A report by Roll Call estimated that the 2020 impeachment process cost $1.83 million — mostly stemming from the months-long House investigation. But since no such investigation took place ahead of this trial, there’s no reason to think that the tab would reach even that size. The House Judiciary Committee did retain two lawyers in January to help prepare the impeachment managers for the trial “on a consulting basis,” so their salaries could count as a cost of the second Trump trial, but since the House didn’t conduct an extensive investigation beforehand there aren’t many other disbursements that could be pegged to the latest impeachment process.
Q: Is the parliamentarian a senator or an unelected official? — Marcia Flick of Chicago, Illinois
A: This question came in response to my explainer a few weeks ago on the budget reconciliation process, which Democrats are using to fast-track President Biden’s coronavirus relief package. As I wrote then, the reconciliation process is powerful because it means a piece of legislation can’t be filibustered, so it can pass through the Senate with 51 votes instead of 60. But not everything can be approved via reconciliation: the Byrd Rule requires that the process only be used for bills that have a substantive impact on the federal budget.
But who decides which bills meet that definition? The Senate parliamentarian. To answer Marcia’s question, the parliamentarian is an unelected official who is appointed by the Senate Majority Leader. The current parliamentarian is Elizabeth MacDonough, who was appointed in 2012 by then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). MacDonough is now serving under her third majority leader, having kept her position during the tenure of Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and now Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
It will be up to MacDonough to screen the final stimulus package to decide if it can be approved by reconciliation (a process known as a “Byrd bath”). Technically, the vice president can overrule the parliamentarian; that hasn’t happened since 1975, but some Democrats are urging Kamala Harris to take the step if MacDonough rules that a minimum wage increase does not comply with the Byrd Rule. According to Politico, Harris is unlikely to break with the parliamentarian’s decision.
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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 12:30 p.m in the Oval Office. Later in the day, Biden will travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He will depart the White House at 5:30 p.m. and touch down in Wisconsin at 7:30 p.m. Then, at 9 p.m., he will participate in a CNN town hall at Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. Biden will take questions from Wisconsin voters and moderator Anderson Cooper.
After the town hall, Biden is scheduled to fly out at 10:50 p.m. and will arrive back at the White House at 12:50 a.m.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing at 11:30 a.m.
The Senate will briefly convene at 10 a.m. for a pro forma session.
The House is not in session.
- The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Finacial Services and General Government will hold a hearing at 11 a.m. on election administration, featuring testimony from Election Assistance Commission Chairman Benjamin Hovland.
The Supreme Court is not in session.