Good morning: it’s Tuesday, January 12, 2021. Have questions or comments? Email me.
Will the inauguration be safe?
One of the most alarming videos from last Wednesday’s attack at the Capitol shows rioters dragging a police officer down the stairs and beating him with an American flag. The gruesome scene took place on the building’s West Front, on the exact platform where President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in one week from tomorrow.
With Biden’s public swearing-in coming so soon after the deadly Capitol riot, it’s the question looming over Washington: Will the inauguration be safe? Let’s recap what we know:
Armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols and at the U.S. Capitol from January 16 to January 20, according to an FBI bulletin. The bulletin, which was first obtained by ABC News, specifically warns about an “identified armed group” planning to “storm” government offices in every state and Washington, D.C., next week. According to CNN, the FBI also indicated that it is tracking “various threats to harm President-elect Biden ahead of the presidential inauguration,” as well as threats against Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
House Democrats were briefed on three separate demonstrations being planned for the coming days. According to HuffPost, the new leaders of the Capitol Police told House Democrats in a Monday night call that they were monitoring three serious threats to members of Congress ahead of the January 20 inauguration. One of them was a plot by Trump supporters to form perimeters around the Capitol, White House, and Supreme Court, and block Democratic and Republican members of Congress who voted to certify President-elect Biden’s victory from entering the Capitol.
Up to 15,000 National Guard members could be deployed in Washington, D.C., during the inauguration. The Defense Department is reviewing threats of far-right protests on January 17 and a “Million Militia March” on January 20, Inauguration Day, according to the Wall Street Journal. To respond, the Pentagon has ordered at least 10,000 National Guard troops to be on hand to provide security during the inauguration — up from the 6,200 that would have originally been posted there. The National Guard’s top officer said troop levels in D.C. could even rise above 15,000.
The nation’s capital will begin operations for a National Special Security Event on Wednesday instead of on January 19, the day before the inaugural. The date change was ordered by Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and means special security measures will begin being implemented earlier than ever before. Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser asked the National Park Service on Monday to cancel any Public Gathering Permits on federal lands from now until January 24; according to the New York Times, 16 groups — “some of them armed and most of them hard-line supporters of President Trump” — have registered to stage protests in Washington around the inauguration. Bowser also extended the city’s indoor dining ban through Biden’s inauguration, while the Washington Monument closed in response to threats to disrupt the swearing-in.
The fears of some lawmakers have been compounded by concerns that rioters may have been assisted by Capitol Police officers. House Democrats have questioned whether the Capitol attack may have partly been an “inside job,” with some evidence emerging that police officers lent a hand to some rioters — creating even more uncertainty and security concerns ahead of the inauguration. Two Capitol Police officers have been suspended for their behavior last week: one took a selfie with someone in the mob storming the building, and another wore a “Make America Great Again” hat and directed people around the complex. At least 10 more Capitol Police officers are under investigation; so is a Secret Service officer who has posted comments Facebook supportive of the attack.
And finally, one last point to mention: Chad Wolf, the man coordinating security efforts for the inauguration, resigned as acting leader of the Homeland Security Department on Monday. Wolf is the third Trump Cabinet officer to step down in the past week, following Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. In his resignation letter, Wolf cited “recent events”: he did not name the Capitol riot, but he did mention recent rulings from federal judges who had determined that he was unlawfully serving as the Acting Secretary of DHS. Wolf had released a statement just days ago calling on President Trump to condemn the Capitol attack and committing to remain in office until January 20 to ensure an “orderly transition”; he has now stepped down from his key role leading efforts to protect Biden’s inauguration next week.
The big picture: Biden himself has dismissed the threats to his inaugural, telling reporters on Monday that he’s “not afraid of taking his oath outside.” (He also unveiled his inauguration theme, “America United,” earlier in the day, at a time when the nation seems anything but.) And the president-elect could be right: the many threats being monitored for January 20 could certainly all fizzle, or be subdued by the growing law enforcement presence.
But uncertainty has grown as no relevant federal agency — from the White House to the Departments of Justice or Homeland Security — has offered a public briefing on what went wrong last week or what is being planned for the next one. And many members of Congress have been rattled by the events they witnessed last Wednesday and have told reporters that they are growing more alarmed, not less, about the possible violence to come.
“Our expectation is that people will try to kill us,” Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI) said chillingly Monday on CNN, referring to himself and other lawmakers who voted to certify Biden’s election last week.
House Democrats have confirmed their plans to vote on Wednesday to impeach President Trump for a second time. They will hold something of a test run today, with a vote on a resolution calling on Vice President Pence and a majority of Cabinet officers to remove Trump under the 25th Amendment. Some lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), have floated the possibility of censuring Trump instead of impeaching him — but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has signaled that is not being considered. According to Politico, about 10 House Republicans are “seriously weighing” voting to impeach, including GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY).
President Trump and Vice President Pence met in the Oval Office on Monday, speaking for the first time since the Capitol attack. Trump did not phone the vice president after his supporters stormed the Capitol, some chanting “Hang Pence,” and instead tweeted a message while Pence was in hiding that further directed rioters’ anger towards the VP. The pair partly mended their relationship on Monday with a White House meeting, which an official described as a “good conversation, discussing the week ahead and reflecting on the last four years of the administration’s work and accomplishments.”
Two House Democrats have tested positive for COVID-19 since being locked down with unmasked lawmakers during the Capitol attack. Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) have both announced their positive coronavirus tests; both said they blamed their Republican colleagues who refused to wear masks while lawmakers were sheltering in place in a secure location during the Capitol riot.
All times Eastern.
President Donald Trump will travel to the U.S.-Mexico border near Alamo, Texas, to mark the completion of more than 400 miles of border wall and celebrate his administration’s other immigration actions. He is expected to deliver remarks at 3 p.m.
- The visit to Texas will be his first public appearance since the attack at the Capitol last week.Vice President Mike Pence will lead a video teleconference with governors on COVID-19 response and recovery at 2 p.m.
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief and meet with transition advisers.
The Senate will meet for a brief pro forma session at 12:30 p.m. The chamber will not hold any votes.
The House will meet at 9 a.m. for legislative business. The chamber will begin debate at around 4 p.m. on H.Res. 21, a resolution calling on Vice President Pence to convene the Cabinet for a vote to remove President Trump by invoking the 25th Amendemnt. The chamber will vote on the resolution at around 7:30 p.m.
The Supreme Court will hear virtual oral arguments in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski at 10 a.m.
- Today’s case arose when Chike Uzuegbunam, a student at Georgia Gwinnett College, tried to distribute religious pamphlets on his campus. His college forbade this activity because he hadn’t reserved a “speech zone,” or a designated area where he could make speeches and hand out literature, so Uzuegbunam sued the college for violating his First Amendment rights.
- Fortunately for Uzuegbunam, Georgia Gwinnett changed its policy on speech zones soon after he brought the lawsuit. But now that he’s largely gotten what he wanted, can he still ask for symbolic relief in court, such as a declaration that the university’s policy was unconstitutional? The Supreme Court will consider that question this morning.
— Supreme Court case summary contributed by Anna Salvatore
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