Good morning! It’s Friday, January 29, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 648 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,376 days away.
In today’s newsletter: Marjorie Taylor Greene tests the rules of Washington, Johnson & Johnson announces their Phase 3 results, and lawmakers respond to the Gamestop saga.
Analysis: The first test of post-Trump Washington
Until about four years ago, Washington had a tried-and-true rulebook to deal with political scandals:
- Step 1: A politician says or does something they shouldn’t.
- Step 2: The media and members of the opposing party begin bashing them for it.
- Step 3: If the offense is bad enough, members of their own party begin to weigh in as well.
- Step 4: Sensing a threat to their future, the politician attempts to salvage their career by apologizing and trying to make amends.
- Step 5: Sometimes, that is enough to survive — but often, the backlash grows so loud that they face consequences politically (e.g. losing a primary) or institutionally (e.g. losing committee assignments) or are forced to resign under pressure.
That was the rulebook, at least, until former President Donald Trump came along and blew it up, surviving scandal after scandal in his time on the political stage without facing many consequences or criticism from his party. Now that he’s (at least temporarily) out of the political spotlight, are the Old Rules back in play? Or did Trump change how scandals work in Washington forever?
The first test of those questions has arrived in the form of Marjorie Taylor Greene, the first-term Georgia congresswoman and fervent Trump backer. Greene was already known to be a caustic political operator — and a devotee of the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory — when she arrived in Washington, but the chorus of news stories about her past comments grew this week to a level that would have been career-ending for a politician in any other era:
- First, CNN reported on posts and comments from her Facebook page, where she had indicated support for executing a series of Democratic politicians.
- Then, a video surfaced of her chasing after school shooting survivor David Hogg and calling him a “coward” to his face. (Greene has previously suggested that the Parkland and Newtown school shootings were “false flag” operations.)
- Finally, more posts were uncovered showing Greene had endorsed other baseless conspiracy theories from “Frazzledrip” — which accuses Hillary Clinton of torturing a young girl and wearing her face as a mask — to the belief that the 2018 California wildfires were caused by a space laser beam sent by wealthy Jews.
The coverage from the media and criticism from Democrats was immediate: Steps 1 and 2, check. But that’s where the Old Rules have stalled in the Greene scandal. Because instead of condemning her, most House Republicans have remained silent. Instead of stripping her of committee assignments (as happened just two years ago with Iowa Rep. Steve King), she was rewarded with a seat on the Education and Labor Committee.
A spokesperson to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) called Greene’s past comments “deeply disturbing” and said McCarthy “plans to have a conversation with the Congresswoman about them,” but the top House Republican has yet to address the situation himself.
What happens next will be instructive for whether the Old Rules can survive in Washington, or whether they have been replaced by the Trump Rules — where a politician holds their ground and, backed by the leaders of their party, faces few consequences (except, ultimately in Trump’s case, at the ballot box).
Greene is already playing by the Trump Rules: she has remained defiant amid the flood of new reporting on her support for conspiracy theories and political executions. “Democrats and their spokesmen in the Fake News Media will stop at nothing to defeat conservative Republicans,” she said in a statement. “They are coming after me because I’m a threat to their goal of Socialism... They are coming after me because like President Trump, I will always defend conservative values.”
No apology, and (so far) no consequences. Trump may be out of office, but it appears the rules he rewrote in Washington may have been changed for good.
GOP CIVIL WAR: While Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) maintains the support of the House Republican Conference, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) — the conference’s chairwoman — is steadily losing it. Since voting for Trump’s impeachment earlier this month, more than half of House Republicans have reportedly indicated support for ousting her as conference chair. On Thursday, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) railed against Cheney at a rally in her home state, breaking with Minority Leader McCarthy’s edict for GOP members to stop attacking each other by name.
- In another sign of the party’s direction, McCarthy was in Florida on Thursday for a meeting with Trump, courting the former president’s support after saying just weeks ago that he “bears responsibility” for the Capitol riot.
INSIDE CONGRESS: The acting chief of the U.S. Capitol Police indicated Thursday that “permanent fencing” would be needed around the Capitol to protect against a repeat of the January 6 attack. The change comes as lawmakers express increasing worries about their security, with more than 30 House members writing a letter requesting flexibility for using their congressional allowances to hire security personnel.
- As external threats mount, members of Congress are increasingly at war with each other as well. “The enemy is within the House of Representatives,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Thursday, accusing her Republican colleagues of fanning the flames of violence by supporting Trump’s election fraud claims ahead of January 6. Relations in Congress, Politico reports this morning, are at an all-time low in the aftermath of the attack.
CORONAVIRUS: Johnson & Johnson announced this morning that its single-shot coronavirus vaccine had been found to be 66% effective in protecting against moderate to severe cases of the virus across eight countries.
- The vaccine was 72% effective in the United States, but only 57% effective in South Africa, where a more infectious variant has been spreading. The first case of the South Africa variant in the U.S. was detected on Thursday; other companies have reported that their vaccines have struggled against the South Africa variant as well.
GAMESTOP: Lawmakers have begun to schedule hearings to investigate short-selling and the app Robinhood’s decision to freeze some trading after the recent spike in Gamestop stock that was fueled by retail traders and Reddit users. “We must deal with the hedge funds whose unethical conduct directly led to the recent market volatility,” House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) said in a statement. The Senate Banking Committee is planning a hearing as well, amid bipartisan criticism of Robinhood and hedge funds sparked by the Gamestop saga.
2022 CENTRAL: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) announced on Thursday that he will not run for the U.S. Senate in 2022. Jordan had been seen as a leading contender for the seat being vacated by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who announced his retirement earlier this week.
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All times Eastern.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. and an economic briefing from Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen at 11 a.m. in the Oval Office.
At 12:30 p.m., Biden and Harris will have lunch together in the White House private dining room. At 1:45 p.m., Biden will depart the White House for Walter Reed National Military Center to visit with wounded soldiers from 2:05 p.m. to 4 p.m.
First Lady Jill Biden will participate in a virtual conversation with students in the Military Children Education Coalition’s “Student 2 Student” peer mentoring program at 1 p.m.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing at 10 a.m. in the White House briefing room.
U.S. public health officials will hold a virtual press briefing at 11 a.m. to “discuss the status of the federal government’s COVID-19 pandemic response.”
- Participants in the briefing will include Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the president; Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chairwoman of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force; and Andy Slavitt, a senior advisor to the White House COVID-19 response team.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will participate in in a virtual U.S. Institute of Peace panel with his Trump-era predecessor, former National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, at 11 a.m. The event will be moderated by former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
The House and Senate are not in session.
The Supreme Court is not in session.