Enemies, a Love Story: Inside the 36-year Biden and McConnell Relationship

The last time Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell faced off, Biden blinked first.

It was the winter of 2012. Then, as now, Democrats had just won a presidential election, had a narrow Senate majority, and Biden was earnestly proclaiming that the election would break the Republican “fever” of opposing the Democratic agenda.

The first test came immediately.

A cascade of deadlines on December 31, 2012, set up a world economy-level battle known as the “fiscal cliff.” Without any action by Congress, the next year would bring about $700 billion in combined tax hikes and budget cuts—extreme austerity measures that could cripple the recovering economy.

The Democratic Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, was willing to go over the cliff if McConnell didn’t agree to tax increases for the highest earners, one of Democrats’ signature campaign promises. Reid reasoned that if taxes were to rise automatically, McConnell would have to negotiate from a weakened position. Obama and Biden, however, feared an adverse reaction from the markets and a potential recession.

In a move that angered Reid, Biden took over the negotiations with Obama’s blessing. The outcome—a continuation of the Bush-era tax cuts with a relatively modest hike of 1.8 percent, weighted toward higher earners—was the kind of deal both negotiators could celebrate.

McConnell did, crowing to his fellow Republicans that “in a government controlled two-thirds by the Democrats, we got permanency for 99 percent of the Bush tax cuts.”

Biden did, boasting in a June 2019 debate that “I got Mitch McConnell to raise taxes $600 billion by raising the top rate.”

But many Democrats weren’t celebrating at all and still haven’t gotten over it. At the same 2019 debate, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado called it “a complete victory for the Tea Party. It extended the Bush tax cuts permanently. The Democratic Party had been running against that for 10 years.”

Now, eight years later, Biden and McConnell are entering a new phase of their 36-year relationship, and the Democratic left fears a repeat of the 2012 dynamic. Once again, their party wields most of the levers of government. They control the White House and Senate, albeit by the slimmest possible margin. Unlike 2012, they have a slim majority in the House, as well. Nonetheless, they seem destined to be bargaining for half a loaf, at best, for anything that requires 60 votes in the Senate, the level necessary to defeat a filibuster.

That’s because between them and their agenda stands McConnell, an acknowledged master of Senate procedures, famed for his ability to block presidential agendas.

Even as McConnell has seen some of his power ebb away—losing his Senate majority on the clay fields of Georgia, breaking with Donald Trump in the final days of his presidency—he still finds himself an essential figure in Biden’s Washington.

He is the key to the new president’s ability to turn the page from the Trump years. After years of legislative stasis, Biden is betting big that the Senate can return to the deal-making body he and McConnell came of age in. He hopes that he and his 2012 negotiating partner can plumb their shared history to locate a workable middle in a hyperpolarized time.

That’s a special challenge for McConnell, who is already at odds with the Trumpian wing of the Republican Party after defying Trump on Biden’s victory and even privately being open to impeaching him. Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Tuesday called for a new leader in the Senate and said McConnell had revealed himself to be the “king of the establishment Republicans.”

Even if McConnell wanted to cut deals with Biden, any compromise could further undermine his and his members’ position with the Republican base ahead of the 2022 midterms and the next presidential election. Several Republican senators eyeing their own runs in 2024 are already signaling unapologetic opposition to the entire Biden agenda.

Meanwhile, Biden’s allies are loudly insisting that finding common ground is possible and exactly what the American people want after the past decade of partisan warfare. The Biden team is aware that many in their own party are rolling their eyes but argue that it’s just the latest instance of the Democratic establishment underestimating Joe Biden.

“People said it was naive, you know, 18, 19 months ago as he was running, he was criticized for it. But you know what? It's one of the reasons he won,” said a senior Biden White House adviser. Other Biden allies argue that voters will punish Republicans in 2022 if they look like they are being obstructionist in the middle of a crisis.

“A majority of senators have never served in a functional Senate,” said Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a close Biden ally and friend. “This is the best chance the Senate will have in our lifetimes to get more functional, because we have an incoming president who knows and respects the Senate.”

But what constitutes functionality may be considerably less than Biden’s ambitious campaign promises.

“There are many examples of things that are just really beyond partisanship,” the senior adviser said. Asked for examples, the adviser pointed to second-tier issues like infrastructure spending and broadband internet access.

Jason Furman, who chaired President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and is an occasional outside adviser to the Biden team, lowered expectations. “I’m not sure they can accomplish big things together, [but] I do think they can work together to keep the wheels on the bus,” he said.

McConnell, Furman believes, could be a willing partner in the basics—getting budgets passed in a timely manner, not playing chicken with the debt ceiling, and other incremental, good government measures.

Most skeptical of all is Obama himself, no fan of McConnell and someone who has chafed at the idea that his vice president might be able to achieve things that he himself could not.

“I’m enjoying reading now about how Joe Biden and Mitch have been friends for a long time,” the former president quipped to the Atlantic shortly after the 2020 election. “They’ve known each other for a long time.”

Washington friends aren’t normal friends. While some outliers like Ted Kennedy or John McCain genuinely relished their personal relationships across the aisle, the more enduring bond between long-serving senators is having belonged to such an exclusive club, and respect for its unwritten rules. Among these institutionalists, outsiders just don’t get it, whether they’re an earnest reformer like Obama or an imperious novice like Trump.

Biden, who joined the Senate in 1973, won his third term in the same year a former Senate staffer named Mitch McConnell won his first.

Like Biden, who began his Senate career by surprising the pundits with a razor-thin, upset win over two-term Republican Sen. J. Caleb Boggs, McConnell surprised much of the political world by edging out two-term Democrat Walter “Dee” Huddleston in the 1984 Senate race in Kentucky.

Despite being born nine months apart and sharing an interest in Senate history, the two men weren’t initially close during the 24 years they overlapped in the chamber, according to aides to both men.

“They are both good politicians, but they couldn't be more different as politicians and that was from the get go,” said Janet Mullins Grissom, who managed McConnell’s 1984 race against Huddleston and was one of the Senate’s first female chiefs of staff when McConnell appointed her in 1985.

Biden was loquacious, while McConnell was a man of few words. Biden had the grip and grin of a salesman, while McConnell displayed a tactician’s discipline climbing up the leadership ladder. Biden was a people pleaser, while McConnell at times reveled in criticism, even decorating an entire wall of his office with negative newspaper cartoons about himself.

In high school and college, Biden had been a popular kid, a jock and senior class president. McConnell was more of a nerd—he wore an “I Like Ike” button in his 5th-grade school picture—but with an enormous drive to figure out how to win over his peers in elections.

When facing off against a popular kid to be his school’s senior-class president, McConnell outmaneuvered him by courting the endorsement of other popular students. “I was prepared to ask for their vote using the only tool in my arsenal, the one thing teenagers most desire. Flattery,” he wrote in his memoir.

But there are some similarities, too.

Both have clan loyalties. Biden’s are mainly to members of his family, such as his sister Val, who managed all seven of his political campaigns before 2020. In later years, his sons joined his inner circle, as well, along with longtime aides like Ted Kaufman and Mike Donilon.

McConnell regards his political team as family. “He has a posse,” said Mullins Grissom. “It’s like the opposite of Donald Trump, but I think that that speaks to the person, and that he is an incredibly, incredibly loyal person.” Aides say that, for decades after they have left his office, they still refer to him as “boss.” And while McConnell’s daughters seem to be liberals like their mother and shun his politics, his second wife, two-time GOP Cabinet member Elaine Chao, is a Washington power broker and a political partner as well as a romantic one.

“When I picked Elaine up at her apartment at the Watergate, I was taken by her beauty, and proud to have her on my arm that evening,” McConnell wrote of their first date, a party for then-Vice President George H.W. Bush hosted by Saudi Arabia’s ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

Former aides note that Biden and McConnell are also similar in that they are ideologically flexible: Each started off as a moderate and then moved left and right with their parties.

In 1984, Biden ran ads supporting a budget freeze and a constitutional amendment to limit debt. McConnell had cultivated labor support and sought backing from abortion rights supporters.

McConnell’s aides even believed President Ronald Reagan was wary of endorsing him in 1984, both because he thought McConnell would lose to the moderate Democrat Huddleston and was not much more conservative than Huddleston, to boot. (When Reagan finally did offer an endorsement, he called him “Mitch O’Donnell.”)

“They’ve each sort of reversed themselves ideologically,” said Mullins Grissom. “Biden was incredibly conservative back in the ’80s and Mitch was much more of a moderate when he first came to the Senate.”

Another way to look at their metamorphoses is that they have their fingers on the pulses of their parties and stand at the very center of it. Biden is now calling for unprecedented deficit spending while McConnell has done more than any figure to curtail abortion rights by confirming conservative judges.

Riding the ups and downs of the judicial battles has been the ultimate shared experience for Biden and McConnell. From their very first years in the Senate, they each cultivated an interest in judicial matters and the Justice Department, where McConnell had worked during the Gerald R. Ford administration and which Biden helped oversee as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The great formative experience for both men, according to aides, came in 1987 with Reagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court of Robert Bork. The bearded, professorial Bork had overlapped with McConnell in the Justice Department but spent the bulk of his career at Yale Law School, delighting in faculty-lounge debates over Supreme Court precedents.

At the time, judicial confirmations turned largely on the nominees’ standing within the bar; senators saw themselves as making sure presidents chose people of sterling legal acumen, rather than plumbing the extent of their ideology. By that standard, Bork was golden, one of the most influential legal thinkers of his generation.

But many liberals were convinced that Reagan and his attorney general, Ed Meese, were taking advantage of that standard to load the bench with doctrinaire conservatives; it wasn’t Bork’s credentials that were problematic, it was his views on the law.

One of Biden’s role models, Sen. Ted Kennedy, took to the Senate floor to deliver a thunderous speech warning that Bork’s confirmation would result in a country “where women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters.” His scorched-earth rhetoric galvanized the left, turning the nomination into a grass-roots political battle.

The 44-year-old Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, hoping to use the high-profile hearings to prove his gravitas and jump-start his 1988 presidential campaign.

Initially, he backed away from Kennedy’s rhetoric. Asked whether he thought Bork was a radical ideologue, Biden said, "I have not characterized him that way in any speech that I have made, any comment I have made or anything else."

But Biden, perhaps sensing that Kennedy had awakened the Democratic grassroots, soon committed to defeating Bork, albeit on his own terms.

“If there was an argument to be made against Bork in the Senate, it would have to be made to Republicans and Democrats in the political center,” he wrote in his 2007 memoir. “If we tried to make this a referendum on abortion rights, for example, we’d lose,” a stance that frustrated some liberal activists at the time.

Instead, he homed in on issues like married couples being able to buy contraceptives, grilling Bork on his past criticisms of the court’s reasoning in Griswold v. Connecticut, which declared that couples had a right to use contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

The effort to portray Bork as out of the mainstream worked, as Biden helped persuade moderate Republican Sen. Arlen Specter to join the Democrats in rejecting Bork’s nomination in the Judiciary Committee by a 9-5 vote, and later in the full Senate.

The Bork defeat had a profound impact on McConnell. It stung the freshman Republican as a clear violation of the guardrails that surrounded Senate’s “advise and consent” role in judicial appointments, which McConnell believed to be apolitical; in 1970, he had written in the Kentucky Law Journal that injecting politics into the Senate’s “advise and consent” is inappropriate.

“Even though the Senate has at various times made purely political decisions in its consideration of Supreme Court nominees, certainly it could not be successfully argued that this is an acceptable practice,” he wrote.

The actions of Kennedy, Biden and other Democrats had violated that principle. Biden argued that their moves against Bork were consistent with past judicial battles, citing some of the same cases McConnell had cited as shameful episodes not to be repeated. “We are once again confronted with a popular president’s determined attempt to bend the Supreme Court to his political ends,” Biden said in a floor speech in July 1987. “No one should dispute his right to try. But no one should dispute the Senate’s duty to respond.”

Mark Gitenstein, Biden’s chief counsel at the time, who later wrote a book on the Bork battle, said Biden’s explicit goal was preserving the legal precedents of the liberal Warren Court.

By defeating Bork and obliging Reagan to turn to the moderate Anthony Kennedy instead, Gitenstein says Biden’s mission was accomplished. “He shaped the court for 30 years, and it took 30 years to undo what he did,” he said of Biden.

Biden agreed, but also seemed to realize that he had done something to alter the way the Senate approached judicial nominations. Recalling the July 1987 speech, he wrote in his 2007 memoir that “there have not been many moments in my thirty four years in the senate when I believed I had helped change the course of the institution but as I came to the end of that speech, I had that feeling.”

He had changed the Senate and also changed Mitch McConnell.

Taking to the Senate floor in October 1987, a furious McConnell contended that the defeat of Bork meant the Senate should be honest about its new standard for Supreme Court picks.

“It means for a majority of the Senate that we’re going to make this decision on any basis we darn well please, and if we object as a matter of philosophical persuasion that the president is trying to move the court to the right or to the left, we’ll just stand up and say that and vote accordingly,” McConnell said ruefully. “We may not be able to pick the nominee. but we can sure shoot ’em down. We can sure shoot ’em down.”

Citing his own 1970 law review article, McConnell said he would prefer the version of advise and consent that was narrowly focused on factors like competence and integrity over the more partisan version. “Frankly, the senator from Kentucky thinks that’s the way it ought to be,” he said before allowing a smirk. “But if I am nothing else, I am practical.”

That was both a warning and a vow. McConnell adapted and waged an unrelenting, ultimately successful fight to remake the judiciary and the Supreme Court along conservative lines.

“They didn’t win the Bork fight until the [Brett] Kavanaugh fight,” Gitenstein said.

Biden’s and McConnell’s paths crossed only occasionally over the next 20 years, as Biden slowly shifted the focus of his Senate career toward foreign policy and became chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. He considered running for president again in 2004 and then ran and lost in 2008.

With the exception of being a fierce advocate for Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, McConnell largely stayed out of foreign affairs unless it affected domestic politics. In the lead-up to the 2006 midterms, he pressed George W. Bush to bring some troops home from Iraq. According to Bush’s account, he snapped back at McConnell, “I will not withdraw troops unless military conditions warrant.” Bush later wrote, “I made it clear I would set troop levels to achieve victory in Iraq, not victory at the polls.”

The Republican drubbing in 2006 came just as McConnell was securing the leadership of his party conference, making him the Senate minority leader. In 2009, he famously declared his chief ambition was to make Obama a one-term president unless Obama stopped pushing ambitious progressive legislation.

He did not succeed. In the 2012 elections, not only was Obama reelected, but Democrats maintained control of the Senate and kept McConnell relegated to being minority leader. But McConnell didn’t see the election results as a reason to stop resisting and just allow the Democrats to pass their agenda. The Democrats needed to play ball with him to get over the 60-vote hump needed to break a Senate filibuster and pass legislation to avoid the fiscal cliff.

Reid, the Democratic majority leader who had tangled bitterly with McConnell for six years, was determined to match McConnell’s hardball tactics with some of his own.

“From [Reid’s] perspective, the cliff was just sort of an American problem or a world problem, and that Democrats shouldn't have to sort of offer something up to Republicans because they were holding it hostage,” recalled a former Democratic leadership aide involved in the negotiations.

McConnell and Reid dug in their heels and on December 30, there was no sign of a deal.

“I wanted to go over the cliff,” Reid said later. “I thought that would have been the best thing to do, because the conversation would not have been about raising taxes, which it became, it would have been about lowering taxes.”

But McConnell’s aides said they began to realize Reid was ready to go over the cliff. “We also knew, and we were right about this, that the administration probably wasn't so cavalier about visiting economic ruin on millions of people as a negotiating tool,” said a McConnell aide involved in the negotiations.

McConnell reached out to Biden. He got his voicemail. “Is there anyone over there who knows how to make a deal?” McConnell said. Obama agreed to have Biden take over the negotiations. With Reid seething in the wings, Biden and McConnell began crafting a compromise.

At a delicate point in their discussions, Biden suggested McConnell talk directly to Obama. But the usually unflappable Obama lost his temper and called McConnell’s top policy aide, Rohit Kumar, a “jerk.”

“That conversation went nowhere,” McConnell later recalled. Biden was again dispatched to lower the temperature and the pair clinched a deal to avoid going over the cliff—one that thrilled most Republicans. “Deal, deal, deal,” McCain cheered.

Many Senate Democrats saw it as a win for the Republicans.

“It was a hard sell,” acknowledged Biden’s protégé, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).

“Reid was furious—he was undercut and then Biden cut a terrible deal and then took a victory lap for it,” recalled Adam Jentleson, Reid’s deputy chief of staff at the time and author of the new book, “Kill Switch,” which argues Senate Democrats should embrace his former boss’ approach to McConnell.

Jentleson wasn’t alone.

“For lack of a better phrase, that was just not cool,” said another Reid aide. “Not cool on politics. Not cool on substance.” Reid was so mad that nine months later, when Senate Republicans shut down the government over the issue of Obamacare funding, Reid told the Obama administration to keep Biden away. Reid declined to comment.

He also insisted that Biden come down to the Senate to personally explain the fiscal cliff deal to Democratic senators. He wasn’t going to sell a deal he didn’t believe in. Asked by reporters at the time what he told his former colleagues, Biden responded, “I said ‘This is Joe Biden and I’m your buddy.’”

It was a telling comment. Biden’s willingness to go the extra mile for a compromise that many senators distrusted, some Obama aides said, was evidence of both his political adroitness and his desire to move the ball forward even a few inches in the face of a backlash from his own party.

"He knew at the end of the day that someone had to be held responsible for the disappointing parts of the deal,” said Furman. “He was explicitly and openly willing to be that person. Many others were posturing, but he was willing to absorb some of it because that’s what it took."

But many Democrats still see the episode as evidence that Biden just isn’t up to the task of facing off against McConnell. And many in McConnell’s world agree. They just think their boss is smarter.

Those dramatic 36 hours of political and economic brinkmanship in 2012 reverberate in 2021 as the two 78-year-old Senate bulls again find themselves facing off. The two men are now the leaders of their respective parties at a moment of violent partisanship, congressional dysfunction, and a once-in-a-century health and economic crisis.

A central promise of the Biden presidency is that he will be able to succeed where Obama failed in negotiating with Congress. Some Biden aides describe their boss as a “master legislator.” To the many doubters in his own party who were frustrated during the Obama years, he has publicly declared “you’re going to be surprised.”

Much like Obama’s “change we can believe in” promises in 2008, Biden has made restoring some bipartisanship the marker of his own success. Just as in the Obama years, that requires buy-in from McConnell. And veterans of the eight years, including Obama himself, are skeptical. Some McConnell aides are, too.

That’s because they reject the Beltway narrative that McConnell would have been more open to compromise during the Obama years if the president had been a back-slapper, like his vice president.

“The issue with Republicans is not that I didn’t court them enough,” Obama insisted on his recent book tour. “The issue was not a lack of schmoozing. The issue was that they found it politically advantageous to demonize me and the Democratic Party.”

Don “Stew” Stewart, McConnell’s deputy chief of staff at the time, agrees with Obama.

“It’s not personality, it’s policy,” he explained. “None of the beers or whiskey or anything matters. If your policy doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter how many parties you have. If your policy stinks, it’s not going anywhere.” More bourbons with McConnell would not have made a difference, he said.

As some former McConnell aides note, McConnell isn’t much of a schmoozer himself.

A senior Obama administration official agreed: “I don't think the fact that [McConnell] has a good relationship with Biden, a better relationship with Biden, or a worse relationship with Biden is going to affect that he's going to do what he's going to do.”

The official continued that “this conventional wisdom that [Obama] stiffed Republicans on a social basis, and that caused their animosity towards him, I think it's just fiction. I think that Biden will run into the same thing, ultimately.”

Even if Biden does have more success, they argue, it will be partly because of race. Many Obama officials have long contended that the backlash to the first Black president among parts of the GOP base was a large reason why Republicans resisted working with him. In his recent memoir, Obama argued this was the case with McConnell and was partly why he sent Biden to negotiate.

“[I]n McConnell’s mind, negotiations with the vice president didn’t inflame the Republican base in quite the same way that any appearance of cooperating with (Black, Muslim socialist) Obama was bound to do,” Obama wrote.

McConnell’s aides fumed this winter when reports of Obama’s remarks spread in November.

“That was so offensive,” said Mullins Grissom. “Biden understood the art of the deal and Obama did not.”

Former McConnell aides and McConnell himself point out that he voted for Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater in 1964 because of Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act. Decades later, in the Senate, he stood up to Reagan and many in his own party to support sanctioning South Africa for its apartheid regime.

McConnell’s racial politics have been forward-looking by the standards of Southern Republicans but have not been without blemishes, either. In the same 1970 article he cited on the Senate floor during the Bork fight, McConnell wrote that “History has judged Chief Justice Taney as among the most outstanding of American jurists, his tribulations prior to confirmation being completely overshadowed by an exceptional career.”

Taney was the author and the orchestrator of the infamous Dred Scott decision that validated the Fugitive Slave Act and ruled that African Americans could never have the full protections of U.S. citizenship. And McConnell has changed his views: “Justice Taney was the author of one of the worst decisions (the Dred Scott decision) in American history,” McConnell said in a statement to POLITICO. “To the extent that I ever praised him, that was a mistake.”

One person who seems to agree with Obama is McConnell’s first wife, Sherrill Redmon. “Many people wonder why Republican legislators are so unrelenting on President Obama,” she wrote on Facebook in 2012. “Frederick Douglass gave us the answer many years ago. How prophetic!,” she wrote before posting Douglass’ quote that “though the colored man is no longer subject to barter and sale, he is surrounded by an adverse settlement which fetters all his movements. In his downward course he meets with no resistance, but his course upward is resented and resisted at every step of his progress.”

But McConnell himself argues—and some Obama aides quietly agree—that Biden is just better at congressional deal-making. In his 2016 memoir, McConnell is unsparing in his criticism of Obama, calling him “arrogant,” “uncooperative” and “like the kid in your class who exerts a hell of a lot of effort making sure everyone thinks he’s the smartest one.”

McConnell much preferred working with Biden and heaped praise on him in his book, often at Obama’s expense. “I could tell him how far we could go, and he would reciprocate, unlike Obama,” McConnell wrote. McConnell would also be the only Republican senator to attend the funeral of Biden’s beloved eldest son, Beau, in 2015. And in December 2016, McConnell took to the Senate floor to pay tribute to then-outgoing Vice President Biden.

“I don’t always agree with him, but I do trust him implicitly. He doesn’t break his word,” McConnell said. “He doesn’t waste time telling me why I’m wrong. He gets down to brass tacks and keeps sight of the stakes.”

In today’s Washington, that kind of praise across the aisle is as close to friendship as most politicians can get. But whether it breaks any political logjams remains unclear.

“There's no overwhelming mandate for the Democratic agenda and a lot of people that voted for Biden are uncomfortable with some of the Democratic agenda,” reasoned a former senior Obama administration official. “So you take that, you take how divided it is, you take the country getting more and more divided, you got Trump out there causing problems. At best, you could only have, you know, incremental progress and principled compromise on certain issues.”

But Biden’s top aides say their efforts are sincere and are optimistic. “God bless him. I’m glad he’s got a positive attitude,” said the official. “I think, particularly in this environment, we got no choice now.”

Many progressive Democrats argue that they should simply eliminate the Senate filibuster rule, which would enable to Democrats to pass their agenda with no Republican votes. Biden has so far appeared resistant to that idea, but allies say that doesn’t mean he’s ruled it out. “We are in a dire crisis and he is going to sit by for four years and see his entire agenda stymied,” Coons said.

McConnell has fought to preserve the filibuster rule and seems unwilling to offer many concessions in return. His willingness to deal is uncertain and will be determined first and foremost by what he feels is best for his members running in 2022 and 2024. At first blush, the Republicans have less to gain than the Democrats from settling longstanding disputes. Plus, McConnell's former aides argue, it's up to Biden whether he will spurn the left wing of his party and pursue agenda items that can realistically get bipartisan support.

But Biden’s team believes there are some hopeful tea leaves in McConnell and his wife’s repudiation of Trump after the 45th president sicced his supporters on the Senate chamber itself earlier this month.

McConnell’s two speeches condemning Trump and his congressional enablers on the Senate floor during the counting of the Electoral College vote struck Biden advisers as sincere and a sign that he still cares about the club’s unwritten rules. Biden and McConnell have been in frequent contact since Election Day as well, the new president’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, said last week.

But former McConnell aides warn that it’s a common mistake to assume that other Republicans will always fall into line behind the Kentucky senator. His great skill is understanding all his members’ needs, not necessarily in twisting arms, they say. So other Republicans will have to step up, as well.

“The Senate is only as strong and independent as the members that make it up,” said one former senior McConnell aide. “So many of them are just a whole bunch of pussies. Like ‘What if the base gets angry?’ or ‘Oh, it’s too hard.’ You want this job? Work, build a coalition, work with your chairman and ranking member, build people behind this. Get it f---ing going.”

The queen’s rep in Canada calls it quits after probe into toxic workplace

The former astronaut who served as Queen Elizabeth’s representative in Canada resigned abruptly Thursday ahead of the release of a scathing report into allegations of bullying and harassment in a toxic workplace.

Julie Payette, long at the center of a swirl of controversies, had since July been the subject of investigation after public servants and ex-staffers accused the viceregal emissary and her secretary of bullying and public humiliation.

Allegations date to the earliest days of her tenure when she would reportedly put staff on the spot to quiz them on outer space, demanding they name every planet or correctly state the distance between the sun and the moon, CBC News reported last year.

The long list of accusations against Payette includes temper tantrums and reducing staff to tears.

“Tensions have arisen at Rideau Hall over the past few months and for that, I am sorry,” Payette said in a statement Thursday evening. “I have come to the conclusion that a new governor general should be appointed. Canadians deserve stability in these uncertain times.”

The role of governor general: Though an apolitical and largely ceremonial role, the office of the governor general is Canada’s oldest continuous institution. The GG, as the office holder is often known, serves as the Canadian representative of the British monarchy — in this case, Queen Elizabeth II — and is in charge of ensuring Canada has a prime minister and government in place that has the confidence of Parliament. The governor general is also Canada’s commander-in-chief.

Payette is the first governor general to quit in modern Canadian history and her departure comes as the Trudeau Liberals hang on to minority status in Parliament.

Payette was a signature appointment of Trudeau’s first term. She faced a number of controversies from the minute she took the role — and, as it turned out, in roles she’d held previously. The appointment has been seen as a glaring failure of the Trudeau government’s vetting process.

What happened: Earlier Thursday, news broke that third-party investigators had prepared a “scathing” report — at a cost of nearly C$90,000 — into claims of a toxic work environment perpetuated by Payette and her secretary Assunta Di Lorenzo. Some findings of that confidential report are expected to be released as early as this week, according to the Globe and Mail.

The unprecedented probe was launched by the federal government after dozens of past and current employees told news outlets that Payette “belittled” and “screamed” at employees. Payette also allegedly threw “tantrums” during trips abroad and would publicly humiliate staffers to the point of tears.

A source also told CBC News that Rideau Hall had gone from being one of the most enjoyable places to work in the federal government to a “house of horrors.”

Payette, who was the first Canadian to serve at the International Space Station, was appointed in 2017 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Even as the investigation was underway, he defended Payette, saying in September that she was “excellent” at her job and he had no intention of asking her to step aside.

In her resignation statement, Payette was apologetic, and said she would use her departure to spend time with her father who is in poor health.

“We all experience things differently, but we should always strive to do better, and be attentive to one another’s perception,” she said.

Running list of controversies: Days after Payette was tapped to become governor general it was revealed she’d been charged with second-degree assault in 2011 while living in Maryland. The charge, which Payette said was “unfounded,” was subsequently expunged. It was then revealed that Payette had been involved in a fatal hit-and-run car accident involving a pedestrian that same year, though that case was closed without charges following a police investigation.

Trudeau defended picking Payette nonetheless, saying at the time: “There are no issues that arose in the course of that vetting process that would be any reason to expect Mme. Payette to be anything other than the extraordinary governor general that she will be.”

Payette faced more criticism for delaying her move into the governor general’s official residence, only doing so after two years of ongoing renovations to address privacy concerns — at a cost of more than C$250,000.

And last year, CBC News reported that Trudeau’s office failed to check with Payette’s former employees during its vetting process. As it turned out, Payette had resigned from the Montreal Science Centre in 2016 following complaints of mistreatment of employees, according to the news outlet. She also left the Canadian Olympic Committee in 2017, the year she became governor general, after two internal probes into claims she had verbally harassed staff members.

Trudeau’s response: Trudeau released a short statement Thursday evening saying that Payette’s resignation provides “an opportunity for new leadership at Rideau Hall to address the workplace concerns raised by employees during the review."

“Every employee in the Government of Canada has the right to work in a safe and healthy environment, and we will always take this very seriously,” he said.

Next steps: Chief Justice Richard Wagner of Canada’s Supreme Court has stepped in to replace Payette for the time being. Trudeau’s office said a recommendation for a permanent replacement will be made to Queen Elizabeth “in due course.”

Trump starts taking his second impeachment seriously

Donald Trump appears to be finally getting serious about his upcoming impeachment trial.

The former president has hired Butch Bowers, a longtime Republican attorney with experience in election law, to represent him when the Senate considers an article of impeachment, likely in a matter of days or weeks.

The hiring comes after Trump opted against building out a war room or communications infrastructure to push back against impeachment when it was considered by the House. The former president had also initially struggled to find someone to lead his impeachment defense, as attorneys who previously represented him declined to sign on for a second trial and suggested his political opponents had a stronger case this time.

“This is political theater and I am neither a politician or an actor. I don’t see a role for me as a lawyer,” said Alan Dershowitz, the Trump-allied attorney who joined Trump’s impeachment defense team last January.

Unlike Dershowitz, who’s faced scrutiny from bipartisan lawmakers over his ties to the late convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, Trump’s new defense attorney received praise on Thursday from some of his former Republican clients. The South Carolina-based attorney previously represented former Govs. Nikki Haley and Mark Sanford, and serves as a judge advocate general officer for the South Carolina National Guard.

“Butch is a good friend and a fine lawyer. President Trump is fortunate to have him on his team,” Haley said through a spokesperson.

Sanford, who was represented by Bowers during his own battle with impeachment after he fled to Argentina with a mistress during his term as South Carolina governor, described Bowers as “ethical and competent.”

"Butch is a first-class human being. In the fifteen years … where I’ve worked with Butch in different capacities, it was just sort of run of the mill. He was perfunctory and professional,” Sanford said, adding that he does not believe Bowers will use his position on Trump’s defense team to amplify the ex-president’s baseless voter fraud allegations.

The news of Bowers hire was first reported by Punchbowl News.

Some Trump allies believe the president plans to use his trial to further his baseless claims that the election was stolen from him, according to two former aides familiar with his strategy. One of the aides cautioned that no defense strategy had been definitively agreed upon, though.

Bowers’ history suggests that the ex-president is keen on focusing on how votes were cast and counted during the 2020 cycle. Bowers served under President George W. Bush as special counsel for voting matters in the Justice Department, and worked as counsel in Florida for John McCain’s 2008 presidential run.

"All I can say is based on the Butch Bowers I know and respect, I would hope that he wouldn't be sucked in as a tool in advancing the president's conspiracy theories,” Sanford said.

Trump’s push to bolster his defense team comes one week after House Democrats impeached him for a second time on charges of inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Hundreds of pro-Trump demonstrators stormed the building — injuring law enforcement officials and forcing the evacuation of members of Congress — after rallying with the ex-president outside the White House.

During that rally, Trump encouraged protesters “to walk down to the Capitol” — a phrase likely to become a focal point of his impeachment trial. Less than two hours after Trump made the remark, hundreds of his supporters burst through a security perimeter outside the building and eventually made their way inside.

Trump’s decision to hire Bowers was announced by his ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) during a Senate GOP meeting on Thursday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has asked for Trump to receive two weeks to prepare his legal case for trial. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said they had received a proposal from McConnell “that only deals with pre-trial motions” and that they would “review it and discuss it with him.”

Graham, who said he has known Bowers for “a long time,” said Trump is still putting together his legal team. “Butch Bowers I think will be the sort of the anchor tenant,” Graham said.

Trump, Graham told reporters, believes a post-presidential impeachment is “unconstitutional and damages his presidency.” Legal scholars disagree with that assessment arguing that one form of punishment that Trump could receive—a prohibition from running for future office—makes clear that the founders envisioned impeachment as a tool that could be applied to current and former presidents.

Bowers could not be reached for comment.

Biden poised to break with Brown, progressives in picking top bank cop

President Joe Biden's expected nomination of a former Obama Treasury Department official to regulate national banks is triggering fierce opposition from progressive activists, who say the president's choice is too closely tied to the finance industry.

Biden's planned selection of Michael Barr to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency also marks a break from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is in line to chair the Senate Banking Committee, which will vet the nomination. Brown has been advocating for a competing candidate, law professor Mehrsa Baradaran, an expert on the racial wealth gap who has called for the delivery of banking services through the U.S. Postal Service.

Watchdog groups and racial justice organizations on Thursday spoke out against Barr's selection, which had yet to be announced but became public through press reports. Activists said they planned to take their case to liberal allies in Congress, including Brown and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who also serves on the Banking Committee. The groups are pushing for Baradaran to get the job.

"If this is a trial balloon, then hopefully it fails," said Vasudha Desikan, political director for the Action Center on Race and the Economy. "He's a terrible choice."

The pushback marked the biggest rift yet among Democrats over appointees to federal agencies tasked with regulating banking and markets. Until now, progressives had largely been successful in their campaign to put their preferred industry watchdogs in key posts, including the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Barr, dean of the University of Michigan's public policy school, is a veteran of the Clinton and Obama Treasury Departments and has long been seen as a contender for a top post in the Biden administration. But in recent weeks he faced competition from Baradaran for the job of running the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Brown and other influential players from the party's left wing quietly promoted her appointment, which would shake up an agency long criticized for being too cozy with the banking industry.

Baradaran, who teaches at the University of California at Irvine Law School, wrote the book “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap" about obstacles impeding Black-owned financial institutions and Black Americans as they try to build wealth.

Brown, who has vowed to make racial equity a key focus of his Banking Committee agenda, believes that Baradaran is "the right fit for this moment," one staffer familiar with the situation said.

"She is the future of economic policy, and her expertise is well-suited to make Biden’s vision of an equitable economy happen," the source said.

Barr's long record in Democratic policy circles — as well as his post-government work — has given critics fodder to fight his nomination. Progressives who want the party to pursue structural economic reforms to fight inequality and climate change are skeptical that recruiting from the party's old guard of economic policy officials will deliver big changes.

Barr was a key figure in the drafting of sweeping Dodd-Frank financial safeguards that Congress passed after the 2008 Wall Street meltdown as well as the implementation of a post-crisis program designed to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure.

Those episodes have potential political pitfalls for him.

The housing program, the Home Affordable Modification Program, fell short of providing the economic relief that officials first promised. And during the writing of Dodd-Frank, former officials involved in the talks say Barr, who was a key Hill liaison for then-Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, resisted the drafting of certain regulations that would have been even tougher on big banks.

"Barr was a tough negotiator against members of Congress from both parties," said Tyler Gellasch, a former aide to then-Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who fought for stricter limits on trading by big banks. "On the one hand, he aggressively pushed back against progressives and protected the banks from stronger reforms, but on the other hand, he fought fiercely for the [consumer bureau's] creation."

Barr didn’t respond to a request for comment. In a Bloomberg TV interview he did in July, he said he recognizes the inequity in the banking system.

"Our financial system is not really safe enough or fair enough yet, and there are more risks to come," he said. "We still need to work on a financial system that works better for households and businesses, and we're not there yet.”

The public criticism he has received prompted heavy hitters from the Obama administration to speak up in his defense. Former CFPB Director Richard Cordray told POLITICO Thursday night that he was a “big fan of Michael and very supportive.”

“He knows the issues backward and forward,” Cordray said. “He is a progressive champion. A lot of people wanted to put brakes on the CFPB. He’s always been a fan.”

Aaron Klein, a Brookings senior fellow who served with Barr at Treasury during that period, defended Barr's work on the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, arguing that "striking the balance was important" to securing votes to pass the bill.

"Dodd-Frank passed without a vote to spare," Klein said. "The legislative skill necessary to craft and secure enactment of that bill was daunting. People look back on it like it's a foregone conclusion there would be a law. But there were very real moments when there was a risk of nothing going through."

Former FDIC Chair Sheila Bair, who documented clashes with Barr in her book about the fallout of the crisis, told POLITICO that "I have not always agreed with Michael, but I respect his formidable intellect and his life-long commitment to making our financial system work for low-income families."

"Combined with [SEC chair nominee Gary] Gensler and [CFPB director nominee Rohit] Chopra, this will be a very strong team of financial regulators," Bair said.

After the Obama administration, Barr re-entered academia and continued to advocate for stricter financial regulation as the Trump administration sought to scale back what Democrats had enacted. He also developed ties with upstart financial technology firms, joining the advisory boards of cryptocurrency company Ripple Labs and Lending Club. The SEC is suing Ripple for violating investor protection laws through the sale of the XRP digital asset. Lending Club is becoming a bank after receiving the OCC’s approval to buy another lender.

If picked to lead the OCC, Barr would have immense influence over the direction of financial regulation, including the so-called fintech companies that he advised in recent years. The OCC regulates national banks such as JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America and is increasingly focused on writing rules that would allow fintech firms to more easily operate across the country with a single set of regulations, rather than state-by-state requirements.

"Few if any academics have worked as closely with fintech in the last decade than Barr, and there are broad progressive fears that fintech is just a new way for bankers and Big Tech and others to evade regulation and make billions profiteering off the rest of us," said Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project. "Fintech will win big if Barr gets OCC, and we'll likely not understand the full dimensions of the downside of fintech's ascendance for another 5-10 years."

Much of the conflict over Barr's potential nomination arises from the fact that Baradaran won't be getting the job, dashing hopes of supporters who argued that, as an outsider with strong, documented views on inequality, she had the potential to deliver a major shakeup of the agency.

"It wasn't just the OCC," said Desikan, with the Action Center on Race and the Economy. "But it was Mehrsa herself as an individual."

Victoria Guida contributed to this report.

Judge denies release to alleged rioter who returned for inauguration

A Florida resident accused of taking part in the Capitol riot and then returning to Washington in advance of President Joe Biden’s inauguration should be kept behind bars as he awaits trial, a federal magistrate ruled Thursday.

Prosecutors say Samuel Camargo, 26, posted videos on Instagram showing him trying to force his way into the Capitol during the Jan. 6 assault and later displayed a piece of metal that he said came from the historic building.

“Got some memorobioia [sic], did it myself,” text on Camargo’s feed said.

After the chaotic and violent day at the Capitol, Camargo returned to his home in Deerfield Beach, according to an FBI affidavit. When an FBI agent reached out to him by phone, Camargo became uncooperative and questioned the agent’s loyalty to the Constitution, the court filing says.

Camargo later saw law enforcement officials at his home and took off, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Poulin said during a bail hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court in Washington.

“He admitted to the officer upon his arrest that when we saw police officers at his residence, who were there to effect a search warrant, he drove in the other direction,” Poulin said. “He drove directly to Washington, D.C. ... His response to this information was to go back to the scene of the crime on another politically-charged day where there was increased concern for additional action.”

Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui said Camargo’s actions created too much risk that he would not appear for trial. “He was, at a minimum, trying to flee from prosecution. At worst, he could’ve been doing something worse than that,” Faruqui said.

Faruqui said the attack on the Capitol came “at the crucial moment of the foundation of our democracy” and he said Camargo’s return to Washington suggested he might feel “obligated” to take further action against federal government activities.

Camargo is charged with violating the federal Anti-Riot Act, unlawful entry into a restricted building and disorderly conduct.

Meanwhile, a bail hearing expected Thursday for a New Mexico county commissioner charged in the Capitol riot was scuttled after he reportedly refused to take a coronavirus test.

Couy Griffin, 47, the leader of Cowboys for Trump, was arrested Sunday in Washington after he returned to the city following the Jan. 6 unrest.

Court proceedings related to his case were delayed Thursday and difficult to follow over a phone line that provides the only public access to the session.

Faruqui and an attorney retained by Griffin’s family indicated that the Otero County commissioner and former cowboy performer at Paris Disneyland had Covid-19 or was suspected of having it. He was asked to take a test and declined, so could not be moved from an isolation unit to the place where jail officials facilitate video calls.

“We have to make sure he’s getting a fair shake here,” Faruqui said. “I’m concerned he’s not getting that because of his unwillingness to speak to the court. ... I don’t like the idea of him languishing there while we make a determination.”

Prosecutors have urged that Griffin also be kept in jail pending trial. They cite a series of provocative and inflammatory comments he has made, which include declaring that “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” He later qualified his statement to say he meant only politically and not physically.

During a county commission meeting last week in New Mexico, Griffin said he planned to bring weapons as he returned to Washington for the inauguration.

“I am going to leave either tonight or tomorrow. I’ve got a .357 Henry big boy rifle . . . that I got in the trunk of my car, and I’ve got a .357 single action revolver . . . that I will have underneath the front seat on my right side,” Griffin said. “I will embrace my Second Amendment, I will keep my right to bear arms, my vehicle is an extension of my home in regard to the constitution law, and I have a right to have those firearms in my car.”

It’s unclear whether Griffin actually had weapons with him when he was arrested Sunday.

Faruqui rescheduled Griffin’s bail hearing for Feb. 1.

Separately, another magistrate judge agreed Thursday to the release of an Iowa man who allegedly led a mob chasing U.S. Capitol Police Eugene Goodman up a staircase just outside the Senate chamber during the Jan. 6 riot.

Doug Jensen, 41, of Des Moines, is charged with a felony violation of the Anti-Riot Act, as well as five misdemeanors related to the storming of the Capitol.

Prosecutors asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Celeste Bremer to hold Jensen without bail pending trial, but Bremer declined. Jensen, who’s allegedly a devoted follower of the QAnon conspiracy theory and wore a “Q” sweatshirt during the assault on the Capitol, was trying to become a “poster boy” for the movement, Bremer said.

In an order issued Thursday, the judge — who is also based in Des Moines — said she believed that placing Jensen in home detention with electronic monitoring would be adequate to protect the community and ensure he appears for trial.

However, Bremer said Jensen will remain in a county jail in Iowa until next Wednesday so prosecutors can appeal her ruling.

Prosecutors have already filed two such appeals on bail issues and won orders temporarily halting those releases.

Biden’s Covid team grapples with a basic question: Where’s all the vaccine?

As President Joe Biden spent his first full day in office issuing executive actions aimed at containing the coronavirus, his administration scrambled to get a handle on a key unanswered question: How much vaccine is actually available?

Conflicting accounts of supply totals have bedeviled federal and state health officials, complicating the new administration's sweeping pandemic response plan and casting fresh doubts on how long it will take Biden to bring the virus under control.

Just about half of the nearly 38 million Covid-19 shots distributed by the federal government have been administered to date, according to Centers for Disease Control data. That indicates there’s a glut of unused doses around the country.

But states are warning they're running out of the vaccine, with little sense of when more will arrive.

Federal officials are trying to sort out where the reality lies – an urgent effort that comes against the backdrop of Biden’s promise to deliver 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office.

“That is something that we need to really take a close look at,” said Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser. “If it is the case, particularly the thing that would be most disturbing is vaccine laying around.”

Biden has made ending the pandemic a centerpiece of his early presidency, vowing an all-out federal effort to turn the tide of the crisis within the next several months.

But even as he signed a flurry of directives laying the foundation for that response, White House officials have sought to tamp down expectations — blaming the Trump administration for leaving behind a situation that they insisted was far worse than expected, despite months of transition meetings and planning.

"What we're inheriting from the Trump administration is so much worse than we could have imagined,” Jeff Zients, Biden’s Covid-19 coordinator, told reporters Wednesday night. “We don't have the visibility that we would hope to have into supply and allocations.”

Biden officials complained during the transition that their efforts to gather information on the coronavirus response were stymied at times by Trump administration political appointees. Biden aides for weeks were unable to access Tiberius, the central government database used to monitor vaccine distributions, according to one transition official. They were also denied access to certain standing meetings related to the government’s response until a few days before Biden was sworn in.

Yet while few disputed the transition was rocky, officials working on the transition or familiar with its work said it was patently obvious that the Trump administration response was severely lacking, and it should have been no surprise to Biden’s team.

That is particularly the case with the vaccine pipeline, which has been at the center of weeks of finger-pointing between states and the federal government over the slow pace of vaccinations.

Several state officials on Thursday pointed to supply shortfalls as the chief obstacle to their distribution efforts, adding that directives from both the outgoing and incoming administrations that states should widen their eligibility guidelines wound up depleting reserves.

“What you’re seeing now is the very limited supply that everybody knew was going to be the case, but was not understood by the public,” said Chrissie Juliano, executive director of the Big Cities Coalition, which represents metropolitan health departments. “Suggesting that we allow everybody over 65 to get a vaccine in the hope that it would move supply, while it came from a good place, is just not a reality on the ground.”

Health officials have also struggled with extensive data problems that have hampered states’ ability to update the government on its day-to-day vaccine supply, a lag that’s made it difficult at times to convince federal officials that they’re running low – or track where new shipments are being delivered.

Those issues could take weeks to fix, state and federal officials said, and represent the kind of complex effort that could quickly bog down the Biden administration's response.

On Thursday, Biden rolled out a 200-page national strategy to curtail the coronavirus, part of an effort to show a clean break from the Trump administration, which shirked responsibility for vaccine distribution and created a patchwork system across the country.

The president signed 10 executive orders ranging from invoking the Defense Production Act to expedite production of vaccine supplies to directing the Department of Education to give schools guidance on reopening safely.

Health experts applauded the quick steps and the detailed plan, but they also acknowledged there will be delays putting it all into motion. Although the plans have been underway for months, getting huge government agencies to quickly execute — especially without permanent leadership in place — will be difficult.

A key part of the president’s plan to increase vaccinations is federally-supported distribution sites, with the goal of creating 100 sites by the end of February. But state officials warned that if supply did not increase, the plan would only further disrupt efforts already underway to keep up with rising demand.

"Where are they going to get the doses for that?" said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers. “It makes me a little queasy to hear these community vaccination centers and mobile vaccination clinics – all great ideas that are in these plans, but what’s missing is the doses and the resources.”

The federal government further alarmed some state officials on Thursday, when the Centers for Disease Control indicated it would begin counting Pfizer's vaccine vials as the equivalent of six doses -- up from five, according to an email from the agency obtained by POLITICO.

Those vials require specific syringes to extract all six doses, and that type of syringe is in such high demand that the Biden administration said Thursday it may use the Defense Production Act to ramp up its manufacturing.

Biden officials are also likely to run up against strict limits on the nation’s total vaccine supply for the next several months. Pfizer and Moderna have pledged 200 million total doses by the end of March – enough to hit Biden’s initial pledge, but far from what is needed to achieve herd immunity.

And while Biden on Thursday touted his willingness to use the DPA to speed manufacturing, that expanded stash of materials and supplies won't have any immediate impact on the response.

“It’s not a magic wand,” said one former Trump administration official. “They need to explain what they’re going to do with it.”

Biden’s team is still getting high marks for being honest and transparent about the challenges the country faces in eradicating the pandemic, one that Trump routinely dismissed. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert who repeatedly sparred with Trump officials, also spoke of feeling “liberated” as the Biden administration hsa elevated him and his colleagues.

“The idea that you can get up here and talk about what you know, what the evidence, what the science is, and know that's it — let the science speak,” he said Thursday. “It is somewhat of a liberating feeling."

Yet when pressed to detail exactly how Biden's lengthy blueprints and much-touted executive actions would translate to more vaccinations on the ground, Fauci was far more tight-lipped.

"To do whatever he can to expand the availability of vaccines," he said. "Whatever that is, he's just said he's going to use whatever possibility."

Liz Cheney's problems pile up

Liz Cheney was once considered the future of the GOP. Now she’s fighting to keep her political career alive.

After voting to impeach Donald Trump last week, the highest-ranking woman in the House GOP finds herself at risk of losing her leadership post; staring down a pro-Trump primary challenge; and censured by her own party back home in Wyoming.

The most immediate threat to Cheney — a push by Trump loyalists to oust her as conference chair — has gained momentum inside the House GOP, although the process is complicated and could still sputter out. But at least 107 Republicans, or just over a majority, have communicated to the leaders of that effort that they would support removing Cheney from leadership on a secret ballot, according to multiple GOP sources involved in the effort. Others are threatening to boycott future conference meetings if she remains in power.

And at least two members have privately signaled interest in replacing Cheney as the No. 3 Republican, sources say: Reps. Elise Stefanik and Lee Zeldin, two New Yorkers who both sprang to popularity in the party after fiercely defending Trump during his first impeachment.

If Cheney does lose her post, it will be the latest sign that the Trumpification of the Republican Party isn't stopping anytime soon, even after the ex-president flew off to Mar-a-Lago with a disgraced legacy in Washington. Some say the Cheney fight has already become a proxy battle for the heart and soul of the splintered GOP.

“She has proven that she is out of step with the vast majority of our conference and the Republicans across the nation,” said freshman Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Montana), who is spearheading the resolution calling on Cheney to step down. “A lot of people within our conference have a problem with it.”

“There are other people who are absolutely interested in filling that void, I will tell you,” he added of potential Cheney replacements. “And they would have broad-based support.”

Long simmering frustrations with Cheney — once a fast-rising star in the GOP — have spiked inside the GOP, especially among its right flank, according to interviews with over a dozen lawmakers and aides. Members are not only angry with her impeachment vote, but also furious that Cheney announced her position a day ahead — giving Democrats ample time to use her statement in all of their talking points, while also providing cover to the nine other Republicans who backed impeachment.

A compilation video of the multiple times Democrats and news media cited Cheney’s statement on impeachment has even been circulating in some GOP circles. As conference chair, Cheney is in charge of the party’s messaging efforts.

But several other senior Republicans think Cheney ultimately hangs on to her post, arguing most Republicans will have little appetite for creating more chaos in the conference at a time when the party is desperate to unite.

And behind the scenes, Cheney has been doing a bit of damage control: she has been making calls to all corners of the conference to hear lawmakers out and ensure the party is unified going forward, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

“Removing Liz as the Conference Chair when she did exactly what the Leader told all of us to do – vote her conscience – sends a bad message,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. “And I’ve spoken with many members of our Conference who have expressed their support for Liz and her leadership. I have confidence she will remain in her position and she has my support.”

While GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Republican Whip Steve Scalise (La.) have both said they want Cheney to remain in her job, McCarthy also told reporters Thursday that “questions need to be answered,” such as the “style in which things were delivered.” Members will have an opportunity to air those grievances at next week’s closed-door conference meeting, McCarthy added.

The GOP is far from unified when it comes to Cheney’s future. She has her share of ardent and high-profile defenders in the House, including several ranking committee members and her home state Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who said her “strong voice and leadership will matter this next four years more than ever.”

Cheney’s allies argue that removing her from leadership — and thereby aligning the party even more closely with Trump — could backfire ahead of 2022. It could also help Cheney carve out a unique lane if she chooses to launch a White House bid in 2024, they say.

“I think it'd be a disaster,” Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) said of Cheney’s potential ouster. “We need to keep our eye on the ball. We have a very great chance of taking the majority.”

“And if we continue to give the American people a vision of Republican internal fratricide,” he added, “that doesn't do us any favors in convincing them that we're better apt to lead the House of Representatives, come midterm Presidency of Joe Biden.”

Even if Cheney does manage to cling on to her leadership perch, she’s still facing serious questions about her long-term future in the House GOP, which is still overwhelmingly pro-Trump. Some lawmakers think she’ll never be able to run for leadership again.

Meanwhile, her political problems back home have started to pile up: state Sen. Anthony Bouchard has already announced a primary challenge, though it could be tough to knock out someone with a national profile as large Cheney's. And the Wyoming GOP unanimously agreed to censure Cheney last weekend over her impeachment vote.

It’s a remarkable turn for Cheney, who clinched a seat at the leadership table in just her second term in Congress. Cheney, 54, even passed on a Senate bid last year to seek her fortunes in the House, leaving some wondering if she would take on McCarthy or Scalise for the top spot one day.

Yet Cheney — who has clashed with colleagues before — has so far rebuffed calls to step aside. She also was unapologetic about her impeachment stance, framing it as a vote of conscience and privately telling colleagues she wanted to be on the right side of history, political consequences be damned.

“We’re going to have these discussions inside the conference. We have differences of opinion about a whole range of issues, including about this one,” Cheney said Thursday on Fox News. “I anticipate and am confident that we will be united as a conference going forward.”

Cheney’s critics began circulating a petition last week demanding a special conference meeting to debate and vote on the resolution calling on Cheney to resign. Just 20 percent, or 43 members, of the House GOP is required to sign the petition in order to force the meeting.

But support from two-thirds of the conference is needed to hold an immediate vote on the resolution. Otherwise, it goes to a special panel, which includes some members of leadership. And only if that committee reports a favorable recommendation would the resolution go before the full conference for a vote, which would be conducted via secret ballot.

So far, the anti-Cheney crew has yet to submit the petition for a special meeting, though members have expressed confidence that they have the numbers on their side.

The group has also been conducting a temperature check inside the GOP to gauge whether a majority supports her stepping down as conference chair. Rosendale said multiple members fear they will be retaliated against if they publicly call to remove Cheney, which is why they’re more willing to vote on a secret ballot than sign a petition.

“It’s an extremely sensitive issue anytime that you’re going to challenge the leadership,” Rosendale said. “Most members are concerned about how this vote could impact their committee assignments.”

Many of the same Republicans who backed the president’s baseless election fraud allegations, such as Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), are now leading the charge against Cheney.

This isn’t Cheney's first dust-up with the GOP’s right wing. Last summer, members of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus ripped Cheney for criticizing Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, as well as for supporting a primary challenger to Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).

At the time, some hard-liners even discussed recruiting someone to challenge Cheney for conference chair — Stefanik and Zeldin were both floated — but no one stepped up. Cheney was then unanimously selected in November to serve another two-year term in leadership.

Some lawmakers doubt whether Stefanik or Zeldin would mount a bid this time around, either. Stefanik, who gave Cheney’s nominating speech in November, has been telling at least some of her colleagues she doesn't want the job. Other GOP sources, however, have told POLITICO she is making early calls to lawmakers to feel out their support.

And then there is Zeldin, who would face the challenging optics of booting the only woman from GOP leadership, right after a record-breaking number of Republican women were elected to Congress. Plus, major corporations have frozen donations to lawmakers who challenged the election results — which includes Zeldin and Stefanik — giving a Cheney an edge there.

In a sign of how intense the issue has become, offices that are choosing to stand behind Cheney are receiving hundreds, if not thousands, of anti-Cheney spam emails, according to lawmakers/aides.

Yet that hasn’t stopped some members from voicing their support for Cheney.

“As we figure out where Republicans go from here, we need Liz's leadership,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who serves with Cheney on the Armed Services Committee. “We must be a big tent party or else condemn ourselves to irrelevance.”

Said another House Republican: “If I would not vote to impeach the silliest Republican in DC, why would I vote to remove the most serious Republican in DC.”

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

Harris to stay at Blair House while Naval Observatory undergoes maintenance

Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will stay at Blair House while repairs at Naval Observatory are underway, Harris' adviser and spokesperson Symone Sanders told POLITICO Thursday.

Harris' office had announced their move to the official vice presidential residence would be delayed Wednesday, citing household maintenance and repairs to the chimney. The office had previously declined to say where she would be staying in the mean time due to security concerns.

Harris had purchased a condo in a luxury high-rise just north of Washington Circle, but the heightened security led to added inconveniences for the residents there, The Wall Street Journal reported. Secret Service agents swept packages and cars entering the building, and concrete barricades were installed outside.

Blair House, a 19th-century row house located just across Pennsylvania Avenue from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and steps from the White House, serves as the president's guest house. President Joe Biden spent the night at Blair House before his inauguration. President Harry S. Truman also lived in Blair House while the White House underwent renovations after World War II.

Christopher Cadelago contributed to this report.

Biden gets a cold dose of ‘unity’

The thesis of Joe Biden’s inaugural speech Wednesday was hard to miss: Eleven times he said the word “unity” or “uniting," or about once every two minutes.

Yet within hours, official Washington was back in business.

Biden fired the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, a Donald Trump appointee. America Rising, the Republican opposition research firm, began trashing Biden’s Cabinet picks. And on Thursday — one day after Biden urged the nation to “start afresh” — Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, was on the Senate floor accusing Biden of already taking “several big steps in the wrong direction.”

It all served as a bracing reminder of Biden’s arduous task ahead, and the obstacles in his path. The very structure of modern Washington, as Biden knows from his work in the Senate and as vice president, is built around the machinery of partisan war. Even in the absence of Trump’s polarizing presence, compromise remains anathema. And the best intentions and earnest rhetoric aren’t enough to alter that reality, even for a day.

“Every presidential inaugural is about unity,” said Matt Bennett of the center-left group Third Way. “But how do you do your presidential inauguration about unity at a moment when your predecessor tried to execute a coup two weeks before?”

He said, “I don’t think there’s been a moment like this since the civil war … How do you govern like that?”

It is the question that frames his presidency. As Biden begins his four-year term, a large majority of Republicans still view him as an illegitimate president — convinced of the lie, perpetrated by Trump, that the vote was rigged. More than half of Americans say the biggest threat to American society today is “other people in America,” not foreign adversaries or economic or natural forces.

The division in the country is so acute that, as Biden took office, the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group listed a divided United States — and what it called “the asterisk presidency” — at the top of its annual list of global risks.

“My concern,” said Bill Richardson, the former Democratic governor of New Mexico, “is that Biden’s decency and bipartisanship will not be reciprocated in the short-term, because the Trump faction within the Republican Party is so strong … They’re still there.”

The Biden administration is not yet two days old, and already that factionalism is flaring. On the eve of Biden’s inauguration, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, a leader of the effort to block the certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory, announced he would object to the quick consideration of Biden’s nominee for secretary of Homeland Security, single-handedly delaying Biden’s formation of his national security team. On Thursday, seven Senate Democrats filed an ethics complaint against Hawley and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz for their part in objecting to the presidential election results on Jan. 6.

McConnell and the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, are arguing about whether Schumer should commit to preserving the filibuster, the tool which would allow Republicans to block an array of Biden’s legislative priorities, despite Democrats — with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote — holding an effective majority.

The fractious politics of Congress are already at the White House doors. Republicans berated Biden for rejoining the Paris climate accord and for revoking a permit for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package has met resistance from some Republicans, raising the prospect that Democrats may have to push a bill through using budget reconciliation, the process by which Democrats can pass major budget-related measures on a simple majority.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters on Thursday that he was “disappointed to see within hours of assuming office, the new administration was more interested in helping illegal immigrants than helping our own citizens, more interested in virtue signals to the climate activists than supporting the union workers who were building the Keystone pipeline,” among other complaints.

At the same time, the Republican National Committee was busy amplifying that message by characterizing the newly inaugurated president’s first hours in office as ones spent “curbing American competitiveness, killing jobs and unveiling a plan to grant amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants.”

None of that criticism is abnormal in government, and Biden never suggested unity would come without policy disputes. But partisan rancor is almost certain to become more — not less — pronounced in the coming days, when the Senate begins its second impeachment trial of Trump. Republicans and Democrats alike are still beholden to base voters, and disunity is just as bad outside of official Washington as it is inside of it.

During a focus group of Trump supporters organized by the Republican pollster Frank Luntz last week, participants asked for a word or phrase to describe Biden united around their common disdain for him. Responses ranged from “corrupt” and “pathetic” to “not my president,” “on his deathbed” and “pure sleaze.”

When Rep. Tom Reed, a New York Republican and co-chair of the bipartisan “Problem Solvers Caucus,” joined the call, one of the focus group participants, a man from Texas, told him not to bother with “this reaching across the aisle stuff.”

Sooner or later, he said, “you’re going to reach across that aisle and pull back a stump.”

There is optimism among Democrats that, if any politician could usher in an era of unification, it would be Biden. More than 81 million Americans — a record — voted for him. A majority of Americans approve of the way Biden handled his transition, and he comes into office with a relatively high public approval rating.

“I think Joe Biden is basically the only person that could do it,” said Bennett, given “his entire narrative … the way he ran his life, has been about bridging differences and finding ways to connect.”

And even if Biden doesn’t have everyone now singing from the same page, the dawn of his presidency — for Democrats who still remember Trump’s fire and brimstone inaugural — is still far more promising than it might otherwise have been.

“I think that we need to look at the glass being half full, rather than half empty,” Harry Reid, the former Senate majority leader, said of the governing climate Biden inherits. “Why do I say that? What kind of position would Democrats be in if we’d only carried one of the Senate seats in Georgia?”

Reid, a longtime proponent of abolishing the legislative filibuster, said Biden should give Republicans “a month or two or three” to “see if McConnell’s going to try to be the grim reaper with everything,” scuttling legislation with the filibuster. If he does, Reid said, “we’re going to have to get rid of the filibuster.”

That timing — a month or two or three — is important, because as divisive as things are for Biden today, partisan attitudes are only likely to become more calcified once politicians turn their focus from his first months in office to the midterm elections.

“They’re going to have to rush through everything they can possibly get in the first 100 days,” said a Democratic adviser to major party donors. “They’re going to get a lot of shit done, and pork is going to run wild … Then you’ve got to focus on the midterms.”

Unity can’t be a concern, the adviser said, when in 2022, “We’re probably going to lose the House. Who the f--- knows on the Senate side of things. You’ve got a very short window before you’re a lame duck and can’t do anything.”

That is, in part, an overstatement. Divided government or not, Biden can still bend the arc of Washington in meaningful ways on his own. He has already signed executive orders to rejoin the Paris climate accord and to rescind Trump’s travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries, among other measures.

“To try to end child separation, to rejoin the Paris accord to continue … the pause on evictions and student loan payments and to end the Muslim ban, all of these things are really important to people to say that elections matter,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Still, Weingarten said, for Biden and Harris to successfully confront the challenges they face — from a still-raging pandemic and an economic crisis to a reckoning with the nation’s own democratic ideals — will require them to “pierce through an environment where a sizable amount of the country lives in an alternate reality.”

That will at least require unification around a shared set of facts, if nothing else. And the nation isn’t anywhere close to that.

“There’s no playbook for this, and what Biden and Harris will confront is formidable,” Weingarten said.

Trump forces seek primary revenge on GOP impeachment backers

Former President Donald Trump’s supporters are mobilizing to exact revenge on the 10 House Republicans who supported impeachment last week, thrusting the GOP into a civil war just as party leaders are trying to move on from the Trump era.

Pro-Trump Republicans are racing to launch primary challenges. The former president’s donors are cutting off the Republican incumbents. And Trump’s political lieutenants are plotting how to unseat them.

The unrest shows how Trump is all but certain to cast a shadow over the Republican Party long after he’s left the White House. Trump has split the GOP, pitting his loyalists against those who say he incited the Capitol Hill insurrection and want to expunge him from the party.

Whether the Trump-inspired primary challengers succeed is far from clear. Dislodging an incumbent is notoriously difficult, and Republican leaders are expected to move aggressively to protect their members. But the early activity illustrates the degree to which Trump’s staunch allies are determined to make his critics pay a price.

“The stance taken by Liz was very contentious here in Wyoming,” said Republican Bryan Miller, a retired Air Force officer expected to run against Rep. Liz Cheney, a House GOP leader who vocally supported Trump’s impeachment. “This isn’t going to be a passing thing that just goes away. It’s growing and growing and growing every day across the state. People are unhappy.”

Miller isn’t alone. Cheney has drawn opposition from several other Republicans, including state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, who has called Cheney “out of touch” for her criticism of the former president.

Newly elected Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan, another impeachment backer, is getting challenged by Afghanistan war veteran Tom Norton, who has appeared on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast to promote his candidacy. Gene Koprowski, a former official at the Heartland Institute think tank, is already running against Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger. In Ohio, former state Rep. Christina Hagan is not ruling out a primary bid against Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez.

“I have never seen a greater amount of backlash for any one single vote taken by any one single member of our Republican congressional delegation in Ohio,” said Hagan, who lost a primary to Gonzalez when the seat was open in 2018. “I have heard from Republicans in positions of power, within party leadership and all the way across the spectrum to faithful volunteers and business leaders throughout the region who are expressing serious frustration and distaste.”

Pro-Trump donors are joining the assault. Suzie Burke, a Seattle real estate executive who has contributed to Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) in the years before the congresswoman’s impeachment vote, said she would “not be helping people who chose to rush to such placating the other side of the aisle.”

Hossein Khorram, a Washington State-based former Trump finance committee official who gave more than $100,000 to pro-Trump causes during the election, said he was also shutting off the spigot.

“I personally know those Washington State members of Congress who voted to impeach Trump. Our friendship will continue but no more financial support from me. In my view they just retired from Congress,” said Khorram, a real estate developer who has previously given to Rep. Dan Newhouse, another Republican in the state who supported impeachment.

Deep-pocketed outside groups are also engaging. Chris Ekstrom, the chair of the Courageous Conservatives political action committee, said his organization would be focusing on defeating Cheney, Gonzalez, and South Carolina Rep. Tom Rice.

“All of them are vulnerable. Some things stick in politics and I think this outrageous betrayal will,” said Ekstrom. “Examples will be made.”

Ekstrom, a Dallas investor, said he was beginning to reach out to Texas-based Trump donors to raise money for the effort.

People close to Trump say he is particularly fixated on the Republicans who backed impeachment and is determined to take them out. The former president has raised more than $200 million since the election, much of which has been directed into a new committee than could be used to back primary opponents. Trump aides have also been at work creating a political apparatus that can be deployed in the 2022 elections.

While Trump is gone from the White House, Republican still face a conundrum: How to mollify his tens of millions of supporters, many of whom remain convinced that the election was stolen and insist that Trump isn’t to blame for the Jan. 6 riot. Party officials concede that they need to keep Trump’s loyalists in the fold and say failure to do so will complicate their political fortunes in 2022 and beyond.

With the Senate impeachment trial looming, attention is shifting to Republican lawmakers in that chamber who must decide whether to vote to convict Trump. Several incumbents face potentially challenging general election contests, and their prospects could be further complicated by primary fights. Trump has already said he wants to oust red-state Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and John Thune (S.D.) for not supporting his drive to subvert the election results.

But some Republicans argue that any political fallout for impeachment supporters will be short-lived. They insist that among GOP voters there’s been widespread revulsion over Trump’s role in the uprising and say that many are in favor of impeachment.

Rice, a five-term South Carolina congressman from the conservative northeastern part of the state, said most of the people he’d heard from had expressed disapproval for his vote. But he said he’d also gotten positive feedback from hundreds of people across the country, including some who offered campaign contributions.

“There are a number of people who have expressed their displeasure obviously and others who are happy with a vote of principle. I didn’t swear an oath to Donald Trump, I didn’t swear an oath to the Republican Party, I swore an oath to defend the Constitution. That’s what I intend to do,” said Rice.

The Trump forces will face high hurdles in defeating any of the pro-impeachment Republicans. Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, raised nearly $3 million during the 2020 election cycle and is certain to have a substantial campaign account in 2022. Cheney is also a well-known commodity in the state: She is the daughter of former vice president and ex-Wyoming congressman Dick Cheney.

The rush to take on Cheney may make it harder to unseat her — a trend that may play out in other districts, too. With multiple candidates in the race, the primary challengers face the prospect of splintering their support and giving the three-term congresswoman an easy path to victory.

Complicating matters further is redistricting, the once-in-a-decade drawing of congressional lines which will determine where House candidates seek election. Hagan said she was waiting for clarity on how Ohio’s map would be reconfigured.

But even at this early stage of the midterm election cycle, the impeachment vote is looming large in the minds of Republicans.

Rice said he did not want to offer advice to senators on how they should vote in Trump’s upcoming trial. But he noted that the Capitol siege had imperiled the lives of lawmakers, including many who had been loyal to the president. The congressman recalled sheltering in a saferoom, not knowing if someone outside had a weapon. All the while, Rice said, Trump was doing nothing to quell the violence.

“If that’s not high crimes and misdemeanors, I don’t know what is,” Rice said. “I don’t know what it would take.”

Senate Republicans uniting behind impeachment defense

Senate Republicans are coalescing around a long-shot bid to dismiss the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump before it even begins, relying on a disputed legal argument that says putting an ex-president on trial is unconstitutional.

Interviews with more than a dozen GOP senators revealed broad support for the claim that the Senate has no constitutional authority to put a private citizen on trial, which could translate into a substantial number of votes to scrap the trial altogether. The issue came up several times during a Senate GOP conference call Thursday afternoon, according to multiple senators.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said in an interview that concerns about the constitutionality of putting a former officeholder on trial were top of mind among GOP senators — even those who are open to voting to convict Trump on the House’s charge that he incited the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6 that left five people dead.

“Our members, irrespective of what they might think about the merits, just believe that this is an exercise that really isn’t grounded constitutionally and, from a practical standpoint, just makes no sense,” Thune said.

But critics — including scholars from the conservative Federalist Society and other right-leaning organizations — maintain that the argument is on flimsy legal ground. Moreover, federal courts have consistently deferred to Congress’ “sole power” to set its own rules and procedures, including over impeachment proceedings.

Still, Republicans’ contention is shaping up to be a central theme of the ex-president’s defense strategy in the Senate’s upcoming trial, with several GOP senators publicly echoing it in recent days even as they signal increased hostility toward Trump over the attack on the Capitol.

“I think the key point is, is it constitutional to do this when somebody is out of office — and then, is it purely retribution when you try to push it forward,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said. “[That’s] not to dismiss any of the enormity of the day itself.”

“I think it is one of the most potent arguments [for Trump], absolutely,” added Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a top Trump ally who has been pushing for a vote on dismissing the trial at its outset.

Indeed, the Senate has never put a former president on trial on impeachment charges, though in 1876 the Senate tried former Secretary of War William Belknap after he had already resigned. Supporters of the Senate’s authority to try an ex-official have pointed to the Belknap trial to underscore that a president or any other person subject to impeachment could simply resign or otherwise leave office to evade punishment.

“If an official could only be disqualified while he or she still held office, then an official who betrayed the public trust and was impeached could avoid accountability simply by resigning one minute before the Senate’s final conviction vote,” a bipartisan group of legal scholars, including prominent conservatives, wrote on Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) still need to iron out a framework, which will outline the rules and procedures of the trial. McConnell on Thursday also proposed delaying the start of the trial by two weeks to allow Trump to prepare his defense strategy, though it’s unclear if Schumer will agree.

The framework will spell out whether to allow for a motion to dismiss the trial at its outset — a vote that could signal the likelihood of the Senate convicting Trump. Seventeen Republicans would need to join all Democrats for Trump to be convicted. Some senators said they are considering supporting such a motion, if one is offered, as a way of voicing their objections to putting a former president on trial.

“I don’t think, once a person has left office, that impeachment is available. I think it’s a moot issue at that point,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said. “Constitutionally, it’s the wrong thing to do.”

In this case, as Republicans note, there is no office from which to remove Trump, though convicting him could lead to other punishments such as barring him from seeking federal office in the future.

“Let the voters decide whether they want President Trump to run again,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said. “There’s nothing I see in the Constitution that allows you to impeach a president after he’s already left office.”

Johnson said he would “definitely” vote to dismiss the trial, adding that the House’s impeachment article “shouldn’t even be sent over here.” Transmitting the article from the House to the Senate triggers the beginning of the trial.

But Democrats, who now control the Senate, are intent on holding a trial, even as Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not yet formally transmitted the impeachment article to the other side of the Capitol. Schumer declared as much after the House impeached Trump last week, though Democrats have not yet decided how long the trial should last, which will be dictated by whether they decide to call witnesses as part of the proceedings.

Top lawmakers from both parties, though, are predicting a relatively short trial. Trump’s first impeachment trial lasted three weeks, but that was only after a weeks-long impeachment inquiry in the House that yielded hundreds of pages of evidence and legal arguments. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the House’s lead impeachment manager, said Thursday that the upcoming trial will not last as long as the previous one.

That’s in part because, this time, the House did not conduct a formal investigation, and several senators have said calling witnesses is not necessary because lawmakers were all witnesses to the siege on the Capitol and because Trump’s actions and statements were on full public display.

“It’s not like we need much information on the merits of the case,” Braun said. “We were here.”

“I guess the public record is your television screen,” Graham quipped. “I don't see why this would take a long time.”

Apart from the constitutional arguments, Republicans are questioning why Democrats want to put Trump on trial while President Joe Biden is emphasizing unity and bipartisanship, noting that an impeachment trial is among the most divisive undertakings on Capitol Hill.

“I’m not sure why it helps the Dems either. I know there’s an awful lot of antipathy for the former president. But they’ve got a new lease on life,” Thune said. “They’ve got the White House, they’ve got the majority in the Senate. They’ve got a lot of stuff they want to do. They want to rehash the last four years, and it doesn’t seem like it makes a lot of sense.”

Republicans have been urging Biden to step in to halt or otherwise impede the Senate trial on the grounds that it will delay consideration of Biden’s Cabinet nominees as well as his legislative agenda, which includes another round of Covid-19 relief.

“It’ll be incredibly divisive for the country if we go through that,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said. “We’re in the middle of this massive pandemic. We’ve got all these nominations that we need to do. We’ve got all these threats around the world that we’ve got to be focused on. There’s a lot to be done. The notion that we’re going to spend a week or two weeks on a trial on somebody who’s not even in office — it sounds to me like a waste of time.”

Pelosi pushed back against that contention earlier Thursday, saying bluntly: “The president of the United States committed an act of incitement of insurrection. I don't think it's very unifying to say, 'Oh, let's just forget it and move on.' That's not how you unify.”

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

'We feel incredibly betrayed': Thousands of Guardsmen forced to vacate Capitol

Thousands of National Guardsmen were forced to vacate congressional grounds on Thursday and are now taking their rest breaks outside and in nearby parking garages, after two weeks of sleepless nights protecting the nation’s capital in the wake of the violent Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

One unit, which had been resting in the Dirksen Senate Office building, was abruptly told to vacate the facility on Thursday, according to one Guardsman. The group was forced to rest in a nearby parking garage without internet reception, with just one electrical outlet, and one bathroom with two stalls for 5,000 troops, the person said.

“Yesterday dozens of senators and congressmen walked down our lines taking photos, shaking our hands and thanking us for our service. Within 24 hours, they had no further use for us and banished us to the corner of a parking garage. We feel incredibly betrayed,” the Guardsman said.

POLITICO obtained photos showing the guard members packed together in the parking garage, sleeping on the ground.

All National Guard troops were told to vacate the Capitol and nearby congressional buildings on Thursday, and to set up mobile command centers outside or in nearby hotels, another Guardsman confirmed. They were told to take their rest breaks during their 12-hour shifts outside and in parking garages, the person said.

Guardsmen who spoke with POLITICO were not given a clear reason why they were asked to vacate the buildings. The first Guardsman said it may have been due to a complaint that some troops were not wearing masks, but denied that was the case.

“We have strict guidance that masks are to be worn at all times unless soldiers are eating and drinking,” the Guardsman said.

Capitol Police asked troops to move their rest area on Thursday, said Guard spokesperson Maj. Matt Murphy.

“As Congress is in session and increased foot traffic and business is being conducted, Capitol Police asked the troops to move their rest area,” Murphy said. “They were temporarily relocated to the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Center garage with heat and restroom facilities. We remain an agile and flexible force to provide for the safety and security of the Capitol and its surrounding areas.”

Guard leadership did not make the decision and are “doing their best to provide rest shelter for troops who are still on 12-hour shifts protecting the Capitol and congressional grounds,” the second Guardsman said.

“There really may be an important reason for us to vacate and it just hasn’t been well communicated yet,” the second Guardsman said.

The troops are particularly concerned about being packed in tight quarters with limited bathroom access during a pandemic. At least 100 Guardsmen have tested positive for Covid, according to two Guardsmen. Some are quarantining in hotels.

A spokesperson previously declined to provide a specific number for troops who have tested positive for Covid.

After images went viral last week of troops sleeping on the floor in the halls of Congress, Guardsmen protecting the Capitol were initially provided cots, POLITICO first reported.

Republicans bludgeon Biden's big stimulus plans

Senate Republicans vowed Thursday that President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief bill will not get 60 votes, daring the White House to either compromise with the GOP or use partisan procedural tactics to evade their filibuster.

Put simply, the Senate GOP says Biden’s proposal spends too much money and comes too soon on the heels of Congress’ $900 billion stimulus package from last month. And that unless the proposal has major changes made to it or Democrats use budget reconciliation to pass it with a simple majority, it is doomed on the Senate floor.

“I don’t think it can get 60. Because even the people on our side that would be inclined to want to work with the administration on something like that, that price range is going to be out of range for them,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D,) the party’s chief vote counter. “Absent some change and economic conditions, etc., I think that would be a very heavy lift.”

The early opposition from Republicans signals that the next round of coronavirus relief will be at least as painful as the last, which took more than six months to clinch in late December. It also means Biden may have to choose between lowering his ambitions in order to follow through on his bipartisan desires or embracing a partisan bill that he says the country desperately needs.

Some House Democrats have mulled a smaller package that links vaccines and larger stimulus checks, although Democratic leaders in both chambers have yet to decide on a path forward.

Biden has pushed a massive plan that includes a $15 an hour minimum wage hike, further boosts in unemployment benefits and $1,400 in direct payments. It also pumps more money into vaccines and testing.

Some of those items can get support from Republicans. But that package as a whole is a “non-starter,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the No. 4 GOP leader.

“We’re ready to look at what it takes to move forward, as effectively and quickly as we can, on vaccine distribution, on securing what we need for the future in terms of CDC,” Blunt said. “There’s some things in there that aren’t going to happen, there’s some things that can happen.”

Even progressives prefer to work with Republicans instead of using reconciliation or changing the Senate’s filibuster rules to ram the relief package through. But they say they will not be stymied by Republicans’ use of the supermajority requirement in getting things done.

“The American people are crying out for help, crying out for action and we’ve got to respond,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “I hope we can get cooperation of our Republican colleagues and that they understand the severity of what’s facing the country. But we need all the tools that we have.”

Sanders is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, which could set the stage for using the procedural tool to skirt a GOP filibuster. Using budget reconciliation, Democrats can pass legislation with just 50 votes and Vice President Kamala Harris breaking any tie. Still, there are some limits to budget reconciliation — and Biden’s big pitch is that he can unite the country and work with Republicans.

There are few takers among Republicans, however, to go as big and bold as Biden wants. And there’s even less enthusiasm to do it now. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah, two Republicans that helped marshal the last bipartisan bill into law, both indicated this week that Biden would have to sell them on passing such a large bill now.

“They have to know this is not going to get anywhere,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) of the Biden administration. “It goes nowhere. No, it cannot get 60 votes.”

The Biden administration says the exact opposite is true. In a press briefing on Thursday afternoon, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden “feels that package is designed for bipartisan support.” Also, some business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have endorsed his plan.

Collins and Romney are among a group of 16 senators in both parties set to meet with the Biden administration over the weekend to begin discussing economic issues. It’s just the start of what’s likely to be a long set of talks with the Senate, which is split 50-50 and will take weeks to confirm Biden’s Cabinet and conduct former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial before being able to fully turn to Covid relief.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has listed an aid package as among the Senate's top three priorities, alongside confirmations and the impeachment trial. On Thursday he said his new majority has to confront “the greatest economic crisis since the New Deal 75 years ago, the greatest health crisis in 100 years.”

He and Biden also have to confront a recalcitrant Republican Party that thinks it has already spent too much money.

“We’ve already given $5 trillion,” said Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.). “It’s too high. It’s too vague ... I don’t want to just throw money out there.”

Some Democrats acknowledge what Biden is presenting will not be embraced by the Republican Party and say his proposal is just the first step toward an eventual compromise with the GOP. The alternative is to scrap efforts at bipartisanship and try and pass Biden’s first legislative agenda item unilaterally, which could always be a fallback plan.

“Some of the elements will draw very strong bipartisan support,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), a close Biden ally. “What we need to do is just work hard to find a good principled compromise.”

Matthew Choi contributed to this report.

He helped Adam Schiff impeach Trump. Now he’s joining Biden’s NSC.

Adam Schiff’s top legal adviser is joining President Joe Biden’s National Security Council as its senior director for intelligence, a key role that serves as the day-to-day connective tissue between the intelligence community and the White House.

Maher Bitar, who has served as the general counsel for House Intelligence Committee Democrats since 2017 and played a key role during the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump, is set to begin in the new job in the coming days, said two people familiar with the move. His official title will be senior director for intelligence programs.

The hiring will mark a return for Bitar to the NSC. He served as its director for Israeli and Palestinian affairs during the Obama administration and as a deputy to Samantha Power while she was at the NSC. He also worked as a foreign affairs officer at the State Department. Bitar is close with national security adviser Jake Sullivan from their time together at the State Department, said another person familiar with their relationship.

“I am thrilled to see him in his new post, though we will certainly miss him on the committee,” Schiff told POLITICO. Schiff described Bitar as a “superb choice” for the role, adding that he has an “extraordinary” breadth of talent and expertise when it comes to the intelligence community and understands the challenges it faces after being “battered” by Trump for four years. “I can’t think of anyone more suited to the role than Maher,” Schiff said.

Bitar’s immediate predecessor in the top NSC intelligence role, Michael Ellis, also served on the House Intelligence Committee, though on the other side of the aisle. Bitar has worked very closely with Schiff, the panel’s chair, over the last several years while Ellis was the committee’s counsel under Rep. Devin Nunes before joining the Trump White House. Ellis, who was installed as NSA general counsel just before Biden’s inauguration, has since been placed on administrative leave and is unlikely to stay in the role, people familiar with the matter said.

Bitar served as a senior member of the House impeachment team during Trump’s first impeachment, alongside Dan Goldman who worked as the impeachment manager’s top lawyer. Goldman called Bitar “a brilliant lawyer” and said his experience on the committee would give the new NSC insight into the changes in the intelligence community over the last four years.

The office of the senior director for intelligence receives sensitive information that comes in from the intelligence agencies, especially if it is in hard copy form, and coordinates covert action activities between the White House and the intelligence community. It’s also where the NSC houses the server that stores the most sensitive classified information. Under Trump, that server was used to store the president’s conversations with world leaders that were deemed potentially embarrassing, like his call with the Ukrainian president that led to his first impeachment.

Fauci: New Covid strains increase need for fast vaccination scheme

New variants of the coronavirus may make vaccines less effective against the disease, making it even more urgent to quickly inoculate the country and beat back the pandemic, Anthony Fauci said Thursday.

Speaking at a White House news briefing, the government's top infectious disease expert warned that strains first identified in South Africa and Brazil could reduce the potency of the two vaccines now in use. Fauci cited studies published online this week that have not yet been peer-reviewed, and said it would be important to monitor the mutations going forward.

Fauci emphasized, however, that existing vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna showed initial efficacy of roughly 95 percent — far greater than is needed to beat the pandemic. Even if the new variants reduce the vaccines' potency they will still likely offer strong protection against infection, he said.

Another variant first spotted in the U.K. appears to make the virus more transmissible, the scientist said, which could overload U.S. hospitals if it becomes widespread here. So far roughly 20 states have detected the U.K. variant.

Taken together, Fauci said, the new strains highlight the need to quash the disease with an effective vaccine program as soon as possible. He said there are "alternative plans" if the need to modify the vaccine ever came up.

"That is not something that is a very onerous thing," Fauci said. "But right now, from the reports we have literally as of today, it appears that the vaccines will still be effective against them, with the caveat in mind you want to pay close attention to it."

Fauci said he has not seen evidence the strain under watch in South Africa has made its way to the United States, but he admitted the "level of comprehensive sequence surveillance, thus far, is not at the level that we would have liked. So we're going to be looking very, very carefully for it."

Fauci's comments come on the second day of the presidency of Joe Biden, who has signaled tackling the coronaviurs as his most pressing priority. Biden plans to vaccinate 100 million Americans within the first 100 days of his term — a plan Fauci said is a "reasonable goal." Fauci also stood by his earlier predictions that a critical mass of the country could be vaccinated by the middle of the year.

How Trumpism Is Becoming America’s New “Lost Cause”

The idea of a new Civil War has been coursing through the national conversation lately, as Americans try to make sense of the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, or the polls showing a majority of Republicans still don’t recognize Joe Biden’s election. Fox News segments have warned that Democrats want to force a “new version of Reconstruction” on an unsuspecting public.

Overblown? Maybe. But one of America’s preeminent historians of that era thinks there’s good reason for the comparison. “We really have arrived at, it appears, two irreconcilable Americas with their own information systems, their own facts, their own story, their own narrative,” says David Blight, the legendary Yale historian whose work studying the Civil War and Reconstruction Era won him a Pulitzer Prize.

The threat he sees isn’t that there will be another literal war: It’s the threat of two rival stories about America taking root, as they did after the Civil War. One of them, a heroic “Lost Cause” narrative of a noble Confederacy whose soldiers sacrificed themselves for honor and tradition, flourished for decades, justifying the fight for slavery and continuing to distort American politics to this day.

As Donald Trump’s more extremist followers cling to his bogus claims of a stolen election, wrapping Trump’s complaints into a nationalist counter-narrative driven by racial anxiety and anger at the government, they risk creating a legacy that will divide the country long after the man himself leaves the stage. “In search of a story — in search of a history, in search of a leader, in search of anything they can attach to — lost causes tend to become these great mythologies whose great conspiracy theories tend to explain everything,” says Blight.

Witness, for instance, the bizarre staying power of QAnon — the baseless pro-Trump conspiracy theory that imagined Trump would remain in power after January 20 as he fights off a cabal of Satanic pedophiles who secretly control the government. January 20 came and went. Joe Biden was sworn in. And while some QAnon devotees found themselves humiliated and questioning their beliefs, others doubled down, moving the goalposts — it’s all part of the plan, just wait and see.

“At the heart of a lost cause, if it has staying power, is its capacity to turn itself into a victory story,” says Blight. “Can Trumpism ultimately convert itself into some kind of victory story? We don’t know that yet.”

Especially in the wake of the January 6th insurrection, cries for unity have been heard throughout Washington, as the need to come together feels more urgent than it has in years. Here, Blight sees a useful lesson to be found in history: “In all the work I’ve done on the Civil War and public memory, the central thing I’ve learned is that you can’t have healing without some balance with justice,” says Blight. “You have to have both. The justice has to be just as real as any kind of healing.”

How does America move forward? Who gets to decide how we, as a public, remember our shared history? POLITICO Magazine spoke with Blight this week. A condensed transcript of that conversation follows, edited for length and clarity.

It seems that many Americans have the Civil War era on their minds, especially since the insurrection and the first non-peaceful transfer of power since the 1860s. You know that era better than almost anyone. Do 2020 and 2021 remind you of 1860 and 1861?

I’ve been asked many times in the past two weeks which other election, which other inauguration we can compare it to. And really the only one is 1861. Lincoln faced seven seceded states and the formal inauguration of Jefferson Davis [as president of the Confederacy]. So, you know, a pretty horrible situation.

Biden is inheriting something different, but comparable. We really have arrived at, it appears, two irreconcilable Americas with their own information systems, their own facts, their own story, their own narrative. And we — whatever “we” is — on the other side keep wondering: How can this be?

We’re drawn back to the Civil War because its great issues — especially the great issues of Reconstruction — are still with us: the nature of federalism; the relationship between the states and the federal government; what government means in people’s lives; how centralized government should be; how energetic, how interventionist government should be; and race and racism. The Civil War and Reconstruction are the country’s first great racial reckoning, and it brought about tremendous changes in law and in life — and then, of course, it brought about a counterrevolution that defeated much of it.

One of the lingering images of that the insurrection is the photo of a man holding a Confederate flag outside the Senate chamber while walking past a painting of abolitionist Sen. Charles Sumner.

Yeah, with a painting of John Calhoun right behind him.

What went through your head when you saw that?

I had sort of been following the news on and off all day. When I first saw that photo in the evening, I had to sit down: A new “lost cause” had stormed into the U.S. Capitol flying the flag of the original Confederate Lost Cause. They were very aware of their iconography and symbols.

When I saw that Confederate flag, more than anything, it just made me angry. But I’ll confess something else: It’s the first time in my life that I think I was rooting for the police to, in effect, bust some heads.

I’m not an advocate of violence. But the idea that they thought they could just do this and just get away with it? They took over the Capitol and they’ll stay a few hours and leave? No. You desecrated the most sacred and important edifice in America. Take the consequences.

You mentioned the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy. What is the danger of Trump’s Big Lie about the stolen election becoming a new Lost Cause?

Well, it’s hard to say whether this Trump “Lost Cause” will actually have staying power. But it has a lot of the main ingredients of most of the great “lost causes” in history — except one: It’s not the product of military sacrifice, at least not yet.

It’s very similar to the Confederate Lost Cause, and, to some extent, even what gave rise to the Nazis in the 1920s: the German “Lost Cause,” the “stab in the back” theory of World War I [the belief that the Germans didn’t lose the war, but were instead betrayed from within]. They have a set of passionate beliefs — not facts, passionate beliefs. In search of a story — in search of a history, in search of a leader, in search of anything they can attach to — lost causes tend to become these great mythologies whose great conspiracy theories tend to explain everything.

Lost causes are careful and organized in knowing what they hate. They know what the enemy is or was, and they manufacture these stories that explain almost everything that has happened to a people who are aggrieved. But I can’t even begin to understand something like the QAnon conspiracy, which seems beyond the pale of any kind of organized grievance.

A lot of the analysis of Trumpism is that these people were harboring all kinds of grievances for a long time — about their economic condition, about their sense of displacement in American society, about loss of status, and so on. There is a lot of reality in that that a lot of us liberals and academics don’t always want to face. The Confederate Lost Cause was rooted in some real things: a colossal defeat and tremendous loss — probably 300,000 white Southerners perished in that war — and destruction of their land and economy. It was a collective psychological response to mass trauma.

The Trumpian Lost Cause is, at its core, a set of beliefs in search of a history and a story. The question is, how long do these beliefs survive? The stolen election is the biggest of their beliefs, but they’ve got a lot of others: the liberals are coming for your guns, and liberals are coming for your taxes, and the liberals want to plow all your tax money into those cities for the black and brown people, and liberals are going to open up the border and continue this browning of America, and liberals are running the universities and taking them to hell in a handbasket, and so on.

Trumpism has the ingredients for this. It may depend on how much of a “victim” he becomes. If he’s really victimized, in their view, by the impeachment trial or by prosecutions — if he goes to jail for two years, like Jefferson Davis did — God help us. He could come out the victimized saint of that Lost Cause. Even if it dwindles down to only a few million people, they could be extremely dangerous.

At the heart of a lost cause, if it has staying power, is its capacity to turn itself into a victory story. The Confederate Lost Cause really did that: By the 1890s, it became the story of victory over Reconstruction. The Germans did something very similar with the “stab in the back” and the whole “Jewish conspiracy” story: They turned it into a victory over corruption, over communism and over Jews and everything. Can Trumpism ultimately convert itself into some kind of victory story? We don’t know that yet.

How do you go about combating a “lost cause” mythology? Here we are, 150+ years after the end of the Civil War, and there’s still a degree of that mythology around the Confederacy.

Oh, there is indeed, and a lot of us have spent our careers trying to kill it off. It’s like stomping on flowers that come back the next spring or something. I think you can only do what you have the tools to do. In journalism, that means to keep finding the truth, writing about it, and spreading it as wide as you can. In writing and teaching history, you find the evidence, you write good narratives, and you write in a way to reach the broadest public as best you can.

I don’t think we’re going to do it by having groups of neighbors get together at churches and just talk to one another. You’re not going to get neighbors to get back together. So I don’t know, except that we just have to keep doing what each of us knows how to do: Persuade with our professions by reaching out to people as widely as possible.

I also believe this firmly: In all the work I’ve done on the Civil War and public memory, the central thing I’ve learned is that you can’t have healing without some balance with justice. You have to have both. The justice has to be just as real as any kind of healing. I hope it’s not all olive branches with no clenched fist, because it’s got to be both.

A few nights ago, Fox News host Tucker Carlson told his viewers: “What the Democrats really have in mind is a new version of Reconstruction. Look up ‘Reconstruction’ if you’re not familiar with that story.” Other media figures on the right have invoked Reconstruction in a similar manner. What is the fear they’re drawing on, and why is it so resonant to some people 150-some years after the Civil War ended?

Well, they must be drawing on this idea of the “Yankee colonization of the South,” the remaking of their schools, the remaking of their economy, the forced politicization of the freed Black population in very narrow corners of the South for a very short period of time, and some land and property redistribution. They must be drawing on that fear of pushing great change on people either before they’re ready for it or forcing a change that should never be done anyway.

That deep myth — that somehow if Reconstruction just hadn’t been pushed so fast, the country would have healed and there wouldn’t have been all that violence, and the country would have gotten along better if you didn’t have government imposing itself on people — it’s that idea that the federal government is always waiting to become the giant leviathan that’s going to take over your lives, your schools, churches, homes, your habits and your values.

One of the great successes of the modern conservative movement, especially since Reagan is that they have made a huge swath of this country essentially hate government, fear government, detest government. And I’ve always felt like it’s also been a mistake of the Democrats to not fight back on that one harder than they are.

Would America benefit from a third Reconstruction Era? And what would that even look like?

Well, it would. You don’t have to call it a new “Reconstruction,” which invokes this old imagery that you just cannot kill. It’s a reinvigoration of what already has existed, like the John Lewis renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Just flip the switch, put it back in place and enforce it. Or a big-time federal stimulus into the economy, for small businesses, for unemployed people — the needs are so obvious. Why not follow less the “Reconstruction” model than the New Deal model? Then there’s infrastructure — you can model not only the New Deal, but the 1950s and the building of the interstate highway system.

This is something we’ve done before. But it needs it needs a Democratic Party willing to stand up with a new kind of narrative about the role of government in our lives. If Biden can get this $1.9 trillion package passed, and if they can get a massive infrastructure plan working, reinvigorate the EPA, if you can actually really begin to do some things about climate at the federal level, you give the country 2-4 years of experience with what government can do. But the reaction is going to be ferocious.

On the topic of public memory of U.S. history, this week, the Trump administration released its “1776 Commission” report, which you reacted to very candidly on Twitter.

I only meant to write one tweet. But I just couldn’t stop.

Walk me through your reaction to it.

My reaction is anger. It’s disgust. The more I read of that report [Monday] night — and I really did try to read most of it — it’s almost infantile. It’s like some kind of sixth-grade history from the 1950s, where the purpose of history is patriotism, or the purpose of history is to make you feel good, to make you understand that progress is congenital to Americans.

So many of us have spent our lives trying to turn that around. For three or four generations, we have been rewriting the history of the United States based on all kinds of new evidence and approaches and so on. We’ve written all this history in thousands of books. I’ve taught for more years than I want to admit — at all levels, high school, universities, colleges, elite places like [Yale]. And if this report can be put out by the White House, it makes you ask, “What have we done?”

I can’t see it getting any real traction unless some right-wing money gets behind it and they want to influence textbooks or something — because textbook publishers run scared easily. They will go wherever the bright lights are.

One final question: There’s an aphorism that “history is written by the winners,” but that isn’t quite right. History is rewritten over and over, and the meaning of particular moments gets debated generations after the fact. Should we expect Americans 150 years from now to still be fighting over the meaning of the Trump era and how to think about this moment in time?

I pray we won’t be. But this is a fundamental turning point, there’s no question. It’s a singular, unique presidency that reinvigorated a radical right in the country and tested American democracy to its limits. We’ve been shown that by the assault on the Capitol. If Trump actually got a second term — and look how close he got — what’s left of an American republic at the at the end of that?

It’s entirely possible that this is a turning point a little bit like 1968, possibly a little bit like 9/11. We won’t know until enough time has gone by.

The real thing, when you’re talking about something with staying power of a lasting legacy, is our awareness of our brokenness. Trump exposed that we have some broken institutions, everything from the Senate to the Electoral College to our media environment, to a lack of support for public education. We may be analyzing that for half a century. I mean, that’s what the ‘60s left us, and we’ll be talking about the ‘60s forever. The ‘60s shaped and changed a great deal, from culture to politics to foreign policy.

I think Trump himself could fade away — if he’s in jail or just becomes less interesting for the media. But what he stirred up, it’s got to go somewhere.

Senate Democrats file ethics complaint against Hawley, Cruz over election challenge

Seven Senate Democrats filed an ethics complaint against GOP Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz over their Jan. 6 efforts to object to the 2020 presidential election results.

"By proceeding with their objections to the electors after the violent attack, Senators Cruz and Hawley lent legitimacy to the mob’s cause and made future violence more likely," the senators wrote in a letter to Senate Ethics panel chair Chris Coons and vice chair James Lankford.

Democrats are requesting an investigation into the pair of senators over their challenge.

‘Nobody is telling you what to say’: Fauci regains the spotlight under Biden

Anthony Fauci isn’t hiding his relief that he’s serving in a new administration.

One day into the Biden presidency, the longtime infectious disease expert and unlikely celebrity of the Covid-19 response described it as “a refreshing experience.”

Fauci, who has served under seven presidents as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was a frequent target of public criticism from President Donald Trump, who accused him and other career scientists at public health agencies of overstating the seriousness of the worsening pandemic and hampering efforts to address it.

“It’s obviously a very different situation. It's complete transparency,” Fauci said in an interview Thursday. “Nobody is telling you what to say, at all. They are just saying go out there and let the data guide you on what you are saying."

A fixture at Trump’s White House press conferences during the early weeks of the pandemic, Fauci soon found himself shunted to the side. Now he’s back in the spotlight.

Now the scientist has become the first administration official to face the White House press briefing room. There, on Thursday afternoon, he reiterated the president’s ambitious goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans during his first 100 days in office. Fauci also spoke frankly about the potential threat of new virus variants identified in South Africa, Brazil and the United Kingdom, and about the change in administration.

"There were things that were said, be it regarding things like hydroxychloroquine and other things like that, that really was an uncomfortable thing because they were not based on scientific fact," Fauci said of the Trump administration. "I can tell you, I take no pleasure at all being in a situation with contradicting the president."

It’s already been a long first full day in the Biden administration for Fauci, who addressed the World Health Organization at 4 a.m. Thursday, hours after the U.S. rejoined the global group. He later met with top advisers on Biden’s pandemic playbook.

Fauci has expressed confidence in on Biden’s ambitious vaccination goal despite some tempering of expectations in recent days by other top officials. Biden himself said last week that the administration would need to “move heaven and earth” to hit the target. “This will be one of the most challenging operational efforts we have ever undertaken as a nation,” the president said while laying out his plan to reach vulnerable populations and boost administration sites.

And early Thursday morning, the newly installed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said she did not think Covid-19 vaccines would be widely available in pharmacies by early March, as top Trump officials had promised.

Biden officials admit that they have learned about Warp Speed hitches in real time, including news last week that the federal reserves of Covid-19 vaccines are exhausted. A massive part of the national vaccination effort relies on vaccines still in the pipeline, such as Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose shot and AstraZeneca’s cheaper two-dose option, which are in final trials to prove they are safe and effective.

Fauci noted that the president is opening up new avenues for vaccination including community health centers, additional pharmacies and mobile units for hard-to-reach populations. Plus, Biden has promised to invoke the Defense Production Act to eliminate bottlenecks in the supply of key equipment like syringes and needles, he said.

“If you look at what General [Gustave] Perna, is telling us about what’s going to be coming in in the next three months, I believe we are going to make that goal,” said Fauci, referencing one of the leads on the national distribution effort, known in the Trump era as Operation Warp Speed.

The scientist told POLITICO that he also sees his role as repairing some international relations left in tatters after the Trump presidency.

“When you deal with a global pandemic, you have to have global connectivity, cooperation, collaboration and solidarity. That was one of the first things that the president wanted to make sure happened,” Fauci said.

His long relationship with World Health Organization Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and involvement in the global HIV efforts led the Biden administration to tap him as chief medical advisor, Fauci said. But he is far from leaving his post as the director of the National Institutes of Health’s infectious disease department.

“I was just the messenger of the president,” the health care veteran said. “I’ll just do what I can do to make things better and get things on track.”

Cornale tapped for DNC executive director

Sam Cornale will be named executive director of the Democratic National Committee, according to multiple people familiar with the decision.

Cornale, currently the DNC’s deputy CEO, will be tasked with working with expected incoming chair Jaime Harrison to guide the national party through the turbulent 2022 midterms. The first election cycle after a president is elected is frequently brutal for the party that controls the White House.

Cornale previously helped manage the DNC during the 2020 presidential campaign and 2018 midterms.

He also oversaw Tom Perez’s 2017 campaign to chair the DNC, and worked as a deputy chief of staff for him while Perez served as former President Barack Obama’s Labor secretary.

Mary Beth Cahill will step down from her current role as DNC CEO, but stay on as a senior adviser.

“These battle-tested leaders know how to win, build a political operation that is second to none, and I’m excited they will lead the critical work of the DNC,” said Harrison. “Their continued work will help fulfill the mission of the DNC: growing Democrats’ infrastructure in every part of every state, standing up for the principles we believe in, and marshalling the full resources of the Democratic Party in support of the Biden-Harris administration.”

Jen O’Malley Dillon, President Joe Biden's White House deputy chief of staff, said the new senior aides "will ensure President Biden’s commitment to a strong DNC and Democratic Party infrastructure is fulfilled."

Elevating Cornale is a sign that Biden looked favorably on the work of the DNC during the presidential election season. Biden’s campaign worked closely with the national party, including daily calls between press shops. Biden is currently fusing his political operation with the DNC and has vowed to invest in the party’s main political apparatus, as well as in state parties.

Biden advisers have said they were satisfied with how the DNC rebuilt itself in the years after 2016, when it was in a weak position after years of neglect.

“President Biden and my friend incoming Chair Harrison are committed to investing in state parties and our grassroots, building a top-notch political infrastructure in every zip code, and making sure our organization reflects the diverse voices of our great Democratic family,” said Cornale. "I look forward to working with Chairman Harrison to build a team reflective of the diversity of our party, and one that will work tirelessly to make these goals a reality and lead Democrats to future success.”

Cornale’s supporters in the DNC said that he will bring continuity to the position after serving alongside Cahill over the last year.

Democrats have kept a close watch on the diversity of Biden’s picks for his Cabinet and other positions, and this job is no different. Some DNC members said they would have preferred a more diverse pick. Cornale is white.

The DNC said in a statement that it "will announce additional senior staff in the weeks ahead — continuing the Committee's commitment to building a senior leadership team which reflects the Democratic Party and incorporates its top political talent."

Last week, Biden announced a diverse slate of DNC officers, including Harrison, a former South Carolina Democratic Party leader. The president has also thrown his weight behind a group of high-profile vice chairs: Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and Texas Rep. Filemon Vela Jr.

Biden’s slate is uncontested, according to a DNC source. DNC members have been voting for the positions by electronic ballot since Monday. The DNC will hold its winter meeting Thursday afternoon, when the new officers will be officially elected.

Laura Barrón-López contributed to this report.