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Big Tech's Conservative Purge Changes the Free Speech Debate

Real Clear Politics -

Big Tech's coordinated silencing of conservative voices, including President Trump's, signals a crossing of the Rubicon in the debate over government involvement to protect free speech.Even conservatives like me, who have long argued that small-business competition is the best way to moderate the tech oligarchs' power, recognize that government may now have an interest in making some large companies, such as basic web-hosting platforms, utilities akin to AT&T.Since last week's U.S. Capitol riots, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have indefinitely banned the president, eliminating his primary...

We Need the Electoral College Now More Than Ever

Real Clear Politics -

If you've ever wondered why America needs the Electoral College, the state-by-state process for electing a president, look no further than the angry mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Without it, contested elections, massive political protests, and civil unrest would likely occur with much greater frequency. The framers of our Constitution distrusted government power, but they also worried about mob rule. To protect us from these twin evils, our founders deliberately created a decentralized system for choosing our chief executive. Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution...

Chuck Yeager Makes His Last Flight

Real Clear Politics -

Last Dec. 7, the greatest aviator in American history ascended into the heavens. On Friday, joined by my family on Air Force Two, it will be my honor to accompany the widow and earthly remains of retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager, America's pilot, on his last flight.

Biden to name another Obama veteran as CIA deputy director

Politico -

President-elect Joe Biden on Friday will announce his plan to appoint David Cohen to be CIA deputy director, according to a transition official.

A partner at D.C.-based law firm WilmerHale, Cohen previously served as the spy agency’s deputy director from 2015 to 2017. He had been a contender to helm the nation’s premier intelligence agency in the new administration until earlier this week, when Biden announced his intent to nominate former Ambassador William Burns for the role of CIA director.

During his time at Langley, Cohen helped establish a joint task force that examined Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Before leaving the agency, he was awarded the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the CIA’s highest honor.

He also enjoyed a brief cameo as an extra on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

Cohen previously served in the Treasury Department, where he helped devise sanction regimes against Iran and Moscow.

Obama alumni association: Like Burns, Cohen joins the ranks of former Obama administration officials who have been tapped to serve in senior national security roles under Biden. They also include Avril Haines, the nominee for director of national intelligence, whom Cohen succeeded as No. 2 at CIA.

Haines was originally slated to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday for her confirmation hearing, but the session was canceled late Thursday night after a panel Republican objected to holding the meeting virtually.

“Despite the unusual circumstances on Capitol Hill, the committee is working in good faith to move this nominee as fast as possible and ensure the committee's members have an opportunity to question the nominee in both open and closed settings,” panel leaders Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) said in a joint statement.

The DNI “plays a crucial role in overseeing the 18 agencies that make up our nation’s Intelligence Community, and the committee looks forward to holding a hearing next week with Ms. Haines,” the pair added.

Other notable Obama veterans tapped by Biden include Antony Blinken as secretary of State, Lloyd Austin as secretary of Defense and Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of Homeland Security. All three are scheduled to have confirmation hearings next week.

Decrying Trump's 'pressure': Last year, Cohen, Haines and former acting CIA director and deputy director Michael Morell wrote a piece about President Donald Trump's politicization of the U.S. intelligence community, noting that a number of officials had been pushed out "due to their perceived lack of loyalty to this president and their unwillingness to act on the basis of political pressure."

The pressure "is having an impact; the intelligence community is becoming politicized,” the trio wrote. They added that “not a single intelligence community leader said a word publicly” when former U.S. Attorney Joe diGenova, a Trump ally, called the whistleblower who prompted the first impeachment proceedings against Trump a "presidential assassin, the equivalent, he said, of John Wilkes Booth.”

Senior leaders “presumably were fearful of a reaction from Trump, but their silence sent its own message to the intelligence workforce regarding their willingness to appease the president.”

Diminished Trump leaves a vacuum for 2024 hopefuls

Politico -

President Donald Trump’s would-be Republican successors see an opening.

As the politically diminished president prepares to leave office following a deadly pro-Trump riot at the Capitol and an impeachment vote backed by 10 GOP House members, ambitious Republicans are taking steps to burnish their own profiles and present themselves as future leaders of the party.

While some are gradually separating themselves from the president, others are publicizing plans to bolster the party as it heads into the post-Trump era. Some are even sparring with other potential 2024 rivals in plain sight, marking a strikingly early start to public presidential maneuvering.

In the last week, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse said that Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley’s objection to certifying the Electoral College was “dumbass.” Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton went after Hawley and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for fundraising at the same moment the insurrection was happening. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo upbraided former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley for criticizing the president.

The jockeying illustrates how potential future candidates are beginning to look past Trump, who’s been banned by Twitter, has seen his approval numbers drop and faces the prospect of a Senate conviction process that would legally bar him from running again. After operating in a Trump-owned-and-operated GOP for the past four years, Republicans are calculating that the outgoing president is leaving a vacuum — and that there’s room to fill it without waiting to see if Trump mounts a 2024 comeback.

“While President Trump is likely to remain the most influential voice in the GOP for the foreseeable future, the events of the last week could provide more running room and potentially open the door to more candidates in 2024,” said Phil Cox, a former Republican Governors Association executive director.

There is little question that Trump remains a force, particularly among Republican loyalists. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel earlier in the week sent an email to around 5,000 of the organization’s biggest donors in which she condemned the Capitol siege. The message elicited between 400 and 500 responses, with the vast majority expressing criticism of the event but also insisting the party shouldn’t back down in its support of the president, according to a person familiar with the matter.

But after four years of marching in lockstep with Trump, ambitious Republicans have begun seeking out distance from him. Haley delivered a speech at the RNC last week in which she praised parts of Trump’s agenda but said that his recent actions “will be judged harshly by history.”

Cotton, who spoke at Trump’s summertime convention and ran TV ads supporting his 2020 campaign, broke with the president by refusing to support his effort to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, meanwhile, delivered an implicit rebuke of Trump on Thursday, writing in a statement and on Twitter that he would attend Biden’s inauguration because, “in America, we believe in the peaceful transition of power,” and that “once the election is over, we put country before party.”

Former Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican who retired in 2018 after an avalanche of Trump-led attacks, said that by attacking prospective candidates Trump had liberated them to begin running. No longer, Corker contended, did they owe him their loyalty. Cotton and Ducey are among those who’ve recently come under withering attack from the president.

“There are a few people who are pretty prominent that he’s significantly criticized. And I think from their perspective, they’ve got nothing to lose, by getting out there and going. I mean, nothing to lose whatsoever,” said Corker.

Republicans note that without the threat of Trump’s Twitter feed, candidates are freer to separate themselves from him without fear of reprisals. The president used the account as his primary tool of imposing discipline on the party.

Part of the willingness to break with Trump also reflects a calculation that Trump’s once iron-like grip on the party has loosened. According to a POLITICO/Morning Consult survey released Wednesday, Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is 75 percent, down from 83 percent in December. The same poll found that just 40 percent of Republicans would support Trump in a 2024 primary — still in first place, but with a majority saying they’d prefer someone else.

“Trump’s ability to further influence GOP politics has been severely diminished over the last week by all measures, and we still have a week to go,” said Scott Reed, a former senior political adviser at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Now, with no clear line of succession in the party, open warfare has broken out. During an speech to conservative lawmakers last week, Pompeo implicitly pushed back on Haley’s criticism of the president, saying that “I think history will remember us very well.”

Cotton took to Fox News to flay “senators who for political advantage were giving false hope to their supporters and misleading them into thinking” the election could be overturned. Cotton also said that “these senators, as insurrectionists literally stormed the capitol, were sending out fundraising emails. That shouldn’t have happened and it’s got to stop now.”

The comments were an apparent reference to Hawley and Cruz, who sent out fundraising messages to supporters during the insurrection highlighting their efforts to object to the certification of the Electoral College.

And then there’s Sasse, another potential future presidential hopeful, who went on National Public Radio to declare that Hawley’s move was “really dumbass.”

“Some candidates have already started the process of running, and the debate has started. So this is a good and healthy beginning for the Republican Party,” said Jonathan Barnett, an Arkansas RNC committeeman.

Each of the candidates are seeking out different lanes. With their objections, Cruz and Hawley are aligning themselves with Trump. Sasse and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who’ve savaged the president over the riot, has staked out the opposite turf. Cotton, who opposed the Electoral College objection but has said he’ll vote against convicting Trump after he was impeached by the House on Wednesday, is taking a middle-ground approach.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott is trying out another avenue to set him apart from the pack, casting himself the man who will lead Republicans out of the wilderness. Scott released a direct-to-camera video this week promoting his new position as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a position in which he’ll try to reclaim the party’s majority in 2022.

But even if he’s shrunken, Trump retains far more influence in the party than any other Republican. The president is leaving the White House with the support of a political action committee that’s raised well into the nine figures, giving him a massive treasury to promote himself, support favored candidates, and back primary challenges to perceived enemies. Trump aides expect to clarify their plans to develop a post-White House political apparatus following Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

“His stature has diminished,” said former George W. Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, “but it's anyone's guess by how much.”

Census war rages ahead of critical data release

Politico -

Top Democratic lawmakers are calling for the director of the Census Bureau to resign — or be removed by President-elect Joe Biden once he takes office — as former agency heads and advocacy groups decry the Trump administration’s politicization of the decennial count.

The new push comes after a memo from the Commerce Department’s office of inspector general said that Steven Dillingham, who was appointed to lead the agency by President Donald Trump in early 2019 and confirmed by a voice vote in the Senate, was pressuring career employees to produce a technical report on the number of undocumented people in the United States, with two controversial political appointees leading the charge.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said Dillingham should resign for acting “in an overtly political manner that is unbefitting of his role.”

“He must resign,” said Chu, who is head of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. “If he doesn't resign, then President Biden would have to immediately replace him with a census director who can oversee the completion of the 2020 census.”

Chu said she was starting to reach out to members of the Congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses about a possible formal letter calling on Dillingham to resign.

But other lawmakers are already echoing Chu’s call for Dillingham to step aside.

“Dillingham’s failure to put country over loyalty to the president allowed these transgressions to occur, and he therefore should resign,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said in a statement to POLITICO. “As President Biden begins his presidency, undoing the harm President Trump levied against the census should be at the top of the list, and I will be a ready and willing partner on those efforts.” Shaheen is the ranking member on the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Commerce Department, the parent agency of the Census Bureau.

The calls for Dillingham’s resignation or ouster come at a critical time for the 2020 decennial census. While data collection was completed last fall, the bureau has yet to produce any of the data. Some Democrats and advocates are worried that the outgoing administration will move to manipulate the data for political gain, either by releasing it without proper quality-control measures before next week’s inauguration or producing other measurements that Republicans could use later in redistricting.

The Trump administration has repeatedly and increasingly sought to meddle in the decennial census throughout his tenure in office. The administration tried to add a question that would ask respondents about their citizenship, a move eventually rebuffed by the Supreme Court in July 2019. Failing that, the Trump issued a memorandum a year later that sought to exclude undocumented immigrants from the apportionment count, which determines how many congressional districts and electoral votes each state will have for the next decade. In December, the Supreme Court punted on ruling on a challenge to the memorandum, saying it was not ripe for review.

The OIG memo said that “several whistleblowers” contacted the Office of Inspector General about the push for the report, which is separate from the president’s memorandum. “One senior Bureau employee went as far to say that this work is statistically indefensible,” the memo read. “Bureau whistleblowers believe this report is being rushed without legitimate reason and will result in an inferior Bureau product.”

NPR reported on Wednesday that the bureau halted work trying to produce the data for Trump’s memorandum, a separate effort to the one relayed in the OIG memo. In a letter from Dillingham on Wednesday afternoon, he said that following the OIG memo, he informed Bureau staff “that those involved should ‘stand down’ and discontinue their data reviews.”

The Census Bureau did not answer a series of questions — including if Dillingham would resign or if he had talked to the transition team — other than to point to his letter in response to the OIG memo. The Biden team did not comment specifically about Dillingham’s tenure.

"The Trump administration's politicization of the census was damaging to our democracy,” a Biden transition aide said. “The Biden-Harris administration will get to work immediately rectifying the actions of the previous administration and ensuring that every American counts regardless of immigration status."

“I believe that Dillingham has betrayed the mission of the Census Bureau,” Arturo Vargas, the CEO of NALEO Education Fund, said. “I think he has lost the trust and confidence of the professional staff at the Census Bureau and is no longer able to lead the agency.” Vargas, who also co-chairs the census task force for The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said that if Dillingham does not resign, the Biden administration should remove him.

Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, joined Chu and Vargas in calling for Dillingham’s “immediate resignation,” saying the director conducted the count unfairly and is “unfit to serve.”

“The Trump Administration’s failed attempts to change the Census would have harmed Hispanic families and were no more than a politically-motivated attack on immigrant communities,” Ruiz said in a statement to POLITICO. “Should he remain in the position after January 20th, President Biden should move forward in removing Dillingham and appointing someone who is committed to upholding the Constitution and giving an accurate count of all persons in the United States."

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said Dillingham demonstrated he was willing to carry out a “xenophobic campaign to manipulate the Census,” despite congressional and constitutional mandates to count everyone.

“He has disqualified himself and must resign or be removed,” Connolly said in an emailed statement to POLITICO.

Dillingham’s tenure does not end until Dec. 31 of this year.

Former heads of the Census Bureau were also critical of both the Trump administration’s overseeing of the decennial count, and of Dillingham specifically, in light of the OIG memo.

“It's very disappointing that the head of a statistical agency would act in such a fashion,” John Thompson, who was the director of the Census Bureau from 2013 through 2017, said in an interview. “He's not acting like the head of a statistical agency if [the OIG memo is] true, and [the Biden administration] would probably have every right to take action about that.”

Former bureau chiefs also said the agency has been under immense political pressure to deliver apportionment data before Trump leaves office next week. Apportionment data was due by the end of 2020, but the pandemic wreaked havoc on the agency’s schedule.

“I do know that the Census Bureau officials were down in the White House often, over the last two-[to]-three week period, under intense pressure to figure out some way to give them the apportionment numbers before they have to turn over the White House,” Kenneth Prewitt, who was the head of the Census Bureau from 1998-2001, said in an interview.

The Census Bureau initially pleaded with Congress to extend deadlines for the count for 120 days. But Congress never granted the extension, and in early August of 2020, the Bureau officially announced it was reversing its request for an extension and would attempt to deliver apportionment data by the end of the year.

Experts both inside and outside the agency feared that it was a politically motivated attempt by the Trump administration to deliver apportionment data skewed to benefit Republicans.

During a court hearing for a case led by advocacy organizations and some local governments earlier this week, Department of Justice attorneys said that apportionment data would likely not be delivered until March at the earliest. The Census Bureau has been reticent to publicly give a timeline for when data could be delivered, outside of the courtroom.

There has been some residual concern that the bureau could attempt to rush out apportionment data by the end of Trump’s presidency, but most advocates said the Department of Justice’s recent statements in court adds some level of confidence to the data being delivered well after Biden takes office.

“You know, nothing this administration would do would surprise me, I don't think. But if they don't have it, they don't have it,” Thompson, the former bureau director, said. “I would hope the Justice Department would not be misleading the court.”

Biden and his team have said little about the census since the election. The president-elect issued a statement following the Supreme Court hearing on Trump’s memorandum, in which he stated his opposition to excluding specific groups of people from the count. (Historically, unauthorized immigrants are included in the count.) “Congress must give the experts at the Census the time to make sure everyone gets counted accurately,” Biden added.

Tyler Pager contributed to this report.

Rick Scott's rocky start atop GOP Senate campaign arm

Politico -

Sen. Rick Scott has been chair of the Senate GOP’s campaign committee for all of one week, and some Republicans are already concerned that Scott has dug the party a hole for the 2022 midterms.

Scott officially took over the National Republican Senatorial Committee after the GOP’s two losses in Georgia gave Democrats control of a 50-50 Senate. Scott faced swift backlash from Democrats and private concern among Republicans over his vote against certifying Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes last week after the deadly riot at the Capitol.

As business leaders pull back from the GOP after the insurrection, some donors and operatives in the party have concerns that Scott’s vote could be an issue for Republicans going into the 2022 Senate cycle, as they seek to win back the chamber after losing their six-year majority. Scott, a wealthy businessman and former governor who has won statewide office three times, is a well-connected and established fundraiser for the party, a major benefit to Republicans next cycle after the committee raised nearly $300 million for 2020.

But some Republicans fear that his vote, the general antipathy toward the GOP among some donors right now and the party’s disappointing losses in Georgia will combine to hamper the NRSC at the outset of the cycle, according to conversations with nearly a dozen party operatives, donors and lobbyists, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly.

“I think a lot of people are thinking, ‘We just lost the majority. We all put an enormous amount of personal and client money into the races, and we lost,’” said one GOP donor. “A lot of those who helped raise money are thinking, ‘Give me a breath for a minute.’ And especially in the context of what happened in the last week at the Capitol.”

“He doesn't have a donor anger problem going into this, and now he does. And those donors, despite maybe not being upset or angry or whatever it might be, they've got to be tired,” said one veteran GOP operative. “I think a lot of them are looking at this and saying, ‘The world is pretty uncertain right now. I just spent a ton of money. I'm going to wait 90 days, 180 days, and see what happens here.’”

Scott has already begun outreach to donors this week, with the Senate out of session. He is hosting a virtual meeting next Monday afternoon, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by POLITICO. The NRSC's new PAC director also sent donors an email invitation to a conference call with the senator Monday evening, according to one person who received it.

The NRSC also sent out a two-minute video featuring Scott making a pitch about the party’s path back to the majority, in which he touts his past election victories, and his investment of his own funds into his political campaigns.

“I can say this with confidence: I will never ask a potential donor to contribute more than I already have given,” Scott said in the video. “I run a tight ship. I respect our donors. There are two things I don’t do: I don’t waste money, and I don’t lose elections.”

Scott also postponed the typical NRSC Winter Retreat at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida, from February until October because of Covid-19. Chris Hartline, an NRSC spokesperson and longtime Scott aide, said the decision to postpone the retreat was made in early December.

Some Republicans weren’t necessarily worried just about donors. Most of the Republicans who spoke to POLITICO argued that many of the corporations and corporate executives who suspended giving might come back into the fold at some point this cycle, and said there is more concern at the moment about the House GOP than the Senate. They also pointed out that PAC donations are a fairly small percentage of the overall money the NRSC will raise through the course of the cycle, particularly with the ever-increasing focus on small-dollar donors.

“PAC dollars are a piece, but that's not the bread-and-butter of the place. Does it hurt him with major donors? That’s where the money is,” said one GOP lobbyist. “Unless it has infected the next wrung of multi-millionaires that stroke $30,000 checks, it's not clear to me that's a problem.”

Instead, some Republicans have fretted privately that Scott’s potential 2024 presidential ambitions could run cross-wise with the effort to retake the majority. That view is what shaped some of the response to his vote against certifying Pennsylvania, even though he was not vocal before the vote like other GOP senators and did not object to other states.

“Democrats are absolutely going to use this against Republicans. You can see they're just champing at the bit to attack on this front,” said one GOP strategist who works on Senate races.

Other Republicans dismiss those concerns, pointing out that Scott already has an established donor base for future ambitions, and that a successful run at the NRSC would be the best precursor for a presidential bid, anyway.

Scott’s strategists also dismissed the complaints and frustrations as anonymous griping that did not match the reality of the start of his tenure as chair.

“The courageous anonymous sources pushing this false narrative do not believe a single word they are saying, which is why they won’t put their names on this nonsense,” Curt Anderson, a top adviser to Scott, said in a statement. “They are completely disingenuous. They know Rick Scott is the best fundraiser in the Republican Party, and he is already off to a fast start. Their aim is only to brow-beat Rick Scott for his vote, which proves that they do not know much about him. He will not be intimidated by anonymous Washington, D.C., bedwetters.”

Scott is taking over the NRSC two years into his first Senate term. His claim about not losing elections is true, though each of his victories in the nation’s largest swing state has been extremely narrow. In 2010, as a first-time candidate, he edged past the better-known state Attorney General Bill McCollum, a former congressmember, in the GOP primary before winning the general election by a single percentage point. He followed up with an even-smaller margin of victory in 2014, then ousted Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson by just over 10,000 votes in the closest — and most expensive — Senate race of the 2018 cycle.

The concern so far about his tenure is by no means universal among party operatives or donors. Some strategists dismissed it as a momentary blip that will fade once President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in, the Senate officially flips to Democratic control and the cycle gets rolling. Others said time will tell if it’s indicative of deeper problems for Republicans, but that they doubted he faced any long-term issues, particularly if Scott is successful at recruiting challengers in key states, something he began prior to officially taking the helm of the committee. One Republican fundraiser, who also requested anonymity to discuss private conversations, said Scott’s statement explaining his vote has assuaged donors.

“While some donors have asked questions about Sen. Scott’s objection to the Pennsylvania votes, Sen. Scott did a good job of explaining his reasoning in a written statement, where he noted that the election integrity problems in Pennsylvania have been going on for sometime...” this fundraiser said. “I think Sen. Scott handled this well, and whatever issues people may have with his vote will subside once he explains his firmly-held views.”


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