Feed aggregator

Deborah Birx: ‘Parallel set of data’ on Covid-19 was delivered to Trump

Politico -

While Deborah Birx served as the White House coronavirus response coordinator under President Donald Trump, “outside advisers” were bringing him “parallel” sets of data on the Covid-19 pandemic, she said in an interview that aired on Sunday.

“I saw the president presenting graphs that I never made,” Birx said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “So, I know that someone — or someone out there or someone inside was creating a parallel set of data and graphics that were shown to the president.”

Birx said that she didn’t know at the time who exactly was bringing the parallel data to the president, but that looking back, she now believed that Scott Atlas had provided some of the data. Atlas, a physician with no previous experience fighting infectious disease who became Trump’s former coronavirus adviser, contradicted scientists on mitigation efforts, including the wearing of masks and practicing social distancing.

“I don’t know who else was part of it, but I think when the record goes back and people see what I was writing on a daily basis that was sent up to White House leadership, that they will see that — that I was highly specific on what I was seeing and what needed to be done,” she said.

Birx said she took “extensive notes” from every White House meeting and wrote more than 310 daily reports that were sent to senior leaders. When asked in the interview whether Trump read the reports, Birx said she wasn’t sure.

“I had very little exposure to President Trump,” she said.

In his Covid-19 response, Trump often broke with scientific guidance from his own administration’s health officials. He downplayed the threat of the virus from the start of the pandemic, and as the death toll increased, Trump continued to decline to wear a mask — even while holding large-scale campaign rallies with thousands of supporters.

Birx, who will retire from her position after assisting the Biden administration’s transition to the White House, also said she frequently thought of quitting her position in the Trump administration.

Bernie Sanders happy to have gone viral

Politico -

Sen. Bernie Sanders said the photo of him from Inauguration Day that became a viral meme and exploded across social media has turned out “to be a good thing, and not only a fun thing.”

The photo from President Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday features the Vermont senator sitting cross-legged in a chair and decked out in a coat, mask and mittens — sitting at a social distance from other spectators. The image almost immediately caught the internet’s attention.

The image was not only spread far and wide as a meme, but it eventually led creative people to Photoshop that image of Sanders sitting in the chair onto different backgrounds, placing him in setting such as movie scenes, famous paintings and historical moments.

When asked by CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” on Sunday about the photo and subsequent memes, Sanders said he’s “having fun” with the viral moment. He added that he’s turned the image into sweatshirts and T-shirts, which he’s selling in his campaign store, with 100 percent of the proceeds going toward Vermont charities focused on fighting hunger.

“What we're doing here in Vermont is, we're going to be selling around the country sweatshirts and T-shirts. And all of the money that's going to be raised, which I expect will be a couple of million dollars, will be going to programs like Meals on Wheels that feed low-income senior citizens,” Sanders said. "So, it turns out, actually, to be a good thing, and not only a fun thing.”

Dick Durbin calls absolute protection of Senate filibuster 'a non-starter’

Politico -

Sen. Dick Durbin on Sunday said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s demand for absolute protection of the filibuster in the deal to run a 50-50 Senate is a “non-starter.”

“If we gave him that, then the filibuster would be on everything, every day,” the Illinois Democrat told NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” on Sunday morning.

McConnell has pressed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in recent days to keep the 60-vote threshold as they forge a deal on how to organize the Senate. While Senate Democrats have no plans to gut the filibuster further, they have signaled they would reject McConnell’s effort to protect the filibuster, noting its usefulness in driving compromise with Republicans.

Durbin said although Schumer offered McConnell “word for word” the same agreement as the last time there was a 50-50 Senate, McConnell came back still wanting absolute protection for the filibuster.

“Well, that's a non-starter,” Durbin said.

The Senate last stood at 50-50 at the beginning of 2001, with Vice President Dick Cheney, a Republican, casting tiebreaking votes. That lasted until May, when Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party and began to caucus with the Senate's Democrats to give them a 51-49 edge.

Durbin said a change in the rule should be considered if the filibuster becomes too common — ultimately preventing the Senate from acting. But he said Democrats will first need to “see if we can initiate a real bipartisan dialogue and get something done.”

He added that the Senate should pass the organizing resolution without the additional McConnell language on protecting the filibuster so that the focus can switch to passing President Joe Biden’s massive Covid-19 relief package.

“Let's get down to business, roll up our sleeves and pass this rescue package that deals with getting these vaccines out across America as quickly as possible, giving help to people who are unemployed and giving businesses a helping hand,” Durbin said.

Biden health officials express concern about short-term vaccine supply crunch

Politico -

Top Biden administration health officials on Sunday expressed concern about limited vaccine supplies but offered measured optimism that the worse-than-expected rollout would be improved, while warning that the current crunch for doses posed a pressing threat.

“I think that the supply is probably going to be the most limiting constraint early on, and we’re really hoping that after that first hundred days we will have much more production,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on “Fox News Sunday.”

State and local officials across the country have warned in recent weeks of dwindling vaccine supply, saying they are on the brink of running out of doses. Walensky said the federal government was working with manufacturers to ensure that supply issues do not continue to hamper the rollout, adding that officials needed to “make sure that the supply gets to pharmacies, that we have enough vaccinators, that we have enough places and outreach to do the vaccinations.”

Asked on ABC’s “This Week” whether President Joe Biden’s promise of 100 million Americans vaccinated in his first 100 days was good enough, Surgeon General pick Vivek Murthy said that goal was a reflection of the realities the rollout faces.

“That's a floor; it's not a ceiling,” Murthy told host George Stephanopoulos. “It's also a goal that reflects the realities of what we face, what could go right but also what could go wrong.”

Both officials said the potential approval of a Johnson & Johnson vaccine could be a positive future development, but Murthy noted that Biden’s 100-million-vaccines promise is not reliant on that happening.

“The goal of achieving 100 million shots in 100 days is one that is achievable with the supply that we have and that we're anticipating from Pfizer and from Moderna,” he said.

Experts have pointed out that vaccinating 100 million Americans in 100 days will still leave the nation far short of herd immunity as the nation's caseload continues to grow. The total number of diagnosed coronavirus cases in the United States surpassed 25 million. More than 417,000 people have died in the U.S.

Walensky said that the data she had seen so far indicated the current supply problems were an immediate concern, rather than a long-term issue.

“We have every indication that over time we will get more and more vaccine, so we certainly can't predict any of the obstacles that would come in our way here,” she said, later adding that she hoped the supply concerns would ease by March.

The Biden officials said that in the Trump administration's rollout, local governments were not given sufficient guidance or resources to effectively give doses to hard-hit communities. They said they were working to address the lack of supply and lack of coordination between the federal government and the states.

It's not enough to merely increase supply, Murthy said. "We've also got to set up the kind of distribution channels, like mobile units, like strategically placed community vaccination centers, that can reach people who traditionally are hard to reach and don't have access to health care,” he added.

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Biden Health and Human Services pick Xavier Becerra echoed the calls for coordination.

“What we have to do is show people how it can be done. You can't just tell the states and the local governments, here's some vaccines, now you go do it,” Becerra said.

Bernie Sanders: Dems will use reconciliation to pass Covid relief ‘as soon as we possibly can’

Politico -

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday said Senate Democrats would pass a Covid-19 relief bill as soon as possible through budget reconciliation, which would allow the package to pass with a simple majority vote rather than with the support of 60 senators.

“We are going to use reconciliation, that is 50 votes in the Senate plus the vice president, to pass legislation desperately needed by working families in this country right now,” the Vermont senator told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” on Sunday. The new Senate stands on 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking vote when needed.

Bash pointed out that Sanders had previously criticized Republicans’ use of reconciliation, saying the process should not be used “to enact major changes in social policy.” But he defended the decision to use reconciliation now, stating that Americans’ need for stimulus aid is emergent, while Republicans in 2017 used reconciliation “to give tax breaks to billionaires.”

“Yes, I did criticize them for that. And if they want to criticize me for helping to feed children who are hungry or senior citizens in this country who are isolated and alone and don't have enough food, they can criticize me,” Sanders said.

Budget reconciliation is used at times on certain tax, spending and debt limit bills to reconcile different legislation from the House and Senate — a process that effectively prevents a legislative filibuster in the Senate.

Sanders said Democrats cannot wait “weeks and weeks and months and months to go forward” on the $1.9 trillion relief package proposed by President Joe Biden, which Republicans have shown early opposition to and have vowed will not get 60 votes. When asked about the timeline for pushing the bill through, Sanders said "as soon as we possibly can."

Sanders noted that reconciliation was used by Republicans under President Donald Trump in 2017, once in a failed attempt to repeal Obamacare, and again to pass large tax cuts.

“You did it, we're gonna do it, but we're gonna do it to protect ordinary people, not just the rich and the powerful,” he said.

Rand Paul spars with ABC host over election integrity

Politico -

Sen. Rand Paul on Sunday got into a heated exchange with ABC host George Stephanopoulos over the disproven claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen — days after President Joe Biden was inaugurated.

Asked on ABC’s “This Week” whether the election was stolen, the Kentucky Republican responded: “What I would say is that the debate over whether or not there was fraud should occur. We never had any presentation in court where we actually looked at the evidence.” He argued that the rulings were based on the legal status of the claims, not the validity of the arguments — something that was true in some cases but by no means all of them.

Paul, an ally of former President Donald Trump who ultimately voted to certify Biden’s Electoral College win in the wake of the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol aimed at stopping the count of those votes, went on to accuse the ABC host of “coming from the liberal side” and calling the disproved claims lies rather than giving them treatment as a “both sides” debate.

Stephanopoulos interrupted Paul after he went on to say that there’s still a chance that some challenges in states whose election officials changed voting rules without legislative approval would make it to the Supreme Court — and that there was a possibility that ballots were cast under the names of dead people or by undocumented immigrants.

“Sen. Paul, I have to stop you there,” Stephanopoulos said. “No election is perfect. But there were 86 challenges filed by President Trump and his allies in court, all were dismissed. Every state certified the results after investigations, counts and recounts. The Department of Justice led by William Barr said there was no widespread evidence of fraud. Can’t you just say the words ‘This election was not stolen’?”

Paul responded by alleging a majority of Republicans believe the election was stolen, at which point Stephanopoulos retorted: “Seventy-five percent of Republicans agree with you because they were fed a big lie by President Trump and his supporters who say the election was stolen.”

Marco Rubio: It's 'arrogant' to impeach Trump to ban him from running again

Politico -

Sen. Marco Rubio on Sunday said the argument that former President Donald Trump should be impeached so that he can’t seek public office again is “an arrogant statement for anyone to make.”

When “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace asked the senator about the idea that Trump should be impeached to ban him from running for office again, the Florida Republican quickly shot down the argument.

“I think that's an arrogant statement for anyone to make. Voters get to decide that. Who are we to tell voters who they can vote for in the future?” Rubio said. Trump's second Senate impeachment trial starts Feb. 8, and a conviction would disqualify him from running for president ever again.

Legal scholars, including members of the conservative Federalist Society, have presented this disqualification argument, countering Republicans who say that impeaching Trump after he has left office would be unconstitutional. The scholars wrote in a letter on Thursday that the Constitution’s impeachment power must be extended to former officials who could try to run for reelection.

Senate Democrats are expected to vote to convict Trump, arguing that he incited deadly violence after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. But at least 17 Republicans would need to join all Democrats for Trump to be convicted, and GOP senators have recently united around a bid to shut down the impeachment trial.

Rubio echoed that argument on “Fox News Sunday,” saying the impeachment trial is “counterproductive” and will “continue to fuel these divisions that have paralyzed the country.”

“The first chance I get to vote to end this trial, I will do it, because I think it's really bad for America,” he said.

Impeachment trial to keep National Guard troops at Capitol

Politico -

Former President Donald Trump’s upcoming Senate impeachment trial poses a security concern that federal law enforcement officials told lawmakers last week requires as many as 5,000 National Guard troops to remain in Washington through mid-March, according to four people familiar with the matter.

The contingency force will help protect the Capitol from what was described as “impeachment security concerns,” including the possibility of mass demonstrations coinciding with the Senate’s trial, which is slated to begin the week of Feb. 8.

Despite the threat, the citizen soldiers on the ground say they have been given little information about the extension, and wonder why they are being forced to endure combat-like conditions in the nation’s capital without a clear mission.

“Quite frankly this is not a ‘combat zone,’ so combat conditions shouldn’t apply,” said one Guard member on the ground in D.C. who has deployed twice to Afghanistan.

Several National Guard units have been seen their deployments extended involuntarily, though a majority of Guardsmen remaining in Washington will do so on a volunteer basis. Around 7,000 troops will continue to provide riot security through the beginning of February, with that number decreasing slightly to 5,000 by the time Trump’s impeachment trial begins.

“We are not going to allow any surprises again,” said one Guard member, referring to the widespread lack of preparedness for the insurrection on Jan. 6.

There is also some concern over potential unrest surrounding March 4, the date some QAnon conspiracy theorists believe Trump will be inaugurated for the second time.

A Capitol Police spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

National Guard troops were deployed to the capital city in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, when supporters of Trump stormed the building while Congress was certifying President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. The House impeached Trump a week later, charging him with “willful incitement of insurrection.”

By Inauguration Day, around 25,000 troops were in Washington, where unprecedented security measures were put into place to prevent similar attacks.

Now, thousands of Guard members will remain in Washington far longer than they initially expected when they packed their suitcases for what they believed to be a short-term mission on Jan. 6. The rank-and-file have so far been given no official justifications, threat reports or any explanation for the extended mission, said two Guard members — nor have they seen any violence thus far.

“There is no defined situation, or mission statement … This is very unusual for any military mission,” said one member, who has deployed twice to Afghanistan. “We are usually given a situation, with defined mission perimeters, and at least a tentative plan on how to execute those objectives.”

“Some don’t even know how long they’ll be here,” said another Guard member.

A fourth Guard member confirmed that the troops had not been told of any specific threat, rather that federal authorities were concerned about the potential for continued unrest. Far-right militias remain the biggest cause for concern, he said.

Morale is low among the troops, who described having to stand guard for hours at a time in full gear with limited access to food and water, waiting for hours to be transported to and from their hotels, and very little sleep. Many are washing socks and cold-weather undergarments in hotel bathroom sinks because they do not have access to laundry facilities.

Some have been forced to purchase their own food out-of-pocket to supplement the sparse meals they have been provided, which do not provide enough calories to sustain the long days. Even meals-ready-to-eat are hard to come by due to logistical and transportation issues.

“Even if they do arrive all on time, the calories are just not there for the amount of work we put in and time we're spending on our feet, in the cold, in full gear,” one Guard member said.

The vast majority of Guard members are not full-time soldiers but also hold civilian jobs. Many are law enforcement officers, firefighters and small business employees with families struggling to juggle bills and childcare during the pandemic. For many, the D.C. deployment means losing weeks of higher pay in their civilian jobs.

One of the Guard members, who has deployed to the Middle East, described “extremely austere conditions” and compared the D.C. mission to “invasion operations.”

“We essentially invaded and occupied a city,” the person said. “It was certainly an experience I didn’t think I’d have in an American city, much less the capital.”

Trump has not commented publicly since leaving office four days ago, but he has been assembling his defense team for the upcoming trial. If the former president urges his supporters to protest on his behalf, it could seriously strain law enforcement resources. Already, officials have set up a perimeter around the Capitol using 10-foot barricades with razor wire.

The renewed security concerns come amid intensifying tensions between Capitol Police and the National Guard. Last week, Capitol Police officials forced troops to vacate congressional office buildings, where they were taking rest breaks during their shifts that often last 12 or 14 hours. POLITICO first reported that approximately 5,000 troops were packed into a parking garage on the Senate side of the Capitol, with temperatures dropping as the sun went down.

The move prompted outrage from lawmakers from both parties, many of whom intervened with Capitol Police officials. The Guardsmen were eventually allowed back inside.

Moreover, the National Guard has struggled to contain Covid-19, with no clear testing regime and some troops being forced to break their quarantines. At least 200 Guardsmen have tested positive for Covid-19, and several hundred additional troops are in quarantine due to exposure.

The compounding troubles for the National Guard have caused lawmakers to step in to mediate the myriad disputes within the federal bureaucracy. Members of both parties had already been calling for investigations of the security failures on Jan. 6, when pro-Trump rioters overran officers from the Capitol and D.C. police departments.

Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain, GOP governor

Politico -

PHOENIX — Arizona Republicans voted Saturday to censure Cindy McCain and two prominent GOP members who have found themselves crosswise with former President Donald Trump.

The censures of Sen. John McCain’s widow, former Sen. Jeff Flake and Gov. Doug Ducey are merely symbolic. But they show the party’s foot soldiers are focused on enforcing loyalty to Trump, even in the wake of an election that saw Arizona inch away from its staunchly Republican roots.

Party activists also reelected controversial Chairwoman Kelli Ward, who has been one of Trump’s most unflinching supporters and among the most prolific promoters of his baseless allegations of election fraud.

The Arizona GOP’s combative focus has delighted Trump’s staunchest supporters and worried Republican insiders who have watched the party lose ground in the suburbs as the influence of its traditional conservative establishment has faded in favor of Trump. A growing electorate of young Latinos and newcomers bringing their more liberal politics from back home have further hurt the GOP.

“This is a time for choosing for Republicans. Are we going to be the conservative party?” said Kirk Adams, a former state House speaker and chief of staff to Ducey. “Or is this a party ... that’s loyal to a single person?”

It’s a question of Republican identity that party officials and activists are facing across the country following Trump’s 2020 loss, and particularly after a mob of his supporters laid siege on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Nowhere is the question more acute than Arizona, where the state GOP’s unflinching loyalty to Trump stands out even in a party that’s been remade everywhere in the image of the former president.

Ward has relentlessly — but unsuccessfully — sued to overturn the election results. The party has used its social media accounts to urge followers to fight and perhaps even to die in support of Trump’s false claims of victory. Two of the state’s four Republican congressmen are accused of playing a role in organizing the Jan. 6 rally that turned violent.

After dominating Arizona politics for decades, Republicans now find themselves on their heels in the state’s highest offices. President Joe Biden narrowly eked out a victory here, becoming just the second Democrat in more than five decades to win the state. Consecutive victories in 2018 and 2020 gave Democrats control of both U.S. Senate seats for the first time in nearly 70 years.

Ward, a physician and former state legislator who lost two Republican primaries for the U.S. Senate, defeated three challengers to win a second term.

In a brief interview, Ward acknowledged “disappointment at the top of the ticket” but said she and many other Republicans still question the results showing victories for Biden and Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. Judges have rejected eight lawsuits challenging Arizona’s election results.

Ward pointed to GOP successes down the ballot, noting Republicans defied expectations in local races.

Ward said she’s a “Trump Republican” who will “always put America first, who believes in faith, family and freedom.” The way forward for the GOP, she said, is keeping Trump’s 74 million voters engaged.

“Yes, I will be radical about those things because those are the things that keep this country great,” Ward said. “The people who are complaining are the people who actually put us in this spot where we are in Arizona, people who have been mamby pamby, lie down and allow the Democrats to walk all over them.”

The censures target some of Arizona’s most prominent Republicans,

Cindy McCain endorsed Biden and became a powerful surrogate for the Democrat following years of attacks by Trump on her husband. After the vote, she wrote on Twitter that “it is a high honor to be included in a group of Arizonans who have served our state and our nation so well.”

“I’ll wear this as a badge of honor,” she wrote.

Also after the vote, Flake tweeted a photo of him with McCain and Ducey at Biden’s inauguration and wrote: “Good company.”

Flake was one of the few congressional Republicans who was openly critical of Trump for failing to adhere to conservative values. He declined to run for reelection in 2018 and endorsed Biden in last year’s election.

“If condoning the President’s behavior is required to stay in the Party’s good graces, I’m just fine being on the outs,” Flake wrote on Twitter before and after the vote.

Ducey is being targeted for his restrictions on individuals and businesses to contain the spread of COVID-19. While it’s not mentioned in the proposed censure, he had a high-profile break with the president when he signed the certification of Biden’s victory.

“These resolutions are of no consequence whatsoever and the people behind them have lost whatever little

U.S. reaffirms Taiwan support after China sends warplanes

Politico -

BEIJING — The U.S. has reaffirmed its support for Taiwan following China’s dispatch of warplanes near the island in an apparent attempt to intimidate its democratic government and test the resolve of the new American presidential administration.

The U.S. State Department on Saturday said it was concerned by China’s “pattern of ongoing attempts to intimidate its neighbors, including Taiwan.”

“We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives,” Ned Price, a spokesman for the department, said in the statement.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said China on Saturday sent eight bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons and four fighter jets into its air defense identification zone just southwest of the island. The ministry said China on Sunday sent another 16 military aircraft of various types into the same area.

The ministry said Taiwan responded by scrambling fighters, broadcasting warnings by radio and “deploying air defense missile systems to monitor the activity.”

There was no immediate Chinese comment on Sunday.

The overflights were part of a long-standing pattern of incursions aimed at pressuring the government of President Tsai Ing-wen into caving to Beijing’s demand that she recognize Taiwan as a part of Chinese territory.

They come on the heels of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, emphasizing the island’s enduring position in the panoply of divisive issues between the sides that also include human rights, trade disputes and, most recently, questions about China’s initial response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden’s administration has shown little sign of reducing pressure on China over such issues, although it is seen as favoring a return to more civil dialogue.

The State Department statement on Saturday said Washington will continue to deepen ties with Taiwan and ensure its defense from Chinese threats, while supporting a peaceful resolution of issues between the sides.

In another sign of support for Taiwan, the island’s de-facto ambassador to Washington, Hsiao Bi-khim, was an invited guest at Biden’s inauguration.

And in a final swipe at China, the Trump administration’s outgoing U.N. ambassador tweeted that it’s time for the world to oppose China’s efforts to exclude and isolate Taiwan, drawing sharp criticism from Beijing.

Ambassador Kelly Craft accompanied the tweet with a photo of herself in the U.N. General Assembly Hall where the island is banned. She carried a handbag with a stuffed Taiwan bear sticking out of the top, a gift from Taiwan’s representative in New York, Ambassador James Lee.

Taiwan and China separated amid civil war in 1949 and China says it is determined to bring the island under its control by force if necessary. The U.S. switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but is legally required to ensure Taiwan can defend itself and the self-governing democratic island enjoys strong bipartisan support in Washington.

Tsai has sought to bolster the island’s defenses with the purchase of billions of dollars in U.S. weapons, including upgraded F-16 fighter jets, armed drones, rocket systems and Harpoon missiles capable of hitting both ships and land targets. She has also boosted support for Taiwan’s indigenous arms industry, including launching a program to build new submarines to counter China’s ever-growing naval capabilities.

China’s increased threats come as economic and political enticements bear little fruit, leading it to stage war games and dispatch fighter jets and reconnaissance planes on an almost daily basis toward the island of 24 million people.

One of Trump's final acts will allow former aides to profit from foreign ties

Politico -

President Donald Trump’s last-minute move to scrap his administration’s own ethics rules will make it easier for his former aides to lobby on behalf of foreign interests — the same line of work behind so many Trump-era scandals.

In the final hours of his presidency, Trump revoked the ethics pledge he’d signed four years earlier, which, among other things, had barred those who’d served in his administration from lobbying for foreign governments and political parties for the rest of their lives.

With those restrictions gone, former Trump administration officials will be free to represent foreign powers — exactly the kind of swamp-like behavior Trump had promised to eradicate in his 2016 campaign.

Michael McKenna, a former lobbyist who worked in Trump’s White House legislative affairs office, said he had no intention of lobbying for foreign governments but thought other former Trump administration officials would jump at the chance.

“I’m pretty confident that a bunch of people would absolutely love to represent Monaco, France, the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

Trump’s “lifetime ban” on former officials in his administration representing foreign governments was part of his 2016 campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington. He even criticized President Bill Clinton for revoking his own ethics rules right before leaving office two decades ago, arguing Clinton had “rigged the system on his way out.”

“He is undoing really the only example of policy that was supposed to evidence his commitment to drain the swamp,” said Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, which advocates for tougher ethics rules.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires those who lobby for foreign governments and political parties — along with some other foreign interests — to disclose their work with the Justice Department. Several prominent Trump allies failed to do so, ensnaring them in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and other federal investigations. .

Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chair, was sentenced in 2019 to 7 ½ years in prison for failing to register as a foreign agent, among other crimes.

Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, admitted to lying to investigators about his role in a lobbying campaign on behalf of Turkish interests, though Flynn wasn’t charged with violating FARA.

And Elliott Broidy, a prominent fundraiser for Trump’s 2016 campaign, pleaded guilty in October to failing to register as a foreign agent even though he knew he should’ve done so.

Trump pardoned all three men before leaving office.

There’s nothing illegal or even unethical about lobbying for foreign governments, but many lobbyists try to avoid representing countries that have tense relationships with Washington or troubled human rights records. Two lobbying firms cut ties with Turkey late last year after Turkey aided Azerbaijan in a controversial conflict with Armenia, and several prominent firms quit lobbying for Saudi Arabia in 2018 after the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

But lobbying for foreign governments is one of the most lucrative niches on K Street, and Trump-connected lobbyists who registered as foreign agents thrived in Washington during his administration, earning millions of dollars lobbying for the governments of countries such as Turkey, Zimbabwe and the Dominican Republic.

Gotham Government Relations & Communications, a New York lobbying firm that once counted Trump as a client, capitalized on the connection after Trump’s 2016 victory, opening a Washington office and signing clients including the Libyan government. Like others on K Street, the firm is now trying to reposition itself for the Biden era.

Earlier this month, the firm sent a memo to several foreign governments and other potential clients highlighting its ties to a different New York politician: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“Our Washington D.C. office stands ready to advocate for you with the Senate Majority office of the Honorable Charles Schumer!” the memo reads.

Trump’s ethics rules never barred former administration officials from lobbying entirely. Those who left the administration were allowed to lobby Congress, and loopholes also let them lobby the administration in some cases. At least 84 former Trump administration officials registered as lobbyists while he was in office, according to a POLITICO analysis of disclosure filings.

But the rules did include significant limitations, prohibiting former Trump administration officials from lobbying the agencies in which they served for five years after leaving the government.

Now that Trump has revoked his ethics pledge, they’re mostly free to lobby the executive branch. (Those who’ve left within the past year are still prohibited by law from trying to influence their former agencies.)

Some on K Street have cheered Trump’s decision. “It puts a number of people who were on the sidelines [back] in the game,” said one lobbyist whose firm has hired former Trump administration officials.

But others are skeptical staffers from the previous administration will have much sway.

“I’m not sure the Biden people are going to want to be lobbied by us,” said one former Trump administration official who’s now a lobbyist, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Former Trump administration officials are also now free to lobby Republican lawmakers on behalf of foreign interests — but demand for such work will be softer with Democrats in control of Congress, said Ivan Zapien, who leads Hogan Lovells’ government relations and public affairs practice.

“There’s not many world leaders who are trying to figure out how to deal with Republicans right now,” Zapien said.

Some ethics lawyers said Trump’s lifetime ban on foreign lobbying might have been excessive. (The ethics rules Biden debuted on Wednesday only bar those who serve in his administration from representing foreign governments until Biden leaves office or for two years after they leave government, whichever is later.)

Would the contacts former Trump administration officials made in government still give them a lobbying edge in 20 or 30 years?

“It sounds really good, there’s no doubt about it,” said Tom Spulak, a Washington lawyer who’s advised clients on the Foreign Agents Registration Act and has also lobbied for foreign interests himself. “But is it really serving a purpose?”

But Paul Light, a New York University professor who has criticized lengthy lobbying bans in the past, said he couldn’t support Trump’s last-minute repeal after all the ethics scandals during his administration.

“I don’t think Donald Trump is the right person to undo any ethics rule,” he said.


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