It has been an eventful few days, and The Middle is here to walk you through it.
So without further ado, here are the day’s top stories.
1. Senate leaders arrived at an agreement Friday to delay Donald Trump’s impeachment trial until February 8, allowing President Biden time to install his cabinet and move his legislative agenda forward and affording Trump time to mount a defense. The move represents a compromise between party leaders, as Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had wanted the trial to begin as close to the January 6 insurrection as possible, while Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had suggested a trial date of February 15. Biden, for his part, favored a delay so that Congress could attend to more pressing priorities.
The House will formally deliver the single article of impeachment to the Senate on Monday at 7 p.m., and senators will be sworn in as jurors on Tuesday.
2. The Arizona GOP voted Saturday to censure three prominent Arizona Republicans: Cindy McCain, because she “condemned President Trump for his criticism of her husband;” former Sen. Jeff Flake, because he “condemned the Republican Party” and “rejected populism;” and Gov. Doug Ducey, for imposing emergency rules during the pandemic that restricted the personal liberties of residents.
Of the decision, McCain tweeted, “It is a high honor to be included in a group of Arizonans who have served our state and our nation so well … and who, like my late husband John, have been censured by the AZGOP. I’ll wear this as a badge of honor.”
Flake tweeted, “If condoning the President’s behavior is required to stay in the Party’s good graces, I’m just fine being on the outs.”
And Ducey’s political director, Sara Mueller, said, ““These resolutions are of no consequence whatsoever and the people behind them have lost whatever little moral authority they may have once had.”
3. According to new reporting, during his last weeks in office, Donald Trump plotted to oust acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in a continued effort to overturn the results of the election.
When Rosen declined to pursue unfounded claims of voter fraud, Trump worked in concert with Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry, a member of the Freedom Caucus, to replace Rosen with Jeffrey Clark, acting chief of the Civil Division and a loyalist who would be more sympathetic to Trump’s claims.
In the weeks leading up to Congress’ certification, Perry and Clark planned to have the Department of Justice send a letter to Georgia state lawmakers, informing them that the state’s Electoral College results could be invalidated on the basis of fraud. In response, top Justice officials threatened a mass resignation, ultimately causing Trump to pull back on the plan.
As details of the scheme were released this past week, condemnation by Democrats was swift, with Sen. Chuck Schumer calling on Inspector General Michael Horowitz to investigate.
Horowitz had already opened an investigation into any improper pressure that may have been exerted by Trump administration officials upon Byung J. Pak—the U.S. attorney in Atlanta who abruptly resigned after being pressured to cast doubt on the election—but he announced a second investigation Monday into whether current or former officials had attempted to use the power of their office to alter the outcome of the election.
Rep. Perry did not return requests for comment, but Clark told the New York Times, “There was a candid discussion of options and pros and cons with the president. It is unfortunate that those who were part of a privileged legal conversation would comment in public about such internal deliberations, while also distorting any discussions.”
4. Having designated today “Buy American” day, President Biden signed an executive order that will direct agencies to “strengthen requirements for procuring goods and services from sources that will support US businesses and workers,” signifying that there is at least one area where he will not break ranks with Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda. The EO seeks to close any loopholes that currently exist and will be overseen by a senior level official who will be appointed to ensure enforcement.
Biden’s second executive order of the day reverses the Trump administration ban on transgender individuals serving in the military. The order ensures that no person who wishes to serve their country is discriminated against on the basis of gender identity and calls for the reexamination of any and all cases where transgender individuals were discharged or denied reenlistment under the previous policy.
On Tuesday, Biden plans to address matters of equity with a slew of executive orders and memoranda that will create a policing commission, regulate the transfer of military-style equipment to local law enforcement, eliminate the use of private prisons and improve prison conditions, strengthen relationships with indigenous tribes, disavow discrimination against the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, and take steps to promote equitable housing.
Wednesday will focus on the climate crisis; Thursday, healthcare; and Friday, immigration.
We will cover these in greater detail as the week progresses.
5. Biden’s team is attempting to drum up bipartisan support for the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package announced last week.
To that end, Biden’s top economic official, Brian Deese, held a call with 16 senators—eight Democrats and eight Republicans—on Sunday, in order to discuss concerns about the size and scope of the package and the desire to target assistance to those most in need.
Biden’s team plans to continue to consult a bipartisan group of leaders but may resort to a rare procedural tactic called reconciliation if faced with continued opposition by Republicans. The budget reconciliation process, which is not subject to filibuster, would allow Democrats to pass major parts of the package with 51 Senate votes.
6. The Supreme Court dismissed as moot Monday the two remaining cases on its docket set to address Donald Trump’s potential violations of the Emoluments Clause and vacated lower court judgments against the former president.
Deciding that these cases were moot now that the president has left office, the order was presented without comment or dissent.
In the lead-up to his presidency, Trump had refused to place his assets in a blind trust, as previous presidents have done, choosing interest to retain an interest in his businesses and accept payments from both foreign and domestic governments. This presented numerous potential conflicts of interest, which the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause was designed to prevent.
While some argued that the situation should fall under the “capable of repetition, yet evading review” mootness exception, attorney George Conway explains that there must be “some reasonable, relatively imminent prospect that it’s going to happen again. Speculation or theoretical possibility won’t cut it.”
7. More than 3,000 people were arrested across 109 cities, as pro-Navalny protests swept Russia in what is considered to be the biggest demonstration against Russian authorities in years.
Alexei Navalny, opposition leader and anticorruption activist, was poisoned with a nerve agent while on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow in August of 2020 and was medically evacuated to Berlin in the aftermath, where he remained hospitalized for a month. In the wake, the EU and the UK imposed sanctions on Russian officials believed to responsible, and despite Donald Trump’s personal hesitance to opine on the matter, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged that there was a “substantial chance” that Russian officials were responsible for the poisoning.
Navalny was arrested at passport control after flying home to Moscow on Jan. 17, having spent five months recovering in Germany, setting off a spate of nationwide protests.
Navalny’s wife was amongst those arrested.
8. Though coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have been dropping steadily in recent days, new variants are posing cause for concern, and poorly executed vaccine rollouts are compounding the anxieties of health experts.
New variants have become prevalent in Southern California and Florida—a troubling development considering recent findings concerning the variant coming out of the UK. Thanks to key mutations that alter the spike protein—the mechanism that allows coronavirus to enter cells and infect its host—studies suggest that the new variant could be 30% to 70% more transmissible and potentially as high as 30% more deadly.
Meanwhile, botched rollouts in multiple states have seen the number of people vaccinated fall well short of available supply, as only 19.1 million doses have been administered despite 39.9 million having been distributed.
With cases down 21% over the past two weeks, it is now a race between new variants and vaccines to see who will win, as the United States fights to continue the decline.
You can track how the vaccine rollout is going in your state here.
Other coronavirus news of note:
- Gov. Gavin Newsome lifted California’s stay-at-home order, potentially paving the way for restaurants and gyms to reopen.
- Pharmaceutical company Merck announced Monday that they will be discontinuing the development of two potential vaccines after they “generated an inferior immune system response.”
- Jen Psaki revealed at her press briefing Monday that Biden would be signing a presidential proclamation to reduce the spread of COVID-19 through travel. On the advice of the administration’s medical and COVID team, and due to the prevalence of contagious variant spread, Biden will reimpose a ban for the Schengen Area of Europe, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, and Brazil, with South Africa also joining the list, thanks to the discovery of a new variant in the region.
- International travelers will now be required to provide proof of a negative test within three days of travel prior to the date of departure, and the CDC will sign a separate order Monday requiring passengers 2 years and older to wear masks on all airplanes, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-share vehicles.
9. The world lost two giants this weekend, as Hank Aaron died at age 86 and Larry King at age 87.
Aaron battled racism to become one of Major League Baseball’s best players of all time. In a career that spanned 22 years, Aaron was a 25x All Star, a 3x Gold Glove Award recipient, a 2x NL batting champion, a 4x NL home run leader, a 4x NL RBI leader, an NL MVP, and a World Series champion. Aaron, a member of the Major League Baseball All-Century Team and a Hall of Fame inductee, was no stranger to records and awards, having also been presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Bill Clinton and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.
King, the host of Larry King Live and Larry King Now, enjoyed a 64-year career as a radio host, television host, and spokesman. King, too, led a celebrated life, having been awarded the Peabody Award for Excellence in broadcasting, an Emmy Award, and ten Cable ACE Awards for Best Interviewer and Best Talk Show Series. King was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame in 1996.
10. It is said that every time Tom Brady loses, an angel gains its wings. Thus, we think it fair to assume that there were mass angel casualties this weekend, as Brady’s Buccaneers beat the Green Bay Packers 31-26 in the N.F.C. Championship, in Brady’s first year with the team.
Brady and the Buccaneers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl next weekend, after Kansas City beat the Buffalo Bills 38-24 in Sunday’s A.F.C. Championship.
11. To run or not to run?
Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced Monday that she will be running for governor of Arkansas in 2022. Mike Huckabee, Sanders’ father, served as governor of the state from 1996-2007.
Meanwhile, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman revealed that he will not seek a third term in the Senate in 2022, potentially ending a decades-long career. In his statement, Portman said, “It has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy. We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground … This is a tough time to be in public service.”
Portman’s retirement signals the opening of a third Republican-held seat in a battleground state for 2022 (with the others in NC and PA).