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D.C. Memo: It’s been one week

Biden’s COVID experts; new coronavirus relief package; GOP objects to impeachment; and more.

Newly inaugurated President Joe Biden said he’s “bringing back the pros” — a.k.a. scientists and public health experts — to regularly brief the American public about the pandemic.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Welcome to this week’s D.C. Memo. It’s been a busy week for President Joe Biden, who is out with a new COVID-19 relief plan, even while his predecessor has managed to remain in the news (owning half of all presidential impeachments in U.S. history will do that). Meanwhile, closer to home, two stories each suggest how election-denial fever could linger among Republicans for some time to come: the gubernatorial dreams of My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell and a constituent demand for U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn to resign. Let’s get to it:

Biden’s big leaguers

Newly inaugurated President Joe Biden said he’s “bringing back the pros” — a.k.a. scientists and public health experts — to regularly brief the American public about the pandemic.

Biden announced that administration experts will host briefings three times a week on the state of the outbreak, efforts to control it and the race to deliver vaccines and therapeutics to end it, the Associated Press reported.

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That’s a contrast with briefings under former President Donald Trump, who often undermined health officials and shared unproven ideas. “We’re bringing back the pros to talk about COVID in an unvarnished way,” Biden said. “Any questions you have, that’s how we’ll handle them because we’re letting science speak again.”

More COVID-19 relief

Senate Democrats are preparing to push ahead on Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, according to the AP, while a moderate Republican is proposing a smaller package.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said senators should be ready to vote as soon as next week on the budget reconciliation package. As the AP notes, the effort will be an early test of Republican opposition to White House priorities, as well as to the new president’s promise of a “unity” agenda.  “The work must move forward, preferably with our Republican colleagues, but without them if we must,” Schumer said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is working on an alternative package that she has said would be more focused on money for vaccine distribution and on economic assistance for the neediest Americans. Senators from both parties have said they want relief checks to be more targeted this time around.

GOP senators object to trial

It looks like U.S. Senate Republicans plan to stand by Trump in his upcoming impeachment trial.

Just five GOP senators joined Democrats in voting to go forward with the trial of Trump for his role in inciting a riot at the Capitol three weeks ago. A 55-to-45 vote killed a Republican effort, led by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, to dismiss the proceeding as unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office.

The vote suggests that, as in Trump’s earlier impeachment trial for allegedly soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election in an effort to get re-elected, Democrats will not get enough Republican support for a conviction. “I think it’s pretty obvious from the vote today that it is extraordinarily unlikely that the president will be convicted,” Collins, one of the five Republicans who voted to proceed to trial, said in this New York Times piece.

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The four other Republicans who voted to reject the constitutional objection to the trial were Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Even so, the Times reported, several Republicans who voted to uphold the constitutional challenge later clarified that they remained open-minded about the trial, which will convene on Feb. 9. It would take the votes of two-thirds of senators, 67, to attain a conviction, meaning 17 Republicans would have to cross party lines and side with Democrats.

Could a compromise be in the works? Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia is discussing with colleagues the idea of censuring the former president instead, the AP reported.  A censure would amount to the Senate publicly expressing disapproval of Trump’s actions.

Trump looms large

The Republican resistance to a conviction is probably no surprise since Trump has indicated that he plans to continue being a player in GOP politics. As Politico reported, a top political aide to Trump reassured Republican senators that the former president has no plans to break from the GOP and start a third party. The news site said the message from Brian Jack, Trump’s former political director at the White House, was a sign that Republicans who vote to convict Trump are likely to be targeted in upcoming primaries.

And yet …

The head of the Republican National Committee declined to encourage Trump to run for president in 2024.  Moreover, RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, in an interview with The Associated Press, described the pro-Trump conspiracy theory group known as QAnon as “dangerous.”

Under McDaniel’s leadership, the AP reports, the national GOP has spent the past four years “almost singularly focused on Trump’s 2020 reelection.”  If he runs again, however, the party infrastructure would not support his ambitions over other candidates.  “The party has to stay neutral.  I’m not telling anybody to run or not to run in 2024,” McDaniel said.

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The curious case of MyPillow’s CEO

Lord knows what to make of Mike Lindell’s purported interest in running for governor, but I must say I appreciate those who’ve tried to figure it out. Lindell, of course, is the CEO of Chaska-based MyPillow who briefly became topic A in the waning days of the Trump administration, after he was spotted at the White House carrying note that indicated he was there to discuss unfounded claims that the election was rigged.

In the wake of that, Steve Karnowski of the Associated Press reported that Lindell, known from his TV commercials as the MyPillow Guy, actually got sloughed off on White House staffers when he went to see Trump. But he also writes that the political prospects of Lindell, who claims that Trump offered him an endorsement if he runs for Minnesota governor, offers a window at the internal battle within GOP circles about the direction of the party.

Of Lindell’s gubernatorial aspirations, Karnowski writes: “It’s a prospect that sends shivers down the spines of some Republicans in the state — where Trump lost by 7 percentage points — and cuts to the heart of the national party’s existential crisis. While many Republicans, particularly those in Washington, are eager to move on from the former president and his personality-driven, racially divisive politics, Trump’s acolytes across the country are already preparing to pick up the torch.”

The New York Times published its own take on Lindell here.

First Fischbach, now Hagedorn

Last week, the Memo shared the news that U.S. Rep. Michelle Fischbach, newly elected in Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District, has gotten pushback for sticking to unfounded claims of voter fraud in the presidential election and for voting against certifying President Biden’s Electoral College win in two states. Some groups called for her removal from Congress.

Now, another Minnesota Republican, U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, is facing criticism of his own from some of his constituents for joining Fischbach in that crusade.  A group calling itself the 1st Congressional District Committee to Defend the Constitution recently took out a full-page ad in the Rochester Post-Bulletin that called for Hagedorn to resign.

In part, the ad, addressed to Hagedorn, said, “In seeking to overturn the will of the American people in a free and fair election, you showed a willful and dangerous contempt for the bedrock principles of our Republic and violated your oath of office to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

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What I’m reading

Why Is Big Tech Policing Speech?  Because the Government Isn’t, by Emily Bazelon of The New York Times Magazine. In this piece, Bazelon looks at the recent moves by Twitter and other social media companies to censor users who spread disinformation on their platforms — moves that have caused both conservatives and liberals to wring their hands.  Here’s the problem, as she defines it: “Americans have a deep and abiding suspicion of letting the state regulate speech.  At the moment, tech companies are filling the vacuum created by that fear. But do we really want to trust a handful of chief executives with policing spaces that have become essential parts of democratic discourse?  We are uncomfortable with government doing it; we are uncomfortable with Silicon Valley doing it.  But we are also uncomfortable with nobody doing it at all.  This is a hard place to be — or, perhaps, two rocks and a hard place.”

ICYMI, be sure to catch up on these MinnPost reads from the last week: 

Thanks for reading.  As always, feel free to contact me at gaamot@minnpost.com or to find me on Twitter.