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D.C. Memo: More like the BideMN Administration

Trump’s second impeachment trial gets under way; the parties do battle over pandemic proposals; and some Minnesotans gain influential posts.

Andy Slavitt
REUTERS/Jason Reed
Edinan Andy Slavitt is now the senior COVID adviser to Biden, one of several Minnesotans in the administration.
Welcome to the D.C. Memo. This week: Trump’s second impeachment trial gets under way; the parties do battle over pandemic proposals; and some Minnesotans gain influential posts. Here we go.

Trump Impeachment II: This time, it’s personal

The second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, who is accused of inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, got under way this week with some previously unaired video taking center stage. Presented by House managers (the prosecutors), the video, the Associated Press reported, includes rioters “searching menacingly” for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence and engaging in hand-to-hand combat with Capitol police. The AP’s takeaway: The images “underscored how dangerously close the rioters came to the nation’s leaders, shifting the focus of the trial from an academic debate about the Constitution to a raw retelling of the Jan. 6 assault.”

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Trump not pleased

Watching the proceedings on television from Mar-a-Lago, his club in Palm Beach, Florida, Trump was apparently none too happy with his defense team’s opening-day performance, according to the New York Times.

One of the former president’s lawyers, Bruce Castor, gave a nearly one-hour presentation that was panned by Democrats and Republicans (and pretty much everyone else forced to watch it). On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the angriest, Trump “was an eight,” the newspaper reported, citing a person familiar with his reaction.

Castor also did something else that Trump probably didn’t much like: admitted that Biden won the election. “The American people just spoke, and they just changed administrations,” Castor said. He added that Americans are “smart enough to pick a new administration if they don’t like the old one, and they just did.”

One of the Republicans who criticized the defense team, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, told The Hill, “It was disorganized, random, had nothing — they talked about many things, but they didn’t talk about the issue at hand.” (Cassidy, it should be noted, was one of six Republican senators who sided with Democrats earlier in the week in voting to proceed with the trial over defense team arguments that it was unconstitutional to try Trump as a private citizen.)

Not that it probably matters. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, reassured Trump that he would be acquitted despite the sloppy lawyering, according to The Hill. “I think his team will do better, can do better,” Graham said. “I reinforced to the president, the case is over. It’s just a matter of getting the final verdict now.”

Klobuchar, Smith: It ain’t over till it’s over

Minnesota’s senior senator, Democrat Amy Klobuchar, said she isn’t ready to concede that Trump will be acquitted — especially since the Senate’s most powerful Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has suggested that he hasn’t made up his mind about how he will vote.

As Klobuchar, noting that only six Republicans voted to proceed with the trial, told the Star Tribune, “I’m not going to concede that right now. It doesn’t mean that that’s the way everyone’s going to vote … you’ve got to make a decision on the facts, now that the Senate has found the trial to be constitutional.”

Minnesota’s other senator, Democrat Tina Smith, told the newspaper that she has been encouraged that, from her vantage point in the Senate chamber, Republicans appear to be paying close attention and taking notes. “That tells me they’re learning something,” she said.

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Stimulus and reopening schools

It does appear that some other things are happening in Washington, including some regular old partisan battles over COVID-related proposals.

Late last week, the House — over unanimous Republican opposition — approved a budget blueprint that included Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan. Biden, the New York Times reported, cited a weak jobs report in justifying the use of a procedural device called reconciliation to “ram through” the measure over Senate Republican objections. “It is very clear our economy is still in trouble,” Biden said on the day the Labor Department announced that the economy had added only 49,000 jobs in January and just 6,000 in the private sector. (The labor market remained 10 million jobs below its pre-pandemic levels.)

Biden, however, did say his plans could change to win over moderates in both parties who want a smaller package with more targeted relief, the newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, the AP reported, Republicans accused Biden of backpedaling on his pledge to reopen the nation’s schools after his administration acknowledged that a full reopening was far off. Biden initially pledged to reopen “the majority of our schools” in his first 100 days in office. In January, he specified that that applied only to schools that teach through the eighth grade. Then the White House said schools would be considered open as long as they teach in-person at least one day a week, the wire service noted.

Pressed to explain, White House press secretary Jen Psaki clarified that one day a week of in-person learning would meet the mark. “His goal that he set is to have the majority of schools – so, more than 50 percent – open by day 100 of his presidency,” she said. “And that means some teaching in classrooms. So, at least one day a week. Hopefully, it’s more.”

That’s not good enough, Republicans said.

“Having only 51 percent of our schools reopen for as little as one day a week is not a ‘success,’” Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., said. “We should be working to safely get all of our children back to full-time, in-person learning.”

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The Minnesotan administration

Several Minnesotans, the Star Tribune’s Jim Spencer reported, are “poised to influence the policies and messages of President Joe Biden’s administration as it confronts domestic political turbulence and uncertainty abroad.”

Those people include National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who grew up in Minneapolis; Denis McDonough, a Stillwater native who has been confirmed as U.S. secretary of Veterans Affairs; Rachel Palermo, who grew up in New Brighton and is an assistant press secretary for Vice President Kamala Harris; and University of Minnesota epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, a member of the presidential transition’s COVID-19 task force and one of the main go-to guys on the COVID-19 front.

Another Minnesotan, Andy Slavitt — a former UnitedHealth Group executive who served in the Obama administration — is now the senior COVID adviser to Biden. As such, Spencer reported, Slavitt will help organize the national mass inoculation program. Meanwhile, former Minnesota commerce commissioner Jessica Looman is now deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, specializing in workplace protection for employees.

ICYMI, be sure to check out these MinnPost reads:

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. You can contact me at gaamot@minnpost.com or find me on Twitter.