Trump Acquitted in Impeachment Trial

Photo courtesy of NowThis.

By Terrance Turner

Feb. 9, 2021 (Updated Feb. 13)

The impeachment trial is over. The Senate has voted to acquit Donald Trump of incitement of insurrection charges for his role in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6. The Senate voted 57-43 in favor of acquittal. Seven Republicans joined Democrats in voting to acquit. They are: Sens. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) and Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania). But the Senate ultimately fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for acquittal.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) spoke after the verdict. “The former president inspired, directed and propelled a mob to violently prevent the peaceful transfer of power, subvert the will of the people and illegally keep that president in power,” Schumer said. He declared that Jan. 6 would live on as “a day of infamy”.

Schumer also pointed out that today’s impeachment vote was the most bipartisan vote for an impeachment trial in American history. Schumer added: “I pray that while Justice was not done in this trial. It will be carried forward by the American people who above any of us in this chamber determine the destiny of our great nation.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also spoke.

“Jan. 6 was a disgrace,” McConnell began. “Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor. They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the vice president. They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth because he was angry he’d lost an election.”

McConnell squarely blamed Trump for the events of Jan. 6: “There’s no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president,” he said. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags, and screaming their loyalty—to him. It was obvious that only Pres. Trump could end this.” But he still insisted that there was no constitutional basis to convict Trump because he is now a private citizen. But he added a telling caveat:

The impeachment trial of Donald John Trump commenced earlier this week. Led by Senate president pro tempore Patrick Leahy, the trial began with a warning. The Acting Sergeant of Arms proclaimed that all senators are required to remain silent “on pain of imprisonment” during the trial.

Rep. Jamie Raskin began by noting that there would not be a lengthy civics-class explanation about the Federalist Papers. “I know there are a lot of people who are dreading endless lectures about the Federalist Papers here. Please breathe easy, OK? I remember well W.H. Auden’s line that a professor is someone who speaks while other people are sleeping,” Raskin wryly noted. “Our case is based on cold, hard facts.”

As noted by New York Times correspondent Paul Hulse, “The fundamental argument of the House managers is that if trying a president or any official once they are out of office is unconstitutional, a person could act with impunity in the last stages of their tenure and not be held accountable.” Accordingly, Raskin argued that excusing Trump from impeachment simply because he left office on Jan. 20 would create a “January exception”. Raskin called that move dangerous: “It’s an invitation to the President to take his best shot at anything he may want to do on his way out the door, including using violent means to lock that door, to hold on to the Oval Office at all costs,” Raskin said.

What came next was video evidence. The House managers played an exhibit: scenes from the violent uprising on the Capitol on January 6, intercut with scenes of the orderly Electoral College vote inside. There’s footage of the crowd reacting to Trump’s speech in real time. There’s a clip of Sen. James Langford (R-Oklahoma) being interrupted by the clearing of the House floor. There’s a moment where one insurrectionist says they need “30,000 guns up here”. There’s footage of the mob storming the Capitol, chanting “Traitor Pence!” and fighting the police. “Fuck these pigs,” one of the rioters says.

“If that’s not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing,” said House manager Jamie Raskin. “The Senate has the power — the sole power — to try all impeachments.” He further stated that the vast majority of constitutional scholars — including Reagan’s solicitor general and the president of the Federalist Society — agree that this impeachment is legitimate.

Rep. Joe Neguse took the stage next. Elected to the House in 2018, he was once a litigator in private practice. He, too, noted the broad consensus among scholars about the legitimacy of the impeachment trial. Over 150 constitutional scholars — conservative and liberal — agree that the Senate can try, convict, and remove, Neguse said. He then presented historical precedent: the case of former Secretary of War William Belknap.

“In 1876, the House discovered that he was involved in a massive kickback scheme,” Rep. Neguse said. Belknap literally rushed to the White House to resign to avoid being impeached. But that was unavoidable. “The House moved forward and immediately impeached him,” Neguse noted. And when they did? Belknap “made the exact same argument that President Trump is makign today: that you all lack jurisdiction any power to try him because he’s a former official.” Belknap was ultimately not convicted, but only after a full trial. “The trial served important constitutional purposes,” Neguse said.

Rep. Neguse displayed an excerpt of the Constitution” “Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor,” the Constitution says. Disqualification obviously applies to both former and current officers. Neguse countered the Republican argument that disqualification must follow removal from office (which is now impossible, since Donald Trump has left office). Sen. George Edmunds said, “A prohibition against doing more than two things cannot be turned into a command to do both or neither.”

Sen. David Cicilline (D-RI) said that the argument about impeaching a former official was “a purely fictional loophole, designed to allow the former president to escape accountability for conduct that is truly indefensible.” He noted that the rioters “could have killed all of us” and chided Trump for inciting them to riot. “This was a disaster of historic proportion,” Rep. Cicilline said. “It was also an unforgivable betrayal of the oath of office by President Trump, the oath he swore, an oath he sullied and dishonored to advance his own personal interest…”

Rep. Cicilline countered the Trump team’s deflection: playing videos of incendiary language by Democrats like Rep. Maxine Waters or Rep. Cory Booker. “Let me be crystal clear: President Trump was not impeached because the words he used, viewed in isolation without context, were beyond the pale. Plenty of other politicians have used strong language, but Donald J Trump was president of the United States,” Rep. Cicilline said. “President Trump was not impeached because he used words that the House decided are forbidden or unpopular. He was impeached for inciting armed violence against the government of the United States of America.”

“After a betrayal like this, there cannot be unity without accountability,” Rep. Cicilline said.

Rep. Raskin returned to the mic. He grew emotional as he remembered having his son-in-law and daughter at the Capitol with him on Jan. 6. (Raskin had just buried his son the day before. His son Tommy committed suicide on New Year’s Eve.) He’d invited his daughter Tabitha and her husband to join him. They asked him whether it would be safe to do so. “They asked me directly, ‘Would it be safe?’ Would it be safe? I said, ‘Of course it should be safe. This is the Capitol,” Raskin recalled.

He had no idea that an angry mob would descend on the Capitol. But they did. While rioters besieged the Capitol and stormed the halls, the congressman and his family took shelter, fearing the worst. A day after burying his son in a graveside service, Raskin huddled under a desk with one of his two daughters and his son-in-law.

“They thought they were going to die,” Raskin said. “My son-in-law had never even been to the Capitol before. And when they were finally rescued, over an hour later by Capitol officers, and we were together, I hugged them and I apologized and I told my daughter Tabitha — who’s 24 and a brilliant algebra teacher in Teach for America now — I told her how sorry I was, and I promised her it would not be like this again the next time she came back to the Capitol with me. You know what she said? She said, ‘Dad, I don’t want to come back to the Capitol.’ Of all of the terrible, brutal things that I saw and that I heard on that day, and since then, that one hit me the hardest.”

Raskin reminded his colleagues of the toll from a day in which five people died and one was nearly crushed to death by the mob. “People died that day. Officers ended up with head damage and brain damage. People’s eyes were gouged. An officer had a heart attack. An officer lost three fingers that day. Two officers have taken their own lives. Senators: This cannot be our future. This cannot be the future of the America. We cannot have presidents inciting and mobilizing mob violence against our government and our institutions because they refuse to accept the will of the people,” Raskin concluded.

Biden Gets to Work On First Day in Office

Jan. 20, 2021 (Updated Jan. 22)

By Terrance Turner

President Joe Biden got right down to brass tacks after his inauguration today. After the shortened inaugural parade on Jan. 20, the new president went to his office and got to work. “There is no time to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face,” Biden said. “That’s why today, I am heading to the Oval Office to get right to work delivering bold action and immediate relief for American families.”

On his first day in office, President Biden signed 17 executive orders. The orders cover a wide range — from DACA to the border wall to COVID-19. Wearing a mask at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, Biden issued a mask mandate in federal buildings. The executive order requires masks to be worn on federal land and in federal buildings. The order applies to any federal employee or contractor working in these locations and facilities, according to Business Insider.

Since Biden does not have the legal authority to require every American to wear a mask, his order instead challenges the public to wear masks for 100 days. He has called on governors, mayors, and public-health officials to support him in the mission.

President Biden also created a COVID-19 “response coordinator” who will report to the president on vaccines, testing and personal protective equipment production, supply, and distribution, per CBS News. On Wednesday, Biden rejoined the World Health Organization. He put a stop to the US withdrawal process started under Trump. Biden also tapped Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to represent the US at WHO’s annual meetings this week.

Biden also rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, which the previous president had withdrawn from. The international agreement calls for dramatically reducing global greenhouse gas emissions heating the planet. Countries set their own goals to try to curb global temperature rise, with a collective aim to stay well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, according to The Independent.

Biden revoked the previous president’s “Muslim ban” — which prohibited immigration from majority-Muslim countries — and abolished the so-called “extreme vetting” practices that were hard on immigrants and led to rejected visa applications. The order also instructed the State Department to restore fairness in visa processing and remedy harms caused by the previous bans, according to Forbes.

Biden also directed an immediate halt to construction of the border wall along the U.S. Mexican border and called for a review of the legality of funding and contracting methods used by the previous administration. The order terminated the “national emergency” declaration used to justify the wall. (The U.S.-Mexico border spans over 1,900 miles; the Trump administration added merely 80 new miles of barrier fencing along the border.)

Another executive order directed the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to take appropriate measures to fortify Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and ensure that “Dreamers” be protected from deportation. Biden also revoked the prior administration’s orders to exclude undocumented individuals from the census.

Furthermore, Biden signed an order calling for an eviction moratorium until the end of February. He also requested that student loans be paused and that interest rates be set at zero percent. According to the Huffington Post, Biden has extended the pause on student loan payments until September 2021. Borrowers may defer payments without penalty.

President Biden also issued an executive order addressing workplace discrimination against LGBTQ people. Titled “Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation”, it is written in Biden’s voice. The order begins: “By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1.  Policy.  Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love.  Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.  Adults should be able to earn a living and pursue a vocation knowing that they will not be fired, demoted, or mistreated because of whom they go home to or because how they dress does not conform to sex-based stereotypes.  People should be able to access healthcare and secure a roof over their heads without being subjected to sex discrimination.  All persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.

These principles are reflected in the Constitution, which promises equal protection of the laws.  These principles are also enshrined in our Nation’s anti-discrimination laws, among them Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Biden writes. “It is the policy of my administration to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gedner identity and sexual orientation,” he goes on.

The order mandates that the head of each agency shall review its order, regulations, programs, policies, etc. that may be inconsistent with Section 1. The head of each agency must then also consider whether to revise, suspend, or rescind such agency actions, or to effect new agency actions, in compliance with this. (He or she must also determine whether that policy was administered under Title II.)

The Human Rights Campaign called Biden’s order the “most substantive, wide-ranging LGBTQ order in U.S. history.”

UPDATE (Jan. 25, 2021): President Biden has signed an executive order reversing Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military.

A New Era Begins on Inauguration Day

By Terrance Turner

Jan. 20, 2021

Today, in an inauguration unlike any other, Joseph R. Biden, Jr. was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar served as an emcee of sorts. The morning featured a performance of the national anthem by Lady Gaga (who campaigned with Biden in Pennsylvania). Clad in a black turtleneck and dramatic red hoop skirt (with a voluminous train), Gaga delivered a masterful version of the anthem that was alternately operatic and soaring.

And then came one of the morning’s most crucial moments. Kamala Harris was sworn in as the Vice President of the United States. Harris became the first female, first Black, and first Indian-American to become Vice President. She was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor — the first Latina on the Court.

As Vice President, Harris becomes president of the Senate. Her work begins today. This afternoon, she will be in the U.S. Capitol to execute her constitutional role and swear in three new Democratic senators: Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the two Democrats elected in a Georgia special election this month, and Alex Padilla, her own successor to the California seat she resigned on Monday. But this morning, she ascended to the second-highest office in the land.

Harris used two Bibles in the ceremony, according to NPR. The first belonged to Regina Shelton, a family friend whom Harris saw as a second mother. Harris used this Bible before when she took the oath of office as both California attorney general and U.S. senator. The second Bible was was owned by the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black member of the Supreme Court.

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Vice President Kamala Harris takes her oath of office. Photo from Reuters.

As NPR noted, the vice president’s oath of office is slightly different from the president’s. It’s the oath typically taken by members of Congress. And it was that oath with which Vice President Kamala Harris sealed her place in American history.

“I, Kamala Devi Harris, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Another performance followed, with Jennifer Lopez delivering a mellifluous medley of “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful”. Growing increasingly impassioned after a gentle beginning, Lopez recited part of the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish (!) towards the end. “Una nación, bajo Dios, indivisible, con libertad y justicia para todos!” she enthused, in a nod to her Puerto Rican roots. “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Her all-white pantsuit ensemble drew praise from ABC commentator George Stephanopoulos.

Also making waves on the fashion front was country singer Garth Brooks. Mr. Brooks came down the stairs, arriving at this black-tie event in a cowboy hat, black suit jacket, and blue jeans. His inclusion came as a surprise, given his conservative country roots. But Brooks made his intentions clear days ago:  “This is not a political statement. This is a statement of unity.” And unite he did.

Removing his hat, Brooks sang a spellbinding a cappella version of “Amazing Grace”. He asked the crowd outside and those at home to sing the final verse with him. His stunning performance was followed by an equally stunning move — a warm-hearted flouting of social distancing. Upon finishing the song, Brooks shook hands with Biden, former VP Mike Pence and Vice President Harris. Then, remarkably, Brooks — a Republican — ran over and hugged former President Barack Obama, former First Lady Michelle Obama, and the Clintons.

Afterward, Joe Biden took the presidential oath of office. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts did the swearing-in. Biden placed his hand on a Bible that, according to the New York Times, has been in his family for 128 years. With his hand on that Bible and his wife by his side, Biden, 78, became the oldest president to take office.

Biden was sworn in with a 35-word oath of office at 11:49 am EST, just 11 minutes before the constitutional deadline at noon. He swore: “I, Joseph R. Robinette Biden Jr., do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. So help me God.”

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President Joe Biden is sworn in as president by Justice John Roberts.

Shortly afterward, Biden delivered his inaugural address. It was a cogent, compelling call for unity and healing. “This is America’s day,” Biden began. “This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope, or renewal and resolve. Through a crucible for the ages, America has been tested anew, and America has risen to the challenge. Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause: the cause of democracy.

The will of the people has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded. We have learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.” The crowd broke into applause. Biden continued:

“So now, on this hallowed ground — where just days ago violence sought to shake this Capitol’s very foundation — we come together as one nation, under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries. We look ahead in our uniquely American way – restless, bold, optimistic – and set our sights on the nation we know we can be and we must be.” Biden noted that “the American way depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us. On ‘We the People’, who seek a more perfect union.”

“This is a great nation and we are a good people,” Biden stressed. “Over the centuries, through storm and strife, in peace and in war, we have come so far. But we still have far to go. We will press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and possibility.

Much to repair.

Much to restore.

Much to heal.

Much to build.

And much to gain.

“Few periods in our nation’s history have been more challenging or difficult than the one we’re in now,” Biden went on. “A once-in-a-century virus silently stalks the country. It’s taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II. Millions of jobs have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed.

A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer. A cry for survival comes from the planet itself. A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear. And now, a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism, that we must confront and we will defeat.”

“To overcome these challenges – to restore the soul and to secure the future of America – requires more than words. It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: unity.”

Unity.

It was the name of the game throughout Biden’s address. “With unity we can do great things, Important things,” he said. “We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome this deadly virus. We can reward work, rebuild the middle class, and make health care secure for all. We can deliver racial justice. We can make America, once again, the leading force for good in the world.

I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy. I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, and demonization have long torn us apart. The battle is perennial. Victory is never assured.”

Biden continued: “We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature. For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos.

This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward. And, we must meet this moment as the United States of America. If we do that, I guarantee you, we will not fail. We have never, ever, ever failed in America when we have acted together. And so today, at this time and in this place, let us start afresh. All of us.

Let us listen to one another. Hear one another. See one another. Show respect to one another. Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war. And, we must reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured. My fellow Americans, we have to be different than this. America has to be better than this.

And, I believe America is better than this.

To all those who did not support us, let me say this: Hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart. And if you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. That’s America. The right to dissent peaceably, within the guardrails of our Republic, is perhaps our nation’s greatest strength.”

“Yet hear me clearly,” he said. “Disagreement must not lead to disunion.”

“And I pledge this to you: I will be a President for all Americans.”

“I understand that many Americans view the future with some fear and trepidation. I understand they worry about their jobs, about taking care of their families, about what comes next. I get it. But the answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you do, or worship the way you do, or don’t get their news from the same sources you do.

We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts,” Biden said. And in a moving display of his own heart, Biden’s first act as president was asking Americans to join him in a moment of silence for the 400,000 Americans who have died from the coronavirus.

Those Americans were mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, Biden reminded us. They were our neighbors, our friends, and our co-workers, he said. “We will honor them by becoming the people and nation we know we can and should be.”

It was an elegant, eloquent speech; Chris Wallace (of Fox News!) said it was the best inaugural address he’d ever heard. But the day’s most memorable moment belonged to 22-year-old Amanda Gorman.

Joe Biden Sworn In As 46th President Of The United States At U.S. Capitol Inauguration Ceremony : News Photo
Amanda Gorman delivers the inaugural poem on Jan. 20, 2021. Photo by Patrick Semansky.

Today, Gorman became the youngest person ever to deliver a poem at an inauguration. In a spellbinding speech that lasted nearly six minutes, she captivated the nation. She spoke of the need to both acknowledge the past and to repair it. She referenced the deadly Capitol riot that killed five people (at last count) and which symbolized an attack on democracy — in the very same area in which she and Biden spoke. In rhythmic, mesmeric, lyrical prose, she met the moment.

When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We’ve braved the belly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice.

And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished
We, the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one.

[…]

We seek harm to none and harmony for all
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division
Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid
If we’re to live up to our own time
Then victory won’t lie in the blade
But in all the bridges we’ve made
That is the promise to glade
The hill we climb,
If only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy
And this effort very nearly succeeded
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
it can never be permanently defeated.

“The Hill We Climb,” by Amanda Gourmand

COVID Deaths Top 400,000 on Trump’s Last Day in Office

Vice President-Elect Joe Biden, his wife Dr. Jill Biden,

By Terrance Turner

Jan. 19, 2021

On his last full day in office, President Donald Trump is leaving the White House with his legacy stained by a global pandemic. In February, he said it would “disappear, like a miracle” from our shores. Now, nearly a year later, COVID-19 is still spreading across the country. More than 24 million cases have been reported in America; today there are more than 400,000 deaths.

As CNN noted today, that’s more than the number of Americans who died in World War I, Vietnam War and the Korean War combined. It’s nearly as many Americans who died in World War II. That death toll of 400,000 is far higher than any other country’s COVID-19 death toll.

Today, a memorial service for the victims took place in the District of Columbia. According to USA Today, the brief service was kicked off by an invocation from Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington. It was capped by a performance from Houston-born gospel singer Yolanda Adams, who sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” 

Tonight, the National Mall in Washington, D.C. is lined with 400 lights, representing those 400,000 lives lost. In a visual memorial for the victims, the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool featured 400 lights illuminating on its north and south sides, in striking contrast with the rest of the National Mall dark. It is the first-ever lighting around the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool. President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris joined their spouses in front of that display tonight, observing a moment of silence to remember those we have lost.

“Between sundown and dusk, let us shine the lights in the darkness along this sacred pool of reflection and remember all who we lost,” Biden said today.

“It’s hard sometimes to remember,” the president-elect said at the memorial service, held at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. “But that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here.”

Tonight, Mr. Biden and his family are staying at the Blair House, the official guesthouse of the White House. The Blair House is merely two minutes from the White House, which is also illuminated. Surprisingly, the White House flag remains at full-staff.

Biden Nominates Merrick Garland for Attorney General

By Terrance Turner

Jan. 6, 2021

Photo from Politico.

President-Elect Joe Biden has selected Judge Merrick Garland to serve as Attorney General. Politico confirmed the news with two sources familiar with the decision.

In 2016, then-President Barack Obama nominated Judge Garland to serve on the Supreme Court, filling the vacancy left by late Justice Antonin Scalia. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) blocked Garland’s nomination. McConnell refused to even bring the nomination up for a vote, letting him languish in limbo for a whole year. When President Trump took office, he nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill that seat.

McConnell blocked Garland on the pretense of not filling a Supreme Court seat during an election year. But that excuse went out the window after the death of legendary Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. McConnell sped through Justice Amy Comey Barrett’s confirmation within mere days — despite it being mere weeks before the election. Now, however, McConnell faces the prospect of being Minority Leader, and Garland has been selected for the nation’s highest law enforcement slot.

Garland, 68, is a graduate of Harvard Law School. According to Axios, he has served on the U.S. District Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia since 1997. He served as chief judge from 2013 to Feb. 2020, according to The New York Times. He is a moderate, and he has gotten praise for high-quality opinions — clear, reasoned, and attentive to precedent — per the Times.

In a press conference on Jan. 7, Biden introduced Garland as his pick. Observers noted that Garland has prosecuted domestic terrorists such as the Oklahoma City bombers and the Olympic bombing in Atlanta. That experience proves especially valuable in light of yesterday’s terrorist attack on the Capitol. Biden spoke at length about the riot in his remarks today. “They weren’t protestors. Don’t dare call them protestors. They were a riotous mob […] domestic terrorists,” Biden asserted. He also noted that Garland had pointed out a little-known fact: the Department of Justice was originally formed to combat the Ku Klux Klan, to enforce the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.

Biden emphasized that Garland would serve “not as a personal attorney for the president, but the people’s lawyer.” Biden added: “You won’t work for me. You are not the president or the vice president’s lawyer. Your loyalty is not to me, it’s to the law, the Constitution, the people of this nation to guarantee justice.”

UPDATE: Merrick Garland is currently answering questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of his confirmation hearings. Garland grew emotional as he talked about his motivation for becoming attorney general: “I come from a family where my grandparents fled anti-Semitism and persecution. The country took us in and protected us,” he said, his voice breaking. And I feel an obligation to the country to pay back….This is the highest, best use of my own set of skills to pay back.”

“I want very much to become the kind of Attorney General you’re saying I could become, Garland continued, fighting back tears: “I’ll do my best to try to be that kind of Attorney General.”

Garland said that handling prosecution for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot would be his first priority if confirmed. “I think this was the most heinous attack on the democratic processes that I’ve ever seen, and one that I never expected to see in my lifetime,” Judge Garland told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. He added that the current investigation into the riot—which, to date, has 250 people facing criminal charges—appeared to be “extremely aggressive and perfectly appropriate.”

According to the Associated Press, “His nomination has gained public support on both sides of the political aisle, from more than 150 former Justice Department officials — including former attorneys general Loretta Lynch, Michael Mukasey and Alberto Gonzales, along with 61 former federal judges. Others, including two sons of former Attorney General Edward Levi, have also written letters of support to Congress.”

One member of the Senate Judiciary Committee says that Garland’s position is a crucial development: “There have been few moments in history where the role of attorney general — and the occupant of that post — have mattered more,” the committee’s chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said.

UPDATE (March 10, 2021): Merrick Garland was confirmed today by the Senate. The vote was 70-30.

WE HAVE A DEAL!

By Terrance Turner

As a government shutdown looms, President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill. Axios reports (and CNN confirms) that the president will sign the current bill, which provides $600 checks for most Americans. The bill also includes $300 per week in enhanced unemployment insurance for 11 weeks. Further additions include $25 billion in rental assistance and an extension of the eviction moratorium.

Also included are $319 billion for small businesses, including $284 billion for loans given through the Paycheck Protection Program and $15 billion for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions. Other features are $13 billion in increased SNAP and child nutrition benefits, $82 billion in education, and billions for vaccine distribution and COVID-19 testing.

The bill is attached to a $1.4 trillion omnibus bill, which provides funding to keep the government open. That makes it a legislative behemoth: a $2.3 trillion, 5,593-page bill with a host of objectives and goals. After eight months of deadlock and negotiation, the bill was finally agreed upon last week. It passed with overwhelming (and rare) bipartisan support.

But on Tuesday, the president blindsided lawmakers by attacking the bill, calling it “a disgrace”. In a video posted online, Trump complained that the bill had alnost nothig to do with COVID-19. “Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests while sending the bare minimum to the American people,” he said.

“I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000,” he added. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi agreed. “At last, the President has agreed to $2,000 — Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week,” she wrote on Twitter. “Let’s do it!”

The Democrats did indeed bring a bill with $2000 payments to the congressional floor, but House Republicans rejected it. Instead of working with Congress on a new bill, the president departed the White House with First lady Melania Trump to begin his end-of-year vacation at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. He has spent much of the weekend golfing in West Palm Beach. Lawmakers delivered the legislation to him in Florida, per the Times.

Meanwhile, unemployment benefits expired at midnight, leaving millions in jeopardy of losing benefits. As the New York Times explained: “States cannot pay out benefits for weeks that begin before the bill is signed, meaning that if the president does not sign the bill by Saturday [Dec. 26], benefits will not restart until the first week of January. But they will still end in mid-March, effectively trimming the extension to 10 weeks from 11.”

As of Nov. 28, there were 14 million people receiving unemployment benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs, an increase of 958,000 from the previous week, Axios’ Dion Rabouin reports. The Associated Press says that about 9.5 million people rely on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program alone (including the author). That program made unemployment insurance available to freelancers, gig workers and others who are normally not eligible. After receiving their last checks, those recipients will not be able to file for more aid after Saturday.

  • 1.4 million Americans filed unemployment claims for the first time earlier this month, with 935,000 filing for traditional unemployment benefits and 455,000 filing claims for the PUA program.
  • The current bill would extend the period that unemployment can be collected until March, per the New York Times.

This sudden decision came as a shutdown loomed. Per the AP, the government was scheduled to shut down at 12:01 am Tuesday when funding ran out. That placed pressure on everyone, Trump included. As the weekend progressed, lawmakers — both Democratic and Republican — urged the president to sign the current bill now and push for the $2,000 payments later. “I think the best thing to do is sign this and then make the case for subsequent legislation,” said Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. He warned that the president’s legacy would be adversely affected.

“I understand he wants to be remembered for advocating for big checks,” Toomey said on Fox News Sunday. “But the danger is he’ll be remembered for chaos and misery and erratic behavior, if he allows this to expire.” (If Trump had merely sat on the bill, it would expire after 10 days, forcing lawmakers on Capitol Hill to start all over with new legislation.)

On ABC’s “This Week” this morning, Sen. Bernie Sanders criticized the president’s obstruction: “What the president is doing right now is unbelievably cruel,” said Sanders. “Many millions of people are losing their extended unemployment benefits. They’re going to be evicted from their apartments because the eviction moratorium is ending. We are looking at a way to get the vaccine distributed to tens of millions of people. There’s money in that bill.”

Sen. Sanders is correct in asserting that renters will face eviction if the bill is not signed. But there are other pressing problems affecting many out-of-work Americans — problems that will be exacerbated if no deal is reached:

  • Nearly 12 million renters will owe an average of $5,850 in back rent and utilities by January, per WaPo — showing that people are running out of money for basic needs.
  • The U.S. poverty rate jumped to 11.7% in November, up 2.4 percentage points since June — making this the biggest jump in a single year since the government began tracking poverty 60 years ago, the Washington Post reports.

Joe Biden Elected President of the United States

By Terrance Turner

Nov. 7, 2020 (updated Nov. 15)

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. has been elected President of the United States.

The former Vice President was formally named as the winner this morning, after an agonizing four-day vote counting effort. Biden won the election after winning Pennsylvania — a result that was called by the Associated Press and NBC News at around 10:30 am. Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes gave Biden a total of 273, just above the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

The victory in Pennsylvania came after a slow but surprising surge by Biden. Donald Trump had led the state by nearly 15 percentage points days ago. But Biden steadily chipped away at that lead. Over the past few days, a steady stream of mail-in votes pushed him forward. Within the past 24 hours, Biden pulled ahead, leading with 49.6% of the vote to Trump’s 49.1%.

“I am honored and humbled by the trust the American people have placed in me and in Vice President-elect Harris,” Biden said in a statement. “With the campaign over, it’s time to put the anger and the harsh rhetoric behind us and come together as a nation. It’s time for America to unite. And to heal. We are the United States of America. And there’s nothing we can’t do, if we do it together.”

Biden’s victory makes him the oldest man to be elected president. It makes his running mate Kamala Harris the first woman to become vice president. She is also the first Black person and first Indian to become vice president. Harris reacted to her historic achievement via tweet: “This election is about so much more than @JoeBiden or me. It’s about the soul of America and our willingness to fight for it,” she wrote.

In an intriguing note, CNN reporter Jeff Zeleny revealed that it was on this day — 48 years ago today — that Joe Biden won election to the Senate for the first time. Today, he becomes 46th President of the United States. This victory also comes after a long, long, long saga that involved laborious vote-counting. For a closer look at the process, check out the brief recap below.

Inside the Process

Nov. 4, 2020 (approx. 12:00 pm): After 16 agonizing hours of poll-watching and TV-viewing and number-crunching, we STILL don’t know. CNN’s John King has been telling us to “be patient” since last night. And we still don’t know who’s president. This election hinges on Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Nevada. If Joe Biden maintains his narrow lead in those four states, he becomes the next President of the United States.

But it’s still razor-thin. Those four states are still too close to call.

UPDATE (Nov. 4, 2020, 4:00 pm): Joe Biden has won the states of Michigan and Wisconsin. CNN reported the news this afternoon. Those two states are among the three in the “blue wall” that Biden was seeking to rebuild. His opponent, Donald Trump, won the presidency in 2016 largely due to his narrow victories in those three states. Biden sought to regain those states in his path to victory.

UPDATE (Nov. 5, 2020, 12:35 pm): The presidential race has narrowed.

Overnight, Joe Biden’s lead in the state of Arizona has narrowed. Biden maintains his lead in the states of Arizona and Nevada; if he wins those states, he wins the presidency. Significantly, however, Trump’s lead has also narrowed in some states. One of them, crucially, is Pennsylvania.

The president enjoyed a sizable lead of nearly 600,000 votes yesterday, leading 56.7% to 41.9% at midnight Wednesday. By 3:00 pm that day, however, the lead was nearly cut in half: Trump had 53.1% to Biden’s 45.6%. By 11:00 pm Wednesday, the lead shrunk significantly again: Trump led 50.8% to 47.9%. Now, on Thursday afternoon, President Trump’s lead has shrunken yet again, from 600,000 to 114,000 votes. (Trump has 3,231,147 votes at this point; Biden has 3,117,136.)

Trump now has 50.2% of the vote in Pennsylvania; Biden has 48.5%. Between midnight Wednesday and noon Thursday, the president’s lead shrunk from nearly fifteen percentage points down to 1.8. Pennsylvania is crucial. If Biden wins Pennsylvania, he wins the presidency. Trump must win Pennsylvania to win the election. As CNN’s John King put it: “Biden can win without it; the president cannot.”

According to CNN, 92% of the vote in Pennsylvania has been counted. There is now a legal battle over election ballots that were sent by or before Election Day, but arrived after the date. The Trump campaign filed a lawsuit over these ballots. Roughly 550,000 ballots in Pennsylvania have yet to be counted. Penn Secy. of State Kathy Boockvar said she expects that most of the ballots will be counted by the end of the day. “Why is it taking so long?” CNN anchor Jake Tapper asked. Boockvar answered that people “are working as quickly as they can. But as you know, these things take time.” She explained that staff are working on “reconciliation” of the votes.

UPDATE (6:50 pm): The race in Georgia has tightened dramatically. At midnight on Wednesday, Trump led by nearly ten percentage points (54.1% vs. 44.7%). By 9 am, however, the lead narrowed (50.5% vs. 48.5%). A day later, the margin once again tightened: by Thursday at 9 am, Trump had merely 49.6% to Biden’s 49.2%. Then the president’s lead again dwindled — this time to nearly nothing. With 99% of the votes in Georgia counted, Trump has 49.4% to Biden’s 49.3%. The president is only ahead by 3,486 votes.

According to CNN, the reason for these surprising shifts is that the mail-in ballots were counted last. Some states counted in different orders; Ohio, for example, counted mail-in ballots first. Pennsylvania, by contrast, counted Election Day votes first, then counted the votes cast by mail (similar to Georgia). This is how it works. This is NOT fraud (as the president has suggested).

Meanwhile, the race in Pennsylvania continues to evolve. Trump leads there by only 64,000 votes; he has 49.8% of the vote, to Biden’s 48.9%. However, the opposite is occurring in Arizona. Biden had enjoyed a comfortable lead of up to four percentage points. But the link has gradually shrunk over the past two days. Currently, Biden leads 50.5% to 48.5%.

UPDATE (Nov. 7): Everything has changed.

What had been a close race in Georgia became a virtual dead heat — Biden with 49.4% of the vote, Trump with 49.4%. But Biden has the edge, with just over 1,600 votes (as of this writing). On Wednesday at midnight, Trump led by nearly ten percent of the vote (54.1% to Biden’s 44.7%). But by 9 am, the lead had narrowed (50.5% to 48.5%). That lead continued to shrink the next morning. By 9 am Thursday, Biden trailed by less than half a percentage point. The race was 49.6% to 49.2%. By 6 pm, it was 49.4 to 49.3. Slowly but surely, the lead shifted to Biden.

The “Keystone State” Hands Biden Victory; Jubilance Ensues

Biden’s narrow win in Georgia surprised many observers. But it was Pennsylvania that would hand him the presidency.

It was a fitting win, given that Biden was actually born in Pennsylvania. Biden, 77, was born in Scranton, PA, in 1942. He was the first of five children, according to AZ Central. The family didn’t move to Delaware until 1953. But that is where Biden has made his home. Now, he has a new home: the White House.

Reaction to the victory has been resounding and widespread. Celebrations have broke out across the country. According to ABC 13 Houston, “Just after The Associated Press and other news organizations declared that former Vice President Joe Biden beat President Donald Trump, fireworks erupted in Atlanta. In Maine, a band playing at a farmers’ market broke into the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’.”

“Neighbors ran out of their homes in Manhattan and assembled into an unplanned street party, whooping, dancing and high-fiving strangers. In Louisville, Kentucky, Biden supporters gathered on their lawns to toast with champagne. In Harlem, they danced in the streets, banged cowbells and honked their car horns.” Thousands gathered to celebrate in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital. Massive crowds gathered on the other side of the country, in San Francisco. People were literally dancing in the streets.

CNN commentator Nia-Malika Henderson pointed out that there was a sense of relief and happiness in the air. But she also noted the historic nature of the win — and its significance to her, as a Black woman. “I’m not that old [she’s 46], but I grew up at a time when I couldn’t even find black dolls, find books with, you know, reflections of black kids growing up,” she said. Now, a black (and brown) woman is Vice-President-Elect of the United States.

“I’m so excited to see a black woman in the White House, a brown woman in the White house, an Indian American woman in the White House,” said singer Lizzo, who campaigned for Biden in Michigan. “I am so ready to see if America can hold itself accountable.”

That night, both Biden and Harris gave addresses that matched the moment. Harris, dressed in suffragette white, addressed the crowd first. She opened by citing the legendary John Lewis: “Democracy is not a state; it is an act,” Harris began. “America’s democracy is not guaranteed. It is only as strong as our willingness to fight for it.” She thanked those who waited in lines to vote. “And when our very democracy was on the ballot in this election, with the very soul of America at stake,” she said, “you ushered in a new day for America.”

Harris lauded Biden as “a healer and uniter, a tested and steady hand”. She described him as “a guy with a big heart, who loves with abandon”. She noted that she first got to know him as the father of her friend (and Biden’s late son) Beau Biden. Harris and Beau Biden simultaneously served as attorneys general for their respective states (California and Delaware, respectively).

Harris thanked her husband and family, remembering her mother (who immigrated to the United States at just 19) in a poignant moment. And she commended women of all stripes and colors, with a special shoutout to one group: “Black women, who are so often overlooked, but have so often proven to be the backbone of our democracy.” Harris noted that many young girls (especially Black and brown ones) were watching. And she gave them hope for the future: “But while I might be the first woman in this position, I will not be the last.”

“I will strive to be a vice president like Joe was to Barack Obama: loyal, honest and prepared,” Harris went on. She vowed her running mate would be “a Commander-in-Chief who respects our troops, and a President for all Americans.” With that, she introduced the President-Elect of the United States: Joe Biden.

Biden jogged onto the stage, situated in front of a drive-through rally on the Christina River in northern Delaware. He began by recognizing familiar faces in the crowd, as well as his family. He devoted a portion of the speech to his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. But Biden also thanked election officials and poll workers who risked their lives in the midst of the pandemic.

At the outset of his speech, Biden struck a familiar, unifying tone: “I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but unify — who doesn’t see red states and blue states, only sees the United States.” Biden stressed the need to unite as Americans: “We may be opponents, but we’re not enemies. We’re Americans.”

“I’m proud of the campaign we ran,” he said. He took pride in the coalition that helped him win: “Democrats, Republicans, independents, progressives, moderates, conservatives, young, old, urban, suburban, rural, gay, straight, transgender, White, Latino, Asian, Native American.” But he reserved special thanks to the Black voters who helped seal his victory: “Especially in those moments where this campaign was at its lowest, the African American community stood up again for me. You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.”

In a move that would’ve been impossible for his predecessor, Biden reached out to those who didn’t vote for him. “To those who voted for Donald Trump: I understand the disappointment tonight. I’ve lost a couple of times myself. But now, let’s give each other a chance,” he said. He added: “It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to each other again, and to make progress.” Speaking of progress, Biden announced a policy directive aimed at helping Americans cope with the coronavirus: Biden closed by saying he would announce on Monday a group of scientists and experts as transition advisers who would help combat COVID-19.

In a moving moment that reflected his Catholic faith, Biden said: “The Bible tells us that to everything there is a season — a time to build, a time to reap, a time to sow. And a time to heal. This is the time to heal in America.”

Biden concluded: “I’ve always believed we can define America in one word: possibilities. That in America, everyone should be given the opportunity to go as far as their dreams and God-given ability will take them […] With full hearts and steady hands, with faith in America and in each other, with a love of country — and a thirst for justice — let us be the nation that we know we can be.

A nation united.

A nation strengthened.

A nation healed.”

UPDATE (Nov. 13, 2020): It’s official.

Politico is now reporting that every state has been called in the 2020 presidential race.

President-Elect Joe Biden has won the state of Arizona, Politico says. Biden has also won the state of Georgia. With these two victories, Biden has flipped two historically Republican red states. The last Democratic president to win Georgia was Bill Clinton in 1992. The last Democrat to win Arizona was also Clinton, in 1996.

Biden’s win in Arizona was razor-close. Politico reports that the final count in Arizona gave Biden 49.4% of the vote to President Trump’s 49.1%. (That’s roughly 1,670,000 votes to Trump’s 1,659,000.) 99% of the vote in Arizona is in, making the final tally unlikely to change substantially. In Georgia, the results are similarly close. Biden wins with 49.5% of the vote; Trump has 49.2%. That equates to roughly 2,472,000 votes for Biden and about 2,458,000 for Trump.

The New York Times confirmed the news today, adding that President Trump won North Carolina. (Georgia and North Carolina were the last states to be called.) However, Trump’s win in North Carolina gives him merely 232 votes in the Electoral College. Biden has 306. Ironically, that’s the same total Trump had in 2016. Tellingly, Biden flipped five states that Trump won four years ago: Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Mr. Trump did not flip any state that Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

UPDATE (Nov. 30): Biden’s wins in Arizona and Wisconsin were confirmed by election officials today, confirming a victory that is readily apparent to virtually everyone (except, perhaps, the current president). That adds to a historic vote total that Biden achieved last week, on Nov. 24:

Biden’s vote total now exceeds his opponent’s by a historic margin of more than 6 million votes. Joseph Biden has 80 million votes — the most ever by a presidential candidate. He won.

UPDATE (Dec. 14, 2020): It’s official. Joe Biden reached the required 270 Electoral College votes today. This seals his victory in the 2020 presidential election. He WILL be the next President of the United States when he takes the oath of office in January 2021.