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All members are invited to join us on Thursday, March 25, 2021, at 6:00 PM EST as Josh Marshall hosts a virtual panel discussion with some of our top legal sources. They’ll discuss whether Trump will be held to account for his attempt to overturn our democracy, and what it would look like if he is.
The future is hard to predict because all of our perceptions are all shaped by the present that is always passing. But it’s not too soon to note that some of our assumptions about ex-President Trump’s post-presidency missed the mark. With the exception of his CPAC speech which was generally regarded as a flat, low-energy affair Trump has been almost entirely out of the spotlight. He did pick this fight over whether money should go to GOP party committees or only to him directly. But the follow through has been scattered and Sen. Rick Scott’s visit to Mar a Lago suggests it was mainly a push for attention.
He’s back. Maybe.
If you remember, TPM alum Allegra Kirkland covered the swift downfall of former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) back in 2018, exclusively breaking a particularly disturbing detail of the story, which involved accusations of blackmail and an alleged assault: She reported that the former governor slapped the woman he had been accused of blackmailing over an extramarital affair.
As we noted in various articles over the last two days the Trump administration (albeit mainly career civil servants) deserve some credit for Operation Warp Speed, which backstopped the risk in private pharmaceutical companies of going all out in vaccine creation and production. But on the distribution front, their record was close to catastrophic. As Josh Kovensky and Kate Riga explain here, they literally had no plan to do anything. The “plan” was not to have a plan. The military would airlift the supplies to designated airports in each state and then it was up to the states.
So why did the administration at least do the basic blocking and tackling of federal support for vaccine development and drop the ball entirely on a plan to get the country vaccinated?
From TPM Reader JM (this one got to me perhaps more than any other we’ve published so far) …
My COVID moment was the culmination of a year of thinking we were going to be OK, and then realizing we weren’t.
In 2019, months before the COVID crisis struck, my elderly but still brilliant mother moved from Florida to the NY exurbs to live with my family. Like anyone in their late 80s, my mother had her share of age related health issues but overall was in remarkable shape. When the crisis struck last year, we seemed to be doing all the right things: working and attending school from home, wiping down our groceries, wearing masks, etc.
However, I have teenagers, one of whom has been slowly radicalized by sociopaths on YouTube (Ben Shapiro is a favorite.). At some point, my teen decided that COVID was overblown, masks were stupid, and it would all be over on election day. (I might be a recovering conservative, but I believe in math and science like some people believe in Q or flying saucers.)
Now, it’s narrating a four-part Fox Nation series commemorating racist shock jock Rush Limbaugh (this, according to Politico Playbook).
Below I publish TPM Reader WH‘s note. He’s also pretty high on President Biden’s speech. But he asks whether there’s any good rundown about what’s true and not true about vaccine preparation under Biden and Trump. Is it really true, as a number of publications like the Times have reported in recent days that the Biden administration is taking credit for a lot of great stuff Trump had underway? Or resorting to the devious trick of underpromising and overdelivering? (Yes, really.) Our team was actually pretty deep into the reporting on this story last year. So we are going to put that piece together. Look out for it. But I think I can preview that briefly.
In our email correspondence over many years, TPM Reader AB has often been highly – to my mind often reflexively – critical of Democrats, even to the degree that it’s led to some exasperating clashes of opinion between the two of us. With that background I was very struck by his reaction to President Biden’s speech.
I thought it was the best presidential speech I have ever heard in my lifetime.
I thought the President’s speech was very good. It was also very much Joe Biden. Obviously one couldn’t remotely imagine Donald Trump giving this speech. But I would have a hard time imagining Barack Obama giving it either. Obama’s would have been good too. But it would have been very different.
A few quick observations.
It’s too early to know for sure. But I’ve begun to wonder whether ex-President Trump’s greatest legal jeopardy may not be in Georgia, where there is what seems to be a pretty active investigation into his efforts to bully Republican officials into falsifying the 2020 election results and making him President. (We now have the actual recording of another of those bullying calls, the existence of which was reported back in January.) Trump ended his presidency in such a burst of criminality that it’s easy to lose sight of the egregiousness of so many of the individual acts. But the Georgia effort makes a good claim to be the most egregious.
On this week’s podcast episode, we discuss Democrats passing the COVID relief package and handing President Joe Biden his first big legislative win — while the filibuster lurks just around the corner.
From TPM Reader RT …
I can’t really say I had a COVID moment. It was a series of COVID moments. The first was when I sat around playing with MATLAB a year ago to understand the implications of what an R0 value of three means. Like many other folks I’d seen the movie Contagion and thought I knew about reproduction numbers. But I really didn’t. I hadn’t really internalized what the mathematics implied. Staring at the numbers in disbelief. Texting my friend who is biostatistician at a major medical college hoping I was wrong. His reply was simply “Do you have enough food to last for three weeks?”. Then the long days of isolation and encounters with the maskless while trying to just simply shop for groceries. Constantly fretting if I got to close. Did I touch anything? What’s that sniffle mean? The slow decent over summer and fall into the illusion that these precautions would keep my family safe.
Then came the phone call the day after Christmas. “I don’t think your father is feeling good, can you put a mask on and come see?”
From TPM Reader LC …
I think my start of COVID era is very common: rumors and rumblings in February, a friend who’s a medical professional telling me that things were going to get bad, realizing that COVID was here when the NBA was canceled and Tom Hanks got sick, and then getting sick myself in March 2020 (I was not sick enough to get tested by March 2020 standards, but I’m 99% sure I had COVID).
However, I rather talk about a more recent, dare I say joyous, COVID moment. Based on my age, occupation, and health status, I didn’t think I’d get a vaccine until May at the earliest. My husband’s a teacher so he would be eligible before me, but my state (Georgia) has fairly strict requirements for eligibility and we weren’t sure that he would get the vaccine before the end of the month. I don’t think Georgia moved into the 1B phase until this week!
There’s some possible good news on the public sales pitch front coming from the White House. As I’ve discussed, for all the boldness and scope of the COVID relief act, it can all amount to very little in political and electoral terms if you do not aggressively sell it. And by sell it, we should understand a broad and consistent messaging operation that connects unfolding events over the next 18 months to the relief bill. That ranges from (we hope) rapider than expected vaccine roll-out and school reopenings to what one hopes will be a vibrant economy in 2022. It also means leaving no doubt about why people are receiving relief checks and cash assistance (which goes well beyond the $1400/$2000 checks), who passed the bill and who stood opposed. The White House is at least telling reporters (Axios most notably) that they’re about to start that kind of operation.
Done right this should involve putting all the resources of the federal government into the effort as well as administration-supporting outside groups.
According to press reports, HuffPost, which was recently acquired by Buzzfeed, is laying off 47 employees. HuffPost’s editorial staff union says that 33 of its members were included in the 47 number, about a third of the entire union. Since lots of these people are people I know from within my professional community, the news hits pretty hard. Yet another in a seemingly endless stream of layoffs at news organizations – just in this case I know a lot of these people.
The brass at Buzzfeed seemed to handle the layoffs in a particularly clumsy way. But we shouldn’t miss the real story here: Many of these news operations simply are not financially viable. They don’t bring in enough money to sustain their expenses. Indeed, many of them – way more than you’ve been led to believe – were never financially viable. They were floated on on-going infusions of new investment money chasing big payoffs that were probably always illusory. Then they hit the brick wall of the rapid consolidation and automation-driven price declines in the ad industry. Indeed, whole territories in the firmament of digital news media were simply based on lies. Not lies that had anything to do with the journalism or the journalists. There was simply no business model there to make the whole thing work.
It’s definitely the moral high ground not to put Joe Biden’s name on the big relief checks that are soon to go out. But I fear it’s a mistake.
From TPM Reader KK …
My wife has Alzheimer’s disease, and is fairly far along in her journey with it. She’s lived in a memory care home for more than four years. My covid moment came almost exactly a year ago, when the evening of March 9 the director of her facility sent a note that included the following:
The House is set to vote on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill tomorrow, sending it to the President’s desk. The bill is stuffed with a litany of underreported positives for the progressive agenda — putting more than $7,000 into the pockets of the average family of four, reducing health care costs, and at least temporarily addressing child poverty.
Yet the Republican rhetoric surrounding the bill has become increasingly bizarre — perhaps that’s how you know it’s good.
Here’s part two of ex-President Trump’s cease and desist letter to GOP campaign committees, demanding they stop using his name and likeness in their fundraising appeals.
He didn’t start his own party, which is complicated to do and be competitive, but Trump is trying to set himself up as the place where money for Republicans should go as opposed to GOP committees pic.twitter.com/IPaiXTaIEy
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) March 9, 2021
Russian intelligence, it appears, are attempting to sow distrust in the U.S. COVID-19 vaccine in order to bolster the sale of its own supply.
According to a new Wall Street Journal report, the State Department’s Global Engagement Center has identified at least four publications that have been used as Russian intel fronts in the past that are publishing articles questioning the safety of the Pfizer vaccine and other Western vaccine companies. Read More
Leaving off the Trump Era we are now headlong into the Joe Manchin Tea Leaf Reading Era. But here from Manchin this morning we have yet more evidence that we’re not in Fiscal Policy Kansas anymore.
In addition to his tour of the Sunday shows yesterday, Manchin sat for an interview with Axios/HBO and Mike Allen. In it Manchin says he’s ready to back a big infrastructure bill – in the neighborhood of $2 to $4 trillion. But he’s got a big demand first.
His demand? He wants a higher corporate tax rate and a rollback of most of Trump’s tax cut. From Axios …
I feel sheepish admitting this. But after seeing Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) comments on the Sunday shows yesterday I felt pretty optimistic that this year might be significantly different than I’d anticipated and that the legislative possibilities are more expansive than I’d imagined. More than optimistic – I felt a hint of excitement. Yes, yes, there might as well be a bible verse that says ‘Put not your faith in Joe Manchin!’
But it’s not quite like that.
As I mentioned Thursday, the sole thing that has given me any hope for passing legislation with 51 votes in the Senate is that the people really working this issue – the filibuster reform activists who’ve been at this for a long time – have been consistently more optimistic than I am. This morning on Meet the Press and Fox News Sunday, Joe Manchin (D-WV) opened the door as clearly as he has to date on game-changing ‘reforms’ to the Senate filibuster.
The passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill is a massive political triumph. In the nature of online conversations there’s focus on the negatives. But it is difficult to convey how surprising and remarkable it is they managed to get this bill through all but untouched. This was a very aggressive proposal and almost certainly part of that was an effort to make a high opening bid because the need to get literal unanimity in the 50 senator Democratic caucus would get it whittled down. But they got it through all but untouched.
But I’ll say this again. A big, consistent and concerted messaging plan is critical to explain to the public just what is in the bill, how those things which are in it will connect to events over the next year and where everyone stood. There’s time. But I see little evidence of that happening so far. And it is critical because – as I keep saying – everything that happens from January 20th on needs to be part of an argument to voters (an explicit and voluble argument) about why they should keep Democrats in power in the 2022 midterm election.
It’s done. Senate passes Biden COVID relief bill. Now goes back to the House to reconcile differences between the two bills.