And that’s because, as Sen. March Rubio (R-Fla.) put it last night in the hallways of the Capitol: “[Trump] still remains the most popular Republican in the country,” a fact he pointed out wasn’t unusual for a former president.
Rubio, dubbed “Little Marco” by Trump in the 2016 GOP presidential primary, says what is on the mind of most Republican lawmakers. Breaking with Trump is a huge political risk that most lawmakers still aren’t willing to take.
Road to nowhere: The Florida Republican with presidential ambitions wouldn’t comment on whether he’d support a Trump comeback bid in four years, saying it was a “hypothetical.” But after conceding Trump shares “some of the responsibility” for Jan. 6 siege, he believes it’s up to voters — and not the Senate — to decide whether Trump deserves another chance.
- “I think you get at best six Republicans — probably five and maybe six,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said.
- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted last night: “The ‘Not Guilty’ vote is growing after today. I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House Managers offensive and absurd.”
- And Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), head of the Senate GOP campaign arm, called the trial a “complete waste of time.”
From his resort in Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s grip on the GOP has only ever so slightly loosened.
And local and state Republican parties are assisting him in policing anti-Trump efforts:
- “Since Trump left office, grass-roots Republican activists and state parties have become his vociferous defenders, condemning and censuring elected Republicans who dare to deviate in any way from full-throated support of the former president,” our colleague Michael Scherer reports. “That has created a backlash of its own, as some Republicans — even some who eventually may oppose impeachment — are pushing back against local leadership.”
Not all Senate Republicans welcome a 2024 Trump presidential run — and some efforts to curb Trumpism have cropped up. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a Trump critic, told reporters she couldn’t imagine the ex-president getting elected again:
- “I don’t see how after the American public sees the whole story laid out here … this whole scenario laid out before us, I don’t see how Donald Trump could be reelected to the presidency again,” Murkowski told reporters.
- Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who announced the launch of the Country First PAC last month, told us in an interview he’d like to see two of Trump’s biggest boosters — Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) — among the GOP candidates who face primary challengers.
The political dilemma for Republicans is clear: Despite his behavior on and before Jan. 6, which House managers have so far dramatically documented in the trial, Trump “continues to garner strong support from Republicans, among whom a clear majority agree with his false claims about what happened in November, oppose his removal from office and believe Republican elected officials should continue to follow his lead in the future,” our colleagues Scott Clement, Emily Guskin, and Dan Balz reported the week after Jan. 6.
- His approval rating has remained fairly stable since the deadly assault, too, NBC News’s Carrie Dann reported: “A new NBC News poll found that 43 percent of voters nationwide gave Trump a positive job approval rating, just barely down from 45 percent who said the same before the November election and the 44 percent who approved of his performance shortly after he took office in 2017.”
- “If you think he isn’t going to run and you want his blessing and the energy of the Trump-dedicated voter, I think you’re more likely to just … stick to the arguments that 85 percent of the Republican base agrees with, which is impeaching a president already out of office is a useless exercise, the process is rushed, and then throw in a heavy dose of what-about-ism toward the Democrats,” Kevin Madden, a former Mitt Romney campaign adviser told Politico’s David Siders.
What’s next? Ex-Republican officials disillusioned with the GOP’s direction have started to discuss an anti-Trump third party, Reuters’s Tim Reid scooped last night. A Zoom call Friday, co-hosted by Evan McMullin, included over 120 former GOP lawmakers, officials, ambassadors, and strategists to discuss a platform of “principled conservatism.”
- “Dozens of former Republican officials, who view the party as unwilling to stand up to former president Donald Trump and his attempts to undermine U.S. democracy, are in talks to form a center-right breakaway party, four people involved in the discussions told Reuters …
- “Large portions of the Republican Party are radicalizing and threatening American democracy,” McMullin told Reid. “The party needs to recommit to truth, reason and founding ideals or there clearly needs to be something new.”
On the Hill
‘IS THIS AMERICA?’: “The House Democrats, led by lead manager Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), spent Day 2 of former president Donald Trump’s impeachment trial displaying violent video scenes of the Jan. 6 attack and the rioters’ relentlessly raw language, including chants to ‘hang’ Pence and a sinister clip of a man looking for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking, ‘Naaaancy? Where aaaare you, Nancy?’” our colleagues Amy Gardner, Karoun, Felicia Sonmez, and Paul Kane report.
- “President Trump put a target on their backs,” said Stacey Plaskett … delegate from the Virgin Islands, describing the threat Trump supporters, with the encouragement of Trump, posed to lawmakers and Pence. “And his mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down.”
Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) and David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) detailed the timeline of Trump’s actions as the attacks were unfolding, highlighted his repeated refusal to halt the siege:
- “We all know that President Trump had the power to stop these attacks. He was our commander in chief. He had the power to assess the security situation, send backup, send help. He also had incited this violent attack. They were listening to him. He could have commanded them to leave,” Cicilline said. “But he didn’t.”
- “Senators, you’ve seen all the evidence so far,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) said at the conclusion of nearly eight hours of arguments. “And this is clear: On January 6, President Trump left everyone in this Capitol for dead.”
“Over and over again, the impeachment managers implored the senators to consider the message they wanted to send to Americans about the character of the country,” our colleagues write.
- “That’s the question before all of you in this trial: Is this America?” said [Raskin]. “Can our country and our democracy ever be the same if we don’t hold accountable the person responsible for inciting the violent attack against our country?”
The new videos showed just how close the mob was to reaching Pence, his family and GOP lawmakers:
- “Senators of both parties stood up, leaned forward, and appeared to identify themselves in the chilling security footage showing Capitol police officers creating a human barricade that allowed them to flee the Chamber,” Politico’s Marianne Levine, Sarah Ferris, Melanie Zanona and Andrew Desiderio report. “Others simply looked away when they could no longer watch the graphic video and audio clips.”
- “They played frantic police radio calls warning that ‘we’ve lost the line,’ body camera footage showing an officer pummeled with poles and fists on the West Front of the Capitol, and silent security tape from inside showing [Vice President Mike] Pence, his family and members of the House and Senate racing to evacuate as the mob closed in, chanting: ‘Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!'” the New York Times’s Nick Fandos reports.
- “Advisers to [ Trump] say he still has not expressed remorse for the siege,” CNN’s Jim Acosta and Pamela Brown report.
- Pay attention to this: “Congressional leaders have been racing to address the looming mental health crisis on Capitol Hill, which has only been compounded by the lingering security threats facing members. The complex has been heavily fortified with razor-wire fencing, while thousands of National Guard troops have been patrolling the grounds.” per Levine, Ferris, Zanona, and Desiderio.
At the White House
WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING: Infrastructure week… might finally be happening. Biden met heads of some of the country’s biggest businessmen at the White House on Tuesday to discuss his $1.9 trillion economic stimulus plan.
- Biden said they’d also talk “a little bit — God willing — about infrastructure down the road and also about the minimum wage,” per CNBC’s Thomas Franck.
- “According to one person briefed on the meeting, the discussion was serious and detailed, reflecting the return of ‘adults in the room’ in the White House, and covered infrastructure, immigration, education, skills, healthcare and labour,” the Financial Times’s James Politi and Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson report.
- Today, Biden will start that conversation with lawmakers:
The push comes as January’s unemployment rate is worse than we thought: “Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell said Wednesday that the unemployment rate in January was ‘close to 10 percent,’ significantly higher than the 6.3 percent rate reported by the Labor Department last week,” our colleague Rachel Siegel reports.
- “The discrepancy is partly due to many unemployed Americans being misclassified as employed,” Powell said during a virtual speech at the Economic Club of New York.
- “The higher figure is another reflection of how the pandemic continues to constrain the labor market. The United States gained back a paltry 49,000 jobs in January. In December, the country lost 227,000 jobs,” our colleague reports.
Why this matters: “The latest figures come as Congress debates Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus package, which would extend unemployment benefits, issue $1,400 in direct checks and set aside hundreds of billions of dollars to fight the pandemic.”
- “Powell has repeatedly urged lawmakers to keep relief flowing, especially for the 10 million Americans whose jobs have not returned since the pandemic began.”
From the courts
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT AFFIRMS OBAMACARE: “Biden’s administration told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that his predecessor had been wrong to argue that the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional and urged the court to uphold the health-care law,” our colleague Robert Barnes reports. “The court is considering a case brought by Republican-led states and endorsed by the Trump administration.”
- The case: “Whether a 2017 decision by Congress to remove Obamacare’s penalty for not buying health insurance — what is called the individual mandate — meant that the requirement to purchase health insurance was itself unconstitutional.”
- The argument: “The elimination of the penalty made the mandate to purchase health insurance unconstitutional, and the entire law, including such popular provisions as keeping young adults on their parents’s insurance policies and ensuring coverage for those with preexisting medical conditions, should fall.”
- The Biden administration: “The government ‘no longer adheres’ to that position.”
INSIDE BIDEN’S CALL WITH CHINA’S PRESIDENT: During their first call, “Biden underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan,” our colleague Anne Gearan reports.
- Officials briefed reporters prior to the call, per New York Times’s Michael Crowley: “They said Mr. Biden would continue some of the Trump administration’s confrontational policies toward Beijing, which included contesting Chinese territorial claims in Asia, defending Taiwan’s independence and Hong Kong’s autonomy, and cracking down on China’s cybertheft and hacking … They said they would retain the tariffs Mr. Trump imposed on China’s exports to the United States while they conducted a broad review of U.S.-China trade policy.”
- Timing: “Biden had spoken to more than a dozen other heads of state, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, before calling Xi, raising questions about whether Washington was giving Beijing a head start on ramming through its foreign policy and trade initiatives,” Politico’s Natasha Bertrand writes. “The officials acknowledged that the new administration is ‘being very careful in our initial interactions with China,’ but said the preparatory discussions with allies had put Biden in a “strong position” to negotiate with his Chinese counterpart.”
New sanctions 🚨: Biden also announced sanctions on Myanmar’s military leaders ofollowing last week’s coup.
- “In brief remarks, the President said he had approved a new executive order allowing the United States to ‘immediately sanction the military leaders who directed the coup, their business interests as well as close family members.’ He said they would identify targets of those sanctions this week,” CNN’s Jennifer Hansler reports.
- “The military must relinquish power they’ve seized and demonstrate respect for the will of the people of Burma, as expressed in their November 8 election,” Biden said.
Outside the Beltway
NEW MASK GUIDELINES: “Federal health officials Wednesday urged Americans to consider wearing two masks as one of several strategies to better protect themselves against the threat of more contagious variants of the coronavirus,” our colleagues Lena H. Sun and Fenit Nirappil report.
- The Centers for Disease Control found that wearing a cloth mask over a disposable surgical mask or knotting the ear loops on a surgical mask “reduced exposure to potentially infectious aerosols by more than 95 percent.”
BUCCANEERS CELEBRATE SUPER BOWL WIN ON WATER: “The Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrated their Super Bowl LV victory Wednesday afternoon with a parade suited to their nickname: They took the Lombardi Trophy for a cruise through town on the Hillsborough River,” our colleagues Cindy Boren and Glynn A. Hill report.
Here’s how their star quarterback celebrated: