Power Up: Mitch McConnell still isn't talking to Trump. But will he vote to acquit him?

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with Tobi Raji

Happy Lunar New Year, Power people! It’s impeachment day 4, the First Lady has a Valentine’s Day card for you, and the Biden administration is vacillating on their plan to “open schools.” This is the Power Up newsletter – have a lovely long weekend and see you on Tuesday.  

Meanwhile, the Lincoln Project is a mess. More here and here.

On the Hill

MITCH’S DILEMMA: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and former president Donald Trump still have not spoken since Dec. 15. 

But the stretch of silence between the two Republican leaders might be indefinite, even as the majority of McConnell’s caucus has quickly come around to minimizing Trump’s role in provoking the deadly siege on the Capitol that kicked off the Senate impeachment trial.

Asked in 2017 about life as the leader of Senate Republicans, McConnell morbidly joked “it’s a little but like being the groundskeeper at a cemetery. Everybody’s under you, but nobody’s listening.” 

  • There’s perhaps no better analogy to describe the current predicament McConnell finds himself in as his colleagues have hopped back on the coattails of the twice impeached ex-president who cost the Kentucky leader his majority – and sparked a GOP civil war in the process. 

© Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) walks to his office on the third day of the Senate Impeachment trial on Capitol Hill on Thursday. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Defining his legacy: Since Jan. 6, McConnell has explicitly blamed Trump for provoking the mob that stormed the Capitol, has not ruled out eventually voting to convict Trump and doesn’t appear to be whipping his members on conviction.

  • “[McConnell] was horrified by how all of this ended, how out of hand it got, and the pervasiveness of the conspiracy theories and political violence,” Scott Jennings, a longtime political aide to McConnell, told Power Up. “This is not the America McConnell grew up in or the Republican Party he’s built. This is not the party he wants to leave behind for the next generation.” 

Yet: McConnell signaled he was pleased with the House impeachment of Trump. But since then he has twice voted to end the impeachment trial because it’s unconstitutional to try a former president. How he votes when the trial wraps is an open question.

  • “McConnell is rarely encumbered by any need to prove himself to the base,” a GOP strategist told Power Up. “He’s incredibly confident in what he’s done for the conservative movement, as he should be. Above all else, his concern always lies with how will this affect his Republican Senate colleagues. That will likely be a true deciding factor.”
  • “He’s never really talked about it to us,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) about whether he’ll vote to convict Trump. “Mitch is a very good tacticianbut he’s also very respectful that every senator got here on their own.”

Not me, you: McConnell, 78, who easily won reelection to a 7th term in November, isn’t up again until 2026, if he chooses to run again. But some say McConnell is concerned not just about the crop of senators up in 2022, but also the party as a whole.

  • “This is my opinion but I think he’s worried about the Republican Party’s ability to be a national majority party, win the popular vote, and win back the White House,” Jennings told us. “He’s looking at a party that since 1984 has not seen someone other than people with the last name of Bush win the national popular vote.”
  • “Still, the always-restrained Kentuckian never mounted a campaign to persuade other Republicans to join him, knowing how difficult it would be for his party to break from someone who polls indicate that half of its voters believe should remain their leader,” the New York Times’s Nicholas Fandos and Jonathan Martin reported last week. 

Raskin’s full closing argument
What to watch next

There are more profound concerns for the Senate GOP leader: House Democrats concluded their case yesterday, arguing the burden of ensuring a peaceful future democracy lies with senators. 

Key question: “Is there any political leader in this room who believes that if he is ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office, Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way?” lead House impeachment manager Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) asked.

  • “Would you bet the lives of more police officers on that? Would you bet the safety of your family on that? Would you bet the future of your democracy on that? If he gets back into office and it happens again, we have no one to blame but ourselves,” said Raskin.
  • “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered,” Raskin said, quoting Thomas Paine, one of his personal heroes after he whom he named his late son.

Notable: “The Capitol assault resulted in one of the worst days of injuries for law enforcement in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks,” the Times’s Michael Schmidt and Luke Broadwater report. 

  • “At least 138 officers — 73 from the Capitol Police and 65 from the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington — were injured, the departments have said. They ranged from bruises and lacerations to more serious damage such as concussions, rib fractures, burns and even a mild heart attack.”

Yet: As it stands, only six Republicans who voted to proceed with the trial appear open to voting for Trump’s conviction — short of the 17 needed to convict Trump.

In fact, after sitting silent through the managers’ harrowing video presentation a day earlier, several of them on Thursday began to flaunt their fatigue with the trial as the managers made their latest arguments,” the Times’s Peter Baker and Fandos report. 

  • “Sen. Rick Scott of Florida could be seen filling out a blank map of Asia. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina retreated to his party’s cloakroom to read on his phone. At points, a dozen or more Republican senators were away from their mahogany desks.”

Happening today: Trump’s impeachment managers are only expected to use one of two days to defend the ex-president, meaning a verdict could come as early as the weekend. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) met with Trump’s lawyers yesterday evening. 

  • “After their meeting, Trump attorney David Schoen told reporters the senators were just ‘talking about procedure,’ called them ‘friendly guys’ and said they did not tip him off to questions they would be asking,” our colleague Colby Itkowitz reports.
  • They discussed “just how this format goes, you know, the question-and-answer period, all that,” Schoen said. “And then just talking about where they’re from and all that, but it’s just very nice. I said to them it was a great honor to have the opportunity to talk to them.”

At the White House

‘OPEN SEASON’ IS COMING: The emergence of new coronavirus variants and mutant strains has increased the demand for vaccine doses. Until Thursday, states only had enough vaccine doses for older people, health-care workers and essential workers.

  • Shot: “By the time we get to April, that will be what I would call, for better wording, ‘open season,’ namely, virtually everybody and anybody in any category could start to get vaccinated,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease specialist, said.
  • Chaser: “President Biden said Thursday that his administration had finalized deals for another 200 million doses of the two coronavirus vaccines [from Pfizer and Moderna], giving the country enough vaccine by the end of July to cover every American adult,” our Post colleagues report.

Biden says 300 million Americans can be vaccinated by July
What to watch next

Meanwhile, turns out he was sicker than the White House let on when he was rushed to the hospital with coronavirus in October. 

  • “Trump was sicker than publicly acknowledged at the time, with extremely depressed blood oxygen levels at one point and a lung problem associated with pneumonia caused by the coronavirus,” the Times scooped.
  • His prognosis became so worrisome before he was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that officials believed he would need to be put on a ventilator.”
  • During his stay, “he was found to have lung infiltrates, which occur when the lungs are inflamed and contain substances such as fluid or bacteria. Their presence can be a sign of an acute case of the disease.”
  • Trump’s blood oxygen level alone was cause for extreme concern, dipping into the 80s. The disease is considered severe when the blood oxygen level falls to the low 90s.”

The honeymoon’s officially over: “Governor Cuomo’s top aide privately apologized to Democratic lawmakers for withholding the state’s nursing-home death toll from COVID-19 — telling them ‘we froze’ out of fear the true numbers would ‘be used against us’ by federal prosecutors,” the New York Post’s Bernadette Hogan, Carl Campanile and Bruce Golding report. 

  • “The stunning admission of a cover-up was made by Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa during a video conference call with state Democratic leaders in which she said the Cuomo administration had rebuffed a legislative request for the tally in August because ‘right around the same time, [then-President Donald Trump] turns this into a giant political football,’ according to an audio recording of the two-hour-plus meeting.”
  • “He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes,” DeRosa said. “He starts going after [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer.”

Out this morning:More than 9,000 recovering coronavirus patients in New York state were released from hospitals into nursing homes early in the pandemic under a controversial directive that was scrapped amid criticism it accelerated outbreaks, according to new records obtained by The Associated Press.” 

  • “The new number of 9,056 recovering patients sent to hundreds of nursing homes is more than 40% higher than what the state health department previously released. And it raises new questions as to whether a March 25 directive from [Cuomo’s] administration helped spread sickness and death among residents, a charge the state disputes,” the Associated Press’s Bernard Condon and Jennifer Peltz report.

The policies

ABOUT THE ECONOMY: “The House Small Business Committee has approved $50 billion in emergency pandemic aid for small businesses,” Bloomberg News reports

  • The approval came after Thursday’s unemployment numbers showed persistent weakness. “The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell to 793,000, evidence that job cuts remain high despite a substantial decline in new confirmed viral infections,” AP News’s Christopher Rugaber reports.

Attn deficit hawks: “America’s federal debt is set to exceed the size of the entire U.S. economy this year for only the second time since the end of World War II,” our colleague Jeff Stein reports

  • The remarkable surge in federal borrowing is due to the more than $4 trillion in spending approved by the federal government to fight the pandemic since March.”
  • It’s not the bill’s fault — entirely. “Even without the $1.9 trillion, we will be at record-high debt levels” in a few years, Marc Goldwein, senior vice president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, told our colleague.

Also happening: “The Biden administration on Friday will notify states it plans to revoke Medicaid work requirements, starting the process of dismantling one of the Trump administration’s signature health policies,” Politico’s Adam Cancryn reports. 

The people

LOVE IS A SCIENCE: The director of relationship science for the dating app Hinge is here to help you this Valentine’s Day. Logan Ury’s out with a must-read book on meeting your future partner. We emailed with her yesterday — you’re welcome. 

URY’S TOP THREE DATING TIPS IN A NUTSHELL: 

  • “Understand what’s holding you back from finding love. Are you a Romanticizer, Maximizer, or Hesitater? (See question two for more info on the Three Dating Tendencies and take the quiz here.)” 
  • “Do something about it. Commit to making one specific, measurable change this month [to] break a bad dating habit. For example, if you’re too picky, commit to giving at least one person a second date. If you’re waiting to date, download the apps and try a video date in the next two weeks.” 
  • “Tell a friend about your goal and ask them to hold you accountable. Put some money on the line to increase your chances of following through. Here’s an idea for you D.C. folks — commit to donating a meaningful amount of money to your least favorite political candidate or cause if you don’t keep your commitment.”

ON DATING IN D.C.:  “In my experience, a lot of D.C. daters are maximizers. Stop focusing on finding the ‘perfect’ person and instead find someone wonderful and start investing in them. Great relationships are built not discovered.” 

BIGGEST DATING PITFALLS:  In my work as a dating coach, I’ve discovered that many people suffer from dating blind spotspatterns of behavior that hold them back from finding love, but which they can’t identify on their own,Ury writes. 

  • “I’ve categorized the most common blind spots into a framework called The Three Dating Tendencies… Although they seem quite different, the Romanticizer, Maximizer, and Hesitater have one major thing in common: unrealistic expectations.” 

ABOUT HER OWN LOVE STORY: Earlier this year, Ury opened up about her relationship in a must-read “Modern Love” column for the Times. Her then-fiance and now husband, Scott, was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer mid-pandemic — so they got married before his knee amputation and soon thereafter, moved into a commune.

  • How they’re doing: “We’re doing okWe’re still very much in the middle of things, which is hard, but my husband is so strong and wise,” Ury wrote us. “Just today I was reflecting on how generous he has been around my book launch. He has given me a lot of space to sprint hard at this lifelong goal of mine, even though that means we’ve been apart for the last few weeks.” 
  • Who she goes to for relationship advice: “[Scott] is always able to focus on what matters, not on what is right in front of him. He is the person who has taught me most about relationships — how to be present, how to give love without fearing abandonment, how to fight well, and how to make up.” 

In the media

WEEKEND REEEADS: 

Viral

OPERATION SAVE #GORILLAGLUEGIRL: “Tessica Brown, a young woman from Louisiana, made possibly the most unfortunate haircare mix-up in history. Instead of using regular hair spray on her hair, she grabbed a can of Gorilla Glue spray adhesive and went to town,” CNN’s AJ Willingham reports

Dr. Michael Obeng, “a Beverly Hills surgeon, offered his services, free, to help [Brown] un-Gorilla Glue herself. After a four-hour-long surgery, Brown’s head is blessedly glue-free.”

  • The trick? “Medical-grade adhesive remover, aloe vera, olive oil and acetone.”

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