Keeping the guard up
The far-right supporters of Donald Trump who invaded the U.S. Capitol to try to overturn the election of Joe Biden were driven out, eventually. But in some extremist circles, the blood spilled, the damage wrought and the fright spread counted as a win.
It's a key reason why the Department of Homeland Security issued a national terrorism advisory warning Wednesday, citing a "heightened threat environment across the U.S." for at least the next three months. Though DHS did not say it had identified specific plots, its bulletin said "these same drivers to violence will remain through early 2021 and some may be emboldened by the Jan. 6, 2021, breach of the U.S. Capitol."
The wording of the document suggests that national security officials see a connective thread between recent violence over the past year motivated by anti-government grievances, including coronavirus restrictions, police use of deadly force and the refusal by some Trump supporters to accept the 2020 election results. A DHS statement that accompanied the bulletin noted the potential for violence from "a broad range of ideologically motivated actors."
DHS also noted violent riots in "recent days," an apparent reference to events in Portland, Oregon, linked to anarchist groups.
The alert was issued by acting Homeland Security Secretary David Pekoske. Biden’s nominee for the Cabinet post, Alejandro Mayorkas, is not expected to be confirmed by the Senate until next week because some Republican lawmakers have put up hurdles to the process. The warning system was last activated by DHS a year ago over potential retaliation by Iran after the U.S. assassination of Iran's Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in Iraq.
While security at the Capitol has been reinforced and thousands of National Guard troops remain in Washington, CNN reported that concern is growing, based on Intelligence from social media chatter and other information, about the safety of some lawmakers when they travel outside Washington and the security bubble it provides. Several members of Congress have been given extra security, in some cases with local police departments guarding lawmakers' family homes, the report said.
A California man was arrested Tuesday on charges of sending threatening messages to relatives of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn, who is part of House Democratic leadership, and to family members of ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos. The texts included a photo of a house in the neighborhood of Jeffries' brother and sister-in-law. "We are armed and nearby your house," read one of the messages demanding that the congressman stop saying Biden won, according to a criminal complaint. "You had better have a word with him. We are not far from his either," it said.
Biden: Harder not to be green
Biden, describing climate change as a "maximum threat" to the nation, signed a series of executive orders aimed at increasing the use of clean energy sources and creating jobs in the renewable energy sector, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
"In my view, we’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis. We can’t wait any longer," the president said. "We see it with our own eyes. We feel it. We know it in our bones. And it’s time to act." The orders call for federal agencies to regard climate change "as an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security."
The first, and most expansive, of three orders signed by Biden on Wednesday calls for an "all of government" approach to tackling climate change. The order directs the Department of Interior to pause oil and gas drilling leases on federal lands and water "to the extent possible." It also directs federal agencies to purchase U.S.-manufactured electric cars and zero-emission vehicles to "stimulate clean energy industries."
The president has faced pushback from congressional Republicans and fossil fuel industry groups who contend his environmental policies threaten the jobs of those in the fossil fuel industry. Biden argued that "millions" of jobs will ultimately be created to modernize "our water systems, transportation, our energy infrastructure — to withstand the impacts of extreme climate."
Another Biden order aims to "protect our world-class scientists from political interference," addressing a complaint heard frequently during the Trump administration.
Janison: Hill to get steeper
Changes so far under the new administration may sound striking, writes Newsday's Dan Janison: earnestness on climate change and COVID-19; an end of hostility toward refugees and people in the country illegally; a stronger posture toward Russia and right-wing extremists; and an altered official tone toward Palestinians.
But Biden’s easy reversals of dozens of executive orders by predecessor Trump might not loom too large in the months ahead. Inertia is always a strong force in Washington.
So when the test comes for Biden's biggest priorities, such as stronger measures against pollution, friction is expected. Oil, gas and coal businesses will be working the halls of Congress; not all of their allies will be Republicans. Biden's rejection of policies such as Trump's infamous family separations won't necessarily lead to sweeping immigration change, which has eluded Congress and presidents from both parties for decades.
Democrats might well see the White House as returning to the main road after veering off on a four-year tangent under Trump. But the most sensible conservatives will watch and wait before despairing. The most sensible progressives will watch and wait before celebrating. In this first week, we have seen only opening moves.
How close will GOP hold Trump?
Two days after the deadly Capitol insurrection, the Republican National Committee reelected Ronna McDaniel as its chair with Trump's support. But McDaniel told The Associated Press in an interview that looking ahead to 2024: "The party has to stay neutral," rather than tilt in favor of a potential Trump comeback bid.
"I’m not telling anybody to run or not to run in 2024," she said, though she did encourage Trump to campaign for Republicans in the 2022 congressional midterms. Drawing a line against extremists whose influence has grown in some state Republican parties, she also described the pro-Trump conspiracy theory group known as QAnon as "beyond fringe. I think it’s dangerous." McDaniel, who actively supported Trump's false election "fraud" claims, now says in the aftermath of the Capitol siege: "I think it’s really important after what’s just happened in our country that we have some self-reflection on the violence that’s continuing to erupt in our country."
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is trying to hose down warring rank-and-file members. Hard-right figures with Trump and his son Donald Jr.'s encouragement are trying to oust Wyoming's Rep. Liz Cheney, one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump on charges of inciting the insurrection. "Cut that crap out," McCarthy told his members on a private call Wednesday about those picking on fellow Republicans, according to CNN. "No more attacks to one another."
On Thursday, McCarthy was due to pay a call on Trump at Mar-a-Lago. The former president grew furious with McCarthy after he said Trump "bears responsibility" for the Capitol riot and told him directly that Trump's attempts to blame the violence on antifa were nonsensical. "It's MAGA. I know. I was there," McCarthy had told Trump, according to Axios. But McCarthy has since tempered his criticism, telling reporters last week that he did not believe Trump had "provoked" the mob.
Death-wishing doesn't become her
McCarthy also said through a spokesman that "he plans to have a conversation" about "deeply disturbing" comments by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the QAnon-aligned freshman from Georgia with a penchant for wishing violent death upon prominent Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
A CNN review of social media posts by Greene in 2018 and 2019 found she "liked" a comment advocating "a bullet to the head" of Pelosi. In another post on Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama, when a Facebook commenter asked, "Now do we get to hang them ??" Greene replied: "Stage is being set. Players are being put in place. We must be patient. This must be done perfectly or liberal judges would let them off." Greene's other candidates for hanging were FBI agents who weren't loyal to Trump. She endorsed a gruesome conspiracy theory that Clinton and her aide Huma Abedin had sexually assaulted a girl and drank her blood.
In a speech she posted on Facebook Live, Greene said Pelosi was "guilty of treason" and that treason is "a crime punishable by death." She made videos suggesting mass shootings in Las Vegas and at a high school in Parkland, Florida, were staged by gun-control activists. Weeks after the 2018 Parkland shooting, she posted a video of herself stalking and haranguing teen survivor David Hogg about her gun rights as he was headed to meet members of Congress on Capitol Hill. The video concludes with her complaint that Hogg got attention and she didn't. She also has spread conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Democratic calls for Greene, whose district elected her in November based on her conspiracy claims and Trump's endorsement, to step down grew louder Wednesday, The Washington Post reported. Clinton, in a tweet, said that Greene "should be on a watch list. Not in Congress."
But on McCarthy's private call with caucus members, Greene pledged to transfer $175,000 from her campaign account to the National Republican Congressional Committee, CNN reported. That committee's chairman, Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, thanked Greene.
Expand Supreme Court? Panel to consider
The Biden administration is moving forward with the creation of a bipartisan commission to study changes to the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary, Politico reported.
Biden promised the commission after some Democrats called for expanding the top court beyond the current nine justices. They were angered over the move by Trump and Senate Republicans weeks before the election to push through the replacement of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg with conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Biden said at the time that he is "not a fan of court packing."
The commission will be co-chaired by Biden campaign lawyer Bob Bauer.
Meanwhile, HuffPost reports that 13 federal judges have announced plans to retire or go into semiretirement since Biden was declared the election winner, which means he will get to nominate their replacements. For the most part, the timing of their decisions appeared to be motivated by the assurance that Biden, not Trump, would pick their successors for the lifetime positions.
CBS News reports that Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has become the subject of whispers in Washington that he should consider retiring. At 82, he is the eldest of the court's three liberals.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Biden’s brother Frank promoted his relationship to the president in an Inauguration Day advertisement for the law firm he advises, CNBC reported. The ad focuses on a class-action lawsuit the firm is leading against a group of Florida sugar cane companies. Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, said it's not a great look. After the CNBC story was posted, a Biden White House official told the outlet that the president’s name should not be used in any commercial activities in a way that suggests a form of endorsement or support.
- Majority Leader Chuck Schumer insisted on Wednesday that the Senate will push forward with the impeachment trial of Trump even as the chances that enough Republicans would support conviction look dim. "The evidence against the former president will be presented in living color for the nation and every one of us to see once again," Schumer said. But Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) floated the idea of a censure resolution to reprimand, not convict, Trump for his role inciting the Capitol riot instead. Kaine said his proposal would still allow the Senate to vote to disqualify Trump from holding future federal office.
- Trump may decide to submit a written letter in his defense for the trial and is not planning to appear in person, NBC News reported.
- A second police officer who responded to the insurrection has died by suicide, this time a member of the D.C. police, the department's acting chief, Robert Contee, told a closed-door congressional hearing Tuesday. A Capitol Police officer took his own life after responding to the siege, and another, Officer Brian Sicknick, was killed by rioters.
- The board of the Trump Plaza condominium in West Palm Beach, Florida, voted unanimously to change the legal name of the twin-tower complex in the wake of the Capitol siege, reports The Palm Beach Post. As a result, Trump no longer will have a condo bearing his name across the water from his Mar-a-Lago enclave.
- Oklahoma attorney general's office is attempting to return $2 million worth of hydroxychloroquine it bought last April after Trump touted the malaria drug as effective COVID-19 treatment. It's not.