Silence, a golden thing
When he exclaimed "Will you shut up, man?" during their first debate, little did Joe Biden know how quiet an ex-President Donald Trump could turn out to be.
Trump earned himself a permanent suspension from Twitter on Jan. 8, two days after the deadly U.S. Capitol insurrection, for his persistent incendiary tweeting for supporters to rise up against the Biden's affirmed election win, which Trump and his allies falsely claimed was "stolen." Gone too is the tweeting by which Trump would weigh in, usually without posing an imminent danger, on just about anything and everything in pre-dawn and late-night tirades, post-golfing rants and running commentaries on whatever was just on Fox.
For the opening days of Biden's term, writes Politico, Trump's banishment from his preferred method of communication cut down on the background noise. The new president debuted a flurry of executive orders without ever having to deal with what surely would have been rapid-fire antagonism from the man whose legacy Biden was dismantling.
Trump wasn’t there to demand an uprising against Biden’s federal mask-wearing mandate or climate initiatives. When Dr. Anthony Fauci let loose on how Trump's addled approach to the coronavirus pandemic frustrated him, Trump had no instant response.
White House officials insist that their communications strategy hasn’t changed simply because Trump is both gone and silent. "The President spent two years ignoring Trump’s distractions and staying focused on the message he wanted to deliver, and it paid off with a commanding win," said one. "Whether or not Trump slinks back into public view or opens up a Parler account isn’t going to make a difference in how we communicate with the American people."
But an outside adviser said the Biden White House knows it's fortunate: "Not having to deal with a deranged new tweet every hour? They feel blessed." An Arizona-based Republican strategist and pollster, Paul Bentz, said, "It has become abundantly clear since his absence on Twitter how much Trump was driving a media narrative."
Other social media platforms followed Twitter in taking Trump offline, but one of the biggest might still relent. The Facebook Oversight Board, created last year, will begin considering in the weeks ahead whether to lift Trump's suspension on that platform, with a decision due in April. The board's first rulings were issued Thursday, and in four out of five cases, it reversed Facebook’s decision to delete content for violating policies on hate speech, violence and other issues, NBC News reported.
Biden widens Obamacare window
Biden on Thursday signed an executive order directing the federal government to reopen enrollment in the Obamacare health insurance marketplace, giving uninsured Americans an extra opportunity to buy coverage amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Trump, who made dismantling the Affordable Care Act a theme of both his presidential campaigns, rejected calls to reopen enrollment last year as COVID-19 cases soared and millions of Americans lost their jobs and private insurance. Biden said his order aimed to "undo the damage Trump has done." He told reporters in the Oval Office: "There's nothing new that we're doing here, other than restoring the Affordable Care Act and restoring the Medicaid to the way it was before Trump became president."
Biden’s order applies to 36 states that utilize the federal marketplace, but White House officials said others such as New York, which operates its own insurance marketplace, also will be encouraged to reopen their enrollment period. Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, citing the COVID-19 crisis, announced the state had extended its open enrollment deadline from Jan. 31 to March 31.
Janison: Swamp turnover
Transitions bring new boldface names to the lucrative Washington lobbying scene, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
During the Trump administration, for instance, a passing spotlight fell on presidential allies who made big money helping companies win special exemptions from the administration's tariffs. Influence peddlers connected to Trump also pushed dozens of last-minute presidential pardons. A sizable number of industry lobbyists made their way onto Trump's executive branch payroll.
Under Biden, attention shifts to other players. According to ABC News, Jeff Ricchetti, a lobbyist brother of Biden's new White House counselor Steve Ricchetti, reported his best quarter in business since 2009 after picking up major new clients just before and after the November election.
The response from a Ricchetti loyalist to the TV network: "Jeff has never and will never lobby his brother on behalf of any of his clients, and Steve has had no role in his brother’s business since he sold his stake in the firm in 2012."
One area to watch under Biden will be lobbying transactions on behalf of foreign governments, which of course didn't begin with Trump but helped fuel multiple scandals during the departed administration.
New scrutiny on Biden kin's business
The moneymaking ventures of Biden's relatives, most prominently his son Hunter’s overseas dealings up to now, are taking on a new dimension now that Joe Biden is in the White House, Politico reports.
A law firm's ad promoting Frank Biden’s ties with the president caused a stir when it ran on his brother's Inauguration Day. Florida super attorney and Democratic donor John Morgan said business sensitivities were coursing through Bidenworld this week after the report about the ad. Morgan also said his private jet took Frank Biden to the inauguration.
"What Frank told me is ‘My brother loves me dearly, but if I lobbied, he would cut my legs from underneath me,’ " Morgan said Frank Biden told him this week. Morgan said he’d started talking with Frank Biden about business opportunities last year but that nothing had come together yet. "Frank made it clear to me what the president made clear to him: The day he got elected, the long knives came out for all things Biden," Morgan said.
During the campaign, Joe Biden issued a warning to his brother, a person with knowledge of the conversation told Politico. "For Christ’s sake, watch yourself," Joe Biden said of his brother’s potential business dealings, according to the report. "Don’t get sucked into something that would, first of all, hurt you."
Pelosi warns of 'enemy within'
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House likely would need to approve additional funding for members' safety because "the enemy is within the House of Representatives" — referring to extremists in Republican ranks such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who fantasizes to followers about seeing Pelosi executed for "treason." (Watch Greene say that on a since-deleted Facebook video.)
"We have members of Congress who want to bring guns on the floor and have threatened violence on other members of Congress," said Pelosi.
Pelosi voiced horror at the decision by Republican leadership to give the QAnon-aligned Greene a seat on the House Education and Labor Committee — in light of Greene's assertions that mass school shootings such as those in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in 2012 and Parkland, Florida, in 2018 were "false-flag" operations secretly staged by gun-control advocates.
"What could they be thinking — or is thinking too generous a word about what they might be doing? It's absolutely appalling," Pelosi said of the GOP leadership.
Another of Greene's tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories surfaced Thursday: In a Facebook post found by Media Matters for America, she said a massive California wildfire in 2018 was ignited by a laser beam from space in a convoluted plot that involved then-Gov. Jerry Brown and an old standby for anti-Semitic propaganda: the Rothschild banking family.
Also Thursday, acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman recommended a permanent fencing system around the Capitol to prevent a repeat of assaults like the Jan. 6 siege.
Schools issue bares Democrats' rift
Biden’s vow to reopen most schools during his first 100 days faces resistance from one of the Democratic Party’s most powerful constituencies: teachers’ unions.
Politico writes that the White House is trying to steer between a growing body of science indicating that COVID-19 fears over reopening schools may be overblown and teachers' demands for more virus-mitigation funding and health supplies before expanding classroom instruction. The battle is playing out in Chicago and elsewhere.
White House officials, too, said Biden’s 100-day goal depends on Congress following through with more funding for schools to pay for improved ventilation, reduced class sizes and other strategies to reduce the disease-spreading threat. Republicans already are criticizing the caution over reopening schools, suggesting the White House is beholden to the unions.
GOP operatives believe they can drive a wedge between Biden and parents frustrated with months of remote instruction, the report said.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- The Pentagon says it is reviewing a request from FEMA for troops to help set up federal vaccination sites. Pentagon chief spokesman John Kirby told reporters that if approved, it could involve a mix of active-duty troops as well as the National Guard and reservists.
- With Democrats now in control of both houses of Congress and the White House, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Thomas Suozzi of Glen Cove have reintroduced legislation to restore the full state and local tax (SALT) deductions that were curtailed in Trump-driven tax law in 2017, reports Newsday's Robert Brodsky. They aim to fold it into "must-pass" legislation such as a COVID-19 relief and stimulus package to ensure its approval.
- The White House expressed outrage on Thursday that Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the release of a man whose conviction for beheading American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 was recently reversed. Press secretary Jen Psaki called on the Pakistani government to quickly review legal options, including letting the U.S. prosecute Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted, "We are committed to securing justice for the Pearl family and holding terrorists accountable."
- House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago on Thursday, and their statements afterward said the former president would help Republicans reclaim majorities in Congress in 2022. A statement from Trump's PAC, reflecting his self-regard, said his "popularity has never been stronger than it is today, and his endorsement means more than perhaps any endorsement at any time." McCarthy, previously critical of Trump's role inciting the Capitol siege, used his statement to attack the Democrats' impeachment drive.
- The Republican National Committee is planning to invite Trump to its donor meeting from April 9-11 in Palm Beach, Florida, Politico reported. The RNC also is expected to invite other potential 2024 candidates and Republican leaders to the retreat.
- Trump's White House became notorious for coronavirus outbreaks inside its walls, and the Biden administration has imposed strict rules to try to prevent them, The New York Times reported. Masking is mandatory; all West Wing staff is tested daily; senior staff can't meet in an office for longer than 15 minutes; and there are capacity limits for the Oval Office (six), chief of staff Ron Klain's office (five) and the Roosevelt Room (10). Even people with offices near each other regularly meet via video calls.
- Justin McAuliffe, 39, of Bellmore was arrested Thursday morning by FBI agents on a charge of illegally being part of the mob that stormed the Capitol, according to federal court records, reports Newsday's Robert E. Kessler.