His gift to Nancy & Chuck
Defeated lame-duck President Donald Trump took a parting shot at his fellow Republicans in Congress by saying the COVID relief deal to which they'd agreed was too miserly — and should have offered at least $2,000 per person, not $600.
"At last, the President has agreed to $2,000," declared House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whose caucus would have favored a fatter package. "Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!"
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) added: "I'm in!" Of course, it isn't that simple. There are many components to a deal already approved in both congressional houses that can fall apart if one part is removed.
Trump's sudden expression of interest in the issue after weeks of taking a back seat led one senior Republican to say: "We're watching a petulant child not getting his way throw a tantrum." The extent of the resulting disruption and delay remains unknown. For more on what could happen with the relief bill, see a story by Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
The same could apply to Trump's Wednesday veto of the annual defense policy bill, possibly setting up the first congressional override vote of his presidency. The bill provides 3% pay raises for U.S. troops and authorizes more than $740 billion in military programs and construction. Trump seeks protection of Confederate installation names and other provisions.
Now on the hot seat, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) kept a low profile amid the noise over the coronavirus relief bill. The aid package with stimulus checks is tied to a larger funding bill that is required to be passed by Monday night.
The two Republicans seeking election Jan. 5 in a Georgia runoff, Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, had declared victory over the relief bill's passage, but they also pledge their loyalty to Trump.
Biden: Prepare yourself
"Our darkest days in this battle against COVID are ahead of us — not behind us," President-elect Joe Biden said in a message issued Wednesday. "We need to prepare ourselves and steel our spines. As frustrating as it is to hear, it's going to take patience, persistence and determination to beat this virus."
With COVID-19 deaths nationwide reported above 3,000 per day on both Tuesday and Wednesday, the U.S. pandemic total has climbed past 323,000.
Meanwhile, Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech reached a deal with federal officials to supply 100 million more doses of their vaccine to the U.S. by summer, following discussions over how much the companies could provide here and abroad. But officials said the federal government is unlikely to make good on its goal of vaccinating 20 million Americans by the end of this month.
Soft on war crimes
Two retired military officers now in academia warn of a destructive and corrupting precedent from Trump's pardon Tuesday of four Blackwater security contractors convicted of murder and other offenses in the 2007 slaughter of 14 Iraqi civilians.
"These pardons will undermine respect for rule of law among our armed forces and security contractors entrusted with lethal power overseas," wrote retired Air Force Lt. Col. Rachel VanLandingham and retired Army Lt. Col. Geoffrey Corn.
"The Blackwater contractors Trump pardoned are not heroes deserving of sympathy for bad decisions made in the fog of war. Their trials — seven years of proceedings — exposed the brutal reality of the contractors’ indifference to innocent lives," they warned in a commentary published in USA Today.
"How are these criminals released after they killed 17 innocent people?" Hussein Saheb Nasser, 35, whose brother was among those massacred, told NBC News by telephone from his home in Baghdad. Blackwater, the security firm, was founded by billionaire Erik Prince, an ally and financial backer of Trump and the brother of departing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
More cronies off the hook
Trump, who promoted himself as the law-and-order president during the recent campaign, is once again nullifying selected prosecutions by federal authorities, based on his personal alliances. Many of the 29 lucky individuals given free passes Wednesday are convicted white-collar criminals, though supporters in good standing well ensconced in the president's political and media cliques.
One is Charles Kushner, the father of Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner. The elder Kushner, a real-estate magnate, served 2 years for tax evasion, retaliating against a federal witness and lying to federal officials, in a case prosecuted by eventual New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Charles Kushner's pardon was long predicted, as was another that came through Wednesday, that of international operative Paul Manafort, who was brought to justice by special counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia probe. Manafort was convicted of financial fraud and conspiring to obstruct investigation. Trump also upgraded to a full pardon the clemency he earlier gave decades-long associate and self-described dirty trickster Roger Stone.
The president also reportedly has discussed pardoning Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist, and Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, and is expected to issue dozens more before leaving office. (See the latest list of Trump's pardons.)
Maintaining chaos as usual
Forget the really ambitious stuff, like efforts to void a democratic election. Even basic preparations for their scheduled departure are proving too much to handle for Trump's team at the White House.
In an email Wednesday morning from the White House Management Office, executive office staffers were told to "please disregard" an earlier instruction from Tuesday that they "will start departing" the week of Jan. 4, Politico reported.
The confusion was not eased by one of Trump's bizarre videos this week, in which he hallucinated that he won the election in a landslide. Many matters were left in limbo as he and first lady Melania Trump headed Wednesday to Mar-a-Lago for Christmas.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Vice President-elect Kamala Harris added her voice to other Democrats calling for a more robust coronavirus relief bill.
- An impressively tiny number of legitimate election-fraud cases have turned up amid the Trump legal team's intensive efforts and unsupported allegations.
- A federal judge temporarily blocked a controversial, Trump-approved helium drilling project in Utah.
- Louisiana's Rep.-elect Luke Letlow, a Republican, has been transferred to an intensive care unit for COVID-19 treatment.
- The use of antibody drugs such as those given to Trump has surprisingly been slowed, The New York Times reports.
- The 1600 will be taking a Christmas Eve holiday hiatus. We'll be back on newsday.com on Sunday night and in subscribers' inboxes on Monday morning. Not signed up? It's easy — just go to newsday.com/the1600.