Former President Donald Trump speaks Sunday at the Conservative Political...

Former President Donald Trump speaks Sunday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla. Credit: Bloomberg / Elijah Nouvelage

Base instinct

Much of what former President Donald Trump had to say in his first major speech of 2021 mirrored what he said in 2020 campaign speeches losing the election, which he is still claiming that he won.

The news part of his 90-minute speech Sunday to the Trump-adoring Conservative Political Action Conference is that he is staying in the Republican Party, not creating a third party. He is teasing a run to reclaim the White House in 2024. "I may even decide to beat them for a third time," he said of his Democratic opponents, alluding to his false claims of massive election fraud that he went on to repeat at length and in detail, while untethered to facts.

He lit into his successor. "Joe Biden has had the most disastrous first month of any president in modern history," Trump said of Biden, who is enjoying approval-versus-disapproval ratings Trump never reached. "We have gone from America first to America last." He denounced the Biden administration, calling it "anti-jobs, anti-family, anti-borders, anti-energy, anti-women and anti-science." He accused Democrats of inviting criminals to illegally enter the U.S., his big theme in 2016 and 2020, and of laying the groundwork for socialism and communism.

Trump opened a new front in his culture wars by targeting transgender athletes — a cause getting pushed lately from the far right by freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. "A lot of new records are being broken in women’s sports. I hate to say that, ladies, but you have got a lot of new records that are being shattered," Trump said. "Young girls and women are incensed that they are now being forced to compete against those who are biological males."

Trump angrily spat out the names of every Republican House and Senate member who voted to impeach or convict him for inciting the deadly Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, which he said nothing about, and urged that they be purged in primaries. "Get rid of them all," Trump said. But he rejected the notion he was sowing strife within the party. "The only division is between a handful of Washington, D.C., establishment political hacks and everybody else all over the country," he said, adding, "I think we have tremendous unity."

He lambasted Republican officials who refused to stand by his lies about the election and the courts that rejected his supporters' claims. To the crowd in an Orlando, Florida, hotel ballroom that chanted, "You won, you won," Trump said, "The Supreme Court again didn’t have the guts or the courage to do anything about it, and neither did other judges."

Whether or not he ultimately runs again, Trump won't stop fattening his political war chest. He made a pitch to the CPAC audience — and those watching on Fox and a handful of smaller right-wing networks — to donate to two political action committees associated with him. See a fact-check of Trump's speech.

All for Trump? Not necessarily

Sculptor Tommy Zegan wipes fingerprints from his golden statue of...

Sculptor Tommy Zegan wipes fingerprints from his golden statue of ex-President Donald Trump on Friday at CPAC in Orlando, Fla. Credit: AP / John Raoux

While a straw poll of the CPAC crowd gave Trump 97% approval, enthusiasm for a Trump 2024 run did not rise to those heights.

About two-thirds of the attendees — 68% — said they wanted Trump to run again in 2024. Separately, when matched up against 20 other potential Republican contenders, Trump got 55% in the unscientific survey. That still put him in first place by a lot; the second choice was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, at 21%. In a poll that excluded Trump, DeSantis finished first with 43%, followed by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem at 11%.

An argument against an attempted Trump comeback was made Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" by GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who supported him in the election but voted for conviction in the second impeachment trial over the insurrection.

"Over the last four years, we have lost the House, the Senate and the presidency," Cassidy said of the party. "That has not happened in a single four years … since Herbert Hoover." He said the GOP needs to court Biden voters, and "if we idolize one person, we will lose."

Janison: Cracks in Dems' unity behind Biden

Policy tensions between Biden's administration and congressional Democrats have been further exposed since he ordered an airstrike over Syria last week, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

After the president authorized the action in what he called a defensive move to protect U.S. forces in Iraq, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and a few fellow Democrats questioned the legality of the unilateral order, which they said echoed those under the Trump administration.

"Offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional, absent extraordinary circumstances," Kaine said. "The American people deserve to hear the Administration’s rationale for these strikes and its legal justification for acting without coming to Congress." In the House, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) went a step further, finding "absolutely no justification" for the Syria strike.

Biden's acquiescence to a Senate parliamentarian's ruling against including a $15 minimum wage in the coronavirus relief and stimulus bill hasn't stopped progressives, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), from looking at an end-around maneuver to penalize large companies that don't pay that wage and to give incentives to smaller ones to meet that standard.

Fauci: Don't get picky about vaccine brand

With a third coronavirus vaccine — from Johnson & Johnson — now approved for emergency use by federal regulators and coming on line, Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday urged Americans to get their shot with whichever of the three is available to them first, reports Newsday's Scott Eidler.

"These are three highly efficacious vaccines," Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN's "State of the Union." He added: "If I were not vaccinated now and I had a choice of getting a J&J vaccine now or waiting for another vaccine, I would take whatever vaccine would be available to me as quickly as possible."

The single-dose Johnson & Johnson shots are expected to vastly expand the supply of COVID-19 vaccines. So far, the U.S. has been able to administer only the two-shot vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

While the Johnson & Johnson shot's 85% effectiveness rate in studies was not as high as that of the first two U.S.-approved vaccines, Fauci cautioned against direct comparisons because the clinical trials were conducted at different times. "Just be really grateful that we have three really efficacious vaccines," he said.

COVID package faces Senate paring knives

Republicans and perhaps the two most conservative Democrats, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, will try to slice billions of dollars from the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief and stimulus package when the Senate takes it up this week, reports Newsday's Tom Brune.

The $15-an-hour minimum wage proposal has been a top target, but others include the $350 billion for state and local governments, $1,400 direct checks for higher-income recipients, and reduction of the bonus for unemployment benefits from $400 to $300.

Democrats aim to see the bill signed into law before March 14, when the enhanced unemployment benefits expire.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden was willing to consider some Republicans' proposals. "There's been more targeting of the direct checks" in discussions with Republicans, she said. Biden "has not been willing to negotiate on the size of the checks, but there has been a targeting to ensure that it hits the Americans who need that help the most," Psaki said.

Worst defense?

The "Trump-made-me-do-it" defense already is looking like a long shot for people charged in the Capitol insurrection, The Associated Press writes.

Defendants who flaunted their actions on social media posts are arguing in court that they were following Trump’s instructions on Jan. 6. But the legal strategy has already been shot down by at least one judge, and experts believe the argument is not likely to get anyone off the hook for the rampage in which five people were killed, including a Capitol Police officer.

"This purported defense, if recognized, would undermine the rule of law because then, just like a king or a dictator, the president could dictate what’s illegal and what isn’t in this country," U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell said recently in ordering the pretrial detention of William Chrestman, a suspected member of the Proud Boys, an often-violent pro-Trump group.

Chrestman’s attorneys argued in court papers that Trump gave the mob "explicit permission and encouragement" to do what they did.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Lisa L. Colangelo and Michael O'Keeffe. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Before Trump appeared in the flesh on Sunday, the big attention-getter at CPAC was a 6-foot golden statue of the ex-president. The artist, Tommy Zegan, constructed it with the help of three local residents in the Mexican town where he lives as an American expat. "This is not an idol," he said. "This is a sculpture."
  • The White House on Sunday defended its decision to not sanction Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after a U.S. intelligence report linked the royal to the 2018 murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Critics of the decision include former CIA Director John Brennan, who tweeted that the Biden administration "is not holding him accountable" and "needs to do much more."
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Sunday said Biden supports an "independent review" of the two sexual harassment accusations leveled against New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Psaki described the accusations by Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett as "serious," and she said specifically of Bennett’s account to The New York Times: "It was hard to read that story, as a woman."
  • Psaki said the Biden administration will "keep fighting" for Neera Tanden's confirmation to lead the Office of Management and Budget despite her slim chances since Democrat Manchin joined Republicans opposing the nominee. Tanden is to meet Monday with Alaska's Sen. Lisa Murkowski, her apparent last hope of picking up a Republican supporter, CNN reported.
  • In statehouses nationwide, Republicans who echoed Trump’s baseless claims of rampant election fraud are proposing to make it harder to vote next time, and even some colleagues who defended the legitimacy of the November vote are joining them, The New York Times writes.