Railing off the rails
As Americans desperate for coronavirus aid and anxious over a looming government shutdown looked to Mar-a-Lago over the Christmas weekend, what did they see? President Donald Trump — in between rounds of golf — boiling with rage, bitterness and vows to get even with those who aren't helping him overturn Joe Biden's election, based on baseless fraud claims.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has been totally incompetent and weak on the massive Election Fraud that took place in the 2020 Presidential Election," said one tweet. The Justice Department and FBI "should be ashamed" for the lack of action against what he deemed "the biggest SCAM" in U.S. history, said another.
He took aim at Republican senators whose leadership has accepted Biden as president-elect. "Time for Republican Senators to step up and fight for the Presidency, like the Democrats would do if they had actually won," he posted. That followed a Christmas Eve tweet warning the senators who won't help him, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: "I will NEVER FORGET!"
In a first, the president barred the news media from listening in on his annual Christmas Day holiday video conference with troops overseas — "Fake News not invited!" Then on Saturday, Trump tweeted: "A young military man working in Afghanistan told me that elections in Afghanistan are far more secure and much better run than the USA’s 2020 Election." An analysis on Task & Purpose, a military news site, explains why that claim is beyond ridiculous.
Late Sunday, he urged his followers to converge on Washington on Jan. 6 — the day the Electoral College results, declaring Biden the winner and Trump the loser, are to be formally accepted by Congress.
Meanwhile, Trump's resentments over the 2016 election, which he won, have no expiration date. A U.S. attorney's investigation of the Russia probe, ordered by now-former Attorney General William Barr, is still pending, leaving the president's thirst for vengeance unsated. "Where the hell is the Durham Report? They spied on my campaign, colluded with Russia (and others), and got caught," Trump wrote, airing long-standing unsubstantiated claims.
After all that, was Trump finally out of grievances? Nope — he has one on behalf of Melania Trump. The president retweeted a posting from his fans at Breitbart News that complained: "The elitist snobs in the fashion press have kept the most elegant First Lady in American history off the covers of their magazines for 4 consecutive years." The president appended a comment: "The greatest of all time. Fake News!"
No holiday from chaos
Coronavirus unemployment benefits ran out Saturday, and the first government shutdown of the pandemic era loomed. After Trump's denunciation last Tuesday of a combined bill for coronavirus relief and government funding that passed overwhelmingly by the Senate and House last week, five days passed with no word on whether he would veto it or reluctantly accept it.
On Sunday night, Trump finally signed it. Nothing had changed except that it could take a week to restore the lapsed aid to the jobless. The end of the extended drama also averts a federal government shutdown at midnight Monday and keeps protections against eviction intact. In a statement Sunday, Trump said he will ask Congress to remove "wasteful" spending that was in the government funding bill, not the coronavirus package. The lawmakers could say no; it's hard to see what the point was.
Though administration officials, notably Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, shaped the bill, Trump announced at the 13th hour he wanted direct payments to Americans raised from $600 a person to $2,000. Democrats already wanted that amount as stimulus; Republicans don't. Trump is still pushing for the $2,000, and his statement said the Senate will consider it, which is hardly a commitment to actually do anything. He also claimed both houses will look into "voter fraud" allegations, which had nothing to do with the legislation, except perhaps to Trump. The bottom line appears to be that Trump gained nothing tangible for the delay except attention.
Before Trump relented, exasperation with him was bipartisan.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a conservative who helped negotiate for Republicans, said on "Fox News Sunday" of Trump: "I understand he wants to be remembered for advocating for big checks, but the danger is he’ll be remembered for chaos and misery and erratic behavior if he allows this to expire." Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called Trump's conduct almost "pathologically narcissistic" and "really insane."
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a frequent Trump critic, said, "I don’t understand what’s being done, why — unless it’s just to create chaos and show power and be upset because you lost the election. Otherwise I don’t understand it because this just has to get done. Too many people are relying on this." For more comments from lawmakers during the standoff, see Newsday's story by Scott Eidler.
Mnuchin takes a kick in teeth
Mnuchin has been at Trump's side since serving as finance chief in the 2016 campaign and treasury secretary since 2017. Now, in the final weeks of the Trump administration, he's finding that loyalty with this boss is a one-way street.
Trump’s surprise assault on the coronavirus relief package confounded many leaders on Capitol Hill because they had thought Mnuchin negotiated the package on behalf of the president, and the treasury chief’s standing with many lawmakers is now in tatters, The Washington Post reported. Mnuchin described the bipartisan deal as "fabulous" just one day before Trump called it a "disgrace."
It amounted to a hard slap against a Cabinet member who shielded the president’s tax returns, endured repeated presidential tirades in private and defended even Trump’s most incendiary and contradictory remarks. Through it all, Mnuchin was able to act as an effective emissary to congressional leaders. Mnuchin is nursing his wounds at his private resort home in Cabo, Mexico.
Janison: Pathways to pardons
Newsday's Dan Janison, sorting out the pardons granted to convicted criminals by Trump over the past four years, finds they tend to fit five overlapping categories:
Associates who could have turned on Trump and did not; darlings of right-wing media; war criminals and rogue law-enforcement bullies; elite wrongdoers nailed by reputable prosecutors who Trump & Co. happened to hate; and shameless flatterers.
The fact that Trump has not shut down talk of trying to preemptively pardon himself and family members feeds the image of his Oval Office as a clearinghouse for dubious rewards.
The long-unchecked executive privilege to make criminal cases go away with the regal wave of a pen clearly gratifies Trump. Best of all from his perch, the law does not require that he weigh the merits of thousands of possible pardon appeals from people without special connections.
Fauci: Pandemic trend is troubling
The United States is headed for a "post-seasonal" surge of the coronavirus pandemic, following holiday travel and gatherings in homes, with the worst still likely to occur, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday.
"We very well might see a post-seasonal — in the sense of Christmas, New Year's — surge, and, as I have described it, as a surge upon a surge," the nation's top infectious disease specialist told CNN's "State of the Union."
Fauci said he agreed with Biden's remarks last week that the worst is not behind us.
Also, Fauci said 70% to 85% of the public would likely need to be vaccinated to achieve "herd immunity," a phenomenon by which the coronavirus spread would drop off because enough of the population were made resistant through the vaccine or have been infected. For more, see Newsday's story by Eidler. The U.S. COVID-19 death toll has topped 333,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University medical school tracker.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Fox News' Geraldo Rivera, who unwaveringly defended Trump against "leftist creeps who conjured the Russia Hoax," tweeted that it's time for the president to admit he lost and concede. "He has behaved like an entitled frat boy," said Rivera.
- It will be up to Vice President Mike Pence, in his role as president of the Senate, to declare Biden the winner of the Electoral College count, and there is no evident way for him to derail the proceeding, The Washington Post writes. But die-hard Trump supporters are likely to deem Pence a traitor, and he may feel Trump's wrath too.
- Pence is spending the holiday week at Vail, Colorado, a ski resort.
- Trump will return to Georgia on Jan. 4 to campaign for two Republican senators on the eve of their runoff races, even as he continues to rip the state’s GOP leaders for refusing to overturn its presidential election results.
- Polls show a greater public willingness to get a coronavirus vaccination, The New York Times reported.
- Tom Mountain, the vice chair of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee, said he has been battling COVID-19 for several weeks after he attended the White House’s Hanukkah event. Mountain, who spent time in the hospital, said his family tried to discourage him from attending, but "I didn’t listen, and now over two weeks later I’m still paying the price." Mountain said he believes he spread the infection to four members of his family, who are all now recovering.