Trump’s coronavirus response is a disaster—and Senate Republicans own Trump’s failures

U.S. coronavirus response has been … not the best. And that’s coming from the top, expert after expert says. While the career officials and scientists working on the issue throughout the government remain the same as in previous disease outbreaks, Donald Trump has set the conditions under which they’re working in important ways, through his emphasis on political messaging, his aides’ reluctance to give him news he doesn’t want to hear, and his own vast and sweeping ignorance.

From the moment COVID-19 started making news, Trump’s public statements have focused on the message that everything is fine. “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China,” told Sean Hannity on February 2. “But we can’t have thousands of people coming in who may have this problem, the coronavirus. So, we’re going to see what happens, but we did shut it down, yes.” Fast forward five weeks and around 580 cases in the United States and it’s clear that Trump did not “shut it down, yes.”

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Of course not every case of coronavirus in the U.S. is attributable to Trump’s failures. The disease was always going to spread—but there’s the big problem. It was always going to spread, and Trump was working against preparedness. Jeremy Konyndyk, former director of the USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance under President Barack Obama—including during the Ebola outbreak—told Vox that once Trump has declared victory for his response to any crisis, “if in reality the response is anything less than a great success, it’s very, very hard for the government to acknowledge that and adjust accordingly.”

Specifically, “President Trump’s insistence that the strategy of keeping the disease out of the country was succeeding really handicapped the rest of the response. Here’s why: It makes it harder for the government to plan for the moment the strategy stops working. That’s critical in this kind of situation,” Konyndyk said. “The whole point of an overseas containment strategy is to buy you time. It delays the arrival of an outbreak in a country, but it cannot ultimately stop it. You’re not, or you shouldn’t be, hoping that that will be all that you need to do.”

The White House response to the outbreak has also suffered from typical Trumpian management, with muddled lines of authority over the response and lots of infighting. “The boss has made it clear, he likes to see his people fight, and he wants the news to be good,” an “adviser to a senior health official involved in the coronavirus response” told Politico. “This is the world he’s made.”

Trump’s message to the public also poses dangers, as when, talking to Hannity again, Trump downplayed the fatality rate from COVID-19, saying that “we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better, just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work, some of them go to work, but they get better[.]” Talking about people with coronavirus going to work? Not helpful in slowing the spread of the disease, even though it was not expressed as a direct suggestion.

Trump is able to botch this so thoroughly in part because he has no serious pushback from his own party. Senate Republicans are not sending him a strong message that he needs to respond quickly and effectively—instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dragged his feet on adequate funding to fight the disease and used it as yet another excuse to attack Democrats. In early February, Sen. Tom Cotton spread a conspiracy theory when he suggested that COVID-19 could have come from a “superlaboratory.” And, of course, every Republican senator other than Mitt Romney owns every damn thing Trump does after voting to acquit him in his impeachment trial.

 

Senate Intelligence chair warns fellow Republicans that Biden probe is playing into Russia’s hands

Top Senate Republicans are moving ahead with an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, despite being warned by the Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee that they may be playing directly into Russia’s hands.

Sens. Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley, the heads of the Senate Homeland Security and Finance committees, are targeting Biden as a continuation of Donald Trump’s efforts to rig the 2020 elections. On December 5, Politico reports, Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr told them that such an investigation could boost Russia’s efforts to destabilize the U.S. political system.

No less a Trump sycophant than Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, echoes Burr’s concerns. “Any documents coming out of the Ukraine against any American, Republican or Democrat, need to be looked at by the intelligence services, who has expertise I don't because Russia is playing us all like a fiddle,” Graham said in early February. His committee is not joining the investigation into Biden.

Grassley, who refused to back impeachment trial witnesses, isn’t ruling out issuing subpoenas in this baseless and politically motivated investigation—an investigation Republicans didn’t launch when or anytime soon after Hunter Biden joined the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma because they weren’t interested in damaging Joe Biden’s electoral prospects at that point. 

”We wait until we get all the information,” Grassley said. “I don’t want to threaten subpoenas until I know that they’re going to be used.” Presumably “all the information” includes whether Joe Biden looks like he could still become the Democratic presidential nominee.

Donald Trump confirms ongoing purge of his administration, but ‘I don’t think it’s a big problem’

Donald Trump simultaneously acknowledged the existence of a purge list and downplayed its importance during his press conference in India Tuesday. The White House is reportedly tracking down administration officials seen as less than 110% loyal to Trump and replacing them with people guaranteed to go along with all of Trump’s corruption and not just like 95% of it. The effort is assisted by Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

“I don’t think it's a big problem. I don’t think it's very many people,” Trump told reporters in India, going on to claim that he wants “people who are good for the country, loyal to the country.” Let’s unpack this, starting with substituting “Donald Trump” for “country” when it comes to the real requirement.

When Trump says “I don’t think it’s a big problem,” he’s talking about the number of people—“not very many”—that need to be purged for having loyalties divided between Donald Trump and anything else on earth. But there is a big problem here: that once again Trump is putting personal loyalty above loyalty to the United States or its Constitution or its people.

Trump has purged the intelligence community of anyone who might push back against Russian election interference. He earlier purged the Department of Homeland Security in part because some officials weren't being cruel enough to immigrants. He had Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his brother removed from their White House jobs because Vindman testified at the impeachment inquiry, and fired Gordon Sondland as ambassador to the European Union for the same reason. He pulled a Treasury Department nomination for former U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu because she prosecuted former national security adviser Michael Flynn but not former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe.

And he’s telling us he’s not done yet. But that there aren’t very many people left who might do anything that would irk him even a little, so it’s not a big problem—at least as long as you confuse loyalty to country and being good for the country with loyalty to Trump.

Trump is prepping a massive purge of officials seen as disloyal

Donald Trump continues his march to autocracy, planning his largest purge of government officials yet. And he’s getting outside help in assembling his enemies list, with a conservative activist network headed by Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, providing a stream of memos detailing how some administration officials have been insufficiently loyal to Trump.

The pieces are being put in place. Trump is getting ready to push the purge with a new head of presidential personnel—his former body man, Johnny McEntee, who was fired by then-White House chief of staff John Kelly in 2018. And Groundswell, the Ginni Thomas group, helped push former national security adviser H.R. McMaster out of office, and is not remotely done, Axios reports.

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More recently, a memo targeted Jessie Liu, the former U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., who was nominated for a Treasury Department position only to have the nomination pulled. Liu’s offenses against Trump included signing off on a sentencing filing asking for jail time for former national security adviser Michael Flynn and not having former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe indicted—in other words, Liu dared to prosecute a former Trump official whom Trump didn’t want prosecuted and didn’t prosecute one whom Trump did want prosecuted.

That’s not the only such memo going after a specific Trump appointee—whether potential or already on the job—and pushing Trump to purge those who aren’t fully on board with Trump’s corruption and narcissism. 

Given that Trump’s moods change constantly and his actions offend anyone with even a teeny shred of integrity, that could leave a lot of jobs to fill. Never fear, though: Groundswell has another list of appropriately Trumpy potential appointees ready to go. That list includes former Sheriff David Clarke for a top Homeland Security job, and Fox News’ favorite former Secret Service officer, Dan Bongino, for something in Homeland Security or counterterrorism.

Donald Trump is personally corrupt and dedicated to abuse of power. But he’s not operating alone—if he was, Republicans would have put limits on him long ago. Groundswell—a group that, it cannot be emphasized enough, is headed by the wife of a Supreme Court justice—shows that Republicans aren’t just failing to rein Trump in; they’re encouraging him to make the government more ruthlessly partisan, to place loyalty above competence at every turn.

Trump is using the pardon power to stroke his own ego, not advance mercy or justice

When Donald Trump suddenly gave pardons or commutations to 11 people on Tuesday, you only had to glance at several of the names to know that Trump was doing favors for people in his social circles—people like him. Now we’re getting more information on how Trump made his decisions and on his clemency plans going forward, and it’s all classic Trump.

Bernard Kerik, the corrupt former New York City police commissioner, got a call early Tuesday morning giving him just hours to get supporters to sign a letter backing a pardon. He worked the phones and got some prominent Republicans like Geraldo Rivera and Rep. Peter King to sign, and just before noon he got a personal call from Trump giving him the news. David Safavian, the former Bush administration official who called Kerik and told him to pull together the letter, also got a pardon for his role in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Safavian works at the American Conservative Union, which is headed by the husband of a Trump adviser.

Another of Trump’s corrupt-rich-white-guys-like-me pardons went to Paul Pogue, whose family has given $200,000 to Trump’s reelection effort and whose son and daughter-in-law hang out with Don Jr. And so on. Trump did grant clemency Tuesday to a few people who weren’t corrupt rich white guys—but even they had an inside connection in the form of Alice Johnson, the woman whose sentence Trump commuted in 2018 after lobbying by Kim Kardashian West.

Since Trump seems to enjoy giving clemency—favoring personal phone calls to people not expecting clemency so he can soak up the shock and gratitude—he’ll be doing more of this in the coming months. And he has no plans to revert to the traditional process where the Justice Department vets petitions. Instead the White House is doing the Trump White House thing and having pardons overseen by “essentially an informal task force of at least a half-dozen presidential allies.” OBVIOUSLY Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner is heavily involved, as is former Florida attorney general and impeachment defense team member Pam Bondi.

Mass incarceration remains out of control and it’s reasonable for presidents to use executive power to mitigate some of the harm while Congress drags its feet about making the degree of change that’s really needed. But that should look like what President Obama did, taking a hard look at excessive sentences and using an actual process to grant clemency to 1,715 people, the vast majority of them nonviolent drug offenders. Obama should have done more, because there was so much to be done, but he did do more than the 12 presidents before him—combined. Trump, instead, is treating the pardon power like another way to do personal favors and soak up the adoration he craves. It’s not about justice, it’s about Donald Trump’s ego. 

Trump’s pardons again make a mockery of Republican claims that he ever cared about corruption

Remember how Republicans spent months insisting that Donald Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine not because he wanted to cheat on the 2020 elections but because he really, really cared about corruption? Even though he never mentioned corruption in his first phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky? Even though the Pentagon certified that Ukraine was fighting corruption and should get the money?

Ha ha ha, yeah, all those claims Republicans made, against all the evidence, that Trump cared about corruption, and what does he do? Well, first, during his own impeachment trial, Trump stood side by side with a world leader charged with corruption to unveil a major foreign policy plan. Now he’s handing out pardons and sentence commutations to a corrupt politician, a corrupt former law enforcement official, a corrupt lobbyist, and a couple corrupt rich guys. So let’s take a stroll down memory lane all the way back a month or two to hear from Republicans about how much Trump cares about corruption.

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“Corruption is not just prevalent in Ukraine. It’s the system. Our president said time out, time out, let’s check out this new guy,” according to Rep. Jim Jordan, during the impeachment inquiry.

”President Trump had good reason to be wary of Ukrainian election meddling against his campaign and of widespread corruption in that country,” said Rep. Devin Nunes.

“When it comes to sending US taxpayer money overseas, the president is focused on burden sharing and corruption,” Trump’s impeachment defense insisted.

Had Trump expressed serious concern about corruption anywhere before he turned his eyes to Ukraine? From Sen. Ron Johnson, “If the subject was Ukraine, he’s expressed his concern about corruption in Ukraine, which everybody understood was endemic―including [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelensky, who won. So I haven’t talked to the president about other countries where that might have come up.”

Again and again they told us that Trump cared so much about corruption that he held up nearly $400 million in aid that Congress had appropriated for Ukraine and that the Defense Department had signed off on because of Ukrainian anti-corruption efforts. And then Trump goes ahead and commutes the sentence former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich got for trying to sell an open Senate seat to the highest bidder. He plans to pardon former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik, who committed perjury, tax fraud, and more. 

So it goes. Donald Trump cares about corruption like he cares about anyone not named Donald (or possibly Ivanka) Trump: only when it benefits him to claim he does.

Senate Republicans are not bothered one bit as Trump’s abuses of power escalate

Donald Trump is going to war with the very idea of equal administration of justice in the United States of America, and the Senate Republicans who voted last week to acquit him of abuse of power are just nodding along, barely even pausing to furrow a brow. Trump has intervened in the sentencing of his old buddy Roger Stone and publicly thanked Attorney General William Barr for doing his bidding. He’s attacked the judge and a juror in the case. These are not trifling matters in a democracy, but Republicans just don’t care.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed it with a simple, “I do not have an opinion on that.” To Sen. John Cornyn, it’s “kind of immaterial” if Trump intervened to reduce a sentencing recommendation for a friend. “It doesn’t bother me at all, as long as the judge has the final decision,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley—of the judge Trump has been working to publicly intimidate. In translation: Trump’s escalating assaults on the rule of law change nothing for Republicans.

The list of Republican senators who just don’t give a damn goes on and on. Sen. Lindsey Graham is “comfortable the system is working,” even though he gave lip service to the principle that Trump shouldn’t be speaking out about specific cases in the courts. Sen. Lamar Alexander said that “politics should never play a part in law enforcement,” without mentioning Trump by name.

Another series of Republicans pretended not to know what the issue was, falling back on the old Paul Ryan favorite, “I don’t know the facts of the case; I haven’t been following it” (this time, that one came from Sen. Ted Cruz). 

The other thing that goes on and on is Trump’s abuse of power. The Washington Post reports that, according to a former senior administration official, when aides try to persuade Trump that he should stay out of legal cases, he says, “I have a right to say whatever I want.” According to that official, “He knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows that he has more power than anyone else in the government—and when he tweets, everyone has to listen to him.”

A Republican congressional aide told the Post, “It’s like bad weather. Nothing more, nothing less.” Yes, abuse of power and the destruction of democratic norms and institutions is just a little bad weather.

“We cannot give him a permanent license to turn the presidency and the executive branch into his own personal vengeance operation,” Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown said Wednesday, addressing his Republican colleagues in a committee meeting. “If we say nothing—and I include everyone in this committee, including myself—it will get worse. His behavior will get worse.” 

Republicans are on board with that, is the problem.

Every day that goes by and every new abuse that Trump commits shows why it's so important to retake the Senate. Please dig deep to defeat vulnerable Republicans in 2020.

Swamp creature vs. Romney Republican: Georgia Republican Senate primary divides the party

Georgia has two U.S. Senate elections in November—and three serious Republican candidates, leading to some angst for their party. Sen. David Perdue is running for re-election, while appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins will be facing off in a special election. The big concern for Republicans is that the special election won’t have primaries. All of the candidates will compete in November, and if no one gets more than 50% of the vote, the election will go to a runoff in January, with Republicans worried that Loeffler and Collins could provide an opening for Democrats by splitting the vote.

Collins was a major presence in the Republican fight against the House impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump, but that isn’t preventing the Republican establishment from going all-out against him. “Collins is everything Georgians hate about Washington,” according to the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s executive director. “He is a swamp creature that claims to be conservative. ... Now, having made an emotional, ill-informed and selfish decision, he finds himself at a crossroads. Republicans who are working to reelect President Trump and retain the Senate majority hope he has a moment of clarity, does the right thing and walks away from this poor decision. Otherwise, voters will make it for him.”

With the NRSC—and the Trump campaign—pressuring consultants and vendors not to work for Collins, his spokesman said, “we are forming a group of grizzled freedom fighters taking on the establishment.” The Collins campaign also accused Loeffler of being a “Romney Republican,” which is actually fair, since part of how she bought her way onto the list of people who might be appointed to a Senate seat was by giving a lot of money to a Romney-backing super PAC in 2012.

So Collins and Loeffler will be duking it out over who is the true conservative, while Loeffler’s establishment supporters work to strategically erase all of the question marks the far right might have about her, like that past Romney support. Perdue and his allies, meanwhile, are worried that the Loeffler-Collins fight might divide Republicans enough to weaken Perdue himself. We can hope …

Georgia is going to be lit this year, with these Senate races, several competitive House races, and the Democrat presidential nominee likely making a play for the state.

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U.S. is ‘not a banana republic,’ Trump official says, but his boss is determined to show that it is

Donald Trump isn’t stopping at getting Attorney General William Barr to reduce the Justice Department’s sentencing request for Trump buddy Roger Stone. He’s sending more messages to more parts of the government about how to show personal loyalty to Donald Trump rather than loyalty to the rule of law. Trump claimed to reporters that whether to discipline Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is “going to be up to the military.” But then he kept talking. “But if you look at what happened,” he said, “I mean they’re going to, certainly, I would imagine, take a look at that.” And “that” is Vindman testifying to the House, under subpoena.

“We’re not a banana republic where lieutenant colonels get together and decide what the policy is,” said national security adviser Robert O’Brien, justifying the firing of Vindman and his brother Yevgeny, who did not testify in the impeachment inquiry. No, we’re a banana republic where someone can be fired for testifying under subpoena to a duly elected House of Representatives working within its constitutional authority, by a president who came into office despite more people voting for his opponent and felt freed to persecute people who testified against him—along with their family members—because he was acquitted by 52 senators who represent fewer people than the 48 senators voting for his conviction.

The Vindman brothers did not try to “get together and decide what the policy is.” One of them testified before Congress, under subpoena. That’s it. But while some Senate Republicans are very concerned about the firing of Gordon Sondland from the post as ambassador to the European Union that he bought with $1 million in inauguration contributions, their concern is partly because he might be smeared by the association of having been fired on the same day as Vindman. 

“I agreed with the decision on Vindman,” Sen. Thom Tillis said. “I just felt like having the two have some distance would have been appropriate.” Heaven forbid a major Republican donor should be treated in a similar way to some immigrant Army officer with subject matter expertise rather than millions of dollars.

Trump’s escalating war with the imaginary deep state has also led to him withdrawing one nomination to an administration post and planning to withdraw another because he decided that the people he’d previously nominated had been unacceptably disloyal, with one questioning his illegal hold on Ukraine aid as he tried to coerce Ukraine into investigating his political opponents and another being involved in prosecuting Trump associates like Stone and Paul Manafort.

And even beyond the things they think are fine and dandy, like firing Vindman, Senate Republicans (minus Mitt Romney) are complicit in every single thing Trump does. They signed off on his abuse of power to cheat in this year’s elections, and in so doing sent him the message that they will protect him no matter what.

The Constitution of the United States, and the nation’s future as a democracy, have a Donald Trump problem. But they equally have a Republican Party problem.

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Trump and Barr ramp up their abuses of power—and Senate Republicans are responsible for all of it

This is what a liberated post-acquittal Donald Trump looks like: not chastened, as some of the more dishonest Senate Republicans said they hoped he would be, but ever more brazen in his corruption and his destruction of democratic institutions. Tuesday was a nightmare for justice in the United States of America, with three top prosecutors either stepping down from the case or resigning entirely as Attorney General William Barr obeyed a Trump tweet and intervened in the sentencing recommendations for Trump buddy Roger Stone.

That came after the news that Barr is working with Rudy Giuliani to dig up and launder dirt on Trump’s political opponents, and after the firing of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his brother from their White House jobs because he testified at the impeachment inquiry. Trump and Barr are committing the abuses, but every single Republican senator other than Mitt Romney gave them permission. Said “Go right ahead, we won’t do a thing about it.”

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I’m talking about Susan Collins, up for reelection in Maine. Cory Gardner, up for reelection in Colorado. Joni Ernst, in Iowa. Thom Tillis, in North Carolina. Kelly Loeffler, who will be facing Georgia voters for the first time after being appointed to replace former Sen. Johnny Isakson. David Perdue, also in Georgia, meaning there are two Senate seats at stake in one state. Martha McSally, who lost a Senate election in Arizona in 2018 and was appointed to a Senate seat anyway—she needs to lose for a second time in a row. 

Every single one of these people voted to let Trump continue his lawlessness. They voted that way when any halfway sensible person knew that he would take the vote as permission to do more and worse. These senators intended to give him that permission—and do more and worse he has. He has been publicly vindictive against Vindman for daring to testify to what Trump did on Ukraine. His attorney general is systematically perverting the administration of justice to cater to Trump’s personal desires, to protect his friends and persecute his opponents, making a mockery of the Justice Department's mission statement to “ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.” 

Every Republican senator but Mitt Romney voted to tell Trump that he is above the law. In 2020, voters can make some of them pay for that. Give now to send the opposite message—that no one is above the law—by defeating these Republicans in 2020.