Final days of the Trump presidency

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Before the holidays, SAFE assessed the Republican post-election path forward. Although it seemed appropriate to investigate suspicions about the apparent outcome, focusing on battleground states where the results had been very close, we suggested that this effort should be handled judiciously.

Don’t indulge in hyperbolic claims. Don’t lose sight of other objectives, such as preparing for the next electoral battle (two Senate runoff races in Georgia on January 5, which would effectively determine whether Republicans continued to enjoy a narrow majority in the Senate). Don’t takes actions that might imperil President Trump’s legacy or facilitate reversal of policy successes during his first term.

President Trump and his inner circle followed a different course, and the cumulative effects of a series of missteps became painfully evident last week. Here’s our take on what went wrong and the apparent consequences.

1. Georgia - The president led two energetic rallies in support of the Republican candidates in the Senate runoff elections, on Dec. 5 (Valdosta) and Jan. 4 (Dalton), in both cases urging conservative voters to turn out and ensure the victories of Sens. David Perdue & Kelly Loeffler. So far so good; indeed, SAFE had advocated just such an effort. Apparent election outcomes, 11/9/20.

. . . what are the pros and cons of the president holding rallies, etc. in support of the Republican Senate candidates in the Georgia runoff elections? This action will play out while he is still in office and could materially affect the legacy that he leaves. And it’s already clear that Democrats will do their utmost to win these races. *** Assuming agreement that the president’s involvement would help, we think he should jump into this fight with both feet.

The mistake was to use the rallies to harangue the crowds (and television viewers) about how the presidential election in Georgia had supposedly been stolen from Trump. The voting system was crooked, he told them, and the Republican governor and secretary of state had ignored repeated complaints about the matter and deserved to be voted out of office at the earliest opportunity. Whether justified or not, such a pitch was hardly calculated to promote party unity and enthusiasm for voting in the upcoming elections.

Last week, both of the Democratic candidates won, albeit by narrow margins – reportedly because GOP turnout in conservative rural districts was markedly lower than in the Nov. 3 elections. As a result, the Senate will be divided 50-50 in the new Congress, enabling Vice President Kamala Harris to break the tie in party-line votes. Ouch!

2. Funding the government – Although post-election concerns were naturally front and center in December, there was also unfinished business on Capitol Hill including passage of the already late appropriation bills for Fiscal Year 2021. As usual, SAFE’s advice was to complete this task in as responsible a manner as possible versus passing yet another continuing resolution that would leave the cash drawer open when the new Congress took over in January.

There was a potential snag – the president had threatened to veto the $740 billion defense policy bill (a precursor to the defense authorization bill), which was poised to pass with bipartisan support, unless several changes were made. His position was unjustifiable, in our view, and we said so. Election news and other matters,
12/7/20.

. . . it doesn’t seem sensible for a president who has worked very hard to boost military funding to veto a roundly $740 billion defense appropriations bill and risk potential cuts by an incoming Biden administration.

The president decided otherwise and vetoed the government funding bill – which had passed by a veto-proof majority in both houses. For the first time in four years, Congress overrode his veto. It’s never smart for leaders to pick fights they can’t win unless true matters of principle are involved, and this action may have turned off some voters at military installations in Georgia to boot.

3. COVID relief – Negotiations had been in process for months about another round of COVID relief spending, and a roundly $1.8 trillion deal had nearly been reached in October. The magnitude of the relief package seemingly shrank after the elections, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi now appearing more anxious to get a deal across the finish line while Senate Republicans seemed more serious about holding down the tab. Ibid.

At last report, there was said to be a standoff between a roundly $0.5 trillion offer by Republicans and a $0.9 trillion demand by Democrats, with continued uncertainty as to whether a deal is likely before the end of the year. *** Conclusion: Good show, Sen. McConnell, stick to your guns!

An agreement was eventually reached, which included (1) $600 individual relief payments for most adult Americans and children under 17, and (2) ongoing federal unemployment benefits (supplement to state benefits) of $300 per week. This at least ensured that ordinary people would have a say in how the bulk of the largesse got spent. Lawmakers reach deal on $900B virus aid bill, Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner,
12/21/20.

The president then “upset the apple cart” by publicly slamming the miserly level of individual relief payments and the massive amount of “pork” in the deal (many examples cited were from the omnibus appropriation bill versus the COVID relief proposal per se). His proposal was to raise the individual relief payments for adult Americans to $2,000, while cutting some of the pork, which in combination would have raised the cost of the bill substantially.

Democrats were willing to boost the individual relief payments, but unwilling to discuss any offsetting concessions. Senate Republicans didn’t agree; they could hardly have done so and maintained any claim of being fiscally responsible. The original deal went through, and after a delay of several days it was signed into law by President Trump.

The upshot of this maneuvering was to portray Republicans as “skinflints.” President-elect Biden told Georgia voters on Jan. 4 that they should vote for the Democrat candidates in the Senate runoff elections because, if the Senate remained under GOP control, the additional COVID relief benefits would be blocked even after he took office as president.

4. Presidential election – SAFE initially agreed with questioning of the apparent Biden win. There was an implicit assumption, however, that (a) this effort would be based on provable facts, and (b) the focus should shift to electoral reforms for the future if it became clear that a reversal of the 2020 outcome wasn’t achievable.

Some of the evidence of electoral irregularities that surfaced seemed disturbing and credible. But by mid-December, after the Trump legal team had lost scores of cases in state and federal courts, it seemed evident that there would be no judicial reversal of the election outcome Time to accept 2020 outcome, but election rules must be fixed,
12/14/20.

We sent a 12/14/20 e-mail to President Trump (via the White House website), summarizing our conclusions and citing this entry for further discussion. Receipt was acknowledged.

Even after the states’ Electoral College members voted on Dec. 14, however, the president and his most ardent supporters continued to insist that the election had been stolen, etc. The real test, they claimed, would come on Jan. 6 when a joint session of Congress was convened to certify the results of the voting in the several states. Vice President Mike Pence would be presiding over this session, and if there were objections to the vote from any state(s) signed by at least one House member and one senator - then the House and Senate would meet separately to debate and vote on the objections.

Did this mean Congress could set aside results of the Electoral College voting and substitute its own conclusions? Some people (including the president) evidently thought so, while others (notably the vice president) disagreed.

In any case, hundreds of thousands of Americans came to the nation’s capital on Jan. 6, to witness – and potentially influence – this historic event. Here’s a picture of some of the participants, which was taken at a “Save America” rally that took place in the Ellipse (mall area between the south side of the White House and the Washington Monument).


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The rally was addressed by President Trump, who began speaking around noon and continued for 73 minutes. He asserted, among other things, that the election had been stolen by “emboldened radical left Democrats” and “the fake news media.” Accordingly, he and his supporters would never give up or concede. “You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.”

Fixing things wouldn’t be all that difficult. “All Vice-President Pence has to do is send it back to the States to recertify, and we become president, and you are the happiest people.”

At the end, the president suggested that some of those present might want to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue and pay Congress a visit. Transcript, 1/6/21.

So we’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give… The Democrats are hopeless. They’re never voting for anything, not even one vote. But we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.

So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. I want to thank you all. God bless you and God bless America. Thank you all for being here, this is incredible. Thank you very much. Thank you.

Some reports have characterized the people that acted on this suggestion as an angry “mob,” but such a characterization seems questionable. While there were aggressive people in the mix, no doubt, many participants had simply come to demonstrate their concerns about the puzzling (to them) outcome of the presidential election. Here’s how one observer (who was at the rally but didn’t participate in the march to the Capitol) perceived the crowd:

A more disparate group of people would be hard to imagine. Families with young children in tow, teenagers, college kids, church groups, choir groups, farmers from Oklahoma, “seasoned” citizens, veterans, and the Proud Boys who were probably responsible for the violence.

Subsequent television coverage would show demonstrators scaling walls, breaking windows and entering by that route, routing the inadequate positions of the Capitol Police, and pouring into the building where they spread out in all directions. Five deaths resulted and scores of injuries; there was extensive property damage; the world saw America in a time of chaos and weakness.

In the aftermath, several theories were floated as to what had gone wrong, including these:

(A) The protestors were mostly white, so the Capitol Hill police did not deal firmly with them as they would have with, say, Black Lives Matter protestors.
Sorry, but earlier BLM “protests” in front of the White House and elsewhere around the country had characteristically been engaged by law enforcement in a highly tentative manner. While it does seem that the Capitol Police mishandled the situation on Jan. 6, the claim of a racist “double standard” simply won’t wash.

(B) The hard core insurgents were Antifa infiltrators who had co-opted the demonstration for their own purposes.
Maybe there was some truth in this theory, but to date we’re not aware of much supporting evidence so let’s attribute the violence to Trump supporters unless and until the investigations now in process by the FBI et al. establish otherwise.

When word of the security breach reached the members of Congress, who had begun a joint session under the chair of Mike Pence at 1:00 PM and then adjourned to separate House and Senate sessions for purposes of considering the first challenge (to certification of the Electoral College votes from Arizona), the proceedings were suspended until order could be restored.

The Capitol Police were reinforced by other law enforcement units, the National Guard was called up, and order had been restored by about 8:00 PM. Members of Congress were obviously shaken when the proceedings resumed, and if there had ever been any doubt about the outcome it had evaporated.

The Electoral College results for AZ, GA and PA weren’t going to be sent back to these states for recertification. Sen. Ted Cruz’s proposal for a 15-member electoral reform commission to conduct a 10-day review of the voting results and offer its recommendations was “dead as a doornail.” President-elect Joe Biden was certified as having been elected at around 4:00 a.m. on Dec. 7, with a statement from President Trump that he would accept this result.

It would be pleasing to report that all concerned were sobered by these horrific events and are now resolved to take a step back and turn down the heat. Realistically, however, the predominant theme seems to be recriminations and demands for payback

Some of the ideas in play, such as House impeachment proceedings against the president starting on Monday, would do more to raise the temperature than lower it. And we notice that Sen. McConnell isn’t proposing to call the Senate back into session until Jan. 19, so what would be the point?

Big Tech claims of the right to moderate all expressions of opinion, including Twitter and Facebook bans on the president et al. and Apple Computer's expulsion of Parler from its Apps store, strike us as an intolerable restriction of the Freedom of Speech that US citizens enjoy under the Constitution. Who elected these people, and isn’t their bias obvious?

Republican complaints about the voting procedures that were followed in 2020 remain unacknowledged – indeed generally denied as misinformation – by the other side. As previously suggested, serious follow-up of this matter is needed if Republicans ever want to win another election. And it’s encouraging to see signs that some GOP leaders understand the point including Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. Tim Scott, not Ted Cruz, has the right election commission idea, Washington Examiner, 1/9/21.

Scott is introducing legislation to create a bipartisan, 18-member “Election Integrity Commission” to “study the merits and administration of the November 2020 election and make recommendations to State legislatures to improve the security, integrity, and administration of federal elections.” Crucially, this commission would operate apart from the current dispute about the recently concluded presidential race. It would thus be free of immediate political pressures and outlandish demands to overturn election results.


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#I think your summation on Mr. Trump was right on the mark. He certainly seems to have no marketing sensibilities -- telling his supporters their votes are effectively worthless, and then wondering why they did not go out and vote Republican. Pitiful.... – Retired IBMer




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