This week: How Rudy Giuliani and the Trump legal team’s incompetence hides the severity of our current situation.
Welcome to The Wrap! At the end of each week, we’ll walk through some of the big news and policy headlines from the last seven days to catch you up on what it all means.
Before we get to the headlines, I wanted to make a quick note on how these pieces and others on the site discuss politics and partisanship.
When I started 101PC, I wanted to focus exclusively on public policy, how the gears turned, what works and what doesn’t. However, it’s impossible to fully separate this from politics depending on what we’re discussing. For instance, we can’t talk about the need for an economic stimulus (policy) without talking about the negotiations and why the sides have failed to hash something out (politics).
With this in mind, I believe it’s important to give you impartial framing on the politics of these topics when it’s necessary—and to do so in a nonpartisan way. Keep in mind, to say “nonpartisan” isn’t the same as refusing to comment on who is at fault at times. We can be nonpartisan and objective, and point out when one side is being unfair, polarizing, or simply wrong.
With luck, this site will stick around long enough for me to focus more exclusively on just the policy stuff. (Not holding my breath.) But until then, expect honest and direct takes on how our politics is helping or preventing desperately needed developments in public policy.
Now to the thing.
As of Friday night, we’ve seen over 11.8 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. Over 253,000 people have reportedly died.
We’re in the worst of it yet, with over a quarter of a million people in the U.S. having died from the coronavirus. Reports are abound of overrun hospitals, burnt out health care workers, and a system thrown into utter disarray. Please be safe!
Although all of the states have either certified their results or have a near-perfect idea of final tallies, we’re still somehow living through Election Day 2020. When reviewing what exactly happened this week to maintain this feeling of a time loop, I kept coming back to this: We’re not framing President Trump’s challenges to the election results the way we need to be.
So to start this week, I wanted to quickly run through all of the stuff that has happened over the past seven days to show how it doesn’t line up with how the broader story of Trump’s non-concession is being portrayed. There’s a disconnect between the severity of this situation and how it’s broadly discussed.
We need to take the Trump team’s moves seriously.
There is a lot of disinformation out there, but if you’ve managed to avoid or ignore it, you’d know that the results for the 2020 presidential election are practically finalized. Joe Biden will be in the White House this January.
Still, President Trump hasn’t conceded and has cited widespread voter fraud as the reason Biden leads. His election security director found that there was virtually no evidence of this, so Trump fired him.
This by itself should sound alarms—a democratically chosen president deciding not to honor the results of his reelection, spewing disinformation, and removing someone in his administration who publicly rebuked him is something we would find deeply concerning if it occurred in another country.
Of course, there’s way more to it:
- The Government Services Administration chief, essentially the gatekeeper to Biden’s transition into the WH, refuses to acknowledge his victory and begin the process. (House Democrats are looking to speak with her about this.)
- Some of Trump’s rhetoric and disinformation is oozing down into other levels of government. In Wayne County, Michigan (includes Detroit), the local Board of Canvassers at first were deadlocked in deciding whether or not to certify the election results. Although they would later reverse course, the Republican members of this board initially chose not to certify the results, something that almost never happens. They also suggested certifying only the county results from outside Detroit—a population that is far whiter than that within the city. The Detroit Free Press has a recap of the debacle here.
- Meanwhile in Georgia, the secretary of state, a Republican who has pushed back against Trump’s claims of voter fraud, shared that members of his party like Senator Lindsey Graham (S.C.) have asked him to exclude some perfectly legitimate ballots. Attorneys have since filed an ethics complaint against Graham.
- Team Trump opened an onslaught of legal challenges across battleground states to more directly overturn the results. Notably like the Wayne County incident, some of these suits have sought to certify results in rural parts of states while excluding counties with large cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh—both of which have much more diverse populations than the rest of the state. I should note that almost all of the Trump suits have failed for reasons I’ll get to in a bit.
All the while, Trump’s support among the GOP establishment has begun to splinter. Although conservative outlets like OAN and parts of the party, like the Republican National Committee, have continued to repeat Trump’s lies, more and more prominent lawmakers have opted not to. For instance, Senators Mitt Romney (Utah) and Ben Sasse (Neb.) have publicly congratulated Joe Biden on his victory; Senator Joni Ernst (Iowa) called some of the claims made by a Trump lawyer “offensive.”
Make no mistake, there are people and media outlets who look at all of this and say “It’s bad.” But why does it still feel as though we aren’t taking it seriously?
In as simple terms as possible, it’s because the lack of a coherent strategy and reasoning within Trump’s post-election campaign make this seem far less serious than it actually is. Rudy Giuliani and the rest of Trumps legal team are really bad at making their cases in court, making claims to judges while presenting no evidence.
Imagine the end of the movie Rudy, but instead of Sean Astin it’s today’s Giuliani. Also the rest of the Fighting Irish don’t understand know how to play football. (I’m not good at drawing analogies.) That’s basically what this is. They’re so terrible at their jobs that they’ve flubbed nearly all of the 30-plus suits they’ve filed.
But herein lies the issue I want to point out, something that other political commentators (of far great repute than me) have said. I found Brian Beutler put it best in his latest “Big Tent” newsletter: “This may be a conspiracy of buffoons, but it’s still a conspiracy.”
While we don’t really expect any of these things to overturn the results of the presidential election, we should be worried: Trump’s actors in this fight are frankly just too incompetent to pull anything off, but the fact that they have avenues to pursue this in the first place is troubling.
It’s not hard to fathom a smarter and more charismatic illiberal person to use some of these strategies to cheat our institutions and systems of executive selection to gain power—and hold it. So while right now we could look at any one of the things I listed above and say, “Yes, but it’s Trump’s lawyers” and relax a little, this does not write off future threats of similar stripes. We have to find ways today to prevent some of these from happening again.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden…
All of this, much like Trump’s presidency generally, has taken up most of the air and attention over the last week. But Biden has still been positioning himself to hit the ground running come Inauguration Day. Here’s a recap of the big things that happened in his orbit this week:
- Biden’s transition team has been seeking private alternatives to the withheld federal funds earmarked for this period. They’ve also told House Democrats to lay off Trump and instead allow public pressure on him to build organically.
- Biden himself has reportedly said in confidence to his aides that he isn’t sure he would pursue federal investigations into Trump’s conduct as president, saying he prefers “moving forward” when he takes over the White House.
- The President-elect also called on Congress to pass a new economic stimulus (paywall) that is closer in scope to the original $3.4 trillion HEROES Act the House passed in May.
- Biden, who initially campaigned on some debt forgiveness for student loans, has been called on by the progressive left to go further and adopt senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) plan to forgive up to $50,000 per person. Biden could do so through executive action, but it’s not clear if he’ll decide to go this route.
Last week, I mentioned that some of Biden’s goals will be hindered if the GOP retains control of the Senate (think: his climate plan and health care overhaul). This included selecting members of his cabinet, each of whom would need approval in this chamber. There was heavy speculation that a Senate Republican majority would force Biden to pick moderate or centrist people for these positions. (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed this strategy.)
However, instead of going along with this break in decorum, Republican senators Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Mitt Romney (Utah) have said they won’t go along with this type of obstruction. This isn’t to say they will definitely vote to confirm whomever Biden nominates, but it shows that the President-elect won’t have to make any major concessions on his picks before the confirmation process even begins.
Related: In a blog post, political scientist Matthew Yglesias explains that we might be drawing too much attention to Biden’s cabinet.
- President Trump was considering bombing parts of Iran following reports that the country was ramping up production of nuclear material, according to The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. He was talked out of it by VP Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike A. Milley, and acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller. Remember: Iran has been more aggressively pursuing creation of nuclear weapons after the U.S. pulled out of a 2015 agreement among them and several international allies.
- The Pentagon announced it will reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by half, to 2,500. Some experts are concerned this will destabilize the region as more violence between the Taliban and the Afghan government is picking up. The New York Times has an in-depth analysis of what this means here (paywall). This is part of a wider strategy by the Trump admin to significantly “box in” Joe Biden’s foreign policy options before he takes office in January. CNN has more on this here.
- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday he won’t be extending several COVID emergency lending programs past this year (paywall). (In case you’re wondering, yes this is bad news.) Instead, the unused Federal Reserve funds will be returned, and aid programs that have cushioned the blow for corporations, midsize businesses, and municipalities will expire.
- Jay Clayton, Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), is leaving his post six months earlier than the end of his term. Clayton has been notably friendly with Wall Street—his pre-SEC career took place in that circle—which rubbed pro-regulatory lawmakers the wrong way. With his departure, Joe Biden will have the opportunity to appoint an interim replacement. Politico has more here.
- The Anti-Defamation League asked the Trump administration to reverse its appointment of a white supremacist and white nationalist sympathizer to the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. This commission’s primary focus is on structures and location in Eastern and Central Europe, including sites tied to the Holocaust.
- A new report found that hate crimes in the U.S. reached a ten-year high in 2019. Additionally, hate-motivated killings reached an all-time high since the FBI began recording these incidents in the ’90s.
- Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley (R) shared on Tuesday that he tested positive for the coronavirus. Grassley, who is 87-years-old, is the Senate Pro Tempore, making him high within the presidential line of succession. He’s not alone, either: Florida Senate Rick Scott (R) has also tested positive.
- This news comes after a heated conversation took place on the Senate floor on Monday, during which Ohio Senate Sherrod Brown (D) said to Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan (R), who was presiding over the chamber and within several feet of the floor stenographer, to “please wear a mask.” Sullivan refused, and the incident has since stirred up (once again) dialogue from both parties on how the Senate conducts itself during the pandemic.
- Another coronavirus vaccine has made significant progress towards finalization, this from biotech company Moderna. This one is reportedly 94.5% effective with no major side effects. Not to be outdone, Pfizer and BioNTech announced their vaccine’s success rate is actually higher than the initial results.
- With the votes mostly counted, it appears Alaska has approved a change to ranked-choice voting for statewide elections. 101PC covered RCV earlier this month.
News from abroad:
- Four years after the U.S. left the Trans-Pacific Partnership, 14 countries within this sphere, including China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, have agreed to their own regional free trade compact. The agreement covers some 2.2 billion people. The New York Times has an analysis here (paywall).
- The European Union is gridlocked on passing its multi-annual budget, which includes a historic COVID-related economic stimulus package. Hungary and Poland are blocking its approval, arguing its “rule of law” stipulations unfairly single them out. These stipulations require EU member nations to meet certain democratic standards, like freedom of the press or independent judiciaries, in order to receive COVID and economic aid.
- Meanwhile, the EU is having trouble adding North Macedonia as its newest member state. NM’s neighbor, Bulgaria, is blocking talks with the union due to some outstanding tensions. For more on the history of NM and Bulgaria’s relationship, check out background from The Guardian and the Financial Times.
- Peru continues to experience political and governmental turmoil—after its Congress removed President Martin Vizcarra, interim leader Manuel Merino resigned. Congress then appointed another replacement, Francisco Sagasti, who will finish out the term ending next April. Much of the current turmoil began with the 2016 elections that led to ensuing confrontations between the executive and legislative branches. CNN has a thorough explainer here.
- In a somewhat unprecedented move, an arm of the Australian military released a report that confirms several incidents of war crimes their soldiers committed in Afghanistan. The report details shocking allegations of unlawful killings, none of which could be “described as being in the heat of battle.” Mind you, such an admission of guilt is not exactly common among other nations.
- Hurricane season continues to bombard Central American countries and parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast, with Category 5 Hurricane Iota dropping buckets of rain earlier this week. AccuWeather has more, including how you can help those affected by this storm season.
- As part of its last-minute scramble to leave its mark, the Trump administration is reportedly selling leases to oil companies for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. As Dr. Victoria Hermann put it in an op-ed for CNN, this region in Alaska is “one of the few landscapes still protected and sustainably used by Traditional and Indigenous Knowledge experts of the Gwich’in people, a tribe in the northern part of Alaska and Canada.”
- But hey fear not, we do have some good climate-related news this week. The electric vehicle (EV) industry now has its own lobby, Zero Emissions Transportation Association, which could help the automaker sector better decouple from oil and gas giants. This is part of a larger and promising trend for EVs, with General Motors announcing it plans to more directly compete with Tesla in making electric-powered models (paywall). Plus, electric-exclusive car manufacturer Rivian recently began selling its electric SUV. Priced at $70,000, this is a bit more affordable than other models out there, and it shows our transition to EVs doesn’t have to be an expensive one.
What to expect next week:
- Congress: Expect both chambers to work hard on stimulus negotiations…. I’m kidding, they’re on recess until after Thanksgiving. This leaves just two work weeks to agree on a federal budget and to decide if several CARES Act programs will continue into next year.
- A new report found that Illinois (and other states) could significantly reduce its prison population without contributing to crime increases. The research found evidence that supports something advocates and policymakers have long said: “long-term crime trends are driven by economic and demographic factors, like unemployment and teen pregnancy, and not by incarceration.” Chicago’s WBEZ has more here.
- The Urban Institute debunks three big myths about rural America—regarding diversity, poverty, and voting trends. You can read this concise and informative piece here.