When Sen. Patrick Leahy gavels in the impeachment trial of the 45th President of the United States Tuesday, the 46th President will be nearly three weeks into his four-year term. Whether or not the Senate convicts Donald Trump of "high crimes and misdemeanors," Joe Biden is already well on his way to undoing much of what his predecessor did.
The list is stunning: Biden has instituted a national mask mandate and increased the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines; announced the US would rejoin the World Health Organization and the Paris climate accord; ended the emergency diversion of funds to build a wall on the Mexico border; extended an arms control agreement with Russia and reversed Trump administration policies on immigration, on racial equity and on banning transgender members of the military.
As historian Thomas Balcerski pointed out, Biden's more than 40 executive orders, actions and memorandums have drawn criticism but they are "part of a deliberate strategy to project a new vision for the country, and it makes sense for him to use the power he has in this way. In fact, Biden and his team are modeling their first 100 days in office after the example of one former president in particular: Franklin D. Roosevelt." FDR moved swiftly to confront the Great Depression in his first 100 days in office.
Biden is pushing for a massive $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package amid debate about whether it's what the Covid-scarred economy needs. Lanhee J. Chen urged Biden to take seriously a proposal by Republican senators for a much smaller relief package if he wants to gain bipartisan support for other legislative priorities and in light of a slowly recovering economy. "Recent economic data makes the case for more targeted relief," Chen wrote. "Unemployment is slowly but steadily declining and the size of the civilian labor market should be in 2022 what it was before the pandemic."
Vicky Chávez is paying close attention to the change of government in Washington. She has been living with her two children in a Salt Lake City church that offered her sanctuary three years ago when an immigration judge rejected her request for asylum. Her family faced deportation to Honduras. Watching Biden's inauguration, her 3-year-old daughter asked, "Does this mean we can go to Disneyland?" As Anna Lekas Miller wrote, Chavez answered, "Not yet. But hopefully soon."
"If Biden really wants to send a message to asylum-seekers that his administration is the new beginning that he promised," Miller observed, "he should also grant those living in sanctuary the protection they need to leave church safely and ensure that they will be able to stay in the country until they are on a viable path to citizenship."
Donald Trump's trial in the Senate over the Capitol riot begins a year and four days after he was acquitted in that chamber of using his power to press Ukraine's president to launch an investigation of Biden. The lone Republican who voted to convict Trump, Mitt Romney, said then, in words that turned out to be prophetic, "Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one's oath of office that I can imagine."
The Republican-controlled Senate refused to call witnesses in the trial. Democrats, who now run the chamber, shouldn't make the same mistake, wrote Michael D'Antonio. "Failure to call witnesses who could offer first-person accounts of the Trump insurrection would be prosecutorial misconduct. Including them would likely draw a bigger TV audience among Americans who want to hear fellow citizens, not politicians, explain how Trump incited the mob that then waged a bloody attack and occupation of the US Capitol."
Trump's home is now Mar-a-Lago instead of the White House, and the odds that 67 senators will vote to convict him are slim, but the trial is vital anyway to establish for history's sake the rightful curbs on presidential power, wrote Julian Zelizer. "Through Twitter and rallies, the former president filled our airwaves with lies about voter fraud and spurious claims of his victory. This was an extraordinarily dangerous use of the bully pulpit that aimed to do nothing less than overturn the legitimate results of an election by stoking anger, hatred and distrust in the electorate."
Five of Trump's impeachment lawyers withdrew amid reports that Trump wanted to re-up his discredited claim that massive voter fraud accounted for his defeat in November. "There are limits on what a defense attorney can argue," wrote Elie Honig. "For example, per the American Bar Association, it would be unethical for any attorney to raise an argument 'that he knows to be false.' The 'rigged election' narrative certainly fits that description."
Senate Republicans have signaled that a more politically palatable defense will be to argue that the Constitution never envisioned a former official being tried after leaving office. The one counter-example was the 1876 impeachment trial on corruption allegations of former Secretary of War William Belknap, who served in President Ulysses S. Grant's administration.
As the Senate's website notes, "On March 2, 1876, just minutes before the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on articles of impeachment, Belknap raced to the White House, handed Grant his resignation, and burst into tears."
Tim Naftali wrote that when the Belknap trial came to the Senate, then under a Republican majority, "the issue of whether it was constitutional gave the president's supporters, along with senators who were against outlawing official corruption, an easy out." There's a danger of a similar outcome this time, he wrote, warning the Trump case could result in a "a zombie Senate trial that mindlessly sleepwalks to an acquittal."
What happens to Trump after the trial? Larry Tye suggested that an apt parallel is the fate of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the red-baiter who terrorized public life in the early 1950s until he chose "an enemy too big to bully, the mighty US Army, the most stouthearted and sacrosanct institution in America, and which had just waged a lethal war on the Korean Peninsula against Communists."
The Senate voted to condemn McCarthy. "Newspapers banished him to page 25, next to the corset ads, or wrote him out entirely. So did his Senate colleagues. Being subjected to a punishment so extreme that it had been meted out just five times in that chamber's 165 years, meant trading in the badge of the outlier, which McCarthy had proudly worn from his first days in office, for the stigmata of the shunned that made him the butt of even the president's jokes."
Marjorie Taylor Greene
For the moment though, Trump's influence remains strong within the Republican Party. The House GOP conference refused to strip extremist Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments after CNN's KFile revealed the lies and incendiary language the freshman Congresswoman from northwest Georgia had been spreading on social media.
The House Democrats who are in the majority then voted to remove Greene's committee roles, with the support of 11 Republicans.
"Greene's toxic talk creates a huge headache for the GOP," wrote Republican Alice Stewart, "and it's about time the party hit the reset button... We need to turn the page on the Trump brand of outlandish and embarrassing leadership, and Thursday's vote was a step in the right direction. We need to focus on conservative policies, not a cult of personalities."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke out against "loony lies and conspiracy theories" this week, calling them a "cancer for the Republican Party," while praising Rep. Liz Cheney, a GOP leader who voted to impeach Trump. Richard N. Bond, who formerly headed the Republican National Committee, wrote that "McConnell knows that the GOP is at a tipping point. Republicans can continue to embrace Trump's toxicity and big-lie tactics and continue to coddle extremists. Or, they can, like the fictional newscaster Howard Beale in 'Network,' declare that they are mad as hell, are not going to take it anymore, and are going to change their ways and reclaim their party."
This is not just a Republican problem, observed Frida Ghitis. "It is a flashing red light for the entire country, warning America that if it continues on this path, it will become a country without guardrails against extremist ideologies. We have seen how that has played out in other countries and it doesn't bode well for the US."
History provides a parallel, wrote Zachary Karabell in Politico. In the mid-19th century, he noted, "The American Party, popularly referred to as the 'Know Nothings,' " controlled statehouses and had more than 40 members in the House. "Most of them supported stringent nativist, anti-immigrant legislation; all emerged from conspiratorial clubs that had spread theories about possible Papist aggression and plots against the sovereignty of the United States." But then the movement fractured.
"The sudden implosion of the Know Nothings should also serve as a warning to Republicans that the forces that have propelled them to the apex of American politics, helping Donald Trump win the White House, can also tear them apart, leaving barely a trace."
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The hunt for vaccines
Last week we asked readers to share their stories of the search for Covid vaccine appointments in a nation where the demand far outstrips the supply. As Jhodie-Ann Williams and Jane Greenway Carr wrote, "nearly 1,400 readers shared stories with us about efforts to get vaccinated, writing candidly about everything from waking up at dawn to try to secure a spot in that day's vaccine allotment to having appointments canceled at the last minute."
"Sprinkled in there were success stories, but most of them were, as many readers put it, because of sheer luck -- getting on the right website, on the right day and pressing 'submit' or 'enter' at just the right time. For many, navigating the system to try to get an appointment has proven to be, at best, confusing and -- because of delays -- at worst, deadly."
Nearly a year into the pandemic, about half of America's schoolchildren are taking classes virtually, with all of the downsides that entails, noted Dr. Jonathan Reiner. There is a solution to reopening in-person schools quickly and safely: vaccinate teachers. But, despite CDC guidance, only 24 states have made them eligible so far. "If our high priority is to open schools this academic year, then let's mobilize to vaccinate all of our teachers. If we do this quickly, America's educators can be protected by the middle of March, and our schools can once again be our country's centers of learning."
Eileen Torres runs a nonprofit that manages three family shelters in New York City. "My heart sank when schools closed in March," she wrote. "New York City shelters are not equipped with WiFi -- how could students possibly attend school remotely without a reliable internet connection?" Read her account of how her organization responded.
Another group of children are at particularly serious risk in the pandemic: those who are being treated for cancer. René Marsh is a CNN national correspondent whose 22-month-old son is receiving chemotherapy for brain cancer. Such an illness is a "white-knuckle journey," she wrote, and in a pandemic, the challenges grow. "The pandemic has forced pediatric cancer research labs to limit the number of workers on site, delaying many studies," Marsh noted. "Dwindling funding has also stymied critical research. I worry about the unintended consequences this pandemic will have on potential lifesaving pediatric cancer research and how that may affect survivability of some childhood cancers for years to come."
A month after Jan. 6
When David J. Morris watched the Capitol riot play out on Jan. 6, he was particularly disgusted by the presence of "serious-looking guys outfitted in tactical gear, wearing unit patches and insignia that I recognized." Morris, a Marine veteran, wrote that he was shocked but not surprised by the substantial number of "middle-aged military veterans, i.e. guys like me."
"I'd seen a lot of white nationalism during my eight years in uniform; it essentially bookended my military career," Morris observed. "Like the Republican Party, the US military has for years coddled, looked the other way, winked at, joked about and generally not taken white nationalism seriously enough in its ranks for a very long time." Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered the military to focus on the issue, in a staggered pause of operations over the next two months, the Pentagon said this week.
When Michelle Duster watched the riot, she thought of her great-grandmother Ida B. Wells who exposed the wave of lynchings of Black Americans. "As I watched the mob of so-called 'patriots' storm the Capitol with minimal law enforcement present, the fact that some of the vigilantes had plastic zip ties and weapons and walked away unharmed was mind-boggling. It reminded me of how mobs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries gathered to participate in and watch lynchings of Black people, take pictures of each other's gleeful faces and convert them into postcards, and absolutely no one was arrested for murder."
Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick died during the riot. This week President Biden and first lady Jill Biden paid their respects as Sicknick's body was lying in honor in the Capitol's Rotunda. Former police officer Peter Moskos wrote of the oath to uphold the Constitution that he and hundreds of thousands of other officers have taken. "The sworn oath is not symbolic. It is both a sacrifice and a privilege. It is real and binding... Officer Sicknick, along with his fellow sworn officers, fought literally to defend the Constitution. In upholding their oath, they may have saved America. In that, there is nobility."
Amanda Gorman and Phillis Wheatley
Before there was Amanda Gorman, the poet who captivated America at the Inauguration, there was Phillis Wheatley, an enslaved American whose poetry was published in 1773 in London, noted Manisha Sinha.
"A genius by any standard," Wheatley "was educated by her enslavers who had lost a daughter her age. Wheatley learned English and Latin and wrote her first poem four years later. So remarkable was the story of the young slave poet that a bevy of Boston worthies, including John Hancock, examined her and testified to the authenticity of her poems to confirm what many surely doubted -- that a young enslaved Black girl could produce such polished work." There was also "unabashed, racist criticism," from Thomas Jefferson and others.
Amid nearly universal praise, Gorman's work has been the target of a takedown in the Spectator, which Sinha called "staggeringly patronizing." She added, "Gorman shares Wheatley's clear-eyed view of the trials that Black people faced in the slaveholding republic."
This year's Black History Month has special resonance, wrote Peniel E. Joseph. "At a critical time, it offers the nation a window into its own soul -- if we are only courageous enough to look... The racial disparities so terribly evident in the Covid-19 pandemic and the most divisive presidential election in American history are rooted in circumstances that can best be explained, analyzed and interrogated through the lens of Black history."
In a Moscow courtroom, against the backdrop of street protests, Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was sentenced Tuesday to two and a half years in prison. Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov wrote, "His supposed crime was a probation violation committed while he was in a coma in Berlin after being poisoned by the same state security forces that have locked him up again."
Western governments were swift to condemn Vladimir Putin's regime for the treatment of Navalny. Those denunciations "would be heartening if they did not sound nearly identical to those issued when Navalny was poisoned last August," Kasparov noted.
"With every act of appeasement Putin has gone from a local problem to a regional menace to a global threat. Germany thinks it can criticize Russia on human rights while going ahead with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that will fill Putin's pockets with cash and his military's guns with bullets. Those bullets are used against Europeans in Ukraine and, God forbid, against Russians in the streets. Europe thinks it can separate business and politics, but to Putin it's all the same: business."
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Super Bowl no-show
Today's Super Bowl will have Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes leading their teams on the field. Amanda Gorman will read a new poem. The Weeknd will perform at halftime. But what you won't see is an ad for Budweiser, which is taking a pass on the Super Bowl for the first time in 37 years.
Instead, the beer giant Anheuser-Busch is donating to the Vaccine Education Initiative and "releasing a 90-second digital ad encouraging people to embrace vaccination," wrote Barron Segar, who heads World Food Program USA.
"This move by Budweiser is big, and it gives humanitarian organizations like mine hope and optimism. It is also shrewd...They must have calculated that investing in public service would be good for the brand, and in turn, good for the business. Regardless of their motivations, they are doing the right thing."
"So, here's my question: Who will join them? In these unprecedented times with unprecedented threats and vast disparities between those who are thriving and those who are barely surviving, who among the wealthiest corporations will join Budweiser?"