Letters From an American

In Line For Immunity?

In Line For Immunity?

Trump family members Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC on July 23, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)

December 1, 2020

Still operating on a generator without room for much revision, so again, apologies for typos or inelegance….

There is an increasing feeling of desperation coming from the White House. Trump continues to insist he won the 2020 election, although the states whose results he has challenged have all certified their votes for Joe Biden. Biden has tallied more than 6 million votes more than Trump, including significant majorities in all the states Trump claims, in the biggest win for a candidate challenging an incumbent since Franklin Delano Roosevelt challenged Herbert Hoover in 1932.

Today loyalist William Barr, Trump’s Attorney General, admitted that the Department of Justice has not found any evidence of widespread voter fraud that would mean Trump won the election. Trump’s lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis promptly issued a statement saying “With the greatest respect to the Attorney General, his opinion appears to be without any knowledge or investigation of the substantial irregularities and evidence of systemic fraud.” Trump allies told PBS NewsHour correspondent Yamiche Alcindor that Barr’s statement was a “complete betrayal.”

For the last three weeks, Trump and his supporters in the Republican Party have attacked election officials — including Republicans– who failed to throw out Democratic ballots to give the election to Trump. The president called Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger an “enemy of the people,” and Trump’s loyalists are intensifying their rhetoric against officials who have persisted in defending the integrity of the election. Right-wing followers on social media called for jail, torture, or execution for a 20-year-old Georgia election technician, falsely alleging he manipulated election data. On NBC’s Today Show, the president’s lawyer Joseph diGenova called for former cybersecurity official Christopher Krebs, whom Trump fired after Krebs stated the election was not marked by fraud but was quite secure, to be “drawn and quartered. Taken out at dawn and shot.”

Social media accounts from right-wing loyalists are increasingly calling for violence. One user on the conservative media site Parler said that “[We the People] want to kill all of you cheating traitors….” Another called for “Civil war if Biden does steal the election.” These loyalists claim to be waiting for Trump’s “order” to start just such a war.

Today Gabriel Sterling, a voting systems manager for Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger held a news conference in which he said: “It has all. Gone. Too. Far. It has to stop.” Of the young technician whose life is now in danger, he said, “[t]his kid… just took a job. And it’s just wrong. I can’t begin to explain the level of anger I have right now over this. Every American, every Georgian, Republican or Democrat alike, should have the same level of anger.”

Sterling attacked Trump for the death threats Georgia officials have been receiving, and chewed out Georgia Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who both face runoff elections in early January against Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, for refusing to shut such language down. “Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language,” he said. “Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. . . . Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence…. That shouldn’t be too much to ask for people who ask us to give them responsibility.” Sterling also called out diGenova for his language: “Someone’s going to get hurt,” he said. “Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed.”

Trump and allies of Don Jr. have been fundraising on the idea that Trump must contest the 2020 election. Trump’s Save America Political Action Committee (PAC) has raised more than $170 million in contributions to overturn the election, but very little of that money goes to the recount effort. It goes primarily to whatever Trump wants—including golf memberships, travel, and salaries —  and to the Republican National Committee.

Don Jr.’s allies have formed the Save the US Senate PAC. It is nominally about the Georgia run-off Senate elections, but can take in unlimited money from anyone, including corporations, and spend it however it wishes, so long as it doesn’t explicitly coordinate with a political campaign. As Washington Post correspondent Philip Bump puts it: “Trump and his team have figured out a way to parlay his base’s concerns about the election — concerns Trump has been hyping for months — into a well-stocked bank account with few limitations on how it is used.”

And yet, Trump seems to have accepted that he’s going to have to leave office, and to be exploring his options. New York Times reporters Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt tonight broke the news that he has discussed with advisers whether he should grant preemptive pardons to Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka, Jared Kushner, and Giuliani. This poses a problem for them, though, since to make a pardon stick it needs to be as specific as possible, which would mean he would have to suggest what they might have done that requires a pardon.

Pardons were in the news tonight for another reason, too, as news broke that the Department of Justice is investigating what appears to have been a bribe before the end of the summer. Someone apparently promised payments to either the White House or to a related political committee in exchange for a presidential pardon.

Meanwhile, the country continues to suffer from the coronavirus. While the White House appears to have given up addressing the spikes that are leaving hospitals overwhelmed and the economy faltering, today Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, a Trump appointee, warned Congress that it must pass a coronavirus relief package or see even worse damage. To Republicans who insist there is no need for such relief, he responded, “The risk of overdoing it is less than the risk of underdoing it.” Powell encouraged aid to state and local governments, hard hit by the pandemic, noting they are some of the country’s largest employers. Because most cannot borrow to make up for their lost tax revenues, without relief they will have to lay people off, thus worsening the recession.

Former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, Biden’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, echoed Powell today. “Lost lives, lost jobs, small businesses struggling to stay alive are closed for good. So many people struggling to put food on the table and pay bills and rent. It’s an American tragedy. And it is essential we move with urgency. Inaction will produce a self-reinforcing downturn causing yet more devastation.”

In May, Democrats passed a $3 trillion relief package but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to take it up. The Senate began to work on its own package in mid-July, just before federal unemployment benefits ran out, but McConnell could not bring his caucus together behind anything. So he turned his back on negotiations, leaving Democrats to negotiate with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who held to a $1 trillion limit. The Democrats offered to split the difference and agree to a $2 trillion compromise. The Republicans refused.

In September, McConnell offered a $500 billion bill that has the key measure he wants: a liability shield for businesses whose employees contract coronavirus at work. When the Democrats refused it, he accused them of partisanship.

Then, today, news emerged that a bipartisan group of lawmakers had tried to hammer together a stopgap relief measure of about $908 billion to rescue small businesses, the unemployed, and other hard-hit parts of the economy.

As soon as news broke of the new bipartisan bill, McConnell shot it down. Instead, he will insert exactly what he wants into the upcoming government funding bill, which Congress must pass by December 11 or face a government shutdown. This forces Democrats either to do what he wants or to shut down the government, a solution that is usually political poison.

McConnell’s new plan has no state and local aid and only one month of jobless aid, but it has liability protection for businesses.

There is overwhelming popular support for a multitrillion dollar package. A month ago 70% of voters, including more than half of Republicans, wanted such a package, including aid to state and local governments. But McConnell controls the Senate.

Biden hopes to initiate a sweeping economic relief and stimulus package immediately upon taking office. The upcoming elections in Georgia will be the difference between the fate of a new coronavirus bill, which McConnell can essentially dictate, and a tied Senate, where McConnell will have to negotiate.

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Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter Letters from an American. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.