White House News
February 13, 2021
Trump Impeachment Trial Kicks Off
Former President Trump’s impeachment trial kicked off in the Senate this week in proceedings that allies of the former president say may not be constitutional due to Trump already being out office. Trump was impeached for a second time by the House of Representatives just a week before he left the presidency, on a single charge of inciting the January 6th insurrection at the US Capitol.
In a brief filed just before the trial began, Trump’s lawyers argued that he was not to blame for what occurred at the Capitol and that the rioters were acting of their own accord. The speech President Trump gave to the rioters just before they stormed the Capitol “was not an act encouraging an organized movement to overthrow the United States government,” his lawyers said. Additionally, they said that disputing the election results was his right under the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech, and that nothing he said suggested that his supporters should attack the seat of democracy in Washington.
Trump’s lawyers also lambasted the Democrat-led proceedings as “political theater” and no more than an attempt to gain a political advantage for the 2022 midterm elections. One of Trump’s lawyers, Bruce Castor, said in an interview that the defense team will use videos of Democratic members of Congress encouraging violence against Trump administration officials and law enforcement in their defense of the former president.
GOP Senator Bill Cassidy slammed Democrats for conducting what he called a “show trial,” saying it set a shaky legal foundation for his possible conviction in the Senate. “The president wasn’t there. He wasn’t allowed counsel. They didn’t amass evidence. In five hours, they kind of judged, and boom, he’s impeached,” Cassidy said, adding that “there was no process… If it happened in the Soviet Union, you would’ve called it a show trial.”
US Rejoining UN Human Rights Council
The Biden administration announced that it would be rejoining the United Nation’s Human Rights Council, a body that is known for its hypocrisy and almost singular focus on bashing Israel. The United States will first rejoin the Council as a non-voting member this year, with the goal of becoming a voting member again next year.
President Trump withdrew the US from the Human Rights Council almost three years ago, saying it focused too much on Israel, had member countries that had serious human rights abuse records, and did not make reforms and changes requested by the US.
A current administration official said that President Biden still wants those reforms to be implemented, but that the US will “engage with it in a principled fashion.” The official said that the Human Rights Council can be “an important forum for those fighting tyranny and injustice around the world,” adding that United States rejoining it would “ensure it can live up to that potential.
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN when Trump withdrew from the organization, said that if Biden rejoins the Human Rights Council, “it will fly in the face of our fight for human rights.”
Biden: Sanctions to Stay Until Uranium Enrichment Stops
President Joe Biden said the United States will not lift any sanctions currently targeting Iran until the regime returns to enriching uranium below the threshold set in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. In January, Iran announced that it has stepped up its uranium enrichment process to 20 percent purity, well above the 3.67-percent level permitted by the deal.
Iran has demanded that the US drop its sanctions against it before winding down its uranium enrichment and returning to the nuke deal, putting the United States and Iran in a stalemate. “If they want Iran to return to its commitments…America must completely lift sanctions, and not just in words or on paper,” Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised speech to air force commanders. “They must be lifted in action, and then we will verify and see if they have been properly lifted, and then return.”
A report stated that Biden is seeking to strike several deals with Iran, focusing on separate but interrelated issues. One would focus on Iran’s nuclear aspirations; it would have to be signed before implementing other deals, including one aimed at curbing Iran’s influence in the region and its support for its terrorist proxies across the Middle East.
Biden Says Trump Shouldn’t Get Intel Briefings
President Biden weighed in on the debate over whether former President Trump should continue to have access to classified briefings, saying that he doesn’t believe Trump should “because of his erratic behavior unrelated to the insurrection.” Biden reiterated that he believes Trump is “dangerous” and represents an “existential threat” to US national security.
When asked what his worst fears are if Trump continues to receive intelligence briefings, which are usually given to former presidents out of courtesy, Biden declined to express what they are. “I’d rather not speculate out loud,” Biden said. “I just think that there is no need for him to have the intelligence briefings. What value is there in giving him an intelligence briefing? What impact does he have at all, other than the fact that he might slip and say something?”
The White House press secretary later indicated that Donald Trump had not requested any intelligence briefings from the White House, meaning the debate over whether he should receive them might be pointless.
Officials Investigating Trump Call
The office of Georgia’s secretary of state Brad Raffensperger has opened an investigation into former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the state’s election results, including a phone call to Raffensperger in which Trump urged him to “find” enough votes to reverse the election outcome. “All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state,” Trump said on the call.
A spokesperson for Raffensperger said that “the secretary of state’s office investigates complaints it receives. The investigations are fact-finding and administrative in nature. Any further legal efforts will be left to the attorney general.”
Attorneys say the call by Trump may have violated three Georgia laws and could potentially result in legal action being taken against the former president.
Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump, said in a statement, “There was nothing improper or untoward about a scheduled call between President Trump, Secretary Raffensperger, and lawyers on both sides. If Mr. Raffensperger didn’t want to receive calls about the election, he shouldn’t have run for secretary of state.”
Biden Sends Conflicting Signals on Schools Reopening
President Biden’s administration has sent numerous conflicting signals over its plan to return students to classrooms, even at times apparently contradicting the head of the CDC, despite Biden’s pledge to “follow the science.”
The White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tried minimizing a CDC study that showed that there is minimal risk of becoming infected at school when proper precautions are taken, and statements made by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky in which she said that teachers can safely return to classrooms before being vaccinated, with Psaki saying Walensky was speaking in her “personal capacity” rather than as the Biden-appointed head of the CDC.
“I don’t know if there is a split, but it was alarming last week when the White House implied that the CDC director was speaking in her personal capacity, because when it comes to safety and what is required to reduce or mitigate the spread, that’s a CDC question that should only be answered by the CDC,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “I found that worrisome because we have to affirm and assert CDC’s expertise here. It’s a particularly tricky issue and it’s important to be clear that there is no political interference and that there is no agency more qualified to weigh in on this than the CDC.”
Part of the problem for President Biden is that he has expressed support for students returning to in-person learning, but teachers’ unions—major donors of his—don’t want their teachers back in classrooms for the foreseeable future, putting Biden between a proverbial rock and hard place.
Fourth GOP Senator Announces Retirement
Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama will not seek reelection in 2022, becoming the fourth sitting GOP senator to not seek reelection. First elected in 1986, Shelby has chaired four Senate committees—the Banking, Intelligence, Appropriations, and Rules panels.
“Although I plan to retire, I am not leaving today,” Shelby said. “I have two good years remaining to continue my work in Washington. I have the vision and the energy to give it my all.”
His retirement announcement follows those of Senators Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Richard Burr of North Carolina. The large number of retiring Republicans may spell trouble for the GOP in 2022, as it will have to run new, relatively unknown candidates to win seats it had locked in until now.
Biden Ending Trump Asylum Deals
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the Biden administration will be ending asylum deals struck between President Trump and three Central American nations. According to the Trump-era agreement, asylum seekers looking for refuge in the United States would first have to seek asylum in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.
The US has “suspended and initiated the process to terminate the Asylum Cooperative Agreements with the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as the first concrete steps on the path to greater partnership and collaboration in the region laid out by President Biden,” Blinken said in a statement. “To be clear, these actions do not mean that the US border is open. While we are committed to expanding legal pathways for protection and opportunity here and in the region, the United States is a country with borders and laws that must be enforced,” Blinken added. “We are also committed to providing safe and orderly processing for all who arrive at our border, but those who attempt to migrate irregularly are putting themselves and their families at risk on what can be a very dangerous journey.”
Sitting Congressman Dies of COVID-19
Texas GOP Representative Ron Wright succumbed to a coronavirus infection this week, becoming the first member of Congress to die from the virus. Wright, who was 67, was battling cancer when he became infected with COVID-19, according to his family. He was reelected to the House of Representatives in November and maintained a vigorous work schedule despite his cancer diagnosis, according to a spokesman.
“Congressman Wright will be remembered as a constitutional conservative. He was a statesman, not an ideologue,” a statement from his office said.
Democrats Unveil $3K-Per-Child Stimulus Plan
Senior congressional Democrats unveiled a stimulus plan to give American families $3,000 per child aged 6–17 and $3,600 for each child under the age of 6, paid out in monthly increments of $250 or $300 beginning in July. Like previous coronavirus stimulus payments, the amount a family would be eligible to receive would begin phasing out for individuals making over $75,000 and couples earning more than $150,000.
“The pandemic is driving families deeper and deeper into poverty, and it’s devastating,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Neal wrote in a statement. “This money is going to be the difference in a roof over someone’s head or food on their table. This is how the tax code is supposed to work for those who need it most.”
Fiscal conservatives slammed the plan, saying that it is socialized welfare, particularly because some families who are not struggling are receiving benefits from the federal government that they do not need.
Just 16 Percent Think American Democracy Thriving
Following the recent turmoil in the United States surrounding the presidential election, a troublingly small number of Americans think that democracy is working well in the world’s more preeminent democracy.
According to a poll from the Associated Press taken after the January 6th riot at the US Capitol, when asked how well democracy is working in the United States, just 16 percent said it is working “extremely” or “very well.” Thirty-eight percent of respondents said democracy is working “somewhat well,” and 45 percent said it is not working well at all. The survey also found that more than eight in 10 Americans think factors such as a fair judiciary, liberties defined by the Constitution, the ability to achieve the “American Dream,” and a democratically elected government are important aspects of the country’s identity.