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Never-Trump movement splinters as its villain heads for the exit

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Never-Trump movement splinters as its villain heads for the exit

In a new TV and digital ad launching soon, the Lincoln Project hits Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) for stock trading after attending a private Senate briefing about the spreading coronavirus. The ad, first shared with POLITICO, strikes a populist tone that contrasts Loeffler’s wealth — her mansion in Georgia and villa in Sea Island — with Americans struggling during the pandemic.

In the longer term, the 18 Republican attorneys general and majority of House Republicans who backed the failed Texas lawsuit are “not going to get a free pass,” Galen said. “They don’t get to run themselves through the car wash on Jan. 21 and say, ‘Just kidding, we didn’t mean it.’”

Raising money without Trump in the White House to motivate donors is bound to be another challenge for the movement. Lincoln Project leaders said they expect fundraising to dip after the Georgia runoffs, but they’re confident their creativity in ads and messaging will draw attention that helps bring in money. Kristol said “our donors think we made a difference in 2020” and want the group to keep it up.

A secretive anti-Trump group plots what’s next

But the path forward for the never-Trump movement writ large is far from clear. A recent email to attendees of the secretive anti-Trump gathering known as the Meeting of the Concerned, which was obtained by POLITICO, illustrates the crossroads that some never-Trumpers face.

With Trump soon leaving office, “it’s worth thinking through what new functions the meetings can or should serve,” Geoff Kabaservice, an organizer of the meeting, wrote to his allies.

He then requested that they fill out a questionnaire, which asked everything from, “Do you believe that, after Trump leaves office, the Republican Party can become a positive force in American political life?” to “Would you prefer to direct your political efforts over the next two years to reforming the GOP, or to supporting the Democrats or a third party?”

Kabaservice said because the meetings are confidential, he could not discuss the specific findings of the poll. But he said those in the movement “worry a little about what’s going to keep us together” after Trump leaves office.

Some believe in “renovating and restoring the Republican Party.” Others say, “Good riddance, and it all needs to be burned down.” As for forming a third party, Kaberservice said, there’s a “huge difference of opinion.”

Sarah Longwell, co-founder of the anti-Trump Republicans for the Rule of Law, said her mission is twofold: Keep fighting attacks by Trump on the election system and protect Republicans who break with Trump or who work with Democrats.

Her group dropped nearly $1 million in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan defending GOP officials who certified election results in recent weeks. Longwell’s group recently tried to launch its first-ever ad buy on Newsmax — a far-right outlet that’s become a favorite of Trump’s — to challenge the misinformation served up to Trump voters at the source. (Newsmax spiked the ad.) And if Trump runs again, she’ll keep her other organization, Republican Voters Against Trump, going.

Longwell also said, “We want to be there to help provide air support for Republicans who are trying to find a way to work together on sensible things” with Biden, such as infrastructure legislation or reforms that rein in executive power.

A new party?

The Republican Party’s attempts to overturn the election results, including a coming last-ditch effort on the House floor and threats of violence by GOP officials, stunned never-Trumpers. It spurred McMullin to ask in a New York Times op-ed this week whether it was time to form a new conservative party.

That may “include running our own candidates in Republican primaries,” he said in an interview with POLITICO.

“I wouldn’t advocate for starting a new party without the support of some sitting officials in Congress or elsewhere,” said McMullin, executive director of the voter mobilization group Stand Up Republic. “We’re inching closer to a point in which that might be possible.”

Some leading never-Trump groups have started discussing which Trump loyalists to target in primaries. Among the possibilities: Republican Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Chris Stewart of Utah, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Paul Gosar of Arizona. They may also challenge Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) by lending support to a Democrat. Conversations are in early stages, however, and targets could change depending on which party wins the Senate.

The amorphous nature of the never-Trump movement is plain in the individuals who compose it. Some have done what they once considered unthinkable and become Democrats. Others said they’re not Democrats, but they aren’t Republicans either, making it harder to plot their next moves.

“I don’t see a place for me to get elected to anything in the next four years because Trump and Trumpism is going to dominate,” said former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.). “I’m going to probably be in the political wilderness for the rest of my life.”

Stevens, of the Lincoln Project, is willing to work for Republicans but is more focused on helping Democrats be a “governing” party.

“Basically, the choice now dividing the parties is not so much ideological as pro-democracy or pro-authoritarian,” Stevens said. “It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen. We’ve had authoritarian movements in America before, but we’ve never had one so embraced by a majority of a party to throw out election results.”

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Opinion | I Wrote President Obama’s Ethics Plan—Biden’s Is Better

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Opinion | I Wrote President Obama’s Ethics Plan—Biden’s Is Better

For example, take one of the centerpieces of the Obama plan: “Reverse” revolving door restrictions. Most ethics plans focus on officials leaving government, but in the Obama administration, we also imposed limits on those coming into government, with even tougher restrictions on ex-lobbyists. Trump’s executive order loosened those lobbying rules, lifting our limitation on lobbyists serving at an agency they lobbied. It is little wonder a flood of lobbyists inundated Trump’s administration—more than four times the number in just one Trump term than served under Obama in twice that time.

The Biden plan puts that core Obama restriction for lobbyists back in place, barring them from jobs in agencies they previously sought to influence. That makes sense: letting the fox into the henhouse he just stalked is simply too dangerous, as proved by the numerous controversies involving Trump officials who led agencies they once lobbied.

The new Biden plan not only fixes what Trump got wrong, it does the same for Obama’s ethics regime. For example, the Biden executive order adds a restriction on so-called golden parachutes—cash bonuses granted to executives as they leave a business to join the government. These windfalls create the perception that an ex-employee may favor her benefactor, and it is about time they ended. The Biden plan does that, restricting exit bonuses and requiring entering officials to certify that they have not accepted other benefits (such as deferred ones) in lieu of such packages. It goes well beyond existing law and is a strong step forward.

The new plan also builds on Obama’s in closing the revolving door on the other side of government employment: when employees leave. Federal law imposes a one-year limit on a departing senior official communicating on behalf of clients with the agency where the official worked. In the Obama administration, we extended that to two years, on the theory that an employer might pay an ex-official to do nothing for 12 months, but 24 months is a long time for cold storage. Trump eliminated the Obama extension, farcically declaring that his officials must follow the applicable statute—which they already had to do.

Here too, Biden not only restores the Obama restriction of two years, he goes further. Now not only are officials restricted from representing clients to their former agencies, they are also cordoned off from their peers in the White House itself. This recognizes the reality that senior agency officials engage with the White House constantly and have ties there too, not just at their former agency. This rule will restrict them from using the special access and influence that follows, and they should not be allowed to use it for private gain.

A number of other post-employment restrictions are added as well, including materially assisting others in making communications or appearances that ex-officials are prohibited from undertaking themselves under the pledge. Here the Biden plan again improves on the Obama ethics rules by closing a loophole for “shadow lobbying”— when former officials who might not themselves be able to meet with an agency prepare and strategize with their colleagues to do so instead. There is no reason that a former official should be able to do indirectly what they cannot do directly. The Biden plan also carries over one of the few good aspects of the otherwise spurious Trump plan: restricting former officials from working as an agent for a foreign country after leaving government. But Biden also goes farther, not allowing any former lobbyists for foreign countries from entering his administration.

The Obama plan gets another upgrade when it comes to one of its most controversial aspects: waivers. These are written authorizations that make an exception to the rules when doing so is in the public interest. While working for Obama, I learned from the controversy that erupted when I started authorizing waivers that they need to be tightly regulated and highly transparent. That’s why I’m glad to see the waiver provision of the Obama plan improved. That includes a new provision that waivers be made public within 10 days and imposing much more detailed rules guiding when waivers are appropriate. Above all, the new policy makes explicit that service as a public interest lobbyist may be taken into account in deciding whether a waiver shall be issued; there is no reason that someone who advocates on behalf of charitable causes should be on the same footing as a corporate lobbyist.

Not in Biden’s executive order but critically important to its success is another recently announced step: restoring the Obama-era policy of releasing White House visitor records that Trump ended. When everyone knows who is visiting the White House, its employees don’t schedule meetings they shouldn’t, and are too busy to sneak off campus for them (much). So the tough Biden ethics rules will be reinforced by the restored visitor records policy. While the specifics have not yet been released, arrangements should be made to reveal both in-person meetings and details of formal video conferences that would otherwise have been in person.

Is the new Biden plan perfect? Of course not. Even more restrictions could have been loaded on prior relationships coming into government and even longer exclusions onto officials leaving the administration. Corporate lobbyists could have been barred altogether, and public interest ones automatically waived in. But all of those strictures would have come at a cost of finding the right people to do the urgent work of government in a time of pandemic, economic crisis, domestic unrest and continued foreign war.

Biden’s ethics plan is the strongest, most ambitious swamp-draining plan ever. All of us will be watching to make sure it is scrupulously followed. If it is, cleaner government lies ahead—finally.

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Biden picks transgender doctor as assistant health secretary

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Biden picks transgender doctor as assistant health secretary

President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated Pennsylvania health secretary Rachel Levine for assistant secretary of health at HHS, making her the first openly transgender federal official to be up for Senate confirmation.

A Harvard and Tulane-educated pediatrician, Levine emerged as the public face of her state’s pandemic response while also serving as president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. She was appointed to her current post by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in 2017 and has written on the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, adolescent medicine, eating disorders and LGBTQ medicine.

“Dr. Rachel Levine will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic — no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability — and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond,” Biden said in a statement.

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Poll: 66 percent approve of Biden’s handling of transition

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Poll: 66 percent approve of Biden’s handling of transition

Additionally, Biden’s personal favorability rating in CNN polling has improved by 7 percentage points since October, now resting at 59 percent. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ favorability is 51 percent, its highest ever in CNN polling.

By contrast, Trump’s latest favorability rating is 33 percent, and his job approval rating is 34 percent — both lower than at any other point in his presidency, according to CNN polling.

Respondents appeared mostly optimistic about Biden accomplishing his key policy goals as president, the CNN poll showed, although more than half of those surveyed (53 percent) said it is unlikely the incoming president will be able to cool down the country’s political divisions.

Majorities of respondents said it is at least somewhat likely Biden will sign new coronavirus relief legislation (83 percent), restore relationships with U.S. allies (74 percent), administer 100 million coronavirus vaccines in 100 days (70 percent) and create a public health care option (64 percent).

Most of those polled (61 percent) said Biden will do a good job as president — compared to the 48 percent who said the same about Trump in 2017 and the 79 percent who had high expectations for Barack Obama in 2008. That same percentage of Americans, 61 percent, think the country will be better off after four years of Biden’s presidency.

The CNN poll was conducted by SSRS from Jan. 9-14, surveying 1,003 adults with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. Among the respondents, 33 percent identified as Democrats, 26 percent identified as Republicans and 41 percent identified as independents or members of another party.

The NBC News poll was conducted Jan. 10-13, surveying 1,000 registered voters with a margin of sampling error of 3.1 percentage points. The PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll was conducted Jan. 11-13, surveying 1,173 adults with a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points.

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