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Trump on path to acquittal despite stunning evidence

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Sen. Mike Lee objects to House Impeachment managers using a telephone call Lee reportedly fielded from former President Donald Trump on the day of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

Most Republicans are publicly unshakable from the hard line they’ve taken on their party’s process argument: How could they convict on the merits after saying the Senate shouldn’t even hold the trial?

The dug-in GOP resistance to considering conviction illustrates the same phenomenon that has torn the party asunder for years under Trump: The former president’s power over the Republican base still eclipses his political toxicity for most members of his party.

The compelling presentation by House Democratic impeachment managers, which featured images, videos and audio clips that forced senators to relive the harrowing day, even handed several GOP senators a clear argument for acquitting the ex-president. The trial tests whether Trump incited the riot, Republicans said, not the widely acknowledged calamity that Jan. 6 became.

“This is not a vote on whether what happened that day was horrifying because it most certainly was,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “This is not a vote on whether the president bears any responsibility, which I’ve said all along.”

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said the impeachment managers took a “pretty polished approach.” But he concluded that they’re asking the Senate to provide a “solution that we just don’t believe we have available.”

“Their focus is on the actions of the day and they have still to reckon with the fact that most of us don’t believe we have the constitutional authority to impeach a private person,” said Rounds, who was just re-elected. “I don’t think they’re going to be able to overcome that based on the direction of their discussions today, as chilling as the events of Jan. 6 were.”

GOP senators went as far as to praise the House impeachment managers for delivering an effective and compelling case on the Senate floor Wednesday. Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said they had connected the dots effectively.

But many in the GOP argued that the managers have not proved their incitement charge against the former president.

“We all knew the elements of the case coming here. Putting it on video and spending the time to accentuate it,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who has all but ruled out voting to convict. “For any of us who don’t think the whole process is constitutional, it makes it difficult to go beyond that point.”

And there were moments of backlash against the impeachment managers, most notably on the presentation of a call that Trump accidentally placed to Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) when he was trying to reach Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.). Lee said in a brief interview that the presentation from Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) “consisted of statements that I did not make,” and they were stricken from the record.

In recounting Trump’s actions as the insurrection unfolded, Cicilline said that Lee answered the phone and Trump was on the other line, and referred to him as “Tommy.” According to Cicilline, Lee then handed the phone to Tuberville. Trump subsequently requested that Tuberville “make additional objections to the certification process,” Cicilline said.

Tuberville said that he wished the presentation “had been correct.”

“I don’t know if you’ve ever talked to President Trump. You don’t get many words in, but, he didn’t get a chance to say a whole lot because I said ‘Mr. President, they just took the vice president out, I’ve got to go,’” Tuberville said in an interview.

The Republican stance perplexed Senate Democrats, who praised the House impeachment managers’ case against Trump.

“Watching the footage of how they treated the police officers was so much worse than anything I personally saw that day,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) “I don’t know how you could watch that and acquit this guy.”

Securing a conviction is a steep uphill battle for the House managers, especially after the vast majority of the Senate GOP conference reaffirmed its view this week that putting a former president on trial is unconstitutional. It takes 67 votes to convict the former president — requiring 17 Republicans to cross party lines and vote against Trump — and Democrats would then move to bar him from running for office again.

Still, Democrats said more Republicans may be privately reconsidering their votes. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told reporters his conversations indicate more than six GOP senators may be weighing conviction, though that might be wishful thinking.

Trump’s defense team starts presenting its rebuttals on Friday. Some Republicans expected the team to contend that Democrats offered their own encouragement of violence by cheering on last summer’s protests across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police.

“If we’re going to put into context what was happening for months before the attack on the Capitol and what all kinds of political figures on the other side were saying about that, that would be one of the ways I’d respond,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the No. 4 GOP leader.

Several Republicans are withholding judgment until hearing both sides — even those thought to be amenable to the managers’ case. The House managers will present again on Thursday, and they appear to be making in-roads with at least one senator who first found the trial unconstitutional in January.

“It was very powerful. It was of course more complete than what I saw, because it had videos from all over,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who voted to uphold the trial’s constitutionality this week. “I cannot comment on how it addresses conviction because we have not heard from the other side.”

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Opinion | With No Votes to Spare, Biden Gets a Win Obama and Clinton Would Have Envied

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Opinion | With No Votes to Spare, Biden Gets a Win Obama and Clinton Would Have Envied

Before you join the chorus, you might want to check in with the last two Democratic presidents. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both landed in office with much bigger majorities, and ended up taking it on the chin anyway. Despite the narrowest of majorities to get anything done, Biden, in fact, may be in a much better position.

When Clinton came to power in 1993, he had wide majorities in both houses: 57 Democrats in the Senate, and 258 Democrats in the House. But the resistance to his key economic package was so intense within his own party that his plan passed by just a single vote in both the House and the Senate, and only after important elements of that plan—like a gasoline tax—were thrown over the side to win the votes of suburban Democrats.

When Obama was inaugurated in 2009, Democrats and their independent allies held 59 seats in the Senate, and when Al Franken finally claimed his seat months later, they had a supermajority of 60—enough to overcome a filibuster. But in order to hold those votes, the Obama Administration had to keep the cost of its Great Recession stimulus package under $1 trillion—an amount, his team later conceded, was too small to trigger a robust recovery. Similarly, in order to get reluctant Democrats like Joe Lieberman to vote for the Affordable Care Act, the White House had to kill the public health-insurance option, which left progressive Democrats disheartened. (As Obama accounts in his memoir, “A Promised Land,” the handwringing from members of his own party took much of the shine off his signature achievement as president, the biggest expansion of health care since Medicare.)

The two ex-presidents also share a common, painful experience with the political consequences of their battles. Clinton’s tax and budget initiatives were aimed at reducing the then-unacceptable budget deficit of some $250 billion—a deficit that helped propel independent candidate Ross Perot to 19 percent of the vote in 1992. (I hope you realize we’ve become Eisenhower Republicans, Clinton groused to his staff.) The policy ultimately worked—Washington was running a huge surplus by the end of the Clinton years—but in the short term it was a political liability, leading to the loss of both houses of Congress in 1994.

For Obama, the slow pace of the recovery and the Republicans’ relentless political attacks on Obamacare led to massive midterm losses in 2010 at every level. The House turned Republican, the Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and 18 state legislatures turned red—a political upheaval that is still tormenting Democrats as they watch those legislatures push through voter suppression laws that will shape American elections for years to come.

But this time, Democrats may be able to provide a more upbeat answer to a question the approach of Passover inspires: “Why is this one-vote victory different from the other one-vote victories?”

This time, the benefits to tens of millions of Americans will be clear: $1,400 in bank accounts; extended jobless benefits; expanded childcare help. Donald Trump understood the impact of such assistance when he insisted his name be on the checks sent to American households. Joe Biden won’t be as blatant, but the direct aid will be a sharp contrast to what happened under Obama’s stimulus, when most Americans didn’t even realize they were getting a tax cut. It’s a sharp departure as well from the impact of Obamacare, where the benefits did not begin until long after the bill was passed, and after the midterm elections as well.

And this time, the bill that was passed was backed by enormous majorities of the citizenry—polls suggest that as many as 75 percent support the Covid plan, including clear majorities of Republicans. This suggests that the unanimous opposition to the plan by Congressional Republicans may leave the party with a political posture at a polar extreme from where they were in 1994 and 2009. The GOP was able to (inaccurately) pin Clinton with the “largest tax increase in history”; they were able to characterize the Obama stimulus and the Affordable Care Act as a giveaway to “those people.” But if the polls are right, Republican efforts to paint the Covid relief as a “blue state bailout” or a “Pelosi payoff” aren’t working.

More significant, if the impact of $1,400 payments, the vaccination assistance and the other elements of the plan are really felt back home—by voters, who notice the difference in their bank accounts and their health—it is actually conceivable that the line “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” could become something other than the punchline of a joke.

It is, of course, possible that all those proposals that fell by the wayside—the $15 minimum wage, higher income limits on the stimulus checks, bigger jobless benefit—will trigger so much grousing from progressives that Biden has trouble keeping his own side of the aisle in line. If they’re thinking about 2022, they should be careful how much complaining they do. With the slimmest possible of majorities, Biden managed to push through something whose potential political payoff his two Democratic predecessors would have envied.

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The Democrats who could take Cuomo’s place

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The Democrats who could take Cuomo's place

Sen. Alessandra Biaggi or another state legislator

Why they can win: Democrats have an extremely deep bench in the state Legislature. Dozens of their 150 members are more viable than state Sen. George Pataki was 20 months before the 1994 election, when he beat Mario Cuomo, and it’s certainly possible that some unexpected rank-and-file member will launch a serious campaign.

The two legislators who are mentioned most often are Biaggi and state Sen. Jessica Ramos. Both are part of the young freshman class that helped their party take an operative majority in their chamber in 2018. And both would have a good chance at winning the support of the Ocasio-Cortez wing of the party. Biaggi has already been acting like a primary candidate, spending recent weeks at the forefront of opposition to the Cuomo administration.

One wild card: Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the highest-ranking lawmaker in the state Senate. Nobody would have a better chance at clearing the room with a campaign declaration than Stewart-Cousins, whose tenure leading the historically factional Democratic conference has been met with rave reviews from moderates and socialists alike.

Why they can’t win: Pataki was able to win by latching onto then-Sen. Al D’Amato’s statewide campaign apparatus. There are some groups with a statewide presence with whom candidates like Biaggi or Ramos can ally — most prominently, the Working Families Party. But their major successes in recent years have come in legislative or congressional campaigns, and they’ve yet to prove they can be the decisive factor in a statewide race.

Candidates can, of course, build their own networks. But particularly for those who have minimal name recognition outside of a district that represents less than 2 percent of the state, that’s the type of organizing they would need to get started on very soon.

As for Stewart-Cousins, the biggest obstacle standing in her way is that she’s never given the slightest hint that she’s interested in statewide office.

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick

Why he can win: Myrick might be in a unique position. At 33, he’s already been the focus of numerous effusive national profiles for topics like his recent efforts to enact the most sweeping police reforms in the country, and he would have as good a chance as anybody to win over the newly energized young leftists.

Unlike other progressive candidates who are similarly well-positioned, his tenure as the mayor of an upstate city — albeit a small and atypical one — would put him less at risk of laying an egg north of Yonkers.

Why he can’t win: While he might be able to avoid the attacks that he’s a “New York City socialist,” he’s still pretty far to the left. Democrats might have shifted in that direction in recent years, but there’s still not a lot of evidence that positions like defunding the police and establishing heroin injection sites will win over voters in Hempstead.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio

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Trump’s last national security advisor to return to LA law firm

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Trump’s last national security advisor to return to LA law firm

Robert O’Brien, who was former President Donald Trump’s last national security advisor, is rejoining the law firm he co-founded in Los Angeles, according to a person familiar with the matter.

O’Brien recently moved back to LA and is returning to Larson LLP, a litigation firm, with around 30 lawyers, that he started in 2016 with former federal judge Stephen G. Larson. O’Brien will be Of Counsel to the firm and will have an international practice on arbitration. Last month, the Nixon Foundation announced that O’Brien would co-chair its foundation’s monthly foreign policy seminar with former Secretaries of State Mike Pompeo and Henry Kissinger.

O’Brien, who arguably had the lowest public profile of Trump’s four national security advisors, prioritized focusing on America’s geostrategic competition with China and also worked on the Abraham Accords and economic normalization between Serbia and Kosovo, among other foreign policy issues. A fierce advocate on television for Trump’s policies, he also downsized the NSC’s staff. He also drew negative attention in two complaints filed by whistleblowers.

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