November 24, 2020

General Motors CEO Mary Barra threw President Trump under the electric car Monday, announcing in a letter to environmental groups that GM will no longer support the Trump administration's battle to strip California of its own clean-air standards and signaling the automaker is ready to work with President-elect Joe Biden on climate policy.

"President-elect Biden recently said, 'I believe that we can own the 21st century car market again by moving to electric vehicles.' We at General Motors couldn't agree more," Barra wrote. "We believe the ambitious electrification goals of the president-elect, California, and General Motors are aligned, to address climate change by drastically reducing automobile emissions." GM announced last week that it's testing a new battery chemistry that should bring its electric vehicles to the same price range as gas-powered ones within five years.

Barra urged Toyota, Fiat-Chrysler, and the 10 smaller automakers that had sided with Trump to flip sides, too, and Toyota said it is "assessing the situation" and mostly wants uniform fuel standards in all 50 states.

"GM's maneuvering was a public humiliation to Mr. Trump," The New York Times reports. "Barra gave no warning to the administration, but she did speak by telephone on Monday with Mary Nichols, California's top climate regulator and an architect of the Obama-era fuel economy rules." Two people familiar with Barra's thinking told the Times her actions were clearly prompted by the outcome of the presidential race, but "even so, the way she did it took analysts aback."

Trump reversed President Barack Obama's national fuel standards upon taking office, lowering the target to 40 miles per gallon by 2025 from 54.5 mpg. California then quietly reached a deal with Honda, Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, and Volvo to get to 51 mpg by 2026, enraging Trump, who then moved in September 2019 to revoke California's unique ability to set its own tailpipe emission standards. GM and its allied automakers sided with Trump when environmental groups sued to block that move. The 51 mpg compromise "is now seen as the likely model for a new, Biden-era fuel economy rule," the Times reports.

"This huge pivot, so closely following an election result, particularly from a firm like General Motors, is a big, big deal," said University of Michigan public policy professor Barry Rabe. "This is the first big industrial step toward the next president. Are other industries going to have epiphanies and pivot?" Peter Weber

Opinion
5:37 a.m.

On the last night of his presidency, only a few hours after delivering an enervated farewell address, Donald Trump reminded us why he is one of the most bizarre characters in recent American political life by releasing his final list of pardons.

Trump pardoned some 73 persons on his way out the door and commuted the sentences of 70 others. Some of those on the receiving end of his clemency were famous. Most were not. There are not many lists on which Lil Wayne and Kodak Black will appear alongside Steve Bannon and various disgraced former Republican party officials. I was pleased that Kwame Kilpatrick, the former mayor of Detroit whose sentence of 28 years in prison speaks more to the selective outrage of white suburban housewives in his home state than to the severity of his crimes, will be leaving prison soon.

Many of the comparatively unknown persons were obviously deserving: felons who had served their time honorably and devoted their lives to good works. Others, including the bird killer James E. Johnson, the Israeli spy Aviem Sella, three members of a clan of fraudulent South Dakota beef sellers, and many others guilty of financial crimes, seem more questionable. The strangest addition of all was that of Robert Bowker, who pled guilty three decades ago to the crime of illegally transporting 28 snakes owned by Rudy "Cobra King" Komarek to a reptile house in Miami. It appears that the aforementioned monarch offered Bowker a bribe of exactly 22 alligators, albeit one that he did not accept.

Perhaps even more interesting were those whose names did not appear on the list. Trump did not, as some expected, issue pardons to Republican members of Congress for the non-existent crime of challenging the Electoral College results in a handful of states, nor did he extend them to members of his family. Most important, he did force the interesting constitutional question of a self-pardon, likely because the legal action to which he is most vulnerable will come either from state governments or from the United States Senate, from neither of which a pardon would have shielded him. Matthew Walther

3:45 a.m.

For the first times in weeks, President Trump's official schedule for Wednesday, Jan. 20, does not say "he will make many calls and have many meetings." In fact, it has only one item on it: His departure from the White House for Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, the final official stop of his presidency.

About 45 minutes after Trump's scheduled departure, President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and their spouses will attend church services at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, according to Biden's first official presidential schedule. Biden and Harris will be sworn in at noon, then they'll review military forces in a pass in review, lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and finally head to the White House, where Biden is scheduled to start work at 5:15 p.m.

The Bidens begin their celebrations at 8:48 p.m., for some reason, and their final scheduled event is just before 10 p.m. Peter Weber

3:12 a.m.

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris really did create a playlist of 46 songs for Wednesday's inauguration of the 46th president. Stephen Colbert's Late Show made some changes to the playlist Tuesday night. It's "a well-rounded mix of classic hits and in no way a cryptic jab at the outgoing administration" nor "a thinly veiled putdown of the soon-to-be ex-president," The Late Show insists. "These songs were selected on their musical merits, not because when read sequentially, they taunt the man who tried to destroy our democracy."

In the real world, President Trump is "particularly upset that Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Tom Hanks, and other stars agreed to perform as part of Biden's inaugural celebrations," after Trump's "harsh rhetoric, hard-line immigration policy, and other stances during the 2016 campaign led Hollywood to largely boycott his inauguration," The Washington Post reports. Trump is "a believer in the power of being associated with marquee names," so the snubs apparently stung hard. In comparison, a fake playlist would probably just pinch. Peter Weber

2:23 a.m.

President Trump's last big batch of pardons will get most of the attention, but he also issued an executive order in his last few hours in office that seeks to free all current and former hires from the ethics agreements they signed to work in his administration. Trump revoked his January 2017 "Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees" order, the White House announced early Wednesday, so "employees and former employees subject to the commitments in Executive Order 13770 will not be subject to those commitments after noon January 20, 2021."

Those commitments included not lobbying the federal agencies they served under for five years after leaving government. The executive order, Yashar Ali notes, was the backbone of Trump's "drain the swamp" pledge.

President-elect Joe Biden takes office at noon on Wednesday, and presumably he could just issue a new executive order reversing Trump's.

Norm Eisen, "ethics czar" to former President Barack Obama, said in a Politico column Tuesday that Obama's clear ethics rules led to "arguably the most scandal-free presidency in memory," but "Trump greatly watered down the standards with scandalous results" and "Biden has done the opposite, restoring the Obama rules and expanding them."

Biden's planned executive order, Eisen wrote, "restores the fundamentals of the Obama plan, closing loopholes Trump opened—but going further, including new crackdowns on special interest influence. If implemented rigorously (always a big if) Biden's plan promises to go further to 'drain the swamp' than either of his predecessors." Peter Weber

2:03 a.m.

President Trump has granted pardons to 73 individuals and commuted an additional 70 sentences, the White House announced early Wednesday morning.

There are several well-known names on the list, including Stephen Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist; Elliott Broidy, a major Trump fundraiser and former deputy national finance chair of the Republican National Committee; rapper Lil Wayne; and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Trump also pardoned or commuted the sentences of individuals — including several former members of Congress — convicted of drug offenses, fraud, and lying to federal investigators.

In 2013, Kilpatrick was convicted for his part in a racketeering and bribery scheme conducted while in office; Trump commuted his sentence after Kilpatrick served seven years in prison. The White House said several people — including social media personalities Diamond and Silk and televangelist Paula White — supported this commutation.

Similarly, there were several people pushing Trump to grant Broidy a full pardon — the White House said Broidy had the support of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), and former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell. Broidy pleaded guilty in October to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws, and was scheduled to be sentenced in February.

Bannon, however, did not have a long list of supporters. The White House simply said Bannon — who was charged with defrauding investors through a group called "We Build the Wall" — received a full pardon and "has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen." The organization received donations from Trump fans, something that was not lost on Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.):

Last month, Trump pardoned his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and longtime friend Roger Stone. He still has a few more hours to issue additional pardons and commutations, but is not expected to do so. Catherine Garcia

1:19 a.m.

President Trump pardoned Stephen Bannon, his 2016 campaign chairman and one-time White House aide, late Tuesday amid a final flurry of executive clemency with just hours left in his administration. Bannon was arrested in August and charged with defrauding investors, mostly Trump supporters, through a group called "We Build the Wall."

In its pardon notice, the White House said Bannon had received "a full pardon" for "charges related to fraud stemming from his involvement in a political project," adding that the former Breitbart News chief "has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen." Trump has already pardoned another 2016 campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, as well as longtime ally Roger Stone and other 2016 advisers and allies.

The "We Build the Wall" campaign raised more than $25 million, ostensibly to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Federal prosecutors alleged that Bannon siphoned off more than $1 million through a nonprofit he controlled and gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to another organizer, Brian Kolfage, who was also charged in the alleged scheme. Kolfage was not on Trump's pardon list. Trump distanced himself from Bannon and the fundraising project after the arrests, and aides believed Bannon was not going to get a pardon up until Tuesday, CNN reports.

Trump "made the decision on Mr. Bannon after a day of frantic efforts to sway his thinking, including from Mr. Bannon himself, who spoke to him by phone on Tuesday," The New York Times reports. After Bannon helped elect Trump and joined his White House, the two had a dramatic falling-out when Bannon told journalist Michael Wolff, for his book Fire and Fury, that Ivanka Trump is "dumb as a brick" and Donald Trump Jr. had acted "treasonous" by meeting with Russian agents during the campaign. But since last summer, "Bannon has slowly come back into the Trump orbit," The Washington Post notes.

Bannon may still be in legal jeopardy for his work with exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, and state prosecutors might still be able to charge him for any "We Build the Wall" fraud. Peter Weber

12:40 a.m.

Ashton Edwards is changing ballet for the better.

Edwards, 18, is a member of the Pacific Northwest Ballet's Professional Division in Seattle. He started studying classical ballet at 4, and after years of performing traditional male roles, Edwards became intrigued by the idea of trying something that is traditionally for women: dancing en pointe.

"It took a lot of searching within myself," Edwards told NPR. "But I think my goals in life and in my career and who I saw myself as a person were much bigger than just one small box I was put in. So I decided to explore." Because ballet has such clear divisions between male and female roles, Edwards didn't know if his school would be open to him dancing en pointe, and was thrilled when they were "open and accepting."

Peter Boal, artistic director for the Pacific Northwest Ballet, told NPR "ballet can be a little slow," and when Edwards asked to study en pointe, "we said, 'Why not? Lead us and we will work with you.'" It usually takes several years of training before a dancer can put on their en pointe shoes, but after just six months, Edwards had the strength and technique necessary. Those shoes "have their challenges," he said, but it's all worth it: "Once you're up and once you start dancing, you're floating, and it feels like flying I think. It's amazing." Catherine Garcia

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