February 20, 2021

Former President Donald Trump has been "unreachable" to anyone outside his limited inner circle since he left office last month, but that's about to change, Politico reports.

In the near future, Trump will begin vetting candidates at Mar-a-Lago to make sure "every open GOP seat in the 2022 midterms has a MAGA-approved contender vying for it," three people familiar with the strategy told Politico. Trump's plan to forge ahead has some folks concerned about a brewing war within the Republican Party, especially after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tore into Trump after he voted to acquit him in his impeachment trial, and Trump responded in turn with a scathing statement criticizing his former ally. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), for instance, said he's more worried about 2022 "than I've ever been ... I don't want to eat our own."

But The Bulwark's Tim Miller doesn't expect any congressional primaries to double as Trump-McConnell proxy wars. Pointing to the upcoming race for outgoing Sen. Rob Portman's (R-Ohio) seat in the Buckeye State, Miller notes that the two major candidates who have already declared, Josh Mandel and Jane Timken, were previously aligned with the centrist former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, but are now both competing in the "Trump lane." Looking beyond Ohio, Miller writes that he sees "no indication" of a viable GOP candidate emerging in any Senate primary "who blames Trump" for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, "admits [President] Biden won the election fairly, and argues we need to turn the page on Trump."

The National Journal's Josh Kraushaar agrees, but added that he believes McConnell himself will roll with that reality. Read more at Politico and The Bulwark. Tim O'Donnell

1:39 a.m.

At White Lives Matter rallies held in cities across the country last Sunday, turnout was very low, but experts who track extremist movements online warn that this doesn't necessarily mean white supremacists are losing ground.

Having just a few people show up could have been the strategy all along, Peter Levi, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Orange County and Long Beach, told the Los Angeles Times. When a handful of supporters face off against vocal counterprotesters, this "feeds into the agenda that white men no longer have constitutional rights," Levi said. "They try to assemble, and they can't assemble. They try to have free speech, and they can't."

Before the Sunday rally, some organizations tried to dissuade counterprotesters from going to the event, saying they would play right into the white supremacists' hands. "They use this for lawsuits," Black Lives Matter Los Angeles co-founder Melina Abdullah told the Times. "They use this for PR. They use this for media attention, and it's hugely problematic. We don't want to buy into their narrative; we don't want to feed their narrative."

It's also possible that the low turnout wasn't entirely strategic, and was aided by a lack of leadership. The White Lives Matter rallies were first promoted on Telegram in March, but no one stepped forward as a central organizer, the Times reports. Huntington Beach Police Department spokesman Lt. Brian Smith told the newspaper officers tried to reach organizers to remind them of laws and municipal codes ahead of the rally, but they were never able to track down anyone behind the event.

Many white supremacist groups are using the country's hot topics, like immigration and police brutality, to get their bases riled up and attract new members, experts who monitor these groups told the Times, and this could lead to lone-wolf attacks. "Don't think the extremists are out of commission — they've just realigned in ways that are disturbing," Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, told the Times. "Now we're seeing a leaner, meaner, and less publicly brazen type of extremism taking place." Read more at the Los Angeles Times. Catherine Garcia

1:22 a.m.

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed President Biden's pick to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler, 53 to 45. Gensler, a former Goldman Sachs partner who cracked down on Wall Street as head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission after the 2008 financial crisis, has laid out an ambitious ramping up of regulatory enforcement after four years of deregulation.

Along with policing Wall Street banks, Gensler will also have to contend with the rise of "stonks," or meme stocks like GameStop, and special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs). The Chamber of Commerce endorsed Gensler's nomination, suggesting he will be "a balanced leader of the SEC and strong supporter of competitive capital markets." But only three Republicans — Susan Collins (Maine), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), and Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.) — voted to confirm him. Peter Weber

12:44 a.m.

In 2015 and 2016, former President Donald Trump's Republican primary rivals and other GOP officials tried to dodge his withering personal insults "while hoping that external events and news media coverage would ultimately lead to his downfall," Maggie Haberman recalls at The New York Times. That strategy obviously failed. But many Republican leaders are once more hoping, mostly in private, that time or some heaven-sent deus ex machina makes Trump fade into retirement, despite his clear intention to retain control over the GOP.

Some Republicans "are privately hopeful that the criminal investigation into Mr. Trump's business by the New York district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., will result in charges that hobble him from running again or even being a major figure within the party," Haberman reports, adding that Trump is said to be "agitated about the investigation." Others say they believe he is losing relevance his own, now that he is out of office and kicked off Twitter.

David Kochel, a Republican strategist and Jeb Bush supporter in 2016 campaign, is not among them. "We've seen this movie before — a bunch of GOP leaders all looking at each other, waiting to see who's going to try and down Trump," he said, adding that Trump and Fox News are making sure the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection is "being stuffed down the memory hole" for conservatives.

"It is Groundhog Day," another GOP Trump critic, Tim Miller, told Haberman. It seemed "like a rational choice in 2015," but "after we all saw how the strategy fails of just hoping and wishing for him to go away, nobody learned from it."

In the meantime, most GOP leaders and 2024 hopefuls are going out of their way to stay on Trump's good side. One reason is Trump's ability to steer huge sums of money to friendly Republicans, Politico notes. But Trump also holds sway over a sizable faction of the GOP electorate — though just how sizable is a matter of dispute — and he seems to relish savaging Republican critics.

Trump "intimidates people because he will attack viciously and relentlessly, much more than any other politician, yet somehow people crave his approval," Mike DuHaime, a Chris Christie adviser in 2016, told the Times. "Trump did self-destruct eventually, after four years in office," he said. "But he can still make or break others, and that makes him powerful and relevant." Peter Weber

April 14, 2021

The Senate on Wednesday voted 92-6 to open debate on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which addresses the rising number of hate crimes being perpetrated against Asian Americans.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), would instruct the Justice Department to expedite its review of hate crimes and coordinate with local law enforcement agencies to raise awareness of how to report a hate crime.

GOP Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Tommy Tuberville (Ala.), and Roger Marshall (Kansas) voted against opening debate. Cotton and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) released a statement before the vote saying they "believe the Senate should have the benefit of hearing from the Department of Justice before blindly acting on this issue."

Democrats have indicated they are open to Republican amendments, and Hirono on Tuesday addressed the concern that by having "COVID" in the name, the bill is too narrow in focus. "The whole point is that there is a connection between COVID and the rise of these hate crimes," she said. "We wanted to make sure that everyone understood there's a cause and effect here, but I'm open to eliminating that so that we can get to the real issue, which is the rise in hate crimes against [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders] and what we can do about it." Catherine Garcia

April 14, 2021

The United States is prepared to sanction dozens of Russian individuals and entities and expel as many as 10 Russian officials and diplomats in response to election interference and hacks, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News.

The sanctions, which could be announced as soon as Thursday, would target about 12 individuals, including government and intelligence officials, and 20 entities, with several linked to the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm that meddled in the 2016 election, or the SolarWinds hack, Bloomberg News reports.

Shortly after President Biden was inaugurated, he ordered a review of reports that Russia placed bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan; Russian interference in U.S. elections; the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny; and the SolarWinds hack, which is believed to have been orchestrated by Russia.

On Tuesday, Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on the phone, and the White House said Biden "made clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to Russia's actions, such as cyber intrusions and election interference." Russia has denied meddling in U.S. elections and the bounty report. Read more at Bloomberg News. Catherine Garcia

April 14, 2021

On Thursday, four Democratic lawmakers will stand on the steps of the Supreme Court to introduce legislation expanding the country's highest court from nine to 13 justices.

The bill is being proposed by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), The Washington Post reports. The Constitution does not state how many judges should sit on the Supreme Court, and it could be expanded by an act of Congress. There have been nine justices since 1869; now, there are six nominated by a Republican president and three by Democrats.

Those in favor of expanding the Supreme Court say having more justices would help prevent major decisions coming down to one "swing" justice, while also serving as a stronger check on the presidency. Last week, President Biden signed an executive order creating an independent commission to examine the structure of the Supreme Court. Catherine Garcia

April 14, 2021

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) on Wednesday said if "something really formal" happens with the Justice Department's investigation of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Republican leadership will "of course react and take action."

The Justice Department is investigating whether Gaetz, 38, had sex with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel out of state with him, allegations that Gaetz denies. Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican leader, told reporters that he hasn't talked to Gaetz about the investigation, but will likely meet with him later this week.

"It's serious things alleged," Scalise told reporters. "Obviously we want to get the facts." Gaetz is a member of the House Armed Services and Judiciary committees, and Scalise said GOP lawmakers who find themselves facing serious charges are removed from their committees.

Last week, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) became the first Republican member of Congress to call on Gaetz to resign, and on Sunday, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 House GOP leader, said the allegations against Gaetz are "sickening." Catherine Garcia

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