Cup of Joe – January 2, 2023

Susan Glasser: “The nation, understandably, remains in a sour mood. It’s hardly good news that seventy-six per cent of Americans in the most recent Gallup survey think the country is on the wrong track, down from a high of eighty-seven per cent last summer.”

“But expectations are everything in politics. And the one truly good thing you can say about 2022 is this: It could have been worse. Much, much worse. Russia could have won. A Republican red wave, predicted by history and the polls, might have swept radical Trumpist election deniers into control of both houses of Congress and key state-election offices. Inflation might have kept going up. The economy could have entered a full-fledged recession.”

“No wonder, then, that Biden and his crisis-battered Administration are ending the year on a strikingly positive note.”

year-end memo by Biden advisers Anita Dunn and Brian Deese says the U.S. “ends 2022 in a stronger position than many major global economies.”

Key takeaway: “The unemployment rate remains near record lows, many measures of household balance sheets are stronger than before the pandemic, gas prices are down more than $1.75 from the summer, and we are seeing more signs of inflation moderating.”

President Biden signed the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill into law Thursday while on vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Bloomberg reports.

For Biden and the Dems, things are looking up. For Trump and his Republicans…

Associated Press: “He is mired in criminal investigations that could end with indictments. He has been blamed for Republicans’ disappointing performance in the November elections. And while he is now a declared presidential candidate, the six weeks since he announced have been marked by self-inflicted crises. Trump has not held a single campaign event and he barely leaves the confines of his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.”

“Instead of staving off challengers, his potential 2024 rivals appear ever more emboldened. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, fresh off a resounding reelection victory, increasingly is seen as Trump’s most formidable competition.”

“Trump’s subdued campaign announcement has left even former stalwarts wondering whether he is serious about another run for the White House.”

Doyle McManus: This is the last column about Donald Trump you’ll get from me. (Maybe.)

“For the first time in exactly 100 years, the U.S. House of Representatives may need more than one round of voting to elect a speaker when the new Congress convenes on Tuesday,” the Washington Post reports.

“But a few extra rounds of balloting would be a far cry from the nearly two months and 133 votes the House took to choose its leader in 1856 — the longest and most contentious speaker election in its history.”

Some moderate Republicans have discussed a long-shot backup plan if Kevin McCarthy falls short in his bid to be Speaker: tapping retiring Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) instead, Roll Call reports. They say it “wouldn’t violate their pledge not to support another sitting House Republican.”

Politico: “Currently, five conservative members are publicly threatening to vote against McCarthy for speaker, enough to keep him from the needed 218-vote threshold in House Republicans’ slim majority.”

“Though McCarthy had raised the option as a hypothetical and not a real offer, it signaled to some there’s little he won’t agree to in his years-long quest to seize the House gavel. And some fear he risks more demands surfacing as potential detractors see room for opportunity, with some hinting they’d like members to have broader subpoena power as they look to examine matters like how Jan. 6 rioters were treated by law enforcement.”

Punchbowl News reports that “McCarthy has been negotiating for weeks over House rules changes with a handful of conservative hardliners who oppose his ascension to speaker. Unless he’s able to win over these holdouts, McCarthy cannot capture the speakership. But if he gives away too much, McCarthy risks alienating more moderate Republicans while also undermining his own ability to run the House.”

“McCarthy has offered a key concession to critics of his bid for the House speakership during private conversations this week: reducing the threshold that is required to force a floor vote on ousting the sitting speaker,“ CNN reports.

“McCarthy has been trying to find a compromise threshold that would appease his critics enough to earn their speaker vote, while still being palatable to the rest of the House GOP, and has been sounding out all corners of the conference in private phone calls this week.”

“One of the numbers that has come up in recent conversations between McCarthy and GOP lawmakers – and which has not been previously reported – is a five-person threshold.”

Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL) claimed she received a “threatening” phone call from a female Republican lawmaker over her questionable support of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to become Speaker.

Said Luna: “I let that female member know that I wasn’t basically going to be threatened. I am not going to be bullied.”

New York Times: “For years, Ms. Stefanik had crafted her brand as a model moderate millennial — ‘the future of hopeful, aspirational politics in America,’ as her mentor, Paul Ryan, would describe her in Time magazine. But as her third term unfolded, according to current or former friends and advisers, it was becoming painfully clear that she was the future of a Republican Party that no longer existed. The party was now firmly controlled by Donald J. Trump, a populist president she didn’t like or respect — a ‘whack job,’ as she once described him in a message obtained by The New York Times. Fox hosts attacked her for not supporting Mr. Trump enough. Her friends criticized her for not opposing him more forcefully. You don’t understand, she would tell them. You don’t get how hard this is. Democrats were back in charge in the House. Mr. Ryan was gone, driven into early retirement. She told friends she was thinking of joining him.”

“Instead she embarked on one of the most brazen political transformations of the Trump era. With breathtaking speed and alacrity, Ms. Stefanik remade herself into a fervent Trump apologist, adopted his over-torqued style on Twitter and embraced the conspiracy theories that animate his base, amplifying debunked allegations of dead voters casting ballots in Atlanta and unspecified ‘irregularities’ involving voting-machine software in 2020 swing states. The future of hopeful, aspirational politics in America now assails Democrats as ‘the party of Socialists, illegals, criminals, Communist Truth Ministers & media stenographers.’ In the process, she has rocketed from the backbench to the party’s No. 3 House leadership job, presiding over the conference’s overall messaging.”

The January 6 Committee final report website is now live with new information including a detailed timeline of how the violence unfolded at the U.S. Capitol.

As the January 6 Committee wound down its work this week, the panel released hundreds of transcripts of witness testimony.

“Just days before it disbands and loses control over the millions of pages of evidence it has gathered, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection has released transcripts of just 126 of the more than 1,000 interviews it conducted,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

“If the committee runs out of time, the largest compilation of evidence about the attack could be lost — locked away by the National Archives for decades, or withheld from the public so as to not harm the ongoing Justice Department investigation into the attack, experts warn.”

Former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham testified that when Donald Trump was watching last year’s Jan. 6 riot unfold on television, he commented that his supporters looked “very trashy,” the HuffPost reports.

Said Grisham: “I don’t know if he expected them to be wearing full suits of, like, Roman armor and that would have made them not trashy. He did feel they looked trashy — but he loved how they were fighting for him.”

We’ve covered many of the details over the last few days — and many more were already summarized in the committee’s final report — but there were some key details that deserve to be highlighted.

Star witness Cassidy Hutchinson became the John Dean of the investigation — an insider who spilled the beans on key details inside the Trump White House. The most damning item in the newly-released transcripts were her descriptions of White House chief of staff Mark Meadows using his office fireplace to burn documents on at least a dozen occasions during the transition period.

Donald Trump Jr. urged Meadows to get his father to forcefully speak out against the riots at the Capitol on January 6 and Meadows supposedly said he agreed.

Trump had to be dissuaded from issuing blanket pardons to the rioters, but the idea was shot down by White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

Hutchinson testified that QAnon conspiracy theories were widely discussed within the White House, noting that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Trump adviser Peter Navarro both suggested the group had a lot of “good ideas.”

Trump aide John McEntee testified that Trump personally told Vice President Mike Pence to “do the right thing” and throw out the legitimate electoral votes to be counted on January 6.

Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is engaged to Donald Trump Jr., demanded and received a $60,000 speaking fee for her three minutes of remarks at the January 6 rally that preceded the riot at the Capitol.

“For her appearance, she was compensated $60,000 by Turning Point Action, a conservative nonprofit led by Charlie Kirk… the sponsoring donor was Julie Fancelli, the 72-year-old daughter of the founder of the Publix grocery store chain.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a United Nations General Assembly vote asking the International Court of Justice to provide an opinion on Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories was “despicable,” Reuters reports.

Said Netanyahu: “The Jewish people are not occupiers on their own land nor occupiers in our eternal capital Jerusalem and no U.N. resolution can warp that historical truth.”

“As Moscow launched a fresh barrage of strikes against Ukraine on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave an unusually aggressive prerecorded address, which was broadcast as Russians in the Far East began their New Year’s celebrations,” the Washington Post reports.

“This New Year’s message was notably different from previous years, a reflection of the new path the country has taken since Russia invaded Ukraine this February.”

“In the address, which was broadcast at midnight on Russian state television in line with the country’s 11 different time zones, Putin said Russia was fighting in Ukraine to protect its ‘motherland’ and called 2022 ‘a year of hard, necessary decisions’ and ‘fateful events’ that had laid the foundation of Russia’s future and independence.”

Axios: “Russian missiles struck Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities Saturday, leaving a fresh wave of destruction ahead of the new year.”

“Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping vowed Friday to deepen their bilateral cooperation against the backdrop of Moscow’s 10-month war in Ukraine, which weathered another night of drone and rocket attacks following a massive missile bombardment,” the AP reports.

“Putin and Xi made no direct mention of Ukraine in their opening remarks via videoconference, which were broadcast publicly, before going into private talks. But they hailed strengthening ties between Moscow and Beijing amid what they called ‘geopolitical tensions’ and a ‘difficult international situation,’ with Putin expressing his wish to extend military collaboration.”

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has died. He was 95.

In 2013, Benedict became the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign from his role as the head of the Catholic Church, a decision he made because of his advancing age and deteriorating health at that time.

Following his retirement, Benedict lived in a former convent in Vatican City, a rare moment in history where two popes resided in the city at the same time. He lived mostly out of the public eye, promising after his resignation to remain “hidden from the world.”

As Covid-19 infections surge in China, the CDC is considering sampling wastewater taken from international aircraft to track any emerging new variants, Reuters reports.

Public health experts says that “would offer a better solution to tracking the virus and slowing its entry into the United States than new travel restrictions announced this week by the U.S. and other countries.”

Katelyn Jetelina: “As expected, the Covid-19 situation in China is out of hand. In an interesting turn of events, China went from a ‘zero Covid’ policy to a ‘let it rip’ policy by dropping all mitigation measures without fully vaccinating the highest of risk or strengthening their healthcare system.”

“Egregiously, they stopped reporting cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, too. This looks good for them on paper, but when we rely on epidemiology 101 and anecdotal reports, which are plentiful, the situation in China is beyond grim.”

“Officials estimate between 5,000-10,000 people are dying per day. (At the U.S. peak, we lost 3,800 people per day). Epidemiologists expect death toll to rise in China in the coming months leading to 0.5-1 million cumulative deaths. A humanitarian disaster.”

In a sign Rep.-elect George Santos’ (R-NY) standing is growing increasingly shaky, his campaign press secretary resigned, Politico reports. The press secretary, Gabby Lipsky, had been expected to join the congressman-elect’s staff in D.C. before she stepped down.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports Long Island Republicans are distancing themselves from Santos.

Olivia Beavers at Politico says the Santos scandal is merging with the McCarthy speakership battle. “The GOP leader has stayed silent as the incoming Republican congressman has admitted to several lies about his background.

“At a minimum, it was a colossal lack of judgment that has now put the conference in a very difficult position,” retiring Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), who represented a similarly moderate district in the state, said of Santos.

“Do they defend someone they know has made several material misstatements about his background? Or do they cut him loose with a razor-thin majority?” Katko added, calling it a “no-win situation.”

House Republicans generally believe Santos’ future will become clearer once they have an official speaker. But right now, the Republican leader has five members threatening publicly to oppose his speakership bid on Jan. 3, which happens to be the same number required to block him from reaching the needed 218 votes. And the party is buckling in for potentially multiple votes, marking only the second time since the Civil War that the speakership race would go beyond a first ballot.”

A third prosecutor’s office — the Queens District Attorney’s office — said it would be looking into Rep.-elect George Santos (R-NY) “after details surfaced that the now-embattled Republican lied about his heritage, education and professional pedigree as he campaigned for office,” WABC reports.

Meanwhile, the AP reports Democrats are considering introducing a resolution for his expulsion and an FEC complaint.

Rep.-elect George Santos (R-NY) claimed he was one of the first Americans to contract Covid-19, but Dan Diamond finds — not surprisingly — that his story doesn’t add up.

Dan Diamond: “Covid led to “very aggressive pneumonia” for Santos and left him with “a cough that lingered around for 30 days,” according to The Island Now, a local news outlet, in September 2020. “Nobody would come near me thinking I was still viral,” Santos reportedly told the paper.

But in a series of earlier interviews, Santos cited different dates for his diagnosis, a different set of symptoms and a much shorter bout of infection. Rather than weeks of agony, Santos initially said he suffered a high fever for several days but was able to manage it at home with cold medicine. And not long after that, he was back to outdoor exercise.”

It turns out that the North Shore Leader, a local Long Island newspaper, did raise questions about Rep.-elect George Santos (R-NY) before the election, the Washington Post reports:

“It was the stuff national headlines are supposed to be built on: A hyperlocal outlet like the Leader does the leg work, regional papers verify and amplify the story, and before long an emerging political scandal is being broadcast coast-to-coast. But that system, which has atrophied for decades amid the destruction of news economies, appears to have failed completely this time.”

Washington Post: “Before George Santos made a name for himself in politics, he had insisted on being called Anthony — one of his middle names — and often used his mother’s maiden name, Devolder, eventually incorporating a company in Florida with that name.”

Said a former friend: “He hated that we called him George. His whole family called him Anthony. He wanted to be called Anthony. He would use the name Anthony Devolder.”

Meanwhile, Gothamist finds Santos’ claim to have been mugged on his way to pay $2,250 in back rent on his Queens apartment is likely not true either.

New York Post: “The 34-year-old Republican — who admitted earlier this week to lying about his professional background, academic credentials and ancestry during his successful campaign for the House of Representatives — is offering supporters a bus trip to DC, lunch and a ‘Team Santos Tour’ of the US Capitol’s grounds, while asking VIPs to chip in $500 each to outdo the $100 paid by people with ‘attendee’ status.”

“The brazen ask stunned members of both parties when it began circulating late Thursday and into Friday.”

David Rothkopf at the Daily Beast on Biden’s Midterm Foreign Policy Report Card.

“There were surprising successes and dispiriting disappointments—but overall a transformative rejuvenation of America’s international standing. The Clinton years saw the post-Cold War world with naïve hope and a focus on free markets that compounded inequality.

The George W. Bush years were shaped by 9/11, and came to stunningly misguided conclusions—from reordering U.S. national security policy to focus on the (grossly overstated) threat of terrorism, to launching a war of choice in Iraq that quickly proved to be a grotesque error, almost certainly the worst in modern U.S. foreign policy history.

Barack Obama offered hope and soaring rhetoric, but a presidency that was far too cautious in taking major steps on the international stage. And Trump was, of course, a disaster, undercutting the U.S.’ international standing, cozying up to enemies, and attacking our allies and alliances.

Then along came Joe Biden. 

He entered office with more foreign policy experience than any president in U.S. history and a strong international team. But he is Joe Biden. He is not a soaring speaker like Obama. He is not brash in the way that Dubya Bush or Dick Cheney were. He is not the made-for-TV president that Trump was. He is dull, older, kind of gray. It is tempting to say that many of his successes in his first two years have been due to the fact that he is easy to underestimate. (And he was underestimated, most notably by Vladimir Putin.)

But that would be selling him short. Because in two years, half a term, Biden has not only demonstrated the greatest foreign policy mastery of any U.S. president since George H.W. Bush, but has transcended his achievements by being the first president to create a post-Cold War foreign policy that meets the moment—one defined by a recognition of new priorities, threats, opportunities, and challenges.”

Tara Palmeri at Puck on The Real Santos Shocker. “Robert Zimmerman, the Democrat who lost to Santos, was a veritable oppo expert in a past life. So how come he failed to deliver the Santos bombshell himself?

But here’s what I learned from an operative in another New York camp: Zimmerman, who was short on cash after an eight month, five-way primary in a reconfigured district, made some grave miscalculations. After being handed a half-baked oppo packet on Santos from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he decided against spending between $30,000 to $50,000 to develop that research, which would have made it easier to report and might also have turned up other falsehoods, like the fact that Santos is not Jewish or the mysterious origin of the $750,000 income that The New York Times reports is currently being investigated. Instead, Zimmerman had to raise $2 million in 10 weeks, so he decided not to make the investment.”

“President Biden was furious over the influx of migrants at the U.S. southern border early in his administration, according to a new book about the Biden White House,” The Hill reports.

Biden’s aides said they “have never seen him as angry as he was over the border crisis in the first six months of office.”

From the book: “From all over the West Wing, you could hear the president cursing, dropping f-bombs (he’d always apologize when women were present).” 

“Arrests and deportations of immigrants in the country illegally increased in the second year of the Biden administration, though both remained below average Trump- and Obama-era levels,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

David Cay Johnston: “Don’t let the cynics who know little about our tax system trick you into thinking there was nothing all that new or important in the six years of Donald Trump’s taxes released Friday by the House Ways and Means Committee.”

“In fact, even if some of it was previously teased by the committee, the dump includes a cornucopia of information that affects your wallet—including powerful evidence of criminal tax evasion.”

Vox: Will Trump’s tax returns change anything? 

“Elon Musk was the second person ever to amass a personal fortune of more than $200 billion, breaching that threshold in January 2021, months after Jeff Bezos,” Bloomberg reports.

“The Tesla Inc. chief executive officer has now achieved a first of his own: becoming the only person in history to erase $200 billion from their net worth.”

Fidelity slashed its carrying value of Twitter by 56% during the first month of Elon Musk’s ownership, Axios reports.

Musk bought the company for $44 billion on October 27.

“Andrew Tate, a former professional kickboxer and online personality who frequently made misogynistic comments about women to his large following on social media sites, was detained by the authorities in Romania on Thursday in an investigation of human trafficking and rape,” the New York Times reports.

Politico: “With Republicans set to take control of the House in January, progressive plans to build on Obamacare at the federal level are going nowhere, leaving it to state lawmakers to inch toward Democrats’ goal of universal health coverage. The rocky implementation of the public option plans in these three western states illustrates the challenges the left faces in doing so as blue state ambitions run up against a powerful health care industry accustomed to getting its way.”

William Kristol: “At the end of 2022, Putin is still Putin. The mullahs are still the mullahs. Trump is still Trump. Those actors have not changed.”

“But the world around them changed because of the struggles and successes of those who fought for democracy and for freedom.”

“Volodomyr Zelensky and the people of Ukraine stood heroically firm. The Iranian people bravely rose up. At home, the American electorate rejected the worst of the election deniers and continued its rebuke of Trumpism for the third straight election. Congress passed a fair amount of reasonable legislation, including the Electoral Count Act. The January 6th Committee conducted itself seriously and honorably and in the course of its work documented a great deal of important evidence which was not previously known. Partly as a consequence of their labors—which were dismissed both early and late as being obscure and inconsequential—the Department of Justice now seems likely to try to enforce some accountability not just for the foot soldiers, but for the leaders of the insurrection. And for Donald Trump.”

“What happened in 2022 was as remarkable as it was unexpected. And as a result, we enter 2023 in better shape than we could have reasonably hoped a year ago.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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