Boomers can tell you where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been shot, and a few minutes later, that he was dead. That was in high school chemistry class. The voice over the school’s public address system was scratchy. But that was a day that changed history. Anyone would remember that moment. It was the same with the Martin Luther King assassination in 1968 – a quiet evening home for spring break that time – trying to make sense of that – and less than two months later it was JFK’s brother Bobby. That made even less sense, but something was up. Or it wasn’t. Still, this was history being made.
Some days are like that, and, as the New York Times’ Peter Baker reports, this was another one of those days:
When future historians close the books on the misery of 2020, a grueling year of disease, death, racial strife, street violence, economic collapse and political discord the likes of which have not been seen in the United States in generations, they may look back on Monday, Dec. 14, as a pivotal juncture.
It was on that day that Americans began rolling up their sleeves for a vaccine produced in record time to defeat a virus even as the death toll crossed 300,000. And it was on that day that members of the Electoral College gathered in each of the 50 states to ratify the end of the most polarized election in more than a century…
Many Americans will get sick and die in the months before the vaccine is universally available. Many Americans will remain aggrieved by the result of an election they wish had gone the other way. It is still an era of hardship and division. But after so much uncertainty, after so much doubt, the way forward appears clearer at least in two major respects.
Who knew? This guy did:
“It is a cosmic convergence,” said Benjamin L. Ginsberg, a leading Republican election lawyer who has been critical of President Trump’s efforts to overturn the vote that he lost. “And what’s good about both of the events occurring on the same day is it really can provide a turning point for a nation that really wants a turning point.”
Perhaps it was that:
The day played out in a remarkable fashion as television viewers watched images of health care workers receiving lifesaving injections juxtaposed with live shots from state capitals around the country showing electors casting votes formally confirming the victory of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris.
It was the definitiveness of both developments that stood out after months of political, medical and economic turmoil: At last, Americans can look ahead to the day when they will be immunized from the Covid-19 virus even if takes until spring. And now they know despite all the postelection noise from the White House and its allies who will be president on Jan. 20.
So, two awful things were over, or would be over soon, but not soon enough:
For Mr. Trump, who has refused to accept either the election results or the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, the clarity of Dec. 14 was not entirely welcome. He had reason to celebrate the debut of the vaccine, which he made a top priority and will surely count as a major part of his legacy even though he otherwise has played down the threat of the virus and undercut public health efforts to stem the outbreak through masks and social distancing. “First Vaccine administered,” he wrote on Twitter. “Congratulations USA! Congratulations WORLD!”
But he was not so ready to congratulate Mr. Biden, or accept the verdict of the Electoral College, even though it is vested by the Constitution with the power to determine the next president by majority vote. Mr. Trump remained out of sight all day, offered no concession and continued to pump out false claims of fraud supposedly so prevalent that it would justify overturning the will of the people.
But that wasn’t working. It was too late for that. Okay, change the subject:
In what came across as an effort to distract attention from his loss in the Electoral College, Mr. Trump just minutes after California’s electors meeting in Sacramento put Mr. Biden over the top abruptly announced the departure of Attorney General William P. Barr, who had angered the president by refuting his fantastical assertions about widespread election corruption.
With that process complete, Mr. Trump’s refusal to accept defeat became little more than railing against the weather.
So, now it was all about Barr. No, it was about the end of the pandemic. No, this was just another day:
Not everyone was quite ready to write off the tumult of 2020, which has been marked by the deadliest pandemic in a century, the most cataclysmic economic collapse since the Great Depression, the worst racial strife since the civil rights era and the most divisive and contested aftermath to an election since shortly after the Civil War. Some were not sure a corner had really been turned.
“It’s a good day,” said Jill Lepore, the prominent Harvard scholar who has written sweeping books on American history. “But these last years, it has often felt as though the country is falling down an empty well. You keep thinking, OK, finally, we’ve hit bottom, and can begin trying to crawl our way up and out. But then you realize, we haven’t hit bottom; we’re just on a ledge, and then we start falling all over again. A few weeks ago, it seemed like the bottom. And today, maybe someone has sent down a rope. Two ropes! Hard to trust, though.”
Lepore says wait. Maybe nothing changed. Still, something changed. Nicholas Fandos says it’s the Republicans:
Support for President Trump’s attempt to overturn his election loss began to collapse in the Senate on Monday after the Electoral College certified President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory, with many top Republicans saying the time had come to recognize results that have been evident for weeks.
While they insisted that Mr. Trump could still challenge the results in court, the senators said the certification should be considered the effective conclusion of an election that has fiercely divided the country. And after weeks of silence as Mr. Trump and others in their party sought to overturn the results in increasingly extreme ways, some urged their colleagues to move on.
“I understand there are people who feel strongly about the outcome of this election, but in the end, at some point, you have to face the music,” Senator John Thune of South Dakota, Republicans’ No. 2, told reporters in the Capitol. “And I think once the Electoral College settles the issue today, it’s time for everybody to move on.”
There’s a lot of that going around:
Even Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who initially fanned Mr. Trump’s claims of fraud in key battleground states, said he now saw only “a very, very narrow path for the president” and had spoken with Mr. Biden and some of his likely cabinet nominees.
“I don’t see how it gets there from here, given what the Supreme Court did,” he added, referring to the justices’ decision on Friday to reject a long-shot suit by Texas seeking to overturn the results in a handful of states Mr. Biden won.
And there was this:
During a virtual event with supporters on Monday night, Mr. Biden expressed optimism about how Republicans would respond to him as president, and said he had already heard from seven Republican senators “saying they want to work with me.”
That may be nonsense:
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, stayed conspicuously silent on Monday, declining to acknowledge Mr. Biden’s victory. He dedicated his only public remarks to stimulus negotiations and ignored a question about the Electoral College proceeding shouted by a reporter in the Capitol…
Mr. McConnell’s allies said that he would honor the election outcome come January, but did not want to pick a fight with Mr. Trump now, for fear of damaging Republicans’ chances in a pair of January Senate runoff elections in Georgia that will decide control of the chamber. He is also concerned, they said, that doing so could jeopardize a string of year-end legislative priorities that will require the president’s signature, including a catchall spending measure and the stimulus package to address the continuing toll of the pandemic.
So, he’s just doing his job, like these guys:
Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the longest-serving Republican, captured the grudging acceptance of many of his colleagues after the Electoral College action when asked by a reporter if he now considered Mr. Biden the president-elect.
“I don’t have to – the Constitution does,” he said as he hustled to a vote. “I follow the Constitution.”
Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, a Republican who rode Mr. Trump’s coattails to re-election last month, called Mr. Biden the “presumptive president,” pending the outcome of any lawsuits yet unresolved.
Others were more direct.
“We’ll deal with Vice President Biden as the president-elect,” said Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, the chairman of the Republican Policy Committee and the congressional panel planning next year’s inauguration.
It’s over, unless Jonathan Swan’s reporting turns out to be true:
Right up to Monday’s Electoral College vote, President Trump held the false hope that Republican-controlled state legislatures would replace electors with allies who’d overturn Joe Biden’s win, two people who discussed the matter with him told Axios.
Through the past week, the sources said, the president browbeat GOP legislators in multiple states, launched tirades against Republican Govs. Doug Ducey of Arizona and Brian Kemp of Georgia, vowed to make Fox News “pay” for accurately calling the race, and tested ways to say he didn’t win without acknowledging he had lost.
One source who talked to Trump over the weekend said the president continued to insist that there was significant fraud in multiple states, paraphrasing him: “Do you think if the legislatures know this is all true, they would just act to overturn this?”
Like other confidants, this person tried to gently explain that even lawmakers who are allies probably wouldn’t overturn a presidential election without a court order.
That may not work:
Sources who’ve spoken to Trump in the past few days said he’s reluctant to talk much about a 2024 run.
That’s because “it’s an acknowledgement of the end,” said one source who spoke to Trump at length in recent days. “He’ll say, ‘Yeah, I’ll probably do it. I may do it.’“
Another source said that Trump seems depressed at the realization that his backers have given up on 2020: “He’s saying, ‘We won these states, we won those states,’“ and adding that what he took away from conversations with his pollster John McLaughlin was that if he could get as many votes as he did, he also must have won.
The closest Trump has come privately to admitting where this is heading, the source added, is to say, “If we don’t win, I don’t say lose. I say ‘I don’t win.’“
Trump is edging toward reality but another guy got there already:
Representative Paul Mitchell of Michigan, a two-term Republican who voted for President Trump this year, announced on Monday that he would immediately sever his ties with the Republican Party over its refusal to accept the president’s election defeat.
In a letter to top G.O.P. officials, Mr. Mitchell warned that elected Republicans could help Mr. Trump do “long-term harm to our democracy” by continuing to accommodate and amplify baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. He said he would become a political independent, though he already planned to retire from Congress at the end of this year.
“It is unacceptable for political candidates to treat our election system as though we are a third-world nation and incite distrust of something so basic as the sanctity of our vote,” he wrote just after his state cast its 16 electoral votes for Mr. Biden on Monday. He also decried Republican attacks on the Supreme Court, which on Friday rejected an audacious lawsuit from Texas seeking to overturn the results in key battlegrounds, including Michigan.
One of the wealthiest members of Congress, Mr. Mitchell was first elected in 2016. He has served as a member of Republican leadership, and by his own account voted in favor of the Trump administration’s policies 95 percent of the time…
But no more:
In his letter on Monday, Mr. Mitchell said he supported the right of any candidate to request recounts or challenge results in court. But Mr. Trump and his legal team, he said, had “failed to provide evidence of fraud or administrative failure on a scale large enough to impact the outcome of the election.”
“If Republican leaders collectively sit back and tolerate unfounded conspiracy theories and ‘stop the steal’ rallies without speaking out for our electoral process, which the Department of Homeland Security said was ‘the most secure in American history,’ our nation will be damaged,” Mr. Mitchell wrote, addressing his remarks to Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, and Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader.
He acknowledged his own decision may be symbolic, but said it was necessary to adhere to his oath to protect and defend the Constitution. And, he added, “we all know that symbols matter.”
Donald Trump knows that. That’s why he fired Barr. Jeremy Stahl knows that:
On Monday, outgoing President Donald Trump announced that Attorney General William Barr would be leaving the administration on Dec. 23, as the pair paid glowing tribute to one another despite a weeks-long falling out over Barr’s apparent reluctance to take part in Trump’s effort to overturn the election.
“Just had a very nice meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr at the White House. Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job! As per letter, Bill will be leaving just before Christmas to spend the holidays with his family,” Trump announced on Twitter. “Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen, an outstanding person, will become Acting Attorney General. Highly respected Richard Donoghue will be taking over the duties of Deputy Attorney General. Thank you to all!”
The news came moments after the Electoral College officially affirmed Joe Biden’s victory in last month’s presidential election and the timing was hard not to view as an effort to distract from Trump’s latest defeat.
But this wasn’t Barr:
Since his elevation to the cabinet in 2019 following the dismissal of Jeff Sessions – whom Trump deemed insufficiently loyal for his decision to recuse from the Russia 2016 election interference probe – Barr has been perhaps Trump’s most obsequious lieutenant. That deference came across in his resignation letter, which praised Trump to the sky while taking final pot shots at Trump’s political adversaries.
“Your record is all the more historic because you accomplished it in the face of relentless, implacable resistance,” Barr wrote. “Your 2016 victory speech in which you reached out to your opponents and called for working together for the benefit of the American people was immediately met by a partisan onslaught against you in which no tactic, no matter how abusive or deceitful, was out of bounds. The Nadir of this campaign was the effort to cripple, if not oust, your Administration with frenzied and baseless accusations of collusion with Russia.”
Barr also wrote that he updated the president on the Department of Justice’s “review of voter fraud allegations in the 2020 election and how these allegations will continue to be pursued.”
The current thinking is that Trump dictated this letter and told Barr to just shut up and sign it. Trump was that angry:
The president recently expressed disappointment that his attorney general would not go along with his efforts to manufacture evidence of widespread voter fraud and fight to overturn the election results. Earlier this month, he openly floated the idea of firing Barr.
Shortly after the election, Barr took the extraordinary step of sidestepping existing protocols around vote fraud investigations to order a probe of the non-existent election fraud, causing the Justice Department’s top prosecutor for election crimes, Richard Pilger, to resign. Ultimately, like the dozens of judges and courts that have investigated the issue, Barr could not find any fraud that would have affected the outcome of the election. He conceded as much last month, when he told the Associated Press “to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”
After that announcement, Trump and his allies escalated their attacks on the attorney general. Barr fell further out of favor with Trump when it was reported that he had held back news of a tax investigation into Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, as well as updates surrounding an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe by prosecutor John Durham.
That may be what really got to Trump, but Barr knew not to go there:
Former FBI Director James Comey was publicly rebuked by the inspector general last year for breaking protocols to offer updates on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server in the midst of the 2016 election, a decision which very likely resulted in Trump’s victory. Trump ultimately fired Comey, using his public statements during the election as pretext, when his actual – later confessed – motivation was Comey’s continued effort to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and any possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Barr, to his credit, refused to make the same mistake that Comey had.
So, it comes down to this:
Barr’s apparent ouster came after he pushed investigations of Trump’s enemies, publicly touted those probes, crafted commutations and pardons of Trump’s political allies ensnared in the Russia investigation that were opposed by his own prosecutors, forced his DOJ to drop charges against former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn against the wishes of his own prosecutors in an unprecedented action, protected Trump during the Ukraine bribery scandal by claiming no crimes had been committed without opening an actual investigation, misled the public about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Trump, attempted to have the Department of Justice defend Trump in a private defamation case brought by someone who has accused the president of rape, and was generally the president’s fiercest partisan attack dog. But none of that was enough for Trump, apparently.
The Guardian’s David Smith adds this:
Barr played the role of presidential enforcer with apparent relish, whether spinning the Russia investigation in Trump’s favour or defending a harsh crackdown on this summer’s civil unrest…
But even he could not or would not pass the ultimate loyalty test: shredding the US constitution to help his boss steal an election…
Barr did much else to emulate Roy Cohn, the bullying lawyer and Trump mentor. Appearing before Congress, he haughtily defended the aggressive law enforcement response to protests in Portland and other cities. He intervened in the cases of Trump allies such as Michael Flynn and Roger Stone and railed against coronavirus lockdowns. He acted more like the president’s personal attorney than the attorney general.
All this made Barr potentially the pivotal figure in the 2020 election’s nightmare scenario. Some observers feared that, on the president’s orders, he might try to send federal marshals into polling places to halt counts and impound ballots on the pretext of mail-in voting fraud. But come election day, the worst did not happen and the system held.
So, he refused to change history:
Two weeks ago, Barr told the Associated Press that the justice department had found no widespread election fraud that would change the outcome of the election. From that moment he was dead to Trump.
Barr can shrug at that. Trump will be gone soon enough. He’s out of options:
Republicans in six states won by President-elect Joe Biden held their own electoral college-style votes Monday for President Trump – hoping that future court decisions would throw out Biden’s votes and count the GOP ones instead.
These votes have no legal meaning, according to election law experts. The law only recognizes votes from electors chosen according to state law – which, in every one of these states, is the Democratic electors.
But many Republicans who had been chosen to cast electoral votes for Trump still gathered to cast them. They said they were employing a tactic used by Democrats in Hawaii in an election 60 years ago – casting votes that don’t count, in the hopes that a later court decision would give them force.
This isn’t then:
These GOP votes did not have the backing of any governor or state legislature. Despite pleas and pressure from Trump, Republican-controlled legislatures in several of the six states had not tried to intervene and stop Biden’s win. On Monday, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said that would have undermined democracy.
“Michigan’s Democratic slate of electors should be able to proceed with their duty, free from threats of violence and intimidation. President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris won Michigan’s presidential election. It is our responsibility as leaders to follow the law and move forward in pursuit of policies that contribute to the betterment of Michigan,” Shirkey said.
Still, more than a dozen Republican legislators came to the state Capitol in Lansing on Monday in an apparent attempt to submit their own electoral votes. But the capitol was closed, because of Covid-19 precautions and unspecified security concerns. The state police would not let them in.
“We’re electors,” the Republicans said.
“The electors are already here,” a state police officer said. “They’ve been checked in.”
And that was that. It was an historic day, and history marched on, without them, and leaving Donald Trump behind too.