January 08, 2021

Good Friday morning. Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,192 words ... 4½ minutes.

  • Situational awareness: For the first time, the U.S. had 4,000 COVID deaths in one day.

1 big thing: America in danger

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Americans, who are used to feeling like winners, now look around and see a country that can't secure its own seat of government... struggles to distribute a vaccine... was cyber-looted by Russia... was half a year late with a stimulus plan both sides wanted... and can't even orchestrate a peaceful transition of power.

  • Why it matters: The democracy that President-elect Biden will take over is tattered, archaic, precarious, Felix Salmon writes.

The consent of the governed lies at the heart of American democracy. But Biden will lack that fundamental authority:

  • 40% of Americans and 80% of Trump voters say they believe Biden is not the legitimate winner of the 2020 election — the greatest proportion of holdouts in the history of American polling.

Presidential democracies (think France and Brazil) are prone to crisis at the best of times. None has lasted nearly as long as America's.

  • It was fragile and old even before Trump was elected, burdened with an anachronistic Electoral College, a dangerously long transition between election and inauguration, and a deeply gerrymandered quilt of state and federal constituencies.
  • "You can't lump U.S. democracy in with Canada, Germany, and Japan anymore," Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer tells Axios. "We’re now midway between them and Hungary."

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2. 🚨 House Dem sees second impeachment

New security fencing went up at the Capitol yesterday. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Lack of time may be the only thing that saves President Trump from becoming the first U.S. president to be impeached a second time, Hill sources tell me.

  • House Democrats have a caucus call at noon to discuss that very topic.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) told Kasie Hunt on MSNBC's "Way Too Early'": "I think that Democrats are going to move forward with another impeachment because they do believe that he must be held accountable."

  • Dingell said it's not a done decision, partly because time is short: "I think that that is the direction that we are headed."

Republicans are openly abandoning Trump. Top officials are resigning. Talk is rising of a second impeachment, or removal from office via the 25th Amendment.

  • Trump's national security team has begun operating as if he weren’t the president, but rather a guy in the White House who needs to be carefully managed, Jonathan Swan reports.

So 61 days after President-elect Biden was declared the winner, Trump was spooked into the concession he never wanted to give:

  • "A new administration will be inaugurated on Jan. 20," he said on a video last night, reading from a teleprompter. "My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation."

Here's what implosion looks like:

  • Two of Trump's Cabinet secretaries — Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — resigned in one day.
  • Both Speaker Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called for Vice President Pence and members of Trump's Cabinet to remove him via the 25th Amendment.
  • Former Attorney General Bill Barr said Trump's conduct the day of the riot "was a betrayal of his office and supporters."
  • Retired four-star Gen. John Kelly, Trump's former White House chief of staff, told CNN's Jake Tapper that Trump is "a laughingstock now." Tapper asked: "If you were in the Cabinet right now, would you vote to remove him from office?" Kelly hesitated a split-second, then said: "Yes, I would."
  • The conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, run by Trump's former confidant Rupert Murdoch, calls today for Trump to resign to avoid a second impeachment: "[I]t would give Mr. Trump agency, a la Richard Nixon, over his own fate."

The bottom line: A senior administration official tells me Trump finally conceded because he has "no friends left. He could feel it all slipping away."

3. The day after

Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The U.S. Capitol Police said Officer Brian D. Sicknick, who had been on the force 13 years, died after being injured "while physically engaging with protesters," becoming the fifth person to die because of the melee.

  • The Capitol's three top security officials resigned: Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund resigned under pressure from congressional leaders. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asked for and received the resignation of the sergeant at arms of the Senate, Michael Stenger. The House sergeant at arms, Paul Irving, also resigned.

Capitol Police turned down help: Three days before the riot, the Pentagon asked the Capitol Police if it needed National Guard manpower. And as the mob descended, the Justice Department leaders reached out to offer FBI agents. The police turned them down both times, AP reports.

  • Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) "said federal defense officials repeatedly turned down the state’s initial offers to send Maryland National Guard ... until he got a call from U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy." Baltimore Sun

Police said they recovered two pipe bombs, one outside the RNC and one outside the DNC, and a cooler from a vehicle that had a long gun and Molotov cocktail on Capitol grounds, per AP.

4. Some experts want to relax vaccine prioritization

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Some political leaders and public health experts are rethinking strict prioritization for coronavirus vaccines, suggesting that it might make more sense to simply try to administer as many doses as possible as quickly as possible, Axios Vitals author Caitlin Owens writes.

  • Why it matters: Especially while supplies are still limited, there's an inherent tension between trying to focus first on the people most at risk from the virus — including those most likely to spread it — and getting shots into arms at maximum speed.

Nationwide, only about 29% of the doses delivered to the states have been administered, according to Bloomberg's tracker.

  • HHS Secretary Alex Azar said at a briefing this week: 'It would be much better to move quickly and end up vaccinating some lower-priority people than to let vaccines sit around while states try to micromanage this process."

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5. Social media's long march to banning Trump

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With the elections over and President Trump in his final days in office, tech companies feel they have more latitude to take tougher action, sources tell Axios' Ashley Gold and Sara Fischer.

  • The firms also have an eye on Washington's looming power shift. Democrats who have long been concerned about the proliferation of misinformation and extremism on social media will soon be in charge of the White House and both houses of Congress.

A slew of platforms, including companies that have shown restraint over the past four years, finally pulled the plug on Trump after Wednesday's riot:

  • Facebook and Instagram banned him from posting for at least the next two weeks. Michelle Obama and high-ranking Hill Democrats said Facebook should boot him permanently.
  • Twitter froze Trump out of his account, before reinstating him yesterday once certain tweets were deleted.
  • TikTok is removing content violations and redirecting hashtags like #stormthecapitol and #patriotparty to its community guidelines.

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6. 147 Republicans voted to overturn results

Graphic: Karen Yourish, Larry Buchanan and Denise Lu/The New York Times. Used by permission

From the N.Y. Times, here are the eight senators and 139 representatives who voted to sustain objections to results from Arizona and/or Pennsylvania.

7. Biden promises to restore "equal justice"

Merrick Garland speaks in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President-elect Biden, announcing federal judge Merrick Garland — whose Supreme Court nomination by President Obama was squelched by Republicans — as his nominee for attorney general:

I want it to be clear to those who lead the [Justice] Department and those who serve there. You don’t work for me. Your loyalty isn’t to me. It is to the law.

8. 🗞️ Time capsule

9. Untold story: How Neil Sheehan got Pentagon Papers

Neil Sheehan, then with UPI, in Saigon, South Vietnam, in 1963.
Neil Sheehan, then with UPI, in Saigon, South Vietnam, in 1963. Photo: Bettmann Archive via Getty Images

Neil Sheehan, who died yesterday at 84, gave an interview in 2015 to the N.Y. Times' Janny Scott, for release on his death, about obtaining the Pentagon Papers, his 1971 scoop that led to a press showdown with the Nixon administration:

Contrary to what is generally believed, [Daniel] Ellsberg never "gave" the papers to The Times, Mr. Sheehan emphatically said.
Mr. Ellsberg told Mr. Sheehan that he could read them but not make copies. So Mr. Sheehan smuggled the papers out of the apartment in Cambridge, Mass., where Mr. Ellsberg had stashed them; then he copied them illicitly, just as Mr. Ellsberg had done.

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10. 1 last thing

Cover: "After the Insurrection," by Edel Rodriguez

Cuban-American artist Edel Rodriguez tells The New Yorker about her cover for next week's issue:

A part of America died on January 6th. The flag at half-mast marks that moment.

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