The Morning Dispatch: Aftermath

Congress and America grapple with the fallout from Wednesday's assault on the Capitol.

Happy Friday. Yesterday was better than the day that came before. Let’s keep that trend going.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • After nearly 24 hours without access to his Twitter account, President Trump posted a video shortly after 7 p.m. ET Thursday condemning Wednesday’s violence at the Capitol and acknowledging that Joe Biden will be the next president. “A new administration will be inaugurated on January 20. My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation,” he said. “And to all of my wonderful supporters, I know you are disappointed, but I also want you to know that our incredible journey is only just beginning.”

  • A series of high-ranking Trump administration officials—including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, former chief of staff and current special envoy to Northern Ireland Mick Mulvaney, deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger, and acting chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers Tyler Goodspeed—announced their resignation on Thursday. Many specifically cited President Trump’s incitement of Wednesday’s siege of the Capitol as their rationale.

  • U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died on Thursday evening after sustaining injuries in the riots at the Capitol one day earlier. The insurrection’s total death toll now stands at five. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday he has “requested and received” the resignation of Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi said House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving gave his resignation notice as well. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund will also be resigning after the incident, effective January 16.

  • Network decision desks officially called the second Georgia Senate race for Jon Ossoff over Republican David Perdue on Wednesday, giving Democrats narrow control of Congress’ upper chamber. On Thursday, incumbent GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler conceded to Democrat Raphael Warnock in the state’s other runoff election.

  • President-elect Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate Judge Merrick Garland for Attorney General and Lisa Monaco, President Obama’s Homeland Security Adviser, for Deputy Attorney General. He also announced his intent to nominate Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for Labor Secretary, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo for Commerce Secretary, and Obama administration official Isabel Guzman to lead the Small Business Administration. National Security Agency official Anne Neuberger will serve as Biden’s deputy national security adviser for cybersecurity.

  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Thursday the company was banning President Trump from its platform “indefinitely,” at least through the end of his term. “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” Zuckerberg wrote. Snapchat and Twitch made similar decisions, while Twitter reinstated the president’s account following a short suspension.

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer on Thursday called on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove President Trump from office following his role in Wednesday’s siege of the Capitol. Pelosi said Democrats in the House are prepared to impeach Trump a second time if Pence does not work to remove him. Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger also came out in favor of invoking the 25th amendment yesterday, and John Kelly—Trump’s former chief—said he would vote to remove the president were he still in the White House. 

  • Initial jobless claims decreased by 3,000 week-over-week to 787,000 last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. About 19.2 million people were on some form of unemployment insurance during the week ending December 19, compared to 1.8 million people during the comparable week in 2019.

  • The U.S. trade deficit hit a 14-year high in November, according to a new report from the Commerce Department. 

  • The United States confirmed 279,951 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 14.7 percent of the 1,902,436 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 4,136 deaths were attributed to the virus on Thursday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 365,208. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 132,370 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 21,419,800 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed nationwide, and 5,919,418 have been administered.

An 11th Hour Impeachment: Fantasy or Reality?

In the day and half since Trump supporters—incited by the president and his baseless claims about electoral fraud—stormed and occupied the U.S. Capitol building, lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have been contemplating how to minimize further damage between now and President-elect Biden’s inauguration on January 20.

Many elected officials have called on the Cabinet and Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove the president from his post immediately. Others—including The Dispatch in our first ever staff editorial—have pushed for the fast-tracked impeachment, conviction, and removal of President Trump from his office for posing an immediate threat to national security.

Democratic Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island said yesterday that more than 110 of his colleagues signed on to the articles of impeachment he, Rep. Ted Lieu, and Rep. Jamie Raskin authored. “Incited by President Trump, a mob unlawfully breached the Capitol, injured law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress and the Vice President, interfered with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the election results, and engaged in violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts,” the articles read. “President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of government.”

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, wrote a letter to Vice President Pence imploring him to exercise the 25th Amendment and remove Trump from office. “Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides the Vice President and a majority of sitting Cabinet secretaries with the authority to determine a president as unfit if he ‘is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,’” the letter reads. “President Trump’s willingness to incite violence and social unrest to overturn the election results by force clearly [meets] this standard.”

One House Republican—Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois—echoed this call. “Sadly, yesterday it became evident that not only has the president abdicated his duty to protect the American people and the people’s house, he invoked and inflamed passions that only gave fuel to the insurrection that we saw here,” Kinzinger said. “It’s time to invoke the 25th Amendment and to end this nightmare.”

When asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper if he would vote to remove the president if he were still in the White House, former Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly responded, “Yes, I would.”

Democratic leadership made clear yesterday that, given these two options, they’d prefer the latter. “I joined the Senate Democratic Leader in calling on the vice president to remove this President by immediately invoking the 25th Amendment,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Thursday. “If the vice president and Cabinet do not act, the Congress may be prepared to move forward with impeachment. That is the overwhelming sentiment of my caucus—and the American people, by the way.”

Pelosi’s comments followed a statement from Sen. Chuck Schumer. “The quickest and most effective way—it can be done today—to remove this president from office would be for the vice president to immediately invoke the 25th amendment,” he wrote. “If the vice president and the Cabinet refuse to stand up, Congress should reconvene to impeach the president.”

After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, the 25th Amendment—ratified in 1967—established the process by which the president can be stripped of his office in the event of death, removal, resignation, or incapacitation. To invoke it, the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet would need to vote to remove the president, thereby deeming him unable to discharge the duties of office.

You’d assume that over 100 Democrats—including all four members of The Squad—calling for the Republican president’s removal would gin up a reaction on the GOP side of the aisle. But there was nary a peep yesterday. In fact, Rep. Steve Stivers, a Republican from Ohio, told Spectrum News that he “would not oppose it” if the Cabinet voted to invoke the 25th Amendment. Stivers and Kinzinger remain outliers on the Republican front, but very few GOP members spoke up on Thursday to oppose these measures, either.

There were reports on Wednesday night that Trump administration officials—including top Cabinet officials—were having serious conversations about the 25th Amendment. But Business Insider and the New York Times both reported yesterday that Pence does not plan to invoke it, believing that doing so would “add to the current chaos in Washington rather than deter it.” In a Thursday afternoon press conference, Sen. Lindsey Graham sent a message to Trump through the TV screen. “I don’t support invoking the 25th Amendment now,” he said. “If something else happens, all options would be on the table.”

Trump appears to have—for now—gotten the message. Not only will one more reckless tweet result in him being banned from his favorite communications platform for good—it could also lead to his term being artificially cut short. We did not hear from the president at all yesterday, other than a two-and-a-half minute video tweeted just after 7 p.m. ET that would have been a fine concession speech had it been it delivered two months ago.

“We have just been through an intense election and emotions are high. But now, tempers must be cooled and calm restored,” he said. “My campaign vigorously pursued every legal avenue to contest the election results; my only goal was to ensure the integrity of the vote. In so doing, I was fighting to defend American democracy. I continue to strongly believe that we must reform our election laws to verify the identity and eligibility of all voters and to ensure faith and confidence in all future elections.”

“Now, Congress has certified the results,” Trump continued. “A new administration will be inaugurated on January 20. My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation.”

The speech got a passing grade from Graham. “President @realDonaldTrump’s statement tonight urging the country to move forward and heal was much-needed and hit the mark,” he tweeted. “Well done, Mr. President.” We’ll see if he can keep it up for 12 more days.

From the Mall 

For much of America, Wednesday’s occupation of the Capitol was a reckoning—leading to a renewed effort to impeach the president, a rash of resignations from his administration, and a sudden and wholly unexpected acknowledgment of Biden’s victory from Trump himself.

Yet one group at least seems to be unshaken by the shocking events: The core Trump base. How has the Trump movement avoided soul-searching following a day on which some of its most committed members stormed Congress by force? Simply by rewriting the facts of the event into something consistent with their worldview, in which America’s only violent political insurrectionists come from the radical left.

Mere minutes after the motley crew of Proud Boys, militia members, and other MAGA faithful were evicted from the Capitol Wednesday, a false narrative had already begun going viral among Trump supporters on social media. The people who stormed police barricades by force at the Capitol, the story ran, had actually been Antifa interlopers posing as supporters of the president.

Never mind that the crowd had come to D.C. and marched to Congress at Trump’s explicit request; never mind that some of those filmed trashing the place were well-known alt-right personalities; never mind that others interviewed inside were perfectly chatty about who they were and why they were there; never mind that the only “evidence” provided for this theory was a couple screenshots of misidentified faces and tattoos. Boosted by credulous and sloppy right-wing web media, loose-cannon MAGA celebrities, Fox News hosts “just asking questions,” and even members of Congress, the theory that the Capitol insurrection had been instigated by false-flag leftists almost immediately took over the pro-Trump internet.

Startlingly, even Trump supporters who had been physically present at the riot—who had personally stepped across crumpled barricades, pushed through smoke and tear gas over the Capitol lawn and onto the steps of the building itself, and seen the breach with their own eyes—had come around to this narrative by the following day. On Thursday, your Morning Dispatchers interviewed more than a dozen who had returned to the National Mall for a second consecutive day. Nearly all insisted—without any prompting—that the only people who had been truly violent the day before had been covert Antifa operators.

“The whole thing was set up,” said one South Carolina woman who declined to give her name. “They wanted the people to get pumped up and do that. … The picture of the guy sitting on Pelosi’s desk or whatever? I guarantee you he was working for Antifa—or whoever it is, whatever organization.” (It was, in fact, Richard Barnett from Gravette, Arkansas. The FBI reportedly visited his house yesterday.) 

“There was, you know, a window was broken,” said Christian, a protester who had driven up from Texas earlier this week and said he had witnessed the break-in but not entered the Capitol himself. “Some people were kind of doing it—either they were overzealous or there were some agitators within. It looks like some people have identified a few likely Antifa members based on their tattoos and stuff … For the people who were genuine Trump supporters, which there probably were a few, I don’t know if they were the first in—maybe they just tagged along.”

Worth Your Time

  • On Thursday, we published our first editorial calling for the immediate impeachment and removal of Donald Trump from office. But some others warn that removing Trump from office could do more harm than good at this point in his presidency.  While acknowledging that Trump “effectively incited a violent insurrection against a joint session of Congress” and that he “should not be the president for an instant longer,” National Review’s Dan McLaughlin argues that “removing him now could cause more problems than it solves.” McLaughlin walks us through three possible avenues: Letting the election process work, invoking the 25th Amendment, and impeachment, and discusses whether any of these remedies are appropriate at this time.

  • Following Trump’s speech on November 5—in which he alleged that the election was stolen—reporter Tim Alberta tweeted: “November 5, 2020. A dark day in American history.” He was met with skepticism from GOP operatives and pundits. Could Trump’s baseless election conspiracy theories really lead to a violent insurrection? Alberta has been closely following the paranoia and conspiratorial thinking of American voters for years, and has thought for months something like Wednesday was all but inevitable: “Nobody knew exactly how that belief would manifest itself; I certainly never expected to see platoons of insurrectionists scaling the walls of the U.S. Capitol and sacking the place in broad daylight,” he writes in his latest piece. “Still, shocking as this was, it wasn’t a bit surprising. The attempted coup d'état had been unfolding in slow motion over the previous nine weeks. Anyone who couldn’t see this coming chose not to see it coming. And that goes for much of the Republican Party.”

  • While The Dispatch had reporters on the ground for the insurrection at the Capitol, none of them were inside the building when it was breached by the president’s supporters. POLITICO did, and they put together a gripping oral history of the day that does a great job encapsulating just how chaotic the situation was on Wednesday. “There was an announcement the building wasn’t secure,” Marianne LeVine remembered. “We decided to barricade the doors with couches and chairs. We turned off the lights and we hid behind the desks.” Olivia Beavers recalled that “there was a moment when a reporter asked me: ‘Do you think we should take off our press badges?’”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing The Company Line

  • Andrew and Audrey join the new episode of the Dispatch Podcast to discuss their on-the-ground reporting at the Capitol on Wednesday, where they spent all day interviewing rallygoers. David, Jonah, Sarah and Steve discuss the momentous events of the past 48 hours, in a searching conversation about the five years that led to this point and what comes next. 

  • On Thursday’s episode of the Advisory Opinions podcast, David and Sarah talk about the possibility of impeaching President Trump, the legal machinations surrounding the 25th Amendment, and the social media crackdown against the president. Stick around for their thoughts on Merrick Garland as Biden’s attorney general pick.

Let Us Know

We here at The Dispatch have obviously been at times highly skeptical of the president—both in recent weeks, and throughout our short editorial history—even as we sought to cover him without the knee-jerk hostility of many in the mainstream media. But we were explicit when we launched this venture in October 2019 that we thought of The Dispatch not as “anti-Trump,” but “beyond Trump.”

We’ve arrived at the “beyond Trump” stage. What is your (realistic) hope for a post-Trump Republican Party and a post-Trump conservative movement? And how do you hope to engage in these debates?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).