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The Morning Dispatch: Cheney Faces the GOP Conference
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The Morning Dispatch: Cheney Faces the GOP Conference

Plus: A look at President Biden’s immigration actions so far.

Happy Wednesday! Monday we find out Major League Baseball is going to start its season on time, Tuesday EA Sports announces it is rebooting the NCAA football video game franchise. The 12-year-old versions of your Morning Dispatchers are ecstatic (and so are the 25-year-old ones).

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial is inching closer. The House impeachment managers outlined their arguments against the former president in an 80-page legal brief that deemed Trump “singularly responsible” for the violence that took place on January 6. Trump’s legal team filed a response yesterday as well, arguing Trump’s speech was protected by the First Amendment and Senate conviction would violate the Constitution.

  • Alexei Navalny, the prominent Russian opposition leader, was formally sentenced to two years and eight months in a penal colony for violating the terms of his probation. Navalny called the “show trial” a “demonstration of weakness,” and urged his supporters, who once again took to the streets after the sentencing, to keep the faith: “They can’t arrest the entire country.”

  • The Senate voted on Tuesday to confirm Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of Homeland Security and Pete Buttigieg as Transportation secretary. Buttigieg’s confirmation was overwhelmingly bipartisan, 86-13, while Mayorkas’ was more contentious at 56-43.

  • The White House announced Tuesday that the federal government will begin shipping doses of COVID-19 vaccines directly to retail pharmacies on February 11. The program will start with about 6,500 stores across the country receiving a total of 1 million doses before expanding.

  • The U.S. State Department officially labeled the Myanmar military’s arrest of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint a “military coup d’etat” Tuesday, calling for the release of the country’s democratically-elected leadership and threatening the resumption of sanctions. The move triggers a halt of foreign aid to Myanmar’s government, though funding for some humanitarian aid programs in the country will continue.

  • The United States confirmed 117,716 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 8.7 percent of the 1,356,249 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 3,559 deaths were attributed to the virus on Tuesday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 446,744. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 92,880 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 558,458 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, bringing the nationwide total to 32,780,860.

A Time for Choosing for the GOP

House Republicans are set to meet later this afternoon. There will be no shortage of conversation topics, including President Biden’s early string of executive actions, recently doled out committee assignments, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s implementation of fines on members who refuse to walk through the new metal detectors at the Capitol.

But one scheduled item of discussion stands above the rest: Does Rep. Liz Cheney deserve to continue serving in House leadership, as chair of the conference? In the narrowest sense, it’ll be a debate about whether one politician keeps her job. But in reality, it’s about so much more than that: Does the Republican Party want to continue being defined by the only one-term president in the last 80 years to cost his party the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives, or is it ready to turn the page?

A month ago, you’d have been laughed at for even asking a question about Cheney’s job security. After the GOP picked up a surprising number of House seats in November, the Wyoming Republican was unanimously reelected to her perch alongside Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise.

But on January 13, Cheney was one of only 10 Republicans to vote to impeach President Trump for his role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol—and perhaps the most unsparing in her rationale for doing so. “The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” she said. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.” 

In the weeks since, Trump loyalists in the House Freedom Caucus have agitated to remove her from leadership, circulating a petition among members that claimed Cheney’s impeachment vote “brought the Conference into disrepute and produced discord.”

In a deeply uncharacteristic move, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell waded into internal House politics to throw his support behind Cheney this week.

“Liz Cheney is a leader with deep convictions and the courage to act on them,” he said. “She is an important leader in our party and in our nation. I am grateful for her service and look forward to continuing to work with her on the crucial issues facing our nation.”

By speaking in this manner, McConnell stepped into a leadership void left by his counterpart in the House, Kevin McCarthy, whose post-January 6 condemnation of Trump and support for Cheney have faded as the former president and his allies ratchet up their attacks on the conference chair. McCarthy initially offered his unqualified support for Cheney to remain in leadership and, in remarks on the House floor on January 13, said, “the president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.” 

But in a matter of days, he reversed himself on both accounts. “I don’t believe [Trump] provoked it, if you listen to what he said at the rally,” McCarthy said on January 21. And, as Trump began calling House Republicans to demand Cheney’s removal, McCarthy qualified his earlier backing of Cheney and falsely claimed he didn’t know how she was going to vote on impeachment beforehand. 

“Look, I support her, but I also have concerns,” he told Greta Van Susteren in late January. “She took a position as a No. 3 member in conference, she never told me ahead of time. … She can have a difference of opinion, but the one thing if we’re going to lead within the conference, we should work together on that as a whole conference.”

As for today, there are a handful of ways the meeting—set to begin at 4:00 p.m. ET—could play out. (The House GOP Conference rules are a little wonky, so bear with us.) 

The leaders of the effort to oust Cheney initially claimed to have the backing of at least 107 of their peers, well above the 20 percent threshold required to petition for a special meeting of the conference. If that is true, and they present the requisite signatures at the meeting, members could decide to hold that special meeting immediately, or delay it for up to 10 legislative days.

Assuming they hold the special meeting and want to move to the resolution immediately, at least two-thirds of the Conference would then have to vote to suspend the rules and bypass the typical committee deliberation process. Alternatively, McCarthy himself could, as leader, simply declare a vote on the resolution at any time. If neither of those happen, the resolution would be considered later by an internal House GOP committee, where it is likely to be dismissed. Depending on how events unfold, Cheney could end today stripped of her leadership position, or the whole thing could implode into, as one House GOP aide told us, an “airing of grievances session.”

But the conference chair won’t be on an island. Several members—including Reps. Anthony Gonzalez, Peter Meijer, Dan Crenshaw, Mike Gallagher, Chip Roy, Nancy Mace, and Adam Kinzinger—have publicly gone to bat for Cheney in recent weeks, and some are expected to do so privately today.

Cheney is not expected to back down from her strong condemnation of Trump’s behavior before, during, and after the assault on the Capitol on January 6. Sources familiar with her thinking say she sees the two paths available to the GOP as a choice between fantasy and reality—and that a party that continues to embrace the alternate-reality politics of Donald Trump and conspiracy-minded members like Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene is doomed. 

Though she may be outnumbered, Cheney isn’t alone in making this argument. “We need to admit that there’s a bunch of crap in the Republican coalition right now that isn’t at all conservative,” Sen. Ben Sasse told The Dispatch yesterday. “But there’s also lots of stuff inside a traditional Republican coalition that are going to be sort of unbundled and re-bundled, and we have to know what a new fusionism looks like for the 21st century. And there are things that I’m optimistic about, but a lot of housecleaning needs to happen inside the Republican Party right now.”

These intra-party fights are nothing new—but the stakes may be higher than ever. 

“From 2000 to 2010, you had real divisions between conservatives and the establishment on policy issues,” said Michael Steel, longtime aide to former House Speaker John Boehner, who often found himself in the crosshairs of the Conference’s more hardline members. “The fight from 2010 to Trump was about tactics. The fight now is about reality.”

Biden’s Immigration Executive Orders

President Biden signed another batch of executive orders on Tuesday aimed at reversing his predecessor’s immigration policies, streamlining the naturalization process for migrants, and attempting to reunite the hundreds of children that are still separated from their parents as a result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We’re going to work to undo the moral and national shame of the previous administration that literally, not figuratively, ripped children from the arms of their families, the mothers and fathers at the border,” Biden said during the signing ceremony. 

The president has faced criticism for the number of executive actions he’s taken since being inaugurated—with even the New York Times editorial board calling on him to “ease up.” He attempted to address some of the objections yesterday.

“There’s a lot of talk, with good reason, about the number of executive orders that I have signed,” he said. “I’m not making new law; I’m eliminating bad policy. … The last president of the United States issued executive orders I felt were very counterproductive to our security, counterproductive to who we are as a country, particularly in the area of immigration.”

Elizabeth Neumann—who served as deputy chief of staff at DHS in the Trump administration but has been highly critical of the former president since resigning—believes the family reunification task force created by Biden’s order to be a step in the right direction. “An irreversible trauma has been laid on these families, and I think it is reasonable for them to consider some form of the financial restitution through counseling, through helping the families out economically in some way,” she told The Dispatch. “I think there’s an argument to be made that they should be allowed to resettle in the United States, too.”

The task force will be led by Alejandro Mayorkas, who was confirmed as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Tuesday in a relatively tight 56-43 vote. All but seven Republican senators opposed his confirmation, citing his alleged abuse of office regarding the EB-5 program while he was head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Obama administration. The DHS inspector general reported in 2015 that, in three instances, Mayorkas “communicated with stakeholders on substantive issues, outside of the normal adjudicatory process, and intervened with the career USCIS staff in ways that benefited the stakeholders.”

“As a high-ranking official in the Obama Administration, Mr. Mayorkas did his best to turn U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services into an unethical favor factory for Democratic Party royalty,” Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor yesterday. “We are talking about shoving through green cards as political favors, and intervening to overturn denials. … Mr. Mayorkas’ improper influence changed outcomes.”

But even McConnell acknowledged that Mayorkas—who went on to serve under President Obama as the deputy DHS secretary—has the experience necessary to know how to do the job. “Mr. Mayorkas is all too familiar with the levers of power that control U.S. immigration law,” the Senate Minority Leader said.

“Mayorkas knows both immigration and how that vast department operates,” Cornell University law professor and immigration expert Steve Yale-Loehr told The Dispatch. “He will be able to effectively implement whatever decisions are made on immigration reform.”

Another executive order Biden signed yesterday directs Mayorkas to “promptly review” the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program and determine whether to “terminate or modify” it. Also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, it prohibited asylum seekers from entering the U.S. while their cases were being considered by the U.S. government.

Neumann was surprised the White House wasn’t cancelling the program off the bat. The delay, she said, may indicate “how challenging the current moment is, between the pandemic and the number of people that are sitting at the border waiting for asylum claims.”

The Biden administration, she explained, is probably weighing the reality that a dramatic change to the migrant protocol would create “unsafe environments” for many people on the border. “You’ve already seen reports that migrants are beginning to come again back to the United States because Biden has been elected,” Neumann said. “The cartels are already spreading the word that the borders are open—which of course is not true—but that’s how the cartels work. They make a ton of money off of telling people they can get them into the United States.”

Alex Nowrasteh, director of immigration studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, was disappointed Biden’s actions Tuesday didn’t go further. He called them “very boring, bureaucratic executive orders” that “don’t do a whole lot” other than create “commissions to study what to do” on immigration policy. 

But Tuesday’s orders weren’t signed in isolation: They build on the flurry of immigration-related executive actions Biden has signed in recent weeks, including orders to end Trump’s travel ban on various Muslim-majority and African countries, “preserve and fortify” the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, end the national emergency for the border wall, and pause deportations on individuals arriving in the United States prior to November 1 for 100 days. A federal judge in Texas has already blocked the administration from enforcing that last one, however.

Republicans in Congress have taken issue with many of the changes.

“The refusal to continue building the border wall and changing Trump asylum policies requiring migrants to wait in Mexico for their court date are formulas for disaster and will create massive future runs on the border,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham. “The caravans will start to flow again, and America will be under siege once again by new waves of migrants responding to the Biden Administration’s weak policies on immigration. These policies also undercut bipartisan immigration solutions.”

Worth Your Time

  • We here at TMD are obviously fans of the newsletter format. Check out this Economist story by Tom Standage for a fun history of the medium. As newsletter-publishing platforms like Substack flourish in an environment where readers increasingly distrust traditional and social media, reporters and writers are able to turn a profit by providing credible content to loyal readers. Newsletters are the wave of the future, but they’re also a blast from the past—originating in 17th century England, when authors would handwrite “letters of news” to circulate in their communities. The letters were eventually phased out by newspapers, but “today it is newspapers that are in retreat – as the advertising model on which they came to rely has been undermined by the internet – and subscription newsletters have made an unexpected return,” Standage writes. “The newest business model in journalism, it turns out, is also the oldest.”

  • Jonathan Swan and Zachary Bass of Axios use their deep collection of sources to answer the age-old question: What happens when four conspiracy theorists walk into the Oval Office? The reporters tell the story—with remarkable detail—of a chaotic December 18 meeting when Sidney Powell, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former CEO Patrick Byrne, and former Trump administration official Emily Newman went toe to toe with senior White House advisers.

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In her latest edition of The Sweep, Sarah delves into an often overlooked facet of campaigning: candidate recruitment. She chats with Dan Sena, the former director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, about how to field a successful candidate.

  • Tuesday’s French Press(🔒) tries to draw a line between “being canceled” and “facing consequences for one’s actions,” as a lot of cynical politicians are trying to conflate the two. “The defense of a free speech culture does not mean that ‘anything goes,’” David writes. “In other words, there are times when otherwise-legally protected speech is so beyond that pale that a person should pay serious consequences for their words.”

  • Cato scholar (and Capitolism author) Scott Lincicome joined Jonah on the latest episode of The Remnant to discuss a whole bunch of economic trends. Should the government seize the manufacturing industry for national security reasons? How has the pandemic turned the consumer economy on its head? 

Let Us Know

If you were able to nab a microphone at the House GOP Conference meeting today, what grievances would you air?

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