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The Morning Dispatch: FBI Warns of More Potential Violence
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The Morning Dispatch: FBI Warns of More Potential Violence

Plus: Joe Biden releases his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan.

Happy Friday! We could all use a Friday right about now.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday outlined his administration’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal. The package—which, after last month’s relief bill, faces a tough road in Congress—would include another round of $1,400 stimulus checks, an additional unemployment benefits boost, increased child tax credits, $350 billion in state and local aid, $20 billion for vaccine distribution, and a federal $15/hour minimum wage, among other provisions.

  • Initial jobless claims increased by 181,000 week-over-week to 965,000 last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. About 18.4 million people were on some form of unemployment insurance during the week ending December 26, compared with 2.2 million people during the comparable week in 2019.

  • A study of 20,000 health care workers in the United Kingdom found that individuals who contract and recover from COVID-19 are likely to be immune from the virus for at least five months. But, the researchers add, people who become reinfected are still liable to carry the virus and transmit it to others.

  • Late last night, the federal government executed Corey Johnson, a 52-year-old man convicted of murdering seven people in 1992. Johnson is the 12th federal inmate put to death by the Trump administration.

  • Biden plans to name Jaime Harrison—former South Carolina Democratic party chair and unsuccessful Democratic challenger to Sen. Lindsey Graham in 2020—to be the next chair of the Democratic National Committee.

  • The United States confirmed 240,916 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 12.2 percent of the 1,976,376 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 3,925 deaths were attributed to the virus on Thursday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 388,529. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 128,947 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 30,628,175 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed nationwide, and 11,148,991 have been administered.

Country Braces for More Armed Protests

An internal FBI bulletin earlier this week warned that additional armed demonstrations will likely take place in Washington, D.C. and all 50 state capitals this Sunday, ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday. FBI Director Chris Wray warned of an “extensive amount of concerning online chatter” yesterday in a joint press conference with Vice President Mike Pence, who, for all intents and purposes, has been carrying out the bulk of executive branch responsibilities in recent days.

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“One of the real challenges in this space is trying to distinguish what’s aspirational versus what’s intentional,” Wray said on Thursday. “We’re looking at individuals who may have an eye towards repeating that same kind of violence that we saw last week.” More than 6,000 National Guardsmen were deployed to Washington this week to protect the Capitol, and nearly 15,000 more are expected to arrive in the coming days. An inauguration rehearsal scheduled for Sunday was canceled last night due to security concerns, and the National Mall is expected to be closed on Wednesday, barring supporters from gathering for the festivities.

“We all lived through that day of January the 6th, and as the president made clear yesterday, we are committed to an orderly transition,” Pence said yesterday after being briefed on security measures. “We’re going to ensure that we have a safe inauguration, that President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are sworn in as the new president and vice president of the United States in a manner consistent with our history and our traditions,” he said.

But officials aren’t just worried about D.C. Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters on Monday the National Guard is monitoring state capitals across the country for potential unrest: “We’re keeping a look across the entire country to make sure that we’re monitoring, and that our Guards in every state are in close coordination with their local law enforcement agencies to provide any support requested.”

After a phone call on last week’s siege with Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, Rep. Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat who served several tours of duty as an Army Ranger, released a series of updates detailing the military’s security planning for the inauguration. “Secretary McCarthy said at least 25 domestic terrorism cases have been opened as a result of the assault on the Capitol,” Crow said. McCarthy told Crow that the Pentagon “is aware of further possible threats posed by would-be terrorists in the days up to and including Inauguration Day and is working with local and federal law enforcement to coordinate security preparations.”

After months of whipping his supporters up into a frenzy, President Trump—reportedly concerned about his own legal exposure—attempted to reduce the temperature. “I unequivocally condemn the violence that we saw last week,” he said in a video message released Wednesday. “Violence and vandalism have absolutely no place in our country, and no place in our movement.”

“Mob violence goes against everything I believe in, and everything our movement stands for,” Trump continued. “No true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence, no true supporter of mine could ever disrespect, law enforcement, or our great American flag, no true supporter of mine could ever threaten or harass their fellow Americans.”

If you were at the Capitol on January 6, as our reporters Audrey and Andrew were, the existence of additional threats is hardly surprising. “The people that were here today are going to come back even more, and we’re not coming back peacefully, and we’re not coming back unarmed,” Christopher Alberts of Maryland told The Dispatch last Wednesday afternoon. “America’s long overdue for revolution.” 

Alberts has since been charged in federal court for unlawfully carrying a firearm on Capitol grounds. And he’s just one of more than 100 individuals who have already been arrested for their involvement in the Capitol siege, including two off-duty police officers from Rocky Mountain, Virginia, and a retired firefighter from Pennsylvania who allegedly “struck three U.S. Capitol Police officers with a fire extinguisher.” 

“In six days, we have opened over 170 case files, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Steven M. D’Antuono, the FBI’s Washington field office assistant director in charge, said during a press conference on Tuesday. “And I anticipate that’s going to grow to the hundreds in the next coming weeks.”

And law enforcement officials appear poised to go after these individuals—hard. “I just want to clarify that the initial charges we’re filing, some of these misdemeanors, these are only the beginning, this is not the end,” Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin said on Tuesday. “The FBI—working with the U.S. attorney’s offices across the country, and the crux of those being in D.C.—we’re looking at significant felony cases tied to sedition and conspiracy.”

Sherwin concluded with an ominous note. “I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about what happened within the Capitol, and it’s going to come into laser focus, I think over the next weeks and days,” he said. “I think people are going to be shocked with some of the egregious contact that happened within the Capitol.”

Tips and phone records have helped the FBI identify dozens of suspects who were involved in last Wednesday’s events. “Since our call for tips, videos, and pictures, we have received more than 100,000 pieces of digital media, which is absolutely fantastic, and are scouring every one for investigative and intelligence leads,” D’Antuono added. Some videos rioters took and uploaded to Parler are now being used to identify them. (We recommend you check those videos out, they are really … something.)

While plenty of the president’s fans showed up to the Stop the Steal rally on January 6 simply out of solidarity, others were well aware of where things were headed. “If this continues, we’re going to have to fight and kill people,” rally attendee Michael Weiss of South Carolina told The Dispatch Wednesday morning, before the chaos. “We need civil unrest or we’re going to all be—no freedom. We better never give our guns up. ‘Cause that’s the last stand.”

Once the Capitol was breached, Kathy Lazaris—a Trump supporter from Las Vegas—offered her support for the rioters. “They have to,” she said. “There’s nothing else that’s worked. They’re not listening, they’re not hearing us.”

Biden Hits the Ground Running … Left

President-elect Biden formally introduced his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan last night, saying “it’s not hard to see that we are in the middle of a once-in-several generation economic crisis within a once-in-several generation public health crisis.”

“There is no time to wait,” he continued. “We have to act and act now. This is what the economists are telling us.”

As it turns out, we have a piece up from an economist—Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute—on the site. His conclusion on the proposal? “While a few of its proposals are necessary, too many others were just pulled from the old Democratic wishlist.”

What does Riedl think Biden’s team got right?

Biden would invest $160 billion in a national vaccination program and related health policies to stem the pandemic. Given the slow, bureaucratic rollout of the vaccines over the past month, it is absolutely necessary to expand testing and contact tracing, as well as launch community vaccination centers free of charge for vaccine recipients. Additionally, Biden would spend $170 billion preparing K-12 schools and institutions of higher learning to reopen safely within the administration’s first 100 days.

These two policies highlight Washington’s most pressing priorities: ending the pandemic, and then safely reopening schools so that moms and dads can go back to work and resuscitate the economy.

And wrong?

Given that Congress only weeks ago enacted $900 billion in legislation to extend unemployment benefits and provide more aid to vulnerable businesses (among many other provisions), the additional holes for Congress to legitimately plug are rather limited. Yet President-elect Biden proposes more than $1 trillion in mostly-extraneous proposals.

Most egregious is a proposal to more-than-double the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour—including for employees who regularly receive additional tips, for which the current minimum wage is $2.13. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that even gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 in a growing economy would likely kill 1.3 million jobs, and perhaps as many as 3.7 million. Imposing a drastic minimum wage increase on small businesses that are already struggling to stay afloat during a recession is especially absurd. Moreover, forcing restaurants, which are failing at record rates, to raise their own tipped minimum wage by 600 percent is economic malpractice. Perhaps high-cost cities like New York City and San Francisco can afford a much higher minimum wage, but other parts of America with lower incomes and prices will not be able to absorb this policy. It has no business in a relief package.

President-elect Biden would add $1,400-per-person relief checks to the recently-enacted $600 checks—bringing the total to $2,000 per person. When combined with the spring relief checks, the typical family of four will have received $11,400 over the past year. While surely popular, there is no policy justification for these payments, given that most Americans receiving them have not lost income during the pandemic (indeed, personal income reached record levels after last year’s checks), and those who have lost their jobs have access to unemployment benefits replenishing 100 percent of their typical lost wages.

In her Uphill newsletter today, Haley looks at this proposed legislation’s likelihood of making it through a sharply divided, albeit Democratic-controlled, Senate. 

Reconciliation allows the party that controls the Senate to approve legislation with a simple majority instead of 60 votes. There are rules that limit the kinds of policies that can be included in reconciliation bills, though, complicating any such attempt.

Biden has said he hopes to pass his initial $1.9 trillion plan under regular order instead of reconciliation, meaning he would need support from at least 10 Republicans in the Senate. Unless this package changes substantially in the coming weeks—cutting items like the minimum wage hike and funding for state and local governments—it’s difficult to imagine that happening.

Many GOP senators are likely to recoil at the price tag of the proposal. Republicans resisted Democratic calls for more than $2 trillion in relief for months leading up to the November election. In December, Congress passed a $900 billion compromise package.

Just a reminder: Haley’s newsletter comes out every Tuesday and Friday. To make sure you receive it in your inbox, make sure to opt-in on your account page.

Worth Your Time

  • In the wake of last week’s events, Rich Lowry revisited Michael Anton’s (in)famous 2016 “Flight 93 Election” essay, in which Anton urged Republicans to “charge the cockpit” (vote for Trump), or risk “dying” under a Clinton presidency. “Donald Trump finally did exactly what the foremost metaphor associated with his political rise would have suggested,” Lowry writes. “He plowed his plane straight into the ground.” Anton, Lowry continues, “wrote as if the end of the republic were upon us, and there’s nothing like a rabble storming a citadel of American democracy—assaulting police officers, ransacking the place and disrupting a constitutional procedure—to shake confidence in the stability of our system. Of course, it was the man Anton believed could be our savior who whipped up and urged on this crowd. The mob didn’t charge the cockpit metaphorically, but charged the Capitol literally, in the grip of a more extreme, rough-hewn version of Anton’s logic and narrative.”

  • Missing from a lot of the conversation about whether President Trump should have been impeached, and whether he should be convicted in the Senate, is the simple fact that the vast majority of Republican voters still like the guy. One can certainly make a compelling case that officials should not take those political considerations into account when making such hefty constitutional decisions, but they clearly do. In a piece for the Wall Street Journal, Joshua Jamerson reports from South Carolina on how elected officials who believe Trump to have been reckless—like freshman GOP Rep. Nancy Mace—are attempting to bridge the divide. “It’s clear that people, some people, have been brainwashed,” Mace said. “And I’m grappling with: How do we carefully and honestly pull these people out of it and bring them back into reality?” 

  • On the latest episode of The Argument podcast, host Jane Coaston leads one of the most thorough and elucidating conversations on Big Tech and Section 230 that we’ve heard. Coaston, a libertarian, believes the law should remain exactly as it was written. But she’s joined by Klon Kitchen and Danielle Keats Citron—hailing from the right and the left, respectively—who both want to reform the regulation for entirely different reasons. “The reality is that these companies have absolutely failed to win and to keep the public trust, and that in an especially heightened context like what we’re experiencing right now, that is a real problem,” Kitchen says. Coaston wonders if politicians are whipping up anti-tech fervor for political gain. “A lot of people are making it seem as if getting banned from Twitter in essentially a no shirt, no shoes, no service type issue is a First Amendment issue,” she says. “It just seems to be the kind of encouraged misunderstanding, the fanning of the flames of misunderstanding that we saw that helped us get into this mess.”

  • In a helpful legal explainer for The New York Times, University of Texas Law professor Stephen Vladeck certifies that, yes, the Senate can convict a president who has left office. Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution lays out the two distinct purposes of the impeachment trial: To remove officials from office and to disqualify them from holding federal office in the future. The latter goal is key in the upcoming trial, which is set to begin after President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. “The disqualification power is both the primary evidence and the central reason the Constitution allows for the impeachment of former officers,” Vladeck writes. “Were it otherwise, an officer facing impeachment, or an officer who has already been impeached and is about to be removed, could also avoid disqualification simply by resigning.”

Presented Without Comment

https://twitter.com/SeamusHughes/status/1349780242727133186

Also Presented Without Comment

https://twitter.com/EamonTewell/status/1349393508675833856

Toeing the Company Line

  • On Thursday’s episode of Advisory Opinions, Sarah and David discuss the legal mechanics of nominal damages and attorneys’ fees in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski (don’t ask them to pronounce it), Parler’s latest legal filings, and the Constitution’s speech and debate clause. 

Let Us Know

In the Wall Street Journal piece linked above, Rep. Nancy Mace says it’s clear that some people have been “brainwashed,” and that she’s grappling with how to “carefully and honestly pull these people out of it and bring them back into reality?” 

Have any advice for her?

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