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The Morning Dispatch: The Prosecution Rests
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The Morning Dispatch: The Prosecution Rests

Plus: The Biden administration prepares to roll out new school reopening guidance.

Happy Friday! Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Abraham Lincoln was great. Things should continue to be named after Abraham Lincoln.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • President Biden announced yesterday that his administration has secured an additional combined 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna, to be delivered by July. The 200 million doses are on top of the combined 400 million the two companies had already pledged to provide the United States, bringing the total to 600 million doses.

  • Melissa DeRosa, a top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, privately apologized on a call with Democratic lawmakers for withholding New York’s nursing home COVID-19 death toll, according to a recording of the call acquired by the New York Post. DeRosa said “we froze” out of fear that the actual numbers would “be used against us” by federal prosecutors.

  • Biden officially rescinded former President Trump’s February 2019 national emergency proclamation initiating the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border using billions of dollars of redirected military funds.

  • Biden on Wednesday spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time since he assumed office last month. According to a White House readout of the call, the two discussed Beijing’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, repression of democracy in Hong Kong, and regional aggression. In a meeting with U.S. Senators after the call, Biden reportedly doubled down on his ambition to ramp up domestic production and infrastructure to counter China’s “coercive and unfair trade practices.”

  • China’s broadcasting regulator removed BBC World News from the air for undermining “China’s national interests and ethnic solidarity.” The move follows Britain’s communications regulator revoking a Chinese state-run television network’s broadcast license last week.

  • The United States confirmed 109,960 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 5.9 percent of the 1,863,994 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 3,914 deaths were attributed to the virus on Thursday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 475,291. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 74,225 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1,620,300 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, bringing the nationwide total to 46,390,270.

Impeachment Managers Rest Their Case

So far in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, the House impeachment managers’ most effective argumentative tactic by far has been to make their claims and then immediately back them up with video evidence from the day of the Capitol riot. In their final day of arguments yesterday, the managers used this technique to devastating effect against the linchpin of Trump’s defense: That the Capitol insurrectionists had rioted not at Trump’s direction, but—in the words of the defense—“of their own accord and for their own reasons.”

“In the next few minutes, I want to step back from the horrors of the attack itself and look at January 6 from a totally different perspective: The perspective of the rioters themselves,” said Rep. Diana DeGette in her opening remarks. “Their own statements before, during, and after the attack made clear the attack was done for Donald Trump, at his instructions, and to fulfill his wishes. Donald Trump had sent them there. They truly believed that the whole intrusion was at the president’s orders, and we know that, because they said so.”

What followed was a barrage of concrete evidence demonstrating exactly that.

Citing affidavits, legal testimony, press interviews, and archival footage from the attack itself, managers produced one rioter after another who plainly thought they were doing what they were doing on behalf of and at the request of President Trump. Video footage showed rioters chanting “fight for Trump” as they surged through police lines and into the Capitol, demanding that police stand down because their actions were authorized by a higher authority.

“You’re outnumbered—there’s a f—ing million of us out there,” a rioter speaking for a knot of men yelled at police barring their way within the Capitol itself. “And we’re listening to Trump—your boss.”

When the carnage had ended and Trump finally issued his belated request for rioters to disperse (telling them “we love you” in the process), many in the crowd took it as marching orders. “Today is ours, we won the day,” a man shouted through a bullhorn just outside the Capitol. “That’s right, Donald Trump has just asked everybody to just go home. You can look it up on his Twitter, he just did a video.”

Others later cited Trump’s blessing as they defended their conduct to reporters. “I do not feel a sense of shame or guilt in my heart for what I was doing,” Texas real estate agent Jennifer Ryan said in the aftermath of the riot. “I thought I was following my president, I thought I was following what we were called to do. He asked us to fly there; he asked us to be there.”

(It’s worth pausing here to note how remarkable it is that Trump, after asking his most loyal followers to travel to D.C., march down to the Capitol, and fight for him and America, has now completely hung them out to dry in his own defense. They thought they were standing up for him, and at the time he praised them for it. Now, his legal team disavows them entirely and speaks approvingly of their impending prosecutions.)

The managers went on to emphasize that Trump had given no indication he would be unwilling to inspire similar chaos in the future. Indeed, Trump has refused to this day to acknowledge his role in whipping up the crowd, or that the election was not actually stolen from him. An official who faced no consequences for stoking political violence on a huge scale, managers said, would be emboldened to try to do it again.

“I’m not afraid Donald Trump is going to run again,” said Rep. Ted Lieu during his remarks. “I’m afraid he’s going to run and lose. Because he’s going to do this again.”

President Trump’s defense will respond to managers’ arguments today, and is expected to take only the single day of proceedings to do so. Their task is daunting in one sense—the case House managers have presented is simple and persuasive—and pro forma in another: Republican senators have still given no indication they have been swayed en masse to favor conviction.

“I don’t think anything has occurred that would change your mind,” Sen. Roy Blunt told reporters, “if your view is that you can’t impeach a former president.”

Biden and the Schools

During a press briefing Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden aims “to have the majority of schools, so more than 50 percent, open by Day 100 of his presidency.” She said this reopening plan would entail “some teaching in classrooms, so at least one day a week, hopefully it’s more.”

Facing criticism for that underwhelming promise, Psaki walked back on those comments Thursday, clarifying that parents “shouldn’t be” satisfied with sending their children to school just one day per week. “I wouldn’t be, as a parent—and I am a parent.”

Despite Psaki’s rhetorical nod toward in-person instruction by day 100 of the Biden presidency, the White House’s concrete progress on encouraging states to reopen K-12 schools seems to be lagging far behind the recommendations of public health officials. 

For months now, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data have consistently shown that the coronavirus transmission rate among K-12 aged children is significantly lower than public officials had originally feared. Dr. Rochelle Walenskey—the new CDC director under Biden—made that point last week during a White House briefing, declaring that “vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.”  

“Yes, [the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices] has put teachers in the 1B category, the category of essential workers,” Walensky said at a CDC briefing on February 3. “But I also want to be clear that there’s increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that that safe opening does not suggest that teachers should need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely.”

The following day, Psaki distanced the White House from her comments, saying that Walensky was speaking only “in her personal capacity.” 

“Obviously, she’s the head of the CDC, but we’re going to wait for the final guidance to come out so we can use that as a guide for schools around the country,” Psaki continued. The guidance is expected to be released later today.

The data has consistently shown that academic performance is trending downward among children in remote learning environments. “While the worst-case scenarios from the spring may have been averted, the cumulative learning loss could be substantial, especially in mathematics—with students on average likely to lose five to nine months of learning by the end of this school year,” reads a McKinsey report from December. The difficulties have not affected kids equally. “While all students are suffering, those who came into the pandemic with the fewest academic opportunities are on track to exit with the greatest learning loss.”

These achievement gaps are being disproportionately felt among children who don’t live in stable or affluent households, children with disabilities, or children for whom English is a second language. “Sometimes when you hear folks on the left talk about this, they seem to give the impression that this is like a luxury vacation for middle-class kids,” said Dr. Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, who wrote about this issue for The Dispatch earlier this week. “That’s not the case. All kids are being harmed.” 

Then why are partial statewide school closures still in effect in Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Delaware, and D.C.? Even though virtually every indicator shows that in-person teaching is crucial to the development and well-being of young children, teachers unions have made their opposition to reopening efforts clear. Only this week did rank-and-file Chicago Teachers Union members finally vote to approve a tentative agreement to reopen schools that have been closed since March of last year.

School administration is ultimately a state and local issue, not a federal one. The responsibility for returning to in-person learning has to be made by governors, mayors, and school boards. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, for example, finally called on all schools in the state to offer in-person learning by March 15. But leaders across the country—particularly Democrats—are looking to the White House for clear guidance on the issue, and have thus far not received it.

GOP lawmakers have made clear their frustration with the Biden administration’s refusal to push back against teachers unions. “Dr. Fauci, whose expertise was supposed to guide the Biden Administration’s whole approach, said last week, ‘We can keep the children in school and get them back to school safely,’” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor last week. “Apparently Big Labor’s talking points have already displaced Dr. Fauci as the White House’s go-to source.”

“The President’s Chief of Staff keeps saying we need even more massive federal funding before teachers can go back,” McConnell continued. “There’s no scientific basis for that.” Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan includes $130 billion in funding for K-12 schools across the country, which the White House says will be directed toward improved ventilation, personal protective equipment, and janitorial fees, among other amenities.

Hess said that teachers have an obligation to do their work in-person, except in extreme cases like last spring, when the data on in-person transmission rates among children simply didn’t exist. “When schools tell us they’re essential, it’s partly for the socializing mission,” Hess said. “If firefighters said, ‘Tell you what, we’re gonna mail you a hose and we’ll talk you through a firefight by Zoom,’ we would say ‘That’s not what you guys are paid for.’”

Worth Your Time

  • In Politico this morning, Tim Alberta has a monster profile of Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, former US Ambassador to the UN, and future presidential candidate. The piece is exhaustively reported, based on six hours of interviews with Haley and nearly 70 interviews with sources in her orbit. When Alberta presses Haley on Trump’s post-election behavior and his propagation of lies about his defeat, she reveals she’s spoken to him but never made the obvious point: You lost. When Alberta asks why, she responds: “He believes it.” Like so many other Republicans, Haley knew the truth and refused to act on it, which had the effect of misleading millions of Republican voters across the country. “The resulting paralysis could be seen across the GOP, but Haley was a special case. She knew she could not afford to antagonize the president. But her rationalizations for his behavior were so strained that they called into question her own judgment. This was a test for Haley, an early opportunity to define herself on a question of great national urgency. And she was failing.”

  • One of the many outgrowths of the Trump era was the ascent of organizations dedicated to ending it. The Lincoln Project, best known of the “Never Trump” groups, has fallen apart as quickly as it rose to prominence, as at least ten distinct sexual harassment allegations against its co-founder, John Weaver, have come to light in recent days. In a deep dive for the Associated Press, Steve Peoples and Brian Slodysko evaluate some of the reasons why accusations against Weaver may have gone unaddressed for so long. “Of the $90 million Lincoln Project has raised, more than $50 million has gone to firms controlled by the group’s leaders,” they write. “There is no evidence that the Lincoln Project buried the allegations against Weaver for business reasons. But taken together, the harassment allegations and new revelations about spending practices raise significant questions about the management of one of the highest-profile antagonists of Trump.”

  • If progressivism doesn’t work in California, Ezra Klein asks, why should the country believe it can work elsewhere? As state and municipal leaders set their sights on instituting a series of “woke” social reforms, Klein takes a look into the ways that poor procedural governance harms underserved communities in his latest for the New York Times. California has the highest poverty rate in the nation, suffers from a homelessness crisis, and has marred the early stages of its vaccine rollout. “California wants to be the future, but its governing institutions are stuck in the past. Its structures of decision making too often privilege incumbents who like things the way they are over those who need them to change,” Klein writes. “There is a danger—not just in California, but everywhere—that politics becomes an aesthetic rather than a program.”

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Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In this week’s Vital Interests (🔒),Thomas Joscelyn critiques “The Longer Telegram,” a policy paper authored by an anonymous former senior government official and published by The Atlantic Council. The essay—which puts forth a new American China strategy—makes a number of contradictory and unsupported claims about President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party, Joscelyn writes. “The author of ‘The Longer Telegram’ chastises American officials for failing to see Xi Jinping as a unique evil within the CCP,” he argues. “But a careful reading of his own document reveals something else—that Xi’s rise and tyrannical goals are not surprising.”

  • On the latest episode of Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah dig deeper into the impeachment hearing. Why did the House put forth an article of impeachment so limited in its scope? And why did House impeachment managers expand on the article’s premises in a way that likely alienated Republican senators who otherwise could have been more sympathetic to conviction? Also tune in to hear David and Sarah talk about everyone’s new favorite viral video: The cat lawyer. 

Let Us Know

For the parents and grandparents: Where are you at in your pandemic learning journey? Are your kids/grandkids back in the classroom yet? What were the best and worst parts about having them home?

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