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The Morning Dispatch: Trump Rallies for Loeffler and Perdue
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The Morning Dispatch: Trump Rallies for Loeffler and Perdue

Plus: Introducing our new newsletter, Uphill.

Happy Tuesday! And to our readers in Georgia, congratulations: After two exhausting months, you’re about to get your regular old fast food, beer, and car dealership TV commercials back!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced stringent new coronavirus lockdown measures yesterday in response to the new, more infectious strain of COVID-19 that has ravaged the United Kingdom in recent weeks. The lockdown—which goes into effect today—requires citizens to remain at home except to shop for necessities, exercise, seek medical treatment, or go to work (if unable to do so from home). Schools will remain open “only for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers,” and the lockdown will extend until at least mid-February.

  • Saudi Arabia and Qatar made moves toward ending a yearslong dispute on Monday, with Saudi Arabia opening its airspace and sea routes to Qatar for the first time since 2017. The Trump administration mediated the agreement, which one White House official called “the biggest breakthrough we’ve had to date.” 

  • Iran announced plans over the weekend to enrich uranium up to 20 percent at its underground Fordo nuclear facility “as soon as possible,” edging its nuclear program closer toward weapons-grade levels.

  • The United States confirmed 174,635 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 10.5 percent of the 1,658,282 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 1,808 deaths were attributed to the virus on Monday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 353,388. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 128,210 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 15,418,500 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed nationwide, and 4,563,260 have been administered.

Trump’s Georgia Rally on Election Eve

Just one day after the Washington Post published a recording of President Trump’s phone call pressuring Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn November’s presidential election in the Peach State, Trump made the trek to Georgia in an effort to shore up support for Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, two incumbent GOP senators whose fate in today’s runoff elections will determine control of Congress’ upper chamber for the next two years.

More than 3 million early and absentee ballots have already been cast, according to Ryan Anderson’s Georgia Votes project, surpassing the Georgia runoff turnout record—2.1 million votes in 2008—with Election Day itself still to come. Georgia doesn’t register voters by party, so it’s difficult to extract any definitive takeaways from this preliminary data. But elections analysts have been parsing these data by other factors—county, congressional district, race—and concluded that Democrats are doing what they need to do to put themselves in a position to complete the upset. (See this helpful piece from Erick Erickson explaining why Perdue in particular may outperform with black farmers in the southern part of the state.)

Trump’s job yesterday, therefore, was to generate enthusiasm among GOP voters and goose Election Day turnout so Perdue and Loeffler can overcome this early deficit. Early on, the president delivered. “Tomorrow, each of you is going to vote in one of the most important runoff elections in the history of our country,” he told the crowd in Dalton, Georgia. “The radical Democrats are trying to capture Georgia’s Senate seats, so they could wield unchecked, unrestrained, absolute power over every aspect of your lives.”

Trump also reassured his fans that Loeffler and Perdue are not on his ever-growing list of Republican enemies, letting GOP consultants and insiders breathe a collective sigh of relief. “Kelly fights for me, David fights for me,” the president said. “That I can tell you.” (The same could not be said for Sen. Mike Lee, who Trump said he is “a little angry at,” or Vice President Mike Pence, who Trump said he won’t like “quite as much” if Pence doesn’t “come through for us” on January 6.)

Loeffler briefly took the stage at Monday’s rally, praising the night’s headliner and railing against her Democratic challenger, Rev. Raphael Warnock. “[Warnock] attacked our police, our military. He spoke out against Israel, evangelicals, small businesses,” she said. “Georgia we are the firewall to socialism. We have to get it done.”

She also earned a roaring round of applause with an announcement: “On January 6, I will object to the Electoral College vote!”

Perdue didn’t attend the event in-person, as he is quarantining after coming “in close contact” with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. But the senator told Fox News on Monday that he found it  “disgusting” the president’s conversation with Raffensperger was leaked. “A lot of people in Georgia—and 75 million Americans, I think—align with [Trump] right now that something untoward happened here in Georgia, and we have not gotten to the bottom of it,” Perdue said.

During a drive-in rally in Atlanta on Monday afternoon, President-elect Joe Biden promoted Warnock and Perdue’s challenger, Jon Ossoff, before going after Loeffler and Perdue for what he sees as their unwavering loyalty to the president. “You have two senators now who think they don’t work for you, they work for Trump,” Biden said. “You have two senators now who think they swore an oath to Donald Trump, not the United States Constitution.”

The Republican trio’s message is an inherently tricky one to sell: The election was rigged against Republicans in November, but be sure to make time to vote tomorrow because every ballot counts. Making matters more difficult, ostensibly pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood has been crisscrossing the state, building a following and telling Republican voters not to vote in the runoff because fraud is so rampant. 

Trump, predictably, dabbled in some of these conspiracies last night—more than GOP officials were hoping he would. In fact, his conspiracy-tinged attacks on Raffensperger and fellow Republican Gov. Brian Kemp earned him the loudest applause (or, in this case, boos) of the night. “I’m going to be here in a year-and-a-half, and I’m going to be campaigning against your governor, and your crazy secretary of state,” Trump said. 

During a press conference at the Georgia state capitol yesterday, Republican election official (and recent Dispatch Podcast guest) Gabriel Sterling pushed back against the meritless conspiracy theories that the president continues to float regarding the state’s election process. “This is all easily, provably false,” Sterling said of the president’s repeated claims that the election was stolen. “Yet the president persists, and, by doing so, undermines Georgians’ faith in the election system.”

In a race as close as these two are supposed to be, a few thousand Republican voters staying home could be the difference between a check on the Biden administration and unified Democratic control of government. Privately, many Republicans worry that the president’s behavior in recent weeks—and the behavior it inspired in other GOP officials—could cost Loeffler and Perdue their seats. 

Trump seemed aware that a blame game could be on the horizon. “The one thing I know,” he said last night, “If they win, I’ll get no credit. And if they lose, they’re going to blame Trump.”

A New Dispatch Newsletter Appears

Since joining The Dispatch last month, Haley Byrd Wilt has had her hands full reporting on the Hill, doing some editing, and writing some TMD items (for which we are eternally grateful). But today, she is officially kicking off what will become her main focus: Uphill, a twice weekly newsletter drilling down on the people and policy debates dominating the greatest legislative body in the world, the United States Congress.

From Haley:

This is a newsletter for people who want to know more about how their government works. We want to provide insightful, accessible reporting for those who want to understand what’s happening on Capitol Hill but aren’t obsessed with the daily news cycle. We’ll bring you critical yet fair coverage of the people in power. We’ll follow landmark legislation and partisan gridlock as the Biden administration takes power. We will also report on various factions in both parties and how congressional leaders try to keep their parties unified ahead of the 2022 midterms. We’ll try our best not to get caught up in all of the squabbles of the day. We’ll take time to highlight members who are doing good work on important issues like human rights. And you should probably get used to us complaining about each chamber’s remarkably closed legislative process, which restricts debate and limits member involvement. 

While this is not meant to be a newsletter for DC insiders—we’ll avoid the kind of Capitol Hill shorthand that’s both confusing and off-putting, and we’ll try to keep our use of caps lock to a minimum—we’re confident members of Congress and their staff will find it an interesting read, too. (Send us tips!)

To receive Uphill in your inbox every Tuesday and Friday, be sure to opt-in by updating your Dispatch account settings here (or go to www.thedispatch.com/account).

Haley’s entire inaugural newsletter is well worth your time, but we’re calling particular attention today to her explainer on tomorrow’s counting of the Electoral College votes, and what you can expect.

Congress will convene in a joint session on Wednesday to count Electoral College votes. More than 100 House Republicans, along with at least a dozen GOP senators, are expected to object to the results in various key states such as Pennsylvania. The move has provoked widespread conflict among Republicans as President Donald Trump’s time in office draws to a close.

GOP lawmakers spent the weekend fighting over the plan, with House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney urging members not to support it. Retired former House Speaker Paul Ryan also decried the effort.

“It is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act than a federal intervention to overturn the results of state-certified elections and disenfranchise millions of Americans,” he said. “The fact that this effort will fail does not mean it will not do significant damage to American democracy.”

And conservatives like Reps. Chip Roy and Thomas Massie argued Congress isn’t meant to dictate election results to the states.

The pushback from various corners of the party hasn’t made a dent in the effort, though. 

So, what can we expect on Wednesday? We know already that it will be a long process. But how many hours members will have to debate various slates of electors and vote on the results depends largely on how many states Republican senators are planning to challenge. Rules for the counting of the Electoral College dictate that any objection to a state’s electoral votes must be signed by at least one senator and one representative. 

Various House Republicans are expected to challenge results from Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. But it’s not clear that all of these challenges will receive the necessary backing from a GOP senator. The Republican senators who have announced they will object to the results have, unhelpfully, not yet disclosed which specific states they plan to contest. 

During the joint session, states will be addressed in alphabetical order. Arizona will be the first to watch. When an objection with support from a member of both chambers does arise, the House and Senate will separate for up to two hours of debate each. According to the rules, members will be permitted to speak just once during debate, and for no longer than five minutes. After debate, each chamber will vote. An objection will be successful only if both houses of Congress vote to agree to it by simple majority. 

Reminder: When all is said and done, this won’t change the results. It will only delay the tallying of electoral votes. Democrats control the House. It is very unlikely that any challenge will succeed in that chamber. In the Senate, many Republicans are expected to oppose their colleagues’ efforts to reject the outcome of the election.

How long it will take to dispense with each objection will be complicated by coronavirus safety procedures. 

The House has primarily voted in smaller groups during the pandemic to ensure social distancing. This makes voting a lengthy process, often taking more than an hour. Members also need time to get to the floor from their offices, since not everyone votes at the same time. For virtually all members other than leaders, those offices are not in the Capitol but in congressional office buildings a couple blocks away. It’s not the most efficient setup. Before the pandemic, votes could unfold much quicker—a matter of minutes if members were already on the floor—though the first vote in a series would still usually take 20 to 30 minutes as members meandered over from their offices. (It would take longer if members were moving slowly for various reasons, like being tied up in committee hearings.) 

After votes, it will also take time to disinfect the chamber. 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters on Monday that if there are challenges to all six states Trump’s allies have targeted, it could take up to four hours to address each one, factoring in the two hours for debate and the time it will take for both chambers to finish voting. If you’re keeping track, that’s 24 hours.

In fact, it’s possible Congress won’t wrap up proceedings until sometime Thursday. 

Worth Your Time

  • Dispatch contributor Yuval Levin is one of the most compelling writers and thinkers in the country, and his latest piece for National Review is no exception. In it, he highlights the importance of keeping populist movements from drifting into a fantasy realm (“dealing with reality is what governing consists of”) before turning to the cynicism on display from countless GOP officials in recent weeks. “To knowingly pretend a lie is true is, simply put, to lie,” he writes. “Doing that carefully enough to let you claim you’re only raising questions only makes it even clearer that you know you’re lying. Lying to people is no way to speak for them or represent them. It is a way of showing contempt for them, and of using them rather than being useful to them. This is what too many Republican politicians have chosen to do in the wake of the election. They have decided to feign anger at a problem that cannot be solved because it does not exist, and this cannot help but make them less capable of taking up real problems on behalf of their voters.”

  • Last night, Fox News anchor Bret Baier interviewed one of the senators leading the post-election charade, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley from Missouri, whose announcement that he will object to certifying the election for Joe Biden ensured that Congress will go through the convulsions tomorrow that Haley describes above. Baier asked Hawley what should have been an easy question: Why are you doing what you’re doing? And Hawley stumbled. “Are you trying to say that as of January 20, that President Trump will be president?” Baier asked. “Well Bret, that depends on what happens on Wednesday. This is why we have the debate …” Hawley responded, prompting Baier to interject with some reality. “No, it doesn’t. The states — by the Constitution — say they certify the election. They did certify the election. By the Constitution, Congress doesn’t have the right to overturn the certification, at least as most experts read it.” When Hawley protested that he was just taking the opportunity to object on behalf of his constituents who have questions, Baier asked: “Don’t you have a responsibility to your constituents to tell them that it’s not going to be President Trump as of Jan. 21 as well?” The whole thing is a master class in respectful but aggressive interviewing and well worth watching. 

  • The presidential transfer of power that takes place on Inauguration Day is largely a ritualistic affair, with the former president passing the mantle of power of the people’s government to the new one at the stroke of noon. But there are significant logistical transitions that take place, too—notably, the passing of the “nuclear football,” the briefcase containing communication tools and strike options the president would need in the event of a sudden breakout of nuclear war. Yesterday, a TMD reader sent in an interesting question—how do they handle the football if Trump skips Biden’s inauguration, as it has been reported he might?  This Business Insider piece breaks down the answer: “If another nuclear football had not already been prepared, one likely would be before the inauguration. There would be a military aide ready then to begin following Biden as soon as he is sworn in. And, at that time, Trump’s nuclear command and control authority would presumably expire.” Less symbolically powerful than a handoff—but enough to get the job done.

  • The new, highly transmissible COVID-19 mutation being in the United States should dramatically increase the urgency of getting vaccines in people’s arms, Zeynep Tufekci writes in a piece for The Atlantic. Experts don’t believe the new variant is more lethal than SARS-CoV-2, but a “more transmissible variant is in some ways much more dangerous than a more severe variant,” Tufekci argues. “The speed of the vaccine rollout is of enormous importance,” she continues. “There is a tsunami heading our way, and we are ferrying people to a high point. Everyone we transport up to the top is safe, but even better, they can also help other people get to safety.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • We here at TMD greatly missed the Advisory Opinions podcast the past few weeks; Sarah and David had a lot to catch up on in their return. Did Trump commit election fraud during his phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger? Will his election conspiracy theorizing depress Republican turnout in Tuesday’s Georgia Senate races? What should we expect when Congress convenes on Wednesday to count the Electoral College votes?

Let Us Know

We’re so excited that Haley’s Uphill newsletter is finally here. What are some big themes in the next Congress you’d like to see her explore? Which members of Congress do you think will have the most interesting trajectories in the coming months and years?

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