Centrist senators are trying to get a stimulus package passed at long last, while the Trump administration frets about a pressing question: Who among them might need a pardon? It’s Wednesday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.
Where things stand
The president has discussed with advisers whether to issue pre-emptive pardons to a number of people in his inner circle, fearing they might be the subject of prosecution after he leaves office. He is considering them for three of his five children — Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump — and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a White House senior adviser, as well as for Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer.
Giuliani, who has pushed baseless conspiracy theories as he fights the election results, discussed the possibility of receiving a pre-emptive pardon from President Trump last week, people familiar with the discussions told our reporters Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt. It was not the first time the subject had come up between the president and Giuliani.
The nature of Trump’s concern about any possible criminal exposure of his family members or Giuliani is unclear.
The Justice Department has also been investigating whether intermediaries for a federal convict offered White House officials a bribe in exchange for a potential pardon or commutation from Trump, according to court documents unsealed yesterday.
Large parts of the documents were redacted and it was unclear who might have been involved; no one had been charged with a crime. There was also nothing tying Trump directly to the episode.
The disclosure of the documents, which are part of a district court proceeding in Washington, raised new questions about the process by which Trump grants clemency to people including his allies, a number of whom may be hoping for pardons in the final weeks of the president’s administration.
With the Trump campaign’s efforts to contest the election pinned against the ropes, the president has turned his wrath against his own Justice Department. And yesterday William Barr, the attorney general, shot back, saying that the department had not uncovered evidence of consequential voter fraud.
“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told The Associated Press. His comments contradicted Trump’s claims that the election was plagued by enormous fraud.
This week, Trump had vaguely and groundlessly implied that the Justice Department and the F.B.I. might have been “involved” in corrupting the election. Trump’s decision to antagonize his own Justice Department could be a preview of how he will continue to avoid admitting defeat even as he leaves the White House.
Joe Biden introduced his economic team yesterday in a speech that urged Congress to act on a stimulus package before he arrived in office. He acknowledged that Democrats would not get everything they wanted in a deal with Republicans during the lame-duck session, but he insisted that at least a modest bill was necessary to prevent a double-dip recession.
A bipartisan group of centrist senators announced yesterday morning that they were working on a $908 billion compromise stimulus bill, but within a few hours Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, said he was working up his own substantially smaller proposal with Republican leaders in the White House and the House. Since May, McConnell has refused to allow a Senate vote on the $3 trillion stimulus bill passed by the Democratically controlled House.
The compromise framework, spearheaded by Senators Joe Manchin and Susan Collins, would restore federal unemployment benefits that lapsed over the summer, but at $300 a week instead of $600. It would also provide $160 billion for state, local and tribal governments.
Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, defended his decision to cut short lending programs set up under stimulus legislation passed this year, a move Democrats have said will sabotage the economy under Biden. Mnuchin said yesterday that the economy had “regained 58 percent of the lost jobs” and was recovering more quickly than expected.
Photo of the day
Biden demonstrated his mobility in a walking boot he is wearing after breaking his foot while playing with his dog.
How closely aligned with the health care industry should Biden’s coronavirus czar be?
Joe Biden has not yet announced who will coordinate his response to the pandemic — but when he does, that person is likely to be one of the more prominent members of his administration, at least for part of next year. Beginning a national effort to contain the outbreak was a pillar of Biden’s presidential campaign.
The rumored front-runner for the position is Jeffrey Zients, a former economic adviser to President Barack Obama with a long and varied history as an executive in the health care industry. Our reporter Alan Rappeport took a close look at Zients’s record in a new article, and at the blowback Biden is receiving from progressive groups over the possible choice.
Hi Alan. Zients in some ways has a profile that seems almost tailor-made to worry progressives. He was on the board of Facebook for two years, has longtime ties to the health care industry, and as a member of Obama’s economic council was one of the more business-friendly architects of that administration’s response to the 2008 crash — a response that has been criticized by many on the left as not going far enough on behalf of consumers. Why might Biden, who appears to be staffing his own economic council with firmly pro-labor economists, see Zients’s perspective as the right one to coordinate the coronavirus response?
At first glance, Zients does appear to be everything that progressives would hate. But the fact is that he was seen as something of a star in the Obama administration and, despite his business background, had championed some policies that progressives do care about.
In many ways, though, coordinating the coronavirus response is a more logical fit. In this role, Zients will not be involved with economic policymaking, but he will be able to put his strong management and operational skills to use in dealing with a challenge that will require a broad understanding of both government and industry.
The Revolving Door Project, a watchdog group, compiled a 13-page dossier of sorts on Zients, as part of its effort to head off his selection. What are the group’s main concerns?
They were very concerned about his work at Facebook and his recent work as chief executive of Cranemere, an investment fund that buys companies. Facebook is a political pariah these days. One of the companies that Cranemere took a stake in on Zients’s watch had been accused of improper billing practices.
The group found it worrying that Zients, who is a multimillionaire, would be involved in such ventures — especially since he does not need the money. They were also put off by comments he has made over the years about hearing out business lobbyists and wanting to reduce the deficit.
In coordinating a national effort to contain the pandemic, Zients would be filling a role that has no precedent in the current administration. To what degree is it seen as important for the person in this position to enter the job with ties to the health care industry so that the official can swiftly set up shop, so to speak?
This will depend on how President-elect Biden decides to shape the job. In the current administration, Vice President Mike Pence has been the high-level coordinator of the coronavirus task force. Peter Navarro was deeply involved with coordinating Covid supply chain matters for a while this year.
Delivering vaccines to hundreds of millions of people and ramping up testing capacity is an unprecedented task. Knowledge of the health care industry will be useful if Zients gets the job, but most important will be his ability to build a strong team of experts from various fields and run an efficient operation.
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