We all knew President DONALD TRUMP’s term would end badly. It had to. There were just too many lies. Too many conspiracy theories. Too many times where journalists searched their syllabuses for new ways to say “unprecedented” and where Americans across the country sat aghast learning just how low we could go in our own eyes and in the eyes of the world.
As I said during PBS NewsHour’s special coverage Wednesday, “The false information has consequences. The conspiracy theories have consequences.”
In the aftermath of what can only accurately be described as an armed insurrection in our capital city, we are still sinking even lower with each hour, past our nation’s basement floor and into the very foundation of our democracy. Burned into our collective souls are the brutal images of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing and now the Jan. 6 Siege at the Capitol.
A quick pause. I’m Yamiche Alcindor, the White House correspondent for PBS NewsHour.
For years now, I have covered the Trump administration up close and watched him create a house of mirrors for fervent followers to replicate at their dinner tables, at their city council meetings and in their own city capitals. I talked to sources who enabled his lies and who saw in Trump a vehicle for all their political dreams to come true.
I’m also someone you may recognize as the woman Trump has called threatening and nasty. I’ve experienced firsthand what it feels like when the ire of the president targets you, and some of that rage that exploded in the Capitol has at times made its way into my inbox courtesy of the president’s anger at my questions. I’m honored to guest write today’s Playbook during this historic week. You can follow me on Twitter at @Yamiche or on Instagram at @yamichepbs.
Oh, and please watch “Washington Week” on PBS at 8 p.m. tonight. I’m guest hosting it and there is a lot to discuss.
Now, processing all of this week’s news has been tough, even for a news junkie like me. Two days after seeing the physical manifestations of Trump’s yearslong disinformation campaign, I am frankly still shaken, still feeling goosebumps run up my arms each time I see photos of the mob, fueled by our president, freely having their way with the headquarters of the United States Congress.
I keep thinking about my Haitian ancestors, who like many immigrants came to this country fleeing a dictator in the 1970s and seeking political stability. I keep thinking about the immigrants I interviewed for a NewsHour story who fled political instability to come to the United States. They stressed that democracy is fragile. Francois Pierre-Louis, who immigrated from Haiti after his uncles were murdered by a dictator there, told me something that now seems like a premonition. He said last month, Trump “has all these people out there mobilizing for him, and these people are armed, they’re threatening people, sooner or later, they can go out there and start violence.”
And I keep thinking about a president who loves attention, who welcomes all press, even bad press. Yesterday, my husband (hi Nate!) and I drove around for a while trying to get physical copies of newspapers. But after visiting a dozen or so places, we learned the papers had long sold out.
That is when it dawned on me just how fitting of an end this is for Trump, who kicked off what now feels like one big never-ending news cycle the moment the reality television personality descended from the escalators of Trump Towers in 2015. He fought, lied and argued his way into the Oval Office with grievance politics, racist rhetoric and an effective ability to convince millions of people that he was the embodiment of their pains and their frustrations about a changing America.
But what are we left with now? How will the country go forward? How will President-elect JOE BIDEN heal the soul of a nation that just watched American democracy bend and almost break? And what more could happen as we are only eight days into 2021?
Trump hinted at his preferred answer at the end of his Thursday address, saying, “Our incredible journey is only just beginning.”
But, haven’t we already seen and experienced enough?
So where are we now, 12 days before the end of Trump’s term and two days after the nation watched armed, entitled Americans storm our revered building?
Another death was confirmed late Thursday night: United States Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died after he was injured while clashing with protesters Wednesday. Four other deaths were previously reported, including Ashli Babbitt, who was shot while inside the Capitol.
The pressure on Trump to resign is growing. The New York Times also reports that Trump has suggested to aides he wants to pardon himself in the final days of his presidency. Meanwhile, he continues to lose access to social media platforms.
House Democrats are threatening to go forward with articles of impeachment if Trump isn’t removed. That could continue to the civics lessons for Americans have been going through these past few years. We have already done deep dives into whether a president can be indicted, how impeachment works. We are experts in the multiple steps of the Electoral College process. And, now we even know how objections work when Congress is counting the electoral votes at the very end.
Soon, we may learn how Congress can impeach a president even after he has left office if they want to make sure he is banned from ever holding federal office again. Here’s a deep dive on the plausibility from The Washington Post.
The White House is continuing to refuse to take questions, with nothing scheduled on Trump’s agenda today. In a press conference that lasted less than two minutes, White House press secretary KAYLEIGH MCENANY came to the podium of the briefing room, condemned the violence on behalf of “White House workers” and said the violence was the “opposite” of the administration. Then, she sprinted out of the room as reporters yelled questions, mimicking the scene of the first White House press briefing, when former press secretary SEAN SPICER falsely claimed that Trump’s inauguration crowd sizes were bigger than those of former President BARACK OBAMA.
Trump did release a two-and-a-half-minute video doing what he has never done: admitting his time in office was coming to an end. “A new administration will be inaugurated on Jan. 20. My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation,” he said. Though, it’s impossible to imagine the 2020 election and 2021 transition ever being described as “smooth, orderly and seamless” no matter what happens next.
The New York Times reports, “Mr. Trump initially resisted taping the video, agreeing to do it only after aides pressed him and he appeared to suddenly realize he could face legal risk for prodding the mob, coming shortly after the chief federal prosecutor for Washington left open the possibility of investigating the president for illegally inciting the attack by telling supporters to march on the Capitol and show strength.”
The Washington Post reports this scene from Wednesday: “Cloistered in the White House, Trump raged uncontrollably about perceived acts of betrayal. He tuned out advisers who pleaded with him to act responsibly. He was uninterested in trying to repair what he had wrought. And he continued to insist he had won the election, even as his own vice president certified the fact that he had not.” Scary.
Meanwhile, resignations from the Trump administration keep growing, including these high-ranking officials: Education Secretary BETSY DEVOS, Transportation Secretary ELAINE CHAO and MATTHEW POTTINGER, the deputy national security adviser.
But critics of these last-minute defections say it’s too little too late.
There were a number of collective eye rolls when former White House chief of staff MICK MULVANEY, who resigned from his post as special envoy to Northern Ireland, said of Trump Thursday on CNBC: “Clearly [Trump] is not the same as he was 8 months ago.” Former NFL wide receiver DONTÉ STALLWORTH tweeted the group was akin to quitting a game with five seconds on the clock.
Meanwhile, there is a widening rift within the Republican Party, with some defending Trump, per The New York Times: “They downplayed the violence as acts of desperation by people who felt lied to by the news media and ignored by their elected representatives. They deflected with false equivalencies about the Democratic Party’s embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement.” (Nevermind that Trump an hour before the violence broke out pledged to keep up the “fight” and explicitly told supporters at his Wednesday rally that they would be marching to the Capitol.)
On the other side: The Washington Post reports that one Republican operative at the RNC meeting in Florida told the paper, “People are freaking fed up. Repeatedly, what I kept hearing over and over again was that the president is responsible for the loss in Georgia and the president is responsible for what happened yesterday.”
A source close to Trump sounded somewhat gleeful as he defended the president to me and talked about the road ahead, saying his supporters represented “voters who are absolutely overwhelmingly a nationalist America first movement, fully on board with the president’s agenda.” Meanwhile, the president’s former personal attorney MICHAEL COHEN told me it is “without question” that “Trump will continue to act and behave abysmally, like a petulant child.”
Some — including former first lady MICHELLE OBAMA — are pointing out what they see as the hypocrisy of a mostly white mob being allowed to stroll out of the Capitol when Black people peacefully protesting police violence have been tear gassed and arrested by the hundreds in cities like Ferguson, Mo., after the death of Michael Brown and Minneapolis after the death of George Floyd.
The L.A. Times reports, Michelle Obama “highlighted the double standard of policing seen at the Capitol compared to how police officers responded at largely peaceful Black Lives Matter protests. In some cases, officers who had not been provoked by Black Lives Matter protesters nevertheless beat them with batons and shields and fired rubber bullets at close range. At times, officers faced looting and vandalism. … As the rioters stormed the capitol Wednesday, the NAACP offered a simple message on Twitter: ‘They have killed us for less.’”
Other headlines, via the Playbook team:
THE EFFORT TO REMOVE THE PRESIDENT …
— “Pelosi calls for Trump’s immediate ouster after deadly riots,” by POLITICO’s Sarah Ferris, Melanie Zanona, Heather Caygle and Kyle Cheney
— BUT, BUT, BUT: “Pence opposes 25th Amendment efforts to remove Trump following Capitol riot, VP advisors tell Insider,” Business Insider
— WSJ TO TRUMP: Resign
THE NEWLY PEACEFUL TRANSFER — “Pence expected to attend Biden’s inauguration,” by Gabby Orr and Anita Kumar
HOW IT HAPPENED — “‘Hashtags come to life’: How online extremists fueled Wednesday’s Capitol Hill insurrection,” by Tina Nguyen and Mark Scott
WHAT TO WORRY ABOUT NEXT … “Justice Department warns of national security fallout from Capitol Hill insurrection,” by Natasha Bertrand … “Inauguration planners reassessing security after Capitol siege,” by Chris Cadelago and Tyler Pager
THE BIDEN CABINET — POLITICO’s Eleanor Mueller and Tyler Pager scooped that Boston Mayor MARTY WALSH is Biden’s pick for LABOR secretary … Rhode Island Gov. GINA RAIMONDO for COMMERCE … ISABEL GUZMAN for SBA.
— WaPo’s @seungminkim: “This will mark the first time in 20 years that there has been no AAPI secretary in the Cabinet — even after Asian voters helped Biden win key states such as Georgia. AAPI lawmakers lobbied hard for Julie Su for Labor.”
SEN. JOSH HAWLEY IS ON THE HOT SEAT. On Thursday, he …
— Was called out by his home-state St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a “tardy, cover-his-ass condemnation of the violence” that “ranks at the top of his substantial list of phony, smarmy and politically expedient declarations.”
— Was slammed by his former mentor. “‘The biggest mistake I’ve ever made.’ Danforth rues mentoring Hawley, blames him for riot,” Kansas City Star
— And was denounced by one of his key donors. “Major Josh Hawley donor calls for him to be censured by the U.S. Senate,” Missouri Independent
CORONAVIRUS LATEST … A record 4,033 Americans died of Covid-19 on Thursday. 266,000 new cases were reported.
TRUMP’S FRIDAY — The president and VP MIKE PENCE have nothing on their public schedules.
— Biden and VP-elect KAMALA HARRIS will make a transition announcement in Wilmington, Del., receive the President’s Daily Brief and meet with transition advisers. Harris “will also participate in a virtual event thanking supporters of the Biden-Harris campaign.”
NEWSFLASH FROM 1971 — “Now It Can Be Told: How Neil Sheehan Got the Pentagon Papers,” NYT … Sheehan’s NYT obituary
TV TONIGHT — PBS’ “Washington Week,” hosted by Yamiche Alcindor: Nancy Cordes, Astead Herndon, Philip Rucker and Jake Sherman.
SUNDAY SO FAR …
“America This Week”: HHS Secretary Alex Azar … Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) … Dave Rubin … Corey Lewandowski.
“Fox News Sunday”: Panel: Josh Holmes, Marie Harf and Jonathan Swan. Power Player: Gitanjali Rao.
“Meet the Press”: Panel: Kasie Hunt, Hallie Jackson, Jeh Johnson and Peggy Noonan.
“This Week”: Panel: Chris Christie, Rahm Emanuel, Yvette Simpson and Sarah Isgur.
Programming note: You’ll notice some guest writers as we prepare to officially relaunch Playbook on Jan. 19. In the meantime, we also want to hear from you: What do you love most about Playbook? How could we be more valuable to you? Let us know — we’ll read every submission.
Send tips to Eli Okun and Garrett Ross at [email protected].
Mommm! The proud parents of CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, whose reporting from the Washington riots was a viral event Wednesday, meet the press outside their home in Cahersiveen, Ireland, in this delightful video.
IN MEMORIAM, via the Bush Center: “Rhonda Houston passed away on December 30 after courageously fighting cancer. She had worked at the Bush Center for the past six years. At the time of her passing, she was Chief of Staff to Bush Center CEO Ken Hersh. Rhonda served five years at the White House, including 2005-09 as Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director for Appointments and Scheduling.” Funeral service livestream at 11 a.m.
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Andrew Bates, director of rapid response for Biden, is 34. A trend he thinks doesn’t get enough attention: “What can never be appreciated enough is the selflessness and bravery on the part of reporters who risked everything to ensure that the rest of us knew the true nature of the grotesque attack on our democracy and Constitution this week. Something else, which is related, is that the mainstream press has decisively stepped up to the plate when it comes to fighting misinformation and conspiracy theories, even more assertively than they already were.” Playbook Q&A
BIRTHDAYS: Outgoing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is 63 … Kim Jong Un is 37 … Anita Dunn, managing director at SKDKnickerbocker (h/t Hilary Rosen) … John Podesta … Jeannie Kedas, chief comms officer at First Look Media (h/ts Jon Haber) … Mary Jane Volk (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) … POLITICO’s Nirvi Shah … David P. White is 49 … Adam Hechavarria … María Peña … Caitlin Oakley, deputy assistant HHS secretary and national spokesperson, is 31 … Dina Fraioli … Elizabeth López-Sandoval, director of comms and special projects for Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) … David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance … Jane Lucas, counsel at Alston & Bird … former Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) is 45 … former Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.) is 69 … former Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) is 6-0 …
… Heather Podesta … Avra Siegel … Charles Osgood is 88 … R Street’s Andy Smarick … Casey Stegall, Fox News correspondent in Dallas … Amy McWethy … Israel Hernandez … Kevin Wynosky, a D.C. Circuit law clerk, is 28 (h/t Alyssa Lattner) … Ross Schneiderman … journalist Elizabeth Holmes … Ted Leonsis is 64 … Jason Mehta is 38 … James Reed … Kathryn Grant … Chris Tanner … Angelo Mathay … Rob Melick … Sally Smith … Chip Giller, founder of Grist … Scott Fairchild … James Quinn … Kevin Ryan is 54 … Emma Brown … former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft is 79 … Russ Caditz-Peck, comms director at Snap … Amanda McTyre … Gul Jammas Hussain … Jake Bailey … Nicole Tieman … Deborah Mazol … Michael Calvert … Sarah Wright … Laura Pinsky … Micah Honeycutt … Justin Alfond