Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | February 22
Today the United States passed the heartbreaking marker of 500,000 official deaths from COVID-19. President Biden held a ceremony tonight to remember those lost, saying “On this solemn occasion, we reflect on their loss and on their loved ones left behind. We, as a Nation, must remember them so we can begin to heal, to unite, and find purpose as one Nation to defeat this pandemic.” The South Portico of the White House was illuminated with 500 candles—one for every thousand lives lost—and the president will order flags on federal property lowered to half staff for five days in their memory.
And yet, there is good news on the horizon: By the end of March, Pfizer plans to ship more than 13 million vaccine doses per week to the United States; Moderna plans to deliver 100 million doses; and Johnson & Johnson expects to ship at least 20 million doses. This means that by the end of March, the United States is on track to receive 240 million doses. By mid-year, we should receive about 700 million doses, which is enough to vaccinate our entire population. By the end of the year there should be 2 billion doses for the whole world.
Sixty-seven percent of Americans, including 34% of Republicans, approve of Biden’s response to the coronavirus.
Aside from the pandemic news, there were two important developments today on the national level: a series of Supreme Court decisions and Merrick Garland’s confirmation hearings for the position of attorney general. Together, these showed quite strikingly that Trump supporters are retreating into a politics of grievance while Democrats are embracing policy and governance.
The Supreme Court (often abbreviated SCOTUS, for Supreme Court of the United States), today denied former president Trump’s request to block a grand jury subpoena for his financial records. In its investigation into hush money allegedly paid by the Trump Organization to Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential race, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office subpoenaed eight years of financial information from Trump’s accountant, Mazars USA. Trump has fought the subpoena all the way to SCOTUS, but today the court upheld the decision of the lower court that his accountant must produce the information. Mazars USA should turn over the documents, which run to millions of pages, this week.
The former president issued a statement rehashing his usual litany of complaints about how he is treated, saying this was “a continuation of the greatest political Witch Hunt in the history of our Country.” He said the decision, made by a court on which three of his own appointees sit, was “all Democrat-inspired.” It is, he said, “political persecution.”
SCOTUS also refused to hear eight cases Trump or his allies had brought over the 2020 presidential election. It appears SCOTUS is done with the former president.
But Trump is not done with politics. He will be speaking this Sunday at the annual conference of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), which has turned into a pro-Trump gathering. Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Tom Cotton (R-AR), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) are all scheduled to speak at the convention, on topics like “Why the Left Hate the Bill of Rights… and We Love It,” and “Fighting for Freedom of Speech at Home and Across the World.”
Mike Allen of Axios heard from a longtime Trump advisor that, in his speech on Sunday, Trump will indicate that he is the Republicans’ “presumptive 2024 nominee” and is in control of the party. He is eager to take revenge on those who have not supported him, and plans to encourage primary challengers to them in 2022. He is expected to lay into President Biden as a failure of the Washington, D.C., swamp, and to promise to take on that swamp again from the outside.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) reported today that Trump reported his earnings from his businesses during his four years as president at $1.6 billion.
Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings for the confirmation of Judge Merrick Garland as attorney general. Garland is famously a moderate, and his confirmation is expected to sail through. The senators questioning him could use their time as they wished, and the results were revealing.
Pro-Trump Republican Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) seemed to be creating sound bites for right-wing media. They complained that the Democrats under the “Obama-Biden” administration had politicized the Department of Justice, including the Russia investigation, and demanded that the abuses they alleged had occurred under Obama be addressed. They made no mention of Attorney General William Barr and his use of the office as an arm of Trump’s White House.
It was striking to hear long-debunked complaints about 2016 reappear in 2021. Honestly, it felt like they were just rehashing an old script. They are clearly pitching for 2024 voters, but will their politics of grievance resonate in three more years?
Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Ben Sasse (R-NE) tried to carve out their own space in the presidential pack, as well. Cotton tried to get Garland to admit that Biden’s call for racial equity, rather than racial equality—by which Biden means that some historically marginalized groups may need more than equal treatment—was itself racist. It was an obscure point that didn’t land. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE), who voted to convict Trump in his impeachment trial, pressed Garland somewhat interestingly on the president’s power, then nodded to QAnon with a statement against the notorious sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
In contrast to them was the performance of the new Democratic senator from Georgia, Jon Ossoff, who asked Garland first about protecting voting rights, then about funding public defenders, then about civil rights investigations, using the specific example of Ahmaud Arbery, murdered in 2020 in Georgia while jogging. Ossoff’s focus on policy and governance illustrated the difference between Senate Republicans and Democrats.
For his part, Garland hammered home his conviction that the Department of Justice should represent the people of the United States and should enforce the rule of law for all. When Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) asked him to explain why he wanted to give up a lifetime appointment as a judge to take the job of attorney general to fight “hate and discrimination in American history,” Garland answered:
“I come from a family where my grandparents fled anti-Semitism and persecution. The country took us in and protected us. And I feel an obligation to the country to pay back. And this is the highest, best use of my own set of skills to pay back. And so, I want very much to be the kind of attorney general that you’re saying I could become. I’ll do my best to try to be that kind of attorney general.”