Daunte Wright shooting: Protesters and police clash for a third night in a Minneapolis suburb as prosecutors weigh charges against officer
“I hope to have a charging decision by tomorrow,” Orput said in an email Tuesday afternoon. “I just received voluminous documents and with enough coffee I’ll have something tomorrow.”
Wright’s death during a traffic stop Sunday, which then Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon said appeared to be the result of Potter mistaking her gun for her Taser had sparked widespread anger.
Protests, some violent, have taken place each night while related developments have occurred in quick succession, including the release of body camera footage on Monday and the resignation of Potter and Gannon by Tuesday.
The third day of protest began peacefully, but by Tuesday evening, there was chaos around the Brooklyn Center police station. Officers used pepper spray and fired flash bombs at protesters, who hurled water bottles and other projectiles at officers in riot gear.
Chief of the Minnesota State Patrol Matt Langer said the unified command in Brooklyn Center made “upwards of 60 arrests” Tuesday night, many of which were for “riot and other criminal behaviors.”
Speaking at the same late-night news conference, Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson said there was recognition of the pain suffered in the community on Sunday night. “The person [Kim Potter] is no longer a police officer, and they’ll be held accountable for their actions,” he said. “But we can’t have people hurting our communities, we can’t have people hurting the men and women who are paid to protect them.”
Protesters were also seen scaling a fence outside of the FBI office, holding a banner reading “Justice for Daunte Wright.” Members of the National Guard were on the ground in Brooklyn Center, Minneapolis and St. Paul.
By the time the city’s 10 p.m. curfew went into effect, the once hundreds of protesters had dwindled to a few dozen. With officers and police vehicles forming a line across front yards and the street blocking the police precinct, those remaining draped themselves in blankets and lit a small garbage fire in the falling snow.
On the street where protesters were once shoulder to shoulder, the few remaining chanted: “Say his name Daunte Wright,” and “I smell bacon, fry the pig.”
Two families come together in tragedy
Floyd’s family left the courthouse during Chauvin’s trial Tuesday “because they thought it was important that they give comfort to Daunte Wright’s mother” and family, attorney Ben Crump said at a news conference with the two families.
“We will stand in support with you. … The world is traumatized, watching another African American man being slayed,” said Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd. “I woke up in the morning with this on my mind. I don’t want to see another victim.”
The losses of both Wright and Floyd were acknowledged in Tuesday’s protests. Demonstrators knelt for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, to symbolize the amount of time authorities say Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck.
And just as the Floyd family did last year, the Wright family is looking for more answers surrounding their loved one’s death.
One of the family’s attorneys, Jeffrey Storms, told CNN that Gannon’s explanation — that the shooting appeared to be an accident — “is by no means proper or enough.”
“There were a number of intentional events that led to (Daunte Wright) being dead, and we need to find out exactly why each one of those intentional events happened,” Storms said.
“Grabbing your sidearm that you’ve likely deployed thousands, if not tens of thousands, of times is an intentional act,” Storms said. “A sidearm feels different than a Taser. It looks different than a Taser. (It) requires different pressure in order to deploy it.”
Wright’s father, Aubrey Wright, told ABC on Tuesday that he couldn’t accept Gannon’s explanation that Sunday’s shooting was accidental.
“I can’t accept that — a mistake. That doesn’t even sound right,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He cited the officer’s length of service — authorities said she’d been with Brooklyn Center police for 26 years.
Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, said she wanted to see the officer “held accountable for everything that she’s taken from us.”
“It should have never, ever escalated the way it did,” Katie Wright told ABC.
What happened in the traffic stop that ended Wright’s life
Wright was with his girlfriend Sunday afternoon, driving to the house of his older brother, Damik Bryant.
Officers pulled him over in Brooklyn Center for an expired tag and learned he had an outstanding warrant, police said.
It was not immediately clear what the warrant was for.
Wright gave officers his name before calling his mother, Bryant said.
“They asked him to step out the car, and you know his first instinct was, ‘What did I do, what’s wrong?’ And they were like, ‘Well, put the phone down, get out the car now, we’ll talk to you about it when you get out,'” Bryant said.
“So, I heard the phone get either put on the dashboard or dropped, and I heard scuffling, and I heard the police officers say, ‘Daunte, don’t run.’ And then the other officer said, ‘Put the phone down'” before it sounded like the phone was hung up, she said.
Body camera footage released Monday shows Wright standing outside his vehicle with his arms behind his back and an officer directly behind him, trying to handcuff him. An officer tells Wright “don’t,” before Wright twists away and gets back into the driver’s seat of the car.
Gannon said Monday it appeared from the video that Wright was trying to leave.
The officer whose camera footage was released is heard warning the man she’s going to use her Taser on him, before repeatedly shouting, “Taser! Taser! Taser!”
Then, the officer is heard screaming, “Holy sh*t! I just shot him.”
The car’s door closes, and Wright drives away. The car crashed several blocks away, police said. Police and medical personnel attempted life-saving measures following the crash, but Wright died at the scene, Gannon said.
CNN’s Amir Vera, Jason Hanna, Adrienne Broaddus, Carma Hassan, Keith Allen, Hollie SIlverman, Peter Nickeas, Holly Yan, Jessica Schneider, Jessica Jordan, Christina Carrega, David Close, Shawn Nottingham and Brad Parks contributed to this report.
During an hour-long conversation with CNN, the military spokesperson was steadfast in upholding the junta’s official narrative: that the generals are merely “safeguarding” the country while they investigate a “fraudulent” election. The bloodshed on the streets that has killed at least 600 people is the fault of “riotous” protesters, he said.
The interview took place during a week-long press tour of Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, and Naypyidaw from March 31 to April 6. Prior to the trip, the military assured CNN it would be able to report independently and be given freedom of movement, but the journalists’ request to stay in a Yangon hotel was denied and the team instead were housed in a walled military compound, given only intermittent and heavily controlled access to the public.
CNN was provided with military interpreters, but conducted its own translations afterward.
The back story
Hours after commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces Gen. Min Aung Hlaing ordered his troops to seize the capital before dawn on February 1, he announced on television that a state of emergency would be in place for one year, after which elections would be held. His takeover came as newly-elected lawmakers were due to take their places on the opening day of parliament.
The state of emergency caused all legislative, executive, and judicial power to be transferred to Min Aung Hlaing.
Zaw Min Tun said the state of emergency could be extended for an additional “six months or more” over “two terms” and “if the duties are not done yet.” He did not give a firm date for when elections would be held, but said that according to the 2008 military-drafted constitution, “we have to finish everything within two years. We have to hold a free and fair election within these two years.”
“We promise that we will make it happen,” he said.
Many observers have questioned whether the military, which ruled Myanmar for half a century between 1962 and 2011, would be willing to relinquish power again, whether elections would indeed be “free and fair” — and whether ousted leader Suu Kyi and her popular party the National League for Democracy (NLD) would be allowed to contest.
Zaw Min Tun pointed to a string of reforms the quasi-civilian government embarked upon in 2011 after the military gave up direct rule, which paved the way for the 2015 elections, in which Suu Kyi won a resounding victory. “If we didn’t want her from the beginning there would be no process like this,” he said.
However, the 2008 constitution was designed so the military would retain power despite a civilian government. It allocated the military a quarter of seats in parliament, giving it effective veto power over constitutional amendments, and the generals kept control of three powerful ministries — defense, border and home affairs.
“What happened is because of the corruptions on national level and errors on state level procedures and we are accusing on the facts,” Zaw Min Tun said. “Daw Aung San Su Kyi is a well-known person both in Myanmar and the world and we will not accuse that person without any reason.”
But slapping perceived opponents with charges under vaguely-worded colonial-era laws has been a well-used tool by the military throughout its rule, and during the reform period. The charges against Suu Kyi have been described as “trumped up” by her lawyer, who called the bribery accusations a “complete fabrication.”
To justify the coup, the junta has alleged widespread election fraud in the November vote that would have given the NLD a second term and a mandate to continue its reform agenda, which included attempts to amend the constitution to limit the military’s power. Zaw Min Tun said the military had tried to negotiate with the NLD government but “no action was taken.”
Zaw Min Tun said the junta had “solid evidence” the elections were fraudulent, but did not show any to CNN.
“The voting fraud we found in the election is 10.4 million, the number of eligible votes announced by the Election Commission was around 39.5 million and the voting fraud is a quarter of the vote,” he said.
The election commission denied there was mass voter fraud and independent election monitors said there were no substantial problems that would be enough to overturn the result. Suu Kyi won with 83% of the vote.
Bloodshed on the streets
It is evident from the interview that Myanmar’s military leaders want the world to believe they are acting in line with the country’s laws and constitution, and say they are committed to building a “multi-party democratic county.”
On Wednesday, a special envoy of Myanmar’s ousted civilian government to the UN warned of a civil war if the world fails to stop the junta from seizing power and killing pro-democracy protesters.
“The bloodbath is real. It is coming, more people will die. I am afraid,” Dr. Sasa said on CNN. “It is the time for the world to prevent another genocide, another ethnic cleansing, another massacre, so the world has the power to stop it before it’s too late.”
Zaw Min Tun blamed the violence on protesters “provoking” the crowd and said security forces cracked down because protesters “blocked the civil servants” from going to work.
In reality, thousands of civil servants, as well as white- and blue-collar workers, including medics, bankers, lawyers, teachers, engineers and factory workers, left their jobs as a form of resistance against the coup. The strikes, called the Civil Disobedience Movement, have disrupted sectors of the economy.
“The crowds were throwing stones and slingshots at them in the beginning but later the crowd are blocking with sand bags, shooting with handmade guns, throwing with fire, throwing with molotov (cocktails) and the security forces have to use the weapons for the riot,” Zaw Min Tun said.
Asked whether he was seriously comparing slingshots to assault rifles, Zaw Min Tun said the security forces were using “minimum force.”
“There will be deaths when they are cracking down (on) the riots, but we are not shooting around without discipline,” he said.
According to the military, the death toll at the time of the interview was 248 people, including 10 police officers and six soldiers, he said — less than half the toll documented by multiple human rights groups, which have repeatedly said security forces are violating international humanitarian law by shooting indiscriminately into crowds of peaceful protesters.
The killing of children
When asked about three teenagers who have died at the hands of security forces — Kyaw Min Latt, 17, Htoo Myat Win, 13, and Tun Tun Aung, 14, — the military spokesperson blamed protesters for “using” children on the front lines.
“In some places they provoke the children to participate in violence riots … Because of that they may get hit when the security forces were cracking down (on) the crowds,” he said. “There is no reason we will shoot the children, this is only the terrorists are trying to make us look bad.”
He said it was “not possible” that a child would be shot inside their house and an investigation would be carried out if that was the case. Videos posted on social media corroborate that security forces have shot at houses.
Htoo Myat Win’s father said his son was shot when several bullets smashed a glass window in his house in Shwebo city on March 27. “I dodged the bullet but my son was coming up to the glass window and got hit,” he said, adding that his son was hit in the chest. “I don’t understand why they have to shoot us when we were inside our house.”
“They were shooting at protesters before and the protesters were running and we hid some of them because we worried that they might get arrested. They (army) must have positioned themselves in this neighborhood,” he said.
Video widely circulated online showed Htoo Myat Win’s distraught father screaming with grief in the back of a taxi as he rushed to his son’s lifeless body for help. Forced to go to a military hospital, Htoo Myat Win’s father said doctors there did an autopsy and told him to sign a document stating there was no bullet.
“I asked them my son die with a bullet wound why you want to say it is not from a bullet?” he said.
In another incident, a military hospital claimed Kyaw Min Latt died after falling off his motorbike in Dawei city. CCTV footage, however, captured the moment a soldier standing on the back of a truck shot at the teenager as he rode with two others, who managed to run away. His mother verified the footage to CNN.
“The doctor told us that my son is suffering from the injuries of fall from motorbike, we couldn’t say back anything except just kept say yes to everything,” his mother Daw Mon Mon Oo said. She said X-rays of her son’s body conducted at a second hospital were taken away by officials from the military-run hospital.
His death certificate, seen by CNN, states Kyaw Min Latt died on March 30 because of “the primary brain injury due to the fall from cycle (motorcycle).”
When his family were able to take his body home, his mother said “there was no injury from the fall of the bike but only when there the bullet went in and out, and bruised on his right eye.”s
Pressed by CNN about the allegations from families of soldiers shooting into houses and of the military attempting to cover up the causes of deaths, spokesperson Zaw Min Tun demanded CNN show him evidence. “If that kind of thing occurred, we will have investigation for it,” he said. “There may be some videos which look suspicious but for our forces, we don’t have any intention to shoot at innocent people.”
It is unclear whether the military has launched any internal investigations into repeated claims of extrajudicial killings.
Zaw Min Tun confirmed security forces detained three people from the first market and eight others at a second after interacting with the team on the ground. When asked by CNN what crime they had committed, he said they hadn’t broken the law.
“The security forces were worried they would provoke others and start the protest in the market, and that is why they got arrested,” he said, adding the military expressed “regret” over the arrests.
CNN has since learned those eight are now in hiding, fearing rearrest.
However, while Zaw Min Tun insisted elections would be held in the future, he warned the military’s version of democracy would perhaps not be a Western-style liberal system.
“The democratic country we are building is the one suitable with our history and geography. The standard of democracy in Myanmar will not be the same as from Western counties,” he said.
Having grown up with a level of democracy, and political and economic freedoms their parents and grandparents didn’t have, Myanmar’s young people leading the resistance movement remain determined to fight for what they see as their future — and they say they will not give up.
CNN’s Helen Regan wrote from Hong Kong.
There are two key things the US can do to prevent more infections, more hospitalizations and more deaths, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN.
“A, you keep pushing down and doubling down on public health measures and B, you do whatever you can to get as many people vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible,” he said on Saturday.
That’s why experts urge continued safety measures for now.
“We say it over and over again and we need the local people, we need the governors and the mayors and others to be able to say, we’re not out of it yet,” Fauci said. “People say, ‘Well you just want to confine us forever.’ No, this is not going to last forever because every day that you get four million, three million people vaccinated, you get closer and closer to control.”
“What we’re saying is double down, just hang in there a bit longer,” Fauci added, “And the vaccine, and the vaccinations of people in this country are going to override the surge of the virus. There’s no doubt the vaccine is going to win out.”
States sounding the alarm
Already, officials across several states have reporting alarming data.
“These are much more contagious and we’re seeing that whether it is at youth sports or it is the reengagement of some of our restaurants,” Whitmer said.
And variant activity is also on the rise, Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the chief medical officer at the Ohio Department of Health, said.
“Ohio remains in a race against a virus that is now more contagious and right back on our heels,” Vanderhoff said. “We can win this race as long as we don’t falter; as long as we press on with consistent masking and vaccination.”
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown also expressed concern Friday over the state’s latest case and hospitalization numbers.
Vermont officials said Friday they were worried the rise in Covid-19 cases that their state is experiencing could lead to more hospitalizations and deaths.
“My optimism is for the future, and the future is very near. But when it comes to the present, frankly, I am very concerned,” Dr. Mark Levine, the state health commissioner, said.
The role vaccinations will play
Experts and state leaders have highlighted that Covid-19 vaccinations will be the country’s quickest way toward a return to normalcy.
Fully vaccinated people can travel at low risk to themselves, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, but travel is still not recommended currently while the US sees rising numbers of Covid-19 cases.
Meanwhile, different parts of the country are navigating the role that vaccinations will play in the return to normalcy.
The governor cited freedom and privacy concerns as the primary basis for that action and argued that the implementation and enforcement of vaccine passports would “create two classes of citizens based on vaccinations.”
“Individual Covid-19 vaccination records are private health information and should not be shared by a mandate,” the order reads.
CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas, Sahar Akbarzai, Anjali Huynh and Maggie Fox contributed to this report.
AM: What we are projecting right now, if mobility continues to stay level or come down and if mask wearing stays very high and goes up, then cases will keep declining with immunization all the way until next winter.
We predicted a bump in this month and in April simply because of the new variant, B.1.1.7. We knew that it would come in. We also predicted a bump because many Americans told us in surveys — 25% of Americans — said once they get the vaccine, they’re not going to be wearing the mask.
So we are taking into account that mask wearing will come down and we’ve seen it come down slowly in the United States. So that’s very important to keep in mind.
What does it mean for Americans? We’re heading into summer. The vaccines are doing a great job. They’re effective and they’re preventing infections. The warm weather and the vaccines are helping us. Our behavior is hurting us. That balance will dictate what happens in the future.
Conditionally, right now, if Americans keep up wearing the mask and keep limiting the mobility, we should see a decline all the way to the next winter. Why next winter? It’s a seasonal virus. Next winter, we’re going to have a surge. There is no way to avoid it. Like the flu, it’s going to come up again.
It’s going to come up again. But what will determine how big that spike is, is what number we start from. So if we control it in summer, we will have a mild winter. We have to increase the mask wearing in winter. It’s very important. You may have to beef it up to 95% and the vaccines will help us to reduce mortality and admissions to the hospital because they’re very effective.
One thing that will slow again with conditional projection, one thing that will slow everything out is having a new variant that would make the vaccines less effect. So we start all over again.
AM: We started in December 14 vaccinating and we didn’t have enough vaccines. I mean, it takes some time to show it, but right now we are seeing a huge impact of the vaccine among people who have been vaccinated, especially fully immunized.
We’re seeing a decline in the severe cases, mild or severe. We’re seeing a decline in hospitalization and of course, a decline in mortality. So the high risk group, we’re seeing a decline.
CNN: I’m curious if vaccine hesitancy is built into your model and how that it might affect US life if we get to a point where supply far outstrips demand?
AM: Yes. So we are building into our models vaccine hesitancy. And we do it by state, of course.
Vaccine hesitancy right now is about about 25% of Americans. It varies by state. And yes, we are having a steady supply of vaccines. And we are expecting — based on the data we have — that we should receive about 5 million doses a day in the second part of April. So we should have plenty of vaccines. Sometime by the end of April, we will have more vaccines than we have takers. And that’s what we are very much concerned about.
So in one way, we’re afraid that we will have more supply than demand. And we’ve seen it in some states by the way. We’ve seen it in some states, and I’ll be frank, we’ve seen it right now in some red states.
So yes, we have to deal with it. And I’m very much concerned about vaccine hesitancy in the US. The positive news is these vaccines are highly effective. The ones we have in US, we haven’t seen any side effect of significance to scare us.
I mean, AstraZeneca is a totally different story. We don’t have AstraZeneca. And I’m looking right now at the numbers. I’m assuming in April, by the end of April, each one of us — you and I — will know somebody who has been vaccinated and they’re still around and nothing happened to them and their DNA was not changed. So people would be more encouraged. And it’s on us in the scientific community to get that information as fast as possible.
We are seeing a decline in hospitalization among the elderly. We’re seeing an increase among the young. I mean, it’s clear. The data is telling us these vaccines are working. They’re effective, they’re safe. So I’m hoping people will change their mind. But we are a divided country, unfortunately.
AM: Big problem. Remember, we need herd immunity. So we need at least 75%, 80% of Americans to get vaccinated right now, simply because the vaccines are authorized for adults 16 and above or 18 and above.
We have already 25% of our population not eligible for the vaccine. I mean, we’re already starting without hands tied. Our hands are tied already. So we want people who are eligible for the vaccine, all of them, to take it.
We can’t afford to have, you know, 45% of them saying no. What’s it mean? It means the virus is circulating. It means the mutations are happening. It means we may see a mutation that will make the vaccines less effective.
CNN: You bring up a sort of nightmare scenario where not enough people get vaccinated, the virus continues to wash through parts of the population, and the virus mutates to a point where our vaccines are less effective and we are back to square one. How likely is something like that?
AM: It’s possible. I mean, I don’t want to scare the public, but look at it. When the Brazilian and South African (variants) emerged we were worried and we lost sleep. And we’re still losing sleep.
We’ve seen it with AstraZeneca in South Africa, 10% effectiveness. So we are very much concerned about it. We’re seeing already signs of it, lucky for us in the US, that mRNA vaccines are much better and they’re doing a much better job.
So to plan for the worst case scenario, we need a booster. We know Moderna and Pfizer are already modifying the vaccine. So somebody like me who got two shots a while back, I need to take the booster before winter. For you, who didn’t get the vaccine because of your age, when you get the vaccine, you get the new one before winter. So we have to stay ahead of it. In order to stay ahead of it, we need to know what’s circulating at home and what’s circulating elsewhere.
CNN: And that could be something we do indefinitely?
AM: Yes. Until we have a handle. Right now, remember why we are concerned. We don’t have an effective medication for Covid-19. We don’t.
The only thing we have in our hands right now is vaccine. And yes, our physicians have much more experience now dealing with Covid-19. They know the science, they know what oxygen. We are able to get more oxygen right now without putting a tube. We are able to anticipate blood clots, we’re able to use a lot of things right now. We know the disease, but we don’t have medication for it yet.
AM: Again, the country is divided and that’s a political decision and not a scientific decision. I mean, let’s be quite honest about it. We have to speak up. I think we have to speak up even more than ever before.
I don’t need a mask mandate to wear a mask. Many people don’t need a mask mandate to wear a mask. We know that’s the right thing we need to do. We want the mask mandates for the people who don’t want to wear a mask. That’s the biggest, important point. And what’s really frustrating, quite honestly, is the same people making the same mistake again and again.
CNN: So regardless of what state you’re in, what should people be doing as they wait to get vaccinated?
AM: We should wear a mask, definitely wear a mask to protect ourselves and others. If you are wearing a mask already today, please upgrade your mask. Whatever mask you are wearing, upgrade it. I double mask when I go out.
I keep a safe distance from everybody. Even when I’m in stores — someone’s ahead of me? I stay away from them. And that’s what the public has to do. Let’s wear a mask, watch our distance, wash our hands.
Now, it takes two. Government also has to be responsible. If I decide in my state to do it the right way and live healthy and protect myself and protect my family and protect people who may come in contact with me, the laws and the city have to help me to do so.
CNN: Some people are going to hear what you just said about continuing to wear a mask, continuing these best practices, and say: ‘Why are we even bothering with this? These vaccines are extremely effective.’ What do you say to someone who thinks that?
AM: No. Because not everybody has been vaccinated, right? We have a long way to go. We’re not vaccinating our children. This is our future. How can we protect our children until they are allowed to take a vaccine? We have to live with this virus and we have to contain our urge to go back to normal.
People have lost their lives, people have died, people are still suffering from Covid-19, even after they left the hospitals, we owe it to them to do it right.
We have to do it. We’re not out of danger. And yes, when everybody is vaccinated, that’s totally different story, but we are not there yet.
CNN: What level would you like to see vaccinated before you can responsibly begin to peel back some of these public health measures?
AM: In winter, we need 80% of the people to be vaccinated. In summer, we may get away with like 60% or 70%, because, simply, we are doing our activities outdoors.
CNN: I have to imagine this is going to be a pretty heavy lift from a public health messaging perspective. If people can safely take off their masks this summer and go outside and do things, and then they’re told to put it back on in the winter, that’s going to be really challenging for a lot of people.
AM: In all my interviews I’m saying masks will be with us seasonally. So yes, until we get rid of Covid-19 totally — it’s not circulating elsewhere — we may have to wear a masks seasonally.
CNN: You’ve obviously been tracking this since the start, I’m curious what your mindset is overall about where we’re headed?
AM: You know, I’m by nature optimistic, but I’m really concerned.
What I see right now — I’m concerned about the political decisions being made prematurely. I’m afraid of setbacks. I’m really concerned.
I’m optimistic at the end of the day, we will get there, but there are mistakes that are being made right now. And I’m really concerned.
On Friday alone, the country saw more than 1.4 million passengers in airports nationwide — which is a pandemic-era record.
“What we’re doing is essentially spreading the B.1.1.7 variant across the nation,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN on Sunday.
That’s because the number of prior infections and now vaccinations in the US have begun to form “enough of a backstop” to prevent another spike, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
“I think what you could see is a plateauing for a period of time before we continue on a downward decline — in large part because B.1.1.7 is becoming more prevalent, in large part because we’re pulling back too quickly, with respect to taking off our masks and lifting the mitigation,” he said.
Others say it’s hard to predict what will happen.
“It’s very hard to say,” Hotez told CNN. “We’re in a race, that’s what it comes down to. We’ve gotten a single dose (of Covid-19 vaccine) into about a quarter of the US population … and it could go either way right now.”
“This is why it’s really important for the governors to stay the course and to implement masks and social distancing,” he added.
Spring breakers worry officials
“I wish that folks would at least mask up,” emergency physician Dr. Megan Ranney told CNN Sunday, referring to the spring break crowds. “I expect that very few of those young adults have been vaccinated and watching them gather together in those crowds, even outside, gives me fear that they’re going to bring that B.1.1.7 variant back to their home state and spread it.”
Other experts have voiced the same concern, warning all the returning vacationers could help fuel Covid-19 surges in other parts of the country, especially now that vaccination numbers are still so low.
“We are very worried about transmissible variants. A lot of them have come through our travel corridors, so we’re being extra cautious right now with travel,” Walensky had told CNN.
Vaccine hesitancy is ‘worrisome,’ governor says
More than 44 million — about 13.3% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, the data shows.
Those challenges include vaccine hesitancy and political divisions. A recent CNN poll conducted by SSRS shows that while 92% of Democrats say they have gotten a dose of the vaccine or plan to get one, that falls to 50% among Republicans.
When asked why he believed there is skepticism among Republicans, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson told CNN he thought it is a “natural resistance to government and skepticism of it.”
“The hesitancy is worrisome not just here, but all across the country, and I expect as a country we’ll get to 50% vaccination rate of the population. But we’re going to have a harder time getting from 50% to 70%. And it’s about overcoming the skepticism, it is about education … but it’s also confidence,” he said.
As more Americans see others get the vaccine, the governor said he expects the acceptance rate of vaccines to go up.
In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson said late last week that while he encourages everyone to get vaccinated, “there’s still going to be a certain amount of people that’s not going to take the vaccine and they have every right to do that.”
“We got to do a better job of making sure everybody understands the importance of the vaccine, and yet maintain the respect of people that don’t want to take a vaccine, and it is going to be a challenge to see how many people we can get done, but we’re going to do everything we can.”
New data on AstraZeneca vaccine
The vaccine showed 79% efficacy against symptomatic disease and 100% efficacy against severe disease and hospitalization in a new, US-based clinical trial, the company said Monday.
The findings from the new Phase 3 trial, which included more than 32,000 participants, could boost confidence in the vaccine, which was originally developed by the University of Oxford.
The trial showed that the vaccine was well-tolerated and identified no safety concerns, the company said. An independent committee “found no increased risk of thrombosis or events characterised by thrombosis among the 21,583 participants receiving at least one dose of the vaccine,” according to AstraZeneca.
The new data came from a Phase 3 clinical trial conducted in the US, Chile and Peru. AstraZeneca says it plans to submit the findings to a scientific journal for peer review.
CNN’s Chuck Johnston, Niamh Kennedy, Carma Hassan, Deanna Hackney and Lauren Mascarenhas contributed to this report.
Atlanta shootings: In about an hour, 8 people were killed at three massage parlors. One person is in custody
The bloody attacks — which happened within the space of about an hour — occurred at two parlors in northeast Atlanta and one about 30 miles northwest of the city in Cherokee County. Four of the victims were described as of Korean ethnicity by South Korean officials.
Police believe a 21-year-old suspect taken into custody Tuesday night was likely responsible for the three attacks.
Authorities haven’t identified the victims as they work to notify next of kin.
But the South Korean foreign ministry statement Wednesday described four of the victims as of Korean ethnicity and said that it is working to confirm their nationality and to provide the necessary support.
Earlier, Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said the four victims within the city were female and appeared to be Asian.
Among the many questions remaining in the case, authorities are still investigating the motive behind the shootings. But the details of how the horror unfolded are becoming clearer.
How the shootings unfolded
Though spread across 30 miles, the attacks took place in quick succession.
Around 5 p.m. Tuesday, deputies were called to Young’s Asian Massage near Acworth, Georgia, for reports of a shooting, Cherokee County Sheriff’s spokesperson Jay Baker said.
Responding deputies found five people with gunshot wounds. Two people were pronounced dead at the scene and three were transported to a hospital, where two died, Baker said.
About an hour later and 30 miles away, Atlanta police responded to what was described as a robbery at the Gold Massage Spa on Piedmont Road in Atlanta. Police say they found three people dead.
While there, police received another call of shots-fired across the street at the Aroma Therapy Spa, where they found one person dead, Bryant said.
Authorities in the area, known as Atlanta’s Zone 2, said they are increasing patrols around similar businesses, and FBI spokesperson Kevin Rowson said the agency is assisting with the investigations.
Around 8:30 p.m., the highway patrol about 150 miles south of the city was alerted that a suspect in the Cherokee County shooting was heading its way, Sheriff Frank Reynolds said in a video on the Crisp County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page.
After the suspect’s vehicle was spotted, a chase ensued on Interstate 75 and a state trooper performed a maneuver that sent the SUV out of control.
“The suspect was taken into custody without incident … and transported to the Crisp County jail,” the official said.
The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office identified him as Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock.
Police believe Long is also responsible for the shootings in Atlanta, the Atlanta Police Department said in a news release.
“Video footage from our Video Integration Center places the Cherokee County suspect’s vehicle in the area, around the time of our Piedmont Road shootings,” the Atlanta Police Department said in a news release. “That, along with video evidence viewed by investigators, suggests it is extremely likely our suspect is the same as Cherokee County’s, who is in custody. Because of this, an investigator from APD is in Cherokee County and we are working closely with them to confirm with certainty our cases are related.”
A community shaken
Police have not provided any motive for the shootings.
“The reported shootings of multiple Asian American women today in Atlanta is an unspeakable tragedy — for the families of the victims first and foremost, but also for the Asian American community, which has been reeling from high levels of racist attacks over the course of the past year,” it said. “This latest attack will only exacerbate the fear and pain that the Asian American community continues to endure.”
In Seattle, officials increased outreach to community-based organizations and added an increased presence of police patrols, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan and Chief of Police Adrian Diaz said in a statement.
NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson condemned the shooting “in the strongest possible terms.”
CNN’s Nicole Chavez, Raja Razek, Jamiel Lynch and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.
My takeaways from Biden’s speech, which ran just over 20 minutes, are below. They’re in no other order than the order that I jotted them down while watching the speech.
1. Donald Trump dug the hole: Biden didn’t mention his predecessor by name, but especially in the early moments of his speech, it was very clear that the current President lays much of the blame for the country’s struggles with the coronavirus pandemic at the feet of the last President. “A year ago, we were hit with a virus that was met with silence and spread unchecked, denials for days, weeks, then months,” Biden said at one point. “That led to more deaths, more infections, more stress and more loneliness.” At another point, Biden pulled out his mask and expressed amazement that it had been turned into some sort of political statement.
3. At war with the virus: In the language he chose — and the comparisons he made — Biden clearly wanted to make Americans understand that we are at war with Covid-19. He said the country was on “war footing.” He noted that Covid-19 had now killed more Americans than World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined. Even in quoting “Farewell to Arms” — “many are strong in the broken places” — Biden was invoking Ernest Hemingway’s novel about World War I. The message was clear: This isn’t an enemy like the United States is used to battling. But it is an enemy nonetheless, and the need for sacrifice and unity is as great as it was when America was fighting the Axis powers.
4. Truth matters: Again, per No. 1, Trump wasn’t mentioned by name in this speech, but he was all over it. “We know what we need to do to beat this virus; tell the truth, follow the science, work together,” Biden said at one point, a direct rebuke to Trump’s rejection of facts and science about the coronavirus during the course of the 2020 campaign. “You’re owed nothing less than the truth,” Biden said at another point. And even while sounding a mostly optimistic note about a return to normal — more on that below — Biden was open and transparent that things could go sideways, that variants of the virus are out there, and that if proper mitigation practices were not followed we could be in for another surge.
Senate impeachment trial: Key GOP senators push Trump’s lawyers to explain ex-President’s actions as Pence was endangered
Trump’s team wrapped up its presentation in a little more than three hours before the question-and-answer session concluded several hours later Friday evening. In their brief argument, Trump’s team equated the former President’s speech with Democrats’ rhetoric — showing lengthy montages of Democratic politicians saying they would “fight” — to argue that Trump’s words on January 6 did not incite the rioters who attacked the Capitol afterward.
The defense team’s presentation showed Democratic reactions to videos of protests and riots over police violence last year, comparing them to the attack on the US Capitol, while they argued that Trump’s language telling his supporters to “fight like hell” was merely “ordinary political rhetoric.” Trump’s lawyers also falsely suggested Antifa was responsible for the deadly riots, rather than Trump supporters, and raised Trump’s false claims of voter fraud in Georgia.
The presentation underscored the goal of Trump’s team Friday: Do no harm. Unlike the Democratic managers, who hoped to win over Republican senators with their presentation, Trump’s lawyers expect to already have the votes they need for acquittal, as most Republican senators are saying they will vote to acquit Trump because they believe the trial is unconstitutional.
During their two days of arguments, the House managers tried to force senators to confront the horrific images in a bid to change Republican minds, while Trump’s team was more than content with a partisan draw. At the first break of the day Friday, the partisan division was on display in a way it had not been in the two days when the managers presented: Republicans praised Trump’s lawyers and Democrats universally panned them.
Questions focus on Trump’s response
After three days of mostly scripted presentations, the question-and-answer session was more free-flowing, although the House managers and Trump’s lawyers were clearly prepared for the friendly questions they received from senators.
The questions, alternating between Democrats and Republicans, were submitted on a notecard to Sen. Patrick Leahy, the presiding officer as Senate president pro tem, and they were read by the Senate clerk.
Democrats’ questions to the managers and most GOP questions to the President’s team were intended to help bolster their respective cases. There were a few exceptions, such as when independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont asked both sides whether Trump had won the election as he falsely claimed.
But the most interesting questions came from some of the handful of Republican senators open to conviction: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.
Collins and Murkowski jointly asked Trump’s legal team to describe when he had learned of the riots and the actions he had taken. They asked the lawyers to be as specific as possible, but Trump attorney Michael van der Veen said only that Trump had tweeted at 2:38 p.m. ET before the lawyer launched into an attack against the House Democrats for what he called lack of due process.
“I didn’t really feel that I got a response, but I’m not sure that that was the fault of the counsel,” Collins said when asked about the answer. “One of the problems is with the House not having hearings to establish exactly what happened when, it’s difficult to answer a question like that.”
Murkowski also expressed dissatisfaction with the answer. “It was like, wait a minute, that wasn’t very responsive,” Murkowski said.
After the Senate session ended for the day, van der Veen approached Murkowski and Collins at their desks and the three briefly chatted.
Romney asked both sides whether Trump had known that Pence was in danger when he criticized his vice president in a tweet at 2:24 p.m. while Pence was being evacuated from the Senate.
“The answer is no,” van der Veen responded.
Later, Cassidy asked about Trump’s tweet and the conversation Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama had had with Trump minutes beforehand, in which, Tuberville said this week, he had told Trump the vice president was being evacuated.
Cassidy said Trump’s tweet “suggested President Trump did not care that Vice President Pence was in danger,” asking whether it showed Trump was tolerant of intimidation of Pence. Van der Veen responded that the answer was no, but said that he disputed the facts underlying the question, even though Tuberville’s description of the call was recounted on the record to reporters this week.
Asked if he was satisfied with the response, Cassidy said, “Not really.”
“I didn’t think it was a very good answer,” he said, adding that the call “obviously wasn’t hearsay” because Tuberville had confirmed it.
A source close to Pence said Trump’s legal team was not telling the truth when van der Veen said at the trial that “at no point” did the then-President know his vice president was in danger. Asked whether van der Veen was lying, the source said, “Yes.”
And a source with knowledge of events on January 6 told CNN that Pence did not call Trump when he was whisked away. However, Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short called Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows and informed him what was going on.
Raskin, whose family members were trapped in the Capitol during last month’s riot, later responded to van der Veen, “For that I guess we’re sorry, but man, you should have been here on January 6.”
A divided reaction
During the defense presentation, van der Veen played clips of congressional Democrats objecting to the certification of Trump’s win in the 2016 election, including Raskin. And they ran a nearly 10-minute montage of Senate Democrats, the managers and other politicians saying the word “fight,” suggesting they used the same rhetoric as the former President.
Trump’s lawyers also went after House Democrats, accusing them of political retribution in impeaching the former President a second time after going after him throughout his time in office. They accused the managers of selectively editing footage of Trump’s speeches and tweets and ignoring Trump’s comments for protesters to remain peaceful.
“The hatred that the House managers and others on the left have for President Trump has driven them to skip the basic elements of due process and fairness,” Trump attorney David Schoen said.
Inside the Senate chamber, Republicans reacted with chuckles and laughter at various points, nodding in agreement with the Trump lawyers’ presentation. Democrats were mostly stone faced at the start of the lengthy montage, but that changed quickly as more and more clips played. There were constant murmurs in the chamber, as well as whispering, some laughing and note passing.
Republicans had panned the initial meandering presentation from Trump’s team on Tuesday, but they praised his attorneys on Friday.
Murkowski said Trump’s team was “putting on a good defense today.”
“The first two hours I thought were well put together,” she said.
To Democrats, the Trump lawyers put forward a “bogus argument,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat. “Donald Trump was told that if he didn’t stop lying about the election people would be killed. He wouldn’t stop, and the Capitol was attacked and seven people are dead who would be alive today. That’s what I think about this,” he said.
Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico called it a “completely false equivalence.”
“I don’t remember any violent mobs after any of those comments, so it’s just not the same thing,” Heinrich said.
‘Peacefully and patriotically’
Van der Veen acknowledged the abhorrent violence at the Capitol on Friday, but also suggested that groups of “extremists of various different stripes and political persuasions,” including Antifa, pre-planned the attack, meaning Trump could not have incited it.
“Nothing in the text could ever be construed as encouraging, condoning or enticing unlawful activity of any kind,” van der Veen said. “Far from promoting insurrection against the United States, the President’s remarks explicitly encouraged those in attendance to exercise their rights peacefully and patriotically.”
A top FBI official told reporters in early January that they had seen “no indication” that Antifa members had disguised themselves as Trump supporters. Even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said on the House floor last month during the impeachment debate there was “absolutely no evidence” Antifa caused the riots.
The defense team’s focus on Trump’s January 6 speech also ignored the argument House Democrats had made earlier in the week that Trump’s incitement dated back months and involved more than just that speech.
The most substantive case Trump’s lawyers made was that Trump’s speech on January 6 did not amount to incitement and was protected by the First Amendment, just like other political speech is protected speech. Trump’s team argued that he used the word “fight” in a political context at his speech at the January 6 rally, such as fighting Republicans who voted against him in a primary.
“There’s no doubt Mr. Trump engaged in constitutionally protected speech that the House has improperly characterized as incitement of insurrection,” said Trump attorney Bruce Castor.
The Trump team’s presentation concluded with an effort to push back on the allegations that Trump told Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes for Trump to win, as Castor raised many of the false allegations about voter fraud in Georgia to argue Trump had done nothing wrong when he called Raffensperger.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Friday.
CNN’s Ted Barrett, Daniella Diaz, Clare Foran, Sarah Fortinsky, Lauren Fox, Annie Grayer, Ryan Nobles, Alex Rogers, Kristin Wilson, Ali Zaslav, Jim Acosta and Gloria Borger contributed to this report.
Nothing is normal about an extreme moment in America’s modern story with a political system assailed by extremism, truth under assault and a country desperate to emerge from a once in a 100-year plague.
The proceeding will restore the full glare of Trump’s compelling but malevolent influence over Washington three weeks after he left office in disgrace and will challenge Biden’s efforts to fully establish his own new presidency.
Trump has refused to personally step back into the spotlight by testifying in his own defense. But the never-before-seen spectacle of an ex-commander-in-chief being held accountable through impeachment for crimes against the Constitution — even if he’s ultimately acquitted as expected — will be an apt final chapter for a presidency that still threatens to tear the nation apart.
It also seems to mark the culmination of the failure of Trump’s Republican Party to answer for a leader whose bond with grassroots supporters granted him complete impunity and exposed a fatal flaw in the checks and balances of the US political system. A majority of GOP senators have signaled they will yet again punt on Trump’s offenses and take refuge in a questionable constitutional argument that a President impeached while in office cannot be tried as a private citizen.
Democrats are almost certain to be deprived of the two-thirds majority needed to convict in a presidential impeachment trial and to bar Trump from future federal office. But they plan to lay out a case so damning about the horror inside the Capitol on January 6 that they hope it will forever stain Trump politically and damage the Republicans who defend him.
Democrats can “still win in the court of public opinion. That’s why I think the trial remains an important part of our political landscape,” said David Gergen, an adviser to four presidents and a CNN political commentator.
“It’s a chance for Democrats to make the case once and for all that there was no fraud, that Joe Biden was legitimately elected and the people who tried to steal this election are the ones who assaulted the Capitol,” Gergen told CNN’s Ana Cabrera.
Biden criticizes Trump for Covid-19 effort
The sense that America is at a historic and disorientating pivot point is exacerbated by the hopes raised by a decline in new cases of Covid-19 but also fears that new viral variants will dilute the full potential of vaccines that hold the key to ending the disaster.
In his Super Bowl interview on “CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell,” the President stuck to his practice of frank talk about the state of the pandemic while offering optimism of better days to come if America stays united, wears masks and Congress does its part.
“One of the disappointments was — when we came to office, is the circumstance relating to how the administration was handling Covid was even more dire than we thought,” Biden said, again grappling with the legacy of Trump, who downplayed, denied and politicized a virus that has killed more than 463,000 Americans.
But the President also offered some, albeit distant, hope of a full house at next year’s big game.
“It’s my hope and expectation, if we’re able to put together and make up for all the lost time fighting Covid that’s occurred — that we’ll be able to watch the Super Bowl — with a full stadium,” Biden said.
“The economy has come roaring back, savings rates are at record highs … it is not an economy in collapse,” Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey told Tapper.
“Today, we have serious problems for workers in the restaurant, the hospitality, the travel and entertainment sectors. That’s really a handful of places.”
“It is a pretty big setback,” said Peter Hotez, dean of the National College of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College. While other vaccines may offer more protection against the South African variant, the increasing prevalence of the UK variant in the United States is worrisome, he told CNN “Newsroom.”
“Even though the number of new cases daily is cut in half, that is the eye of the hurricane and the big wall is going to hit us again, and that is the UK and the South African variant, maybe one or two others will become dominant.”
‘In the Soviet Union, you’d call it a show trial’
As the virus — and the havoc its wreaked on the economy — continues to pose a serious threat, it’s impeachment that will suck up all the oxygen in Washington this week.
“I’m going to listen to the arguments on both sides and make the decision that I think is right,” the Pennsylvania Republican said, adding that there was “no place in the Republican Party for people who believe in conspiracy theories like QAnon,” in an apparent allusion to Greene and some other Trump loyalists.
But Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy slammed Democrats for their swift impeachment of Trump, who is facing a single charge of inciting insurrection, before he left office last month. “There was no process,” Cassidy said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “If it happened in the Soviet Union, you would have called it a show trial.”
“Every day he remained in office he was a danger to the country. We simply couldn’t sit still and wait for weeks or months while this man posed a danger to the country. So, we did act with alacrity,” Schiff said on “Meet the Press.”
“Somebody who has provoked an attack on the United States Capitol to prevent the counting of electoral votes, which resulted in five people dying, who refused to stand up immediately when he was asked and stop the violence, that is a person who does not have a role as a leader of our party going forward,” Cheney said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Her remarks underscored the fact that Trump’s trial and the continuing tumult in the Republican Party over his toxic legacy mean that the fight to preserve the traditions of US democracy are far from over even though he left office.
Party leaders will meanwhile resume consideration of whether to censure Greene, who spent several hours in a meeting with House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday evening. There is pressure from Democrats and Senate Republicans for her to lose committee assignments over offensive social media activity before she ran for office and her behavior in only a month as a Georgia representative.
The challenges facing Cheney and Greene encapsulate the raging battle for the control of the GOP between orthodox conservatives and pro-Trump radicals who are viewed by the establishment as a “cancer” and “wacky weeds.”
Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, is the epitome of the old school, ultra-conservative but internationalist Republican Party that disdains Trump’s assault on democracy. Greene is a proponent of the QAnon conspiracy theory and is an avatar of the wild fringe welcomed into the GOP by Trump.
No sign of regret from Greene
The volatile state of the GOP is evident in the way that Cheney faced far more public criticism from her House colleagues than Greene, an advocate of a fringe conspiracy theory anchored on baseless claims that Democratic leaders are pedophiles.
McCarthy asked if Greene would apologize for her past comments and views, which she did not agree to, a person with knowledge of the matter tells CNN. Another person familiar with their conversation also said that McCarthy provided a slew of options to her, including that she could show remorse and apologize.
Top GOP senators, like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have defended Cheney. But emphasizing her growing estrangement from the GOP House caucus, a Trump acolyte, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, even traveled to Wyoming last week to rally against her and to initiate an effort designed to end her career. The visit underscored how Trump’s loyal base is still dictating the party’s direction, even with the ex-President out of the White House and as some GOP power players hope his influence will fade.
Tensions sure to rise over impeachment trial
The tussle that is tearing the House GOP apart — and alienating its members from their brethren in the Senate — is coming at an especially fraught moment with the second Trump impeachment trial set to start in the Senate next week.
The former President’s team indicated Tuesday that it intends to once again highlight Trump’s dangerous lies about a stolen election, while Democrats present graphic evidence of his insurrection that will discomfort GOP senators.
The outcome of the drama involving Cheney and Greene are skirmishes in the wider search for the GOP’s identity that will shape the run-up to midterm races next year and weigh on the GOP’s chances of fielding candidates capable of helping recapture Congress — a crucial consideration for Biden’s presidency.
Fundamentally, the fight that rips away at the Republican Party every day is the one ignited the moment that Trump declared his candidacy for president in 2015 and directed the GOP on a wild populist, nationalist ride.
It has been exacerbated by a generation of pro-Trump figures inspired to run for Congress by his success.
Thune argued Tuesday that “the House Republicans are going to have to decide who they want to be.”
“Do they want to be the party of limited government and fiscal responsibility, free markets, peace through strength and pro-life, or do they want to be the party of conspiracy theories and QAnon, and I think that is the decision they’ve got to face,” Thune said.
Another mainstream Republican, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney — who is now an outlier cut off by the Trumpian tide — also weighed in.
“I think our long history as a party has shown that it’s important for us to separate ourselves from the people that are the wacky weeds,” the Utah senator said. “If we don’t, then our opposition tries to brand us with their image and with their point of view, which has been detrimental to any party that doesn’t do that.”
GOP is hostage to its most radical elements
The challenge for the broader Republican Party, however, is that there is plenty of evidence that the party’s activist base is not excited by small government, debt reduction, globalization and a hawkish foreign policy — four pillars of the Republican Party for decades between Ronald Reagan and Trump.
“We have to be aware that Marjorie Taylor Greene has a very wide following in this country,” said Gabriel Sterling, one of the Republican electoral officials who stood firm against Trump’s attempt to steal the election in Georgia.
“I mean, she’s raised millions of dollars based on things that she said and sometimes … being attacked by the quote/unquote ‘elites’ only drives her up in terms of the esteem she’s viewed by many, many people,” Sterling told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Tuesday.
In many ways, this is a schism that the Republican Party in Washington has brought on itself, and that is already more destabilizing than the influxes of radical lawmakers brought into Washington by the Tea Party uprising and New Gingrich’s Republican revolution that captured the House in 1994.
Four years of appeasing Trump’s uncouth character, unconstitutional power grabs and appeals to baser instincts — in a Faustian pact that returned a conservative Supreme Court — has effectively provided an entry path into the party for the extremists who found inspiration in the ex-President.
McConnell is turning against die hard Trumpists like Greene and Capitol Hill insurrectionists now. But his failure for weeks to condemn the ex-President’s assaults on the integrity of the election helped brew the crazed atmosphere that Trump exploited when he incited the Capitol insurrection on January 6.
The strength of the pro-Trump faction in the GOP — at a time when more traditional conservatives like McConnell would like to rid themselves of his influence — was underscored by the fact that a majority of House Republicans voted not to certify Biden’s election win over election fraud lies.
And even in the Senate, 45 Republicans — including McConnell — voted to support Sen. Rand Paul’s attempt to have the impeachment trial that begins next week declared unconstitutional.
The conundrum for the wider GOP is that the path to fundraising riches, fame and primary success lies in sponsorship from Trump. McCarthy’s pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to meet the ex-President last week shows that he believes his hope of winning the House lies closer to Greene’s appeal than Cheney’s.
Senate Republicans however have long memories about past races squandered by extremist candidates. And Trump’s style of politics just cost the party two runoff elections in Georgia that handed the Senate to Democrats.
“Whose side do I want to be on? Liz Cheney or Marjorie Taylor Greene?” former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who was himself driven out of the party because of his opposition to the Trump revolt, asked on “The Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer, in encapsulating the electoral conundrum facing an increasingly ungovernable GOP.
“Where do you think the party will likely grow more or where do I want to be as an elected official? It is pretty stark and that is what the party is facing right now.”