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Live politics updates: Marco Rubio faces Twitter backlash for attack on Dr. Anthony Fauci; George Conway says Steven Mnuchin should resign – USA TODAY

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William Cummings

Sarah Elbeshbishi
 
| USA TODAY

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President Trump at Mar-a-Lago for last presidential Christmas

The Palm Beach Post’s Antonio Fins and Christine Stapleton discuss Mar-a-Lago’s role in President Trump’s presidency and future.

USA TODAY

This week, USA TODAY Politics focuses on the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, his remaining Cabinet picks, whether President Donald Trump will sign the COVID-19 economic relief package passed by Congress and if Congress will override the president’s veto of the defense bill. 

Dates to watch:

  • Jan. 6: Congress will count and certify the electoral results in a joint session. 
  • Jan. 20: Inauguration of Biden, who will take the oath of office.

Be sure to refresh this page often to get the latest information on the transition.

Rubio attacks Fauci for shift on level needed to reach herd immunity

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., went after infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci on Twitter on Sunday, saying he “lied about masks” and “has been distorting the level of vaccination needed for herd immunity.”

“It isn’t just him,” Rubio added. “Many in elite bubbles believe the American public doesn’t know ‘what’s good for them’ so they need to be tricked into ‘doing the right thing.'”

Until recently, Fauci and other public health experts have said 60-70% of the population would need to get the vaccine to reach herd immunity, but Fauci has bumped that figure up in the past week. He told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that the required “range is going to be somewhere between 70 and 85%.” 

Fauci told The New York Times on Thursday that he had determined weeks ago that his initial estimate was too low, but he had hesitated to announce the change in his calculation because he feared it would discourage people from taking the vaccine. 

“When polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I was saying herd immunity would take 70-75%,” Fauci told the Times. “Then, when newer surveys said 60% or more would take it, I thought, ‘I can nudge this up a bit,’ so I went to 80, 85.”

On Sunday, Fauci told CNN, “We have to realize that we have to be humble and realize what we don’t know. These are pure estimates. And the calculations that I made 70, 75%, it’s a range. The range is going to be somewhere between 70 and 85%.” 

When the coronavirus outbreak reached the U.S. in March, Fauci and other public health officials told people masks were unnecessary before changing that advice at the beginning of April. Fauci said the initial recommendation was made before the degree of asymptomatic spread was apparent and when he feared a rush to buy masks could lead to a shortage for medical workers. 

Many on social media assailed Rubio for his criticism of Fauci. Some accused him of hypocrisy for getting the vaccine before accusing Fauci of deception. 

“So let me get this straight: After months of downplaying the virus, Marco Rubio is now attacking Dr. Fauci, but he was first in line to get vaccinated?” tweeted former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. 

“Marco Rubio got a vaccine before everyone else. So now he can sleep easy while attacking Fauci to score cheap politics points,” said Susan Hennessey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. 

Others faulted him for not applying the same standards to President Donald Trump. 

“You supported the guy who said it would go away when the weather got warm,” tweeted actress Patricia Arquette

The group Republicans for Joe Biden wondered why Rubio could “find the ‘courage’ to attack Dr. Fauci, America’s Top infectious disease expert but not the president of the US who constantly lied to the American people about this terrible pandemic?” 

Rep, Mark Pocan, D-Wis., used more colorful language to criticize Rubio, suggesting his deference to Trump had clouded his judgment. 

– William Cummings 

Sanders hopes Biden will add progressive to Cabinet 

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and self-described Democratic socialist whose strong presidential primary performances have made him the most prominent progressive in Congress, said Sunday he would like to see the incoming Biden administration include voices from the party’s left wing. 

When asked by ABC News “This Week” host Jonathan Karl if he thought President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet was “progressive enough,” Sanders replied, “Well, what I have said many, many times is the progressive movement itself probably is 35 or 40% of the Democratic coalition. And I believe that the progressive movement deserves seats in the Cabinet.” 

“That has not yet happened,” Sanders said. 

“I would like to see strong progressives in the administration who are going to stand up for the working families of this country; who believe that health care is a human right; who believe we’ve got to make sure that public colleges and universities are tuition-free; and that we have to be aggressive on issues like climate change, racial justice, immigration reform.,” he added. 

Few Cabinet, or Cabinet-level positions, are still open in the incoming administration. Among the remaining jobs are commerce secretary, labor secretary and attorney general. 

When asked about reports that U.S. Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland is the current front-runner for attorney general, the most powerful remaining position, Sanders said, “we could probably have a stronger progressive than him,” but declined to comment further “on Biden’s particular appointees.” 

– William Cummings 

George Conway suggests Mnuchin resign out of protest

Attorney George Conway, a prominent conservative critic of President Donald Trump and husband to former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, suggested Sunday that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin should resign after Trump denounced the COVID relief bill he helped negotiate as a “disgrace.” 

“You would think that @stevenmnuchin1 would resign, out of principle or protest or just out of self-respect,” Conway tweeted. “I’m not even saying this to be critical at this point. It’s utterly mystifying to me.” 

Conway, a co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project PAC, also retweeted a link to a Washington Post article with the headline, “Mnuchin’s loyalty to Trump could end with painful setback as president shreds stimulus deal.” 

The article described how Trump’s objection to the $600 stimulus checks is “a direct rejection of the $600 checks that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had personally proposed and negotiated with Democrats and Republicans.” And it said that after believing Mnuchin was negotiating on Trump’s behalf his “standing with many lawmakers is now in tatters just days before a full-blown crisis is set to occur.” 

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Sunday that “everybody assumed – everybody – that Mnuchin was representing the White House.” Then, “suddenly,” the “pathologically narcissistic in the White House” decided, “‘I’m going to jump into the game and I want $2,000.'” 

The post characterized Trump’s attacks on the bill as “a stunning public broadside against his own treasury secretary, who for four years loyally shielded the president’s tax returns, endured repeated presidential tirades in private, and defended even Trump’s most incendiary and contradictory remarks.” 

– William Cummings

Gov. Hogan: Biden will be president, ‘whether people like that result or not’

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a longtime Republican critic of President Donald Trump, said despite the president’s unfounded claims the election was “rigged” against him, “Joe Biden is the properly elected president of the United States, whether people like that result or not.” 

During an interview with ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday, Hogan said the Democratic winner Biden “is the president-elect. He will be sworn in on Jan. 20. And on Jan. 6, which is coming up pretty soon, he will be certified by the Congress.” 

Hogan, who was one of the first leading Republicans to congratulate Biden on his win last month, acknowledged “there is a lot of disinformation out there” but “we haven’t seen any evidence of widespread fraud. And, you know, people feel like there is but they haven’t proven it in a court of law.” 

While Trump is “not going away and there’s going to be a big chunk of the Republican Party that’s going to still follow his Twitter page and listen to what he has to say,” Hogan said after Jan. 20, Trump won’t be “in the position to exert such influence as he does now.” 

And though he fears there are “an awful lot of people that want to be the next Donald Trump,” Hogan vowed he is “going to be fighting to try to return our party to its roots” to “become a bigger tent party” with “more positive, hopeful visions for the future.” 

– William Cummings

Republicans tell Trump to sign COVID relief, stop the ‘chaos’  

Sen. Pat Toomey expressed frustration with President Donald Trump’s objections to the COVID-19 relief and government funding bill awaiting his signature in an interview with “Fox News Sunday.” 

“You don’t get everything you want, even if you’re president of the United States,” said the Pennsylvania Republican, who voted for the bill despite his own objections to some of its provisions. 

Trump has denounced the legislation as a “disgrace” for spending he believes is unnecessary, as well as a direct payment to taxpayers of $600 he deems insufficient and would like to see increased to $2,000. Toomey shared some of the president’s spending concerns, but said it was necessary to compromise because Democrats control the House and the COVID relief is badly needed. 

Toomey did not agree the direct payments should be increased, however, arguing the majority of Americans have not lost income during the coronavirus pandemic. He suggested the president could back the separate Democratic proposal to increase the payments to $2,000 rather than rejecting the package that was already agreed upon. 

“We’ve got a bill right now that his administration helped negotiate. I think we ought to get that done,” Toomey said.

He warned Trump’s legacy could be defined by his refusal to sign the bill. 

“I understand he wants to be remembered for advocating for big checks, but the danger is he’ll be remembered for chaos and misery, and erratic behavior,” Tommey said.

Other Republicans also criticized Trump’s refusal to sign the bill. 

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., denounced “the chaos of the whole thing” after Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin negotiated the bill on the president’s behalf. 

“That was his person at the table. They came to an agreement. I mean, none of us totally like the bill. It’s the nature of legislating. You’re not going to end up with anything perfect,” Kinzinger told CNN. “I don’t understand what’s being done, unless it’s just to create chaos, and show power, and be upset because you lost the election. Otherwise, I don’t understand it, because this just has to get done.” 

Gov. Larry Hogan, R-Md., said Trump “should have weighed in eight months ago” if he had opinions about what should be in the bill. 

“Sign the bill, get it done. And then, if the president wants to push for more, let’s get that done too,” Hogan told CNN on Sunday. “Let’s work together in a bipartisan way. It’d be a great way for him to end the administration.” 

– William Cummings 

Benefits expire: Millions face eviction, poverty as unemployment benefits expire while COVID-19 relief bill in limbo

Biden decries Trump’s ‘abdication of responsibility’ by not signing COVID relief bill

President-elect Joe Biden sharply criticized President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign the bipartisan stimulus bill addressing the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, calling it an “abdication of responsibility” with “devastating consequences” in a statement on Saturday.

“It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don’t know if they’ll be able to make ends meet because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign an economic relief bill approved by Congress with an overwhelming and bipartisan majority,” Biden said.

As Trump’s criticisms have thrown the future of the relief bill in doubt, temporary unemployment benefits approved in response to the pandemic expired at midnight Saturday.

Biden blasted Trump for allowing the benefits to lapse.

“This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences. Today, about 10 million Americans will lose unemployment insurance benefits,” Biden said. “In just a few days, government funding will expire, putting vital services and paychecks for military personnel at risk. In less than a week, a moratorium on evictions expires, putting millions at risk of being forced from their homes over the holidays.” 

Trump has insisted the bill should increase direct payments to taxpayers from $600 to $2,000 and that it should remove what he says is spending unrelated to pandemic relief. 

– Sarah Elbeshbishi 

Dem candidates rake in $200M in Georgia runoff 

ATLANTA – The Democrats running for Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats each raised more than $100 million over two months, a massive haul that eclipsed campaign contributions to their Republican opponents and reflects the high stakes of the twin contests.

Jon Ossoff, who is taking on Sen. David Perdue, took in more than $106 million from Oct. 15 through Dec. 16, according to his latest campaign finance report. Raphael Warnock, who is trying to unseat Sen. Kelly Loeffler, was close behind with a little over $103 million.

Perdue reported $68 million over the same two-month span, with Loeffler taking in just under $64 million. Three of the campaigns reported their financial data on Thursday. Loeffler submitted hers a day earlier.

The two races will determine which party controls the Senate – and likely how ambitious President-elect Joe Biden can be with his agenda.

The fundraising figures far surpass the record-shattering $57 million that Democrat Jaime Harrison raised in one quarter in his bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina in November. Harrison lost that race.

And they are in addition to tens of millions of more dollars being spent on the January runoffs by outside groups. Previous campaign finance disclosures for the Georgia races suggest Republican outside groups have a fundraising advantage.

– Sudhin Thanawala, The Associated Press 

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How President Trump's Rhetoric Has Affected U.S. Politics – NPR

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NPR’s Ari Shapiro talks with Jennifer Mercieca, a historian of American political rhetoric, about how President Trump has changed the way Americans talk about politics, the government and each other.

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'Very mesmerizing': Canadians eye Biden inauguration with relief, anxiety – Toronto Star

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Katie Thompson noticed a pattern emerging with appointments made at her chiropractic clinic for Wednesday afternoon that’s usually typical of big sporting events: patients wanted to schedule sessions around the U.S. presidential inauguration.

“We have never experienced this before,” said Thompson, who co-owns the Barrie, Ont., clinic with her husband. “It’s clear that as Canadians, we are paying greater attention to the political climate of the United States now more than ever.”

The clinic has decided it will livestream the Washington, D.C., ceremony so patients and staff can “watch history be made” as president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris take office.

The move felt natural for Thompson after months of speaking with patients about their thoughts and fears in the build-up to the November election that saw Democrat Biden win the presidency over Republican President Donald Trump.

“It would be a shame to miss this transition take place,” she said.

Canadians have found themselves especially glued to American politics over the last four years since Trump was elected president of the United States.

Trump embraced a combative, populist leadership style and cast doubt on the legitimacy of his own government with frequent scandals that saw him impeached by Congress an unprecedented two times.

Earlier this month, his consistent disputing of the election results culminated with his supporters storming the U.S. Capitol in a deadly riot aimed at blocking the transition of power.

Images from the barricaded streets of Washington this week, showing hordes of fatigue-clad National Guard members taking up position ahead of inauguration day, have raised the stakes of Wednesday’s ceremony, stoking anxiety for Americans and concerned observers around the world about potential violence.

Simon Cumming of Surrey, B.C., said he hopes the transition to a Biden presidency brings more stability to the politically divided nation, where he has friends on both sides of the political spectrum.

He’ll be watching on Wednesday with “a combination of relief and a little bit of anxiety,” especially after the violence of the last few weeks.

“I think that the country is so fractured right now and it’s so polarized that you never know what’s going to happen, so there’s a bit of trepidation,” Cumming said by phone this week.

He plans to tune in while working from home.

“I’ll have one eye on the TV and one eye on my computer screen,” he said. “I’ll just turn it on and watch and keep my fingers crossed that nothing bad happens.“

Retired realtor Louise Zieffle was also planning a quiet, pandemic-friendly viewing of the Wednesday ceremony.

She’s taken a closer interest in U.S. politics during Trump’s presidency, which she said has laid bare how the political system works – and how it doesn’t.

“It was very mesmerizing, really,” she said by phone from her Calgary home.

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“I’ve been watching American politics, not my whole life, but certainly the last few years because there’s such an influence in our country, and especially in our province.”

She’s observed populism creep into provincial politics in Alberta since Trump took office, especially with the election of United Conservative Premier Jason Kenney in 2019, a leader for whom conflict is also signature part of his brand.

Zieffle said she’s hopeful the U.S. administration change-over can have an impact on politics north of the border.

“I’m very hopeful that will have influence on how Canadian politicians do business,” she said.

Political science and history student Keegan Gingrich, who’s studying at Wilfred Laurier University from his home in Waterloo, Ont., also expressed hope that political watchers in Canada can relax once Biden takes office, after years of waking up with anxiety about the international ripple effects from Trump’s latest tweets.

“It might just be boring politics again, which would be kind of nice at this point,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich plans to watch a Twitch livestream of the inauguration hosted by U.S.-based gamer Hutch, an online figure who’s become more politically engaged in the last few years of Trump’s presidency, streaming live commentary of Trump’s impeachment hearings and the presidential debates.

Gingrich said watching the livestreams and comments from viewers, some of them without much evidence backing up their claims, gives him a sense of the debates and divisions that have defined American politics over the last four years.

“It’s kind of fun to watch,“ he said. ”But at the same time it’s terrifying.“

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2020.

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Erin O'Toole moves to shake off the Trumpian taint – CBC.ca

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Erin O’Toole’s decision to issue a 595-word statement on Sunday about his political beliefs suggests he’s at least a little worried about his public image.

And he might have good reasons to worry. But the question of what kind of conservative Erin O’Toole wants to be is still difficult to answer.

“If the Liberals want to label me as ‘far right,’ they are welcome to try,” O’Toole said in a statement sent to reporters Sunday morning. “Canadians are smart and they will see this as an attempt to mislead people and import some of the fear and division we have witnessed in the United States.”

The “extreme right” allegation was contained in a fundraising email the Liberal Party sent to its supporters last week. The message was part of a week-long effort by Liberals to link O’Toole’s party with the Trumpian style of politics. The Conservative Party had, for example, previously accused the Liberals of “rigging” the last election. O’Toole, the Liberals noted, campaigned for the party leadership on a pledge to “take back Canada.”

However much O’Toole might want to seem undaunted in the face of Liberal charges, he’s not in a position to assume these attacks will fail. Donald Trump’s politics have been shown to be even more poisonous than previously understood. Anything that sounds even remotely similar to Trump is in danger of being considered unacceptably toxic in Canadian public life.

Pitching for the ‘centre’

But O’Toole’s own image is also vulnerable. At the end of 2020, according to Abacus Data, 28 per cent of Canadians viewed O’Toole negatively, compared to 20 per cent who viewed him favourably. At the end of November, the Angus Reid Institute found a similar deficit: 36 per cent had a favourable opinion of the Conservative leader, 42 per cent had an unfavourable opinion.

Given the threat of a Trumpist stain and the weakness of O’Toole’s brand, some kind of response to the Liberals’ criticism was probably necessary. But simply not being Trump is a poor measure of anything and O’Toole’s weekend statement also points to a more interesting matter for the Conservative leader — defining his approach to conservatism.

Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidates (left to right) Erin O’Toole, Peter MacKay, Derek Sloan and Leslyn Lewis wait for the start of the French Leadership Debate in Toronto on Wednesday, June 17, 2020. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

In his defence, O’Toole touted a number of his beliefs and political positions on Sunday. He has said he wants the Conservative Party to welcome “all Canadians, regardless of race, religion, economic standing, education, or sexual orientation” and to “govern on behalf of all Canadians.”

He says he is pro-choice and believes the party must take inequality “seriously.” He has “lamented the decline of private sector union membership” and “raised the unfairness of the blood ban for gay men.” His first question in the House of Commons as Conservative leader was about reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

“The Conservatives are a moderate, pragmatic, mainstream party — as old as Confederation — that sits squarely in the centre of Canadian politics,” O’Toole said, adding that he would “work tirelessly to restore public confidence in their political leaders and federal institutions.”

The political positions O’Toole described sound quite unlike those commonly associated with Donald Trump. In fact, many of those things might be more commonly associated with liberal or ‘progressive’ politicians.

‘True blue’ vs. ‘mushy middle’

But Sunday’s statement didn’t include O’Toole’s previously stated desire to “fight” to “defend our history, our institutions against attacks from cancel culture and the radical left.” That was an idea that O’Toole put front and centre when he announced his candidacy for the Conservative leadership in January 2020.

In that campaign — which raised questions about O’Toole’s edgier new tone — O’Toole touted himself as the “true blue” Conservative option and suggested that Peter MacKay, the early frontrunner, would turn the Conservative party into “Liberal party lite.” The choice, O’Toole said, would be between running on principles and running toward the “mushy middle.”

During that leadership race, O’Toole was also one of only two members of the party’s Ontario caucus to vote against calling on fellow leadership candidate Derek Sloan to apologize for Sloan’s attack on Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer (Sloan was the other member).

On Monday, after it emerged that Sloan had received a donation from a white nationalist, O’Toole announced that he was moving to eject Sloan from caucus and would prohibit him from running as a Conservative in the next election.

Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Derek Sloan speaks during the English debate in Toronto on Thursday, June 18, 2020. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

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