Breaking overnight — “With hours left in office, Donald Trump pardons Steve Bannon.” via Maggie Haberman of The New York Times — Trump has granted clemency to Bannon, the former White House chief strategist who was charged with defrauding people who supported building a border wall that Trump supported, White House officials said. The President made the decision after a day of frantic efforts to sway his thinking, including from Bannon, who spoke to him by phone. The pardon was described as a pre-emptive move that would effectively wipe away the charges against Bannon, should he be convicted.
—@DeFede: Among the flurry of pardons issued by President Trump in his final hours was a full pardon for Abel Holtz, who served 45 days in prison in 1995 after being convicted for lying to a grand jury about alleged bribes me to then Miami Beach Mayor Alex Daoud
—@CaliforniaPanda: Huge news for @as President Trump commutes his sentence. He was given an overly severe sentence (46 months in federal prison) for what amounted to lying on a document. Media outlets printed hearsay and innuendo which was unfairly used in court to sway the outcome.
Breaking overnight — “On last night in office, Trump suspends deportations of Venezuelans” via Michael Wilner of The Miami Herald — Trump signed an executive order deferring the removal of Venezuelans currently in the United States for 18 months, a move long advocated by his Florida Republican allies. … The order applies to all Venezuelan citizens in the U.S. with the exception of those who are subject to extradition, are inadmissible under the Immigration and Nationality Act or were deported, excluded, or removed prior to Jan. 20. It also authorizes their employment while in the United States.
Breaking overnight — “Trump revokes rule barring lobbying by former officials as he leaves office” — Trump revoked a rule he signed early in his term that imposed a five-year lobbying ban for administration officials and a lifetime ban on lobbying for foreign governments.
Trump’s inaugural address four years ago was a call to arms, but not against other nations. It pitted U.S. citizens against their government and each other.
“For too many of our citizens, a different reality exists. Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities,” he said that day. “Rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation. An education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge.
“And the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”
Then he delivered the punch line.
“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he said.
Trump supporters nearly wept with joy. Finally, someone in authority said out loud what many have long felt about a government they believe ignores them. They trusted he would be their champion, and, oh, how did he put it?
Drain the swamp.
Well, look at the scoreboard of unkept promises.
For too many of our citizens, a different reality continues to exist. The rich got richer, while younger adults struggled to afford soaring apartment rents. Mothers and children remain trapped in poverty, a fact compounded by an inept federal response to COVID-19. Those rusted-out factories didn’t magically spring back to life.
In Florida, we have an education system that continues to fail its most vulnerable students.
Oh, and that education system “flush with cash” of which the soon-to-be-former President spoke? The Hillsborough County School District, the seventh-largest in the country, has a $72 million budget deficit. It may eliminate teaching positions and consolidate some schools to save money.
Let’s not be too quick to dismiss the tone of that speech, though. Many people would love it if Joe Biden borrowed some of those themes at his inauguration Wednesday — perhaps without the carnage part. We could use a little optimism.
“The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories,” Trump said in that speech. “Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.
“That all changes — starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment. It belongs to you.”
We talk a lot about unity, but we rarely see that happen. Perhaps the greatest of Trump’s many failings was ignoring anyone who didn’t vote for him. The pot of gold goes to any President or Governor who can bring a complex nation or state more toward the middle.
Gov. Ron DeSantis did that in the first year or so of his administration, and the result was soaring approval ratings. Support came from both sides of the aisle, and it was earned. That’s what happens when people feel respected. For most people, inclusiveness matters more than ideology.
Dismissiveness never works.
Oh, and tell the truth even when it hurts.
Trump’s reelection campaign sank because voters understood he wasn’t leveling with them about the virus. He argued with medical experts and poisoned many supporters’ minds by suggesting scientists were part of the Deep State out to control America.
Filter that against these words he said four years ago.
“We are one nation — and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams, and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny,” he said.
We know that’s not what happened, but I’d be fine if Biden echoes that theme when he takes over. That’s because we are one nation. We should care about the pain of those who work multiple jobs to make ends meet.
It should bother everyone that millions of fellow citizens don’t have adequate health insurance or lack a decent home and schools for their kids. Or don’t feel valued.
They want a piece of the dream, too.
Four years ago, a con man made a promise he didn’t keep, but he got one thing right.
What happened really was an American carnage. That “different reality” of which Trump spoke still exists today.
We can’t take four more years of that. Biden’s task is to convince a skeptical nation that it really will be different this time. We’ll all be watching, fingers crossed.
“CNN’s Brianna Keilar delivers epitaph on the Trump years: Took office saying he’d stop ‘American carnage,’ but left behind a ‘war zone’” via Josh Feldman of Mediaite — With the Trump presidency coming to a close on Wednesday, CNN’s Keilar reflected on the past four years in the wake of the recent violent rioting at the Capitol. “The Trump presidency will likely be defined by its assault on truth, its damage to democracy, and its denial to science that experts say would have saved American lives from coronavirus,” Keilar said. Some of the “how it started/how it’s going” contrasts Keilar invoked included the President hosting prominent CEOs at the White House and now speaking with MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and him nominating Supreme Court justices that ultimately did not give his baseless election claims the time of day.
Some quick hits about the inauguration and the outgoing president:
— How to watch the inauguration: Festivities kick off at 11:15 with Lady Gaga singing the national anthem, followed by an invocation. From there, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be sworn into office at about 11:45, followed by Biden at noon. ABC begins its coverage at 7 a.m., with CBS following at 9, NBC at 10, PBS at 10:30, and Fox at 11. Online streams are available on PBS, Cheddar and Pluto TV. Amazon Prime, Microsoft Bing, Fox’s NewsNow, and Biden social media on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Twitch will also carry livestreams.
— Inaugural A-listers: While Trump snubs Biden by skipping the inauguration, Biden has a snub of his own lined up with a star-studded cast for the day’s ceremonies — an A-list lineup Trump has failed to attract throughout his four years in office. In addition to Lady Gaga’s national anthem performance, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks will both perform. Other appearances include an invocation from Father Leo J. O’Donovan, former president of Georgetown University, the Pledge of Allegiance by firefighter union President Andrea Hall, a poetry reading by Amanda Gorman, the first-ever Youth Poet Laureate in 2017, and a benediction from Rev. Sylvester Beaman, a longtime friend to the Bidens.
🤡 — Trump was the ringmaster in the demise of his own circus: Four biographers who worked closely with Trump before his ascension into national politics — Harry Hurt III, Gwenda Blair, Tim O’Brien and Michael D’Antonio — sat down with POLITICO to discuss their experiences with Trump the businessman before he was Trump the President. The result is a riveting conversation about the many ways Trump’s own behavior foretold his chaotic presidency. His actions, the constant drama in his White House, might have been unprecedented, but for Trump, such was the norm long before he took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Now they’re looking forward to what a post-presidency Trump might look like and predict revenge and stoked flames, in whatever way Trump can fuel them.
— All the President’s insults: Scum. Low life. Disgusting. Dumb. Jerk. Lazy. Those are just a few of the insults the outgoing President of the United States has lobbed at those he sees as adversaries over the course of his presidency on Twitter. As of noon, he’s out of office. And he already lost his beloved Twitter platform. Still, The New York Times compiled a complete list of Trump’s insults from 2015 until this year. Put the kettle on because it’s a LONG list. Of all the insults, Trump has directed the most to his political rivals, including Hillary Clinton and incoming President Biden, as well as to the “Fake News” media.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
Thank you for the privilege of serving as your Vice President these past four years, it has been the greatest honor of my life. On behalf of our Wonderful Second Lady, Karen Pence, and our entire Family, Thank You and God Bless America. 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/chbcBfvmB9
— Vice President Mike Pence Archived (@VP45) January 19, 2021
Tears roll down @JoeBiden's face as he delivers remarks during a send-off event in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/Dg1PL9t1N7
— Doug Mills (@dougmillsnyt) January 19, 2021
—@BillWeirCNN: After 8,000 trips on Amtrak, Biden takes over a nation too unsafe for him to ride by rail to his own inauguration.
—@Kathrynw5: Find someone who loves you as much as Joe Biden loves Delaware
—@JesseLTaylor: Everyone in this country better be ready for more Delaware tomorrow than their asses can handle
—@AlexanderBolton: Capitol Police is informing reporters that any member of the press trying to go through security screening with a bulletproof vest will be denied entry. Reporters told they cannot wear vests, gas masks, or helmets
Descent from the 3rd monster surge.
The 4th surge, from the B.1.1.7 superspreader strain, will be starting in the next few weeks.
We're not ready. pic.twitter.com/ILFqbaM36q
— Eric Topol (@EricTopol) January 19, 2021
A long overdue memorial to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died from covid-19 at our nation’s capitol. May their families find peace and light. pic.twitter.com/R01YXzTqcA
— BiCoastal Elitist (@Carmen50) January 19, 2021
—@AmandaCarpenter: Let’s see here. There’s a push to purge [Liz] Cheney from leadership. Fox News is axing Chris Stirewalt — who correctly called AZ — and elevating resident conspiracy theorist Maria Bartiromo. When are we turning the page on Trumpism, again?
— DAYS UNTIL —
Florida Chamber Economic Outlook and Job Solution Summit begins — 8; Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 18; Daytona 500 — 25; “Nomadland” with Frances McDormand — 31; 2021 Legislative Session begins — 41; “Coming 2 America” premieres on Amazon Prime — 45; “The Many Saints of Newark” premieres — 51; 2021 Grammys — 53; ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 65; “No Time to Die” premieres (rescheduled) — 72; Children’s Gasparilla — 80; Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest — 87; “A Quiet Place Part II” rescheduled premiere — 92; “Black Widow” rescheduled premiere — 107; “Top Gun: Maverick” rescheduled premiere — 163; Disney’s “Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings” premieres — 171; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 184; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 191; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 217; “Dune” premieres — 255; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 287; Disney’s “Eternals” premieres — 289; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 331; Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” premieres — 324; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 429; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 471; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 625.
— INAUGURATION —
“Inauguration explainer: Joe Biden’s event will be very different” via Ashraf Khalil of The Associated Press — Between the still-raging pandemic and suddenly very real threat of violence, the inauguration of Biden and Kamala Harris next Wednesday promises to be one of the most unusual in American history. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is flat-out telling people to stay home. Airbnb says it canceled all reservations to prevent people from coming to the capital. Local activists are calling for Bowser to close down all hotels, but she has declined to go that far. Downtown roads and metro stations will be closed, and authorities are so determined to keep people away, they’re considered closing all the bridges from Virginia.
“Mike Pence won’t attend Trump’s presidential send-off” via The Associated Press — Vice President Pence is among those who will not be attending Trump’s send-off event at Joint Base Andrews. A person familiar with Pence’s schedule cited “logistical challenges” in getting from the air base to President-elect Biden’s inauguration ceremonies on Wednesday. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss scheduling decisions. Pence is expected to be returning to his southern Indiana hometown after the inauguration. The Indiana Republican Party says the former Indiana governor and his wife, Karen Pence, are expected to attend Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday and then fly to Columbus Municipal Airport, where supporters will greet them.
“Biden tears up during Delaware farewell speech, says son Beau Biden should be President” via Ebony Bowden of The New York Post — Biden became teary-eyed Tuesday afternoon as he delivered a speech thanking his staff and honoring his late son, Beau Biden, saying it should have been Beau who was about to be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. At the Major Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III National Guard Center, named after his son who died of brain cancer in 2015 at the age of 46, the former veep’s voice broke, and he shed a tear as he told a crowd of supporters that Delaware was “written on his heart.” Beau Biden served as the 44th Attorney General of Delaware and was believed to hold higher political office ambitions before his untimely death.
“Biden, GOP leaders will attend church before inauguration” via MSN — Biden has invited top Republican and Democratic congressional leaders to a bipartisan prayer session at church early Wednesday hours before his inauguration, people familiar with the plans said. Two weeks after an unprecedented violent assault on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of outgoing President Trump, and with the nation bitterly divided politically, Biden intends to attend services at St. Matthews Cathedral in Washington with the top four leaders in Congress. “Yes, I can confirm” that top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell will join Biden, who was a longtime colleague in the U.S. Senate, at the church. McConnell was a firm Trump ally, but he broke with the President over his baseless claims of massive election fraud.
“QAnon adherents discussed posing as National Guard to try to infiltrate inauguration, according to FBI intelligence briefing” via Carol Leonnig and Mark Zapotosky of The Washington Post — The FBI privately warned law enforcement agencies Monday that far-right extremists have discussed posing as National Guard members in Washington and others have reviewed maps of vulnerable spots in the city — signs of potential efforts to disrupt Wednesday’s inauguration. The document, a summary of threats that the FBI identified in a Monday intelligence briefing, warned that both “lone wolves” and adherents of the QAnon extremist ideology, some of whom joined in the violent siege on the Capitol on Jan. 6, have indicated they plan to come to Washington for Biden’s swearing-in ceremony.
“America doesn’t need inaugural balls. But there’s something lost when they disappear.” via Roxanne Roberts of The Washington Post — There will be no official inaugural balls this year. No first dance with the President and First Lady. No giddy, half-drunk supporters cheering them on. No stories to tell grandchildren. In this dark moment, amid the pandemic and after the Capitol riot, the loss of inaugural balls seems the least of our concerns. But it is a loss. It was a night when thousands of people could run around the nation’s capital cheering their new President without fear, a chance to dress up, get down, and be part of a historic moment.
“They prepare the White House for a new President. They have 5 hours.” via Annie Karni of The New York Times — It’s the awkward pas de deux performed every four or eight years when one family moves in and another moves out, an undertaking carried out by the 90-person White House residence staff in about five hours. A complicated, highly choreographed process is done on a tight schedule that often requires boxing up whatever has been left unpacked — some outgoing Presidents are more prepared to leave the executive mansion than others. The Biden moving vans are not allowed to begin unloading until the new President has been sworn in. The residence is then supposed to be transformed into something resembling their home by the time they arrive later in the afternoon.
— THE NEW ADMIN —
“Biden has set sky-high expectations. Can he meet them?” via Will Weissert of The Associated Press — Back when the election was tightening, and just a week away, Biden went big. He flew to Warm Springs, the Georgia town whose thermal waters once brought Franklin Delano Roosevelt comfort from polio, and pledged a restitching of America’s economic and policy fabric unseen since FDR’s New Deal. Evoking some of the nation’s loftiest reforms helped Biden unseat Trump but left him with towering promises to keep. And he’ll be trying to deliver against the backdrop of searing national division and a pandemic that has killed nearly 400,000 Americans and upended the economy. Such change would be hard to imagine under any circumstances, much less now.
“Biden’s hefty to-do list starts with a flurry of orders” via Darlene Superville and Will Weissert of The Associated Press — Biden has given himself an imposing to-do list for his earliest days as President and many promises to keep over the longer haul. Overshadowing everything at the very start is Biden’s effort to win congressional approval of a $1.9 trillion plan to combat the coronavirus and the economic misery it has caused. But climate change, immigration, health care and more will be competing for attention — and dollars. Altogether Biden has laid out an ambitious if not always detailed set of plans and promises across the range of public policy.
—”Biden plans 15 executive actions on his first day in office” via POLITICO
“Biden won’t lift Europe, Brazil travel restrictions despite Trump order, spokeswoman says” via Leslie Josephs of CNBC — The incoming Biden administration on Monday said it won’t lift an entry ban on most visitors from Europe, the U.K. and Brazil, less than an hour after Trump ordered an end to the COVID-19 travel restrictions. “With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” tweeted Biden’s spokeswoman Jen Psaki. Trump first put the rules in place in March to curb the spread of the virus, though COVID-19 was already circulating in the U.S. before then. On Monday evening, he issued a proclamation rescinding the restrictions, just two days before Biden’s inauguration.
“Biden plans to propose a sweeping immigration overhaul on his first day in office” via Michael D. Shear of The New York Times — Biden will propose far-reaching legislation on Wednesday to give millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States a chance to become citizens in as little as eight years, part of an ambitious and politically perilous overhaul intended to wipe away Trump’s four-year assault on immigration. Under the proposal that Biden will send to Congress on his first day in office, current recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as “Dreamers,” and others in temporary programs that were set up to shield some undocumented immigrants from deportation would be allowed to apply for permanent legal residency immediately, according to transition officials who were briefed on Biden’s plan.
“Biden’s narrow path to an infrastructure dream” via Tanya Snyder of POLITICO — Biden wants to enact a mammoth infrastructure plan that would juice the economy, boost hiring and fight climate change, an enormously ambitious effort he’s pitched as a cornerstone of his presidency. Achieving even a fraction of it will require Biden to secure new funding streams or expand debt-fueled spending, potentially upend the way infrastructure policy typically works and ensure hundreds of Democratic lawmakers in a closely divided Congress remain in lockstep, with no room for error. Biden’s progressive plan could find itself in the same graveyard as years of failed efforts to give infrastructure a massive cash injection. Biden wants to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure, including $50 billion on road and bridge repairs just in his first year in office, along with a significant focus on building out transit in high-poverty areas.
“Biden to ban special bonuses for appointees, expand lobbying prohibitions in new ethics rules” via Michael Scherer of The Washington Post — President-elect Biden will ban his senior presidential appointees from accepting special bonuses akin to “golden parachutes” from former employers for joining the government while putting in place other expanded revolving-door restrictions in his first days in office. The new ethics rules, which were described by transition officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the draft executive order is not public, will in some ways go beyond the guidelines for senior appointees that were put in place by the Trump and Barack Obama administrations. The biggest shift is the new rule that will ban incoming officials from receiving compensation from their previous employer for taking a government job.
“Biden’s pick to lead FEMA signals urgency on pandemic and climate change” via Thomas Frank of Scientific American — Biden demonstrated his intent to give FEMA a major role in his administration by quickly nominating an agency leader and selecting a widely praised emergency manager who has dealt with hurricanes, wildfires and pandemics. Biden’s nomination Friday of New York City Emergency Management Commissioner Deanne Criswell marks the first time a woman has been selected to lead FEMA since its creation in 1979. Criswell has spoken openly about the threat of climate change and its role in exacerbating disasters, telling an interviewer last year that “sea rise is definitely a concern” in New York City. Criswell is the first nominee whom Biden has selected to run an agency that falls under a federal department.
“Kamala Harris prepares for central role in Biden’s White House” via Alexandra Jaffe of The Associated Press — Harris will make history on Wednesday when she becomes the nation’s first female Vice President — and the first Black woman and the first woman of South Asian descent to hold that office. But that’s only where her boundary-breaking role begins. With the confluence of crises confronting Biden’s administration — and an evenly divided Senate in which she would deliver the tiebreaking vote — Harris is shaping up to be a central player in addressing everything from the coronavirus pandemic to criminal justice reform. Symone Sanders, Harris’ chief spokeswoman, said that while the Vice President-elect’s portfolio hasn’t been fully defined yet, she has a hand in all aspects of Biden’s agenda.
“Dr. Jill Biden, often overshadowed, is quietly making history, too” via Robin Givhan of The Washington Post — Now that Jill Biden will soon be moving into the White House, there’s more history being made around her. The country is in such a historically divided, volatile, damaged state that almost all of the inaugural traditions and formalities have fallen away. And the symbolism long attached to the First Lady as healing and consoling has been tarnished. Biden is poised to transform how the presidential spouse is perceived in the midst of all of that hope and wreckage. She isn’t angling to be a partner in governing. She’s planning to be her own person, which for her includes continuing to pursue her career. It’s a simple but profound decision that strikes a blow for gender equity and barrier-breaking.
“Get ready for reality-grounded White House press briefings” via Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post — In retrospect, it has become clear that what set the course for Trump’s presidency was not the bleak “American carnage” rhetoric of his inaugural address. The pattern for so much that was to follow emerged the following day, when Trump dispatched his then-press secretary, Sean Spicer, to the White House briefing room to declare that the unexceptional size of Trump’s inauguration crowd exceeded the history-making gathering for Obama’s 2009 inauguration. What the country had seen with its own eyes, in other words, was an illusion. A succession of White House officials spewing falsehoods from the podium became symptoms of the larger corruption of the truth that was the hallmark of Trump’s four years in office.
“Pocket squares and pearls convey a stylish team’s message” via Robin Givhan of The Washington Post — From the very beginning, despite their differences, they looked like a team. Throughout the campaign and through the transition, Biden and Harris have told their individual stories through their attire while always remaining in harmony. They dress with care but not flash. He has his aviators; she has her Converse sneakers. He finishes his ensembles with a pocket square. She opts for pearls. Their clothes matter — equally — because they draw us in. Their clothes matter because they help to cement an image in our minds. The clothes matter because they encapsulate this moment in time.
— EPILOGUE TRUMP —
“Trump gives farewell address: ‘We did what we came here to do’” via Ursula Perano of Axios — Trump gave a farewell video address on Tuesday, saying that his administration “did what we came here to do and so much more.” The address is very different from the Trump we’ve seen in his final weeks as President, one who has refused to accept his loss, who peddled conspiracy theories that fueled the attack on the Capitol, and who is boycotting his successor’s inauguration. In prepared remarks released by the White House, Trump touted his administration’s Middle East peace deals and rallying nations to “stand up to China like never before.” He also condemned the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by his supporters.
To watch the video, click on the image below:
“Trump talked out of pardoning kids and Republican lawmakers” via Kaitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak and Pamela Brown of CNN — Trump received an unsettling warning on his final Saturday night in the White House. Huddled for a lengthy meeting with his legal advisers, they warned Trump the pardons he once hoped to bestow upon his family, and even himself would place him in a legally perilous position, convey the appearance of guilt and potentially make him more vulnerable to reprisals. So, too, was Trump warned that pardons for Republican lawmakers who had sought them for their role in the Capitol insurrection would anger the very Senate Republicans who will determine his fate in an upcoming impeachment trial. Former Attorney General William Barr both warned Trump earlier this month they did not believe he should pardon himself.
“Trump authorizes DOJ to declassify Russia probe documents” via Kyle Cheney of POLITICO — Trump on Tuesday authorized the declassification of a set of documents connected to the investigation of his 2016 campaign’s contacts with Russia. Trump has long declared his intention to make public more of the sensitive materials underlying the probe, which he has maligned as a “witch hunt,” despite findings that his campaign sought and relied upon materials obtained by Russia to aid his campaign against Clinton. It’s unclear which documents Trump has ordered declassified less than 24 hours before he leaves office. He cited the decision based on the results of a Dec. 30 review he asked the Justice Department to perform. Trump said he asked for the documents to be declassified to “the maximum extent possible.”
“Trump reportedly to pardon Dr. Salomon Melgen, local Medicare fraudster” via Jane Musgrave of The Palm Beach Post — Dr. Melgen, who is serving a 17-year sentence for health care fraud, is said to be among the roughly 100 people who will be pardoned before Trump leaves office today. The 66-year-old retinologist, who operated wildly successful eye clinics from Delray Beach to Port St. Lucie, was convicted in 2018 in connection with what federal prosecutors described as the biggest Medicare fraud in the nation’s history. By falsely diagnosing and treating hundreds of elderly patients for macular degeneration, the politically connected Juno Beach area resident raked in some $75 million, prosecutors said. During a roughly two-month trial in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, some of the nation’s top eye doctors said they were appalled by Melgen’s tactics.
“Long shot? Capitol rioters hold out hope for a Trump pardon” via Jake Bleiberg and Jim Mustian of The Associated Press — In what could be the longest of legal long shots, several of those arrested for storming the U.S. Capitol are holding out hope that Trump will use some of his last hours in office to grant the rioters a full and complete pardon. Longtime advisers to Trump are urging him against such a move, but the rioters contend their argument is compelling: They went to the Capitol to support Trump, and now that they are facing charges carrying up to 20 years in prison, it’s time for Trump to support them. “I feel like I was basically following my President. I was following what we were called to do. He asked us to fly there. He asked us to be there. So I was doing what he asked us to do,” said Jenna Ryan, a Dallas-area real estate agent.
“The ‘deep state’ of loyalists Trump is leaving behind for Biden” via Alice Miranda Ollstein and Megan Cassella of POLITICO — A higher-than-usual number of Trump administration political appointees are currently “burrowing” into career positions throughout the federal government, moving from appointed positions into powerful career civil service roles, which come with job protections that will make it difficult for Biden to fire them. While this happens to some degree in every presidential transition, Biden aides, lawmakers, labor groups, and watchdog organizations are sounding the alarm, warning that in addition to standard burrowing, the Trump administration is leaning on a recent executive order to rush through dozens if not hundreds of these so-called “conversions.”
“Trump has discussed starting a new party” via Andrew Restuccia of The Wall Street Journal — Trump has talked in recent days with associates about forming a new political party, according to people familiar with the matter, an effort to exert continued influence after he leaves the White House. Trump discussed the matter with several aides and other people close to him last week, the people said. The President said he would want to call the new party the “Patriot Party.” It’s unclear how serious Trump is about starting a new party, which would require a significant investment of time and resources. The President has a large base of supporters, some of whom were not deeply involved in Republican politics before his 2016 campaign.
“‘They want to welcome him home.’ MAGA fans expect ‘a lot of emotion’ during Trump’s Palm Beach arrival” via Skyler Swisher and Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Trump’s presidency is ending, but a new chapter in his Florida story starts Wednesday. A moving truck is parked at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach. His White House residency expires at noon when Biden will be sworn in as the nation’s 46th President. Trump won’t be around to see it. Instead, he’s headed to Mar-a-Lago, which is expected to become his home base. Joe Budd, president of the Trump Club 45 USA fan club, expects a big crowd of flag-waving supporters to greet Trump when Air Force One lands at Palm Beach International. Some are planning to travel from other parts of the state, he said, including a woman from the Gulf Coast who called him in tears.
“Trump will find ‘both love and hate’ in Florida as he begins post-presidential life” via David Smiley and Francesca Chambers of The Miami Herald — When Trump leaves the White House for the final time Wednesday, he will board Air Force One and head for Palm Beach International Airport, where he’ll be greeted by the warm embrace of his South Florida loyalists as he heads into his post-presidential life. Trump’s strongest supporters are organizing crowds to greet his motorcade on its route to Mar-a-Lago, the private Palm Beach club he calls home. And when Biden is sworn in at noon as the nation’s 46th President, Trump should be firmly situated in a state where his allies occupy some of the most powerful government, media, and political positions.
— “Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner lease Miami condo following $32 million deal on Indian Creek” via The Wall Street Journal
“Donald Trump Jr., Guilfoyle moving in? Admirals Cove residents not thrilled with the idea” via Christine Stapleton and Alexandra Clough of The Palm Beach Post — Trump Jr. and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle are planning to spend millions of dollars on two luxurious waterfront homes in Admirals Cove, an exclusive gated community in Jupiter. But like Trump’s father is seeing in Palm Beach, some would-be neighbors in Admirals Cove also don’t want a Trump in their neighborhood. When word spread that the couple had contracts to purchase the two homes on adjacent lots in the community, about 30 residents contacted Peter Moore, general manager of the property owners association. “About half have concerns about safety,” Moore said. “The others have political concerns with what’s happened in the last couple of weeks.”
“The financial minefield awaiting an Ex-President Trump” via Russ Buettner and Susanne Craig of The New York Times — Not long after he strides across the White House grounds Wednesday morning for the last time as President, Trump will step into a financial minefield that appears to be unlike anything he has faced since his earlier brushes with collapse. Without a new lender or a new line of revenue that does not require a large investment of time and money, the soon-to-be-former President is likely to face hard choices, including possibly being pinched into selling underperforming golf courses or his hotel in the Old Post Office Building in Washington. In 2008, Trump defaulted on huge loans on his Chicago tower, much of his commercial space went empty, and his casinos neared another bankruptcy.
“Last Trump job approval 34%; Average is record-low 41%” via Jeffrey M. Jones of Gallup — As Trump prepares to leave the White House, 34% of Americans approve of the job he is doing as President, the worst evaluation of his presidency. Throughout his presidency, his 41% average approval rating is four points lower than for any of his predecessors in Gallup’s polling era. Trump’s ratings showed a record 81-percentage-point average gap between Republicans and Democrats — 11 points wider than the prior record. The 34% job approval rating for Trump in Gallup’s Jan. 4-15 poll is one point lower than his prior lowest single rating, registered on several occasions in late 2017. The first of these came in August 2017, as Trump was facing intense criticism over his unvarnished threats against North Korean aggression and his response to deadly violence by a White nationalist at a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia.
—“The worst final popularity rating ever for a First Lady belongs to Melania Trump” via Harry Enten of CNN
“As Trump’s presidency recedes into history, scholars seek to understand his reign — and what it says about American democracy” via David Nakamura of The Washington Post — More than 30,000 falsehoods and lies. Nearly 400,000 coronavirus deaths. Rising White nationalism. Financial self-dealing. A social media ban. Two impeachments. A deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. Trump’s four years in office come to a close Wednesday after a reign defined by constant chaos, corruption and scandal, a tenure that numerous scholars predict is destined to rank him among America’s worst Presidents. Trump’s claims of policy victories — including a raft of conservative judges and steps toward Middle East peace — will be vastly overshadowed by his mismanagement of the pandemic and his unprecedented assault on the U.S. election results, they said.
“The Trump movement’s break with reality will outlive his presidency” via Rosie Gray of BuzzFeed — In December, I wrote that Trump supporters I spoke to were increasingly “comfortable with the idea of a bloody uprising against their fellow citizens.” Whipped up by Trump’s ceaseless torrent of lies about the election, Trump fans — not hardened militia members, but otherwise unremarkable and law-abiding private citizens — were talking about the potential for civil war and insurrection, convinced they were the victims of a seditious conspiracy to put Biden in the White House. If I could go back and rewrite that piece, I would take out the word “idea.” The mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 was no mere idea.
“The coming Republican amnesia” via McKay Coppins of The Atlantic — As Trump lurches through the disastrous final days of his presidency, Republicans are just beginning to survey the wreckage of his reign. Their party has been gutted, their leader is reviled, and after four years of excusing every presidential affront to “conservative values,” their credibility is shot. How will the GOP recover from the complicity and corruption of the Trump era? To many Republicans, the answer is simple: Pretend it never happened. “We’re about to see a whole political party do a large-scale version of ‘New phone, who dis?’” says Sarah Isgur, a former top spokesperson for the Trump Justice Department. “It will be like that boyfriend you should never have dated — the mistake that shall not be mentioned.”
“Yep, Trump only visited one D.C. restaurant in four years” via Jessica Sidman of The Washingtonian — Even before the heavy barricades and National Guard troops fortressed a sizable chunk of D.C., he never made any attempt to be part of the local community. Case in point: In his four years in office, Trump only visited a single District restaurant — the one in his own Pennsylvania Avenue hotel. To be fair, Trump was never going to be like Obama, who was known for hitting up trendy hot spots. And Republican presidents have historically ventured into mostly-blue D.C. less than their Democratic counterparts. Plus, Trump is a creature of habit. When he did venture out for a meal at the Trump hotel’s steakhouse, BLT Prime, he pretty much always ordered the same thing: shrimp cocktail, fries, and well-done steak.
“Mitch McConnell just stuck a knife in Trump. But he left something out.” via Greg Sargent of The Washington Post — Speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader McConnell seemed to hang the violent assault on the Capitol directly around the neck of Trump. “The mob was fed lies,” he said. “They were provoked by the President.” This is making big news. After all, McConnell is forthrightly declaring that Trump incited the assault, which many Republicans will not say. McConnell is knifing Trump in the back on the way out. What drama! But let’s get real. While McConnell’s words have the aura of blunt truth-telling, what he just offered is, at bottom, an effort to distance the GOP from any culpability for the mob attack.
— LOSERS —
“Lawmakers who objected to election results have been cut off from 20 of their 30 biggest corporate PAC donors” via Douglas MacMillan and Jena McGregor of The Washington Post — The 147 Republican lawmakers who opposed certification of the presidential election this month have lost the support of many of their largest corporate backers, but not all of them. The Washington Post contacted the 30 companies that gave the most money to election-objecting lawmakers’ campaigns through political action committees. Two-thirds, or 20 of the firms, said they have pledged to suspend some or all payments from their PACs. Meanwhile, 10 companies said only that they would review their political giving or did not commit to taking any action due to this month’s events.
“U.S. files conspiracy charge against Oath Keeper leader in alleged plot against the Capitol” via Spencer S. Hsu, Tom Jackman and Devlin Barrett of The Washington Post — U.S. authorities have leveled the first conspiracy charge against an apparent leader of an extremist group in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, arresting an alleged Oath Keeper who is accused of plotting to disrupt the electoral vote confirmation of Biden’s victory and proposing further assaults on state capitols. Thomas Edward Caldwell of Clarke County, Virginia, was taken into custody on four federal counts, including conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States in the Capitol attack. The conspiracy charge is reserved for offenses interfering with or obstructing the lawful operation of government.
“Gabriel Garcia, Miami Proud Boys member, ex-GOP candidate, arrested for role in Capitol mob” via David Ovalle and Jay Weaver of The Miami Herald — A Miami member of the extremist Proud Boys group who once ran unsuccessfully for elected office was arrested early Tuesday on allegations he took part in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. Garcia made his first appearance in federal court Tuesday as a criminal complaint against him was unsealed. He is being charged with engaging in acts of civil disorder, entering restricted grounds, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. Garcia recorded and uploaded a series of Facebook videos of himself inside the Capitol along with others in the mob. “We just went ahead and stormed the Capitol. It’s about to get ugly,” he says in the video.
“Polk deputy texted co-worker about plan to kill feds after U.S. Capitol riot, sheriff says” via Monivette Cordeiro of The Orlando Sentinel — A Polk County deputy sheriff was arrested Tuesday after he was accused of threatening a mass shooting against federal officials following the riot at the U.S. Capitol this month. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Peter Heneen made the threats in text messages he sent to a fellow deputy the night of Jan. 6. Heneen, who worked with the Sheriff’s Office for more than six years, was suspended pending his termination. Heneen was texting his colleague about the riot when he said someone needed to “shoot the feds” and “make the streets of D.C. run red with blood of the tyrants,” Judd said.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Florida adds 9,816 COVID-19 cases, second-lowest reported this year, and 160-plus deaths” via Michelle Marchante and Carli Teproff of The Miami Herald — On Tuesday, Florida’s Department of Health confirmed 9,816 additional cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s known total to 1,589,097. Also, 162 resident deaths were announced, bringing the resident death toll to 24,436. One new nonresident death was also announced, bringing the nonresident toll to 384. The total death count for the state is 24,820, the fourth-highest in the country after New York, California, and Texas. Tuesday’s single-day count is the second day in a row that the state reported fewer than 10,000 cases in one day this year.
“Gov. Ron DeSantis criticizes Biden’s vaccine plan as ‘big mistake,’ ‘not necessary’” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — During a news conference in Cape Coral on Tuesday, DeSantis said Biden’s plan to use federal disaster agency and the National Guard to build COVID-19 vaccine clinics across the country would be a “big mistake.” “I saw some of this stuff Biden’s putting out, that he’s going to create these FEMA camps, I can tell you, that’s not necessary in Florida,” he said. “All we need is more vaccine. Just get us more vaccine.” The comments were the first he has made about the incoming administration’s vaccine plans. Unlike Trump’s approach of letting states distribute the vaccines, which has been slower than expected, Biden said last week he would speed the process by enlisting federal help.
“Publix stores in Palm Beach, Martin, Monroe counties to get COVID-19 vaccines” via Ana Ceballos of The Miami Herald — DeSantis announced all 67 Publix pharmacies in Palm Beach County, along with seven in Martin County and two in Monroe County, will soon offer the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccines will be offered to Floridians 65 and older and will be available by appointment only, DeSantis told reporters at a news conference in Jupiter. “Rather than have them drive all over God’s creation, we understand that if you are 80 years old, it is easier to go to the supermarket than some of this other stuff,” DeSantis said. There is no timeline yet when Publix pharmacies in Miami-Dade, Broward or other populous counties, like Pinellas and Hillsborough, will get COVID-19 vaccines. Shots will begin to be administered on Thursday.
“Scott Rivkees says state vaccine is ‘supply limited’” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — Surgeon General Rivkees said in the statewide phone call that he does not know when additional “first doses” of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be sent to the state or how many doses would be in a potential future delivery. The additional first-dose vaccines, Rivkees said, would be in addition to follow-up second dose vaccines delivered to hospitals late last week and early this week. Agency for Health Care Administration Acting Secretary Shevaun Harris, who joined Rivkees on the phone call, said some hospitals weren’t expected to get their second-dose deliveries until late Tuesday night due to a shipping delay.
Thank you, Dr. Obvious — “COVID-19 vaccine ‘is our path forward,’ Florida’s top health official tells lawmakers” via Jeffrey Schweers of The Tallahassee Democrat — Despite a chaotic rollout plagued by busy phone lines, crashing websites and a limited supply controlled by the federal government, Rivkees told a Senate panel last week that “the vaccine is our path forward” in fighting COVID-19. With an unpredictable number of doses coming into the state from week to week and a pent-up demand for the vaccine, it’s going to be a rocky path, officials speaking to state lawmakers last week admitted. “The Department of Health plan calls for a decentralized effort,” Division of Emergency Management director Jared Moskowitz said. “I know it seems chaotic, but public health is a decentralized effort.”
“Concern grows in Florida over more contagious COVID-19 strain” via Bobby Caina Calvan of The Associated Press — As Florida officials ramped up vaccinations against the coronavirus, concern spread Tuesday over a new, more contagious variant that could be gaining a foothold in the state. The federal CDC said Florida had 46 confirmed cases of the more transmissible strain of COVID-19 as of Sunday, eclipsing California with 40 confirmed cases at last count. The strain was first detected in the United Kingdom in December and has begun spreading globally. Early evidence seems to indicate the new strain is no more lethal than earlier strains that sickened nearly 24.2 million in the U.S. and killed more than 400,000. Florida is now approaching 1.6 million confirmed cases, with nearly 10,000 new cases and about 160 additional deaths reported Tuesday. To date, the state has reported more than 24,400 virus-related deaths.
— CORONA LOCAL —
“Lenny Curry says vaccine scarcity could halt vaccinations at city-run sites after Thursday” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — Mayor Curry said Tuesday the city’s initial allotment of the COVID-19 vaccines for use at two city-run sites would run out by the end of the day Thursday and cause a halt to vaccines at those senior centers until the city can get more supplies. Curry said anyone who received a vaccination at the two senior centers will still return for the necessary second dose at the same sites. “It’s a fluid situation and we’re all going to have to adapt, which is what we’ve done as a community since March of last year,” he said, referring to the emergence of the pandemic in Jacksonville.
“Amid statewide shortage, Baptist Health cancels scheduled first-dose COVID-19 vaccines” via Samantha J. Gross of The Miami Herald — Baptist Health announced Tuesday that due to restraints on the COVID-19 vaccine supply, all first-dose vaccinations booked for Jan. 20 and later are canceled. No new appointments will be taken. Second-dose appointments are not affected, as required by the vaccine’s emergency use authorization. “I could have blown the top of my head off with steam,” said Charlotte Reeve, of Davie, who had her appointment canceled. The cancellations come as top state health officials acknowledged that Florida is in a “supply-limited situation.” Rivkees told hospital officials that he does not know when additional first doses of the Pfizer BioNtech or Moderna vaccines will be sent to the state or how many doses would be in a future shipment.
“Marlins Park opening for COVID-19 vaccinations, with goal of 1,000 doses daily” via Joey Flechas and Ana Claudia Chacin of The Miami Herald — A COVID-19 vaccination site will open at Marlins Park on Wednesday with a goal of administering 1,000 doses a day. On Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Francis Suarez announced the opening of the state-run site with 7,000 doses supplied by the Florida Department of Health. Miami-Dade County handles the scheduling of appointments for Marlins Park through the same call center that books appointments for Hard Rock Stadium, 1-888-499-0840. The number for the hearing impaired is 1-888-256-8918. The Marlins Park vaccination site will open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for appointments only. The Mayor said testing will continue.
“Half of Miami’s COVID-19 front line passed on vaccines. Leaders should ask why, experts say” via Ben Conarck and Douglas Hanks of The Miami Herald — Large numbers of Miami-Dade hospital workers, firefighters and paramedics who were offered early vaccinations for COVID-19 declined. County leaders haven’t tried to figure out why. The lack of full acceptance by those key groups is likely to have implications when it comes to vaccine trust in the broader population. Less than a quarter of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s 2,000 firefighters and EMS squads have gotten the vaccine, 458 people in an agency of about 2,000 people, as of Friday. The paltry numbers of first responders wanting the vaccine doesn’t appear to have prompted a sense of urgency from Miami-Dade leaders.
“Tampa Bay school districts to get coronavirus vaccines for older staff” via Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — Efforts to get the coronavirus vaccine to Florida school employees have begun to pay off. On Tuesday, the Pinellas County health department began providing first-round inoculations to all school district employees 65 years of age or older. The department has set aside appointment times for the district’s approximately 1,300 workers in that category at three sites — Clearwater, St. Petersburg and mid-county — through Jan. 25. More than 400 school staff signed up for a time on the first day, school superintendent Mike Grego said. As others register, he said, they will be able to attend even if their appointment conflicts with work. Registrations go through the district, to avoid getting caught up in the larger surge.
— CORONA NATION —
“American COVID-19 deaths surpass 400,000, with death rate accelerating, on final full day of Trump’s term” via Adam Geller and Janie Har of The Associated Press — As Trump entered the final year of his term last January, the U.S. recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19. Not to worry, Trump insisted, his administration had the virus “totally under control.” Now, in his final hours in office, after a year of presidential denials of reality and responsibility, the pandemic’s U.S. death toll has eclipsed 400,000. And the loss of lives is accelerating. The 400,000-death toll is greater than the population of New Orleans, Cleveland or Tampa, Florida. It’s nearly equal to the number of American lives lost annually to strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, flu and pneumonia combined. The toll by week’s end will probably surpass the number of Americans killed in World War II.
—“Americans dying faster of COVID-19 than our soldiers did in World War II” via Jim Sergent and Ramon Padilla of USA Today
“Trump’s administration fell far short of its own vaccine promises” via JM Rieger of The Washington Post — Four days after the first coronavirus vaccine received emergency use authorization in the United States, the head of the White House’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine effort appeared on MSNBC. “In the month of December, between the two vaccines — the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine — we expect to have immunized 20 million of our American people,” Moncef Slaoui said on Dec. 15. But despite the Trump administration’s repeated promises to deliver tens or even hundreds of millions of coronavirus vaccine doses by the new year, Trump is set to leave office Wednesday, having delivered just over 31 million coronavirus vaccine doses nationwide. Fewer than half of those have been administered.
“New CDC Director pledges to speed vaccination, restore trust in agency” via Betsy McKay of The Wall Street Journal — Rochelle Walensky, the incoming director of the U.S. CDC, said she would start her new job with a big to-do list: helping states fix COVID-19 vaccination programs and persuading exhausted Americans to wear masks and take other precautions. In an interview, Dr. Walensky said the agency would try to help people overcome doubts about COVID-19 vaccines, and she vowed to increase public trust in the CDC. Dr. Walensky will take the CDC’s helm on Wednesday, as a highly transmissible mutant, or variant, of the novel coronavirus threatens to cause a new surge in infections in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, the vaccination campaign to stop the pandemic is off to a slow start, and surveys show many people in the U.S. are hesitant to get vaccinated.
“After months of trauma, vaccinated health care workers welcome a surprising emotion: Hope” via Karin Brulliard of The Washington Post — One month after a New York nurse received the first U.S. vaccination, the hope inspired by the vaccines’ swift development and approval has given way in many quarters nationally to the distressing reality of a slow and sometimes calamitous rollout. Many health care workers said the vaccine had renewed their optimism after months during which depression and burnout in their field soared, and the virus killed an estimated 3,000 people in their ranks.
“A new COVID-19 challenge: Mutations rise along with cases” via Marilynn Marchione of The Associated Press — The race against the virus that causes COVID-19 has taken a new turn: Mutations are rapidly popping up, and the longer it takes to vaccinate people, the more likely it is that a variant that can elude current tests, treatments and vaccines could emerge. The coronavirus is becoming more genetically diverse, and health officials say the high rate of new cases is the main reason. Each new infection gives the virus a chance to mutate as it makes copies of itself, threatening to undo the progress made so far to control the pandemic. On Friday, the World Health Organization urged more effort to detect new variants.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“U.S. economic recovery loses steam just as Biden takes office” via Reade Pickert, Yue Qiu and Alexander McIntyre of Bloomberg — Biden this week inherits an economic recovery that’s challenged by the raging pandemic and a still-suffering labor market. The latest data show how the untamed virus continues to constrain the U.S. rebound. Business restrictions to curb the spread helped drive a jump in initial jobless claims, while a weekly measure of retail sales has eased to a five-week low. The relief package approved in December and Biden’s request for $1.9 trillion in additional aid should help support businesses and workers during the wait for widespread vaccination. Even so, the recent deterioration in some high-frequency indicators shows just how far the U.S. is from a full recovery.
“IRS delays start of tax filing season to Feb. 12” via Darla Mercado of CNBC — The IRS is delaying the start of the 2020 tax filing season to Feb. 12, according to an announcement Friday from the agency. On that date, the IRS will start accepting and processing last year’s tax returns. Normally, the agency opens tax season in late January. However, this year, the IRS will need more time to prepare after the COVID-19 relief act that took effect in late December. And yes, the tax filing deadline is still April 15. “If filing season were opened without the correct programming in place, then there could be a delay in issuing refunds to taxpayers,” the IRS said in its announcement.
— MORE CORONA —
“Biden rejects Trump’s move to lift coronavirus travel bans for Europe, Brazil” via Emma Anderson of POLITICO — Biden’s team rejected a move Monday by Trump to lift coronavirus restrictions for European and Brazilian travelers. Trump had announced he was rescinding the entry bans effective January 26 — six days after Biden takes office — because of new testing requirements for international flights set to kick in that day. Biden transition spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Twitter, however, that upon the advice of its medical team, the incoming administration “does not intend to lift these restrictions.” “In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” said Psaki.
“Royal Caribbean Group is shrinking its fleet, selling Azamara to private equity firm” via Taylor Dolven of The Miami Herald — Royal Caribbean Group is selling one of its four cruise lines, Azamara, to a New York-based private equity firm. In a $201 million transaction, the second-largest cruise company in the world plans to hand over the Azamara brand and its three cruise ships to Sycamore Partners by the end of March. The company’s decision to shrink its fleet comes after 10 months of canceled cruises in the U.S. due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Royal Caribbean Group CEO Richard Fain said that the sale allows the company to put more resources into its three remaining cruise lines: Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea.
“From ‘Alma’ to ‘Zuri,’ parents are looking for positive baby names” via Jancee Dunn of The New York Times — The coronavirus pandemic, stretching into another year, has left few corners of everyday life untouched. For the most recent crop of new parents, the pandemic has been the backdrop of their entire birth process for some; it’s even changed how they chose the names of their babies. Baby-naming experts are reporting decided shifts in the name selection process. Pamela Redmond, chief executive of the baby-naming website Nameberry, reported a jump in name searches on the site during the pandemic. Redmond found that names derived from optimistic meanings have been “trending upward since the beginning of the pandemic,” she said. Place names such as Cairo and Milan are also on the rise, Redmond said, perhaps reflecting a longing to travel during lockdown.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Georgia certifies Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock victories, paving way for Democratic control of Senate” via Amy Gardner and Erica Werner of The Washington Post — Georgia election officials on Tuesday certified the victories of Democrats Ossoff and Warnock, who won in the state’s hard-fought U.S. Senate runoff elections earlier this month, paving the way for them to take office as early as Wednesday. Ossoff and Warnock are expected to be sworn in Wednesday by newly inaugurated Vice President Harris in one of her first acts in presiding over the Senate, according to an individual with direct knowledge of the plan. She is also set to swear in Alex Padilla, the former California Secretary of State appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to fill Harris’s own Senate seat. Their arrivals will give Democrats a Senate majority, with Harris providing a tiebreaking vote.
“Marco Rubio signals support for key Biden intelligence pick” of The Associated Press — Biden’s nominee to lead the intelligence community, Avril Haines, promised to “speak truth to power” and keep politics out of intelligence agencies to ensure their work is trusted. Her words went over. Rubio and its ranking Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia, both indicated they expect Haines to win confirmation. “When it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics — ever,” she told the Senate Intelligence Committee. Haines would enter the job as director of national intelligence. Her hearing kicked off a series of Senate confirmation hearings Tuesday, including those for Biden’s picks to lead the State Department, the Pentagon, and the departments of Homeland Security and Treasury.
“Matt Gaetz won’t challenge Rubio in 2022” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Instead, the Panhandle Republican publicly expressed interest in a Florida Cabinet position. “I have no interest in running against Marco Rubio for the U.S. Senate,” Gaetz tweeted. “In 2022, the only statewide position I would consider running for in the current political climate is Commissioner of Agriculture.” Though Gaetz may be eyeing a bid for Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner gig, the 38-year-old suggested that nothing is set in stone. “But things can change. (Not the Senate thing though),” Gaetz said about 2022 speculation.
“Maria Elvira Salazar named assistant whip for House GOP” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Salazar has secured an assistant whip position just weeks after being sworn in as a member of Congress for the first time. House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana named Salazar to his team, per a Tuesday release. Salazar represents Florida’s 27th Congressional District in Miami-Dade County. She’ll be responsible for helping to push fellow Republicans to vote in line with the party during the 117th Congress. “I’m deeply humbled by the opportunity to serve as a leader among my Republican colleagues and look forward to doing my part to unite our party,” Salazar said. Her message that there is some equivalence between the American Democratic Party and violent, oppressive socialist regimes of South and Central America has been hammered home by Salazar and other Republican lawmakers in recent years.
— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —
“Danny Burgess bill would repeal state’s motor vehicle no-fault law” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Sen. Burgess filed legislation Friday that would repeal Florida’s motor vehicle no-fault law. Florida’s No-Fault Law requires drivers to carry personal injury protection (PIP). Burgess’ proposal, SB 54, would instead require motorists to carry bodily injury liability coverage. SB 54 retains the existing $10,000 financial responsibly requirement for property damage. It also repeals the No-Fault Law’s recovery limitation on pain and suffering damages. Other provisions include named driver exclusions and a new framework to govern motor vehicle insurance bad faith claims. The Banking and Insurance Committee will discuss the bill at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 26 in Room 412 of the Knott Building.
“Online sales tax collection goes to Senate committee” via News Service of Florida — A proposal that would require more online sellers to collect Florida sales taxes and turn the money over to the state will appear Monday before the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee. SB 50, filed by Sen. Joe Gruters, has gained support as state revenue has taken a massive hit amid the coronavirus pandemic. Senate President Wilton Simpson has highlighted the issue as one way lawmakers can offset a projected $2.75 billion shortfall. Many out-of-state online retailers have not collected and remitted the taxes. Similar past proposals, dubbed “Wayfair” bills after the online purveyor, have died as Republican lawmakers have been leery of appearing to raise taxes.
“Tina Polsky joins Mike Grieco in proposal to ban conversion therapy for minors” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Rep. Grieco has refiled a bill to ban conversion therapy for children. The bill, Prohibited Counseling Services, would ban “therapy” with the goal of shaming and altering a minor’s gender identity or sexual orientation. The bill clarifies the ban does not apply to services that promote “acceptance, support and understanding.” For example, the bill does not prohibit counseling services to individuals actively undergoing gender transition or other supportive services that may provide information on safe-sex practices, as long as the goal of such services is not to change the person’s gender identity or sexual orientation. The bill also makes it a third-degree felony for those who continue to practice conversion therapy on minors.
“Senate staff encouraged to remain clear of Capitol to accommodate law enforcement presence” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Simpson encouraged lawmakers and staff on Tuesday to continue working from home amid lingering security concerns at the Florida Capitol Complex. In a memo sent Tuesday, Simpson said he is unaware of “planned acts of violence” at the Capitol, though law enforcement is anticipating demonstrations on Tuesday or Wednesday. The scale of the protests, the Trilby Republican noted, is unknown. Florida’s security tensions grew more acute on Saturday when federal authorities arrested an Army veteran who plotted to confront Capitol protesters with firearms. He encouraged others to join him via social media.
Legislative delegation meetings — The Martin County legislative delegation — Sen. Gayle Harrell; Reps. John Snyder and Rep. Toby Overdorf — meets to prepare for the 2021 Legislative Session, 9:30 a.m., Indian River State College, Chastain Campus, Wolf Technology Center, 2400 S.E. Salerno Road, Stuart. The Pasco County delegation — Simpson; Sens. Ed Hooper and Danny Burgess; Reps. Amber Mariano, Adrian Zika, and Randy Maggard — will meet, 2 p.m., West Pasco Government Center, 8731 Citizens Dr., New Port Richey. The Hamilton County delegation — Sen. Loranne Ausley and Rep. Chuck Brannan — will meet, 5 p.m., Hamilton County Courthouse, 207 N.E. First St., Jasper. The Okaloosa County delegation — Sens. Doug Broxson and George Gainer; Reps. Jayer Williamson and Patt Maney — will meet, 5:30 p.m. Central time, Okaloosa County Commission chamber, 1250 Eglin Parkway, Shalimar.
— STATEWIDE —
“State grapples with property insurance woes” via Jim Turner of The News Service of Florida — Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier and Citizens Property Insurance President and CEO Barry Gilway went before House and Senate panels last week and painted a picture of a distressed market that, without changes, will continue to worsen. Altmaier cited 105 rate filings by property insurers during the first 10 months of 2020, with 55 resulting in approved rate increases of more than 10%. “I have not seen any evidence that the trends we are seeing now are going to reverse,” Altmaier told members of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. Citizens ballooned after the disastrous 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons and had 1.47 million policies in 2011.
“Major punitive damages award upheld in tobacco case” via Jim Saunders of News Service of Florida — Pointing in part to “reprehensible” conduct, a federal appeals court Tuesday upheld a $20.7 million punitive damages award against Philip Morris USA in a Florida case filed by a woman who first tried cigarettes at age 13 and later suffered from a smoking-related illness. The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals came amid a series of high-stakes cases involving tobacco companies. The tobacco company argued in the appeal that the $20.7 million punitive damages award was unconstitutionally excessive. But the Atlanta-based appeals court upheld the award, pointing to a series of legal “guideposts” used in evaluating punitive damages, including whether the cigarette maker’s conduct had been reprehensible.
— LOCAL NOTES —
“Central Florida officials ‘constantly monitoring’ ahead of inauguration, but no known threats” via Grace Toohey and Monivette Cordeiro of the Orlando Sentinel — No Central Florida law enforcement agencies reached by the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday had any specific concerns for Inauguration Day, but all said officers remain ready if something does occur, and continue to monitor social media and other mediums for anything that could arise. Local FBI spokeswoman Andrea Aprea said the Tampa region has not received any “specific and substantiated threats” to government buildings in the region, but agents continue to monitor the situation. She asked for the public’s assistance, urging people to call the FBI’s Tampa office or visit tips.fbi.gov to relay any tips about potential violence.
“Sarasota police chief joked about using Taser on mentally ill homeless man” via Lee Williams of The Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino is under fire from city officials for joking about using a Taser on a mentally ill homeless man who heckled her officers during a special performance by the Sarasota Opera, according to people familiar with the incident. The performance was held on Nov. 18 on the west side of police headquarters. The audience consisted of officers and detectives as well as civilian police employees. The homeless man had reportedly not made any verbal or physical threats to anyone attending the performance. One of the officers who heard DiPino’s comments made a complaint to the city manager’s office via email.
“Airbnb joins ‘It’s a Penalty’ to combat human trafficking ahead of Super Bowl” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Airbnb is partnering with the global anti-trafficking group “It’s a Penalty” to combat human trafficking in Tampa as it prepares for the 2021 Super Bowl. The partnership will prepare Airbnb hosts ahead of the Super Bowl with information and resources developed by It’s a Penalty on recognizing signs of trafficking and how to report it. Big sporting events like the Super Bowl can increase human trafficking due to an influx of visitors. And Florida has the third-highest rate of human trafficking cases reported by state, according to leading anti-trafficking organization Polaris. Ashley Moody recently joined It’s a Penalty to unveil educational signage and other displays at Tampa International Airport.
— TOP OPINION —
“Ron Matus: A school choice scholarship changed this LGBTQ student’s life — and may have saved it” via Florida Politics — In fourth and fifth grades, Marquavis Wilson was tormented because of his sexual identity. In public schools, he was taunted with repeated slurs, told he was going to hell. The bullying and battling took a toll. He told his mom, Lamisha Stephens, he wanted to kill himself. Stephens knew she had to make a change. First, she secured a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. Then she enrolled Marquavis in West Park Preparatory School, a tiny, faith-based private school she concluded would be the safe haven he needed. It was. Marquavis is no longer fighting. He’s thinking about college and careers. He said the scholarship and the school changed his life. His mom said they saved his life.
— OPINIONS —
“Biden’s inaugural speech won’t unite the country. Here’s what could.” via John F. Harris of POLITICO — In his inaugural address Wednesday, Biden will surely issue an appeal for unity, a plea that all Americans raise our sights and lower our voices, that we work together to restore faith in government, and each other. And so on. The words will be heard as sensible by any sensible person. Unless he somehow sought help from the wrong speechwriter, some passages will be downright eloquent. And if history is any guide, the effective half-life of this rhetorical appeal will be measured in days or hours. It is not that exhortations for unity fall on deaf ears; it is that they fall on desensitized minds, even among people who say they want unity and may actually believe it. His policy agenda depends on reviving a functional political center. In broad historical terms, everyone else has an interest, too. The country’s long-term vitality depends on it.
“After the longest four years, America is going to have a President again — a real one” via Leonard Pitts, Jr. of The Miami Herald — And so we reach the end of an unpresidented era. The reference is, of course, to one of Trump’s many Twitter misspellings, this one found in his 2016 description of the seizure of a U.S. Navy drone. He meant to call it “unprecedented.” But Trump’s mistake gave us a coinage perfect for this moment. For four years, America has been an unpresidented nation, in some fundamental sense, a nation without a President. Today, as those bleak years finally wane, as Biden prepares to take office, an old maxim gleams like a newly minted coin: Truly, you never miss your water till your well runs dry. In other words, you never know what it means to have a president until you’ve gone without.
“Biden, Harris up to the challenge of fixing Trump’s many messes” via Stephanie Murphy of The Orlando Sentinel — Last week, as Congress met to certify Biden as the 46th president of the United States, pro-Trump insurrectionists provoked by our commander in chief stormed the Capitol, menacing police officers and threatening lawmakers. It was a day that will live in infamy. So far, five people have died as a result. While Trump will be remembered by history as the only President to be impeached twice, the impact of his failed leadership will be felt by Americans for years to come. In nearly every respect, Trump has trashed our country, leaving it to the new administration and the new Congress to clean up the mess. Trump leaves behind a country deeply divided.
“A fresh start for Republicans can come only if they abandon authoritarian populism” via Michael Gerson of The Washington Post — A new beginning is not a chance to wipe the slate clean. That would leave us impervious to learning. A new beginning is appropriately a time for reflection and rededication. And this requires recognition of previous misjudgment. Mine was to regard American political institutions as solid, objectively existing things — like the granite blocks of the Capitol or the marble floors of the Old Executive Office Building. I had worked in both the Senate and the White House. Unconsciously, I viewed the constitutional order as a vast machine, impervious to the faults and failures of individuals. But the Trump era has demonstrated the shocking fragility of democracy and the finely balanced contingency of history.
“DeSantis can’t mask reality of new COVID-19 threat” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — No wonder DeSantis didn’t want Floridians to know what’s in the weekly reports from the White House Coronavirus Task Force. According to the newest report, the state is in a “full-blown COVID-19 resurgence.” Florida can expect “significant fatalities” from this third wave. The report recommends that Florida do lots more — soon — to protect residents. It took a lawsuit to force DeSantis to release the reports. You can see why. The latest advice reveals how much he is to blame for the third wave of cases. In late September, the Governor issued an executive order that prohibited cities and counties from enforcing mask mandates. You can trace Florida’s spike in cases to that date and thus to that decision.
— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —
Sunrise takes a moment to honor the 400,000 Americans who died from COVID-19.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— The nation hit that grim milestone on Trump’s last full day in office. Despite a shortage of vaccines, DeSantis is expanding the number of places you can sign up for a shot using Publix pharmacies to administer vaccinations.
— DeSantis held news conferences in Jupiter, Rockledge and Cape Coral to announce the Publix expansion. He also vowed to limit shots to people who actually live in Florida while at the same time boasting that vaccine tourism only proves he’s doing something right.
— The environmental group One Thousand Friends of Florida reveals its agenda for the upcoming Legislative Session. They admit the budget shortfall created by the COVID-19 crisis will make it much harder to fund conservation programs.
— But the budget crisis could help environmentalists who are trying to derail M-CORES, the plan to build three new toll roads through some of the last undeveloped areas of Florida.
— On the Sunrise Soapbox, the Governor talks about one of his top priorities for the upcoming Session. DeSantis wants to take on the tech elites who slapped misinformation warnings on the President’s Twitter feed during the campaign and pulled the plug on his social media when he spread unfounded allegations of voter fraud. DeSantis says they interfered in the election by gagging conservatives.
— And finally, a Florida Man says he ignored the police officer chasing him because he had to get home to mom.
To listen, click on the image below:
— ALOE —
What Gus Corbella is reading — “Michelin France stars awarded in virtual ceremony” via Thomas Adamson of The Associated Press — France’s Michelin Guide, which has long served as a bible for foodies, is adapting its awards ceremony in Paris for the year that was like no other — 2020. It is handing out its stars for the shuttered industry at a virtual ceremony to a virtual public. From the panoramic splendor of the Jules Verne Restaurant on the Eiffel Tower’s second floor, judges are giving out this year’s stars for their 2021 France guide — based on reviews of eateries that have for large periods of time been completely closed nationwide. The country famed for its cuisine saw restaurants shut for large parts of last year during what was one of Europe’s harshest lockdowns, while strict curfews disrupted the dinner service.
Speaking of France — “Disney fans inch into Epcot’s Ratatouille ride area” via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — Epcot now has fewer construction walls and more rats. Walt Disney World recently removed some of the barriers in the theme park’s France pavilion near the upcoming Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure ride. Visitors can now wander farther back into the plaza, formerly a backstage area normally off-limits to the general public; however, folks cannot get up to the ride’s actual entrance or the neighboring crepes restaurant yet. What Epcot visitors can see now: An archway with a banner saying the ride will open in 2021, elaborately painted walls, yet another construction wall, a new angle on the park’s faux Eiffel Tower, and several stylized rat images.
Speaking of Disney — “Trump’s wild ride puts Disney’s Hall of Presidents in a predicament” via the Orlando Sentinel editorial board — The Hall of Presidents has been a staple attraction since the park opened in 1971. Now the Trump-fueled insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has renewed calls for Disney to banish the 45th President. Should he stay, or should he go? Neither. It’s time for Disney to put this attraction out to pasture. After four years of saying he wanted to make America great again, Trump ended up making Americans revolt against their own government. That’s a damning distinction, but removing the animatronic Trump is a slippery slope. Is he worse than Andrew Johnson, who botched Reconstruction? Warren G. Harding’s scandals would have melted the internet. Woodrow Wilson said Black people were “an ignorant and inferior race” and constructed policy accordingly.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Best wishes to the incredible Marva Johnson, our dear friend Jen Lux, as well as Jim Horne, Christine Knepper, Chris O’Donnell of the Tampa Bay Times, and Rick Oppenheim.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson