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Analysis: Even after acquittal, GOP senators and Democratic managers hope rebuke of Trump has lasting impact

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Analysis by Lauren Fox and Jeremy Herb, CNN
Updated 10:58 PM ET, Sat February 13, 2021

(CNN) — In the moments after former President Donald Trump was acquitted by the Senate for a second time in a little more than a year, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rose to speak.

His message was clear: the former President could not be the future of the Republican Party. Even as McConnell voted that Trump was not guilty Saturday for inciting an insurrection — raising constitutional and specific legal objections — McConnell’s words underscored the challenge for the Republican Party going forward. They are torn between two competing interests: sticking with Trump enough to woo supporters for themselves and erasing Trump’s dangerous final days from the GOP’s legacy.
“Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty,” McConnell said on the floor Saturday.
“Anyone who decries his awful behavior is accused of insulting millions of voters. That is an absurd deflection,” McConnell added. “Seventy-four million Americans did not invade the Capitol. Hundreds of rioters did. Seventy-four million Americans did not engineer the campaign of disinformation and rage that provoked it. One person did. Just one. “
    The task before Republicans now will be detangling the pieces of Trump’s appeal to carry with them — and how much of the former President’s bombastic and conspiratorial tendencies they can truly leave behind. Republican senators’ acquittal of Trump, they argue, should not be read as an all-out embrace of the former President or what he stood for or even practically as a promise they would back him in 2024 to lead their party in a race for the White House.
    “Time is going to take care of that, some way or another,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa who voted to acquit, said when asked if Trump should be the future of the party. “But remember in order to be a leader you’ve gotta have followers. So we’re going to find out whoever leads, but everyone is going to be involved, we’re a big tent.”
    The Democratic House impeachment managers may not have convinced 17 Republicans to convict Trump for inciting an insurrection, but Republican senators were clearly shaken watching videos of members — and Trump’s own vice president — fleeing for safety as Trump did little to quell the rioters.
    The House managers’ case, showing the violent attack and how the danger could have been so much worse, was intended as much as to win a conviction as it was to win the public battle over Trump’s conduct. The guilty votes from seven Republican senators was a significant rebuke, even if it didn’t mean Trump would be formally barred from holding office again.
    “I think he is probably not likely to ever be President of the United States again based on what is going on right here right now,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican who voted to acquit Trump. “I think the impeachment process has been damaging because people have seen repeated images of how awful that night was and how inappropriate his response was. While it does not meet the standard in my view of inciting insurrection, it will have had that damaging effect.”
    In a Saturday night statement hours after the Senate voted to acquit Trump of inciting the deadly January 6 riot at the US Capitol, President Joe Biden said that the “substance of the charge is not in dispute,” and noted the bipartisan nature of the vote, with seven Republicans voting with Democrats to find Trump guilty.
    “While the final vote did not lead to a conviction, the substance of the charge is not in dispute. Even those opposed to the conviction, like Senate Minority Leader McConnell, believe Donald Trump was guilty of a ‘disgraceful dereliction of duty’ and ‘practically and morally responsible for provoking’ the violence unleashed on the Capitol,” Biden said in his first comments since Trump’s acquittal Saturday afternoon.

    ‘It’s an uncomfortable vote’

    Cramer has also said in recent days he would have a “harder” time supporting Trump if he ran for president in the future.
    “It would be harder for me given what’s happened, that has got to be part of what weighs on me,” Cramer told CNN.
    Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican moderate from Alaska who voted guilty, told reporters earlier in the week that she too never saw Trump wining another election for president.
    “I don’t see how after the American public sees the whole story laid out here — not just in one snippet on this day and another on that — but this whole scenario that has been laid out before us, I just, I don’t see how Donald Trump could be reelected to the presidency and I just don’t see that,” Murkowski said.
    Easily the biggest surprise among the Republicans to vote guilty was Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican who said long ago he would not run for reelection in 2022. After voting that the trial was unconstitutional earlier this week, he was the only Republican who chose to put that aside to vote to hold Trump accountable for his conduct.
    “By what he did and by what he did not do, President Trump violated his oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Burr said in a statement explaining his vote. “My hope is that with today’s vote America can begin to move forward and focus on the critical issues facing our country today.”
    While many Republicans dismissed a conviction on the basis they did not believe it was constitutional to convict an ex-President once he left office, there were few who believed that the events of January 6 — the mob, the shattered windows, the panic, the deaths and injuries — had happened completely independent of Trump. Even many Senate Republicans who found Trump not guilty said the former President bore responsibility for the attack on the Capitol and the lack of effort once it began to stop it. They argued Trump had sought to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power and stop the congressional certification of the November election.
    It was a stark contrast to Trump’s first impeachment over efforts to convince Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, when no House Republicans voted to impeach Trump, and Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah was the sole Republican to find him guilty.
    Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, looked pained in the final moments of the trial Saturday, telling reporters ultimately it was “an uncomfortable vote.”
    Asked if it was the right vote, the South Dakota Republican responded, “it’s an uncomfortable vote and time will tell, but I don’t think there was a good outcome there for anybody.”
    Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, another Republican who voted guilty, argued Saturday that Trump’s reputation has been badly damaged.
    “It was a bipartisan vote. It was the biggest bipartisan vote there ever was,” said Toomey, who is not running for reelection in 2022. “And a majority of senators believed that he was guilty. Not the two-thirds necessary to actually convict by our constitutional standards, but that is an extremely powerful rebuke. And that doesn’t go away. And the American people are aware of what he did.”

    ‘A clear and convincing majority’

    The drama over House Democrats’ short-lived gambit Saturday to haul in a Republican congresswoman to testify at the trial underscored the political realities of the trial and Democrats’ goal to convince the public Trump should not hold office again.
    The House impeachment managers knew when they surprised senators of both parties Saturday morning — springing the request to depose Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington onto a shocked chamber — that the testimony would not change the outcome of the trial. There simply was no way for Democrats to change the minds of enough Republican senators who were dug into their position. But her testimony could have created a spectacle with a member of Trump’s own party denouncing his conduct under the bright lights of a Senate impeachment trial.
    The House managers ultimately backed down from their call for testimony Saturday, just three hours after they had thrown the trial into chaos, in part due to the concerns that it could turn the trial into a drawn-out political fight, with Trump’s lawyers trying to haul in witnesses like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The other concern was that they could lose Republican guilty votes by dragging out the trial.
    The blowback they got from their liberal base about giving up on witnesses paid off when the final vote was heard several hours later. Trump has now been impeached with the support of 10 House Republicans, and seven Senate Republicans voted with Democrats that Trump was guilty.
    Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the lead impeachment manager, told reporters after the trial that most Republicans believed the managers had proven their case, even if they voted to acquit on constitutional grounds.
      “We have a clear and convincing majority of members of Congress that the President actually incited violent insurrection against the union and against the Congress,” Raskin said.
      “Mitch McConnell clearly feels that Donald Trump remains a huge problem for the Republican Party, even if he has been disgraced in the eyes of the country. That is not my jurisdiction, and I really don’t have anything to say about that. They will have to deal with the political dynamics within their own party.”

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      Politics

      Biden to take first limited steps on gun control, including on ‘ghost guns’ and pistol braces

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      By Kevin Liptak, CNN
      Updated 10:57 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

      (CNN) — President Joe Biden will take his first, limited actions on gun control Thursday, directing his administration to tighten restrictions on so-called ghost guns and pistol stabilizing braces that allow the weapons to be used more accurately, according to a senior administration official.

      The steps — which also include nominating a gun control advocate to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — fulfill a commitment Biden made in the aftermath of two deadly shootings last month to take “common sense” steps right away to address gun violence.
      But they fall short of the sweeping actions Biden promised as a candidate that must be passed by Congress, including a ban on assault weapons or enacting universal background checks. Senior administration officials framed the upcoming announcements as initial steps that would be followed by additional actions later on, including applying pressure on lawmakers to act.
        Biden said last month following a mass shooting in Colorado, “I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common sense steps that will save lives in the future.” But he has acknowledged that passing a massive new infrastructure plan — and not new gun laws — is his top legislative priority.
          Biden will make the announcements Thursday from the White House alongside his attorney general, Merrick Garland, whose Justice Department will be responsible for drafting the proposed rules.
              The announcements will come as the President is expected to nominate David Chipman as the next director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a White House official told CNN. Chipman is a former ATF agent who serves as senior policy adviser at Giffords, the organization led by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who became a gun control advocate after being shot in 2011.
              The ATF has been without a permanent director since 2015.
              Biden also plans to announce new investments in intervention programs in violence-prone communities; a directive to the Justice Department to publish model “red flag” laws for states that allow the temporary removal of guns from people deemed at high risk of harming themselves or others; and a comprehensive report on firearms trafficking.
              Taken together, the actions amount to the first real steps by Biden’s administration to combat gun violence. Inside the White House, efforts to devise executive actions have been led by White House Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice and Office of Public Engagement Director Cedric Richmond, administration officials and gun safety advocacy groups told CNN.
              That included meeting with some of those groups and fielding ideas for steps that Biden could take on his own. Some advocates had been clamoring for steps earlier in the administration, pointing to Biden’s pledge to prioritize gun control during his campaign.
              But initial reaction from gun safety advocacy groups Wednesday evening was positive.
              “Each of these executive actions will start to address the epidemic of gun violence that has raged throughout the pandemic, and begin to make good on President Biden’s promise to be the strongest gun safety president in history,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement.
              “These much-needed executive actions will start saving lives right away, and our grassroots army of nearly 6 million supporters looks forward to standing behind President Biden as he urges the Senate to follow his lead and act,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement.
              While campaigning, Biden had said he would task his attorney general with instituting better enforcement of existing gun laws as a means of slowing gun violence. He also made a campaign pledge to send $900 million for community programs meant to combat violence, something the administration is sorting out how to fulfill.
              Following last month’s shootings, Biden called on Congress to take steps like reenacting an assault weapons ban, with Vice President Kamala Harris, who argued for executive actions on the campaign trail, telling “CBS This Morning” that “if we really want something that is going to be lasting, we need to pass legislation.”
              The Democratic-controlled House passed gun legislation that would expand background checks on all commercial gun sales last month, but the bills face tougher paths in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim 50-50 majority and would need significant Republican support to overcome a legislative filibuster.
              Biden acknowledged during a news conference that his main legislative priority was passing an infrastructure package and that he believed careful timing was key to the success of any proposed bills.
              And he has acknowledged that his political capital is limited.
              “I haven’t done any counting yet,” he said in March when asked whether he believed he had enough votes to pass significant reforms.
              As the nation’s posture on guns has evolved, Biden has been front-and-center at most every stop along the way for more than three decades, from the triumph of a 10-year ban on assault weapons in 1994 to the disappointment of a failed push for universal background checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.
                Recent shootings in Georgia and Colorado had raised the question inside the West Wing over how much political capital Biden should expend on the matter, which has so often ended in frustration.
                This story has been updated with details about Biden’s executive actions and reaction to them.

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                Virginia lawmakers OK marijuana possession starting July 1

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                By Paul LeBlanc and Kay Jones, CNN
                Updated 9:45 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

                (CNN) — The Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday passed a bill legalizing simple possession of marijuana, becoming the latest state to modify its laws around cannabis use and possession that disproportionately jailed Black people for nonviolent offenses.

                The new law, which goes into effect July 1, allows anyone in the state 21 or older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana. The law also “modifies several other criminal penalties related to marijuana, and imposes limits on dissemination of criminal history record information related to certain marijuana offenses,” according to a summary posted to the Legislature’s website.
                “Virginia led and made history once again today,” Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who cast the tie-breaking vote in the state Senate, said in a tweet.
                  “I was proud to cast the tie-breaking vote to legalize marijuana and bring long overdue justice, fairness, equity and opportunity to the people of our great Commonwealth.”
                    The bill had originally passed in late February, but Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam sent it back to the Legislature with a series of revisions, including a proposal to accelerate the timeline of its enactment to this July instead of 2024.
                        Still, the measure was met with fierce opposition from state GOP lawmakers Wednesday, including Del. Chris Head, who called it a “train wreck” during a virtual House floor speech.
                        “If this policy change is to be undertaken, it has to be undertaken prudently, and I understand the enormous pressure on the majority party to make this change right now. I understand that opposing immediate legislation and legalization is going to anger many of your constituents. And I understand that taking the time to do this right might possibly even lead to charges of racism,” he said.
                        “But we have to do this right. And doing it right takes time.”
                        Legalization advocates have long touted the righting of past criminal justice wrongs, eliminating illegal market activity and generating additional tax revenue when they’ve pushed for overhauling state cannabis laws.
                        “At the end of the day, economics talk and jobs talk,” Jessica Billingsley, chief executive officer of Akerna, which makes regulatory compliance software that helps states track cannabis sales from seed to sale, previously told CNN.
                          “I truly believe we’re going to see some very meaningful and important movement coming out of this as states and governors look for a way to bolster their economy.”
                          Cannabis sales in states that have legalized the plant for medical and recreational purposes totaled about $15 billion in 2019, and are expected to top $30 billion by 2024, according to data from BDS Analytics, which tracks dispensary sales.

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                          Biden’s planned pick for ATF director a fierce advocate for gun control

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                          By Paul LeBlanc, CNN
                          Updated 9:30 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

                          Washington (CNN) — David Chipman, President Joe Biden’s planned nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has a long history at the agency and sports credentials in gun control advocacy sure to excite firearm safety groups.

                          If confirmed, Chipman will lead the agency that enforces gun laws at a critical point in Biden’s early tenure, as the President looks to take fresh action on the issue in the wake of two deadly shootings last month.
                          “I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common-sense steps that will save lives in the future,” Biden said last month. The President plans to announce new executive actions on guns Thursday, a person familiar with the plans said.

                            Longtime ATF special agent

                              Chipman, if confirmed, would return to the agency where he worked for 25 years as a special agent.
                                He lists “Violent Crime Reduction Strategist,” “Certified Explosives Specialist” and “Interagency Liason Specialist” among his specialties on his Linkedin profile, and Giffords notes his expertise includes ghost guns, the gun industry, law enforcement and assault weapons.
                                In the President’s first, limited actions on gun control Thursday, Biden will direct his administration to tighten restrictions on so-called ghost guns and pistol stabilizing braces that allow the weapons to be used more accurately, according to a senior administration official. Ghost guns are handmade or self-assembled firearms that don’t have serial numbers, and some can be fabricated in as little as 30 minutes using kits and parts purchased online.
                                The ATF has been without a permanent director since 2015.
                                In recent years, the bureau has become most visible in the aftermath of mass shootings around the US and at other crimes involving firearms. But the agency has a broader scope than just guns.
                                According to its website, ATF “protects our communities from violent criminals, criminal organizations, the illegal use and trafficking of firearms, the illegal use and storage of explosives, acts of arson and bombings, acts of terrorism, and the illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products.”
                                “We partner with communities, industries, law enforcement, and public safety agencies to safeguard the public we serve through information sharing, training, research, and use of technology,” the bureau’s website states.

                                Gun control advocacy

                                After leaving the ATF in 2012, Chipman became a senior adviser at Everytown for Gun Safety, where he was “consulted frequently” by lawmakers considering gun control legislation, according to his Linkedin.
                                Chipman then served as senior vice president of Public Safety Solutions for almost three years before arriving at Giffords as a senior policy adviser in 2016.
                                It’s in these roles that Chipman’s voice as a fierce advocate for gun control was elevated, as he frequently wrote op-eds and made media appearances to advance the cause.
                                “As a former ATF special agent with more than 24 years of experience at the bureau, I know all too well how serious our gun violence problem is and how desperately the agency lacks for the law enforcement tools that are necessary to help curb this national epidemic,” Chipman wrote in a 2013 Politico op-ed.
                                The country’s gun safety laws, he wrote at the time, “make it all too easy for guns to fall into the wrong hands — and since Congress has failed to address these gaps legislatively, ATF must chart a new course to combat the scourge of gun violence. This requires strong leadership.”
                                More recently, Chipman voiced support for limiting high-capacity magazines in a 2019 interview with PBS NewsHour.
                                “Talking to any gun owner, a 100-round magazine is just not traditional. It’s not normal. And I can’t think of a purpose, beyond killing a lot of people, for having it,” he said. “So if the debate is, should it be 10 or what have you, it can’t be 100. And so I think there’s room where we can have progress, although we will not have perfection.”
                                  And in light of FBI records last summer showing US firearm background checks having skyrocketed during the Covid-19 pandemic, Chipman told CNN at the time: “My biggest concern involves the potential number of first time gun buyers who, before March, did not think they needed a gun.”
                                  This story has been updated with additional details Wednesday.

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                                  Andrew Giuliani, former Trump aide and son of Rudy Giuliani, says he plans for to run for governor of New York

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                                  By Devan Cole, CNN
                                  Updated 12:16 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

                                  Washington (CNN) — Andrew Giuliani, the son of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, says he’s planning to run for governor of the heavily Democratic state next year.

                                  “I plan to run,” Andrew Giuliani, who served as an aide to former President Donald Trump, told the Washington Examiner in an interview published Wednesday.
                                  Giuliani’s gubernatorial bid could set up a high stakes, headline-grabbing showdown with Andrew Cuomo, should the embattled incumbent Democratic governor decide to seek a fourth term. But Giuliani would face a steep uphill battle in the heavily Democratic state, and his candidacy could help hand another win to the party as his proximity to Trump would likely be seen as a liability in a state where the former President is widely unpopular.
                                    “I believe I can win the race,” Giuliani told the Examiner. “I think I’m the right candidate, and this is the right time to help change New York State, and we’ve got a playbook that works.”
                                      “Outside of anybody named Trump, I think I have the best chance to win and take the state back, and I think there’s an opportunity in 2022 with a wounded Democratic candidate, whether it’s going to be Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo, whether it’s going to be a radical (attorney general), Letitia James, whether it’s going to be a no-name lieutenant governor, I think there’s a very, very real chance to win,” he said, according to the magazine.
                                            Asked if he expected Cuomo to seek reelection to a fourth term next year, Jay Jacobs, the state party chair and a close ally of the governor, demurred.
                                            “I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. I think that he’s more focused on getting through his current troubles, then seeing where he’s going to go,” he said. “These investigations are going to be critical in all of that. It’s hard to tell. I’m sure that, given his druthers, he’d like to run for reelection.”

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                                            Stephen Breyer worries about Supreme Court’s public standing in current political era

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                                            By Joan Biskupic, CNN legal analyst & Supreme Court biographer
                                            Updated 9:07 PM ET, Tue April 6, 2021

                                            (CNN) — Justice Stephen Breyer, who may be nearing the end of his Supreme Court tenure, expressed concern on Tuesday about the standing of the high court and the possible erosion of public confidence in its decisions.

                                            In an expansive, two-hour lecture at Harvard Law School, Breyer bemoaned the common practice — by journalists, senators and others — of referring to justices by the presidents who appointed them and of describing the nine by their conservative or liberal approach to the law.
                                            “These are more than straws in the wind,” the 82-year-old Breyer said. “They reinforce the thought, likely already present in the reader’s mind, that Supreme Court justices are primarily political officials or ‘junior league’ politicians themselves rather than jurists. The justices tend to believe that differences among judges mostly reflect not politics but jurisprudential differences. That is not what the public thinks.”
                                              Breyer also warned against proposals to expand the size of the Supreme Court from its current nine members. Public trust was “gradually built” over the centuries, he said, and any discussion of change should take account of today’s public acceptance of the court’s rulings, even those as controversial as the 2000 Bush v. Gore case that settled a presidential election.
                                                “The public now expects presidents to accept decisions of the court, including those that are politically controversial,” he said. “The court has become able to impose a significant check — a legal check — upon the Executive’s actions in cases where the Executive strongly believes it is right.”
                                                  Some of Breyer’s most compelling opinions, it should be noted, have been written in dissent. In 2007, for example, he objected to an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts rejecting school integration plans in Seattle and Louisville. Roberts said districts could not consider a student’s race when making school assignments to reduce racial isolation throughout the school district.
                                                  “This is a decision that the Court and the Nation will come to regret,” wrote Breyer, whose father, Irving Breyer, was a long-serving school board member in San Francisco. Breyer still wears the wristwatch his father received upon his retirement from the district. Breyer said the Roberts opinion threatened “the promise of” the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.
                                                  Breyer said Tuesday that differences with his colleagues were based on their distinct views of the structure of the Constitution or how they interpreted statutes. He did not refer to instances in which his colleagues themselves have publicly questioned each other’s motives.
                                                    Breyer did allow that sometimes justices weigh public opinion or the future ramifications of a decision. And he acknowledged that the nine are products of their individual backgrounds and experiences.
                                                    Still, he said, “judicial philosophy is not a code word for ‘politics.'”

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