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Capitol View commentary: Friday, January 15, 2021

Capitol View
Posted at 11:55 AM, Jan 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-15 12:55:16-05

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

January 15, 2021

FALLOUT FROM CAPITOL TAKEOVER RESULTS IN SECOND IMPEACHMENT OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP; THREATS INCREASE AS INAGURATION LOOMS AND INVESTIGATIONS LEAD TO HUNDREDS OF ARRESTS; INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT HOW NASHVILLE WILL REBOUND IN 2021; THE 112th TENNESEE GENERAL ASSEMBLY CONVENES FOR FIRST TIME AMID SEVERAL UNUSUAL CIRCUMSTANCES; THE VIRUS GETS WORSE AS STILL SLOW VACCINATION EFFORTS ARE REVISED TO SPEED UP EFFECTIVENESS; A NEW STUDY ON AFFORDABLE HOUSING FOR METRO AND A NEW DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF FOR MAYOR JOHN COOPER;

FALLOUT FROM CAPITOL TAKEOVER RESULTS IN SECOND IMPEACHMENT OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP

After first being rebuffed by Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove President Donald Trump from office, a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives still believes Mr. Trump should be held accountable for his actions.

Those actions include the President inciting his supporters to march to Capitol Hill on January 6 to “fight like hell” to overturn the November election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. When the Trump ultra-loyalists reached the Hill, a riot ensued along with a takeover and looting of Capitol building, leaving behind five dead and dozens injured.

Just over a week later (January 13), the House used its constitutional power to impeach President Trump…again.

The 232-197 vote marked the second time in just over a year, the Democrat-controlled House has sought to remove Mr. Trump from office. It also marks the first time in U.S. history a president has been impeached twice.

Unlike the first impeachment effort, which garnered zero Republican votes in the House., the second impeachment roll call saw 10 GOP members, and even one member of the party’s House leadership (Rep. Lynn Chaney), voting aye. The vast majority of House Republicans again voted against impeachment, maintaining the effort is rushed and will only further divide the nation. Just like the GOP is somewhat divided in the House and across the nation?

What happens when the impeachment effort goes to trial in the Senate? Well, as we said in this column last week, it seems doubtful any trial will even begin before President Trump leaves office at 11:59 A.M. Wednesday. However, it does seem likely the new Democratic Party-organized upper chamber will pursue the matter later in the month, or in February.

Only one Senator (Mitt Romney) voted to remove President Trump the first time. Now there are at least three others (Lisa Murkowski, Ben Sasse and Patrick Toomey) who seem poised to perhaps join Romney in voting to convict the soon to be former President.

But those four senators are still nowhere close to the minimum 17 GOP votes (if all 50 Democratic Senators if they all stick together) to convict and remove Trump.

Soon to be Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell finally broke his silence on Wednesday saying he would not seek to hold a quick trial for the President while he is still in office and while Republicans still control the Senate. Curiously, unlike the previous impeachment effort, McConnell did not speak against convicting Trump and says he is undecided. However he is reported to privately believe the President committed an impeachable offense and that he favors the idea of convicting Mr. Trump as a way to kick soon to be former President out of the Republican Party. Does that mean more (and enough) GOP Senators will follow their Leader to convict Mr. Trump?

WASHINGTON POST

Some still suggest the easiest way to deal with Trump, and end his career as a future elected official, is by invoking the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Here is what that means.

As for Mr. Trump himself, his public comments have been limited because of his now permanent ban from several social media outlets. Last week, he did tell the rioters he “loved” them, and then later this week, he told reporters his remarks to his supporters on the day of the riot were “completely appropriate,” even though what he said is seen by those voting for impeachment as “inciting sedition.” The President did apparently watch the impeachment debate although later, in a videotaped speech, he did not mention or react to being impeached (again), nor has he expressed any regret or sympathy to the families of to those killed or injured. He did finally say a few things he should have mentioned days earlier.

THREATS INCREASE AS INAGURATION LOOMS AND INVESTIGATIONS LEAD TO HUNDREDS OF ARRESTS

The more law enforcement experts and public officials reflect and review what happened during the violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol on January 6 by rioters, egged on by outgoing President Donald Trump, the more concerned they are about what may happen between now and January 20 when President-elect Joe Biden takes office. That includes possible incidents outside Washington D.C. The FBI says it has uncovered credible threats in all 50 state capitols with the most likely dates for unrest outside the District being Sunday January 17 and Tuesday January 19. On Wednesday, federal officials sent out an additional warning to police chiefs across the nation.

Planned demonstrations include several here in Nashville.

To keep any violent events from happening again in Washington, there are calls for a bi-partisan 9/11 type Commission to review what happened and make recommendations for change. Most ominously this week, are news reports that at least one day before the Capitol Hill Riot, a Virginia office of the FBI warned of possible violence from a group coming to the Capitol ready for “war.” Yet U.S. Capitol police took no action to step up preparations and did not seek assistance until it was too late. This article says, in some ways, it was history repeating itself.

Even more alarming are allegations that at least some House members gave “suspicious” tours of the Capitol in advance of the riot.

More revelations continue to show Capitol Police ignored advance warnings of dangers even when they came a week in advance from members of Congress.

With the riot (like the revolution) being televised and/or captured digitally, then shared on numerous social media platforms, dozens, and perhaps soon, hundreds of arrests are being made. The first indictments have already been handed down. As the dragnet widens, it appears the charges are becoming more serious felonies as over 100 are already in custody and 200 suspects identified.

There is always a Nashville connection, with one local former bartender being held without bond after being arrested. He was identified with zip tie equipment that could have been used to keep captured Congressmen and others at bay.

Believe or not (and I do not), the suspect’s mother, who was with him when he broke into the Capitol, says they had no “nefarious” intentions.

Through his attorney, Eric Munchel may soon be released or required to wear a ankle monitor so his whereabouts are known, but it appears quite a few Tennesseans, who attended the events in Washington January 6, are now seeking legal counsel in fear the FBI will be coming to see them soon.

There is also a Middle Tennessee connection. He is a 30year-old University of the South graduate who missed the takeover but then used social media to threaten to shoot House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

It appears that death threats are now an unfortunate part of life for our congressional representatives.

There is political fallout as well from many major corporate donors. They are closing their PAC pocketbooks or pausing their use. In some cases, the cutoff is a blanket one or to all Republican candidates, and/or to any member of Congress, who voted not to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral Vote victory. The funding cutoff could be significant in our state (all 7 of Tennessee’s GOP congressman voted no on certifying the vote). But this is something of the off-season for political donations, so let’s see if the ban continues as the 2022 mid term elections approach next year.

INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT HOW NASHVILLE WILL REBOUND IN 2021

At the beginning of every year people want to know what the economic outlook is for our city and region.

This is perhaps more important than ever in 2021, as we seek to recover from the multiple blows our community suffered during 2020.

Those blows included a destructive killer tornado in March, riots downtown last summer, the still raging coronavirus pandemic, and most recently, on Christmas Day, the bombing that severely damaged a portion of the historic district along Second Avenue, a vital part of the city’s tourism and hospitality industry.

To give some insights on where we stand and where Greater Nashville is headed in terms of a rebound, we welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Nashville Chamber of Commerce, Ralph Schulz.

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THE 112th TENNESEE GENERAL ASSEMBLY CONVENES FOR FIRST TIME AMID SEVERAL UNUSUAL CIRCUMSTANCES

Every two years in January, a new Tennessee Legislature convenes for the first time here in Nashville.

This year, it is the 112th Tennessee General Assembly coming together amidst some of the most unusual conditions in state history.

This year, it is not just the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it is also the uncertainty about potential violent protests being held in all 50 state capitals to stop the swearing in of President-elect Joe Biden next week (Wednesday January 20) in Washington.

In addition, lawmakers are in the shadow of yet another in a decades long series of federal investigations and other scandals involving its members and staff.

After their organizational session this week, when they get down to business, Tennessee’s legislators also face a significant agenda of issues and legislation , including a special session on education next week, along with lots of other items to deal with in the weeks and months to come. Some are left over from last year when the legislative session was cut short as the virus was raging.

As for the latest scandal, the latest information is the FBI investigation on the Hill appears to center on an alledged money laundering scheme that sought to settle scores among warring Republicans.

Lawmakers did scramble this week to approve the opportunity to convert the state’s TennCare program into a federal block grant program. The change became available thanks to an unexpected, last- minute approval (a parting gift?) of the funding change by the outgoing Trump administration.

Lawmakers were scrambling because the conversion is quite controversial among several health care advocates in the state. They would rather see TennCare expanded under the Affordable Care Act. President-elect Joe Biden has also long opposed block grants, and it is thought he will likely seek to rescind the federal approval when he takes office. The hope by Tennessee Republican lawmakers is that quick approval by the Legislature of the TennCare block grant conversion will make it harder for it to be rescinded when Team Biden takes over. They believe going to a block grant will make TennCare more efficient and will allow the state to benefit from that to expand healthcare services.

This approval effort by lawmakers is also unusual because the first week of session for a new General Assembly is usually organizational only, with no committee meetings or floor votes on legislation. Despite that, both houses of the Tennessee Legislature are expected to approve the Tenncare before they go home for the weekend today.

There is one new bill placed in the hopper than seems poised get overwhelmingly support. It would authorize a statute on Capitol Hill to country music superstar, philanthropist and Tennessee native, Dolly Parton.

THE VIRUS GETS WORSE AS STILL SLOW VACCINATION EFFORTS ARE REVISED TO SPEED UP EFFECTIVENESS

“Everything seems to be a record.”

That’s the way Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s chief infectious disease specialist describes the current daily onslaught of cases, hospitalizations and deaths across the country from COVID-19.

The dreaded post-holiday surge of the disease was predicted as millions of Americans continued to travel over the holidays and let down their guards in following health recommendations to wear a mask, maintain social distancing and wash their hands. New, more contagious strains of the virus are also taking a toll. There are now predictions of up to another 30,000 deaths occurring in this country in just the next four weeks.

This week, Tennessee saw its second highest daily death count as the total number of Tennesseans dead now exceeds 8,000.

The graphs and numbers in this TENNESSEAN story are depressing, showing few signs of an abatement of the disease as of Thursday afternoon.

Metro Nashville’s case numbers continue to rise by the hundreds each day. Deaths went over 500 last week and have increased another 30 by Friday. Consistent testing to learn the ongoing extent of the virus has also become a challenge with the onslaught of cold January weather. The city is changing how it operates its three testing sites for the remaining winter season.

As for Metro Nashville schools going back to in- person classes soon, no date to do so seems in the offing, with virtual learning only classes continuing.

In the wake of the continuing virus surge, on the national scene, the latest weekly requests for unemployment assistance are rising again, with nearly another 1 million Americans filing new claims for assistance just this week. Requests for unemployment assistance in Tennessee spiked by almost 22,000 people this week, the biggest increase since July. The increase this week also means over 1 million Tennesseans have sought unemployment assistance since the pandemic began last spring.

Incoming President Joe Biden says his first priority in office will be defeating COVID-19. Following up on that pledge, Biden maintains the $900 billion virus relief bill passed by Congress last month, was just a “down payment” to fight the virus. To help those still struggling in the current sagging economy, Mr. Biden is recommending to Congress his own $1.9 trillion rescue package.

Quick approval by the new Congress of Mr. Biden’s relief plan, along with his Cabinet choices and other key legislation face several challenges, including the upcoming impeachment trial of soon to be former President Donald Trump, which could take up all the Senate’s time for several days, if not weeks.

The Biden relief plan also seeks to get the virus under control by increasing the amount and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The outgoing Trump administration conceded this week its policy has failed to hold in reserve up to half the dosages, so those who have received a first shot can get a second one. Now all the available vaccines will be shipped to the states. It is a change President-elect Biden already said he planned to make when he took office.

But will that move make a difference in getting more serums in people’s arms? Will there still be enough vaccine for second shots? Back at work from quarantine after his wife tested positive for COVID-19, Nashville Mayor John Cooper says the problem, plain and simple, is a lack of vaccines.

Here is one measure of how frustrating the vaccine distribution is in Nashville (and across the country). If vaccine dosages are not used within a few hours after being taken out the freezer, they go bad and can’t be used.

To make sure every dose available is used, every day vaccinations are being done, Metro has adopted an idea, first tried in Jackson Tennessee, and approved by the state. When the scheduled shots have all been given, any still left (usually no more than 4 shots are left) can be administered to others even if they aren’t in one of the scheduled groups to get a shot.

Nashville is doing that by a lottery. You must send in an email every day, and if you are chosen, you must show up at the Metro vaccination site within 30 minutes to get the shot.

The first day, with 4 vials of vaccine left, the city had 15,000 e-mail requests to participate. This is one way to make sure no serum goes to waste, but it is only highly frustrating for the thousands who will lose out each time.

In terms of shots for Nashville seniors over 75, the weekend appointment schedule, announced just last week is already full through at least the end of next month (February). Frustrating again.

We have just to get more vaccines.

It was Operation Warp Speed that brought us the medical miracle of creating two vaccines in well less than a year. Unfortunately, the distribution of this life saving serum has been done at anything but at a warp speed. For our governments on the federal, state and local levels, which have consistently overpromised and under delivered in dealing with this pandemic, this has got to change. NOW!

A NEW STUDY ON AFFORDABLE HOUSING FOR METRO AND A NEW DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF FOR MAYOR JOHN COOPER

This week Mayor John Cooper’s office announced he is appointing a 21-member task force on creating more affordable housing in Nashville.

Affordable housing has been perhaps among the most studied issues in Nashville for the last few years.

I asked the Mayor’s office how this study will be different. Here is the e-mail response I received.

“ Mayor John Cooper has asked the 21 experts in his group to address financing, (and) also access, land use, and policy.

The mayoral e-mail continues:

“The Cooper team is taking a somewhat different approach. Instead of bringing in external consultants, the mayor has tapped the deep expertise of 21 people who work in this field in Nashville. They’ve studied the problem at length and in depth. So their focus now is on practical, implementable solutions that will make a difference in the short – to medium-term future.”

Sounds good. But with lack of funding being perhaps the biggest issue facing affordable housing, I still wonder why there is no mention in the Mayor’s news release, of the task force coming up with a plan for Nashville receiving the lion’s share of the $2 billion Amazon is promising to spend on affordable housing efforts in Nashville and two other cities where the company has a major presence. I said the lion’s share, because I understand Amazon is not arbitrarily dividing up the $2 billion, so which city comes up with the best plan might get the most?

So why is there is no mention at all of Amazon’s funding in the Mayor’s task force press release. Says the Mayor’s office e-mail.

“The mayor’s creation of this task force is separate from Amazon’s investment.”

OK. But shouldn’t creating a plan to bring as much of that Amazon money as we can to Nashville, be somebody’s priority?

I seem to recall that recently Mayor Cooper tried to convince Metro Council members that the city need a transportation plan of specific projects because it would readily attract federal and other funding if we have plans ready to go. When after the transportation plan was approved, the Mayor was quick to point the city got the federal monies for improvements because we had a plan. Don’t need something like that in our affordable housing effort. If not actual sites or plans, at least a spelled out process for how we can proceed to get projects started when there money from Amazon (or other sources) to help?

Mayor Cooper this week also announced that one of his staffers is taking on additional duties.

There is no question Robert Fisher is highly qualified and a very good staff choice for all the things outlined in the mayoral news release. But there is another reason he will be helpful to the Mayor.

Robert Fisher is African American. A number of Metro Councilmembers, especially members of the Council’s Black Caucus, have been concerned there have been not enough people of color holding top positions in his office. This would appear to be a move that will begin to improve that perception.