In a final swipe at China, the Trump administration’s outgoing U.N. ambassador tweeted that it’s time for the world to oppose China’s efforts to exclude and isolate Taiwan, drawing sharp criticism from Beijing.
To make the point even more graphic, Ambassador Kelly Craft accompanied the tweet with a photo of herself in the U.N. General Assembly Hall where the island is banned. And she carried a handbag with a stuffed Taiwan bear sticking out of the top, a gift from Taiwan’s representative in New York, Ambassador James Lee.
Taiwan left the United Nations in 1971 when China joined. Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province and has been using its diplomatic clout to stop its 23 million people from joining any organizations that require statehood for membership including the U.N. World Health Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization.
American relations with Taiwan warmed under president Donald Trump, largely due to strong bipartisan support in Congress, but also because his administration was willing to defy Beijing’s threats and promote Taiwan as an alternative to Chinese Communist Party authoritarianism.
Craft met in September with Taiwan’s New York representative and had been scheduled to visit Taipei last week, but her trip was canceled after then secretary of state Mike Pompeo banned all travel.
Undeterred, she held a virtual meeting with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen on the evening of Jan. 13, telling her: “The United States will always stand with Taiwan.”
Earlier that day, she went into the General Assembly Hall, stood at the speaker’s podium, and recorded a virtual address to Model U.N. students in Taiwan.
Craft followed up those events with a statement Tuesday — her last full day as ambassador — stressing that the United States “is determined to end” Taiwan’s exclusion and isolation, and predicting this will continue with the administration of newly inaugurated President Joe Biden.
“The U.S. position on this matter enjoys universal bipartisan support,” she said, “and so, even as the United States is preparing for a transition, I can speak with great confidence that the U.S.-Taiwan relationship will continue to grow and strengthen.”
She called Taiwan “a force for good on the global stage -- a vibrant democracy, a generous humanitarian actor, a responsible actor in the global health community, and a vigorous promoter and defender of human rights.”
In a final salvo during Trump’s final hours in office on Wednesday, Craft tweeted her appeal for an end to Taiwan’s isolation and exclusion, saying: “All @UN member states should recognize the benefits of Taiwan’s meaningful participation in int’l organizations & the damage done by its continued exclusion.”
The spokesperson for China’s U.N. Mission, referring to Craft’s photo in the General Assembly Hall, tweeted back: “Without prior notice to the UN, you sneaked into the GA Hall to record the video. You have not only violated the guidelines for the use of UN premises but also broken the rules for prevention of COVID-19. You’re spreading virus literally. Time to stop!”
A spokesman for Craft responded Thursday saying: “Ambassador Craft was proud to speak with the youth of Taiwan from the floor of the U.N. General Assembly, to underscore the outrageous fact that Taiwan’s voice remains unwelcome in that Hall.”
In her speech to Taiwan’s Model UN, Craft told the students: “Stay firm, say the words of democracy even in the wake of this moment. Because one day, you, too, will be standing here.”
To reinforce her personal commitment, she ended her statement on Tuesday saying: “As my posting at the U.N. comes to a close, my mission will not be complete until the people of Taiwan have a voice.”
Public health experts Thursday blamed COVID-19 vaccine shortages around the US in part on the Trump administration’s push to get states to vastly expand their vaccination drives to reach the nation’s estimated 54 million people age 65 and over.
The push that began over a week ago has not been accompanied by enough doses to meet demand, according to state and local officials, leading to frustration and confusion and limiting states’ ability to attack the outbreak that has killed over 400,000 Americans.
Over the past few days, authorities in California, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida and Hawaii warned that their supplies were running out. New York City began cancelling or postponing shots or stopped making new appointments because of the shortages, which President Joe Biden has vowed to turn around.
The vaccine rollout so far has been “a major disappointment,” said Dr Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute.
Problems started with the Trump administration’s “fatal mistake” of not ordering enough vaccine, which was then snapped up by other countries, Topol said. Then, opening the line to senior citizens set people up for disappointment because there wasn’t enough vaccine, he said. The Trump administration also left crucial planning to the states and didn’t provide the necessary funding.
“It doesn’t happen by fairy dust,” Topol said. “You need to put funds into that.”
Front-end vaccine supply issue
Last week, before Biden took over as president, the US Health and Human Services Department suggested that the frustration was the result of unrealistic expectations among the states as to how much vaccine was on the way.
But some public health experts said that the states have not been getting reliable information on vaccine deliveries and that the amounts they have been sent have been unpredictable. That, in turn, has made it difficult for them to plan how to inoculate people.
“It’s a bit of having to build it as we go,” said Dr George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco. "It’s a front-end supply issue, and unless we know how much vaccine is flowing down the pipe, it’s hard to get these things sized right, staffed, get people there, get them vaccinated and get them gone.”
State health secretaries have asked the Biden administration for earlier and more reliable predictions on vaccine deliveries, said Washington state Health Secretary Dr Umair Shah.
Dr Marcus Plescia of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials was also among those who said opening vaccinations to senior citizens was done too soon, before supply could catch up.
“We needed steady federal leadership on this early in the launch,” Plescia said. “That did not happen, and now that we are not prioritising groups, there’s going to be some lag for supply to catch up with demand.”
Disappointing vaccine supply pace
Supply will pick up over the next few weeks, he said. Deliveries go out to the states every week, and the government and drugmakers have given assurances large quantities are in the pipeline.
The rollout has proceeded at a disappointing pace. The US government has delivered nearly 38 million doses of vaccine to the states, and about 17.5 million of those have been administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 2.4 million people have received the necessary two doses, by the CDC's count — well short of the hundreds of millions who will have to be inoculated to vanquish the outbreak.
Biden, in one of his first orders of business, signed 10 executive orders to combat the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, including one broadening the use of the Defense Production Act to expand vaccine production. The 1950 Korean War-era law enables the government to direct the manufacture of critical goods.
He also mandated masks for travel, including in airports and on planes, ships, trains, buses and public transportation, and ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up vaccination centres and the CDC to make vaccines available through pharmacies starting next month.
Biden has vowed to dispense 100 million shots in his first 100 days.
“We’ll move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated for free,” he said.
Mary Jenkins, left, received the COVID-19 vaccine in Paterson, NJ, Jan 21, 2021. AP photo
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov Andrew Cuomo have been pleading for more doses. Appointments through Sunday for the first dose of the vaccine at 15 community vaccination hubs set up by the city health department were postponed to next week.
Vaccinations in New York haven’t stopped, but demand for the shots now far exceeds the number of doses available, the mayor said.
“It’s just tremendously sad that we have so many people who want the vaccine and so much ability to give the vaccine, what’s happening?” de Blasio said. “For lack of supply, we’re actually having to cancel appointments.”
Rosa Schneider had jumped at the chance to make a vaccination appointment once she heard that educators like her were eligible in New York. A high school English teacher who lives in New York City but works in New Jersey, she said that a day before she was to be vaccinated on Wednesday at a city-run hospital, she got a call saying the supply had run out and the appointment was cancelled.
“I was concerned, and I was upset,” said Schneider, 32, but she is trying daily to book another appointment. She is hopeful availability will improve in the coming weeks.
Battered by criticism that the 2020 census was dangerously politicized by the Trump administration, the U.S. Census Bureau under a new Biden administration has the tall task of restoring confidence in the numbers that will be used to determine funding and political power.
Picking up the pieces of a long, fractious process that spooled out during a global pandemic starts with transparency about irregularities in the data, former Census Bureau directors, lawmakers and advocates said.
They advised the new administration to take more time to review and process population figures to be sure they get them right. The high-stakes undertaking will determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets as well as the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year.
“We are optimistic that things at the Census Bureau will be better. The question is whether the damage caused by the Trump administration can be rectified,” said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. Morial’s organization, along with other advocacy groups and municipalities, sued former President Donald Trump’s administration last year over a decision to end the once-a-decade head count early.
According to critics, that damage includes a failed effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire and a Trump order to figure out who is a citizen and who is in the U.S. illegally. They say another Trump directive to exclude people in the country illegally from the apportionment of congressional seats, shortened schedules to collect and process data, and four political appointments to top positions inside the bureau also threatened the count’s integrity.
Census workers across the country have told The Associated Press and other media outlets that they were encouraged to falsify responses in the rush to finish the count so the numbers used for determining how many congressional seats each state gets could be produced under the Trump administration. Census Bureau officials said such problems were isolated.
Census advocates were heartened Wednesday by President Joe Biden’s quick revocations of Trump’s order to produce citizenship data and the former president’s memo attempting to exclude people in the U.S. illegally from the apportionment count. The Biden administration also has pledged to give the Census Bureau the time it needs to process the data.
“President Biden’s swift action today finally closes the book on the Trump administration’s attempts to manipulate the census for political gain,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, who argued against the legality of the apportionment memo before the Supreme Court last year. The high court ruled that any challenge was premature.
After the bureau missed a year-end deadline for turning in the apportionment numbers, it said the figures would be completed as close to the previous deadline as possible. Trump administration attorneys recently said they won’t be ready until early March because the bureau needs time to fix irregularities in the data.
There will be flaws, likely undercounts of communities of color and overcounts of whites, but “they will just have to ‘bake the best cake possible’ through identifying and correcting the errors they can find,” said Rob Santos, president of the American Statistical Association.
Still, Arturo Vargas, CEO of the NALEO Educational Fund, said he’s worried about the accuracy of the data on the nation’s Latino population because the Trump administration’s efforts created widespread distrust that may have discouraged participation.
Trump’s four political appointments to the Census Bureau last year were denounced by statisticians and Democratic lawmakers worried they would politicize the once-a-decade head count. The Office of Inspector General last week said two of them had pressured bureau workers to figure out who is in the U.S. illegally before Trump left office, with one whistleblower calling the effort “statistically indefensible.” Then-Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham ordered a technical report on that effort but halted it after blowback. He resigned this week after Democratic lawmakers and civil rights groups called for his departure.
The bureau’s new interim chief, Deputy Director Ron Jarmin, didn’t respond to a request for an interview. He will report to Biden’s new pick to head the Commerce Department — which oversees the Census Bureau — Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo.
Former Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt said he’s optimistic the final product will be as accurate as past censuses, especially now that Jarmin is at the helm.
“They know how to do it right. It just takes time,” said Prewitt, who served in the Clinton administration.
Another former bureau director, John Thompson, said the exit of Trump’s appointees will help eliminate distractions to finishing the 2020 census, but the agency needs to hold a public forum to discuss what anomalies bureau statisticians have found in the data and what they’re doing to fix them ahead of the apportionment numbers being turned in.
“Clearly, confidence in the census has been shaken,” said Thompson, who led the agency during part of the Obama administration.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, asked Biden to set up a nonpartisan commission to review the apportionment data to make sure it’s fair and accurate before it’s delivered to the House of Representatives.
“The Census Bureau faced a number of challenges with the 2020 Census,” Schatz said in a letter. “Some, like the pandemic, were beyond the agency’s control. However, the Trump Administration actively interfered with the agency’s operations.”
Despite facing pressures from their political bosses, the Census Bureau’s career staff did a good job of resisting the Trump administration’s most questionable orders by coming forward when they found errors in the data without worrying about the deadline and by whistleblowing to the inspector general when they felt pressured to produce citizenship of dubious accuracy, according to Morial, Santos and Thompson.
“They deserve to be honored,” Santos said.
Facebook is passing the buck for its indefinite suspension of former president Donald Trump to a quasi-independent oversight board, setting up a major test of the recently established panel.
The social media giant said Thursday that it believes it made the right decision to suspend Trump after he incited his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol in a deadly assault on Jan. 6. But it said it’s referring the matter to the oversight board for what it called an “independent judgment” on upholding the decision.
Facebook’s panel is intended to rule on thorny content issues, such as when posts constitute hate speech — or if the decision to ban a world leader was the right one. It is empowered to make binding rulings — that is, ones that can’t be overturned by CEO Mark Zuckerberg — on whether posts or ads violate the company’s rules. Any other findings will be considered “guidance” by Facebook. The board does not set Facebook policies or decide if the company is doing enough to enforce them in the first place.
Its 20 members, which will eventually grow to 40, include a former prime minister of Denmark, the former editor-in-chief of the Guardian newspaper, along with legal scholars, human rights experts and journalists such as Tawakkol Karmanm, a Nobel Laureate and journalist from Yemen, and Julie Owono, a digital rights advocate.
The first four board members were directly chosen by Facebook. Those four then worked with Facebook to select additional members. Facebook also pays the board members’ salaries.
Twitter, by contrast, permanently banned Trump from its platform. CEO Jack Dorsey defended his company’s Trump ban in a philosophical Twitter thread last week, saying that resulting risk to public safety created an “extraordinary and untenable circumstance” for the company.
But he acknowledged that shows of strength like the Trump ban could set dangerous precedents, even calling them a sign of “failure.” He suggested that Twitter needs to find ways to avoid coming to have to make such decisions in the first place and lamented the fact that they highlight the extraordinary power that Twitter and other Big Tech companies can wield without accountability or recourse.
For the first time in more than a decade, Republicans are waking up to a Washington where Democrats control the White House and Congress, adjusting to an era of diminished power, deep uncertainty and internal feuding.
The shift to minority status is always difficult, prompting debates over who is to blame for losing the last election. But the process is especially intense as Republicans confront profound questions about what the party stands for without Donald Trump in charge.
Over the past four years, the GOP’s values were inexorably tied to the whims of a president who regularly undermined democratic institutions and traded the party’s long-standing commitment to fiscal discipline, strong foreign policy and the rule of law for a brash and inconsistent populism. The party now faces a decision about whether to keep moving in that direction, as many of Trump’s most loyal supporters demand, or chart a new course.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, one of the few Republican elected officials who regularly condemned Trumpism, evoked President Ronald Reagan in calling this moment “a time for choosing.”
“We have to decide if we’re going to continue heading down the direction of Donald Trump or if we’re going to return to our roots,” Hogan, a potential 2024 White House contender, said in an interview.
“The party would be much better off if they were to purge themselves of Donald Trump,” he added. “But I don’t think there’s any hope of him completely going away.”
Whether the party moves on may come down to what Republicans such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz do next.
Cruz spent weeks parroting Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud, which helped incite the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol. Republican elections officials in several battleground states that President Joe Biden carried have said the election was fair. Trump’s claims were roundly rejected in the courts, including by judges appointed by Trump.
Cruz on Wednesday acknowledged Biden’s victory but refused, when pressed, to describe it as legitimate.
“He won the election. He is the president. I just came from his inauguration,” Cruz said in an interview.
Looking forward, Cruz said Trump would remain a significant part of the political conversation, but that the Republican Party should move away from divisive “language and tone and rhetoric” that alienated suburban voters, particularly women, in recent elections.
“President Trump surely will continue to make his views known, and they’ll continue to have a real impact, but I think the country going forward wants policies that work, and I think as a party, we need to do a better job winning hearts and minds,” said Cruz, who is also considering a White House run.
In the wake of the Capitol riot Jan. 6, a small but notable faction of high-profile Republicans is taking a stronger stance against Trump or seeking distance from him.
The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, said on the eve of the inauguration that the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol was “provoked by the president.” Even Mike Pence, Trump’s vice president and long considered his most devoted cheerleader, skipped Trump’s departure ceremony to attend Biden’s inauguration.
Trump has retreated to his South Florida club, where he has retained a small group of former White House aides who will work out of a two-story guest house on the Mar-a-Lago grounds. In addition to advisers in Washington, Trump will have access to a well-funded political action committee, the Save America PAC, that is likely to inherit tens of millions of dollars in donations that flooded his campaign coffers after his election loss.
Those close to Trump believe he will lay low in the immediate future as he focuses on his upcoming impeachment trial for inciting the riot. After that, he is expected to reemerge, likely granting media interviews and finding a new home on social media after losing his powerful Twitter bullhorn.
While his plans are just taking shape, Trump is expected to remain politically active, including trying to exact revenge by backing primary challenges against Republicans he believed scorned him in his final days. He continues to leave the door open to another presidential run in 2024. Some friends believe he might even flirt with running as a third-party candidate, which would badly splinter an already fractured GOP.
Trump issued an ominous vow as he left the White House for the last time as president: “We will be back in some form.”
Many in the GOP’s die-hard base continue to promote conspiracy theories, embrace white nationalism and, above all, revere Trump’s voice as gospel.
Trump loyalists in states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wyoming expressed outrage and disappointment in the 10 Republicans who voted with Democrats to impeach Trump last week. One of them, Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer, said he bought body armor to protect himself from a wave of threats from Trump supporters.
In Wyoming, state GOP Chairman Frank Eathorne raised the possibility of secession this week and criticized Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, another Republican who backed Trump’s impeachment.
“The Republican National Committee views President Trump as our party leader into the future. ... The (state party) agrees,” Eathorne said, noting that Trump “represents the timeless principles” that the state and national GOP stand for.
Trump left office with a 34% approval rating, according to Gallup — the lowest of his presidency — but the overwhelming majority of Republicans, 82%, approved of his job performance. Even as some try to move on, Trump’s continued popularity with the GOP’s base ensures he will remain a political force.
Despite the GOP’s many challenges, they’re within reach of retaking one or both chambers of Congress in next year’s midterm elections. Since the 2006 midterms, the party in the White House has lost on average 37 House seats. Currently, Democrats hold a 10-seat House majority and they’re tied with Republicans in the Senate.
Hogan, the Maryland governor, said that the GOP may be at one of its lowest points ever, but noted that Reagan reclaimed the White House for Republicans just six years after President Richard Nixon was forced to resign in disgrace.
“Obviously, (Trump) still has got a lock on a pretty good chunk of the Republican base, but there are an awful lot of people that were afraid to speak out for four years — unlike me —who are now starting to speak out,” Hogan said.
Still, there are plenty of hurdles ahead. Primary challenges could leave the party with congressional nominees next year who are even further to the right, potentially imperiling the GOP’s grip on races they might otherwise win.
More immediately, Senate Republicans, including McConnell, are wrestling with whether to convict Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors as outlined in last week’s House impeachment. The Senate could ultimately vote to ban Trump from ever holding office again.
“I hope that Republicans won’t participate in this petty, vindictive, final attack directed at President Trump,” Cruz said. “We should just move on.”