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The 2020 presidential transition is one of the most consequential transfers of power in American history: Covid-19 is raging, Joe Biden still isn’t receiving classified information as prez-elect, and Donald Trump hasn’t conceded the election. POLITICO Transition Playbook author Alex Thompson demystifies the process with host Scott Bland and talks about some of the frontrunners in Joe Biden’s cabinet.

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Trump aides build out the MAGA-verse with new groups

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Rollins is joining an increasingly long list of former White House officials who’ve set up Trump-allied political groups since the 2020 election, a roster that includes prominent figures in the former president’s orbit like ex-Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. With Trump out of office and plotting his political future, the emerging ecosystem promises to bolster the former president as he prepares to dive into the 2022 midterm elections — and potentially launch a 2024 comeback bid.

The former aides are capitalizing on widespread donor interest in funding projects aligned with the former president, with pro-Trump givers ready to shell out big checks in order to keep the Trump agenda front and center. Now that the presidential campaign is no longer consuming donors, who can give unlimited amounts to nonprofits or super PACs, a space has emerged for former Trump advisers to finance their own endeavors.

“I think the investors that are out there,” Rollins said, are “really, really excited” about the idea of a vehicle that advocates for Trump’s policies. “For the people that are funding us,” she added, “they get it, they see the vision, they understand what’s at stake.”

Parscale’s new vehicle, the American Greatness Fund, is not explicitly pro-Trump, but its core themes are unmistakably aligned with the former president. The group’s mission statement describes it as a “nonprofit social welfare organization devoted to retaining, cultivating, and inspiring the grassroots energy of the ‘Make America Great Again’” movement. The organization, it adds, will focus on voter integrity issues by creating a website that will catalog legal and legislative efforts surrounding elections and combat what it describes as “cancel culture against conservatives.”

Parscale was fired as Trump’s campaign manager in July 2020, but he has since made a return to the former president’s orbit and is helping to run his post-White House political efforts. Parscale said the American Greatness Fund, the existence of which was first reported by Axios, has so far raised $300,000.

Corey Lewandowski, another former Trump campaign manager, has created Fight Back Now America, a political action committee that according to its website is devoted to “supporting candidates and policies that seek to advance the America First Agenda.”

The organization is expected to be heavily involved in 2022 Republican primaries by targeting those who backed Trump’s impeachment such as Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, though it will also be focused on ousting Democrats in the general election. Lewandowski has separately been tapped to oversee the principal pro-Trump super PAC, though its unclear how that outfit will interface with Fight Back Now America.

Carson said in an interview that his American Cornerstone Institute is a conservative think tank that will emphasize election integrity, one of the ex-president’s fixations. Carson has also set up a PAC

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, Think BIG America, which can engage in elections and dish out funds to favored candidates.

“We’ll be very interested,” Carson said, “in who are the people who are advocating visions that are logical and that make sense.”

Russ Vought, who was Trump’s Office of Management and Budget director, has set up Center for American Restoration, a think tank that espouses Trump’s fiery populist message. Vought blasted the political establishment in a recent piece published on The Federalist, a conservative website, and said his organization aimed “to give voice to the common, forgotten men and women across this great country.”

Vought, a veteran of Heritage Action, a prominent conservative advocacy group, has among other issues zeroed in on conservative censorship on online platforms, a cause that Trump has taken up after being banned by Twitter.

Whether Trump assists any of the organizations remains unclear. The former president has been focused on establishing his own political apparatus, and during a meeting last week with top advisers he signaled that he wanted to establish a Lewandowski-run super PAC, which would be able to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.

Trump previously set up a leadership PAC, Save America, which could contribute directly to candidates but has restrictions on the amounts individual donors can contribute. During an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend, he urged supporters to donate to Save America, which has already banked tens of millions of dollars.

Republicans have expressed interest in building out a constellation of new conservative nonprofit groups, believing that Democrats have established a critical advantage in that space in recent years. While nonprofits are limited in some ways in their ability to spend money on elections, they can raise unrestricted amounts of money and spend vast sums to influence voters. Unlike super PACs, they don’t have to disclose their donors.

Republicans point to Fair Fight, a collection of political and nonprofit organizations overseen by Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams devoted to voting rights, as a vehicle that has been particularly effective. Abrams has been credited with helping Democrats make gains in Georgia during the election, when President Joe Biden carried the state and the party seized both of its Senate seats.

Rollins said she has drawn staffers from the White House, the Trump campaign and Capitol Hill. She added that the outfit, which is also spearheaded by former Trump adviser Larry Kudlow, will focus on an array of policy issues that were central to the Trump White House, including school choice, energy independence and immigration reform.

We’re “taking all those ideas that we built out over the last four years and leaning into them,” said Rollins, who prior to joining the White House oversaw the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Austin.

The glut of Trump-aligned organizations could create complications. Some senior Republicans have expressed concern that there may be competition over donors, who may be confused about which outfit to support. They say major contributors are waiting for the former president’s political apparatus to fully form and are waiting for guidance from him on where they should direct their funds.

Carson dismissed the idea that there would be clashing between the different groups and noted that his organization had been in touch with Vought’s. The two organizations are headquartered in close proximity to one another on Capitol Hill.

“The way I look at it, we’re fighting for the same things,” Carson said. “We need as many people in that fight as we can get.”


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We asked governors what they want from Biden. Here’s what they told us.

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In his inaugural address, Biden issued an appeal for “unity” and a revival of functional government. The weeks since — with an impeachment trial and gaping differences over the size of a pandemic relief package — have made clear the low probability in the near-term of changing the relentless partisanship of the nation’s capital.

But a POLITICO survey of select governors, which collectively represents a quasi-symposium, suggests the revival of the practical-minded center Biden extols might be attainable for his administration. Its path likely would run though places like Montgomery and Trenton, as well as Montpelier and Salt Lake City and Olympia, before finally arriving (if at all) in Washington, D.C.

It is not that polarization and grievance don’t exist in the states. No one following the way that Republican state parties in multiple locations have been taken over by Trump acolytes — who have passed resolutions denouncing Republican lawmakers who show insufficient fealty to the former president and his bogus claims that he won the election — could harbor that illusion.

But the survey respondents did illuminate a kind of steady, practical-minded focus that crossed both partisan and geographic divides.

Democrats, not surprisingly, are more eager than Republicans for the new administration to robustly expand government’s role in fighting the pandemic and its economic and social consequences. Several Democrats wish for a national mask mandate from Washington, for instance, while no Republicans do.

More striking, however, is the relative blurring of ideology in the answers. All seven governors who participated in POLITICO’s queries expressed concern about the condition of their state’s economy. Most said assistance from the federal government is necessary for their state governments to meet the demands of the moment, though a couple said they would make do without it.

The survey had two parts. In the first, governors answered multiple choice questions with the understanding that answers would be described cumulatively but the answers of individual governors would not be shared by name. The second part of the survey invited governors to expand on their views and experiences with on-the-record answers.

Both sections highlighted a sense of urgency — and in some cases, a sense of precariousness — that governors perceive about the condition of a pandemic-stricken country as Biden begins.

Their concerns were in every instance about what might be called material politics — that is, problems and remedies which have a tangible manifestation, from job rates to infection rates to energy supply and transition to low-carbon alternatives. In no case did the answers gravitate to the cultural issues — from concern about race relations, or “cancel culture,” or even the all-consuming debates about Trump — that have animated so much of national politics over the past 12 months or the past four years.

Almost certainly, this reflects the nature of a governor’s job, rather than that these particular politicians are somehow wired differently in their interests. But the answers do suggest a way that Biden might transcend a style of politics that often defaults toward remorseless personal and ideological conflict and away from problem-solving. It is by organizing his own administration — as by most appearances he seems to be doing — around material politics. These types of issues by nature tend to reward concrete results rather than rhetorical appeals, and allow for a degree of practical difference-splitting on the way to those results.

What follows are excerpts of the on-the-record portion of the survey results.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, Republican

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

Striking a balance between protecting people’s personal health and their livelihood has been the primary goal of mine throughout the pandemic. Alabama went from a pre-pandemic record low unemployment rate to now being in recovery mode. I look forward to regaining that momentum, while helping distribute a successful vaccine to people in all 67 counties.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

Continually investing in our infrastructure is important to Alabama. Throughout the Trump Administration, we have put Alabama and America first, which has launched business and industry forward. Alabama is a great example of the rebuilding and strengthening of the manufacturing sector. When you prioritize business, you are prioritizing middle America.

Maine Gov. Janet T. Mills, Democrat

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

Making life and death decisions and decisions that affect the economy, schools and people’s livelihoods; making sure people have confidence in the decisions our public policy and public health officials are making. What disturbs me most about recent events, including the election and the effect of the pandemic, is the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, the learnings gap in our schools and the earnings gap in our working communities, things that the vaccine alone will not cure.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

Taking measures to combat and mitigate the effects of climate change — rejoining the Paris Climate Accord; enforcing CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards, mercury and ozone emission regulations and appliance efficiency standards; providing incentives for energy efficient and safe homes and buildings, renewable energy sources, electric vehicles and home heating apparatuses such as heat pumps.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Democrat

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

As we navigate the second wave, what worries me is the many hard decisions that are ahead if the pandemic continues to worsen. This pandemic has left Governors with options that can only be described as bad and worse. [Last] March, I made the immensely difficult decision to shut down our state, a decision many other Governors around the country made as well. While this was the right choice, it had a massive economic impact on our state, and the struggles that New Jerseyans, whether they are essential workers, small business owners, students, or anyone else, are going through are always at the top of my mind.

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We must also continue to serve low-income residents and our communities of color. These residents have been amongst the hardest-hit by this pandemic, not only in terms of the death toll, but also in terms of the economic impact. Food insecurity and demand for essential social services are at all-time highs and we need as much federal aid as we can get to protect the most vulnerable among us.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

New Jersey serves as a gateway to New York City and Philadelphia, the first and sixth largest cities in the United States. As such, infrastructure is critical to our state. Hundreds of thousands of our residents are employed in New York and Philadelphia, and rely on mass transit to get to their jobs. We have made meaningful progress on portions of the Gateway Program, but we must complete this project in order to avoid economic catastrophe, not just for our region, but our nation. The area covered by the Northeast Corridor rail line is responsible for 20 percent of the GDP of the United States.

The North River Tunnel [that runs under the Hudson River] is in need of imminent repair, and if shut down without a replacement tunnel, will cause immense damage to the state, regional, and national economies, something that the country could not afford before the pandemic, but certainly won’t be able to after. It is of immense importance that the … administration and Congress fund the Gateway Program. We are fortunate to have a [president] that understands more than almost anyone else in government, the importance of a functioning Northeast corridor, and I am more hopeful than I have ever been before that we … have a true partner in the White House.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, Republican

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

There are many things that have kept governors up at night these past nine months, but one of the most serious challenges we face is the amount of COVID-related misinformation and denial we see, fueled by online conspiracy theories and fact-free ideological websites.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

There is no shortage of problems the Federal government must address: COVID-19, the cost of healthcare, infrastructure, the debt, the economy, restoring global alliances, etc. But one of the most impactful initiatives they should pursue is a major federal effort to expand rural broadband across the country. States have worked hard and struggled for years to expand coverage with some success, but we simply cannot get to the last mile without federal help. The digital divide between urban and rural parts of our country has seriously hampered rural economic development in a 21st Century economy increasingly dependent on reliable connectivity. And the pandemic has demonstrated just how critical this need is for rural states.

We have faced a similar problem before and must pursue a similar solution. In the early 20th Century, the urban-rural divide was electricity. Recognizing the importance of electrification to the economy and quality of life in rural America, Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act (REA), which helped states like Vermont get to the last mile. Our country needs an REA-type approach to broadband to help grow our economy, which will help states raise revenue organically to invest in other critical areas.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Democrat

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

Answering in December, before cases began falling: The growth of COVID-19 cases throughout my state and the ability of our health care system to serve all who need care. We must slow the spread of new cases, hospitalizations and death. I remain deeply concerned about the economic impact of the virus on workers and businesses.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

Congress: Financial assistance to help individuals, workers and businesses who have been impacted by the virus.

Next president: Stronger direction and coordination from the federal government, the states have been left to their own devices for the past year and strong federal leadership would have saved lives and protected health.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, Republican

Gordon chose not to answer most of the on-the-record portion, but he did respond to this question:

For the sake of your state’s economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis, what’s the most urgent unsolved problem to address?

Supporting businesses so that they are able to survive through the winter months, particularly given the uncertainty surrounding [an] additional relief package.

Former Utah Gov. Gary Richard Herbert, Republican

Herbert left office shortly after completing this survey.

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

Economic development in rural Utah.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

They should focus on balancing the budget.


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George Floyd’s killing started a movement. Nine months later, what’s changed?

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And in Congress this week, Democrats are trying once again to shape Floyd’s legacy by advancing federal legislation to reform policing. The House is expected to vote on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — again. The bill passed the chamber last summer but was never taken up by the then-Republican-controlled Senate.

“In light of what happened to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, now is the time to get this bill passed and on President Biden’s desk,” said Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The bill would ban chokeholds, end racial and religious profiling, eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement and mandate data collection on police encounters. Civil rights leaders like Rev. Al Sharpton are pushing for its passage. But centrist Democrats have their concerns about some provisions of the bill. And it’s not clear how it’ll fare in the Senate.

Which means it’ll be up to cities and states to overhaul the nation’s beleaguered criminal justice system. But so far, results are mixed.

In the wake of Floyd’s death in May, 25 states enacted new policing laws. But even so, some of those new laws have little to do with improved policing or increased accountability. Instead, they focus on lessening bureaucratic hurdles such as easing residency requirements.

Other laws prohibit chokeholds, update training standards and require officers to have body-worn cameras. Other notable policies include laws that increase penalties for falsely summoning officers or making false reports. Whether those reforms represent real change depends on whom you ask.

“If ‘reimagining policing’ is a phrase, if ‘defund the police’ is a phrase, if ‘abolish the police’ is a phrase, how do we move from essentially a hashtag to budget-specific, legislative-specific, regulatory-specific, community-specific solutions in real time?” said Cornell William Brooks, professor of the practice of public leadership and social justice at Harvard University and a former NAACP president.

“It’s one thing to call for a whole-scale transformation,” said Brooks who is working with a team of students to help mayors reimagine what policing looks like in terms of budgets, legislation, regulation and police culture.

But it’s just as necessary, Brooks said, “to figure out, ‘What does that mean at a granular level?’”

‘I can’t breathe’

Floyd’s death nine months ago was unlike any of those before him. It was familiar in the sense that, yet again, an unarmed Black American was killed by a white police officer. And as he begged for oxygen, his cries mirrored the language of Eric Garner nearly six years prior. Garner, a Black man who was put into a fatal chokehold by police, repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe,” while under restraint.

The deaths of Taylor, Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson, Botham Jean, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Laquan McDonald, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray and so many others like them who were killed by police officers or vigilantes sparked outrage and protests. But the aftermath of Floyd’s death was different.

“It was just disappointing and really heartbreaking to see just how little progress was made to the point where a police officer could kneel on someone for almost nine minutes, with people videotaping — and they could see folks filming them — with the whole world watching and not care,” said Erika Maye, deputy director of criminal justice and democracy campaigns with the racial justice organization Color Of Change.

Footage of Floyd’s fatal encounter reverberated across the globe, uniting people of all races, and igniting worldwide protests for racial justice and against police brutality.

“I never expected it to turn into what it did,” New York state Sen. Brian Benjamin said of the ensuing movement. “This took on a life of its own.”

“That level of interaction and interest across the board is what changed the game here in New York state,” said Benjamin, a candidate for New York City comptroller, who introduced anti-chokehold legislation after Garner’s death. The bill passed in June in “record time,” Benjamin said.

“All of a sudden this became an issue for everybody,” Benjamin said.

Last week, leaders from civil rights groups convened a virtual news conference to demand the passage of the federal police reform bill.

Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, said the bill is just as important as the legislation that came out of the 1960s civil rights movement — the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

“We’ll be going to Minneapolis for the jury selection of the police officer that lynched George Floyd with his knee,” Sharpton told reporters. “The family will have to sit there and relive this.

“I would hope that they would be able to sit there knowing that the laws have changed and that George was not lynched in vain and that the Senate of 2021 has the same backbone and integrity that the Senate had in 1964.”

Reimagining policing

Floyd’s death has opened a new level of conversation about policing in communities across the country. Despite the villainization of the slogan to “defund the police,” policymakers and policy experts say they’re now able to have conversations about reimagining policing and holding police accountable in a way they couldn’t before.

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“The defund movement is about taking away resources or shifting resources, which doesn’t do anything for improving accountability and oversight for whatever remains after the defunding or shifting of resources,” said Loren Taylor, an Oakland city council member. “The reality is if you want police to do better, you hold them accountable. If you want them to do less, you take away resources.”

Floyd’s death showed plainly the type of experiences Black people have long had with law enforcement, leading to increased support for the Black Lives Matter movement, the acknowledgment of racism and the role it plays in American society, and conversations about addressing the many inequities African Americans face in housing, health care, education, employment and other areas.

Still, that talk hasn’t led to action everywhere. As the Chauvin trial nears, Dave Bicking, a board member of Minneapolis-based Communities United Against Police Brutality, said the city is already off to a bad start.

Bicking said Minneapolis is creating a false narrative by putting up fences and barbed wire and planning to bring in the National Guard, arguing that police violence is what the city should be concerned about. He also said the city council has fallen short on enacting meaningful, post-Floyd policy changes.

“There has been very little change,” Bicking said. “There’s radical talk but no action to speak of. A few steps backward and a process, I think, designed to lead to nowhere.”

Despite talk of defunding or even abolishing police in Minneapolis, Bicking said, neither outcome looks likely.

“The net effect of it has been virtually nothing has changed,” he added. “The people in our city government don’t act like they realize this is the epicenter of a movement, a huge movement, and something which is history-making and which is for better or worse going to really cause some change here.”

Black Americans are hopeful Chauvin will be convicted. But many have learned not to get their hopes up after disappointing outcomes in high-profile cases that have led to acquittal or no indictment in recent years.

“Black people have been let down a lot, on so many levels, and when it comes to trust, I think as a people we definitely have trust issues. Rightfully so,” said Kamau Marshall, a former spokesperson for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and a former senior congressional staffer. “We all know what the outcome should be, but what we’ve seen in the past with various outcomes in most cases have not gone the best way.”

Last week, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that a grand jury voted not to indict any officers involved in the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who was experiencing a psychotic episode when police handcuffed him, put a mesh hood over his head and pinned him to the ground until he was unconscious.

The grand jury’s decision was a disappointment, but not a surprise for Tianna Mañón, CEO of Mañón Media Management and a former journalist who now works with reporters and newsrooms on equity in coverage and storytelling.

“You knew this was coming and yet it still hurts,” Mañón said. “It’s a pain you can’t prepare for because these people are just gonna continue living their lives, and not even just continue living their lives but within this community, so to speak.”

Sakira Cook, senior director of the justice program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said she hopes the prosecution can prove that Chauvin acted outside the bounds of the law and took Floyd’s life with what he thought was impunity.

“It is not often the case that officers are arrested, indicted and then put on trial for these types of incidents,” she said. “So anytime that does happen, that is a step in the right direction.”

There’s no consensus on what Floyd’s legacy will be. Some say it’s too soon to say, while others envision a future where police departments cease to exist as conversations about rethinking public safety and who should respond to what continue. But perhaps Floyd’s daughter said it best.

“I keep replaying in my mind the clip of his daughter saying, ‘My daddy changed the world,’” Cook said. “And that, for me, sums up beautifully what I hope his legacy will be. I hope we will look at that moment as the spark that ignited a transformation in this country on all fronts but also one that permeated the rest of the globe.”


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