Standing alone at the base of the garland-wrapped Grand Staircase on Tuesday, President Donald Trump seemed miffed that people around him have given up on overturning the election.
“They’re saying 2024. I said I’m not interested right now. Let’s do this one first,” Trump told guests at one of his holiday parties, venting frustration that his associates seem ready to move on while he would very much like to stay put.
“I don’t want to go four years forward,” he complained, his party-goers cheering him on as he riffed beneath the twinkle lights, according to a video posted on social media by one of the guests. “I want to go four years back.”
It was an aside Trump later acknowledged wasn’t exactly festive. But for a President rapidly running out of legal and political options, it was a sign his fight is turning into a solo battle, waged angrily on Twitter and over the phone even as many in his circle, along with the rest of the country, turn the page — and try nudging him to as well.
Trump has grown frustrated at the lack of support, summoning those with “courage” this week to stand up for him as he seeks to topple the election results. Privately, Trump has complained relentlessly over the past weeks that Republicans haven’t demonstrated sufficient support, and has vowed to punish those he views as disloyal. He’s taken to dressing down subordinates, including Attorney General William Barr, for failing to help him advance his cause, and has iced out others who have tried talking him into conceding.
Yet he seems to be enjoying less support by the day as the transition to a new administration proceeds apace and even his closest allies, including members of his family, show signs they are preparing for a new life.
First lady Melania Trump has begun overseeing shipments of family furniture and art to Mar-a-Lago, where they will move in January, people familiar with the matter told CNN. His daughter and son-in-law, both senior advisers at the White House, are in the process of purchasing bay-front property in Florida.
A sense has developed both within Trump’s legal team and inside what remains of his campaign staff that efforts to overturn or delay the results of the election are coming to an end, multiple sources told CNN this week. White House staffers have either already submitted resignations or are actively searching for post-inauguration work.
And members of Trump’s Cabinet have begun meeting with their incoming counterparts in Biden’s administration as the start of a new era in Washington nears.
Instead of beaming in virtually to Trump’s summit Tuesday on coronavirus vaccines, Dr. Anthony Fauci chose to participate instead in Biden’s simultaneous unveiling of his health team, on which he will serve as a chief medical adviser.
“I look forward to advising you on these most urgent priorities, and to work with this team of world-class experts whom I have known for many years and deeply respect,” Fauci said during the event — a warm description that could hardly mask the fraught ties between the infectious disease expert and the current administration.
The next morning, Trump’s health secretary said he had met with members of Biden’s team as the transition — which was delayed for weeks as Trump refused to concede — charges ahead.
“We want to make sure they get everything that they need,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday on CNN’s “New Day.” Although Azar didn’t have a set date for when he would meet with Xavier Becerra, Biden’s nominee for his current role, he added he wants to ensure a “full cooperative professional transition.”
“I want to ensure that any transition is as smooth, as professional as possible, because, you know, we’re about ensuring the health and well-being of the American people, and that’s what matters to me,” Azar said.
No effort to reach out
That all leaves Trump essentially by himself as he continues to stoke distrust in the election results among his supporters. He has made no efforts to reach out to Biden, and does not plan to conduct any of the traditional hand-offs of power like inviting his successor for a meeting, according to people familiar with the plans.
He’s supported by a dwindling team of lawyers, including two — Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis — who recently contracted coronavirus. At the White House, staffing has slowly thinned as officials depart for new positions.
It’s not an altogether pleasant experience for a President accustomed to people agreeing with him, either out of deference or a desire to avoid recrimination.
Last week, Trump was enraged upon learning Barr had acknowledged in an interview that the Justice Department found no widespread evidence of fraud in this year’s election. The two met for a heated exchange in the Oval Office afterward.
Barr, meanwhile, is said to be “fed up” and seriously considering resigning before Inauguration Day, according to a senior administration official, who said Barr has engaged in big “shouting matches” with Trump in recent weeks and is the “only person pushing back” on the President.
Others around Trump have tried dangling the prospect of a 2024 run as a way to move the President off his current claims of a fraudulent election, and Trump has mused about ways he could announce a new presidential run that would detract from Biden’s entry into office. Yet some of Trump’s aides are skeptical about how serious he is about running again, and as he voiced on Tuesday, he seems less enthusiastic about running in four years than he is about challenging this election’s results.
In other instances, Trump has frozen out acquaintances who have attempted to reason with him.
“He may not be speaking to me right now because of my position on the election being over,” said Trump’s friend Geraldo Rivera, the Fox News correspondent, who in the wake of the election said the President should “say goodbye with grace and dignity.”
Officially, much of the Republican Party remains behind Trump. But even many lawmakers and operatives acknowledge that his efforts now seem mainly about fundraising — and are eager to remain in Trump’s good graces, at least as long as he continues to hold sway among the party’s base and as the balance of power in the Senate remains in question ahead of runoff elections in Georgia.
On Capitol Hill, even as most Republicans refuse to acknowledge Biden’s win, there are emerging signs that many in the GOP are moving on. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for the second time in a week, mentioned the “new administration” when discussing ongoing stimulus talks on Tuesday. Asked a moment later whether he was acknowledging Biden’s win, McConnell said only: “I want to concentrate on the next two weeks and the period beyond that will take care of itself.”
In the meantime, other Republican senators have begun weighing Biden’s Cabinet selections. Sen. Chuck Grassley, one of Trump’s allies in the Senate, gushed about Biden’s selection of Tom Vilsack to lead the Department of Agriculture on Wednesday: “I think he did an outstanding job for eight years and I think he’ll do an outstanding job for no more than four years.”
A growing number of Senate Republicans say they are ready to publicly acknowledge that Biden won the presidency and will be sworn in on January 20. They seem less certain about how Trump will proceed once the Electoral College votes on Monday to affirm Biden’s win.
“Trump’s going to do what Trump is going to do,” said Grassley, who has asserted that Biden will be the President-elect once the Electoral College votes. “That’s the only answer I’m going to give you.”
Still, Trump’s influence on Republicans now seems at an ebb. Many Republicans, including those in leadership positions, brushed off Trump’s threats to veto defense policy legislation because it didn’t include a repeal of liability protections for social media companies. The House overwhelmingly passed the measure on Tuesday, with ample Republican support.
Series of setbacks
Trump’s last-man-standing approach to the final days of his presidency has been fueled this week by a series of setbacks to his legal case and the growing sense, even among Republicans and members of his cabinet, that his efforts are over.
The Supreme Court’s denial Tuesday of a request from Pennsylvania Republicans to block certification of the commonwealth’s election results cemented the impression the high court has little interest in taking up the ongoing challenges to the election results — a blow for Trump, who only hours earlier made a direct appeal to the justices to assist him in his efforts to subvert the will of voters.
“Let’s see if they have the courage to do what everybody in this country knows is right,” he said at the White House vaccine event.
Even before Election Day, Trump predicted the contest would end up before the Supreme Court, which he has reshaped with three conservative justices. Perhaps hoping those appointees would prove sympathetic to his cause, Trump frequently cited his chances there.
On Wednesday, Trump insisted the real test for the Supreme Court was yet to come, citing a brash and sweeping complaint filed Tuesday by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that asked the court to overturn Biden’s wins in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia. Trump formally intervened in the lawsuit on Wednesday and has asked Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to argue on behalf if the high court takes up the case.
Yet the court’s quick rejection of the Pennsylvania case, with no public dissents even from the justices Trump has hoped would prove loyal to him, is a signal the Supreme Court may not want to get involved in the ongoing Trump challenges.
Trump, meanwhile, is taking notice of who is supporting him. Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, a close ally of the President’s, sent an email from a personal account to every House Republican on Wednesday soliciting signatures for an amicus brief in the longshot Texas lawsuit.
The email said Trump is “anxiously awaiting the final list” to see who signs on.
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