Scientists at the US Centers for Disease Control and Protection are speaking with UK health officials to learn more about British data that suggests a new coronavirus variant could be more deadly.
But as historians consider the legacy of Donald Trump, it appears that even the woefully inadequate Buchanan has some serious competition for the spot at the bottom.
“Trump was the first president to be impeached twice and the first to stir up a mob to try to attack the Capitol and disrupt his successor from becoming president,” said Eric Rauchway, professor of history at the University of California, Davis. “These will definitely go down in history books, and they are not good.”
“I already feel that he is the worst,” said Ted Widmer, professor of history at the City University of New York, noting that as bad as Buchanan was — and he was very bad indeed — he was “not as aggressively bad as Trump.”
“Andrew Johnson and Nixon would be the two others in the worst category, and I think Trump has them beat pretty handily, too,” he added. “He has invented a whole new category, a subbasement that no one knew existed.”
Presidential ranking may be a water cooler exercise for historians, but it is also an official institutional pursuit. The Siena College Research Institute regularly compiles ranked lists of all the American presidents, based on the composite views of scholars. So does C-SPAN.
Various polls periodically ask regular citizens to weigh in. And on Twitter last week, Chris Hayes of MSNBC took the presidential-ranking parlor game to his followers, asking them to list the “five worst presidents of all time.” (He put Trump as the second worst, just after Johnson.)
Trump was a highly divisive president, of course, and one of the confounding things about him was how two people could look at his behavior and make completely different assessments.
But not so much anymore.
“I would say that before the election it depended on one’s political outlook,” with conservatives applauding his tax cuts, deregulation policies and judicial appointments, said William Cooper Jr., professor emeritus of history at Louisiana State University. “But from the election forward, I don’t see how anyone could feel that Trump’s behavior was anything but reprehensible or that he hasn’t completely destroyed any legacy he would have left.”
He cited Trump’s refusal to concede the election; his promotion of baseless conspiracy theories attacking voting integrity; his intemperate, self-promoting behavior during the Georgia Senate runoffs, which helped ensure victory for the two Democratic candidates; and his encouragement of the crowd that rioted at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Even conservatives from Atlanta, where Cooper lives, have had it with Trump, he said. “He has tarred and feathered himself, and I think it will blemish him for a long, long, long time.”
Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University and a member of the advisory panel for C-SPAN’s Presidential Historians Survey, said that Trump “was a bad president in just about every regard.”
“I find him to be the worst president in U.S. history, personally,” Brinkley said, “even worse than William Henry Harrison, who was president for only one month. You don’t want to be ranked below him.”
Brinkley brought up Richard Nixon, the only president to resign in disgrace.
“At least when Nixon left, he put the country ahead of himself at the last minute,” Brinkley said. “Now he looks like a statesman compared to Trump.”
These are all hot takes, of course — the sound of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” the song playing Wednesday as Trump flew out of Washington, has barely faded from our ears — and it is too soon to know how history will judge him. But things do not augur well, said Don Levy, director of Siena’s research institute.
In the most recent Siena survey, a year into the Trump administration, Trump was rated 42nd out of 44 presidents, less terrible than only Buchanan and Johnson. In almost every category — integrity, intelligence and relationship with Congress, for instance — he was rated at or nearly rock bottom. (The exceptions: He was 25th in “willing to take risks” and 10th in “luck.”)
“Speaking in terms of this survey, it would be surprising if Trump was meaningfully rehabilitated,” Levy said. “If the opening paragraph of any discussion starts about being impeached twice, and the second sentence is about the coronavirus, and the third is about partisanship, that’s going to be very hard to overcome.”
Sean Wilentz, a professor of American history at Princeton University, said that Trump was the worst president in history, hands down.
“He’s in a whole other category in terms of the damage he’s done to the Republic,” said Wilentz, citing the radicalization of the Republican Party, the inept response to the pandemic and what he called “the brazen, almost psychedelic mendacity of the man.”
Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose most recent book, “Leadership: In Turbulent Times,” looks at how four presidents confronted tough moments in history, said that it normally takes a generation to evaluate a leader. But to the extent that a president’s legacy is determined by his ability to rise to a crisis, Trump will be remembered for his failures: how poorly he handled COVID-19 and how disgracefully he behaved after the election.
“History will look with grave disfavor on President Trump for the crisis he created,” she said.
For his part, Rauchway said he believed that Trump would “crash the bottom five” on the presidential rankings but that the bottom spot itself was uncertain. “I think he has some stiff competition” in Johnson, whom Rauchway personally regards as the worst president of all.
“If I had to predict where historiography would go, I think people would have to recognize that Trumpism — nativism and white supremacy — has deep roots in American history,” Rauchway said. “But Trump himself put it to new and malignant purpose.”
Robert Strauss, a journalist and the author of “Worst. President. Ever.,” a popular history of Buchanan, seemed reluctant to allow the subject of his book to relinquish his title.
“I can go through a litany of things that Buchanan did,” he said. “In the time period between Lincoln’s election and the inauguration” — that is, during the lame-duck period of Buchanan’s presidency — “he let seven states secede and said, ‘I can’t do anything about it.’ He also influenced the Dred Scott decision, the worst decision in Supreme Court history.”
Of course, “the difference was that Buchanan was a nice guy,” Strauss said. “He was the greatest party-giver of the 19th century. He was kind to his nieces and nephews. What he was, was not a very good president.”
As they considered Trump’s record in comparison to that of other presidents, some historians said that he could have done things to salvage his reputation.
“If he had presided over a competent response to COVID, he would have won reelection easily,” Widmer of the City University of New York said. “And if he had responded with grace to his loss, a lot of people would have given him some grudging respect.”
And yes, he added, Trump was worse than Buchanan.
“Trump is a worse failure because he really wanted to be reelected, and he was rejected,” Widmer said. “Buchanan colossally failed, but at least he had the dignity not to run again.”
The online postings and chatrooms of extremists have been brimming with disappointment and dissent since the failed January 6 insurrection against Congress and the inauguration of Joe Biden as president.
Followers of the QAnon conspiracy movement — and its Delphic prophet Q — are most in disarray, their millenarian predictions of chaos and doom accompanying Biden’s elevation to the presidency not (or not yet) coming true.
Ultranationalists like the Proud Boys, armed militias such as the Oath Keepers, and dangerous white supremacists and neo-Nazis have been pushed further underground, with followers who took part in the Capitol attack being swept up by law enforcement.
Experts in extremism and domestic terrorism say these groups have been dealt a blow by Trump’s exit from power.
But they also maintain that the groups are not disappearing, and in some ways are now more motivated toward undertaking more dangerous attacks.
The more extreme groups are looking at the large pool of disheartened QAnon types for recruits, they say.
“The rhetoric remains heated, people are not cooling off. They are not adjusting well to Biden,” said Michael Edison Hayden, senior investigative reporter at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which researches extremism.
Far from depleted, said Colin P. Clarke, Director of Policy and Research at The Soufan Group, “the energy and momentum that the far right has is stronger than any time in recent memory.
“The question is, what happens next?”
Many expected that Trump’s exit and the expulsion of extremists from Facebook, Twitter, Parler and other social media would calm things. Instead, it has added to the furor and galvanized the disparate far-right groups.
“They are far more united in what they are against than what they are for” said Clarke.
Hayden said the deplatforming by social media companies of users they consider beyond the pale is “becoming a unifying grievance.”
Most have relocated to a few welcoming platforms, foremost Telegram, where new QAnon and Proud Boys pages have hundreds of thousands of followers.
“The infrastructure really still exists” for the far right to convene, said Hayden.
QAnon began in late 2017 with cryptic statements from the mysterious Q on the 8kun website.
No one knew who Q was, but his statements mobilized Trump followers to believe there was a Democratic and “deep state” plot against the president.
As time passed they absorbed other conspiracy theories, including one about a global child kidnapping racket, and bizarre end-of-times predictions.
And Trump’s tweets, campaigns and rallies became a focal point for Q followers.
After his election defeat, they gave momentum to his “Stop the Steal” campaign centered on the false claim that Biden’s victory was somehow fraudulent.
That led directly to the January 6 Washington insurrection in Trump’s name that left five dead.
But Biden’s inauguration Wednesday and Trump’s quiet departure to Florida closed that door.
Many are even angry that Trump hasn’t clearly defended the more than 120 who arrested and hundreds more under investigation for the Capitol attack.
But the far right “is coming to terms with” his departure and regrouping without him, said Hayden.
QAnon followers though were dealt a second shock.
On Wednesday Ron Watkins, whose father controls 8kun and who many believe is or knows the real “Q,” announced he was quitting the movement and wiped out all of 8kun’s QAnon archives.
“We gave it our all. Now we need to keep our chins up and go back to our lives as best as we are able,” he posted on Telegram.
“We have a new president sworn in and it is our responsibility as citizens to respect the Constitution.”
“That was a massive body-blow to the movement,” said Karim Zidan, an investigator for Right Wing Watch.
But Zidan said the movement has proven it can live without Q.
QAnon “influencers” with tens of thousands of followers, and the public figures who drove Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign, like attorneys Lin Wood and Sidney Powell and ex-national security advisor Michael Flynn, are inspiring the movement to continue.
Wood, for example, picked up 592,000 followers in just one week after moving to Telegram, said Zidan. Powell has some 300,000.
Worrying is the potential for moderate QAnon and Proud Boys followers to be “radicalized” online by more violent right-wing extremists.
They only have to peel off a small portion from those groups to build networks capable of destructive violence, noted Clarke.
“There are people out there committed to attacks,” he said.
He compared the level of anger to the early 1990s, which saw several domestic attacks including the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 165, by anti-government extremists.
“The possibility for violence remains high,” said Hayden.
Kevin Strong of California was charged with three crimes related to the attack, including knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building without lawful authority, and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. He confessed to breaching the Capitol in an interview with investigators and was arrested on Friday, according to the Justice Department. Strong told law enforcement he hadn’t done any damage or attacked law enforcement, according to the affidavit.
Strong works for the Federal Aviation Administration and is a follower of the QAnon conspiracy movement, according to court documents. A day after the insurrection, an employee in the FAA’s internal investigation branch contacted the FBI and reported Strong to law enforcement.
Prosecutors say a tipster told the FBI that Strong has been “stockpiling items and telling others to get ready for martial law.” Based on that report, the FBI opened an investigation into Strong on December 30, according to the affidavit. The FBI says it searched Strong’s home on January 16 and seized two guns owned by Strong’s uncle and multiple digital devices, and that investigators found QAnon items during a search of his home.
Andrew Ericson of Oklahoma, 23, was charged with two misdemeanors related to the attack. Prosecutors say he live-streamed himself entering the Capitol, walking into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office and taking “what appeared to be a beer out of a refrigerator in an office,” according to someone identified in court documents as “Witness 1,” who watched the footage and recognized Ericson from a previous professional relationship.
Investigators say they tracked down Ericson after Witness 1 watched his livestream on Snapchat and provided his name to the FBI. Ericson was arrested Friday, according to an FBI affidavit and the Justice Department.
Ericson was charged with unlawful entry on restricted buildings or grounds and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
But House Democratic impeachment managers and Trump’s defence team then have until the week of February 8 to draft opposing briefs. The deal for this deferred timetable resolves one of Biden’s main challenges — providing days in-between to potentially fill the president’s cabinet and begin work on his Covid-relief plan. It also reflects a compromise with McConnell, who urged setting a timetable that would have pre-trial arguments filed by February 11.
“The prime minister warmly welcomed the president’s decision to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change,” a spokeswoman for Johnson said.
“Building on the UK and US’ long history of cooperation in security and defence, the leaders re-committed to the NATO alliance and our shared values in promoting human rights and protecting democracy.”
The two leaders spoke on Saturday and vowed to deepen the special relationship between the USA and Britain and drive a green and sustainable recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. They also discussed the benefits of a potential free trade deal between the two countries.
The call to the UK prime minister on Saturday evening follows Biden’s first two calls after entering the White House which he made to Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Friday. This makes Johnson the first leader outside North America to get the coveted phone call – ahead of the likes of Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany and Mícheál Martin, the Irish prime minister. Biden has Irish roots.
Johnson tweeted a photo of the call and said: “Great to speak to President @JoeBiden this evening. I look forward to deepening the longstanding alliance between our two countries as we drive a green and sustainable recovery from COVID-19.”
Great to speak to President @JoeBiden this evening. I look forward to deepening the longstanding alliance between o… https://t.co/j6MBXu3yo2
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) 1611434533000
Former US president Donald Trump had relegated former UK prime minister Theresa May to 11th in the list of world leaders he rang following his election victory in November 2016.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister congratulated the President on his inauguration and the two leaders looked forward to deepening the close alliance between our nations.”
The two leaders noted the significant challenges facing the world during the pandemic, but also the unparalleled opportunities to “build back better and greener together”.
The UK Prime Minister praised President Biden’s early action on tackling climate change and commitment to reach Net Zero by 2050.
“The Prime Minister warmly welcomed the President’s decision to re-join the Paris Agreement on climate change, as well as the World Health Organization and the COVAX programme to ensure equitable access for vaccines,” Number 10 said.
Building on the UK and US’ long history of cooperation in security and defence, the leaders re-committed to the NATO alliance and their shared values in promoting human rights and protecting democracy.
“They also discussed the benefits of a potential free trade deal between our two countries, and the Prime Minister reiterated his intention to resolve existing trade issues as soon as possible,” Downing Street added.
“The leaders looked forward to meeting in person as soon as the circumstances allow, and to working together through the G7, G20 and COP26 this year.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be attending the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall in Britain from 11 to 13 June. The UK will host the COP26 Summit in Glasgow in November, which follows on from the G20 summit in Rome at the end of October.
States have long had disparate and contradictory rules for running elections. But the 2020 election, which featured pandemic-related changes to ease voting and then a flood of lawsuits by former President Donald Trump and his allies, underscored the differences from state to state: Mail-in ballots due on Election Day or just postmarked by then?
Absentee voting allowed for all or just voters with an excuse? Same-day or advance-only registration? Democrats, asserting constitutional authority to set the time, place and manner of federal elections, want national rules they say would make voting more uniform, accessible and fair across the nation. The bill would mandate early voting, same-day registration and other long-sought reforms that Republicans reject as federal overreach.
“We have just literally seen an attack on our own democracy,” said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, referring to the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. “I cannot think of a more timely moment to start moving on democracy reform.” The legislation first introduced two years ago, known as the For the People Act, also would give independent commissions the job of drawing congressional districts, require political groups to disclose high-dollar donors, create reporting requirements for online political ads and, in a rearview nod at Trump, obligate presidents to disclose their tax returns.
Republican opposition was fierce during the last session. At the time, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., labeled it the “Democrat Politician Protection Act” and said in an op-ed that Democrats were seeking to “change the rules of American politics to benefit one party.”
While Democrats control Congress for the first time in a decade, the measure’s fate depends on whether enough Republicans can be persuaded to reconsider a bill they have repeatedly rejected. If not, Democrats could decide it’s time to take the extraordinary and difficult step of eliminating the Senate filibuster, a procedural tool often used by the minority party to block bills under rules that require 60 votes to advance legislation.
Advocates say the bill is the most consequential piece of voting legislation since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. House Democrats vowed two years ago to make the bill a priority, and they reintroduced it this month as H.R. 1, underscoring its importance to the party.
“People just want to be able to cast their vote without it being an ordeal,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, a Democrat from Maryland who is the lead sponsor of the House bill.
“It’s crazy in America that you still have to navigate an obstacle course to get to the ballot box.” Current plans would have the full House take up the bill as soon as the first week of February. The Senate Rules Committee would then consider a companion bill introduced in the Senate, and a tie vote there could allow it to move out of committee and to the floor as early as next month, said Klobuchar, who is expected to become the committee’s next chair.
A quick vote would be remarkable considering the Senate also is likely to be juggling Trump’s impeachment trial, confirmation of President Joe Biden‘s Cabinet choices and another round of coronavirus relief.
While states have long had different voting procedures, the November 2020 election highlighted how the variability could be used to sow doubt about the outcome. The bill’s supporters, which include national voting and civil rights organizations, cited dozens of pre-election lawsuits that challenged procedural rules, such as whether ballots postmarked on Election Day should count.
They also pointed to the post-election litigation Trump and his allies filed to try to get millions of legitimately cast ballots tossed out. Many of those lawsuits targeted election changes intended to make voting easier. That included a Pennsylvania law the state’s Republican-led legislature passed before the pandemic to make absentee ballots available to all registered voters upon request.
Government and election officials repeatedly have described the election as the most secure in U.S. history. Even former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, a Trump ally, said before leaving his post that there was no evidence of widespread fraud that would overturn the result.
“The strategy of lying about voter fraud, delegitimising the election outcome and trying to suppress votes has been unmasked for the illegitimate attack on our democracy that it is, and I think that it opens a lot more doors to real conversations about how to fix our voting system and root out this cancer,” said Wendy Weiser, head of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy institute.
Along with the election reform bill, the House two years ago introduced a related bill, now known as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in honor of the late civil rights activist and congressman. House Democrats are expected to reintroduce it soon after it had similarly stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.
As they brace to tackle a politically flammable issue that’s resisted major congressional action since the 1980s, Democrats are using words like “aspirational” to describe Biden’s plan and “herculean” to express the effort they’ll need to prevail.
A similar message came from the White House Friday when press secretary Jen Psaki said the new administration hopes Biden’s plan will be “the base” of immigration discussions in Congress. Democrats’ cautious tones underscored the fragile road they face on a paramount issue for their minority voters, progressives and activists.
Even long-time immigration proponents advocating an all-out fight concede they may have to settle for less than total victory. Paving a path to citizenship for all 11 million immigrants in the US illegally – the centerpiece of Biden’s plan – is “the stake at the summit of the mountain,” Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration group America’s Voice, said in an interview. “If there are ways to advance toward that summit by building victories and momentum, we’re going to look at them.”
The citizenship process in Biden’s plan would take as little as three years for some people, eight years for others. The proposal would make it easier for certain workers to stay in the US temporarily or permanently, provide development aid to Central American nations in hopes of reducing immigration and move toward bolstering border screening technology.
No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois said in an interview this week that the likeliest package to emerge would create a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers. They are immigrants who’ve lived in the US most of their lives after being brought here illegally as children.
Over 600,000 of them have temporary permission to live in the U.S. under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Former President Barack Obama created that program administratively and Durbin and others would like to see it enacted into law.
Durbin, who called Biden’s plan “aspirational,” said he hoped for other elements as well, such as more visas for agricultural and other workers.
“We understand the political reality of a 50-50 Senate, that any changes in immigration will require cooperation between the parties,” said Durbin, who is on track to become Senate Judiciary Committee chairman. He said legislation produced by the Senate likely “will not reach the same levels” as Biden’s proposal.
The Senate is split evenly between the two parties, with Vice President Kamala Harris tipping the chamber in Democrats’ favor with her tie-breaking vote. Even so, major legislation requires 60 votes to overcome filibusters, or endless procedural delays, in order to pass. That means 10 Republicans would have to join all 50 Democrats to enact an immigration measure, a tall order.
“Passing immigration reform through the Senate, particularly, is a herculean task,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who will also play a lead role in the battle.
Many Republicans agree with Durbin’s assessment.
“I think the space in a 50-50 Senate will be some kind of DACA deal,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who’s worked with Democrats on past immigration efforts. “I just think comprehensive immigration is going to be a tough sale given this environment.”
Illustrating the detailed bargaining ahead, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate who’s sought earlier immigration compromises, praised parts of the bill but said she wants more visas for foreign workers her state’s tourism industry uses heavily.
Democrats’ hurdles are formidable.
They have razor-thin majorities in a House and Senate where Republican support for easing immigration restrictions is usually scant. Acrid partisan relationships were intensified further by former President Donald Trump‘s clamorous tenure. Biden will have to spend plenty of political capital and time on earlier, higher priority bills battling the pandemic and bolstering the economy, leaving his future clout uncertain.
In addition, Democrats will have to resolve important tactical differences.
Sharry said immigration groups prefer Democrats to push for as strong a bill as possible without making any concessions to Republicans on issues like boosting border security spending. He said hopes for a bipartisan breakthrough are “a fool’s errand” because the GOP has largely opposed expending citizenship opportunities for so long.
But prevailing without GOP votes would mean virtual unanimity among congressional Democrats, a huge challenge. It would also mean Democrats would have to either eliminate the Senate filibuster, which they may not have the votes to do, or figure out other procedural routes around the 60-vote hurdle.
“I’m going to start negotiating” with Republicans, said Durbin. He said a bipartisan bill would be far better “if we can do it” because it would improve the chances for passage.
Democrats already face attacks from Republicans, eyeing next year’s elections, on an issue that helped helped power Trump’s 2016 victory by fortifying his support from many white voters.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Biden’s bill would “prioritize help for illegal immigrants and not our fellow citizens.” Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP campaign arm, said the measure would hurt “hard-working Americans and the millions of immigrants working their way through the legal immigration process.”
Democrats say such allegations are false but say it’s difficult to compose clear, sound-bite responses on what is a complex issue. Instead, it requires having “an adult conversation” with voters, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., said in an interview.
“Yeah, this is about people but it’s about the economy” as well, said Spanberger, a moderate from a district where farms and technology firms hire many immigrants. “In central Virginia, we rely on immigration. And you may not like that, but we do.”