BREAKING ON THE HILL — The Senate approved a two-day spending bill to avert a government shutdown, kicking the deadline to Sunday evening so negotiators have more time to hammer out a year-end spending agreement and Covid stimulus package. Stay with POLITICO for the latest.
DOWNWARD SPIRAL? Donald Trump has never had a week like the week he just had. On the heels of the Supreme Court’s knock-back and the Electoral College’s knockout, some of his most reliable supporters — Mitch McConnell, Vladimir Putin, Newsmax — all acknowledged and affirmed the fact of the matter. Trump is a loser.
This is new territory for Trump, who over the course of a lifetime of professional and personal transgressions and failures has assembled a record of remarkable resilience, emerging all but unscathed from every one of his brushes with ruin.
“He’s never been in a situation in which he has lost in a way he can’t escape from,” Mary Trump, his niece and the author of the fiercely critical and hugely bestselling book about him and their family, told me the other day.
Consequently, he is manifestly out of sorts, say former close associates, longtime Trump watchers and mental health experts. It’s not just his odd behavior — the testy, tiny-desk session with the press, the stilted Medal of Freedom ceremony, the cut-short trip to the Army-Navy football game. In the month and a half since Election Day he has been seen and heard from relatively sparingly and sporadically. No-showing unexpectedly at a Christmas party and speaking mainly through his increasingly manic Twitter feed.
The only moment in his life that remotely compares to what’s happening right now is early 1990, when Trump was mired in a high-profile marital breakup and billions of dollars in debt. That spring, according to Vanity Fair, Trump ordered in burgers and fries and stayed up late in bed, staring at the ceiling. Sometimes, he paged through periodicals looking for his name.
But even when he was all but broke, he got to keep living in the penthouse of Trump Tower, the building that had made him famous. “He was always there in his castle,” Alan Marcus, Trump’s publicist later on in the ‘90s, told me.
This time, he’s getting evicted.
The combination of this unprecedented rebuke meeting an uncommonly vulnerable ego has people wondering if there is a chance that Trump’s unusual actions are evidence of something potentially more dire. Could he be on his way to a mental breakdown?
“No,” Sam Nunberg, the former political aide, said in a text. “No chance,” said Anthony Scaramucci, who very briefly and semi-famously was his top White House spokesperson.
But that’s not consensus. “His fragile ego has never been tested to this extent,” Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney, told me. “As each day ends, Trump knows he’s one day closer to legal and financial troubles. Accordingly, we will all see his behavior deteriorate until it progresses into a full mental breakdown.”
In the estimation of Bandy Lee, the forensic psychiatrist from Yale who’s spent the last four years trying to warn the world about Trump, it’s not something that could happen. It’s something that is happening, that’s been happening. “We’re at a stage now where his detachment from reality is pretty much complete and his symptoms are as severe as can be,” she said. She likened Trump to “a car without functioning brakes.” It can look for a long time like it’s fine, and keep going, faster and faster, even outracing other cars. “But at the bottom of the hill,” Lee said, “it always crashes.”
Head to POLITICO this weekend to read the full report from Michael.
Welcome to POLITICO Nightly. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, or on Twitter at @michaelkruse and @renurayasam.
WHAT GOT US THROUGH — Yep, you made it. This brutal year is almost over, and for the occasion, Myah Ward and Renuka Rayasam reached out to Nightly’s braintrust of sources to ask them about the one thing that got them through 2020. Think of it as the Nightly gift guide for 2020. (The answers have been edited.)
“A thing I relied on this year was my iPad. I say this with surprise because 10 years ago when it first came out I thought ‘why would anyone need more than a smartphone and a laptop?’ But I went to the Apple Store on Fifth and 59th and the device was so handsome, so crisply designed, and I bought one with a keyboard. This year it was always at my side. I read memoirs of the French Revolution, rewatched Borgen, Zoomed with friends, listened to music, and watched films of Fellini and David Lean.” — Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal columnist and former White House speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan
“My two Aussiedoodle puppies, Kevin and Doug, who have been relishing the time that our family spends at home during the pandemic. Since many of us are adjusting to a work-from-home lifestyle, I would also recommend a good ergonomic chair with lumbar support and a quality ring light for those endless Zoom meetings.” — Gretchen Whitmer, governor of Michigan
“My Peloton bike that was delivered on March 4. … Sometimes timing is everything!” — John Crowley, CEO of Amicus Therapeutics, a rare disease biotech company
“A sense that I could lend people a hand — it kept me engaged all year. We distributed almost $10 million to struggling families. That and my family.” — Andrew Yang, former Democratic presidential candidate
“Exercise, cooking and piano!!! If there is only one — I guess it was exercise.” — Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of State and national security adviser
“A big, comfy green chair I like to call my ‘Real Talk’ chair. Growing up, my Mom had a chair, and whenever we had a ‘real talk’ she did it from the comfort of that chair. So, an object that best symbolizes this would be that ‘Real Talk’ chair I use for The Carlos Watson Show. Each time I sit on those comfy cushions, I know that fascinating and meaningful conversation is ahead of me.” — Carlos Watson, co-founder and CEO of Ozy Media
“My wife’s company and our Bible study. We’ve been married for 52 years.” — Ken Blackwell, former Ohio secretary of State
“Books. My favorite for 2020 was ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles. Any writer who can provide you a blissful escape during the evenings from a pandemic and the relentlessness of NFL Football deserves the highest literary honors. I would add John Barry’s Book on the ‘The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Plague in History.’
“I will say the most pure fun thing I read was this: ” — DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association
“I couldn’t imagine getting through this year without my wife, Jeanne. She’s my best friend and soulmate. She tolerates the challenge of being in close quarters with me 24/7 with humor and patience.” — Richard Besser, CEO, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
“My Calm app helped me to get to sleep.” — Padma Lakshmi, host of Taste the Nation
“My new son. He was born in the middle of a global pandemic, and he made lockdown a lot more bearable.” — Aasif Mandvi, actor
“Queso.” — Greg Abbott, governor of Texas
“My home office. Designed and decorated by my wife who picked out décor that was so unique to me that it leaves me inspired and reminded of her care for me each time I’m in there.” — Jason Wright, president of the Washington Football Team
“Poetry, painting and prayer. Arts and crafts with my five-year-old twin daughters.” — Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), chair-elect of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus
“Internet access. This pandemic has exposed how many of our nation’s communities still don’t have high speed internet access.” — Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.)
“I’m a conservative, and I couldn’t have survived 2020 without co-teaching a class at UVA on the 2020 Election with a liberal (Prof. Jen Lawless). We covered probably the most polarizing election in a generation with 225 students who were all new voters. I bet we learned more than the students did!” — Mary Kate Cary, former White House speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush
“My new ‘officemate’ — my golden lab, Nacho. Nacho is a great companion for my daily walks, which provide my best thinking time of the day.” — Punit Renjen, CEO of Deloitte
“Meditating for 20 minutes every morning gets me going, and 20 minutes every afternoon helps me to be more centered and hopeful.” — Tom Frieden, former CDC director
“The hiking trails on the Franklin Mountains.” — Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas)
“Zora.” — Donna Brazile, former DNC chair
PHARMACY SPOTLIGHT DIMS EQUAL ACCESS HOPES — The Trump administration has made pharmacies a centerpiece of the country’s historic coronavirus vaccination campaign — a decision that could bypass low-income and minority populations hardest hit by the pandemic, health care reporters David Lim and Darius Tahir write.
Just as many poor urban areas are considered “food deserts,” without easy access to affordable and high-quality fresh food, research suggests that poorer areas with high minority populations are more likely to be “pharmacy deserts.” A distance of a few miles can be insurmountable for people without reliable transportation or hourly employees who can’t afford to take time to be vaccinated.
That’s why mass vaccination campaigns — such as during the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic — have traditionally relied on a broad mix of distribution sites, including schools and churches in addition to pharmacies, hospitals and clinics.
Public health experts say that a major effort is needed to ensure that communities of color and low-income Americans have equal access to coronavirus vaccines once the shots are more broadly available. Many states and local governments are working with the CDC to plan a more comprehensive set of vaccination sites. But time is growing tight, with top Trump administration officials projecting that the public could have access to vaccines by late February.
SKIRMISH AT THE PENTAGON — The tension between the Trump administration and Biden’s team spilled out into the open today, as officials traded accusations over the status of a series of Defense Department transition meetings that a Biden spokesperson called “invaluable” for national security, defense reporter Lara Seligman writes.
Biden spokesperson Yohannes Abraham directly contradicted acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller’s claims that the two teams “mutually agreed” to pause the interviews until after the holiday, after Axios reported that Miller had abruptly ordered a department-wide halt to cooperation with the transition team.
Miller said earlier in the day that the Pentagon had rescheduled roughly 20 meetings planned for today with members of the transition team until after Jan. 1, but insisted that the Department of Defense is continuing to cooperate with the transition.
Welcome to Bidenology, Nightly’s look at the president-elect and what to expect in his administration. Tonight, POLITICO Magazine senior writer Michael Grunwald explores Biden’s climate Cabinet picks and how activists are reacting:
Last December, the young climate lefties of the Sunrise Movement gave Biden’s climate plan an F-minus. Today, Sunrise hailed President-elect Biden’s climate team full of climate hawks as “a big victory for the movement.”
For the climate movement, anyone Biden picked was going to be an improvement over Trump’s fossil-fueled team of climate deniers. But Biden is packing his administration with climate leaders, including former Secretary of State John Kerry as a global climate envoy and former EPA head Gina McCarthy as a domestic climate czar, while making it clear he expects climate to drive his agriculture, transportation and foreign policies as well as his energy and environmental stances.
He selected former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm as Energy secretary over Ernest Moniz, who had alienated greens with his “all-of-the-above” rhetoric when he had that job in the Obama administration. He’s giving climate activists their dream eco-choices of Rep. Deb Haaland at Interior and North Carolina regulator Michael Regan at EPA. The left has criticized the choices of Pete Buttigieg at Transportation and Tom Vilsack at Agriculture, but not their commitment to climate action.
Biden may not be able to pass climate legislation through a divided Congress, but he can put the federal government on a climate-conscious war footing without legislation. Even the F-minus crowd seems confident he’s doing just that.
COVID-PROOFING 1600 — In the hours between Trump’s exit from the White House and Biden’s entrance, a team of cleaners will wipe down every surface and mist the air with disinfectant to rid the halls of any lingering virus particles. After that, masks will be mandatory and testing will be constant. In the latest POLITICO Dispatch, health care reporter Alice Miranda Ollstein breaks down how Biden and his team are working to transform the White House from hotspot to bubble.