President Donald Trump’s effort to unravel democracy hit a dead end at the Supreme Court Friday night, capping five weeks in which he dragged the country along on his narcissistic quest to stay in power after President-elect Joe Biden overwhelmingly won the election.
In the end, the guardrails of democracy stayed in place. Trump lost – for the second time at the Supreme Court this week. But instead of helping the effort to curb a deadly pandemic that has claimed nearly 300,000 American lives by easing the transition for his successor, he is already scheming about his next political moves. Before the high court rejected his bid Friday, his campaign announced a cable ad buy to further his fraudulent claims about the election, and he clearly intends to try and meddle in Congress’ counting of the Electoral College results in January.
More broadly, the damage he has done to Americans’ faith and trust in democratic institutions will last long after he packs his bags and ends what will go down as one of the worst presidencies in history.
While waiting to hear from the Supreme Court on Friday, Trump attacked another American institution, opening a new front in his war on science and ethics by pressuring the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration to rush the process for granting emergency use authorization for Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine. Ultimately, the FDA greenlighted the vaccine late Friday night in the time frame that was expected.
It was fitting that on a historic day – when Americans got their first confirmation that vaccines could soon be on the way – the President was distracted at the White House, stewing over his election defeats and tweeting lies about voting in Georgia.
Trump “put a huge stress test on our democracy,” GOP election lawyer Ben Ginsberg said, reflecting on the destruction that the commander-in-chief has wrought by undermining US election processes and jeopardizing the safety of countless election workers as he pursued frivolous lawsuits that were scorned even by judges he appointed.
“It’s five weeks after Election Day, and the institutions of our democracy held against this onslaught, and so we should be really proud of that,” Ginsberg said to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” Friday evening. “At the same time, the Republicans who did follow Donald Trump really have an obligation now to make the country strong again, to heal the chinks that Donald Trump tried to put in the foundation and the democracy.”
But there are few signs that Trump loyalists are taking that moment of reflection in a deeply fractured Republican Party. When Trump joined Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit, which was also joined by 19 GOP attorneys general and was attempting to invalidate the votes of millions of voters in Biden-won states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and Wisconsin, more than 125 GOP House lawmakers also signed on, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
They knew that the lawsuit would serve as a loyalty litmus test as Trump openly contemplates another run for the White House in 2024, and it was a frightening sign of the GOP’s acquiescence to the President’s dictatorial machinations and acceptance of his wild conspiracy theories.
“The Supreme Court really let us down. No wisdom, No Courage!” Trump tweeted shortly before midnight.
But the Supreme Court’s order once again affirmed that the President’s legal efforts have been a total waste of time for the country at a moment when there were lives to be saved.
Despite the court’s solid conservative majority – and the fact that Trump named three of the justices seated on the court – there were no noted dissents to the court’s order, which essentially said that Texas has no grounds to challenge how other states conduct their elections.
Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas said in a statement that they would have allowed Texas to file the case on procedural grounds, but would not have granted any other relief – making it clear that they, too, rejected the substance of Texas’ arguments.
Trump White House
“Every American who cares about the rule of law should take comfort that the Supreme Court — including all three of President Trump’s picks — closed the book on the nonsense,” Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse – a rare Trump critic in the GOP – said in a statement Friday evening.
Stephen Vladeck, a CNN Supreme Court analyst and University of Texas Law professor, said the court’s unsigned order was “the closest possible thing to the last nail in the coffin for election-related legal challenges.”
Even Trump seemed to explicitly acknowledge earlier in the day that Biden would be the next president in a tweet calling on the Supreme Court to “show great Courage & Wisdom” and “Save the USA!!” In the same tweet, he alleged that “the Biden administration will be a scandal-plagued mess for years to come.” But a White House spokesman said the tweet should not be interpreted as a concession.
Biden’s campaign hailed the Supreme Court’s decision. “Dozens of judges, election officials from both parties, and Trump’s own Attorney General have dismissed his baseless attempts to deny that he lost the election,” Mike Gwin, Biden’s campaign spokesman said. “President-elect Biden’s clear and commanding victory will be ratified by the Electoral College on Monday, and he will be sworn in on January 20th.”
Trump tries to subvert science
Shortly after the FDA issued emergency use authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the President released a pre-recorded video on Twitter heralding the “medical miracle” of the arrival of a “safe and effective vaccine in just nine months.”
“This is one of the greatest scientific achievements in history,” he said. “It will save millions of lives and soon end the pandemic once and for all.”
He thanked “all of the brilliant scientists, technicians, doctors and workers who made this all possible,” and highlighted the safety of the vaccines noting that the clinical trials showed that both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna were 95% effective. Moderna is seeking emergency use authorization from the FDA next week.
The first doses of the vaccine could be injected as early as Monday or Tuesday if an advisory panel to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with that agency, also sign off. The CDC advisory panel has now scheduled an emergency meeting for Saturday to discuss that decision.
“I promised that we would produce a vaccine in record time before the end of the year,” Trump said. “They said it couldn’t be done, but with today’s announcement, we have now achieved that goal.”
He called the vaccine “verifiably safe and effective,” but hours earlier he smashed through the time-honored tradition in the United States of separating politics from science by trying to interfere in the FDA’s authorization process.
Frustrated by the fact that other countries like the United Kingdom began vaccinating their citizens first, the President appeared to lean on the FDA to accelerate their review – which could increase the skittishness of Americans who are already wary of taking the vaccine because of fears it was rushed. A Gallup poll released this week showed that 63% of Americans now say they are willing to be immunized against Covid-19.
On Twitter Friday, Trump called the FDA “a big, old, slow turtle.”
“Get the dam vaccines out NOW, Dr. Hahn @SteveFDA,” Trump tweeted at Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn, misspelling the word “damn.” “Stop playing games and start saving lives!!!”
At the time of his pressure campaign, sources told CNN the FDA had been expected to grant emergency use authorization either Friday or Saturday, so it was unclear why Trump felt the need to weigh in on a decision that would come within hours.
CNN’s White House team reported that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told Hahn during a call on Friday morning that he needed to grant an emergency use authorization for Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine by the end of the day or he should resign.
Hahn called reports of the conversation, which first appeared in The Washington Post, “an untrue representation” and said the FDA was “encouraged to continue working expeditiously.”
But even Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the head of Operation Warp Speed – the Trump administration’s effort to develop and distribute vaccines against Covid-19 – said the appearance of pressure could harm the nearly year-long efforts by top scientists and medical experts to assuage concerns about the vaccine.
“I think there is an opportunity there for people to see undue pressure -- if the story is right,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead.” Earlier this year, Slaoui told Science Magazine that he “would immediately resign” from his role with Operation Warp Speed “if there is undue interference in this process.”
Slaoui, an immunologist who previously headed vaccine development at GlaxoSmithKline, said that the FDA has conducted “an effective, transparent, thorough, in-depth review” of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine and asked Americans to “keep an open mind” and an eye on the transparency of the process.
“We have to go out there and engage with all of the leadership at all levels in our communities to help explain the features with of the vaccine, its performance, and hopefully engage with people and convince them” to take it, Slaoui said.